Lions and tigers and bears…oh my!
I married the love of my life…who was also a little afraid of the outdoors.
As an outdoor enthusiast, this was a struggle for me, to say the least. I was convinced, though, that we just had to spend more time in the outdoors and she would fall in love with nature just like I have loved nature my entire life.
But as I continued to drag her out hiking and camping, she consistently seemed uncomfortable and never seemed to want to go (even though she would to appease me).
On one late afternoon hike, we spotted a black snake about 20 feet away…
and she FREAKED OUT!
It was only a rat snake but she clenched my arm as if she was looking death straight in the face.
Then I understood.
What I finally understood was that she had no experience with snakes and doesn’t understand them.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a snake person by any means. In fact, I’m pretty terrified of the creepy little monsters.
But I understand something she didn’t – snakes don’t want to hurt you.
In fact, they want nothing to do with you!
And this is true of most wild animals. They are more scared of us than we are of them.
With that knowledge, it follows that you only have to know how to avoid these animals and you will be safe.
Our culture teaches us to be scared of the forest; that there are dangerous animals lurking behind every tree and if not the animals then there are psychopaths waiting to get you.
No wonder many people have Xylophobia, also known as hylophobia, or a fear of wooded areas.
But this fear is irrational because the forest is a much safer place than urban environments and I intend to show you why.
Here I will destroy your fears of the outdoors and highlight some of the actual dangers most people dismiss (but can be avoided with some knowledge!)
Like I said in the introduction, I don’t want anything to do with snakes but also snakes want nothing to do with you. You are big, they are small, and they will avoid you if possible (even the poisonous ones).
So why do people still get bit?
Answer: usually because they are being stupid.
And by being stupid, I mean trying to handle a poisonous snake.
According to one study, rattlesnake bites are most common on young men who have purposely handled the snake (The author of the study makes a point to note that these young men are often intoxicated 🍺🍹🥂🍻)
How to be safe:
It’s so simple – just stay away from snakes!
What if I accidentally get close to one?
First, that is extremely unlikely. Snakes sense vibration and, as mentioned early, want nothing to do with you. So they likely slithered away when they heard you coming.
You increase your chances of encountering a snake if you’re messing around where snakes like to hide – tall grass, piles of leaves, etc. If you can’t help avoiding these areas, then just tread slowly through these areas and be aware of the possibility of snakes; they will probably hear (feel) you coming and avoid you.
If you must handle piles of leaves or dead wood, check for snakes first and then wear gloves. A barrier can reduce the venom injected by a snake by 60% or more.
In the extremely unlikely event that you did get bit by a snake that you weren’t handling, it’s then extremely unlikely to die from it. So extremely unlikely that the chances of dying from a snake bite are less than getting hit by lightning
Just like snakes, bears want nothing to do with you. But unlike snakes, they’re slightly less afraid of you (depending on the color of the bear).
Still, according to the National Park Service, most bears will avoid humans if they hear them coming. The most important thing is to not scare them and keep your distance (sounds pretty similar to avoiding snakes, right?).
According to montemlife.com, about three people die each year from bear attacks which laughably minuscule considering about 40 million people go camping every year.
Also, consider that 50,000 people die in traffic accidents each year so you are way more likely to die driving to the forest than in the forest.
There are three main types of bears in North America: black, brown/grizzly, and polar bears.
The most commonly encountered bear in North America is the black bear which are known to be shy and not aggressive. They are usually scared off by noises.
Brown bears are less scared but still don’t want really want to mess with you unless they have to so again, keep your distance and don’t sneak up on them.
Brown bears are known to venture into camps looking for food which is why they have “bear boxes” at camp sites in bear country to keep your food in – use them. Don’t keep food in your tent.
Now polar bears are really something to fear but they live in the arctic I’m not going to address them here because most of my readers live and roam much further south.
How to stay safe:
As with snakes and most wild animals, keep your distance and don’t sneak up on them (make noise while you hike).
If you’re hiking in bear country, it’s a good idea to talk, whistle, or sing to avoid accidentally sneaking up on a bear.
