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Healthy for life: Outdoor adventure safety

Outdoor activities can boost your mood and health. But preparing for them correctly can keep you safe. Here’s what you need to know.

  1. What is outdoor adventure safety?
  2. What are common risks when adventuring outdoors?
  3. What items are important for outdoor adventure safety?
  4. What other preparations are important for outdoor adventure safety?
  5. Are special preparations always needed for outdoor adventures?
  6. What should I do in an outdoor emergency?
  7. How can I improve my outdoor safety?
  8. What types of insurance can help me if I have an accident?  

The great outdoors can offer awe-inspiring, unforgettable experiences. There’s even research showing that outdoor activities may improve mental health and well-being.

But outdoor adventures do come with some risks. Follow the tips in this outdoor safety guide to keep yourself safe on your next adventure.

What is outdoor adventure safety?

The possibilities for outdoor adventures are endless. Many of us turn to nature for relaxing activities like:

  • Boating
  • Camping
  • Canoeing
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Kayaking

Others may seek an adrenaline rush from:

  • Climbing
  • Mountain biking
  • Rafting
  • Skiing

While many activities are danger-free, others are quite the opposite. In short, the great outdoors poses some risks, and it can be harder to get help when you’re out in nature.

When you’re in town, “you can call 911, an ambulance is there in several minutes and off they go,” says Clifton Castleman. He’s the executive director and cofounder of the Center for Wilderness Safety. If you are outdoors and in a remote area, that emergency help could take hours or even days to get to you.

Preparation and common sense are the keys to preventing outdoor emergencies, says Castleman. Outdoor safety means having the proper equipment and training for your adventure. You also need to be prepared for natural hazards and know the right steps to take in an emergency.

Need a health plan for you or your family? Explore your insurance options now, or contact a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.

What are common risks when adventuring outdoors?

Some risks, such as cuts and scrapes, dehydration or getting lost, can happen on any outdoor adventure. Other risks may be specific to the activity.

On the trail, common injuries include:

  • Blisters
  • Cuts
  • Muscle strains
  • Sprains

Falls, cardiovascular events and getting lost can also create emergency situations.

Common injuries in paddling sports (such as kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and white-water rafting) include:

  • Back pain
  • Bruises
  • Chronic injuries such as tendonitis
  • Cuts
  • Muscle cramps
  • Shoulder injuries
  • Sprains

Swimming hazards include rocks (or other objects underwater) and the threat of drowning. In cold climates, hypothermia (a severe drop in body temperature) can be a concern.

With rock climbing, injuries often involve your:

  • Elbows
  • Fingers
  • Shoulders
  • Wrists

Falls from high places can also happen — and they can be fatal, depending on the length of the drop. So, it’s a good idea to know your limits.

Weather-related injuries such as lightning strikes can also happen, although they’re rare. Plants, such as poison ivy, and wildlife can also pose threats. And some insect bites, such as from ticks, can cause serious reactions or illnesses.

There are also longer-term risks to be aware of. For instance, sun exposure can lead to skin cancer, the most common kind of cancer in the United States.

What items are important for outdoor adventure safety?

There are 10 essential types of items you should have with you on every outdoor adventure. Those include:

  • Navigation (map, compass)
  • Sun protection (sunscreen, sunglasses, hat)
  • Warm clothing (jacket, rain jacket)
  • Lighting (flashlight, headlamp)
  • First-aid kit
  • Waterproof matches or another type of fire starter
  • Repair kit (scissors, duct tape, multitool)
  • Food (nonperishable, nutritious items such as trail mix and granola bars)
  • Water, including supplies to purify water from outdoor sources (each person may need up to 2 quarts per hour during the summer to prevent heat exhaustion and dehydration)
  • Emergency shelter (tent, emergency lightweight blanket, tarp)

While it’s useful to carry your cell phone, know that you may not have a signal on your route. As a result, it may be helpful to have a GPS device that can track your location and let you call for help in an emergency.

But Castleman warns not to let a GPS device lull you into a false sense of security. “Don’t rely on a GPS device to figure out where you are,” he says. Preparation and training are also necessary for safety. “When used properly, I think they’re a great tool or resource to have, but I don’t think they should be solely relied upon,” he adds.

