HOW TO SAFELY EXPLORE THE OUTDOORS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The weather is gorgeous, the restrictions are lifting, and parks and campgrounds are opening again. But the Big Question remains – is it safe to explore the outdoors while the pandemic is still raging?
The debate is on – many experts claim that it is safe to go out if you follow the safety guidelines. Others take a hard line against going out, for fear of spreading the virus. The consensus is that it can be safe if you follow the recommended guidelines.
Here are the answers to frequently asked questions of what you need to do to stay safe while exploring the wilderness during the pandemic.
WHERE CAN I EXPLORE?
The short answer is that sticking close to home is the safest. Follow the local government guidelines, practice social distancing, and avoid crowded areas. Restrictions may vary from one area to the next, you need to be aware of the guidelines that are specific to the location where you are camping or hiking.
Exploring areas that are not close to home can be risky, according to the experts. If you choose to travel, you will be exposed to germs that may be different from those in your local area. You will need to stop for gas, food, and bathroom breaks, and you are exposing yourself and others every time you step out of the car. Use your best judgment if you choose to travel, and load up on sanitizer, soap, and face masks. Carpooling is a bad idea right now – follow the same guidelines that you use at home, and only travel with other members of your household.
Parks and playgrounds get crowded, which makes them off-limits. Some hiking trails are open, and medical experts say that hiking is safe if you hike only with members of your household in uncrowded areas. In other words - if the trail you are on gets crowded, leave.
The Washington Trails Association wta.org advises hikers to stay at least 6ft apart and cover coughs or sneezes with an elbow. They warn hikers to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before touching anything in the home.
Look for parks or trails that are uncrowded or chose times that are not crowded to visit. You can check any of the sites on this list for camping closures, trail-related, and trail event cancelations:
- You can check The Trek for park closures that may affect trails.
- The website for the Partnership for the National Trail System posts cancelations of events and closures that are related to the National Trail System.
- For resources on the state park impacts go to American Trails website.
- Washington Trails Association, Leave No Trace, and Outdoor Alliance have guides for getting outside responsibly during the pandemic.
- You can go to recreation.gov or hipcamp.com to find an open campground.
- nps.gov/findapark posts lists of park conditions and what facilities are available.
The good news for hikers, campers, backpackers, and people who love exploring nature is that the outdoors is a safe, and a great, place to be right now if you follow the guidelines.
WHAT ARE THE GUIDELINES?
You do not need to wear a mask while exploring the (uncrowded) outdoors, but you should always carry one. Stay 6ft. away from other people and cover your mouth with your elbow if you cough or sneeze. Covering your mouth with your elbow is safer than using your hand because hands are hotbeds for germs. Here are the official guidelines as posted on americanhiking.org:
- Practice social distancing.
- Follow the guidelines of the local government or the C.D.C.
- Stay close to home to minimize exposure.
- Use your best judgment to distance travel and try to avoid potentially spreading the virus or contracting it from a different community.
- Avoid carpooling with people who are not members of your household.
- Do not hike/picnic/camp with people who are not members of your household.
- Look for parks or trails that are not crowded or pick a time to visit when it is not crowded.
Trails, parks, and campgrounds do not magically stay clean and hike-able. Crowding these places puts extra strain on the people trying to maintain them during the pandemic. If you suffer an injury while exploring the outdoors, you are adding a burden to an already overloaded medical team.
Be courteous – emergency responders and medical teams are overworked and overwhelmed with handling this pandemic. Choosing to hike, camp, or backpack in an unsafe area “for the thrill of it” puts unnecessary stress onto an already overloaded system.
Camping can be a safer activity than staying indoors if you follow the safety guidelines and choose an uncrowded area. The same is true for hiking, glamping, and backpacking during the pandemic, but you must maintain high sanitation standards. Here is a handy checklist of what should be in your backpack to combat contracting Covid-19:
- Bar of Soap. Soap and water can kill 99.9% of germs if you lather up for 20-30 seconds.
- Hand Sanitizer. You can’t always get to a sink, and hand sanitizer can kill bacteria that could make you sick.
- Disinfecting Wipes.
- Face Masks. You do not need to wear a face mask if you are in an uncrowded area, but when other people (outside of the members of your household) are around, wearing a mask can help stop the spread of the virus.
- Warm clothing. Do not underestimate how cold it gets at night.
- Pack your meals. If your backpack is holding all the food that you need, you can avoid exposure to public places like restaurants and stores.
- First-aid kit. Your kit should include bandages, ointments, and insect repellant.
- Spare pair of glasses. If you wear glasses, bringing an extra pair is smart.
- Check the batteries in your flashlights and remember to pack extras.
- Body Wipes. A key point to safe camping during the Covid-19 pandemic is to avoid public facilities as much as possible.
- Urination device, or a similar device. Guys have an easier time avoiding public restrooms than women do – this handy little device will make it easier for women.
- Liquid Hand Soap. Sanitizers do a decent job of getting rid of germs, but only soap and water can get them 99.9% clean. Keep a bar of soap and a bottle of liquid soap on hand for safety. Soap is so important that it is listed twice on this list.
- Toilet paper. For obvious reasons.
- Disposable Gloves. You will want to avoid directly touching any shared surfaces.
A reliable, sturdy backpack is a necessity while hiking, camping, and backpacking. If your backpack is loaded with the necessary food and safety supplies but falls apart during your trip – well, you have now lost the important items that you need.
It is worth investing in a sturdy backpack that can hold up under the toughest conditions to ensure your safety and the safety of your stuff. We recommend a backpack crafted from authentic Crazy Horse leather, as this is the highest grade of leather on the market and is prized for its rugged durability. The Harper Backpack is 100% authentic crazy horse leather and can last 30 years or longer with proper care. (see the Yukon Bags Care Guide for the best advice on leather-care). This sturdy bag has double-latches, zippered pockets, and a semi-removable liner for easy cleaning. This beautiful bag even has a special compartment to protect your laptop.
MAKE A POSITIVE IMPACT
While camping, hiking, or backpacking, follow the Leave No Trace guidelines. These guidelines should be followed year-round but are crucial during the pandemic while crews are already overloaded. Respect the local wildlife, properly dispose of waste, minimize campfire impacts, and, most importantly – leave the site in spotless condition. If you find a beautiful bit of nature that you would love to bring home – please don’t. Leaving the things that belong in nature where you found them is the right thing to do.
The world is a beautiful, amazing place. Explore courteously and safely and leave a positive impact.