A collection of supplies for a safe visit to remote public lands, such as map, sunscreen, water. BLM photo.

Know Before You Go

The BLM welcomes you to explore, enjoy, and make positive memories from your outdoor experiences on America’s public lands and waters.  Please remember these are wide-open spaces and wildlands.  Plan ahead and be aware of potential hazards.  It is everyone’s responsibility to take steps necessary to minimize the chances of becoming lost or injured on public lands.

Below you'll find safety tips and other key advice for planning your trip. Check with the closest BLM office for more information about local conditions, regulations, and recreation resources.

Fire Safety

Fire danger in the forest varies with weather conditions. Drought, heat, and wind help dry timber and other fuel, making it easier to ignite. Once a fire is burning, these same conditions help increase a fire’s intensity. 

Please do your part to protect your forest from human-caused fire. Before each visit check with the Bureau of Land management for current campfire restrictions, regulations, and campfire and camp stove permit requirements. Regulations governing campfires are specific to each area and change with elevations, weather conditions, and the seasons. Trails may be closed at any time without warning due to severe hazardous fire danger and weather. 

If you build a campfire remember to: 

  • Remove any burnable material within a 5-foot minimum radius in all directions.
  • Build campfires away from overhanging branches, steep slopes, rotten stumps or logs, meadows, and dry grass and leaves.
  • Reuse existing fire rings, or use a fire pan to contain coals and minimize fire scars.
  • Keep the fire small.
  • Never leave a fire unattended. Even a small breeze could quickly cause the fire to spread.
  • Do not use a campfire to burn foil, plastic, or other trash; pack it out.
  • Drown your fire with water to extinguish it. Thoroughly stir the mix to cool it off. Use your bare hands to feel all sticks, charred materials, coals, and ashes to make sure the fire is completely out. Remove any trash, foil, etc. from ashes and pack out.

River Safety

  • Tell someone where you are going, when you expect to return, and where to call if you don't.
  • Be sure your white water skills and experience are equal to the river and the conditions. NEVER BOAT ALONE.
  • Wear a Coast Guard approved type III - V, properly adjusted lifejacket at all times when you are in or near the river.
  • Know your limits of swimmers rescue and self-rescue on white water rivers. Know when and how to swim for an eddy.
  • Reduce injuries by wearing protective foot wear and proper clothing designed for river running.
  • Helmets are required for Kayakers and canoeists at all times. Rafters must wear helmets in Class IV and above water.
  • Be prepared for extremes in weather, especially cold. Know about the dangers of hypothermia and how to deal with it. When air and water temperature add up to 120 degrees or less, hyperthermia is a high risk. Wear a wet suit and booties in spring to early summer and always in Class V water. Know early signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and dehydration in hot weather. Remember certain medications can complicate these types of environmental injuries.
  • Know how to recognize and react to river hazards such as holes, wrap rocks, undercut boulders and walls, rock sieves, and horizon lines across the river.
  • Carry a first aid kit and know how to use it. Learn or review medical aid responsibilities and CPR. Avoid rattlesnakes and poison oak, but know how to deal with emergencies if someone is unlucky.
  • Never run a rapid unless you can see a clear path through it. Watch out for new snags after winter and spring floods.
  • Allow the craft ahead of you to pass through the rapid before you enter it. This will avoid a double disaster if the leading boat blocks the channel.
  • When in doubt, stop and scout. If you are still in doubt? Portage.
  • Remote rivers through isolated wilderness should be approached with caution, since aid is difficult or impossible to obtain in case of an accident.

Cave Safety and Tips

Caving can be dangerous, especially if you lack experience or knowledge of basic caving principles.  Please remember the following tips to stay safe and to help protect delicate cave environments:

  • Let someone know where you are going 
  • Carry three reliable sources of light and backup batteries
  • Maintain visual/voice contact with everyone in your group
  • Always wear a helmet and gloves
  • Be careful with loose rocks on the ceiling and floor; rocks can shift or fall.
  • Only cave within your own skill level.
  • Leave No Trace = Pack it in, Pack it out (food, trash, human waste)
  • Caves contain delicate formations that have evolved slowly over thousands of years. Never remove rock, formations or creatures from a cave. Simply touching a fragile formation can break it or prohibit future growth. 
  • Minimize impacts to caves by following paths and avoiding crawling over formations.

