When I first thought of this particular subject, my focus was going to be narrowed and focus. A quick trip to Google and more thought, I expanded my focus just a little bit. I found a few articles about safety for photographers, but not as many as I thought there would be. From time to time, I will stumble across a Facebook group conversation regarding safety. Most of those conversations are limited in scope though. “Utilizing firearms in photography sessions” or “how do I keep my stuff safe” are overriding themes.
My goal behind this is to go deeper and throw out tips that we cover if we head out to the woods. While most of these tips might seem directed to those of us that channel our inner Indiana Jones, there are some that the entire community can invest in.
ATTEND A FIRST AID CLASS
I imagine there are a lot of us that are required by our employers to keep our first aid/CPR knowledge current. To most of us, the American Red Cross is the most visible and known provider of such classes. The classes that I attend are usually held by the local emergency management director. To find a class close to you, head over to their website. Of course, if you are like me and live out in the boonies, you might not find a class local to you. The Red Cross also offers an online class for $25, which you can find here, Red Cross Online First Aid Classes.
When I was conducting research for this article, I came across REI's Outdoor School. REI has put together a selection of courses directed to their customers and I imagine there's a few of you out there that shop at REI. They have a selection of online courses, along with classes that are held in-house at various REI locations. One of the courses is Wilderness Medicine, which is a 2-day course that costs $225. They also offer other classes with free tuition. If I was closer to a REI store, I would seriously look into this.
For those of us that might be interested in a course such as REI offers, but do not live anywhere close, I did come across an online Wilderness First Aid Basics Course offered by Aim Adventure U for $149.00.
Do not stop with the class though. Amazon has these nifty cards. You can throw this into your camera bag, the glovebox or pocket.
Insects, bugs and these creepy crawly things are going to be very common in most places. As humans, we can deal with a few of them with no treatment, but some of these things can mess your day up. Knowing how, and having the appropriate items to treat a bug bite should be essential items for your camera bag.
GET A FIRST AID KIT
When I first thought of this article, it was going to be limited to reviewing a first aid kit that might fit our needs of being lightweight and compact. Even though I expanded the topic, I did come across some kits that might fit what we need.
When I first began my research into this article, I came across Adventure Medical Kits. The company has a full line of medical kits and supplies. The kits are designed to be lightweight and compact. I reached out to the company and they sent me an Ultralight/Watertight .3 kit. Expect a stand alone review of this kit in the near future. REI also carries a full line of adventure medical kits.
TRAVEL WITH A FRIEND
I have no shame. This rule gets broken by me a lot. I do tend to stick close to my vehicle when I am out shooting. I just have that funky photographer's quirk of “it's my shot and no one else can have it.” Plus there is something just downright therapeutic about heading out into the boonies to shoot at night being serenaded by the coyotes singing the song of their people.
With that being said, we probably should not be heading out into the back country of the Sierra by ourselves if we want to take all precautions possible. I remember a few years ago I was up in the mountains of southern Colorado and came across a hunter on the road that was scouting game on the mountainside. The next day, I ran into him in the campground. I asked him how his hunt had gone for him. We were at about 10,000 feet in the campground, he had gone higher during his hunt and we had a rain storm move through the area that day. He rode out the same storm, yet he did it above the treeline that day. Whereas I just had to deal with rain, he told me he got the full meal deal with rain, hail and snow. And he was by himself.
I am comfortable in my own skin when it comes to dealing such fun weather activities, but are you?
LET SOMEONE KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING
And when you are expecting to be home. This is something that is usually marked off my checklist of things to do before I head out, even if it is for a quick day trip.
One of the big things in my household is using the FIND FRIENDS app on our iPhones. I went out a few days ago to catch the sunset. Never left town, but when I got home, the wife got home right around the same time and before I could say anything, my son had briefed her on what I did and where I went.
I have been aware of the Spot Tracker for a few years now. The spot tracker is a satellite-based tracker that the user can take with them. It allows people to follow their location and if the user gets into trouble, the user notify emergency services of their location if they get into trouble. The buy-in for Spot can be a little expensive and might not be for most of us. You can get more information on their website.
LEARN LAND NAVIGATION
In the olden days, we had to learn to navigate with paper maps and a compass. GPS was just coming online when I left the Army over 20 years ago. Soon after that, the government made the technology available to the civilian sector. While it was pretty good then, it was not as good as it is now. Years later, when I got into GPS pretty hard with my now broken Garmin handheld, it's accuracy was light years ahead and a lot easier to use. These days, it is hard to find a car that does not have a GPS in it as the cost has come down and a lot of people love them. They definitely have their benefits, but they also have their faults. Some of those stories have become folklore. Garmin Handheld GPS On Amazon.
