This section can offer only a brief description of conditions and situations that may affect a hiker’s safety or health. First aid information can be obtained at St. John Ambulance, the Canadian Red Cross Society and some community colleges. These organizations offer first aid courses and publish related handbooks. These handbooks, as well as the better books on backpacking, give advice on preparing a personal first aid kit. A medic-alert bracelet or pendant will provide ready information on allergies and other medics problems in the event of an emergency; wear it at all times.
It is a good idea to pack an adequate supply of all medications you are regularly using. Anyone allergic to insect stings must carry a “bee sting kit” to counteract anaphylactic shock. Blisters can be avoided by wearing good-quality, properly fitting hiking boots. Change your socks frequently in hot weather. If you feel a “hot spot” on your foot, apply moleskin or vaseline as soon as possible to avoid further aggravation. Always keep your boots waterproofed; wearing wet socks is a sure way to develop blisters. For cuts or abrasions, no matter how minor, wash the area immediately with soap and water and apply a bandage. For further protection, obtain a tetanus shot from your doctor and booster shots regularly.
Carrying plenty of water (or a portable water filter) on long outings is really important. Loss of fluids through wind and exertion can cause serious dehydration and heat exhaustion, or an even more serious symptom heat stroke. Wear head protection, the best is a broad-brimmed hat that is well ventilated, which will help to prevent heat stroke.
This disease was virtually unknown in Ontario until a few years ago. It is caused by a strain of bacteria carried by parasitic insects called “ticks” which live on deer and in areas where deer are prevalent. The ticks, no larger than a punctuation dot, can fall off the animals and attach themselves to humans. Removing the ticks with tweezers within 24 hours of contact (take care to get the whole insect) will reduce your chance of developing symptoms.
The symptoms: nausea, headaches, vomiting and fever occur weeks after the bacteria enter the body and make the disease hard to diagnose. Consult your physician for a routine blood test and treatment by antibiotics if the test is positive.
While hiking, it is advisable to wear long sleeved shirts, and to tuck the bottoms of your pant legs into the tops of your socks (or wear pants that tie at the ankles). Be sure to examine your exposed skin regularly and conduct an inspection at the end of each day of hiking.
Hypothermia, commonly called EXPOSURE, is a hiking hazard. It occurs when the body’s production of heat is insufficient to offset heat losses, and body temperature drops below normal (37 Celsius or 98.6 Fahrenheit). In the north, where help may not he close at hand, the danger posed by hypothermia must not be underestimated. Unarrested, hypothermia IS FATAL. The condition most often occurs in cold, wet, windy weather. The victim may be underdressed for the weather conditions, or has allowed wetness to destroy the insulation value of his clothing. Body heat production may be low if the victim has not eaten for some time. Fatigue is also a contributing factor.
HYPOTHERMIA IS NOT EASY TO RECOGNIZE. The victim becomes tired, lags behind, stumbles, is reluctant to continue, is sluggish mentally, and may be difficult to reason with.
TREATMENT OF HYPOTHERMIA
- Seek shelter IMMEDIATELY! Put up a tent or create a shelter! An evergreen woodlot tends to be considerably warmer than a windy, open area.
- Put on dry clothing. Have something to eat and drink (high-energy foods are best). Cover the head as well as the body.
- If recovery is not rapid, or if the victim has collapsed, he will be past warming himself. You must do it for him. DO NOT WAIT!
- Strip the victim and put him into a sleeping bag and have another member of the party who is not affected by hypothermia strip and get in as well.
- Excessive external heat such as a fire should be avoided. Do not give alcohol. If the victim is conscious, give hot drinks and high-energy foods.
- Do not break camp until the victim is fully recovered or until you have medical advice. Meanwhile, watch the rest of the party for similar signs.
PREVENTION OF HYPOTHERMIA
- Whatever the length of the trip, prepare for it carefully. Take heed of weather forecasts. Always go prepared for a change in weather conditions.
- Wear underclothing the wicks away perspiration. Dress in layers and take them off as you warm up to avoid perspiring. Wet or damp clothing has no insulation value.
- Have a good meal before setting out and eat well at meal times on the Trail. Fats are particularly high in energy.
- Put on rainwear early.
- Carry easy-to-digest high energy food. Snack occasionally.
- Plan your day so as to reach your destination with time to spare before nightfall. If weather deteriorates, turn back or seek shelter.
- Remember, there is always a chance of having to spend a night in the open.
- Carry matches and know how to start a fire, even in the rain.
- Know how to create shelter from adverse weather conditions in all seasons. Consider taking a survival course to learn the basics.