What equipment will I need?

  • Three reliable sources of light – one should be secured to a hardhat with a chin strap.
  • Extra batteries
  • Gloves
  • Drinking water (bring more than you think you might need)
  • A container to carry out your trash and waste
  • Dress in layers to accommodate different temperatures and levels of physical exertion
  • Sturdy non-slip boots for stability and support on uneven rocky cave floors

Abandoned Mines

There are many abandoned mines in the desert.  The best advice we can give you is STAY OUT and STAY ALIVE!  Folks have fallen to their deaths. We’ve had reports of whole vehicles and their passengers falling into mine shafts.  Most think of mines that you walk into, others think of mining pits...keep in mind there are also mine shafts....straight down.
 

Flash Floods

Flash floods can occur at any time of year, but they are most common in July, August, and September. Checking the local weather forecast is advisable, but you should realize that conditions change quickly, and it is impossible to predict where heavy rain will occur.

  • Avoid narrow canyons and washes during stormy weather.
  • Be aware of changing weather conditions.
  • Know your escape routes.
  • If you’re hiking in a stream, be aware of rising water levels or stronger currents and sudden changes in water clarity.
  • Educate yourself on the terrain you are entering.
  • Realize that dry washes are a result of previous flash floods.

By entering a narrow canyon or wash, you are assuming a risk.

If flooding begins, seek high ground and wait for the water to go down before attempting to walk out. Do not enter a narrow canyon if storms threaten. Never camp in a wash bottom.

Summer Heat Safety

Summer temperatures in this area may reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid heat-related illnesses:

  • Consume at least 1 gallon (4 liters) of water per person per day. 
  • Avoid hiking in the middle of the day when it is the hottest. 
  • Wear a hat, a long sleeved shirt, and sun screen. Bring your sunglasses.
  • Eat well before hiking and bring food on your hike to help replace the electrolytes/energy used.

Adults require 4 quarts of water per day and up to 8 quarts for strenuous activity at high elevations. A 25% loss of stamina occurs when an adult loses 1 to 1 ½ quarts of water. To maintain higher energy levels and avoid dehydration, drink frequently. It is important to begin drinking before you actually feel thirsty. Don’t forget to treat your water!

Bear Safety

It's best to understand what bears need and avoid bears whenever possible. You can do this by keeping a clean camp and home, and by following bear safety advice when recreating or working in bear country.

Never Approach Bears—Give Them Space

  • Every bear has a “personal space”– the distance within which the bear feels threatened. If you enter that space, the bear may become aggressive.
  • Give female bears extra space. Female bears are especially fierce defenders of their young and may respond aggressively if they perceive a threat to their cubs.
  • When photographing bears, use your zoom; getting close could put you in danger.
  • Bears, like humans, use trails and roads. Don’t set up camp close to a trail they might use.
  • Avoid areas where you see or smell carcasses of fish or other animals, or see scavengers congregated. A bear’s food may be near. If the bear is around, it may defend its cache aggressively.

Don't Surprise a Bear

  • Make noise, sing or talk loudly. Always let bears know you are there.
  • Avoid thick brush whenever possible. When the terrain or vegetation makes it hard to see, make extra noise.
  • Hike in a group; groups are easier for bears to detect.
  • Walk with the wind at your back, if possible. Bears can see almost as well as people, but trust their noses more than their eyes or ears.

