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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving Insect Attacks

From early spring to late fall, a danger in your wilderness adventure is insects. While most insect bites aren’t deadly, a mass attack, or a sting you’re allergic to, could cause serious health issues.

If you’re hiking in areas where there are pools of standing water or swamps, you’ll encounter mosquitoes. Mosquito bites aren’t just itchy; they can also give you West Nile virus. Wearing a long-sleeved shirt like this one with an SPF of 30 for sun protection, and long pants that can convert to shorts, or these that also provide sun protection, to limit the skin mosquitoes and other insects can reach. You’ll also need a serious insect repellent. Health authorities in Utah recommend DEET.

Another enemy is the Africanized Honey bee, more commonly called the “killer bee.” Unlike other honey bees, these are aggressive and easily provoked. Killer bees can sense you from 50 feet away and will chase you for at least a quarter mile. You’ll receive at least ten times as many stings as you’d get from other bees. The stings aren’t often deadly, just painful. Wasps, like bees, attack in swarms. If you’re attacked, run away, and cover your face and head, as killer bees and wasps most often sting there. Don’t take cover under water, because the bees will wait there for you to come up and breathe.

A third type of pest is the tick. Inhabiting both woods and grassy areas, they attach themselves to your skin. Again, the danger is less the bite than the Lyme disease it can carry. Check for ticks frequently.

If you’re stung by a bee or wasp, scrape the stingers out using your nails. Use the tick remover forceps from your first aid kit to remove the entire tick; grab it as near as possible to your skin, and pull it out slowly but firmly. Make sure you get the head of the tick as well as the body. If the bites itch badly, use an anti-histamine cream or liquid. If you or someone in your group is allergic to bee stings, be sure that they carry epinephrine to use if they go into anaphylactic shock. If you start feeling flu-like symptoms or develop a rash after a tick bite, see a doctor as soon as possible, because it could be Lyme disease.

Educated and prepared, you can survive insect bites and enjoy your trek.

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Survival of the Fittest: Avoiding "Poison" Plants

From early spring to late fall, your wilderness adventure can bring you into contact with poisonous plants. Whether it’s poison ivy east of the Rockies, poison oak west of the Rockies, or poison sumac in the humid wet areas of the southeast, plants across the country are just waiting to give you a rash.

The first step in prevention is learning to recognize the plants. Poison ivy is a low-growing plant, a vine, or a shrub. The leaves can be either smooth-edged or notch-edged, and they’re usually in groups of three. Poison oak is nearly always a small bush, but can also be a vine. Its smooth-edged leaves can be in groups of three, five or seven. Poison sumac is either a small tree or shrub. It’s pretty leaves have nine to thirteen leaflets on a red stem, and flowers that become small white fruit. All of them irritate the skin.

Since it’s hard to recognize them, and since their foliage is usually combined with other concealing foliage, the second preventive step is to dress for avoidance, although this may be uncomfortable in warm temperatures. A long-sleeved shirt , long pants (these are convertibles), high-cut boots , and long socks can help protect your body, but only gloves can save your hands.

These plants produce a oil or resin called urushiol that causes an allergic reaction when it touches the skin of about half the population. The oil can stick to your clothing, your pack, and even your pets and you can get the rash from touching anything that still has the oil. When you get home, thoroughly wash everything.

If you think you touched it, wash your hands immediately, using soap. The rash usually takes between 24 to 72 hours to develop, but for the 15% of the allergic population who are severely allergic, it can start as soon as 4 to 12 hours. In this case, urgent medical care is necessary, as it can become anaphylactic shock.

If you get the rash, you can treat it with oral antihistamines, which you should carry in your first aid kit, calamine lotion, and/or an antihistamine cream or cortisone cream. A cool damp compress helps soothe the rash, which generally goes away on its own in two to three weeks. If the rash is very severe, see a doctor for a prescription steroid, and take it long enough to completely cure the rash.

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving a Black Bear Attack

If you’re hiking in a forest, whether flatland or mountainous, you may encounter a black bear. An estimated 300,000 of them inhabit 41 of the lower 48 states, from coast to coast. To survive an encounter with a black bear, hike with a group and be prepared. Wear medium hiking boots and carry a backpack with a quick-access pocket on the hip belt. Carry bear spray there. Bear spray contains capsaicin, but it’s a different concentration than spray for people. Make sure it specifies it’s for bears.

“Black” bears can be black, cinnamon, golden, and in some parts of British Columbia, even white. These bears are generally shy, and prefer to avoid contact. If you see a bear, and it hasn’t seen you, back away slowly. Watch the bear but don’t make eye contact. When you’re out of sight, wait until you hear it move away or find a route around it. Bears have very poor eyesight, so if it sees you, wave your arms slowly, and talk in a calm voice to let it know you’re human. Move slowly upwind away from the bear. Never walk up to a bear, and never try to feed it.

In some situations, a bear may see you as a threat. If it’s a mother with first year cubs, she’ll start a defensive attack. She’ll warn you by swatting the ground or chuffiing, moaning, and snapping her teeth. If she approaches you, stand still. She’ll usually stop, and then you can back away and pull out your bear spray. If she comes at you again, use the spray when she’s within 15 feet, and aim for the face. You’ll also be perceived as a threat if a bear is defending a kill. Watch for ravens and other scavengers that may indicate a kill site, and avoid it.

