The Gear Guide: 5 Ways to Prepare for the Worst Case Scenario

Extras — By on April 15, 2011 at 9:00 am

By Jessica Goldstein
Adventure Editor

Camping in the MountainsSurely you have a vision of your Perfect Camping Trip: sunshine all the time, mosquito-free mountains, clearly marked trails in not-actually-pathless woods. Unfortunately, reality might not be as flawless as your fantasy. But just because things don’t go according to plan doesn’t mean your trip has to collapse like a poorly pitched tent. Read on for our guide to camping damage control. Even if a few things fall apart, you’ll know what to do to keep yourself together. After all, there’s no better way to prepare than by hoping for the best and being ready for the worst.

Tragedies on the Trail

1. Thunder, lightning, and all things rain-related

One time when I was backpacking, my group got stuck on the side of a ridge in one of those crash-bam-BOOM thunder-and-lightning stunners, the kind where the lightning looks like a strobe light and the thunder drowns out every other sound. We, however, had been taught the lightning position on the first day of the trip. Like a fire drill or the safety announcements at the beginning of a flight, the lightning position was something I was sure I’d have to learn but never use. I was very, very wrong. In fact, I became quite well acquainted with the lightning position as I crouched in it for almost two hours. Hooray! (The way I learned it, you don’t have to duck your head with your heads clasped behind it like you’re a prisoner of war. Just, you know, lay low.)

The Lightning Position

The point is that lightning, like boys and college students, travels the path of least resistance. So you want to squat down but be on your tiptoes with your heels touching and your body up off your heels. Sitting on your heels defeats the purpose of the whole exercise. This way, should you be struck by lightning (… it happens) said bolt will shoot up one foot and down the other. Your toes might be kinda toasty but all those precious internal organs will be in tact.

Put on your raingear—you did pack raingear, right?—and keep talking to the other people in your group. Be on the lookout for symptoms of hypothermia, especially if you’re at a high altitude. Signs of hypothermia are also known as the “umbles” – mumbles, grumbles, stumbles, fumbles.

If you’re already at camp, make sure you don’t set up shop in a low area or in a place where water will drain. Stay high, stay dry.

2. Putting the “lost” in “lost girls”

Even with your carefully marked map and sweet shiny compass, you managed to lose your way in the woods. Uh-oh. Step one: take inventory. Is anybody injured? Does it look like the sky is about to open up and rain holy hell on your group? Are there lions, tigers and/or bears in the vicinity? You get the idea. Cooler heads have to prevail here, so you have to stay calm and assess your current status before you do anything else.

The traditional rule of “when you’re lost, stay where you are” is a good one to follow here—especially if there are people back in civilization who know where you are, or at least where you’re supposed to be. Sidebar: make sure to tell people who will be at home your exact itinerary. There should always (always, ALWAYS) be someone who isn’t camping with you who knows where you are and how to reach you at all times. This isn’t Into The Wild–dying in the wilderness is not romantic, even though that guy from the movie is pretty cute. If people know where you are supposed to be and it is discovered that you are not there, the whole finding-you process will be significantly easier.

Once you have established that you’re in a safe place to chill, make yourself visible. Build a fire, hang brightly colored clothing from high places, and every now and then do some shouting for help. Stay in the shade and keep hydrated. Ration your food; you don’t know how long you’ll need it to last.

As exhausted and scared as you may be, it’s incredibly important to keep up morale. You don’t want to get all Lord of the Flies on each other just because you’ve gotten a little off track. Chances are you’re not really in the wilderness; you’re in a state park or some other decently trafficked area. You will be found! Keep calm, carry on. But not by moving someplace else. By surviving without relocating. Right.

3. Bringing home a baby bumblebee

You want to be rocking bug spray the way you’re wearing sunscreen. If you don’t want a bug bite there, put bug spray on it. Reapply when you sweat, or every time you stop for water, or as often as humanly possible. Important places people always forget about: that little space between where your shirt meets your shorts, behind your ears, the tops of your feet if you aren’t wearing sneakers or hiking boots. At night, only use lanterns or flashlights when it’s absolutely necessary—the phrase “like moths to the flame” is from the fact that bugs do really flock to light sources—and keep the netting on your tent zipped at all times.

I’m not feeling too good myself…

Important: the general rule with all things medical is that, when in doubt, go see a doctor. WebMD is not a doctor. Your friend who is premed is not a doctor. Doctors wear super cool lab coats and work in hospitals. They went to medical school and passed the boards and did all kinds of other qualifying things. You don’t want to be taking chances when your health is in play. The remedies listed below are for mild cases—mini-disasters, if you will. Leave the major stuff to the professionals.

4. Poison Ivy

First, recognize: the rash looks like red bumps or blisters in curved lines on the skin. They will itch. A lot. Like the worst mosquito bite you’ve ever had, but way more than that. One thing you don’t have to worry about is spreading that sucker: poison ivy is not contagious, from person-to-person or from one part of your body to another. The second you realize you’ve got the rash, wash your hands and the area with soap and water. The longer you wait, the less effective this remedy will be.

On its own, the rash should clear up within two to three weeks. This may feel like a forever or two, so in the interim, treat the itch by taking oral antihistamines (in non-doctor speak, that would be Benadryl) and applying cortisone creams. You can buy them over the counter or get a prescription. Like the hand-washing, this decreases in effectiveness the longer you wait to do it. A cool compress or Burow’s solution can dry up the sort of disgusting ooze that will follow the also pretty gross blistering. Basically this is all very icky and unattractive… sorry.

5. Sunburn

Sunburned Kim KardashianWhy did you not apply and vigorously reapply sunscreen? Sigh. I would shout this at you but odds are, if you’re suffering from serious sunburn, you are already shouting this at yourself. I have been there, fellow sunburn sufferers, and I know your pain.

At the risk of stating the obvious, get out of the sun. Pop an aspirin or ibuprofen, the earlier the better, to take some of the sting out. Cold compresses filled with a half-milk, half-water mixture can help if the burn is pretty mild. Aloe is your best friend in this situation, and your even better than best friend is the aloe that comes in a spray bottle, allowing for contact-free application. Chug water and stay away from anything that would dehydrate you. Booze, while usually an okay short-term pain reliever, will not be helpful. A cool shower, should you have access to it, is never a bad idea. Wear loose clothing. When you start to peel, leave your skin alone. Tempting as it may be to try to speed along the healing process, you will do nothing but damage.

If you’ve got a truly serious sunburn—blisters would be the symptom of choice here—pack up your bags and get to a hospital. Do not try to pop these blisters. It will be painful and they will probably get infected, seeing as you are hanging around in the not-at-all-sterile great outdoors. You’ll also want to head straight to the emergency room if you experience swelling around your limbs or are having trouble breathing.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed our Gear Guide series and now have a good start on what you need to know to get outside and get exploring!

Thumbnails courtesy of Camping Gear OutletPegasus News, and Pop on the Pop



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