Don’t Feed Bears

  • Bears have only a few months to build up fat reserves for a long winter in dens and are always looking for something to eat. Don’t let them learn that human food or garbage is an easy meal. It is foolish and illegal to feed bears, either on purpose or by not securing food or garbage away from bears.
  • Keep a clean camp. Wash your dishes. Avoid smelly and greasy foods such as bacon or smoked fish. Keep food smells off your clothing.
  • Cook away from your tent. Store all food away from your campsite. Hang food out of reach of bears. If no trees are available, store your food in airtight or specially designed bear-resistant containers.
  • Burn food waste completely in a hot fire. Pack everything else out. Food and garbage are equally attractive to a bear so treat them with equal care.
  • Remember, pets and their food may also attract bears.
  • Odorous items such as toothpaste, toiletry items and even gasoline should be stored away from your campsite and out of reach of bears.

Don't Fish for Bears

  • If a bear learns it can obtain fish just by approaching anglers, it will return for more.
  • If a bear approaches you while you are fishing, stop fishing.
  • If a bear approaches and you have a fish on your line, give the line slack so the fish doesn’t splash—or if need be, cut your line.

Dealing with Close Encounters

If you see a bear, avoid it and give the bear every opportunity to avoid you. If you do encounter a bear, remain calm and try to observe what the bear is doing. Chances are good you are not in danger. Most bears are interested only in protecting food, cubs or their “personal space.” Once they feel there is no threat, they will move on. Remember the following:

If You See a Bear

  • If the bear appears not to have sensed you, move away without alerting it. Keep your eyes on the bear.
  • If the bear does notice you, face the bear, stand your ground and talk to it calmly. Let the bear know you are human. Talk in a normal voice. Help the bear recognize you. Try to appear larger by standing close to others in your group or wave your arms slowly above your head. Try to back away slowly, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground. Prepare your deterrent if you have one.
  • If a bear cannot tell what you are, it may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening.
  • If you take the above actions and the bear continues to focus on you or approach, you should become more assertive: raise your voice, beat on pans, use noisemakers, throw rocks or sticks. Use your deterrent if you have one. Drive a bear off rather than let it follow you. If you are with others, group together to look big and stand your ground.

Surprise Encounters

If you surprise a bear at close distance, it may feel threatened and act defensively, especially if it has cubs or food. Continue to stand your ground. If the bear moves away, walk away slowly, keeping your eyes on the bear. Increase your distance.

Never Run!

You can’t outrun a bear. Bears can run much faster than a sprinter and, like dogs, they will chase fleeing animals. A charging bear might come within a few feet before running off. It’s important to stand your ground.

In the Rare Event of an Attack

If a bear makes contact, you have two choices: play dead or fight back. The best choice depends on whether the bear is acting defensively or is seeking food.

  • Most brown bear attacks are a defensive response. Play dead in defensive situations: Hit the ground and lie still if a brown bear you have surprised or any female bear protecting cubs makes contact. Lie flat on your stomach, legs spread apart for stability, with your hands protecting the back of your neck. A defensive bear usually ends its attack if it feels you are not a threat.
  • Remain motionless for as long as possible. If you move, and the bear sees or hears you, it may return and renew its attack. In a prolonged attack, fight back.
  • Fight back in other situations: Rarely, lone black bears or brown bears may perceive a person as potential food. Fight any bear that has been calmly focused on you and makes contact or that breaks into a tent or building. In almost all situations, your best defense against an attacking black bear is to fight back. Concentrate on the bear’s face or muzzle with anything you have on hand.

Protection

Bear deterrents, including firearms and bear spray, can be helpful but should never be used as an alternative to common-sense approaches to bear encounters.

Snake Safety

Always be alert when traveling through thick brush or rocky Outcroppings. Use a walking stick to check under brush or around crevices where recoiled snakes could lay. Wear high-top boots or snake chaps if available. Use care when moving piles of brush, logs and tarps. Most people are bitten by either accidentally stepping on the snake or while trying to kill the snake. On average, about 20% of all bites inject venom. The best first aid in case of bites is to transport the victim to a first aid clinic or hospital as soon as possible.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is a rapidly progressive mental and physical collapse due to the chilling of the body’s core. It is caused by prolonged exposure to cold, and is greatly intensified by wetness, wind, exhaustion, and lack of food. Hypothermia can, and often does, strike in temperatures above freezing.

