Treating Burns While Camping

When camping in the wilderness, there’s the possibility of getting injured due to extreme temperatures. It’s important to prepare for any conditions you may encounter when camping or hiking since there may not be medical care easily available. Staying out in the sun for too long can lead to heat stroke or heat exhaustion while staying too long in the cold can cause frostbite or hypothermia. In the same vein, burns may occur when cooking over a campfire or using nonelectric lanterns. The following information offers basic ways to prevent and treat burns while camping. For serious burns, you should always seek professional medical care. 

Preventing Burns

Practicing appropriate fire safety can prevent burns. When camping, you can practice fire safety by following these steps. 

  • Line a fire pit with rocks to prevent it from getting out of control.
  • Always make sure a fire is completely out before leaving it. Be prepared by keeping water handy to put out your campfire.
  • If you encounter a grease fire, never use water to put it out. Water and oil don’t mix, so water can make a grease fire much worse. Instead, use baking soda, sand, or a fire extinguisher to quell the flames.
  • Supervise children around fires or nonelectric lanterns.

Degrees of Burns

Burns are categorized into three degrees of damage, each requiring different amounts of care. The damage done by a burn also depends on the area affected and amount of skin burned. 

First-Degree Burns

First-degree burns are mild and only affect the superficial layer of skin. An example is a sunburn. First-degree burns are painful and can cause redness and swelling around the burned area. 

These burns will heal on their own within a few days or weeks depending on the area of skin affected. While you usually don’t need medical help for minor burns, there are some ways you can protect the tissue and reduce pain. 

  • To cool down the burn and reduce swelling, put it under cool water or place a cool cloth over the burn.
  • Apply aloe vera and a loose gauze bandage to moisturize and soothe the burned area.
  • To relieve pain and swelling, you can take over-the-counter pain medicine.

Second-Degree Burns

Second-degree burns are more serious than first-degree burns because they damage the outer layer of skin, the epidermis, and the next layer of skin, the dermis. These burns are painful and can blister the skin. The skin may look white, deep red, or dark brown. Without proper treatment, second-degree burns may cause infection because the skin is the body’s first defense against harmful particles like bacteria.

If a second-degree burn covers a large area or is on a sensitive part of the body such as the face, hands, feet, or around a major joint, it is considered a major burn and you should seek medical care. If not, and the burn is less than 3 inches in diameter, you can treat it with the following steps.

  • Apply cool water. It may be tempting to put ice or cold water on the burn to cool down the area, but ice can further damage the skin and tissue by shocking the area and even causing frostbite. Instead apply a cool washcloth to the area or run the burn under cool water.
  • Remove any restricting items like jewelry, as burned skin is prone to swelling.  
  • Don’t break blisters, which protect the skin from infection. 
  • Gently bandage the area with clean gauze. Don’t expose the area anything that’s not sterile. 

Third-Degree Burns

Third-degree burns damage not only all the layers of the skin, but possibly the fatty tissue, muscles, and tendons underneath. Third degree burns also may destroy the nerves and cause a loss of feeling. If the skin and tissue is numb instead of painful, it’s a third-degree burn. The tissue may look charred and can look white, black, brown, or yellow.  

Third-degree burns are very serious and must be checked out immediately in the ER. While waiting for emergency care, there are a few steps you can take to reduce harm. 

  • Make sure the injured person is no longer in danger. Put out any fires and turn off any power sources if it’s an electrical burn. 
  • Make sure the injured person is able to breathe if they have suffered any smoke inhalation.
  • Remove any restricting items like jewelry or belts, as burned tissue is prone to swelling.
  • Don’t put the burned area into water unless it is on fire. Open water can introduce bacteria to a serious burn and the cold shock can cause hypothermia. 
  • Cover the burned area loosely with a cool cloth or bandage and keep the area above the heart level if possible. 

For more information on treating various degrees of burns, check out https://www.verywellhealth.com/degrees-of-burns-1298906


Differentiating Birds of Prey

Hawks, falcons, and eagles are three of the most skilled birds of prey. While birders are trained to identify these hunters by their plumage, people who have never experienced watching these birds end up mystified.

