If you plan on heading out into the great outdoors sometime soon, make sure to take the time to see that your trip is as safe as it is fun. These ten safety tips are self-explanatory, but they’re also easy to forget or to ignore as unnecessary. None of them require taking a survival course – the keys are planning ahead, taking proper precautions and knowing your limits.
1. Underestimate Yourself
This may sound like a real downer, but being conservative in your estimation of your outdoor skills can be a real life saver. Don’t assume that you’ll have the strength to swim back to shore if you fall out of the boat, or that you’ll be able to find your way back without a map. Make sure you have the time to get back to camp or home before nightfall without cutting it close. What it really boils down to is this: You’re not Bear Grylls, and you can get hurt trying to act like him.
2. Pack Smart
Whether you’re hiking, kayaking or just doing a barbecue in the park, make sure you’ve got what you need before you leave the house. That means food, plenty of water, safety gear, and whatever tools and toys that will make your trip enjoyable.
3. Use Your Safety Gear
It’s easy to be cavalier, and to insist that your kid wears a helmet while you hop on a mountain bike with the wind blowing through your hair. But accidents happen to everyone, and when you take a spill or fall off the jet ski, you’ll be glad your head is protected and that you’re wearing a life jacket.
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4. Watch Out for Mosquitoes and Ticks
You’re much more likely to get bit by a mosquito or tick than attacked by a bear or a marauding pack of wolves, and that could expose you to Lyme disease or the West Nile virus. So if you’re headed into a humid, wooded or grassy environment, wear long sleeves and pants. Use a repellent with DEET, and check your body for ticks when you get home.
5. Tell People Where You’re Going
This is especially crucial if you’re heading out alone. Make sure to mention when you expect to be back, too. That way, if you get injured or lost, whomever you notified will know something has gone wrong, and search parties will know where to start looking.
6. Read the Manual
This is a quick way of saying that if you’re using any kind of equipment or machinery, make sure you know how it works before you give it a shot in the wild. Don’t assume that jet skis are self-explanatory, or that everything uses AA batteries. Knowing how to use your gear will save time, energy, frustration and possibly even your life.
7. Know How to Avoid Lightning
Lighting may never strike twice, but once is enough to seriously mess you up. Review these safety tips from the USDA Forest Service. If a storm approaches, head for a forest, shelter or car. Drop anything metal and get out of the water. If you’re on a horse or a golf cart, get off.
8. Check the Weather Before You Go
Knowing ahead of time if it’s going to be cold or raining can make your outdoor excursion a lot more pleasant (or allow you to reschedule). But it can keep you safe, too. A good rule of thumb is: If you’re new to an activity or sport, hold off until the weather is clear. That means no exploring new hiking trails mid-blizzard, and no whitewater rafting when rising water levels can turn an easy ride into a death trap.
9. Make a Plan and Stick to It
When you tell someone where you’re going, you need to hold up your end of the bargain. The wilderness is just about the worst place to take impromptu risks and to push yourself beyond your limits. That’s not to say that you can’t explore your capacity as a woodsman, but remember that you can always head out for another weekend if you want to go those extra miles or paddle that unknown river.
10. Learn First Aid
This one is pretty obvious, but most people never bother to take a first aid course. You never know when you’ll fall and sprain your ankle or cut your arm open, and having some basic medical supplies and knowing how to use them can be a real life saver.
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