Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Autumn Hiking Advice

Autumn is a wonderful time to be outdoors, particularly camping and visiting our National Parks, because there are fewer people present than during summertime. Here are a few safety tips:

  1. Even if the day starts with sunshine and no clouds, always anticipate a rain shower, thunderstorm (sometimes with hail), and/or cold weather. On the cusp of winter, you may get caught in an early snowstorm. I've mentioned before the need to anticipate having to spend an unexpected night outdoors. You may not need to go to that extreme on a day hike, but you definitely should carry adequate clothing to allow you to dress in layers, as well as rain-gear.
  2. Be able to recognize poison ivy and oak as the leaves change color. Until the leaves begin to dry and shrivel and the internal moisture returns to the stems, the resin (urushiol) is present and potent, so you can get a significant exposure. Be particularly careful when clearing out forested and shrub-laden areas, and even more so when burning wood and leaves. Poison oak can grow up around wood--I've treated more than one person with nasty reactions who had been exposed to the resin via the smoke from burning leaves.
  3. Take care to properly contain campfires. After a long, dry summer, the fire risk remains high until there has been enough precipitation to lower the risk. Be especially careful with matches and other firestarters.
  4. Water safety, particularly if you are camping near a lake, stream, or river, is essential.
  5. Instruct children to not put strange plants (such as poisonous mushrooms) in their mouths.
  6. Because it is not as warm outside, you many underestimate your needs for hydration. Drink lots of water.

photo of autumn colors (NOT poison oak or ivy) by Paul Auerbach

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Tags: Backpacking

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.