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

Updated on March 20, 2011

On overnight trips it still is important to wash hands with soap and water as well, to remove the dirt and grime that an antibacterial gel won't get to.

Another source of stomach distress can be eating bad food, such as trying to save backpacking leftovers without proper refrigeration. While dry food lasts weeks or longer, wet food can go bad quickly. Once you cook it, it is a wet food. You are really better off not eating leftovers.

A third way to avoid illness on the trail is to not share food. There is a tendency to pass the water bottle around, or reach a hand into the (shared) GORP, but if one person is ill, they can make everyone ill in a relatively short trip.


Make sure your boots are broken in, as well as your feet. Wear a thin liner sock if you are prone to blisters. If you feel a spot is getting sore, slap on some moleskin. Other products on the market, such as Second Skin, are gel-like pads that also can help prevent a blister from developing on a soft spot.

Bug bites

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that while Deet is the most effective agent in repelling bugs, concentrations of more than 30 percent Deet were not any more effective in repellency. The second-most effective method is to use lemon eucalyptus oil. Repellents should be applied to exposed skin and can be sprayed on clothes if in aerosol form.


Another easily avoidable yet surprisingly common ailment is sunburn. If your skin is exposed, you should wear sunscreen. Beyond the discomfort of the day and those following, sunburn causes skin to age faster and ultimately can lead to skin cancer.

A minimum of SPF 30 is recommended, but there is not much of a difference in SPF ratings higher than 50. It also helps to wear a wide-brimmed hat and tight-weave fabrics. If using sunscreen and insect repellant, apply the sunscreen first, let it dry, and then apply the insect repellent.

Snow blindness

Wear sunglasses to prevent snow blindness, which is sunburn of the cornea. It usually happens on snow-covered terrain or other environments with reflected light, such as on a body of water. You aren't technically blind, but you are practically blind. The symptoms are temporary, yet disconcerting and uncomfortable nonetheless.

Cheap sunglasses from the gas station can be enough to do the trick, as long as they absorb or reflect more than 90 percent of the light. The amount of money you pay for sunglasses has nothing to do with how good they are. You can look really, really good and still get snow blindness.

Ten things you can do to avoid common backcountry ailments:

1. Drink plenty of water before, during and after your outing.

2. Take it easy at higher elevations.

3. Wash your hands while on the trail with a hand sanitizer or soap and water.

4. Don't share water bottles or bulk snacks.

5. Avoid carrying foods that can spoil.

6. Break in your boots before taking them on an extended adventure.

7. Apply moleskin or other blister prevention products on soft spots

8. Wear sunscreen.

9. Wear insect repellent containing Deet or lemon eucalyptus oil.

10. Wear sunglasses.

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