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Mon, Dec. 16

A safety guide to the great outdoors

Summer - for many of us, it means outdoor activities like hiking, camping and swimming ... possibly resulting in blisters, bug bites and sunburn. But planning ahead can help you avoid unpleasant - or even dangerous - consequences of fun in the sun. Following are some outdoor safety tips.

Into the woods ... and out again safely

If your idea of camping is staking out a spot at an RV park with satellite TV service, the worst thing you'll probably encounter is a few mosquito bites. But if you're planning a camping or hiking trip in the wilderness, or even a short day trip in unfamiliar territory, these precautions may help ensure your safety.

• Plan your route and make sure someone knows when you are leaving, where you are going and when you plan to return. Use a map and compass.

• Look at your campsite in daylight and check for riverbanks, cliffs and other potential hazards.

• Wear insect repellent containing 10 to 30 percent DEET, or try less-toxic alternatives like picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Check each hiker or camper for ticks at least once a day.

• Be prepared for rain or abrupt changes in temperature, especially when hiking to higher elevations. Bring layered clothing and rain gear.

• Wear comfortable, broken-in hiking shoes with thick, moisture-wicking socks.

• If you are hiking in a wooded area, wear long pants. Tuck pant legs into your socks to stop ticks from hitching a ride.

• Bring along plenty of sunscreen, drinking water and food. Nuts and dried fruit are lightweight and provide nutrients and energy.

• Don't drink water directly from springs, streams or lakes. Treat the water with purifying tablets or a special filtering pump, available at camping and outdoor stores.

• Be plant-smart. Familiarize yourself with poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac so you can avoid them. Don't eat berries or mushrooms you find in the woods.

• Give each hiker a loud whistle in case you need to signal each other or someone gets lost. Take along a cell phone for emergencies, but be aware they often don't work in remote areas.

• Don't approach or feed any animals you encounter, and store food in animal-proof containers at your campsite. If bears are in the area, hang food at least 6 feet from the ground between two trees. Never bring food into your tent - you may attract unwanted visitors.

• Build campfires only in approved fire rings and keep them under control. Douse them with water before bedtime or whenever you leave the campsite.

• Bring a flashlight with extra batteries, matches in a waterproof container, and a first aid kit.

Camping and hiking are great family-friendly activities. The memories of fresh-air hikes, idyllic sunsets and songs around the campfire will last long after the backpacks are stashed away. Being prepared can help assure that your trip is safe and memorable for all the right reasons.

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