Telling the difference between a falcon, a hawk, and an eagle is a common problem among many beginners. However, these three have different traits that you can easily make out, even from a distance.

Despite having identical size and physical attributes, hawks, falcons, and eagles have specific traits and behaviors that differentiate themselves from each other. Experienced birders know that identifying a bird of prey takes time and experience.

The different types of raptors have varying plumage, size, and flight patterns, which all factor into their category. These characteristics are what you should be looking out for to identify each type of animal successfully.

1. Size and Shape

Among the three types of prey birds, the eagle has the largest body size, with a broad wingspan and massive feet. Eagles also have a wedge-shaped tail that helps keep them balanced in flight.

Falcons typically have long and pointed wings and a long tail, while hawks have shorter and rounder wings and a long, narrow tail.

2. Flight Behavior

Different birds of prey have varying flight behaviors and patterns. Eagles, for instance, hover over treetops flapping their wings slowly while on the lookout for its next target. They can also be seen perched in trees or on the ground.

Falcons are considered swift flyers that catch their prey off-guard with dives at breathtaking speeds. Peregrine Falcons, one of the falcon species, is regarded as the fastest animal alive. This bird of prey is often found sitting on high perches to wait for the right opportunity to make their assault.

Hawks are medium-sized birds that are mainly found in woodlands. When hunting, this bird dashes from a concealed perch and quickly ambush their prey.

3. Hunting Style

When it comes to hunting prey, Eagles are aggressive and powerful. They have heavy heads and powerful beaks that they use to tear flesh apart. Their massive claws are strong enough to kill their target and ensure it does not escape its grasp.

Falcons generally dive towards their intended target, taking it by surprise. These birds of prey feast on smaller animals located around their territory, such as doves and pigeons. These raptors have an angled beak that is used to snap an unsuspecting animal’s neck quickly.

On the other hand, Hawks are equipped with smooth beaks featuring a simple curve. These animals primarily use their powerful talons to snatch their prey and kill them.


Common types of birds of prey found in Eastern US


Peregrine Falcon: Ohio

Before the 1940s, analysts estimated that there were more than 3,800 nesting sites made by Peregrine Falcons in the United States. However, introducing a toxic pesticide to the environment cut down their numbers to about 300 sites.

In Ohio, officials conducted a restoration project that reintroduced the species to the state to breed and recover their numbers. There were 46 of the species released in the cities of Akron, Cincinnati, and Columbus, which have since expanded the falcon’s range and territory.

Peregrine Falcon landing on tree branch

Peregrine Falcon

American Kestrel: Tennessee

The American Kestrel is the smallest species of falcon in North America. It sports various colors and has spread widely across the nation. This type of falcon is more commonly observed than other varieties due to its fondness for creating its nest on agricultural lands and residential areas.

Red-shouldered Hawk: Georgia

A year-long resident in Georgia, the Red-shouldered Hawk is a common resident and has an unusual courtship ritual. Two birds would come together and fly while occasionally rolling over on their backs. They are commonly seen soaring the skies while upside down.

Red-tailed Hawk: Florida

Red-tailed Hawks are typically seen making their nests along fields and atop telephone poles and fenceposts in Florida. This hawk species sports a signature bright red tail, which even first-time birders would be able to identify in flight.

Bald Eagle: Alabama

While Bald Eagles are common in the United States, birdwatchers have only seen an average of 100 to 150 birds in Alabama in recent years. This large, majestic bird of prey makes its nest along rivers and large bodies of water.

Bald Eagles stick with one mate for their entire lives and divide responsibilities with each other. Enormous nests are usually found on the crown of massive trees near water bodies.

Golden Eagle: Appalachian Mountains

Sporting a beautiful golden hue, the Golden Eagle are large birds of prey that could have a wingspan of up to seven feet. This species of raptor is found in Alabama in mid- to late November before migrating elsewhere.

