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Give Me S’more: Camping Without Injury

By Martha Michael

Keeping Active with Chiropractic

Planning a camping trip brings thoughts of pitching a tent, sleeping under the stars, and roasting marshmallows. But you don’t have to be an Eagle Scout to know there’s a lot more preparation involved, because mishaps can occur when you’re off the grid.

Prepared like Yogi Bear

To be “smarter than the average bear” requires watching out for “boo boo,” which in real life means an injury from a mishap, not Yogi’s animated sidekick. By remaining aware of puncture wounds, you can treat them early and mitigate the possibility of infection when you’re out on the trail.

Some things you can blame on nature -- poison oak or a rabid wolf bite -- but you can also get cuts and scrapes from an accident with your Swiss Army knife or a fall that gouges your chin. It’s not uncommon for campers to experience various scrapes and cuts since the ground is often jagged and uneven; to avoid infection, immediate attention is ideal.

Control the bleeding first when treating a puncture wound, says an article on Apply direct pressure to the area, raising the wound above the heart if possible. You can create a pressure bandage using a piece of gauze and holding it in place with a bandana or an ace bandage. You don’t want to apply so much pressure it becomes a tourniquet, however.

While stopping the flow of blood is important, it’s proper cleaning that will prevent infection. A First Aid Scout badge won’t help you if you don’t have the proper supplies. Before setting out, especially if you’re heading into backcountry, you need to have a first aid kit in your possession. According to, to treat a wound you’ll need your first aid kit to include:

  • Cotton swabs
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Bacitracin
  • Bandages
  • Medical Tape

After washing it with water, you want to use the cotton swabs to apply hydrogen peroxide to the puncture wound, which works to sterilize it; then use bacitracin for its healing properties. Bandage the affected area when you’re finished.

If you’re far from civilization, be sure to check the dressing twice a day, says Reapply any antibiotic ointment you have available.

The cut is likely to look red and swollen, but if you notice it’s hot when you touch it, or the skin is hard and bright red, it’s possible the body is having trouble fighting the infection. In that case, open the wound again using a liter of water to re-clean it.

Prepared like a Forest Ranger

Unless you’re glamping, a vacation in the woods is fairly physical, which is why you want to be sure you’re up to the rigors of pitching tents and hiking distances.

The best way to reduce injuries to your joints is to get them in top working condition before your trip. An article in Backpacker suggests four exercises to build “trail-worthy ankle strength.”

  • Resistance band stretch - Begin seated on the floor with one leg extended in front of you. Place a resistance band around the foot and pull with both hands as you circle your ankle inward and outward.
  • Range of motion - Sitting in a chair, cross one leg over the other and use your big toe as an imaginary pencil “drawing” each letter of the alphabet.
  • Leg lifts - Place a resistance band onto the leg of a chair. Standing next to the chair, slip one foot into the band and cross that foot in front of the other.
  • Calf raises - With your feet shoulder width apart, raise up your heels and hold for 30 seconds, repeating 15 times twice daily.

To be sure your joints are in the optimum position for an injury-free adventure, consult with a chiropractor, whose expertise includes the maintenance of simple and compound joints and their effect on the surrounding muscles, ligaments and tendons. When planning your camping trip, begin routine visits to your chiropractor to build up the necessary strength, mobility and balance you’ll need on the trail.

You’ll get a list of stretches and exercises to enhance flexibility, plus your chiropractor will have a record of your baseline health status, which can be a lifesaver if you come home with an injury. Preparing in advance minimizes the stress on parts of your body that take over when protecting weaker joints and limbs, which can lead to inflammation.

Prepared like Smokey Bear

If a campfire is part of your plan, it can lead the way for hot dog roasting and storytelling, but you don’t want to ruin the “Kumbaya” moment with a burn injury.

The American Burn Association lists some dos and don’ts to enhance campfire safety. The instructions include:

  • Only build the fire in a designated area
  • Keep children three feet away from the flames
  • Store water near the campfire
  • Extinguish all embers with the use of water

The agency recommends you do not:

  • Use accelerants or aerosol sprays
  • Leave a fire unattended
  • Build a fire in dry conditions

When you come across someone who’s been injured, it’s too late to start wishing you’d earned your EMT Scout badge -- you’re already a first responder, regardless of your lack of training. But even a rookie can become adequately prepared for a trip into nature, out of the daily grind. And what you want at the end of the day is time away from home without the negative effects of injuries -- a peaceful experience without incident that leaves you wanting s’more.

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