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Hiking: An Ounce Of Prevention Is Worth A Ton Of Fun

Updated on March 20, 2011

The right precautions can help you avoid outdoor ailments.

You are hiking on a spectacular mountain trail. Through the shivering leaves of aspens, you can see the valley floor below and the high snowcapped peaks rising in the distance. The sky is a brilliant blue; the air crisp; the sun warm. You are with your dearest friends.

The day would be perfect, if it weren't for those nagging blisters, your throbbing headache, the uncharacteristic fatigue and your stomachache that has been increasing steadily all afternoon.

It's easy for basic backcountry ailments to dampen an otherwise glorious adventure. It's also easy to prevent many of the common sources of discomfort. Practicing a little bit of preventive backcountry wellness can make any outing more enjoyable.


Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. Seems obvious, yet dehydration is extremely common among outdoor enthusiasts. The popular rule of thumb is a hydrated person's urine will be "clear and copious," so people should drink enough water to reach that state.

The more active you are, the more you need to stay hydrated. Dehydration can sneak up on people who don't stay cognizant of fluid intake. Thirst is considered the first sign. If you feel thirsty, stop and drink a bunch.

Next comes an uncharacteristic loss of energy, headaches and a gradual loss of mental acuity. If you aren't feeling good, and you are feeling way more tired than you thought you would be, there is an excellent chance you are dehydrated. It is totally preventable - drink water!

If exerting yourself for several hours or more, it is important to eat in addition to drinking to maintain a proper electrolyte balance.

Altitude Sickness

The surest way to prevent altitude sickness? Stay home.

Short of that, there's not too much you can do. Conventional backcountry wisdom says to ascend no more than 1,500 feet a day when trekking in the realm above 10,000 feet.

Because it generally takes 24 hours for symptoms of altitude sickness (such as severe headache, fatigue and general malaise) to begin, peak-baggers scooting up to 14,000 feet and back down in a day generally are not seriously affected. If you do experience fatigue or nausea while hiking at higher elevations, Tilton recommends sitting down and taking a break with something to eat and drink.

The prescription medicine Diamox is the industry standard for those with concerns on extended high-altitude trips and mountaineering expeditions. Researchers are in the process of investigating the effectiveness of another drug for acute mountain sickness, but as of yet, results are inconclusive.

Viagra also works by opening up specific vessels, and not just the ones you are thinking about!

Upset Stomach

As common as it is preventable, upset tummies can plague hikers, particularly on multiple-day trips.

When something upsets your stomach, your body wants to get rid of it. The single most important thing people can do to prevent illness is to practice outdoor hygiene. This means washing your hands regularly, particularly before handling food. One option is using a hand sanitizer containing ethyl alcohol. Purell is a brand that is easy to find at the grocery store.

Continued In Hiking: An Ounce Of Prevention Is Worth A Ton Of Fun - Part 2


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