Like Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles make their nests on top of large trees and are called aeries. These birds of prey begin laying eggs in February or March inside nests of lower attitude than usual.

Golden eagle sitting

Golden Eagle


You can find more information on birds of prey here.


Ladybug Self-Defense

Ladybugs are generally known as cute garden bugs who are both harmless to humans and beneficial to gardens. Their classic red and black body pattern makes them the most endearing of insects. Sometimes people even see them as a sign of good luck. However, the color of their wings serves a purpose beyond appearance; it is also a warning to predators. Ladybugs are naturally skilled at both protecting gardens from aphids and protecting themselves from their predators.

Names of the Ladybug

The name ladybug, or ladybird, came from European farmers who had their crops eaten by aphids. The farmers had prayed to the Virgin Mary for the safety of their crops and ladybugs answered. Grateful for the beetles’ destruction of aphids, they named their saviors “beetles of Our Lady” or ladybugs for short.

While thought of as bugs, ladybugs are actually beetles. Ladybugs are formally known as coccinellidae which is a family of beetles. Within this family, there are several species of ladybugs which vary by diet and body pattern.

The most common ladybug species is the seven-spot ladybug (coccinella septempuntata). This species is what people think of when they think of ladybugs. The seven-spot ladybug has the classical red with black spots pattern and eats aphids as the main part of their diet. The diet of the ladybug varies by species but they are generally omnivores. The most popular choice of food for ladybugs are aphids, but they also eat other insects such as caterpillars, spider mites, and insect eggs and larvae. Because of their love of aphids, ladybugs usually have a good relationship with humans and keep gardens and crops pest-free. Ladybugs also eat plants, fungi, fruits and berries, nectar, and sap.

Ladybug on a blade of grass

Little ladybug sitting on a green grass

Protection Against Predators

Several animals and other insects prey upon ladybugs. Animal predators of the ladybug include tree frogs and birds such as swallows and crows. Insects that eat ladybugs include dragonflies, ants, and parasitic wasps.

The main way that ladybugs protect themselves against predators is through the color of their body. The bright red or orange coloring mixed with black is an example of aposematic coloring. This is a common warning sign in nature that alerts predators that they’re toxic if eaten. Other insects and animals such as frogs also use this sign. Ladybugs are not poisonous to humans but can be to certain animals because they produce toxic chemicals called alkaloids. Alkaloids are present in their blood and will harm anyone who eats the ladybug. A brighter color in a ladybug’s back means they have higher levels of toxicity in their body.

Ladybugs’ spots are another aspect of aposematic coloring. While not all ladybugs have spots, when they are present they will help keep predators away. The number of spots varies by species, ranging from no spots at all to 24.

Another way ladybugs protect themselves is by playing dead. When laying on their backs, ladybugs will reflux bleed where they release a small amount of blood from their legs. The alkaloids in their blood produce an odor that is repellent to predators. Combined with clear warning colors and reflux bleeding, predators should know to steer clear of ladybugs. They will be in for a surprise if they don’t!


On The Trail: Water Purification

Water is an essential part of hiking and it is particularly important to stay hydrated while on the trail. When going out into nature, you should always bring a water bottle of some kind, no matter how short the hike. However, if you run out of water or are hiking for an extended time, you will have to find natural sources of water. Before you start drinking from any lake, river, or stream you come across, first make sure that the water is safe to drink by purifying it.

Is This Water Safe to Drink?

While you should never just assume water on the trail or in the woods is safe to drink, these basic guidelines will point you towards safer sources of water.

1. Look for clear, flowing water.

Clear, flowing water is the best bet for drinkable water in nature. Water that looks clear and free from surface particles is obviously a better option than cloudy or visibly contaminated water. Streams or fast-flowing parts of rivers tend to be the cleanest sources, but you should purify this water as well just to be safe from any water-borne illness.

2. Stagnant water is most likely unsafe.

Lakes and ponds are usually not drinkable because the water is stagnant and most likely full of bacteria. If you are drinking from these sources, you must purify the water beforehand to kill any bacteria or viruses.

