Going hiking? Tread carefully

by | Exercise and Fitness, Self Care, Travel Health

A hiking trip can be a great opportunity to get away from it all, but tread carefully. Whether on a short day-walk or a long remote trek, all hikers need to look after themselves, to ensure they return home safely. Well-prepared hikers know what to wear and what to pack – including any necessary medicines.

Look after yourself

If you take medicines regularly or have an ongoing medical condition, consider popping in to see your health care specialist before setting off. Your doctor, nurse or pharmacist can advise whether to pack your medicines for a hike, and if any special precautions should be taken.

For example:

  • Pollen, cold/dry air, thunderstorms and smoke from wood fires can all trigger asthma.  If you have asthma make sure to carry an inhaler, with sufficient doses remaining.
  • People with diabetes can experience hypoglycaemia, if blood glucose levels are not adequately monitored and controlled during sustained physical activity.
  • Heart conditions can worsen in the heat (due to dehydration), in extreme cold, and from extra stress on the heart.
  • Allergic reactions to insect stings can be life threatening in some people. If you have a known anaphylaxis risk carry appropriate medication (eg, adrenaline pen), and ensure a travel companion is aware of your condition and how to administer the medicine.
  • A pharmacist or travel clinic can also help assemble an appropriate medicine kit.

Take care of your medicines

When hiking, it is important that any medicines you have with you are stored correctly. Most medicines can be kept at ‘room temperature’ (20–25 °C or 68–77 °F). However, heat and light can cause medicines to stop working properly before their expiry date.

Medicines should be kept out of sunlight. Use a small esky or cooler bag if medicines need to be stored at lower temperatures, or if hiking in high temperatures.

Don’t forget the basics

Stay protected from the sun by wearing protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses. Seek shade, and cover all exposed skin sufficiently and regularly with a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF30 or higher – even on cloudy days.

Keep hydrated and carry water. Never drink untreated water, instead boil water or use purification tablets/filtration systems.

Remember to wash hands before eating or preparing food, or use sanitising wipes or lotions.

Use insect repellent and know how to remove ticks safely.

You can find relevant factsheets including one on tick bite prevention and removal, at the Department of Health’s website (www.health.gov.au).

Pack medicines for the short-term relief of diarrhoea. Although most cases of diarrhoea will naturally resolve, oral rehydration solutions can be used.

Use anti-diarrhoeal medicines if symptoms persist in adults, however these medicines are not for use in children unless prescribed by a doctor.

Consider a first aid kit

A well-prepared first aid kit can be worth its weight if you or someone you are traveling with has an accident or injury, or gets a bite or sting requiring urgent attention.

In addition to any essential prescription medicines, consider also stocking your first aid kit with the items below.

  • Step-by-step first aid guide.
  • Adhesive strips for minor wounds.
  • Creams for relief of itching/irritation.
  • Antiseptic wipes.
  • Instant cold pack to reduce pain/swelling.
  • Support/compression bandages.
  • Sterile saline to clean wounds/flush the eyes.
  • Waterproof dressings for wound cover.
  • Tape strapping for sprains or strains.
  • Scissors to cut dressing or bandages.
  • Thermal blankets.
  • Pain relief medicines.
  • St John Ambulance and the Australian Red Cross sell first aid kits and offer credible first-aid training courses.

Hiking overseas?

Medicines that are legal in Australia may not be legal in overseas countries. Also, medicines subsidised in Australia cannot be taken overseas unless they are for personal use.

If you are hiking overseas, remember to:

  • Check that you are permitted to take your medicines by contacting the relevant consulate, embassy or high commission.
  • Find out names and strengths of your medicines’ active ingredients, should you need another prescription.
  • Ask your doctor how much of your medicine you should pack – and how much you are allowed to take.
  • Your doctor can also advise you of any vaccinations that may be recommended.
  • If you are trekking high above sea level, ask about altitude sickness symptoms and medicines.

Further reading

Bushwalking Australia. Technical & Safety Advice. Available at: https://www.bushwalkingaustralia.org/bushwalking-links/technical-safety-advice
Australian Government. Department of Human Services. Travelling Overseas with PBS Medicine. Available at: https://www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/services/medicare/travelling-overseas-pbs-medicine (accessed 20 December 2016).

Think ahead!

By planning ahead, hikers can reduce the risk of their adventure turning into an emergency.

‘Think Before You Trek’ is an initiative between the NSW Police Force and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). It promotes the ‘TREK’ acronym.

  • Take adequate supplies of food, water, navigation and first aid equipment.
  • Register your planned route and tell friends and family when you expect to return.
  • Emergency beacons (Personal Locator Beacons) are available.*
  • Keep to your planned route and follow the map and walking trails.

*Personal Locator Beacons are available free of charge for bushwalkers in the Blue Mountains, NSW. They are available from the NPWS Blue Mountains Heritage Centre, and from police stations in the Blue Mountains.

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