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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

Natural Born Killers: Top Backcountry Dangers

Which is the bigger backcountry threat, grizzlies or flash floods? Find out what should scare you–and how to survive it–with BACKPACKER's Terror Index.

by: Jason Stevenson

(Photo by Michael Francis)
(Photo by Michael Francis)
(Photo by Mark Carroll)
(Photo by Mark Carroll)

141     BEES
Danger Airway constriction caused by anaphylactic shock chokes you to death if you're one of the 3 percent of allergic adults. Think you're safe? Not so fast. If you've only been stung once, the body hasn't yet had time to mount an allergic response. The second sting could kill.
Body count Wasps, bees, and hornets are responsible for an average of 50 deaths a year. Among venomous animals, bees and their kin account for 70 percent of all deaths–10 times more than snakes. And it's quick: Anaphylaxis can kill in less than 10 minutes.
Best defense Avoid scented sunscreens and bright clothing, which can attract bees. Carry an antihistamine like Benadryl in your first-aid kit, and an EpiPen if you or your hiking partners are allergic.

Danger West Nile Virus, a bug-borne disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord, causing stupor, disorientation, tremors, coma, and death in severe cases
Body count Most victims are very young or old, but more than 1,000 in 46 states have died since the disease surfaced in 1999 (284 in 2002, the deadliest year on record.) Idaho, Mississippi, and Wyoming had the highest per capita death rates in 2006.
Best defense There's no treatment, so prevent bites by wearing long sleeves and pants at dawn and dusk and using a DEET-based bug spray. And should you be tempted to handle a dead bird (seek help, friend), note that they're WNV carriers, especially robins and crows.

134     YOUR EGO
Danger Getting lost, stranded, or smashed up, thanks to your deadly combination of overconfidence and lack of know-how
Body count Insufficient experience and errors in judgment played a role in one-third of the 3,593 SAR operations in the national park system last year, with poor physical condition also implicated in 22 percent of all cases.
Best defense Assess your skills and experience level honestly, take classes to improve, and resist the urge to climb or cross risky terrain.

132    HEAT
Danger Delirious convulsing that progresses to multiple organ failure and dying brain cells when core body temperature hits the 104°F range
Body count Between five and 10 people die each year of heat-related causes in Grand Canyon National Park, accounting for a quarter of all park fatalities. If the Southwest is your destination, you should fear heat a lot more than bears. Best defense Treat victims by cooling them immediately with water (soak their skin and clothing, and apply wet cloths to the neck, groin, and armpits), fanning them, and having them recline in a shady spot. Never leave someone experiencing heat illness alone.

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Mike Outdoors
Nov 21, 2013

I liked your page on Facebook and was thinking about subscribing to your magazine. Articles like this scare people away from outdoor activities, especially people thinking about starting outdoor activities. Considering people have a much higher chance of being killed in a car driving to the trail head, 40,000 fatal car crashes per year in the USA. And physical inactivity kills an estimated 5.3 million people a year. I don't understand why an outdoor magazine would promote how many ways someone can be killed by outdoor activity. Why not promote the physical and psychological benefits of outdoor activities instead of scaring people? I honestly don't think the person that is writing these articles has actually been an outdoors man.

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Clint McPhee
Oct 12, 2010

Gary, this is one of those guys that came from Waco on that rescue operation to McKittrick Ridge. Shoot me and email or look for me on Facebook. email (at) clintmcphee (dot) com

Jan 27, 2009

Here another 'backcountry killer' -- The lack of going there. Many people die from just sitting still and dying a slow cubicle-to-car-to-couch existence. Get up, put on your shoes and get outside. You may find something worth living for in God's big green earth!

Jan 23, 2009

Let's face it. If you are not struck by lightning, or attacked by an animal, you probably killed yourself. Most people die because they are trying to do something they shouldn't be doing or they are doing something stupid. If you try to cross a rain swollen river and die, the river didn't kill you. You killed yourself in a river. THINK BEFORE ACTING. We have two or three deaths per year in the Red River Gorge Geological Area from people falling off 100-300 ft. high cliffs. Most come down to Ky to visit this unbelievably beautiful area from Southern Ohio. They are usually walking or hiking at night in an EXTREMELY dangerous area.

Roleigh Martin
Jan 01, 2009

Please provide a statistic on how many people suffer heart attacks while backpacking, is such information known? Approximated? Guessed? Any supporting URLs? Thanks!

Justin Reading
Dec 26, 2008

This was very informative, a few stats were wrong but otherwise entertaining... Water cools at quicker paces than 5 times, pretty sure anyway it's closer to 25

Gary Carver NPS Ranger
Dec 03, 2008

I would question your stats on one person a year killed by pumas. My research indicates about twenty killed in the last 110 years in the U.S. and Canada. Let me know if I am wrong.
I would also question 12 murders a year in National Parks, I have worked homicides in BIBE and SHEN and think that number is high unless you count bodies dumped in places like Joshua Tree and Mojave. Again let me know so I can pass the information on to hikers, backpackers and visitors.

Shaggy Moose
Nov 28, 2008

AMOEBAS! That freaked me out the most of them all.


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