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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


Stay slightly cold to stay warm. When sweat is evaporating from your body, the process sends precious body heat rushing into the surrounding air, and you get chilled. Slightly cool people, on the other hand, don't sweat as much and therefore, don't waste body heat. You can stay slightly-but-not-uncomfortably cold by opening your clothing, removing outer layers, and maintaining a slower pace.

Listen to body parts that tend to chafe. You know the places where moist skin rubs against moist skin, creating a painful rash. Carry a small bottle of talcum powder and apply three or four times a day to keep chafe-prone skin dry. Layers of clothing can act as "lubrication" where chafing is a recurring problem. Long cotton pants, for instance, can prevent chafed thighs. If that doesn't work, you can always resort to a lubricating jelly.

Use insect repellent safely. Although the Environmental Protection Agency approves only those repellents that pose no adverse effects to your health, there are several optional guidelines you should follow: 1) Read and follow label directions, and keep out of reach of small children. 2) Apply repellent only to exposed skin, or better yet, on but never under clothing. Wash it off as soon as you no longer need protection. 3) Don't get repellent in your eyes, mouth, or open wounds. 4) If you must use it on children, don't get any on their hands because chances are, it'll end up being rubbed in eyes and mouth.

Note: DEET-based repellent will dissolve plastic, so carry it wrapped in a cotton bandanna and sealed in a plastic bag. Any that leaks out will stay in the bandanna, which can be worn later to help repel insects.

Do a tick check. Ticks must bury their heads, then feed for hours or days before illness-causing germs can be passed to you. If you find one roaming, simply pick it off. If the head is buried, gently grip the tick at the skin line with a pair of tweezers and pull it out with steady pressure. Wash the site with soap and water to decrease the chance of illness.

Apply sunscreen to your ears. Those flaps on the side of your head are two of the most often overlooked body parts-along with behind the ears and the lips-when hikers slather on sun protection lotion. They're also prime spots for skin problems in later years. Sunscreens of SPF 15 will do the job for most skin types, but many dermatologists recommend SPF 30 to be safer. Shade from a wide-brimmed hat protects your ears, too. The brim should be at least 4 inches wide all the way around the hat. Baseball caps, sports fans, just won't do.

Make sure your boots are in good shape. If your boots are broken down and provide no support for feet or ankles, you can develop tendonitis during only one day of hiking. And don't try to lace 'em up extremely tight, hoping to compensate for the softness. Boots laced too tightly cause more blisters and tendonitis than boots laced too loosely.

And wear the right boots. Prevent frostbitten toes by wearing larger and/or cold-weather boots in winter. Sounds overly common-sensical, but frost most often bites the lower digits of hikers who stuff on extra socks inside light boots to "make do" in an icy environment. Light boots do not provide enough insulation, and extra socks cut off circulation to the toes, which merely invites cold injury.

Wash a wound to prevent rabies. Plain old soap kills the rabies virus, and water flushes the insidious germ from the wound. After being bitten by a wild animal, you'd be wise to see a physician as soon as possible.

Munch often to feel better. A snack about every 2 hours, especially a high carbohydrate snack, keeps your store of muscle glycogen high. Glycogen is converted into a sugar that fuels muscular work and liberates heat for inner warmth on a cold day. So don't wait for that big, day's-end meal. Take advantage of this chance to eat often.



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