The signs and symptoms of hypothermia are progressive and the onset is rapid. Watch for early signs in members of your group. Victims are usually unaware that they are becoming hypothermic. 

Treat hypothermia by:

  • Actively rewarming the victim.
  • Getting victim out of wind and rain and removing wet clothing.
  • Moving to a heat source – a fire, inside a dry sleeping bag, or skin to skin with a healthy person.
  • Giving victim warm drinks like herbal tea, soup, or sugar water. Do not give victim caffeine or alcohol!

Think Before You Drink -- Giardia

Only water from developed maintained systems at recreation sites is safe to drink. Open water sources are easily contaminated by human or animal waste. All water should be treated to prevent giardiasis. This intestinal parasite can leave you feeling miserable for weeks. Boiling your drinking water for 5 min is the best way to kill the organism

Poison Oak and Ivy

Poison-oak and/or Poison Ivy is common in our state, especially near water sources. It carries an oil that can cause a rash if it comes in contact with skin. The Poison Oak plant may appear as a vine, shrub, or small tree. The leaves are normally indented and oak-like in shape and may be green or red. The surface of the leaves is often shiny or waxy. Poison-oak leaves grow in groups of three. Poison Ivy is similar and appears in a vine and also has 3 leaves.  Learn to recognize poison oak and ivy and avoid it.

Protect yourself from poison-oak and ivy by wearing long pants and long sleeves. If you do come in contact with it, wash clothing as well as skin. Calamine lotion and creams containing Benadryl or cortisone can help relieve rash symptoms. Oral antihistamines may also be useful.

Stop the rash from spreading to others. The fluid from the sores caused by poison ivy is not contagious. The rash caused by poison oak and ivy will only spread to other areas of the body if the oil from the plant is still on your skin. And the rash will only spread to another person if you have oil on your hand and touch the individual. Once the oil has been removed from your skin, it is no longer possible to spread the rash to other areas of your body.

Ticks

Ticks are external parasites that live on mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Both males and females feed on blood. They are considered harmful because they transmit diseases to humans. The two primary tick-borne diseases in the United States are Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

The best means to prevent the transmission of tick-borne diseases is to promptly remove any tick. This requires regular inspection of clothing and exposed skin for attached or unattached ticks. To remove a tick, grasp it crosswise with narrow tweezers as close to the point of attachment as possible (do not rupture the tick). Retract or pull tick firmly in the direction of attachment. Do not handle ticks with bare hands. Disinfect the bite site and wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.

Cell Phone Coverage

While a cell phone may help in an emergency, do not rely on your cell phone. Cell coverage outside established towns may be poor or unavailable. Be prepared to follow other recommendations to ensure a safe trip.

Firewood & Forest Pests

Trees and forests are threatened by non-native insects and diseases that can infest and kill large numbers of trees.  Many invasive insects including the Asian longhorned beetle, emerald ash borer, gypsy moth, goldspotted oak borer, and sirex woodwasp can survive being transported long distances undetected inside firewood.  Once these pests arrive, they can emerge and infest new areas devastating trees in parks, campgrounds, and forests. Do not bring firewood from home to burn at another destination. Instead plan to buy local firewood, heat treated firewood, or gather firewood on site when that’s permitted. Transporting firewood can spread forest pests and may also violate state and federal laws depending on the region. For more information visit: https://www.dontmovefirewood.org.

Boating & Aquatic Invasives

Our waters are threatened by non-native plants, mussels, fish and micro-organisms. Recreational activities such as boating, angling, waterfowl hunting and diving may spread aquatic invasive species. Many species can survive in bilge water, ballast tanks, rigging and motors- or may hide in dirt or sand that clings to nets, buckets, anchors and waders. CLEAN off visible aquatic plants, animals, and mud from all equipment before leaving water access. DRAIN motor, bilge, live well, and other water containing devices before leaving water access. DRY everything for at least five days or wipe with a towel before reuse. DISPOSE of unwanted bait, worms, and fish parts in the trash. Never dump live fish or other organisms from one water body into another. For more information visit: http://stopaquatichitchhikers.org.