For water activities, you’ll need a life jacket. Make sure it’s U.S. Coast Guard approved and fits properly. You should also wear a helmet for some activities, such as rock climbing, rafting and mountain biking.

Check your gear before a trip to make sure it’s in decent shape and no pieces are missing, and that batteries are fully charged. And make sure you know how to use each piece of gear. Some issues, such as struggling to set up your tent while camping, are merely an inconvenience. Others, such as not knowing how to turn on your GPS during an emergency, can become dangerous.

Did you know you may be able to spend health account funds on gear such as sunscreen and first-aid kits? You may be able to get a health account through a health insurance policy. Explore your plan options today, or call a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.

What other preparations are important for outdoor adventure safety?

Having the proper gear is essential, but so is planning and adjusting your trip if needed. To start off, Castleman says, “think about where you’re going and what you’re going to encounter.”

Here’s what you can do before your trip:

  • Check the weather. Even if the day starts out sunny and clear, the weather may change suddenly. It’s crucial that you check the weather forecast for the entire length of your trip and stay aware of changing conditions while you’re out.
  • Plan your route. Especially with activities where you’re traveling far, such as hiking, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place for your adventure. Castleman recommends identifying several places along your planned route where you can get out if something goes wrong. You should also check for forest fires, flooding or closures in the area that could affect your trip.
  • Share your itinerary with a friend or family member. Let someone know your destination and what time you plan to return. This is particularly important in situations where there may be no cell reception along your route. That way, if you get lost or have a medical issue, emergency services will know when and where to start a search.
  • Stay within your limits. Setting out on an overly long hike or trip can put you and your group in danger if you don’t have the physical ability to make it the entire way. The average person can hike around 6 to 8 miles per day. But it could be much more or less depending on the terrain or how much of it is uphill. For kayaking, on the other hand, plan on 1 to 5 miles per day if you’re new to it, 5 to 10 miles for intermediate paddlers, and more than 10 miles per day for experienced paddlers.
  • Avoid traveling at night. It’s best to complete your activity or reach your campsite before the daylight fades. Traveling when it’s light out reduces your risk of a fall or other accident.
  • Know what kinds of wildlife are in the area. And know what to do if you encounter any of them. Whether you come across a bear, snake or shark, remember that you’re in the animal’s environment. It’s important not to touch, feed or get too close to wild animals (stay at least 50 yards away from black bears).
  • Travel with a friend or family member. Solo adventures can be rewarding, but they can also be riskier. Spending time outdoors with at least 1 other person is the safer choice.
  • Know how to purify water. Outdoor water sources are often home to bacteria and parasites that can make you sick. If you do drink from them, purify the water first by filtering it, then boiling it or using a chemical disinfectant such as iodine.
  • Know common dangers and how to avoid them. These may range from poison oak when hiking or camping to dangerous areas of shoreline when kayaking.

For water sports such as kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding or surfing, keep these additional safety precautions in mind:

  • Watch for changing lake or ocean conditions, including wave height.
  • Observe changing wind speeds.
  • Stay visible by actively watching for other people or boats in the water. Signal them with your paddle to alert them to your presence.

When hiking or camping, it’s also important to store food properly to avoid attracting wildlife to your campsite. Never keep food, garbage or toiletries (such as soap and toothpaste) in your tent. Store food in bear-proof lockers or suspended at least 12 feet above the ground in a tree.

Protect yourself from ticks by wearing pants and long-sleeved shirts. For extra protection, use tick-specific bug sprays and treat clothes with permethrin, a tick repellent. Always check your skin, clothing and gear for ticks when you return home.

Are special preparations always needed for outdoor adventures?

In some cases, such as a short outing or a trip you’re familiar with, some of these preparations may be unnecessary. You don’t need a detailed plan for every adventure, but a few basic precautions are still helpful.

If you’re going anywhere more remote than a local park, “it wouldn’t hurt to just tell someone,” says Castleman. He recommends letting a friend or family member know your plan and taking your essential outdoor gear in the following situations:

  • If you’ll be more than half an hour away from a hospital
  • If you’ll be in an area with difficult terrain
  • If you’ll be in a location where rescuers may have a hard time reaching you

Need a health plan for you or your family? Explore your insurance policy options now, or contact a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.

