January 5, 2017

Don’t Stay Inside All Winter, Just Follow These Outdoor Safety Essentials

Each year as fall gives way to winter, people around the state decide whether to continue their beloved outdoor activities or retire them for the season. Fear of injury and cold-related illnesses keeps many people inside unnecessarily. Enjoying winter in western North Carolina doesn’t have to be intimidating — it just takes preparation. Whether you’re camping or hiking in the cold, preparation is critical.

shutterstock-winter-outdoors-girl10 Outdoor Safety Essentials

An avid adventurist and wilderness medicine lecturer, Gabriel Cade, MD, Director of the Blue Ridge Regional Hospital emergency department, and an avid outdoor enthusiast and wilderness medicine specialist, suggests these must-haves for outdoor success. And don’t forget your cell phone!

  1. Insulation (clothing layers and an extra set of dry clothes)
  2. Fire (lighter, candle, waterproof matches)
  3. Nutrition (food, or a way to get food, such as hunting or gardening tools)
  4. Hydration (water, or a way to get water, such as a filter or a way to boil)
  5. Navigation (map and compass)
  6. Emergency shelter (space blanket or tarp)
  7. Sun protection (sunscreen, sunglasses and clothing)
  8. First-aid supplies
  9. Tent repair kit and tools (learn how to use these beforehand)
  10. Illumination (headlamp or flashlight and fresh batteries)

“The most important part of the body to keep warm is your core,” said Dr. Cade. “Our bodies like to stay around 98° F. Feeling cold is disagreeable, getting “hypothermia” [when your core falls below 95° F] is potentially fatal. You can get confused, and you can die. Stay warm, and recognize when your brain begins to suggest going back inside.”

“The secret to dressing for cold weather, whether you’re walking in your neighborhood or running in the woods, is layers,” said Dr. Cade. Dressing in layers lets you tailor your outfit to the activity, as well as add and remove pieces easily.

The first layer, the one touching your skin, is for wicking moisture away from your skin as you sweat. “Synthetic fibers and wool do this, cotton does not,” said Dr. Cade. This layer can be underwear, long underwear, a sports bra or T-shirt. Next, choose a middle layer such as fleece, Merino wool or down (goose feathers), advised Dr. Cade. This layer traps air and heat close to your body. Finally, choose an outer layer appropriate for the weather. Like a turtle’s shell, this will act as the final layer of protection — so look for a water-resistant or waterproof material.

While getting hypothermia is rare, slips and falls are not. “Based on who I see in the emergency department, the bigger risk in winter weather is slipping and falling,” said Dr. Cade. The best way to prevent these injuries is to wear appropriate footwear, stick to cleared paths and consider using a hiking pole or walking stick.