To properly introduce someone to the outdoors you must make their experience as positive as possible. And while precaution is the best treatment for common hiking injuries, sometimes a blister or twisted ankle is inevitable. And when you bust out that first aid kit to resolve any discomforts, the most important thing you can pack with you is the knowledge of how to use your supplies and properly alleviate any ailments you may encounter. So here’s what you need to know to be prepared for you next hiking expedition:
When you spend 100% of your time outside, a little sun exposure is bound to happen. The best way to prevent uncomfortable sun burns that cause you to toss and turn all night is by wearing long sleeves and pants and applying the appropriate sunscreen every few hours. But hey, sometimes long sleeves and pants don’t fit your outdoor lifestyle, and with the fun that you’re having, it can be hard to remember to reapply your sunscreen when needed. For when that happens and you end your day a nice cherry red, any products containing Aloe Vera will help soothe that sensitive skin. And instead of bringing their bulky, spill-prone packaging with you, transfer it into a travel capsule and seal it up tight.
Ah, blisters, a seemingly unavoidable part of your average hiking experience. We have all dealt with blisters before and they really do suck. But if treated for properly to avoid infection, they can be easily dealt with (and avoided) in the backcountry. Blisters arise out of friction causing fluids to collect between irritated layers of skin and swell, eventually tearing and causing that discomfort we are all too well versed in. To avoid blisters, a good place to start is correctly fitting shoes and socks. Keeping your feet dry or not wet for long periods of time will also help in blister prevention. As soon as you feel a “hot-spot” on a potentially blistering area, by applying a layer of moleskin and athletic tape you can avoid any rupturing. If you’ve still managed to get a nasty spot on your foot, treat the blister by draining or cutting the damaged area, applying antibiotic ointment, and utilizing a Band-Aid and a fair amount of athletic tape.
Another common foe in the fight against people spending time outdoors is any kind of biting, stinging, or generally annoying insect. Ranging from gnats to mosquitos, the best way to prevent these epidermis intruders is by wearing clothing that covers the entire skin; if they’re really bad, this might include a head net. Many repellants are offered on the market from natural solutions to product lines that contain DEET, and between long clothes and these repellants you can avoid most bites that will come your way. For the ones that you can’t avoid, products like Calamine Lotion will help you avoid your instinct to itch and re-aggravate the bite marks.
Nothing can ruin a fun time like Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, or Poison Sumac, and the spreading rash these plants can bring. Being able to identify and avoid (and especially not use as toilet paper) is by far the easiest way to treat any poison rash concerns. After that, and as usual, long sleeves and pants that cover the most common contact areas (arms and legs) will help avoid any trouble or late-night itching. If you do stumble upon an unexpected grove of these poisonous plants, storing some Calamine in your first aid kit should help with some of the irritation.
*Note: Poison Ivy and related plants can end your camping trip with over exposure or inhalation by burning of the plant. If you think this has happened to you, immediately exit the trail and find the closest emergency station.
Sure, sometimes a person’s mention of the area between their legs could be considered TMI, but the irritation of chaffing is a real thing that can put a real damper on your hiking experience. This common hiking injury isn’t cured by long sleeves either, instead choosing the appropriate active underwear over your average cotton briefs will go a long way in avoiding the “long day in the saddle” look at night. Think wool or synthetic nylon when choosing your adventure undies, and if you still find yourself scratching at places that shouldn’t be scratched in public, a good handful of body powder can go a long way.
If you’re hiking on an uneven trail that contains rocks, hidden obstacles, or slippery surfaces, a twisted ankle can be hard to avoid. While some twists can be fixed by the “walk it off” approach, others need a little more attention if you intend to finish your hike. To avoid these time-sucking injuries, wearing the appropriate boots with ankle protection is a good place to start. Beyond that, carrying a hiking stick or some kind of stabilizer will help you balance your steps. If you do twist your ankle to the point of needing to take a seat, be sure to elevate the injury, know how to make a proper ankle brace, and take a rest day if you can afford it to let the swelling subside.
Minor Scrapes & Abrasions
Sometimes it won’t be until the end of the day when you realize you scraped up your legs pretty good while tromping through those thorn bushes. It’s like an old record being spun, but long sleeves and pants can make a big difference in the protection of your skin from minor scrapes and abrasions, but they don’t always offer complete protection. Thankfully, minor scrapes and abrasions are fairly easy to treat with some antibiotic lotion and well-place Band-Aids. And by keeping an eye on the cut for a few days until it heals, you can ensure that it is healing properly and avoiding infection.
Nothing is more fun than having your legs cramp with every step you take up the mountain, or that feeling of your toes curling in on themselves as you lay in your tent at night. Cramping is another common hiking injury that is commonly produced by dehydration. Sounds simple enough then, to avoid cramping make sure you are drinking a lot of water. But sometimes in the heat of the moment, especially if the moment is particularly cold, it can be hard to remember to drink the appropriate amount of H2O. Stretching before your big hike can help, and if you find yourself succumbing to a nasty cramp, stretching further can alleviate some of the pain. Consider applying hot and cold temperatures to the cramp and refueling with an electrolyte-dense sports drink. These solutions can often get you the rest of the way home.
Constipation / Diarrhea
It’s a taboo conversation topic at the dinner table, but open communication about your digestive condition is an important safety factor on the trail. An upset stomach is not only an inconvenience to your overall mood and performance, but left untreated it can lead to gut-busting medical emergencies. Combined with the extra exercise and trail food diet, stomachs can respond differently to hiking life. Diarrhea can most commonly be caused by dehydration or bacterial infection and can be prevented by staying hydrated and cooking all food properly (and avoiding unfamiliar berries). Constipation can be caused by many different reasons, and on trail it can be associated with new diets and physical and mental stress. By carrying a small supply of Imodium and Laxatives, it can help things go a little smoother.
A little exhaustion should be part of your experience while hiking, it means that you are pushing yourself into new territories and will offer perhaps some of the best sleep you’ll ever experience at the end of the day. But take exhaustion too far out in the wild and you could find yourself in a tough situation. A common cause of exhaustion is dehydration and improper nutrition. Make no mistake about it, when traveling on the trail you are burning a lot of calories and your machine of a body needs a lot of fuel. Bring calorie-dense (and light) food with you on trail, and plan your water sources before you go out; if all else fails, just shorten your intended mileage or take a break and extend the duration of your trip.