What should I do in an outdoor emergency?

Outdoor emergencies include everything from dealing with an extreme weather event to becoming injured or getting lost. Before heading out on your adventure, it’s important to be aware of what to do when things go wrong and understand how to handle them.

Here’s what to do in these common emergency situations:

Thunderstorms: It’s a beautiful day outside, but clouds roll in and before you realize it, you’re caught in a thunderstorm. The first thing to know: “If you’re at the tallest point around, get down,” says Castleman. Things to stay away from during a thunderstorm:

  • Exposed areas
  • Open water
  • Ridgetops
  • Single trees

If there are lighting strikes, assume the lightning position (crouched low to the ground).

Ankle injuries: According to Castleman, ankle injuries are by far the most common injury in the backcountry. First, it’s important to stabilize the ankle if the injured person can put weight on it — or to fully immobilize it if they can’t. “You’re not going to do anything for this person in a wilderness context,” he says. Instead, he explains, the goal is to provide stability and some amount of comfort until they reach a hospital.

Getting lost: If you think you’re lost, it’s important to stop moving and stay calm. Think about any landmarks you passed and see if you can spot one of them. If you have a compass, use it to determine directions. If you think you may be able to find your way based on those steps, make a plan and act on it. But if you’re unsure of the route, or if it’s dark or you’re injured, it’s best to stay where you are.

How can I improve my outdoor safety?

According to Castleman, everyone should have basic first aid and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) training. You would do CPR on someone if their heart stopped beating. For those adventuring in more remote areas, he recommends that at least 1 or 2 people in the group complete a Wilderness First Aid course.

“Regardless of what training you have, it’s better to have something rather than nothing,” Castleman says. “Make sure you stay up on your game because things are constantly changing,” he adds. Even if you don’t use your skills when adventuring, they may come in handy in other situations, he says, such as being on the scene of a car accident.

The overall takeaway for staying safe outdoors? “Always expect the unexpected and prepare for the worst,” Castleman says. “It only takes one incident to ruin your trip.”

What types of insurance can help me if I have an accident? 

Accidents and injuries can happen anytime, no matter how prepared you are. For added protection, you might consider supplemental accident insurance. That’s a type of insurance you’d pay extra for in addition to your traditional health insurance plan. It pays for injuries such as:

  • Bone fractures
  • Burns
  • Concussions
  • Severe cuts

It may also pay for services and treatments related to your injuries, including:

Lump sum payments can help you pay out-of-pocket medical costs such as copays and deductibles, as well as any other expenses you may have while you’re hurt and missing work. You can also appoint beneficiaries who will get payments if your injury causes death.

If you’re embarking on an international outdoor adventure, travel medical insurance can be a big help too. Many health plans don’t cover you while you’re abroad, and if they do, the coverage is often limited. That could lead to spending thousands of dollars.

You may also want to look into a health plan, which can keep your health needs covered in times of need. Explore your options now, or contact a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.


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Florida Department of Environmental Protection. “Florida’s designated paddling trails.” January 10, 2024. Retrieved from

International Journal of Human Movement and Sports Sciences. “The musculoskeletal injury profile of aquatic sports athletes: a case study in UPSI.” January 2022. Retrieved from

Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority. “Hiking and safety tips.” Retrieved from Accessed February 22, 2024

National Park Service. “Black bears.” January 12, 2024. Retrieved from

National Park Service. “Food storage.” September 29, 2023. Retrieved from

National Park Service. “Frequently asked camping questions.” January 26, 2023. Retrieved from

National Park Service. “Lightning safety.” August 7, 2023. Retrieved from

National Park Service. “Ten essentials.” July 19, 2023. Retrieved from

National Park Service. “Two ways to purify water.” August 24, 2022. Retrieved from

Texas Parks & Wildlife. “First aid.” Retrieved from Accessed February 22, 2024

UC Davis. “3 ways getting outside into nature helps improve your health.” May 3, 2023. Retrieved from

Vermont Department of Health. “Prevent tick bites and tick bite illnesses.” January 29, 2024. Retrieved from

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