PREVENT COMMON HIKING INJURIES & MISTAKES
Every experienced hiker knows and prepares for possible life-threatening dangers that lurk around the next bend, but sometimes we just forget to pay attention to the small threats that just happen. I am talking about that wrong step over a rock and out of the blue you have a twisted ankle. The evening in the tent when the top of your nose is burning and you realize you forgot to use sunscreen since it was raining the morning you left. Its the little things that end up making an awesome hike just a bit less amazing. Check out these tips to keep the hike at awesome! Here we go…
You are tucked into your warm marmot ultra-lite sleeping bag, of course its made of goose down, what hiker would use synthetics anymore (joking), and all of a sudden your calf muscle cramps, and quickly learn how to escape your sleeping bag and unzip your tent in about 8 seconds flat so you can get outside and stretch out. Sounds like avoiding cramps all together would be the preferred method, unless you like late night hikes around the campsite. The may cause of this muscle nonsense is dehydration. You are thinking I always drink extra water since I have a bladder and a few bottles of water in my pack. Unfortunately its not just water that your muscles are screaming for its also Electrolytes.
Electrolytes are minerals in your blood and other body fluids that carry an electric charge. Electrolytes affect the amount of water in your body, the acidity of your blood (pH), your muscle function, and other important processes. You lose electrolytes when you sweat.
So to avoid cramps make sure you are drinking enough water, even in cold environments where you don’t “feel” like your sweating you are still loosing water mainly through breathing. Also if you have time and remember to stretch before you set out for your next trek, it will help, plus its fun to stretch and relax before the day begins or before you crash for the night.
Cuts & Scrapes
It usually happens when you apply bug spray, sanitizing wipes, or you jump into a lake or pond to swim and cool off, you notice burning in a few spots. Why are you in pain? It’s due to random cuts by rocks, bushes, thorns, or other sharp objects you contacted throughout the day without really paying much attention. Usually these small cuts in the skin heal on their own, but I have seen infection set in more than once, especially in dirty or jungle swamp-like environments. Its important to first clean all cuts and scrapes as soon as they are noticed to remove any possible dirt or contaminants in your skin. Next apply an antibiotic ointment and then cover with a band-aid or long pants or a long sleeve shirt to protect the wound. The key is avoiding infection through cleaning and treating or your hike may quickly come to an end.
This is the little killer that sneaks up on us all during the day, then takes its toll on us all. As we spend our time outside hiking, you will be exposed to the sun’s rays. The sun affects us even if it’s cloudy, rainy, snowing, or foggy. For those of us that hike at higher altitudes, the sun’s effects can be tripled, a small sunburn can quickly increase to a serious injury as you ascend in altitude.
Direct UV-B levels at 8,500 feet in Vail, Colorado, were approximately 60 percent higher than at sea level in New York,In addition, the direct UV-B levels in Vail were the same as those in Orlando, a site nearly 775 miles closer to the equator. The intensity of the UV-B exposure suggests that a person having an average complexion, with unprotected skin, would burn after only six minutes of sun exposure on a clear day at noon in Vail at 11,000 feet above sea level. – Department of Dermatology at the New York University School of Medicine.
No one wants to look like a thanksgiving turkey, well a few may, but they all live in Southern California, so the best way to prevent a dangerous sunburn is to block the sun from reaching your skin through clothing or sun-block. Don’t go cheap and grab the SPF-15, which does just about nothing to help. Always use SPF-50+ which provides maximum protection in all sun conditions and at all altitudes. As we sweat and hike we end up wearing the sun block off so if you expect to stay protected all day, you must continue to re-apply. If you end up with a sunburn grab a small squeeze tube of aloe vera so you don’t have to carry around a 5lb jug of it.
The monsters that haunt us during every hiking expedition, it’s usually not a matter of if, but when will blisters start to show up. Before we jump into blister care, there are a few ways to avoid them, mainly by always breaking in hiking boots or shoes before you set out on your big hike. I have personally bought amazing Garmont or North Face hiking boots and shoes, only to realize they were the wrong size, or just didn’t fit right by trying them out on a local hike or walk. The fashion police will not attack you if you decide to walk around the mall a few times in your new hiking boots on a rainy or snowy winter day. After about 10-15 mins of walking in them, you will know if they feel “right” or if they will be an issue 5 miles down the trail. Another great way to avoid blisters it to wear the right socks, socks that are too thick, or bunch up can cause friction, sadly causing blisters. When hiking I always carry extra socks in a dry ziplock bag, so I can quickly put on dry socks if needed to avoid blisters. Its a good idea to keep your feet dry in general even if you don’t have blisters.
