Family Health: Sidestep hiking hazards for a successful trip

When bad things happen on a hike in Montana, they can involve real disasters. Bear attacks and lost hikers make problems like sunburn and blisters seem like minor bumps in the road. But when you’re on the trail, it can be the little things that make or break your hike. Planning ahead and knowing how to deal with these common hiking hazards can save the day:

  • Blisters. A foot blister can bring your hike to a halt. They are more likely with shoes that are new or don’t fit well, so stay with tried-and-true footwear. If you know you have a vulnerable spot, cover it ahead of time with athletic tape. Bring extra socks and change to a dry pair if you feel a hot spot developing. Treat that area immediately with one or more donut-shaped pieces of moleskin to keep the pressure off the blister.
  • Poison ivy. First, know what this plant looks like – visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a description and pictures. Watch for this low-growing plant and avoid it. If you do brush against poison ivy, don’t touch that area – the oil that causes the itchy reaction is easily transferred. Wash your skin with soap and water as soon as possible. If you develop a rash, calamine lotion may relieve the itch. Don’t worry about your rash spreading to other areas or other people – the fluid from poison ivy blisters does not cause a rash. But oil from the plant that gets on clothing – or dogs – can spread poison ivy to other people.
  • Sunburn. Bring enough sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) to last your whole trip, and reapply it every two hours. That’s true even on cloudy days, since UV rays penetrate clouds. Try to stay in the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays. Long sleeves and long pants give you even more protection. If you feel or see signs of sunburn, get out of the sun or cover up quickly. Cool water, in a shower or creek, is a good starting treatment for sunburn, and moisturizing lotion can also help. If you have a bad sunburn, drink extra fluids for a few days and use ibuprofen or another over-the-counter pain reliever to relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Insect bites and stings. You can avoid attracting many insects by not using perfume or scented lotions, shampoos or soaps. Bright colors and shiny objects, such as jewelry and buckles, also attract some insects. If you disturb a nest of bees, move away slowly if you can, since they are attracted to quick movements. Remove bee stingers quickly by scraping with the flat side of a knife or credit card, and treat the area with ice. Check your clothes and skin for ticks frequently, and remove any that are embedded by grasping them close to your skin with tweezers and pulling gently.
  • Lightning. Lightning strikes aren’t common, but it still pays to know what to do when a storm is approaching. In fact, thunder means danger even if the sky is blue near you. If you hear it, or see lightning, stay away from water, isolated trees and other tall objects. If you have a metal pack frame or hiking poles, put them a good distance away. The best shelter is inside a closed vehicle or building, but if that’s not possible look for low-lying ground like a depression in the terrain. Crouch there on the balls of your feet to minimize contact with the ground. Keep your feet together and your head down, with your hands over your ears. Never lie down flat during a lightning storm, and don’t cluster together with other hikers.

You can learn more tips on staying safe and enjoying your hike by visiting the American Hiking Society at