Four Ways to Stay Safe Outdoors

As the weather turns cooler, you may be one of the many people who enjoy traditional fall outdoor activities such as hunting, trapping, and leaf-viewing hikes in remote areas.  

As you head outdoors, Eric Bowman, MD, FAWM, reminds you to take special care. 

Share your plans 

Imagine falling out of a tree stand, breaking your leg, no one knows where you are and there’s no cell phone handy. You spend the night in the woods, subject to the elements and now you have a very serious problem.   

“Make sure someone knows your plans,” says Dr. Bowman, president of the York County Medical Society and an emergency and wilderness medicine specialist. “Many injuries or accidents can occur in remote areas, with no one around and no means of communication. If someone knows your general whereabouts and basic itinerary, it can be lifesaving.” 

Sound off 

In the event you get lost or injured, Dr. Bowman suggests attaching whistles everywhere—lifejackets, winter coats, backpacks, hunting coats. Whistles can be heard more clearly than voices.  

The universal signal for help is three of anything in quick succession—for example, three blasts from a whistle and three shots from a gun. By always having a whistle within reach, you can at least make enough noise to get help. 

Be prepared 

Yes, just like the Boys Scouts, always carry enough water and some form of shelter, even if it’s a large plastic trash bag with a hole for your head.  

Rule of thumb: Anytime you participate in an outdoor activity, have with you what you need to survive at least 24 hours. Water and shelter can be lifesaving in the event you are injured and/or lost. 


You’re on a hike with your kids, walking up a hill. They, of course, reach the top first and then run ahead, taking one of the forks in the road. Which one? Dr. Bowman encourages parents to teach their children to hug a tree, based on a safety program created to help children learn how not to get lost, Hug-a-Tree and Survive. By staying in one place, the child can be found more quickly and can’t be injured in a fall or accident. 

Dr. Bowman completed the wilderness medicine fellowship and received specialized training to handle situations in which definitive medical care is hours or days away, when patients may require quick or extended attention. Wilderness medicine focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of injuries and medical conditions that occur during activities in remote areas. 

Whether you are an adventurer or just like to spend time outdoors, Dr. Bowman suggests taking an outdoor survival course. Check with your local Red Cross for basic safety training. Pennsylvania residents can also check with the Pennsylvania Game Commission for hunter safety courses in their area.