3. Avoid water downstream from camping areas.

Water that is downstream from camping or farming areas may be contaminated with water-borne viruses from any waste that traveled into the water source. Steer clear of these areas and head upstream for better water quality.

4. Never drink salt water.

Salt water can dehydrate you which is the last thing you want while hiking. It is best to avoid any saltwater lakes when looking for drinkable water.


Mountain stream

How to Purify Water

Purifying water means removing harmful viruses, bacteria, and chemicals that may be in natural sources. There are several methods of purification to choose from; some are more convenient and effective than others.

1. Filtration

Filtering water before you purify it is a good idea if the source is especially dirty, but usually purification alone is enough. Some filters can be inconvenient to use and heavy to carry; a simpler yet less effective way to filter water is to pour it through a paper coffee filter which can easily be carried in a bag or backpack.

Filtration can also be used as a purification method in and of itself. This process is generally done by pumping water through a ceramic or charcoal filter and then treating the water with chemicals. After pumping natural water into a separate water bottle, it will be clean and safe to drink. Some water bottles have built-in filters for an easy and convenient filtration option.

2. Boiling

One of the most effective ways to purify water is by boiling it, which removes any bacteria or viruses it may be contaminated with. Water can be boiled in a metal cup, pot, or canteen over a fire. Keep water at a roiling boil for at least 60 seconds to ensure it is safe and let it cool before drinking.

3. Iodine

Water purification tablets or iodine droplets are the most convenient and affordable way to purify water. Tincture of Iodine 2% is used to kill any viruses or bacteria and will leave you with safe, drinkable water. Iodine is also the active chemical in many water purification tablets which will accomplish the same thing. Add a few tablets or drops of iodine to your water bottle and let the water set for at least 20 minutes for the chemicals to react. Iodine-treated water may taste strange, but it will be effectively clean.

4. Ultraviolet Purification

Ultraviolet water purifiers involve treating water with UV light to neutralize contaminants and organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. This method works best on clear water, so it is best to filter your water first. Some ultraviolet water bottles come with a built-in pre-filter. After filtering your water, stir it with the UV purifier for about 90 seconds. While UV purification is very effective, it can be more expensive than the other purification methods.


On The Trail: Protecting Nature

The scope and beauty of nature can be breathtaking and is good for the soul. Hiking is a great way to reconnect with nature and experience its beauty firsthand. But in order to keep the wilderness wild and safe for everyone to enjoy, it is important to protect nature when out on a hike. Anywhere you are hiking or camping, but especially in national parks, make sure to respect the trail and your surroundings. Here are some ways to protect nature while hiking and camping.

1. Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace is the golden rule of hiking. When out on the trail, you should leave everything the way you found it or even cleaner by picking up any trash you may find. Take anything that you bring in with you back out. This not only applies to leaving trash but also taking souvenirs. Avoid taking rocks, plants, or flowers that you find along the trail.

Another way to keep nature safe is to stay on the trails. The designated trails are designed for hiking, but other areas of nature are not. Don’t stray off the trails; this may damage the plant and animal life. The more people following an off-trail path, the more wildlife is harmed, leading to erosion. Wandering off the path is also an effective way to get lost in the woods.

2. Respect Animals

While hiking, you are likely to come across animals such as birds, squirrels, or rabbits, but occasionally you may find larger animals like bears, moose, or deer. If you come across an animal, be sure to keep your distance for both your sake and the animals’. Animals living in their natural habitats should be left alone and respected. Be careful not to frighten them which could cause them to flee their habitats and leave behind their young. You should also avoid feeding any animal as this could make them sick.

A deer with antlers in a field Description automatically generated with medium confidence

3. Be Careful with Fires

Another way to protect nature is by preventing forest fires. When making a fire in the wild, be extra careful to keep the fire from getting out of control. Keep fires small and make sure your fire is far enough away from brush and trees. Don’t leave the area until your fire is completely extinguished with no sparks remaining.

