Do’s And Don’ts Of Hiking With Kids In Snake Territory
I’ve always had a love affair with the outdoors, and being lucky enough to have lived in and traveled to several countries, I’ve been able to enjoy long hikes in lots of environments. From tropical rain forests to the Scottish highlands and everything in between, often venturing into snake country. For me, nothing beats the feeling of leaving behind the stressors of daily life and exploring the great outdoors.
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Having recently become a mom, I knew that a lot of things were going to change drastically, but I didn’t want my outdoor adventures to come to an end. I know how important preparation is to trekking, so it was just about learning how to combine my love of nature with being a mom. I’ve now managed to condense family preparation into a science. It’s not just about ensuring that I’m prepared; it’s crucial that everyone on the trail understands the dangers out there and how to deal with them and that includes kids.
Luckily, North American trekkers don’t have much to fear from snakes, as only around 8,000 people a year get bitten by a snake in the U.S. and of that number, around 1,300 of them are children. While it’s important to have a plan in place and be aware of the dangers, that statistic shouldn’t scare you. Of all of the recorded snake bites, only about five people die; that’s one death per 65 million people. In many cases, snake bites are preventable, and the best way to arm yourself against them is to educate yourself and your children before heading out.
1. Don’t Stress Too Much
As mentioned above, there is a very slim chance of someone dying from a snake bite in the U.S. It’s important that you’re educated and make smart choices, but understand that the chances of you or your child receiving a snake bite are pretty unlikely.
These chances are further reduced if you take the time to educate yourself and your kids before you head out on your hike. The more prepared you are, the better equipped you will be to handle a snake encounter.
2. Prepare Your Children
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again; education is key in preventing a snake bite, and this includes your kids. Before heading into the wilderness, take some time to sit your kids down and give them an introduction to snakes and how to behave during a trek.
Remember, children are curious by nature, and if they come across a snake, they may be tempted to take a closer look, poke it with a stick, or even touch it. Teach them that they need to stay a safe distance from snakes at all times. They don’t need to be afraid of snakes, but they do need to be respectful of them. If they ever see one in the wild, they should freeze and then just back away slowly.
Now is also a perfect time to go over some of the most common safety procedures that are useful in all types of situations so that they can become second nature. Knowing these methods will make children less prone to panic in emergencies, as they will know what to do and what to expect should something happen.
3. Know Your Venomous Snakes
Only about 10% of snakes in the United States are venomous. There are also some additional rules on how to tell if a snake is venomous or not.
Most venomous snakes will have:
? A triangular-shaped head
? A pit between their eyes and nostrils, helping them locate warm-blooded prey
? A single row of scales on the underside of the tip of their tail
While these tips may come in handy on your trek, they are only general guidelines, and won’t apply to all snakes. To better prepare yourself, you should familiarize yourself with the snakes that inhabit the area where you’ll be hiking. The best instructions will come from local snake experts, as they will have the most relevant and up-to-date information on that geographical area.
4. Choose Wide Trails During Busy Times
When planning your trip, consider the time of year. According to a published study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, a third of snake bites in children happen between June and July, so you may want to be more eagle-eyed than usual during these months. Other times to be extra vigilant include during snake season or peak times (which happens during April through October) and unusually warm days.
Where possible, choose a wider path where it will be easier to spot any dangers that may lie ahead. Snakes want to avoid us just as much as we want to avoid them, so they tend to stay away from crowded trails. By picking a busy place and popular time of year, there’s less chance of a snake encounter.
In their effort to avoid perceived dangers, snakes will do their best to hide away, so keep this in mind during your trek. Ideal hiding places include areas with high grass or lots of rocks, so these should be avoided. Children are likely to want to wander off and explore, but to stay safe it’s best they remain on the trail and keep away from path edges.
5. Wear The Right Clothes And Footwear
When hiking in an area that’s a known habitat for snakes, I always wear boots for added protection, as your feet are most likely to get bitten. Gear up with long pants tucked into your boots, and for additional safety, bring along some trekking poles. They will come in handy on narrow trails, to probe for snakes.
6. Don’t Approach Snakes
Snakes will always want to get out of your way, and most often they hear the vibration of your footsteps and move out of your path before you get to them. However, if you happen to catch them off guard, they will likely either stay on or near the trail.
If you ever spot a snake, you need to stop, back away slowly and stop at a safe distance until the snake has passed. Teach your children never to approach, scare, move or touch the snake, even if it appears dead as snakes can still bite up to five hours after dying.
Snakes are not aggressive, but they do defend themselves against perceived threats, and in up to 70% of cases, snakes bite because someone provoked them.
7. Make Some Noise
In this instance, it’s actually a good thing if your kids are too noisy! If things get quiet on the trail, encourage them to make lots of noise, as this will warn snakes of your presence and give them time to scurry away.
8. Don’t Panic!
It’s unlikely that your child will get a snake bite, but in case the unthinkable happens, the most important thing is not to panic. Research shows that up to 50% of snake bites are dry bites, meaning they ejected from their fangs. While there is a minuscule chance that the bite is fatal, always seek immediate medical attention. There’s no time to waste here, so call 9-1-1 right away as your child will need to get treated at the nearest medical facility.
While waiting to receive medical attention remove their shoes, jewelry or any constricting articles of clothing and tell them to remain as still as possible. Children will often mimic the actions of their parents, so try to stay calm and use a distraction strategy to keep their minds off the situation. You can tell them a story, talk in a soothing tone and reassure them that help is coming.
9. Don’t Treat The Snake Bite
Amateur treatments for snake bites can make things worse. Don’t use a snake bite kit, fasten a tourniquet, give your child medication or attempt to suck the poison out with your mouth. Snake bite kits or extractions can actually increase tissue damage and will only remove a minuscule amount of venom if any at all.
10. Try And Take a Picture
If possible, take a picture of the snake, so it’s easier for the medical team to identify the type and administer the correct anti-venom. Don’t put yourself at risk, however, and never try to catch it. If a picture is not possible, then take as good a look as you can so you can describe it to the medical team.
11. Don’t Let Snakes Keep You From The Outdoors
You should always bear in mind that snakes are not out to hurt you, and they would much rather avoid you. With a few simple preventative measures, you and your kids can enjoy the outdoors so just be smart, keep your children close and be on the lookout. And most of all, get out there and enjoy all that nature has to offer!
Saskia Cameron is an outdoor enthusiast keen to share her love of nature with her fast growing baby girl. For more outdoors tips and advice check out her writing over at Sniff Outdoors or follow the team on Instagram for some travel inspiration!