If you feel a “hot spot” or blister forming, its time to take action. If you wait, you lost your opportunity and element of surprise. Hot spots or areas where your feet are rubbing need to be fixed by adding a layer of moleskin, medical tape, or even duct tape as a last resort to your foot. This will allow the shoe and sock to rub against the tape or moleskin and stop friction from contacting your skin directly. No this is not a 100% all the time fix, but it helps. Once a blister forms, there is no need to go crazy and start conducting surgery on your foot, let the blisters remain, if you cut them open you are creating the opportunity for infection, if they remain seal, your skin is sealed. If you notice a blister that has opened, clean it with antibacterial wipes, add neosporin and then cover it with a bandaid and additional medical tape.
Poisonous Plants and Berries
The worse nightmare of any hiking trip, you are days from the trailhead and you realize your arms and legs covered in poison ivy, sumac, or poison oak. If you are allergic to these poisonous beasts of plants, know what they look like, click here to identify and avoid, study the shapes, and memorize them, it will save you days of pain and suffering. I know a person who accidently thought it would be smart to run into the middle of the woods of a trail and without looking decide the plants growing all over the nearby logs made a great toilet bowl, 8 hours later he regretted his lush green natural bathroom covered in poison ivy. If you are exposed try to use a strong oil-cutting soap to get the poison plant’s oils off of you, dry the area well and then apply calamine lotion which helps sooth the area and keep it dry.
As for berries, don’t eat random berries in the woods, and no its not a good idea to “test them” by eating one or two to see how you feel. Unless you are in a life or death situation and have not eaten in over 7 days, the risk is not worth the reward. Unless you know 100% what a berry is, and what plant it’s growing on, leave it alone. Also take note, poison ivy loves to thrive around blackberry and raspberry bushes, I am not sure why, but I found out the hard way.
Another annoying battle we all have when spending any time outdoors is battling insects. Some are worse than others, like the giant horse flies I have encountered in Maine, they literally take a chunk out of you when they bite. Wearing long sleeve and long pants usually takes care of most biting insects though some are still persistent. If you are hiking in alaska during the spring you are a true hiking superhero. The black flies and mosquitoes are relentless and will drive you to insanity. Wearing bug nets over your head, gloves, long sleeve and thick clothing helps. You can also use natural bug repellent that includes eucalyptus and other natural scents to repel them. If nothing else works then grab the 100% deep spray and spray your clothing, and try to avoid your skin. Many hikers are irritated by spraying 100% DEET directly on their skin. If you are unexpectedly eaten alive since your boy friend, who for some weird reason has never been camping before, leaves the tent half unzipped at night, carry some calamine or aloe lotion with you to cover your bites and after 24 hours or so they will go away. Remember not to itch the areas where you were bit, this can cut your skin opening it up to infection.
Ouch, irritated skin between our legs is both TMI and just unpleasant for hiking, but it happens to us all. Really its not about the way you walk or your gait, but is a lack of proper clothes shopping. Purchasing the right type of hiking boxers, briefs, or underwear will go a long way, you wear them all day long so spend a few extra dollars on one or two pair that are made for hiking. I am not partial to any company, there are a bunch of amazing hiking underclothes produced by REI, The North Face, and Patagonia, but I always wear Exofficio under clothes anytime I am outside or on an expedition. Worse case scenario is to wool or synthetic, or nylon clothes and avoid cotton underwear.
Failure to Launch
Have you ever been on a hiking all day, you stop at a shelter or a campsite and setup camp, get the stove lit, and dinner is ready, you hike and camp like a boss! Not everyone is like you though, there is always that one hiker that slips into camp just before the sun sets, they have no idea how to setup their tent, the wrapper is still on their sleeping bag, and they have never put batteries in their flashlight or headlamp before; they are what I call “failure to launch hikers”. To avoid being “that guy or gal” that everyone stares at for 30 mins watching them fumble over new gear they have never tried out, always test out new gear before you hit the trail. If you live in Downtown Brooklyn you can still setup your tent in your living room a few times just to practice. Test out everything, and if you have the chance got for a short overnight hike at a nearby campground. Not only will you be able to look and feel like a Rock Star, you are saving yourself major headaches when it comes time to use your water purifier, gas stove, and other important gear, practicing with your new gear could save your life. More than once a storm has blown in and the temp plummeted from a balmy 70 to the 50’s with hail and sleet. Thankfully I had set my tent up 30+ times, I knew exactly where my rain shell was, and I was out of the elements dry and warm in under 5 mins. The next morning I woke up to a fun 12 inches of snow and hiked back down to lower elevation. An extreme example, but it pays to know your gear. Finally, don’t try to be an ultra-light hiker unless you are an expert hiker first.
Don’t Go Cheap
If you want to hike with a 90lb pack then please find your nearest Walmart and buy all the Ozark Gear they offer, you won’t be able to lift your pack. While Walmart does have camping gear, its focused on car camping or camping without hiking. So go to Walmart and buy trail mix, propane, beef jerkey, and build a great first aid kit, but leave the real gear to outfitters that make lightweight and very durable gear. Companies like MSR, REI, North Face, EMS, GoLite, Kelty, and more all build great products that last, and many are lightweight.