4. Keep Water Clean

When hiking, it’s best to bring your own reusable water bottle. Plastic water bottles contribute to water pollution and landfill buildup, making reusable bottles a healthier option for Mother Nature. If you are filtering natural water to drink, make sure to keep the source clean by avoiding

contamination. Don’t put any chemicals or trash into natural water sources and use biodegradable soap if you are washing dishes.

5. Clean Your Boots

Your boots will most likely get dirty on the trail and can be a mode of transport for seeds or insects. Your boots or hiking gear may also introduce invasive species to new areas and damage to the ecosystem there. Before and after hiking, wash your boots and gear or wipe them down to avoid transporting any invasive species.


Origin of Camping in the U.S.

Camping is a very popular pastime; about 40 million people go camping in the United States every year. This temporary detachment from everyday life is a great way to relax and reconnect with nature. Here is a glimpse into how camping originated in the U.S. and how it grew in popularity.

Adirondack Murray

The popularization of camping in the United States was largely thanks to the Father of the Outdoor Movement, William Henry Harrison “Adirondack” Murray. Murray, an engaging church minister, loved to vacation in the North Woods, or Adirondack region, in upstate New York. He gave lectures on the Adirondacks which proved so popular that he published an article series based on them. In 1869, Murray published the book Camp-Life in the Adirondacks, a personal account of his love of the North Woods. In it, he wrote about the Adirondacks’ beautiful scenery and praised the health-restoring power of the wilderness. This book was a huge success and soon thousands of people were traveling to the Adirondacks in what was called “Murray’s Rush”. These vacationers used Murray’s how to camp instructions and maps as a guide.

Camp-Life in the Adirondacks was instrumental in popularizing the Adirondack region as a retreat into the wilderness. After the Civil War and the surge of industrialization, life was becoming increasingly urbanized and fast-paced. Many people took Murray’s advice as a way to escape city life and its physical toll. People rushed north to experience the breathtaking and healing views of the great outdoors. The first summer of this occurrence proved especially unlucky for “Murray’s Fools”, named for their inexperience with camping and encounter with constant rain, swarms of blackflies, and few available rooms. However, after that year’s disappointment, Murray was proven right and camping became more popular than ever.

You can learn more about Adirondack Murray and Murray’s Rush here.

Hart Lake in the Adirondack Mountain Region

Hart Lake in the Adirondack Region

Great Camps

“Murray’s Rush” dramatically spurred the growth of hotels and camps in the area. Hundreds of hotels were built by 1875, but guests also started staying in tent camps to be even closer to nature. These camps became more permanent over time and eventually evolved into cabin compounds. Among the tourists looking for an escape from urban life was the extremely wealthy. During the Gilded Age, the rich and elite also traveled to the woods for a rustic yet luxurious experience. Wanting to avoid the crowds, they built their own exclusive camps known as Great Camps.

Great Camp buildings thrived between the 1880s and 1920s. Wealthy land buyers quickly bought up the cheap and expansive areas of land to build their luxury retreats. As the hotels in the region became more advanced, the camps grew larger and more elaborate. Some even included bowling alleys and tennis courts. To avoid the expense of shipping in materials, developers built these camps from logs, bark, and granite native to the area, creating the classic rustic style known as “Adirondack Architecture”.

Jewish Influence

Around the same time the Great Camps were being established, many new social and recreation clubs were formed in the Adirondack region. Among these clubs was the Lake Placid Club which held a strict exclusionary policy against Jewish people and other religious and ethnic groups. Discrimination from this and other Adirondack clubs led wealthy Jewish people to create extravagant Great Camps of their own.  Many Great Camps on the Saranac Lakes, such as Knollwood Club built in 1899, were built by wealthy Jewish buyers. This is because William West Durant, a wealthy designer and developer willing to sell to any buyer, owned the land there.

Transition to Modern Camping

Starting with these Great Camps and similar camps out west, camping grew in popularity and soon became a staple of American life. At the end of the Gilded Age, the roaring 20s pushed even more people to go camping as the middle class grew and people had more free time. The creation of National Parks also contributed to the popularity of camping, along with the advancement of cars and trains. Since then, camping popularity has been steadily increasing and remains a favorite summer activity.


