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Head for the Hills With Some Hiking and Camping Safety Tips

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

Outdoor season is back. But, before you venture forth into the great
outdoors, take the time to adequately plan your excursions with needed
safety precautions.

For example, do you know what poison oak is? If you know it
and stay away from it, you’ll be fine. If you do not know it and get
it all over your clothes, skin, and so on, you are going to hate your
trip to the outback. So if you don’t know what it is, Google it or ask a
park ranger. And teach the kids about it for sure – be safe as you
start out on your outdoors adventures.

Summer will be here before you know it and to make your visit
to a California State Park better here are some tips for hiking and
camping safety before you go:

Know the Rules

Learn about regulations for the area(s) you plan to visit –
including campfire rules, dog and pet regulations, and wildlife
guidelines. Some areas require reservations or permits or may have other
restrictions. First check with a park ranger. Find out in advance about
any regulations and get current maps of the area(s).

Wildlife and Avoiding Danger

Learn the types of wildlife to expect in the area by calling
the ranger station or searching the web. Learn to identify poisonous
snakes that may be found in the area, and know first aid treatment in
the unlikely event a bite occurs. Know what precautions to take to
protect your food and equipment from bears and other animals (day or

If poison oak is likely to be present in the area you visit,
plan ahead by adding a topical poison oak treatment or soap to your
equipment. (Do NOT ignore this one, please.)

Make sure your equipment is in good shape and make any repairs
before your trip. If you plan to use a new tent or you have not used it
for awhile, set the tent up completely to make sure all the stakes and
poles are included and look for any rips or separated zippers.

Medical, First Aid and Emergencies

If you have any medical conditions, check with your health care
provider for advice. Pack more prescription and over-the-counter
medication that you might need if your trip is unexpectedly extended.

Open your first aid kit and become familiar with its contents.
Check for contents that have expired and supplement the kit with
additional adhesive bandages and sterile pads of various sizes.

Review the skills, equipment and supplies that you’ll need for
the recreational activities you’re planning. Take advantage of the many
available books and websites to learn camping and outdoor skills.

Find out about the physical conditioning required and get in shape before your trip.

Equipment and Safety

Check the weather before you leave. Make sure your equipment is
appropriate for the weather expected. Always pack cold weather gear in
the event the weather changes, even in summer. Temperatures are often
unexpectedly cold if you are not used to camping or being in the
outdoors. Always allow for bad weather and for the possibility that you
may be forced to spend a night outdoors unexpectedly.

Bring extra garbage bags to pack out any refuse you come across.

It’s safest to hike or camp with at least one companion. If you
plan to hike into a remote area, have a minimum of four people in your
group. If someone is hurt, someone else can stay with the person who’s
hurt while two others go for help.

Pack emergency signaling devices and find out the location of the nearest ranger station in case of an emergency.

Leave a copy of your itinerary with a family member or friend.
Include details like the make, year, and license plate of your car and
when you plan to return. Also include emergency contact information for
the ranger station or other agency that might be called on by your
friend or family member to check on your welfare or reach you in case of
an emergency.

Check your vehicle before the trip. Make sure it’s in good
condition for the mountainous or desert road conditions you’ll
encounter. Ensure that tires have a good tread and that your spare tire
has adequate air. Replace your battery if it is beginning to show signs
of low cranking power. Double check your auto insurance towing policy.

Expect no cell phone service in remote areas and plan accordingly.

What to Bring

What you take will depend on where you’re going and how long
you plan to be away. Here are some essentials: plenty of water and
purification tablets or filters; first aid kit; a whistle; any needed
medications; sunscreen; radio with extra batteries; map, pocket knife,
signal mirror, cell phone; candles and matches in a waterproof
container; flashlight; sunglasses and a hat for sun protection; insect
repellant; extra clothing, like extra sox (to prevent blisters, avoid
cotton sox) and rain gear; maps and compass; extra food; nylon filament,
extra pair of prescription glasses; space blanket; trash bags, which
can be used as ponchos or ground cover.

Carry out what you carry in.

At the Campsite

Arrive early so you have plenty of time to check your campsite and set up camp before dark.

Check your site for any potential hazards (such as ant beds,
poison oak, nearby cliffs, etc.) Show all members in your party – even
the youngest children – what poison oak looks like and where it is
likely to be around your camp and the paths to the restrooms, creeks and
other frequently used locations near your campsite. Make sure everyone
in your party knows what the potential hazards are in the area and how
to avoid them.

Make sure your tent is at least 15 feet upwind from grills and
fires. Maintain at least a three-foot clear area around the tent, free
from leaves and dry grass. Do not dig drainage channels or trenches
around your tent or campsite. They are not effective at directing
rainwater away from your tent and can become unexpected tripping

Use only battery-operated lights in or near tents or campers
and never use heaters which emit carbon monoxide inside your tent or
camping vehicle.

Mark tent stakes, poles and guy lines with bright fabrics or tennis balls to avoid tipping.

Dispose of trash properly and utilize recycle bins where available.


Only build fires in designated fire pits and make sure fires are always attended.

Keep a shovel – even a small camp shovel – near the fire so
it’s available to use to throw dirt on the campfire. Keep a bucket of
water near the fire to help extinguish it when necessary. Know where the
nearest water faucet is located to refill the bucket after use.

Supervise children at all times when fires are burning or
grills are in use. Do not allow children to run or play around the fire
ring, even when the fire is not lit.

When near campfires, wear snug fitting clothing and be sure
everyone knows how to put out a clothing fire — stop, drop and roll.

Thoroughly extinguish all fires.

Hiking Tips

Bring a basic first aid kit (with bandages, gauze, disinfectant, surgical tape).

Prepare yourself in advance by taking a first aid safety course.

Make sure a family member or friend has your itinerary and have
them contact the park if you don’t return within a reasonable time.

Check the weather before you go and be prepared for any changes.

Carry a current park trail map and know how to read it.

Wear shoes or boots that provide good ankle support. Slick leaves on trails have been known to cause fractured ankles.

Take adequate water – a minimum of two quarts per person per
day. If hiking in arid climates, carry at least four quarts per person
per day. All water from the backcountry should be treated either by
filtering or boiling. Expect backcountry water sources to be unavailable
and have a contingency plan in that event.

Be prepared to send distress signals (with a flashlight or using the sun’s rays with a shiny object).

Remember there is safety in numbers. Group hikes are a great
way to protect yourself from hiking dangers and they are more fun.
Consider joining a hiking club.

Avoid hypothermia, the dangerous lowering of body temperature,
by keeping dry. Dress in layers that can be removed or added as you heat
up or cool down. Always carry a wind-resistant jacket and rain gear.
Get out of any wet clothes. Get into your sleeping bag or fill a trash
bag with leaves and get into that. On warm days, watch for signs of heat
exhaustion. If you get lost, be sure to keep warm.

Be aware of possible encounters with wild animals and treat any encounters with extreme caution.

After You Return Home

Repair any equipment that was worn or damaged during your trip
so it is ready for the next one. Replace any non-perishable items you
used, such as matches and candles, and first aid supplies.

Make note of the things you forgot, wished you had brought, or
didn’t bring enough of. Keep your notes on file to review before your
next trip.

Make notes of what you learned about your camping and hiking
locations and things you want to see or do on your next trip to the
area. Attach the notes to the park map for future easy reference.

Subscribe to Wildsam Magazine today, Camping World and Good Sam’s magazine of the open road.

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