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How to prevent common hiking injuries

Hiking is generally pretty safe, but accidents happen. While most common injuries would be a mere annoyance at home or in town, they can pose big problems when you’re on a mountain or out on the trail.

A little knowledge and preparation are all you need to prevent hiking injuries. Oh, and maybe a first aid kit.

Here are a few of the most common hiking injuries, and how to prevent them.


BLISTERS

You may have never even thought of a blister as an injury. But hobble down the trail in pain with a raw heel is one of the more painful experiences you can have.


HOW THEY OCCUR

Blisters occur when there is too much friction the on the skin. For example, friction between your foot and your boots. When an irritant repeatedly rubs against your skin, the top layer of skin separates. A fluid-filled sac forms to protect the deeper skin layers. When blisters burst, they reveal raw skin susceptible to infection.



PREVENTION

New hiking boots can be a recipe for disaster. Therefore, it’s really important to break them in well. Wear them as much as possible for a long as possible in the weeks, or even months, leading up to your trip.


Make sure you have a great pair of hiking socks. Smartwool is our choice of material for great hiking socks. Make sure you get the best pair for thickness and thermal qualities and then use them every time you wear your boots.


If you start to feel any rubbing inside your boot this can soon turn into a ‘hot spot’, where a blister will form. We recommend using Compeed to protect the area as soon as possible to prevent further damage. These are also the best thing to use when a blister has formed, it will cushion the area from pain whilst protecting the water filled sack over the raw skin and allow the skin to heal itself naturally.






SPRAINS

Healthy ankles are crucial when you’re on a trail; they provide support and mobility so you can move easily on uneven terrain. Bruised, swollen ankles really take the fun out of your hike. And, if you suffer a bad sprain, you may need help getting back to the trailhead.



HOW THEY OCCUR

You can sprain many parts of your body, but the most common is the ankle sprain. A sprain results when a ligament is overstretched. (For example, when your ankle bends in an unnatural way.) On rough terrain, you can easily misstep and twist your ankle. If this happens, you can’t just “walk off” a sprain. The best remedy is rest, ice, compression, and elevation (R.I.C.E).


PREVENTION

To prevent spraining an ankle, strengthen your lower leg muscles and perform balance exercises. Try calf raises, yoga poses (like tree pose), and ankle circles.

When you’re on the trail, wear proper footwear for the terrain and use trekking poles to help you keep your balance. Finally, tread carefully! Slippery surfaces, jagged rocks, and uneven terrain put you at risk for sprains.




SUNBURNS

The sun is necessary for our survival, but sometimes it hurts the people that love it the most. Sunburns might look silly, but they are no joke. A severe sunburn can lead to blistering and flu-like symptoms like fever, chills, and aches. The higher in altitude the stronger the sun’s rays, even when there looks like cloud cover, so the correct protection is crucial.


HOW THEY HAPPEN

Because humans have spent decades indoors, many of us now lack natural protection against the sun. UVA and UVB rays land on the skin, and in response, your body produces melanin to protect you. However, when you get too much sun, your body produces an inflammatory response. The result? You look like a tomato.



PREVENTION

Preventing sunburn is all about creating a barrier between your skin and the sun. Sunscreen coats your skin in particles that reflect the sun’s rays. When you plan to spend all day outside, choose the right sunscreen. Many dermatologists recommend sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Pick a sport or waterproof formula that won’t break down when you start to sweat. You’ll need to reapply every two to four hours.


You should also cover up as much as possible, using UV-protective clothing, like long-sleeved shirts and hats, to prevent sunburns.



HEATSTROKE

Heatstroke occurs when your body temperature rises too high. Extended sun exposure and dehydration can interfere with your internal cooling mechanisms, raising your body temperature to a life-threatening 104 degrees F.



HOW IT HAPPENS

The sun can do more than burn you. Without proper sun protection, clothing, or adequate water, your body becomes overwhelmed and can’t keep your core temperature at a healthy 98 degrees F. Strenuous activity (paired with high temperatures) also increases your risk of heatstroke.


PREVENTION

Make sure you are carrying enough water. It’s recommended that you drink one liter of water for every two hours on the trail at a minimum. You may need up to four liters of water in extreme climates, like the desert.


If you feel yourself overheating, take a break to lower your heart rate. In the middle of the day, find shade or take a break.

Finally, wear proper clothing for your hiking environment and shed layers as needed to allow for evaporative cooling.





HYPOTHERMIA

When hiking in cold environments, preparation can be the difference between a good time and time in the hospital. Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition that occurs when your body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit.



HOW IT HAPPENS

Without proper shelter or clothing, wind, rain, and snow make it almost impossible for your body to regulate its temperature. Hypothermia doesn’t only occur in snowy mountain environments; your body temperature can drop too low in cold, wet conditions, as well.


PREVENTION

Bringing the proper gear for the climate you’re hiking in is crucial. Thermal layers, down jackets, rain jackets and rain pants are important kit for most adventures.

Your body needs fuel to keep going in cold climates. So be sure to eat enough food!





With a little knowledge and planning, you don’t need to let a hiking injury spoil your trek.