The woods are fun...
Our country's extensive woodland areas have always been a source of pleasure for millions of Americans. Roughly half of our population takes to the woods some time each year to enjoy a wide variety of leisure activities. Some hunt, others take pack trips to escape city life, still others just settle for an enjoyable walk or picnic in pleasant surroundings. Our woods have become more and more of a refuge from the workaday world where men and women of all ages can relax and have fun.
...if you plan properly
If you're going into the woods this fall, some advance planning will make your trip more enjoyable. Proper preparations can help you avoid discomfort, exhaustion or injury. Don't be too ambitious when you choose a place to go to in the woods. Let's not play Daniel Boone and tackle a rugged wilderness right away. Boone was used to that kind of life, you might not be. If you're not yet an experienced woodsman, stick to developed parks on federal or state land, where trails are marked, campsites are provided and the terrain is not too difficult. You'll have more fun and fewer bruises.
Know the land...
Before you pack up and go, find out about the place you're going to. There is plenty of literature available on most state and federal lands. For state land, contact the state conservation agency. For federal land, write the Agriculture or Interior Department, Washington, D.C.
Your inquiries should cover trails (what condition are they in?), water supply (is drinking water safe or must it be boiled?), fire regulations (will you need a permit to build a fire?), campsites (how well are they furnished?) and natural hazards (snow, rock slides, animals and poisonous plants).
You don't have to buy an expensive wardrobe. Just use old clothes, but make sure they are still sturdy, that they fit well and give you ample room for free movement. Cover your arms and legs for maximum protection against scratches, bites and bruises. And even if there's nary a cloud in the sky when you enter the woods, take a raincoat or poncho with you. Many recommend a windproof and water-repellent feather-weight parka (about $11). A good soaking can be very uncomfortable. In cold weather, you'll keep warm better if you wear two layers of light clothes rather than one heavy layer. Make sure you check to see if there is an open game season in the area at the time. If so, wear something red to protect yourself from hunters.
...and be good to your feet
Take care of your feet. They're your means of transportation, so be good to them. Wear light wool socks for maximum absorption of perspiration. If your feet are tender and blister easily from friction, wear two pairs. Your shoes should be rugged and able to withstand rough going. Wear rubber soles and heels for good gripping.
Don't overload yourself with useless gimmicks; they will just tire you out more quickly. A knife, matches, first-aid kit and food are about the only real necessities. If you're in wild country with no marked trails, an ax and compass are also recommended. You can take either a sheath knife or a jackknife with utility blades. They cost $1.50 to $21. For matches, make sure you have a waterproof container (95¢). Your first-aid kit can be bought for $1.50 and doesn't have to be a portable hospital. Adhesive bandages, gauze, tape, burn ointment and disinfectant will do nicely.
For food, concentrate on nourishing things like meat, chocolate and cheese, together with thirst-quenchers like lettuce and tomatoes. Many experienced woodsmen recommend a lunch of chocolate (which now comes in bars that won't melt in hot weather), lettuce leaves, a slice of cheese, a handful of raisins and an apple. This pocket-sized meal fulfills all energy needs.
When you reach the jumping-off point, check the latest conditions with a local warden or forest ranger. Be sure to let him know you're in the area, in case you get lost. It's best to stick to the trails, and it's useful as well as fun to make a rough map of prominent landmarks in the area so that you can get your bearings at all times. Whenever possible do your hiking with someone else. This "buddy system" can save your life in the event of serious mishap as your partner can go for help. Try to resist the temptations of hacking at trees and shrubs to blaze a trail with a knife or ax. Most trees will die eventually if their bark is injured. Carry a piece of chalk and mark trees as you go. It's effective and not harmful.
Hit the road
Now that you're all set, try to get an early start. The morning hours are best for hiking, especially in the summer when the noonday sun is very warm. Keep up a steady pace with a comfortable gait, walking with toes pointed straight ahead to cover the most ground with the least effort. Tread lightly on your heels, then push up off your toes for maximum comfort in your stride. If you're hiking in a group, travel single file. About eight to a group is maximum size for a hiking party, with one of the best hikers bringing up the rear. Watch for holes, overhanging branches and other hazards, and warn the person following you. Pace yourself according to the distance you plan to travel. If you walk along a highway, always face the traffic.
If you're going to camp out be particularly careful about fires. When building one, clear a five-foot circle of anything that will burn. If the forest floor is covered with several layers of leaves, get some rocks and build your fire on them. Always be sure to have enough sand or water on hand to extinguish your fire even before you build it. Before leaving, douse your fire with water, stir it, then cover it with sand and wait until you're sure it's entirely out.
If the drinking water must be boiled, keep it boiling for at least five minutes to remove all impurities. Then pour the pure water from one clean container to another several times to restore air and remove the flat taste.
You'll enjoy identifying trees, plants and flowers along your route. Bird life in the woods is infinitely varied and fascinating, but you'll need a sharp eye to spot many birds against their protective background. The rocks will tell you tales of what the area was like millions of years ago. Inexpensive guidebooks (25¢) will help you in all of these studies. You'll probably see many animals. Look at them all you please, but leave them alone. Some may get cantankerous if you bother them.
Anyone walking in strange country should check carefully on the snakes native to the area. Poisonous snakes are to be found in most parts of the country, but this is no reason to avoid the woods. Just be careful in stepping over logs and clambering up cliffs. If you want to be prepared, special kits are available (up to $5) for treating snake bite. Get to know what all snakes look like. Then you'll be able to identify the poisonous ones and give them a wide berth.
...and snake bite
Remember, most snakes are scared to death of you. Usually they bite only and snake bite if provoked, to defend themselves. A poisonous snake bite will usually leave two large punctures in the flesh. These rapidly become dark, producing immediate and severe pain. Send for help immediately and keep the victim immobile and calm to prevent the spread of the poison. Apply a tourniquet a few inches above the fang marks, make small X-shaped cuts in each fang mark a quarter inch long and a quarter inch deep, then apply suction to remove the poison. Suck the poison out and spit it away.