U.S. Mountains: Rockies and Appalachians

The United States is a vast and geographically diverse country that is home to several different climatic zones and landforms.

There are five main major mountain ranges in the United States, including the Rockies, the Appalachians, the Sierra Nevada Range, the Cascade Range, and the Coast Range. Today we will be taking a look at the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains, also known as the Rockies.

Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee (part of Appalachians)

The Appalachians

The Appalachians, not to be confused with the European Alps, are an Eastern mountain range located parallel to the Eastern coast of the United States and Southeastern Canada. They stretch from the Canadian island Newfoundland to Central Alabama, a total length of about 2,000 miles. The range is split into Northern, Central, and Southern regions longitudinally and marks a boundary between the Eastern and Midwest areas of the U.S. latitudinally.

The Appalachians are home to a variety of both flora and fauna. The land surrounding the mountains is heavily forested and full of wildlife. The trees that make up this rich landscape consist of firs, pines, hardwood, and spruces. At the ground-level of the forest are shrubberies and herbs, as well as various berries. Animals common to the Appalachians include small and large mammals, large cats and wolves, birds, and snakes. Most well-known are rabbits, deer, wolves, moose, beavers, bears and many species of tree squirrels.

Running through the mountains is the Appalachian National Scenic Trail which connects Mount Katahdin in Maine with Springer Mountain in Georgia.  Hikers that complete the trail through separate trips are called section-hikers, while hikers who complete it in one season are called thru-hikers. The latter group usually hikes from South to North and starts in early spring so they get to the North when the spring does. In total, this 2,000 mile trail usually takes five to seven months to hike.

The Rockies

The Rocky Mountains are a western mountain range located in the United States and Canada. They stretch an impressive 3,000 miles, starting in northern British Columbia and sloping off in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Eight states and provinces are host to the Rockies, including British Columbia, Alberta, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico.

The Rocky Mountains were formed around 60 million years ago as a result of the gradual shifting of tectonic plates. A fascinating landform that runs through the Rocky Mountains is the Great Continental Divide, which acts as a boundary that diverts water to the Pacific on one side and the Atlantic on the other. The Triple Divide Peak diverts water to the Arctic Ocean as well as the Pacific and Atlantic.

Because of the wide range in latitude that the Rockies encompass, the climate is highly variable. The variability of altitude also affects the climate, as the temperature decreases the higher you travel up the mountains. Snow is characteristic of the highest peaks, even in the summer months.

While the human population in the Rockies is limited, the wildlife population is thriving. The Rocky Mountains are home to a variety of animals including mammals, birds, and fish. Among the wildlife in the area are grizzly bears, wolves, moose, elk, bison, otters, and mountain goats, as well as bald eagles and cutthroat trout.


On The Trail: Packing Your Bag

One of the most important things when going hiking is to be prepared. Hiking can be a fun, refreshing way to reconnect with nature but it can also be dangerous if you’re not careful. It is better to hike with other people instead of on your own and before heading out to the trails, your bag should be packed full of tools to aid you on your journey. It should be noted that the longer and more complicated your trail, the more items you will need. The items listed below are just some basic essentials to bring on every hike.

1. Water

The most crucial tool in your backpack is water. Anytime of year, but especially in the warmer months, staying hydrated is a necessity of hiking. Whether on a straight, paved path, or on the rugged terrain of a mountain, hiking is a lot of exercise and you can get dehydrated pretty fast. It is important to replenish not only water but electrolytes as well. Consuming electrolytes help you maintain a good water-salt balance. Good sources of electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium, include bananas, salty snacks (in moderation), and sports drinks. Drinks with caffeine, like coffee, soda, or tea, or alcohol, can cause dehydration and should be avoided on the trail.

To be environmentally-conscious and also for the ease of refilling, a reusable water bottle is your best bet on a hike. If you plan to purify water from natural sources, make sure to bring all the tools you need for purification, whether that’s iodine drops, ultraviolet filters, or tools for boiling water. For more information on finding and purifying water on your hike, check out the article On The Trail: Water Purification.

