The Most Common Ailments
According to the United States Forest Service, the most common injuries (listed in order of frequency) are: dehydration, blisters, sunburn, sprained ankles, cooking burns, hypothermia, constipation, eye injuries from brush scratches, insect bites and stings, and itching and rashes.
Many injuries can be easily avoided by using good common sense and by following safe practices during your trip!
Although the northern lakes may look clean and pure, there is a problem with giardia lamblia (often called Giardia), a water cyst which can cause unpleasant intestinal illness. All drinking water should be treated by one of the following methods:
- Boil your water
Bring water to a full boil for at least one minute, then let stand until cool enough to drink.
- Purify or filter your water
Use a purifer or filter to that is specifically designed to remove giardia lamblia.
- Use tablets to purify
Many outdoor retailers sell tablets to treat your water, follow manufacturers directions for use. Cold or cloudy water will take longer to treat and may require additional tablets.
The Voyageur method
Many outdoor enthusiasts still use the straight out of the lake method. If you use this method you must do it correctly or you may get rather ill. Away from shore and in water that is deeper than you can see bottom. Take your water bottle and gather your drinking water at least an elbows length deep, cap it and return to surface.
Always wear your life jacket/PFD(personal floatation device) -- it will not work unless you wear it. Minnesota state law requires all watercraft, including canoes, to have one U.S. Coast-Guard approved PFD on board and readily accessible for each person in the watercraft. The U.S. Coast Guard requires that children 13 and under must wear an appropriate sized PFD when ever in a watercraft. If you capsize, stay with your canoe -- take a deep breathe, stay calm, and get to shore and remove wet clothing. Many canoes will not sink! Check with the manufacture's specifications of your watercraft.
Map and compass
Current detailed maps and a compass are essential to finding your way through Canoe Country. Keep your map in front of you and refer to it often. Leave a trip itinerary with someone at home, including the leader's name, entry point and date, exit point and date, car description and license information and any pertinent group information. Searches are not automatically initiated if a group doesn't exit as planned. If someone is concerned because you are overdue, they should contact the County Sheriff's office. If you get lost, don't panic. Sit down, relax and think.
Canoe close to shore. This lessens the chance of being caught by sudden changes in weather. Get off the water if a storm threatens.
Portages are there in place for a reason -- use them! Many rapids in Canoe Country are not safe to "run". If you choose to run the rapids at least scout them out before taking the chance.
Watch for warning signs of hypothermia, including uncontrolled shivering, slurred speech, lack of coordination and poor concentration. Get the victim into a shelter out of wind and remove wet clothes. Give fluids and foods to a conscious victim and have the victim rest until thoroughly warmed. Hypothermia is especially a concern in the spring and fall seasons, although it's good to be aware of the signs even in the summer months. Cold rain and wind can easily contribute to hypothermia, most cases of hypothermia are in the middle of summer.
Always carry a first aid kit with your group, and stick together. Many pre-made kits are available for sale, or you can always make your own. You may also attend a certified Red Cross Community First Aid class; it only takes a few hours of your time and your knowledge may help save a life. For folks who are interested, Wilderness First Aid and Wilderness First Responder classes are also available.