Some people are afraid of the outdoors. I’ve often looked nervously over my shoulder or woken in the middle of the night to strange noises. In Alaska, we listen for something crashing through the brush, fearing a Grizzly bear. In the desert we shake out our shoes for scorpions; in the south we keep our eyes open for Rattlesnakes and Cottonmouths. The California coast is famous for sharks.
But when it comes to camping havoc, those are the amateurs. When we really count what causes outdoor risk, it’s not the usual suspects.
Bambi is dangerous. Not because he’s going to stampede your tent like an enraged mama Grizzly, but because he (or she) is prone to standing in the road while you’re driving fast at dusk or dawn. Deer-involved car accidents are the biggest statistical risk in the outdoors. Drive with care and put a deer whistle on your car.
Bullwinkle isn’t as common as Bambi, but where there are Moose they’re more dangerous for two reasons. The first, like deer, is car accidents. Of course, Moose are much bigger and hitting one is far more likely to result in injury. The second reason is that Moose are often actually dangerously aggressive, especially during rutting season in fall or when mommas have calves nearby. Rangers in Yellowstone and Grand Teton claim that Moose are a bigger threat to hikers than Grizzlies. Don’t let the fact that they eat plants fool you.
Wasps, Hornets, Bees and Yellow Jackets
The denizens of Order Hymenoptera are second only to deer in the number of animal-related trips to the ER that they inspire. Being stung is no fun…especially if you have an allergic reaction to stings, when it can be downright life threatening. Epi-pens, Benadryl, and caution around nests should be a component of any outdoor first aid kit.
Malaria, Yellow Fever, Zika…the diseases spread by mosquitos are no picnic. Fortunately for most of us in North America we’re far enough north that we don’t have to worry about Malaria, the most serious malady. Yellow Fever was a scourge until a vaccine was developed in the 1930s. Zika has made some appearances of in southern corners of North America. In most places mosquitos are just a nuisance, although climate change may drive a northward migration of the more problematic skeeters and diseases.
Like mosquitos, ticks are small and annoying. Also like mosquitos, they can be a vector for disease: the most dangerous is the Deer Tick, a tiny critter that can carry Lyme disease. The highest-risk areas for Lyme disease are the northeastern states and upper Midwest.
By a wide margin, the creature most likely to send you to the emergency room from your outdoors adventure is you. You’re far less likely to get stung or run into a deer driving than you are to whack yourself chopping firewood, cut yourself in the camp kitchen, or take a tumble on the trail. When it comes to outdoor injuries, klutziness is king.
Notice a pattern here? The things we fear are big, scary carnivores or serpents that bring us back to the days of the Garden of Eden. The first are rare. The second are easy to avoid. In the meantime, actual risk is posed by what’s around us on a regular basis. Be careful out there.