2. Snacks

Another key to a successful hike is keeping up your energy. Hiking can use up a lot of energy and it’s hard to focus on connecting with nature when you’re hungry or tired out. Rather than stopping for a long lunch break, pack small, energy-boosting foods for regular snack breaks. Eating smaller portions more frequently is healthier for your body and helps to sustain you for the duration of your hike. Foods rich in carbs and proteins are the best way to gain energy during your hike. Some snack suggestions are granola bars, nuts, fruits, peanut butter and bananas, energy bars, and trail mix. You can make your own trail mix through a combination of nuts, dried fruits, and seeds.

3. Sun Protection

If you are going to be hiking out in the sun, sun protection is a must. The sun can do a lot of damage to your skin, so it is important to take precautions every time you are hiking outside. The sun’s rays are generally strongest between the hours of 10am and 4pm, so be extra careful of sunburn and heat stroke during these hours. However, sun protection is important despite the

time of day. Apply sunscreen before leaving and bring extra in your bag to reapply. Other items to bring include SPF lip balm, sun-protective clothing, sunglasses, and a hat.

4. First-Aid Kit

The trail may seem harmless, but there is always the possibility of getting injured in the wilderness. Rugged terrain in particular offers more dangers than a smooth path, but it is always best to be prepared. A great tool to pack in your bag is a first-aid kit. You can buy an already-made kit or make your own. A few things to include in your first-aid kit:

➔ Band-aids

➔ Gauze

➔ Antibiotic Ointment

➔ Aspirin

Always make sure your first-aid kit is stocked and replace anything you use before your next hike.

5. Directional Aid

Depending on the type and length of your hike, you may need tools to help point you in the right direction. GPS on your phone is a great tool if you get lost, but you may not always have service on the trails. For longer hikes or for hikes through more rough terrain, a compass and map can be helpful to aid your sense of direction. And remember, while it is highly recommended to hike with others, always let people know where you are going and when you expect to be back if you choose to hike alone.


On the Trail: Water Birds

Birds are beautiful and diverse animals that inhabit nearly every ecosystem on Earth. There are thousands of different species of birds, ranging from the tiniest hummingbird to the vibrant peacock to the 9 ft tall ostrich. In this article, we will explore the world of water birds. These birds have adapted to life in the water through flattened bills, webbed feet, and waterproof feathers.

Waterproof feathers

Aquatic birds give their feathers water-resistant properties by coating them with waxy oils. This process is called preening, in which the bird distributes oils from the preen gland at the base of its tail to the other feathers. Water birds must continually preen their feathers to keep them water-resistant. Another way these birds stay protected from water is through a dusty powder in their feathers. This powder comes from the breakdown of special feathers called ‘powderdowns’ and adds to the water-resistance of the feathers.

The following birds are examples of North American water birds you may see on the trail:

    1. Waterfowl

Waterfowl is a classification of aquatic birds that live in freshwater. The main types of waterfowl are ducks and geese, who are both commonly found in North America.


Ducks can be found in practically any type of body of water including marshes, ponds, rivers, and lakes. They are omnivores and their diet varies by species. Ducks may be shovelers, who eat insects, snails, and seeds, diving ducks, who are able to dive deep to catch fish, or dabbling ducks, who feed on land or at the water’s surface. Dabbling ducks eat plants, grasses, insects, and small animals.


There are several types of geese, a common example being the Canada Goose. Canada Geese can often be found flying overhead in a V-formation or around water or grassy fields. These birds are herbivores and eat grass, berries such as blueberries, seeds, and grains.

Geese can sometimes get violent both with other geese and with humans. When threatened, they will hiss or honk and may chase after people. If they’re fighting with another goose, they may attack and hit each other with their wings.

Two geese flying in the sky

Geese flying in the sky

     2. Common Loon

The common loon lives mainly in lakes and ponds. A lake populated with loons is often a good indicator that the water is very clean, even crystal-clear. Loons prefer crystal-clear water so they can see their prey easier underwater, which is mainly small fish. They will also eat crustaceans, snails, or leeches if there’s not enough fish around.

