Woman lighting up a fire

The Basics of Camping Safety

Many of us prefer to keep our entertainment vanilla.  We like to have a little fun, as long as it does not involve bears, bugs, rock climbing and the possibility of losing the signal on our cell phones.  But, for those of us that are a little more willing to break out of our comfort zone, camping can be a very attractive prospect.  I mean, just think of how cost efficient it is:  no expensive hotel room, no overpriced meals, no shopping mall.  And what about the health benefits? Just you and your significant others, sucking up that vitamin D, exercising, and communing with nature, snuggling by the fire, shedding those pesky extra pounds.  Sounding more attractive?  Definitely.  But before you pack your fishing poles and rucksacks, there are a few things you should know about keeping safe on your camping trip.

First, let’s talk about mealtime.  Make sure you bring along safe food and water.  Pack your foods in tight waterproof bags and containers, none of that cracked Tupperware you’ve been eating out of those past few months.  Keep edibles in an insulated cooler and out of the way of any animal or insect invaders. Always have clean hands; you may want to pack some of that delightful vanilla scented sanitizer you found at the 99Cent Store.  Separate cooked food from raw , chill foods promptly to avoid rot and cook foods to the proper temperature.  You may want to bring a food thermometer- make sure those sliders are cooked to an even 160. And while you’re cooking, no fuel-burning  equipment in an enclosed shelter. Gas stoves, heaters, and lanterns all have the potential to cause carbon monoxide poisoning inside a tent.

Woman drinking hot coffee

Aside from the temperature of your food, you may also want to pay attention to your own temperature.  Hypothermia is a very real danger associated with camping.  Be sure to bring enough clothing and bedding to stay warm.  Also, be sure to keep hydrated against the heat by drinking plenty of alcohol-free and sugar-free liquids.  And layer up!  Temperatures can be very high during the day when camping and very low at night. Be prepared to strip or bundle up as necessary, but don’t strip down too much. To fight the bite,  and to keep protected against UV rays, keep your body covered. But console yourselves, nudists, even though you may have to leave the scanty clothes at home, think of how sexy you will look in your sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat.  Are you channeling Sophia Vergara in the soft drink commercials?  Also, use a sunscreen and lip screen with at least SPF 15 and don’t forget the insect repellant.

So what else should you bring?  You should have a compass or GPS, first aid kit, flashlight, map, some batteries and medications.  Check the weather report, know who you can talk to at the camp if questions arise.  Sound like a tall order?  Maybe.  But if done correctly, camping can be a very rewarding experience.  Go forward without fear.  Just do your homework first.  You’ll come back looking great and feeling invincible!

Woman applying ointment

Beware of These Poisonous Vines and Shrubs

Ah, hiking.  The wonder of nature, the beautiful sunsets, the communing with nature, a time for solitude and reflection.  A time for…..poisonous plants?  That’s a buzz killer.  How many have set off with the idealistic, romantic notions of transcendence, only to return with oozing blisters or nausea?  Well, don’t be daunted, Nature Boy or Girl.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!  Just be prepared and learn to recognize the culprits, so you too can come home as beautiful and comfortable as you deserve to be.

First, let’s discuss the most notorious of the toxic plants: poison ivy, probably one of the most infamous threats to the common hiker. But take heart! Contrary to popular belief, if you merely touch this plant, it does not necessarily guarantee  an outbreak. This is because it is not the leaf of the ivy that is  poisonous, but  the sap, which is normally found only on the broken and bruised leaves. If you do not come into contact with the sap, you may be spared. Poison ivy can be identified by its three glossy,oval leaflets, ranging from 3/4″ to 4″ long.  It tends to be green in the summer, but changes to shades of yellow orange and red in the fall.

If you are exposed, symptoms, unfortunately, are not pretty. (Did you imagine they would be?)  Swollen, red, itchy skin and blisters can all pop up six hours to two weeks after exposure.  Seek relief with calamine lotion, cool baths and antibiotics to prevent infection.

A close cousin to poison ivy, poison sumac is  larger, ranging from five to twenty feet.  It will appear in the summer bearing green leaves, green flowers and white fruit.  In the fall, the plant will become very rich in color, with hues ranging from yellow to scarlet. (Sadly, as we are all too aware, it is often the most attractive ones that prove the most harmful).  Avoid all contact with this pretty poison, just brushing up against it will bring the symptoms associated with poison ivy.  Treat with antihistamines and oral and topical steroids.

Stinging nettles

The Stinging Nettles. Is there a punk rock band by this name? Stinging nettles are as unpleasant as their name would suggest.  Bearing triangular leaves which get smaller as they climb the stem, these plants grow from 3-6 and 1/2 feet tall and have leaves with linear bumps, but, the easiest way to identify them is by their green flowers, brown fruit and, you guessed it, stinging hairs. If these hairs break your skin, prepare for redness and severe itching. On the bright side, however, the symptoms are brief and can be effectively treated with a paste of water and baking soda.

Remember Socrates?  The character from the history books who was always asking questions?  Died from drinking hemlock juice?  Well, unless you want to end up like him, avoid this dangerous plant.  Although its flowers resemble parsnips or carrots , hemlock is probably the last thing you want to eat.  If ingested, it can cause nausea, vomiting, confusion, muscle paralysis and respiratory problems.  Head for the emergency room if this gets into your stomach.

But heroes and heroines of the outdoor, don’t let these evil plants keep you down! After all, where would Indiana Jones or Jane Goodall be today if they were scared of a little poison ivy?  He who dares wins. So just put on those long pants and keep the first aid on hand and get out there! Knowledge is power!