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Tips for Outdoor Safety

Whether your camping, staying in a cabin or going for a hike the Alaska outdoors is an experience never to forget.  The beauty of Alaska is wild and rugged and learning how to enjoy our great state safely will ensure that you have the Alaskan experience you've always dreamed.

  • Bears

    Alaska is fortunate to be home to these amazing creatures. With this privilege comes the added responsibility for hikers and campers to prevent conflicts with these animals. Often these conflicts are a result of human carelessness, especially with food. Bears are opportunistic feeders, which mean they will eat whatever they can find most easily. Bears have an excellent memory, and once they identify a place where food can be found, they will return to look for more. Therefore, it is important that they don't consider campsites and other populated areas as a food source. Following bear safety guidelines can prevent a dangerous situation for both humans and bears.

    Avoiding a Bear Encounter

    While out on the trail, it is important to make noise; sing, talk loudly, or carry a bear bell; especially through areas with poor visibility. If possible, walk with the wind at your back. This alerts bears to your presence and gives them enough time to clear out. Bears are most likely to charge when they feel threatened or when their "space" has been invaded. Avoid areas where bears are likely to be looking for food, such as streams containing spawning salmon and berry patches. If you come across an animal carcass, leave the area. A bear will often attack if its food supply is tampered with. If you notice fresh bear sign, such as scat or tracks, turn back the way you came.

    There are also special precautions to take while camping. Camp at least 200 yards from trails. Bears use the same trails as people as they move through their territories. As with hiking, avoid areas where bears are most likely to feed. Choose a spot that offers good visibility of the area around you. Cook food 200 yards downwind from your tent site; and avoid foods with strong odors, such as fish and bacon. Wash all cooking and eating utensils thoroughly. Food scraps should be saved and packed out. Store food and garbage in air tight containers 200 yards from your tent (preferably hanging from a tree).

    If a Bear Encounter Happens...

    When you encounter a bear, the way you react could determine whether or not the bear will charge. Never run from a bear; the bear might perceive you as prey and follow in pursuit. Instead, wave your arms, talk to the bear and identify yourself as human. Slowly back off, and avoid eye contact with the bear, which the bear may see as a challenge. If the bear should approach you, stand still; a bear may often bluff charge and come to within ten feet of a person and then back off. If the bear actually does attack you, curl up in a ball with your hands clasped behind your neck. Leaving your backpack on offers added protection for your back and neck.

  • Campfires

    Many people feel that their camping experience would be incomplete without a campfire. However, due to the adverse impacts of campfires, lightweight campstoves are suggested as an alternative. Fire scars can take years to disappear. If no dead and down wood is available, people often cut living trees, unnecessarily harming or even killing them. Using a stove prevents these impacts.

    If you are camping in an established site and do build a fire, use an existing fire ring if available.

    Keep fires small, and use only dead and down wood. Small pieces of wood will burn more completely. If conditions are dry or there is a shortage of wood, consider spending the evening without a fire. Also be aware of campground regulations and emergency closures concerning fires. If you are camping in an area that has not been previously used, use camp stoves to minimize your camping impacts. 

  • Hypothermia

    Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can create it, lowering the body's core temperature. Air temperatures between 30 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit and wet clothing both contribute to this condition. Symptoms include shivering, slurred speech, stumbling, drowsiness, exhaustion, and impaired judgement.

    To treat hypothermia, change into warm, dry clothes and find an area sheltered from rain and wind. Drink plenty of warm liquids (not alcohol). In advanced stages, stay awake, remove all clothing, and get into a dry sleeping bag with another unclothed person to share body heat.

    Prevention is the best way to deal with hypothermia. Bring warm layers of clothing, including rain gear. Be sure to have plenty of water and high calorie foods to eat throughout the day. Pack clothing and sleeping bags in plastic bags to prevent them from getting wet. Finally be familiar with the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and how properly to treat them. 

  • Water

    While the banks of a river or lake make an attractive campsite, using them tends to concentrate use in a few small areas which can overburden nearby water bodies. Too many foreign substances can alter pH levels and seriously disturb the aquatic ecosystem. Widely scatter washing and leftover cooking water at least 200 feet away from water sources and your campsite. If you use soap, be sure it is biodegradable.

    Giardia is a microscopic organism found in lakes and streams which causes giardiasis, an intestinal disease characterized by abdominal cramps, bloating, diarrhea, weight loss, and fatigue. There are several different ways to treat drinking water to remove the organism, which include using iodine-based water tablets, boiling water for five minutes, or using a properly rated water filter.

  • Wildlife

    Keep Your Distance - Most animals frighten very easily.  Animals often respond to repeated interference by abandoning their home ranges, nesting sites, and even their young.  Some animals, like moose and bear, will fiercely defend their territories and offspring.  Whether wildlife responds passively or aggressively, the fact that an animal "responds" to a human means that the person is too close. Always view animals "at a distance" so they are not disturbed by your presence.

    Never Feed the Animals - It creates an association for the animals between humans and food.  It also interferes with an animal's special diet required for its survival.  Animals that get accustomed to being fed by people may starve when this unnatural food source disappears.

    Drive Safely - Wildlife could be crossing the road at any moment, especially during times of marginal visibility such as dawn, dusk, and nighttime.  Driving the speed limit significantly reduces collisions with wildlife.  When you see wildlife, stop to view them from a safe pullout, not from the roadway.

    Young Animals: Their Safety and Yours?

    There are few sights more endearing and potentially dangerous than baby animals with their mothers. This is particularly the case with female moose and bear, which will vigorously defend their young from anything the least bit threatening, including humans, dogs and even automobiles. Be especially wary of moose that have recently given birth to calves, generally from mid-May to mid-June. Since bear cubs often remain with their mothers for several years, extreme caution should always be exercised around bears. And, remember, even if you see only young animals, a parent is sure to be lurking nearby. By keeping your distance, you will be able to enjoy a wildlife family while avoiding confrontation.

Last Updated: Jul 17, 2012
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