Loons are excellent hunters in the water and powerfully dive after their prey with the help of the feet located at the back of their body. They have the unique talent of being able to flip around 180° in less than a second to follow their prey. After lurking in the water looking for fish, they will suddenly dive down and use these skills to their advantage.

     3. Pelicans

Pelicans are relatively large birds with a weight of 30 pounds and a wingspan of up to 10 feet. They can be found on islands in freshwater lakes where they breed or in shallow marshes where they go foraging for their food. During a migration, they may stop at lakes or inland rivers.

Pelicans are very social and often hunt prey together. This is accomplished by using their collective wings to drive fish toward the shore where it will be easy to catch them. Pelicans also travel together in flocks and will occasionally fly in a V-formation like geese over long distances.

The most characteristic feature of the pelican is its throat pouch, called the gular, which they use to catch and drain fish. They mainly eat small fish but will also hunt crayfish and tadpoles; their diet can vary based on the water levels and which types of fish or other creatures are available.

Two pelicans standing in front of a tree

Pelicans standing by some trees

Next time you’re at Houston Leisure, see how many water birds you can spot.


On The Trail: What socks should I wear hiking?

When packing for a trip to the great outdoors, items like a tent, cooking supplies, and hiking gear are the main things people think about, while socks usually fall to the bottom of the list. It’s important to pack socks both for staying warm during cold nights and for protecting your feet during long hikes. When it comes to hiking socks, you want them to keep your feet cool and dry. The main properties to focus on are the socks’ height, cushioning, and fabric type. Based on the following guidelines, you can find the best socks to keep you cool and comfortable during your hiking trips.


Sock Height

Socks can be found in a variety of heights, including no-show, ankle-length, crew-length, and knee-high. The height of your socks often depends on the height of your shoes and serves to prevent shoes from rubbing against the skin. For hiking, crew-length socks are a popular choice because they prevent hiking boots from forming blisters on the ankles. If your hiking boots are lower cut, ankle-length socks are a better choice.


Sock Cushioning

When hiking in the summer, it is important to keep your socks lightweight to stay cool. A lighter sock will also lessen perspiration and keep your feet dry and comfortable. Specialized hiking socks may have extra cushioning at the heel and ball of the foot for comfort during long hikes.


Fabric Type

The best fabrics for hiking are wool and specialized synthetic fibers such as Coolmax fibers and Olefin fibers.

  1. Wool is one of the best materials for hiking socks because it prevents your feet from getting too warm and it also cushions your feet so they don’t get sore and blistered. Wool is naturally good at wicking away moisture and allowing it to evaporate, as well as keeping you warm in cold weather. A common type of wool used in socks is merino wool, which comes from merino sheep. This wool is antimicrobial which prevents bacteria from growing and it can absorb a good percentage of its weight in water before becoming wet.
  2. Coolmax fabric is an engineered synthetic fiber made of polyester and is often mixed with wool, cotton, and nylon. This fabric was invented specifically to wick away moisture from the feet. Coolmax fibers are hydrophobic and push water away from the feet to the outside material.
  3. Olefin fibers are similar to Coolmax fibers except they are made from polyethylene instead of polyester. These fibers work the same way as Coolmax fibers and wick away moisture while also drying quickly. Olefin fibers have antimicrobial properties as well and can limit bacterial growth.

When picking out hiking socks, one type to avoid is 100% cotton. Cotton is very absorbent and will keep your feet sweaty instead of wicking away the moisture. It doesn’t take long for cotton to become soaked with moisture, but cotton socks will take a long time to dry off, during which time bacteria can grow on them. Socks often contain a small percentage of cotton, but socks completely made of cotton are best left for more casual use.


Note: This is the first installment of a new series called On The Trail. These articles will explore the world of the trails including how to prepare for hiking, what you can see and discover in the natural world, and how to stay safe when hiking.