Three Often-Ignored Outdoor Risks That Could Get You Killed

Most peo­ple will quick­ly name poi­so­nous snakes or dehy­dra­tion when asked about out­door dan­gers. How­ev­er, the truth is that some of the most dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions are those you’ve deemed too unim­por­tant or out­landish to con­sid­er. These are three often-ignored out­door risks that could kill.

1. Falling
This includes things falling on you, or you trip­ping or falling.

For exam­ple, while tree limbs will def­i­nite­ly come crash­ing down dur­ing high winds, they also come crash­ing down in the still of the morn­ing for no rea­son at all, says Pablo Solomon, an artist and design­er, and a fan of every­thing out­doors. “And they can fall so fast and with such force that you may not be able to get out of the way in time,” Solomon explains.

Anoth­er com­mon dan­ger: ver­ti­cal caves/mine shafts. “I live near the beau­ti­ful Col­orado Bend State Park, which is home to the tallest water­fall in Texas,” Solomon says. “It is also home to hun­dreds of caves—many of which have ver­ti­cal shafts.”

Solomon points out he once fell into a shaft that was com­plete­ly cov­ered in leaves, despite being a thor­ough­ly expe­ri­enced hik­er. “Luck­i­ly, I was in good shape and have fast reac­tions. So I stopped my slide before I went down very far and was able to get out with­out help,” he explains. “But I real­ly should have fol­lowed my own advice and used my walk­ing stick to probe before tak­ing each step in areas with a lot of caves.”

And the dan­ger does­n’t stop there. Hik­ers going off-trail can slide down a wet rock, just because of the grip, or lack there­of, in their boots. Mit­i­gate the risk by fol­low­ing sim­ple best prac­tices. Bring trekking poles or walk­ing sticks. Wear prop­er boots or hik­ing shoes. Be con­scious of your surroundings.

2. Hypother­mia
One of the most com­mon risks that peo­ple ignore when hik­ing? Hypother­mia. “Peo­ple ignore hypother­mia because they are unaware it’s hap­pen­ing,” says Steve Sil­ber­berg, own­er of Fit­pack­ing Weight Loss Back­pack­ing. “You can become hypother­mic even in 50-degree rain,” Sil­ber­berg adds, which explains why peo­ple often ignore hypother­mia: they don’t real­ize it’s hap­pen­ing. Grad­ual changes are much hard­er to notice than sud­den ones. But the good news is, there are key signs to keep in mind.

Symp­toms of hypother­mia include shiv­er­ing and what Sil­ber­berg calls the “umbles.” “When some­one ‘mum­bles,’ ‘grum­bles,’ ‘fum­bles,’ and ‘stum­bles’ you know their motor con­trol and judg­ment are com­pro­mised,” he explains. “If hik­ing out­side in the ele­ments, the best action, once you’ve put on warm, pro­tec­tive cloth­ing, is to con­tin­ue hik­ing (back home) vig­or­ous­ly,” Sil­ber­berg explains. “Exer­cise will warm the body. And it will delay or reverse hypothermia.”

3. Sum­mit Fever
Sum­mit fever is dan­ger­ous because it “infects” peo­ple’s ratio­nal deci­sion-mak­ing, explains Sarah Knapp, founder of Out­door­Fest, a com­mu­ni­ty of out­door enthu­si­asts in New York City. “So much of hik­ing and being out­doors is about mak­ing deci­sions and tak­ing cal­cu­lat­ed risks,” she explains. “When the urge to get to a sum­mit (or fin­ish a cer­tain sec­tion of a hike) over­pow­ers ratio­nal think­ing, hik­ers are bas­ing their deci­sions off of emotions—which is very dangerous.”

In fact, Knapp points out that the most dan­ger­ous part of the climb/hike is usu­al­ly get­ting back down. “If you have sum­mit fever and you keep going even though it’s get­ting dark, will you lose your way?” she points out. “Will the tem­per­a­ture drop and are you pre­pared to keep warm? What if you don’t have enough food or water to fuel your body?”

That’s where the dan­ger lies, accord­ing to Knapp: often the emo­tion­al desire to achieve a goal or reach a sum­mit will cause peo­ple to for­get about the risks involved and make deci­sions they would­n’t oth­er­wise make. “The best way to avoid sum­mit fever is to make a hard lim­it for your­self and your group,” she adds. “For exam­ple, if you haven’t reached the sum­mit by 4:00pm, you’re turn­ing around and that’s that.”

Why would you make this deci­sion and deprive your­self of a suc­cess­ful sum­mit? When you turn around while you’re not yet afflict­ed with Sum­mit Fever, you’re more like­ly to not give in to your base instincts. Rather, you’re more like­ly to make deci­sions with com­mon sense.

Just Remem­ber
When you’re in the wild and noth­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly ter­ri­ble has hap­pened, it does­n’t mean you’re in the free and clear. Any­thing can hap­pen, and even the sim­plest risks can be the split between life and death. Think of all the risks, even if they seem small, and make good deci­sions. Keeps these tips in mind, and be safe out there.