Water Safety

Six Tips to Stay Safe in the Wilderness

June 2015


In the Pacific Northwest, we are often only minutes away from hiking trails, and it’s tempting to take off at a moment’s notice for a quick trip to the woods.

But to stay safe, take time to prepare and plan before you head off into the wild, says Dr. Andrew Luks, a UW associate professor with Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Harborview Medical Center and an expert in wilderness medicine.

Remember to pack these camping essentials:

• Map of the area

• Compass

• Flashlight

• Extra food

• Extra clothing with rain gear

• Adequate drinking water

• Matches in waterproof container

• Candle or fire starter

• Pocket knife

• First Aid Kit

• Signal whistle and mirror

• Sunscreen and bug repellant

“People often underestimate how badly things can go wrong, even on short trips,” Luks says. “You can get lost or injured or bad weather can set in. Staying safe in the wilderness is about planning ahead, anticipating what might go wrong and taking steps to prepare for it.”

Luks recommends the following tips to stay safe in the wilderness:

  1. Check the forecast. The weather can change quickly and even if it’s bright and sunny when you start out at the trailhead, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to stay that way for long. “Before you go, always check the forecast and, depending on the conditions, bring a jacket, rain gear and gloves in case the weather gets cold or rain sets in,” suggests Luks.
  2. Avoid hiking alone. Also, make sure to tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to get back. That way, if you don’t return, someone can alert local authorities or search and rescue services to look for you.
  3. Bring a map, compass and GPS device. “Make sure you know how to use these devices,” Luks says. “Often, people think if they have a compass or a GPS device they won’t get lost, but if you don’t know how to use these tools, you may get yourself into even more trouble.”
  4. If you get lost, stay put. “It’s much more difficult for rescuers to find a person who keeps moving,” says Dr. Luks. “If you’re in range, a cellphone makes it possible for you to call for help as well as allow search and rescue teams to use your phone’s signal to get a rough idea of your location.
  5. Bring extra supplies. In addition to bringing extra clothes to help keep you warm and dry, bring adequate water, or a way to purify water, and some food. How much water you need depends on the weather, terrain and how long you’re going to be out. Filling your water bottle from a stream is a good way to get sick, so pack water purification tablets or a water filter in case you need to refill.
  6. Stay with an injured person. “Always leave someone with the injured person while another member of your group goes to get help,” says Dr. Luks. “It’s also a good idea to take a first aid or wilderness safety course so you can give aid if someone is injured.”

For additional wilderness safety tips or to make an appointment with a primary care physician, call 855-520-5151.

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Patient Care Philosophy My work in the intensive-care unit often involves very complicated, difficult situations for patients and their families. One of the most important ways to help people cope in these situations is to provide easy-to-digest information that paints a realistic picture about challenges ahead – near- and long-term.

Clinical Interests ICU medicine and the care of patients with respiratory failure, severe infections and severe metabolic derangements. In the outpatient setting, interests include high-altitude physiology and medicine, and the evaluation of people with medical problems who seek to travel to high altitude. Also, strong interest in evaluating patients who experience difficulty with exercise performance.

Research Interests Primary research interests include high-altitude physiology and medicine. He has been lead writer or co-writer of several research papers related to this topic, and has published several articles that provide guidance to clinicians whose patients want to travel to high-altitude areas.

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