Wilderness Preparedness

Be Prepared. We all have heard the Boy Scout motto. But are you prepared for emergencies when you travel or go out to shoot? We remember to take extra batteries and lens cleaning material but what about ourselves? Do you carry a first aid kit? Sunscreen? Insect Repellant? Let’s discuss the essentials.

Water- What? Water is up top on priorities? Yes. A common problem, especially when the temperature is warm, is dehydration. So, carry a water bottle WITH water in it. My favorite is the Platypus SoftBottle (1 liter). Whatever you carry, look for BPA free. BPA is bisphenol A, a chemical compound coming under scrutiny by the FDA for possibly causing medical problems. Many companies now have BPA Free alternatives.

What about adventures where you are not close to safe drinking water for a period of time? In the very early days of my backpacking career, we boiled all of our water, or drank it straight and took our chances. With the spread of many viruses and other organisms in water sources, treating your water should be a priority. For a while I carried some type of filter (water purifers eliminate all manner of yucky stuff in the water). But you had to pump. Now I carry a SteriPEN which uses UV light to kill everything in the water in your water bottle. And I also carry a simple filter (pour the water through it into the canteen) that gets out sediment. The SteriPen works best if the water is clear. So I carry a SteriPEN Adventurer  and a SteriPEN FitsAll filter. 

Insects – Growing up in Mississippi our insect repellant was in the form of a 12 gauge shotgun. The mosquitoes were big enough to take target practice on them. No, really we used the big cans of Insect Repellant not to be named. It worked. It was gross. Now step into the 21st Century and we have figured out that DEET actually works well, but you don’t have to use near 100% concoctions of it. One of the best preparations of DEET is Ultrathon which is 34% DEET and lasts a good long time. Remember that DEET is a plasticizer and will melt plastic, so don’t spray it all over your hands and then grab your camera. I find the Ultrathon tube with the sponge on the end useful in controlling applications. All of this is for your skin, what about your clothing?

Permethrin is a solution to spray on your clothing (NEVER on your skin, directly). Soak your clothes with the liquid, let them dry. Then you are set. This stuff actually can kill the insects that come in contact with your clothing. The treatment will last several washings and about 4-6 weeks before needing to be retreated.  Sawyer makes a good product. Your sportings good store will probably have Permethrin, or you can look online at Chinook Medical .

Sunscreen – Use it. The growing incidence of skin cancers is directly related to our sun exposure. We are nature photographers. Unless you are doing only star trails and night photography, we are exposed to the sun all the time. (Ok, east TN has lots of days with clouds, but you can still get burned with cloud cover).  Neutrogena makes some really good products recommended by dermatologists.

First Aid kits- Practicing Emergency and Wilderness medicine gives me a little advantage in knowing how to use first aid gear. But it doesn’t help if I don’t have a first aid kit. Over time my kit has shrunk in size. You can’t carry everything, but need to be prepared for most common problems. I carry an Adventure Medical Ultralight .9 kit. It has enough additional stuff over the .7 kit to make it worthwhile. I supplement this with a whistle and compass and map. The whistle hooked to the outside of my photo backpack with a mini biner, ready at a moments notice to go to work. The Emergency Distress Signal on a whistle is 3 quick blasts.

How do I use my first aid kit? Many kits come with a first aid manual (pretty good for the layman, I take them out to save weight). If you want more training, you can look for Wilderness First Aid classes which are typically 2 full day classes. For people not needing a certificate, I actually have a 1 day Wilderness First Aid for the Photography class which gives you all the basics. Not an endorsement of any company, but the Platypus and SteriPEN are easily found at REI, my personal source of most of my adventure gear. REI

Bill is a professional nature photographer and currently the President of NANPA (North American Nature Photography Association) and also a Wilderness Medicine physician with long years of experience in the Emergency Room and also in the outdoors. He is AWLS  (Advanced Wilderness Life Support) trained.

3 Responses to “Wilderness Preparedness”

  1. Thanks for the article, Bill. I enjoyed it.

  2. Alex says:

    Thanks for the great post, Bill! This information is invaluable to all of us who enjoy getting off the beaten track to shoot.

    Glad to hear you are happy with your SteriPEN — thanks for recommending us!

    Oh, and some pretty outstanding photography here on the site, too… 🙂

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