If the bear attacks defensively, play dead, and the bear should leave. If it attacks you aggressively, fight for your life with all your might. Yell, use a knife, fists, or sticks and rocks, and aim for the nose and eyes. As soon as you can get away, head for medical help. If you’re far from help, first treat any bleeding wounds with your first aid kit .

Use good bear sense, and survive for your next hike.

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Survival of the Fittest: Surviving a Broken Limb

No matter how experienced you are, there’s always the risk of slipping and falling when you’re in the wilderness. But what if you fall and break your bones? The first thing you need on any outdoor excursion is a first aid kit . This one includes a guide to wilderness and travel medicine, along with some supplies for a broken limb. If you love the wilderness, you should also consider taking a basic first aid class.

Examine the injury to make sure it’s a break, not a sprain. You’ll need a splint on both sides of a broken leg; if you have a tent, you can use the poles. If not, look for two sturdy long sticks. If you can’t find anything, use a bandage wrap from your first aid kit to splint the broken leg to the other leg, and make sure the splint is secure the entire length of the leg. If the fracture is compound (bone breaks through the skin), pull it straight so that the bones align, clean the wound, apply an antibiotic cream, dress and bandage the wound firmly, then splint the leg.

Splint an arm with a rolled up magazine or newspaper, or with shorter poles or sticks. Put the arm in a sling, made from any fabric you have. Whether the break is an arm or leg, give the injured person pain killers from the kit, and make sure you can see fingers or toes so you can tell if the splint is too tight – if the fingers or toes turn red or purple, then it’s on too tight. The limb needs circulation.

Step two is to get the injured person to real medical help. If he has a broken arm, he can probably still walk. If it’s a leg, and you have two uninjured people, make a litter with the tent fabric or a sleeping bag and two tent poles or two long sticks. If there’s only one of you to help, make a travois instead, and keep the leg elevated at the high end of the travois. Keep the injured person warm to avoid shock.

Stay calm, know what to do, and you can survive a fracture in the wilderness.

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Survival Gear: Be Prepared for Winter Driving!

Outdoor enthusiasts aren’t the only ones in need of a disaster preparedness survival kit. Driving across wintery terrain in a car, truck, SUV or snowmobile may lead you to hazardous road conditions that leave you stranded for several hours. When you’re battling those icy roads and brutal winter temperatures this season, make sure your car or vehicle is well stocked with some basic survival gear:

Medical Supplies
If you survive an accident or have a last-minute emergency to manage, a first aid kit can hold you over until you can find some professional help. Pack a simple first aid kit supply bag in the backseat of the car or vehicle for easy access in case of an emergency.

Food Supply
Being stranded on icy roads may mean you go without food for several hours. Being hungry can reduce the ability to make sound decisions and make it hard to stay focused and warm. Make sure you have at least one thermos or flask filled with hot soup or foodstuffs so you can feed your brain and body in the case of an emergency.

Blanket or Sleeping Bag
If you’re stuck without heat for several hours, you have to find a way to stay warm. A thermal blanket or sleeping bag will keep those toes and hands plenty warm when temperatures drop, so you’ll need to drape yourself in a warm covering until help arrives at the scene. Just roll this up and throw it in the backseat or trunk; this is just as important for a camping trip as it is for a long road trip across snowy terrain!

Fill up a water flask with water that won’t freeze on you during your excursion. You’ll need an ample supply of water to stay well hydrated for several hours on the road, so plan to store at least 1-2 gallons of water in the vehicle in case of an emergency.

Light Source
Headlamps and flashlights can help you navigate your path if you get a flat tire or find yourself in unknown territory. Just pack some light gear with fully charged batteries before you hit the road as an extra safety measure.

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Survival Gear: Surving The Amazon Basin

The Amazon basin is famous for its untamed trails, unmatched terrain and incredible views of the lush rainforest and rivers. The birds, flora and fauna that live in the basin are ready to welcome you to the ancient forests and trails that are sure to take your breath away. However, Mother Nature can be less than forgiving on your rainforest hike so you’ll need to turn to a safety kit that contains all the essentials to weather the storm. From waterproof clothing to first aid kits, here’s what you’ll need to survive on that tropical trail:

First aid kit
You’ll need an effective solution for managing cuts, scrapes and bruises along the trail so you can press on like a true rainforest warrior. Make sure your first aid kit contains antibacterial gel, cotton swabs, alcohol and other basics to clean up any wounds and protect your skin in rougher conditions.

Water Purifier
Staying well hydrated in the humid climate is essential for survival; don’t give yourself a chance to become dehydrated as you venture into balmy territory. A water purifier and water pack will help you stay well stocked with fresh water and may even deliver the boost of energy you need to finish your trail.

Emergency Snacks
If you get stuck in the middle of a hurricane or tropical storm, you’ll need some food to make it through the day. Pack some basic snacks that won’t melt or dissolve in the high heat. Trail mix, cereal bars, instant oatmeal and canned meals are a few must-have foods for your Amazon adventure.

Lighting Gear
When the sun disappears from the Amazon rainforest, you’ll need a way to navigate the tropical terrain. Your instincts will serve as your guide for most of the trail, but you’ll need the help of a lantern or flashlight to make it through the trail. Make sure you’re well equipped with batteries and a backup light source if you’re planning a multi-night camp or hike through the rainforest.

Waterproof Clothing
A light parka or waterproof jacket will protect you from intermittent rain showers and keep you dry and comfortable for the long night ahead. Make sure you have an emergency blanket or parka wrapped up tight in your pack as an extra safety measure.