Warm summer weather inevitably brings people outside. Whether boating, hiking, fishing, camping, or just taking a walk, the dog days of summer bring along a fresh set of seasonal hazards. Managing these risks keeps the family safe while still having fun. Here are a few things to think about as you hit the great outdoors.
Summer Hazards – Dehydration
Water is the universal solvent, the elixir of life. A typical healthy adult can make it 30 days or more without food, but you won’t make it more than maybe three days without water. When the mercury rises, you can burn through vast quantities of the stuff.
Keeping the human-machine hydrated is critical to hot weather health. How much water you should drink is a nebulous question. A good guideline under normal circumstances is 2.7 liters per day for women and 3.7 liters per day for men. With heavy exercise in hot weather, that number can go up to a liter per hour.
When in the field, I try to keep water handy and just sip throughout the day. A decent CamelBak water carrier makes this easier.
Summer Hazards – Finding Water
You can indeed filter questionable water through clean socks and then treat it at the rate of a quarter teaspoon of unscented bleach per gallon of water to make it potable. I’ve done that before. The resulting treated water tastes bad and will make you feel a bit ill. A much better option is a quality water filter. They are inexpensive, effective, and handy. Fresh bottled water is best.
Summer Hazards – Heat Injuries
Exposure to excessive heat and humidity, particularly in the context of extreme exertion or inadequate hydration, can lead to heat disorders.
Heat cramps are the mildest sort, and they become manifest as painful muscle spasms during or after intense exercise and sweating in high-heat environments.
Heat exhaustion is the next stage and occurs when the body is unable to cool itself adequately. Heat exhaustion typically stems from a loss of water and electrolytes secondary to excessive sweating.
Heatstroke occurs when the body’s temperature-regulating system is overwhelmed by excessive heat. Heatstroke is a life-threatening emergency.
Heat cramps result in painful muscle pain and moist, flushed skin. Heat exhaustion will also typically produce fever along with possible nausea, vomiting, headache, fatigue, and weakness. Victims will sometimes become anxious and lightheaded. In these cases, move the victim to a cool, shady place, loosen clothing, and have them drink cool water or sports drinks if able. Stretch cramped muscles gently and slowly.
Heatstroke will produce warm, dry skin, high fever with a rapid heart rate, and all the previous symptoms, along with lethargy and agitation. In extreme cases, heatstroke will produce seizures, coma, and death. In this case, place ice packs in the groin and armpits, and drench the skin with cool water. Heatstroke victims require immediate medical treatment.
Summer Hazards – Sunburn
Not only does sunburn significantly increase your risk of developing skin cancers later in life, but severe sunburn can also be debilitating. In nasty cases, you can develop fevers, chills, nausea, headache, and weakness. The severity of sunburn is a function of your complexion and the duration and intensity of exposure.
Keeping skin covered and using sunscreens are the two primary defenses when you must be out in the sun. Wear a hat. Light colors reflect more sun than dark ones. Your sunscreen should have a high SPF (sun protection factor) rating, and the higher, the better. In a pinch, mixing wood ash with water or petroleum jelly makes a decent improvised sunscreen.
Solar radiation reflected off of shiny surfaces like water or snow can burn you in unexpected areas. One of the worst sunburns I ever had was at the bottom of my chin and nose. It came from sunlight reflected off of snow while on a glacier in the middle of the summertime. Avoidance is always better than treatment.
Summer Hazards – Furry Critters
The world is awash in wild animals. A friend who is a game and fish officer once told me that distemper ran through our local raccoons. In one six-month period, he trapped and euthanized 260 of the animals in our small southern town without making a dent in the overall population.
All wild animal encounters are potentially dangerous. In a diseased state, these creatures can behave erratically or aggressively, frequently losing their fear of people.
Animal bites are notoriously filthy. Irrigate the wound aggressively with cool, clean water as soon as possible. Seek medical help and antibiotic prophylaxis for any serious animal bite.
In all of human history, there have been five cases of people surviving rabies infections after the onset of symptoms. Rabies claims about 60,000 lives around the world each year.
While dogs cause 95 percent of all rabies infections worldwide, extensive vaccination has pushed this rate down very low in North American canines. Bats cause most rabies infections in the U.S. Any encounter with a bat, no matter how minimal, should be discussed with a physician.
Summer Hazards – Scaly Critters
There are four species of venomous snakes in America. Three are in the pit viper subfamily: water moccasins, copperheads, and rattlesnakes. A fourth species, coral snakes, is not as aggressive but produces a particularly horrible neurotoxin.
