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Outdoor Safety

Caution and sound judgment are the most important elements of wilderness emergency care. Although this may seem patronizing to note, one must be extra mindful of one’s health and welfare in the wild. Conditions that are easily aided in urban and suburban settings can be lethal in the out-of-doors.

Preparation is key to dealing with outdoor injuries. Be sure to have at least one member of your party familiar with first aid practices. If you want to get out but have no first aid experience, consider going on a trip with the Outing Club, or becoming trained in first aid (there are courses through the DOC).

Here are a few things to keep in mind when in an emergency situation:

  1. Don’t panic. Decide exactly what steps to take before acting.
  2. Give necessary first aid to the victim. See these helpful guidelines (NOT a substitute for a first aid certification)
  3. Regroup all members of your party. Observe reactions of each member to insure that others are not in danger.
  4. Choose a messenger party to go for help.
    1. send at least two persons.
    2. leave at least one person with the victim.
  5. Give the messenger party a report of the injury and a map or sketch showing the exact location of the victim.
  6. Messenger party should:
    1. Take essential equipment. Be prepared for a night out.
    2. Keep calm; hurry but stay safe.
    4. Conserve strength to be able to lead a rescue party back, if necessary.
  7. Group with the victim should:
    1. Make victim comfortable. Maintain their body temperature. Protect victim from the elements.
    2. Maintain group morale. Stay positive. Prepare hot food and drinks for group members.
    3. Assign one person to remain with the victim at all times.
    4. Observe victim constantly until the rescue party arrives. Watch for:
      1. breathing/pulse irregularities
      2. signs and symptoms of shock (increase in breathing rate and/or heart rate)
      3. bleeding
      4. blockage of air passageway by blood, vomit, tongue, etc.
  8. Emergency telephone numbers:
    • NH State Police (24 hours) — 911 or (800) 852-3411
    • VT State Police (24 hours) — 911 or (802) 244-8727
    • Dartmouth Safety & Security — (603) 646-2234

Winter Weather and Cold

  •  Always be ready to turn back (or stay put, if visibility is low, for example), no matter how important your deadline is.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected. Always bring enough warm clothing with you to stay comfortable for a good length of time. Keep a sleeping bag or blanket in your car along with other survival items. Bringing a headlamp on a short hike can mean the difference between getting home safely and having to spend the night out.
  • Things break down in the extreme cold. Cars, bikes, some types of clothing. If you're not sure that your gear is going to work, check it out.
  • Stay hydrated - Good circulation is your best protection against the cold. Coffee, alcohol and even hot chocolate dehydrate you. Non-caffeinated Teas and water are your best bet. Also, your body won't stay warm if there's no fuel for the fire. Don't expect to stay warm outside if you skipped breakfast and lunch.
  • Watch out for cold-related injuries. Frostbite can happen quickly when it's cold and especially when it's windy. Cover all exposed skin and watch for hard, waxy skin that looks lighter than usual. The best way to rewarm early sings of frostbite is skin to skin contact, but don't risk spreading the problem.

Ice Safety

Assess ice safety by using an ice chisel or axe to chop a hole in the ice to determine its thickness and condition. Continue to do this as you get further out on to the ice, because the thickness of the ice will not be uniform all over the waterbody.

Though all ice is potentially dangerous, the Cold Region Research Laboratory in Hanover, N.H., offers a "rule of thumb" on ice thickness: There should be a minimum of six inches of hard ice before individual foot travel, and eight to ten inches of hard ice for snow machine or ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) travel. Keep in mind that it is possible for ice to be thick, but not strong, because of varying weather conditions. Be especially careful of areas with current, such as inlets, outlets and spring holes, where the ice can be dangerously thin.

Tips for staying safe on the ice include:

  • Stay off the ice along the shoreline if it is cracked or squishy. Don't go on the ice during thaws.
  • Watch for thin, clear or honeycombed ice. Dark snow and ice may also indicate weak spots.
  • Small bodies of water tend to freeze thicker. Rivers and lakes are more prone to wind, currents and wave action that weaken ice.
  • Don't gather in large groups on the ice.
  • Don't drive large vehicles onto the ice.
  • If you do break through the ice, don't panic. Move or swim back to where you fell in, where you know the ice was solid. Lay both arms on the unbroken ice and kick hard. This will help lift your body onto the ice. A set of ice picks can aid you in a self-rescue (wear them around your neck or put them in an easily accessible pocket). Once out of the water, roll away from the hole until you reach solid ice.

To download a brochure from Fish and Game called "Safety on Ice - Tips for Anglers," Click Here.

Winter Camping

This article is a useful treatise on good winter camping habits.

Distress Signals and Being Lost

In an emergency, the best way to signal is with three short calls (audible or visible) repeated periodically. Visual signals may include three flashes from a flashlight, three fires; or in the day time, sunlight reflected with a mirror, or smoke puffs. Anyone recognizing such a signal should acknowledge with two calls by the same method if possible, then proceed to the distressed. Most areas in New England are well traveled, so help should come soon. The best plan is to remain where you are, especially when lost.

However, as always, one’s best judgment must be used. If an area is remote, the situation desperate, or the weather bad, it might be best to study the map and determine a place where more people are likely to be. When traveling to this place, it might be helpful to leave heavy packs behind — but be sure to take all essentials in case the rescue is delayed. At night, try to seek or make shelter. It is helpful to know that even the most remote places in New England usually have highways and roads within a few hours walk. Following streams downward will eventually lead you to a road. Make sure to use your compass.

Often overlooked, it is an extremely good idea to leave a trip itinerary with friends before heading out, so that people know exactly where you are and when you expect to return.

First Aid Kit

Short of having full first aid training, always be sure to carry a small first aid kit.  Listed below is a good, inexpensive first aid kit. It is a good idea to put these items in a waterproof case (a heavy duty plastic zip-lock works well).

  • Gauze Pads, 3" × 4"
  • Band-Aids (all sizes)
  • Pain Killer, aspirin-free, twenty tablets
  • Athletic Tape
  • Ace Bandage, 3"
  • Moleskin, 6" × 6"
  • Safety Pins
  • Scissors (small is fine, but sharp)
  • Tweezers
  • Antibiotic Ointment
  • Personal Medications
  • Surgical Gloves

Last Updated: 1/13/23