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Backpacker Magazine – May 1998

A Few Ounces Of Prevention

The 25 often-overlooked ways to stay healthy and injury-free.

by: Buck Tilton

These days you can't swing a soggy hiking sock without hitting a medical specialist. A glance at the Yellow Pages bears me out on this. There you'll find lots of people with the letters "M" and "D" trailing their names, learned folks who spend their days focusing on one particular aspect of human health and well-being.

But you have to search far and wide to find someone specializing in the field I'll call "Preventive Wilderness Practices." I know. I've looked. And it's a shame, too, because if more backwoods travelers spent time heading off trouble, instead of coping with it after the fact, the world would be a better place.

While we all wait for the medical establishment to see the error of its ways and create such a specialty, you can get a jump on things. Here's a rundown of the most important but easiest to forget health matters. Read them, follow the accompanying advice during your next backpacking foray, and save yourself a trip to some specialist later on.

Check your first-aid kit before every trip. Medications expire. Water, heat, or freezing cold can damage items. Or you may have used up some things (bandages, for instance) and forgotten to replace them, and you certainly don't want to leave home without them. Some locales, say a desert where you'll likely need to pluck a cactus spine or two, will require a few first-aid kit modifications from your recent trip to the mountains. Pack your medical supplies as thoughtfully as you pack your food and other equipment.

Disinfect the bottle along with the water. Water-based, gut-wrenching cooties can live in containers that appear dry. A rinse with boiling water will kill them, as will a thorough washing at home before the trip. And don't forget to sanitize the lid because the screw-top rings are great places for bad bugs to hide.

Be sure your sunglasses protect against ultraviolet light. If not, you run the immediate risk of sunburned eyes and, down the road, cataracts. Not all sunglasses are rated according to the UV protection they provide, and some imports have inaccurate UV protection labels. When you buy, opt for high-quality eyewear from a reputable, widely recognized manufacturer, and make sure the glasses come with a written guarantee that spells out the protection. Or take your current pair to an optometrist or optical shop for a test of UV protection. The service is often free.

Drink before you are thirsty. If your body is a mere 1 to 2 quarts low on water, an amount you can sweat out easily during an hour of hard hiking, your physical performance can drop as much as 25 percent. You'll maintain endurance, and generally feel better, if you drink about 1?4 quart of water every 15 to 20 minutes, instead of chugging at a rest break every hour or so.

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