CroFab is the commercial name for the polyvalent antivenin commonly used in American emergency rooms. CroFab is effective against the venom of all three pit viper species and typically brings improved symptoms within an hour of administration.
If a venomous snake bites someone, try to keep the victim calm and seek medical help. While one in four snakebites are dry (do not involve envenomation), the possibility of catastrophic tissue damage warrants medical intervention in all cases.
Summer Hazards – Storms
Hurricane season is always a crowd-pleaser in coastal areas. Tornadoes can strike most anyplace. If the areas where you live or visit are susceptible to hurricanes or tornadoes, proper preparation can spell the difference between life and death.
Keep a bug-out kit stocked and handy. It will need to include basic medicines, a little food and water, tools and weapons, a weather radio, and anything else you might need to survive at least a couple of days on the move.
Heed evacuation warnings and keep enough fuel on hand to get to safety if the gas stations are out of service. Treat your stored fuel with Sta-Bil to make it last longer. Sta-Bil fuel stabilizer is cheap and available at any auto parts store. Treated gasoline will typically last up to two years after treatment if properly stored. I rotate several five-gallon cans through the family vehicles to keep them fresh.
Flash floods can be catastrophic. Never try to drive through flooded areas. If your neighborhood is prone to floods, you might want to invest in a small boat. Some inflatable boats are affordable, and they need not take up much space. Keep a mechanical pump handy for inflation.
Summer Hazards – Power Outages
Summertime foul weather frequently causes power outages. If your household budget supports it, a backup generator can preserve your frozen foods and keep enough lights burning to maintain civilization. Test your generator monthly, and be sure to keep plenty of fresh fuel on hand.
If you have a family member who requires refrigerated medications like insulin, invest in a portable electric cooler. These devices are not terribly expensive, and you can power them with a modest generator or your car’s electrical system. Amazon will have more options than you could need.
A reliable light can keep you on top of the food chain when the sun goes down. There are countless options powered by dozens of power sources.
If you opt for traditional battery-powered lighting, be sure to keep your batteries fresh. Swapping out the batteries in your flashlights on your birthday is an easy way to keep track. I keep at least two or three different lighting options handy just in case. Mechanical or solar-powered lights are inexpensive and reliable.
Summer Hazards – Food Stockpile
While the determined survivor can indeed live for a month or more without food, you will be gaunt, grouchy, and ineffective long before then. Fifty pounds of dried legumes look cool on the survival store shelf, but you and your family will get mighty sick of that stuff well before you run low.
MREs are actually quite tasty, but they have somewhat limited shelf lives. Our family maintains enough dehydrated food to keep us going for two weeks at least. If properly stored, dehydrated food will keep for 25 years. A proper source of water is, of course, a critical commodity if dehydrated foods are on the menu.
Mountain House foods are available on Amazon and are delicious if properly prepared. My family exchanges tins of Mountain House food regularly for Christmas presents as an excuse to build up stocks.
A proper knife has been the primary tool that has kept humans alive in hostile environments since the dawn of time.
A small camp stove lets you sterilize water, heat up dinner, and chase away the late evening chill. It’s smart to keep at least three different methods of conjuring fire handy.
Sleeping bags in cool or mountainous areas can make the difference between a good night’s sleep and an evening of shivering misery. If your family doesn’t fit in your vehicle overnight, you need a suitable tent.
Utensils and camping plates, pots, and pans come in dozens of flavors, but the disposable sorts mean not having to draw water to wash them. Sunglasses can be worth their weight in gold.
A little fishing gear need not take up much space. A solar power source adequate to keep your personal electronics operational can summon help, notify loved ones, and keep the kids from freaking out.
Decent footwear is a must. Flip-flops are comfortable but not the sort of thing you want to be wearing in an emergency. I always wear boots when traveling by air. It didn’t take much longer to get through security, and crashed airplanes are inevitably fraught with jagged metal.
A single set of quality clothing is manageable for extended periods in the field, but you’ll be happier with clean socks.
Weapons are a personal decision. I am armed whenever I am not either asleep or in the shower.
If you are physically and emotionally able to wield a deadly weapon responsibly, a firearm is an equalizer in dire circumstances.
But, if you cannot train enough to attain familiarity, comfort, and proficiency, you should probably opt for something less lethal like a stun gun.
Enjoy God’s creation at every opportunity. However, be prepared for unexpected travails. Self-reliance keeps you from becoming a burden on the infrastructure in a crisis and can potentially keep you alive when life really goes sideways.
Remember that the most advanced survival tool ever devised rests solidly upon your shoulders.
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