If you do see a bear, slowly wave your arms to appear larger than you are and let the bear know you are there without being threatened then slowly back away or take a different.
Think about the bear too – leave it with an escape route. You want it to feel like it can get away and doesn’t feel trapped.
In the worst case (and unlikely) scenario that you are attacked, what you should do depends on the type of bear:
- Black – stand strong when they charge. They are known to falsely charge. If they are attacking for sure then run to a safe place like a car. DON’T play dead.
- Brown – play dead and pray.
- White – good luck.
If you want a very in-depth guide on how to stay safe in bear country, check out SurvivalMag’s full guide.
Another fear my wife often cited when I suggested weekend camping trips – people.
“Aren’t there weird people in the woods?” She would say.
“Maybe, but there are a lot less of them than in the city.” Would be my reply.
I didn’t know how right I was.
Despite what Hollywood movies may have you believe, you are way less likely to be hurt by someone else in the forest than anywhere else.
You have a 0.0003% chance of being a victim of violent crime on BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service, or National Park Service lands and you are more than 3000 times more likely to be hurt by a person outside of designated wilderness areas.
So if you’re scared of people, you should go out to the woods!
How to stay safe:
Get away from where creeps hang out (the city) and get out to where there are very people of any kind (the wilderness).
The Actual Dangers of the Forest:
Now that I’ve shown that most of the typical fears of the forest are unfounded, I don’t want you to just go charging out to middle of nowhere without a little knowledge of the real dangers that exist.
But don’t worry, all of these things are completely avoidable if you know how.
Yep, that’s right…falling.
According to backpacker.com, unroped falls are the number one cause of death in the wilderness.
Most people fall trying to climb or cross something they should be roped in for but accidents also occur when people just get too close to the edge for a photo op or to look over the edge.
How to be safe:
Don’t push it.
If you have any doubts about going up, across, or down something steep, either find a better way or don’t do it. Also, don’t be a show-off and try to look too far out over the edge.
Hypothermia is always a big factor in winter but it’s also a major problem when and where it’s not expected.
A combination of wind and humidity can cause hypothermia at 45℉.
Humidity makes hypothermia a real possibility at above-freezing temperatures but on the flip side, arid states like Arizona and New Mexico rank high in hypothermia rates.
This is simply due to the huge temperature fluctuations between day and night, catching outdoor goers off guard and unprepared.
According to the CDC, between 1058 and 1536 people died each year from hypothermia from 1999-2011 and 2 out of 3 deaths were males.
The CDC does not offer an explanation as to why more men than women die from hypothermia but if you want to throw out an explanation, by all means do so in the comments!
I will add this – inebriation plays a major factor in hypothermia! 🍺🍹🥂🍻
How to be safe:
Wear multiple layers so it’s easy to take off or add a layer depending on your how you feel.
Try to wear wool or polypropylene rather than cotton.
Remember – “Cotton Kills” which refers to the fact that cotton doesn’t dry easily so if it gets wet (even wet from sweat), it will make you cold for a long time. So try not to wear it; and if you do wear it, try not to get it wet; and if you do wear it and you do get it wet, take it off. Wearing wet cotton will make you colder than a polar bear’s toenails.
In and of itself, hiking alone is not necessarily dangerous. The problem is when you go hiking alone and don’t tell anybody where you’re going or when you should be back.
Imagine going out for a quick one hour hike in the late afternoon. You’re about to turn around and head back when you accidentally twist your ankle.
If no one knows where you are, a simple twist of the ankle can be deadly.
Now you’re alone, no cell phone service, no one knows where you are, and it’s getting dark.
How to be safe:
Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back BEFORE you leave. A text message, a voicemail, whatever! Just let someone know so that if you’re not back when you should be, they come looking.
The wilderness is way safer than the city. The things most people are scared off, are really not that big of problems; they are blown way out of proportion by movies and rumors.
There are a few dangers to be aware of when you go out to the wilderness but these are easily mitigated by simple being aware of them.
Also, alcohol seems to play a role in making males want to handle poisonous snakes and increasing the risk of hypothermia so…have a good time but don’t be an idiot.