The biggest downfall of any GPS, and especially handheld units like the broken one (I will replace it at some point) have is the fact that they require power. Not a big thing for most of them, they will go about 24 hours on a set of AA batteries, but even then the user has to conserve power. Some of the earliest units suffered from poor reception if the unit was under trees or under the roof of a building. Although my knowledge on this is several years old, my Garmin did fine in thick forests.
Getting a handheld GPS unit can several hundred dollars, but it is a worthy investment. Right after I bought my Garmin, I ran across GPS File Depot. GPS File Depot is a community of users that create custom maps based off publically available information. Most of these maps are free to download to use. It was through here that I was able to load my Garmin up with topographical maps of the entire American Southwest.
I did not only use my Garmin for navigation. There were times that I would use it to mark locations that I shot from, or planned to shoot at.
Now for us old fuddy-duddies, or those of us that like to have a back up to our back up, there is the tried and true paper map and compass. While the buy-in is less than a GPS, there is a learning curve when it comes to navigating the wilderness in this manner. The compass is the big ticket item and could go from several bucks upwards to the $75 that I paid more than 20 years ago for mine. Topographical maps through the United States Geological Survey are now free to download. There are endless resources on the Internet on that can teach you how to land navigate. A great resource is the Army field manual on map reading and land navigation.
DEALING WITH WILDLIFE
Wildlife is one of those things that we have to take into consideration when we head out. Although rattlesnakes are common across a lot of the US, I have read very few stories about photographers encountering them. For those of us that have a bad habit of photographing severe weather, the chances of seeing one or many go up. I almost stepped on one a few years ago while shooting weather. I do not know how many times I have seen rattlers all over when storms pop up.
Snakes will show themselves when it is warm outside. Here in Oklahoma, about the coolest I have seen a snake wondering about is around 65-70 degrees. Time of year does not matter. Even though they hide out in winter, just two years ago a Marine lost a leg to a rattler in southwestern Oklahoma. In February. By the way, even though the snake might be a small non-poisonous reptile, they can get wound up. The most crazed, psychotic snake intent on harming a human I ever saw fell into this category.
For those that go up into the Rockies or Alaska have to keep in mind that there are very large, carnivorous mammals who are not scared of any human. My lone experience with a bear was a black bear and he was not real impressed with the horn.
So what can we do to deal with the issue of wildlife? There are several options.
For snakes, you can get a cheap machete from Walmart. I have one of these in my inventory for when I am in certain places that are overgrown with brush. The video below shows one of the biggest rattlers I have seen. I came across this thing last year. You might think by the size of him, he would be easy to spot in the grass. Even with grass just a couple inches high, they can blend in easy. Take a snake half the size, or the ones that have just hatched, and they are not going to be seen. You can find a selection of Machetes on Amazon.
Air horns. Small air horns are pretty common place at WalMart. I went to the website Bear Smart to research the use of loud noises to deter bears. I used a vehicle horn on a black bear years ago. He did not seem real impressed until I started to drive towards him. I read up about using noise to deter a bear. Bear Smart suggested that using varying types of annoying sounds might be used for deterrence. I can see where cranking Florida Georgia Line on the car stereo could be used.
Bear Spray. Bear spray is similar to what the police use, i.e. pepper spray. What I found in research shows that bear spray has a smaller concentration of oleoresin capsicum, which is the active ingredient in both. The number I found is police pepper spray is 10% concentration while bear spray is a measly 1-2 %. I did a little research about this, but found a bunch of contradictory information. I have been sprayed several times by police pepper spray. It was not a pleasant experience. Hopefully the bear spray works just as good.
Firearms. Now before I go any further, I probably should throw in this little disclaimer. This is not advocating the senseless destruction of wildlife, nor is it advocating that everyone should be carrying. It just happens to be another option. If you are not comfortable around firearms, or have had any training, then I do not suggest this option. But if you would like to explore this option, then I suggest you head down to your local range/gun store. Some places will have classes you can take, and some will rent range time to you. Out of all of these options though, this is going to be the most expensive and most time-consuming. The same plinker you buy for snakes does not work for bears.
Although most of this article is directed towards photographers who head off into the woods, some of these tips can be applied across the board. Hopefully I have given you some ideas of what we should think of and be packing when we do leave the pavement.
I highly encourage you to leave any comments below. Any tips that you may have picked up or stories of a photography adventure gone sideways. What happened, what the final outcome was and anything you learned that you can share with the photography community is greatly appreciated.