Safety Tips for Surviving the Eclipse

The Eclipse promises to be a magnificent cosmic event.

Just ask the hundreds of thousands of amateur astronomers, photographers and the decidedly curious that plan on traveling to the path of totality come the 21st of August. While we hope they’ve ironed out their travel plans, there might be some other details about surviving the event—not just the few minutes of darkness—that should be taken into consideration. Here’s a few to keep on your radar beyond the obvious: don’t stare directly at the sun.

The Basics

Prepare

Make sure you stock up on water, food, and any essentials. Many areas within the totality will be packed with visitors, cellphone reception could be limited, and access to clean water might be a challenge to find in the backcountry. If you’re spending the weekend camping, be sure to plan for one extra day, just to be sure you’ve got enough essentials to last you through the eclipse and beyond.

Stay Dry and Comfortable

Unless you are watching the eclipse from an observatory, you’ll probably be outside. That means you need to be prepared for weather. In August, rain and even hailstorms are common across the country. If you’re in mountain country, you could even experience an early season snowstorm. Pack a waterproof/breathable shell and warm mid-layer, just in case. During daylight hours, heat will also be a problem. Wear apparel to block harm UV and UVF rays, drink plenty of water, and keep your hat handy.

Repel Bugs

From the Oregon coast to the Carolina shore, disease-carrying mosquitoes, ticks, and vicious no-see-ems can ruin your day. In addition to spreading serious, often deadly diseases like Zika virus and West Nile Fever, mosquito bites can leave you itchy and bumpy. Wear lightweight long sleeve shirts and long pants; in areas with abundant water, consider light gloves and a neck gaiter to cover exposed skin. A ball cap will help shield your head.

Pack out all your trash (including toilet paper), don’t take any part of nature home, and leaving the area undisturbed.

Pick an environmentally-friendly bug repellent without harsh, harmful chemicals. Ticks are everywhere across the country and Lyme disease is a real concern. You can use an anti-tick repellent (on your body or clothes), but the best bet is to do a careful tick check after you are done outside. Always take a shower after trekking through the brush; this way you can wash ticks off before they have a chance to burrow in. Check your pets for ticks and insects as well.

Know Poisonous Plants

If you are traveling to a new destination to watch the eclipse, check on poisonous plants in the area. Chances are you’ll be tramping through unfamiliar territory; you’ll want to know what poisonous sumac, ivy, and oak look like, and how to identify other pesky plants like stinging nettle.

Fire Prevention

It ain’t market-speak. Only you can prevent forest fires. Chances are there are several fires raging the U.S. wilderness right now, and most of them are caused by humans. With the eclipse taking place in the height of summer, where the grass is dry and many places have been without rain for extended periods of time, one little spark can start a forest fire.

It should go without saying, but DO NOT SMOKE while you are camping out for the eclipse. A drop of burning ash or a smoldering cigarette can wreak havoc and devastation, so kick the habit before you head out to the backcountry.

And if you’re new to camping, consider not building a fire; there are legions of car-camping and backcountry stoves on the market that let you cook a gourmet meal in the wild. And if you really must build a fire, only do so in designated areas, and always pay close attention to the fire and be sure to fully extinguish it. Check to make sure your campfire is out, and then check again.

Watch Out for Deadly Weather

Obviously you want an unobstructed view of the sky for primo eclipse peeping, but consider your position in relation to potential natural disasters.

Lightning

There are more than an estimated 25 million lightning strikes in the United States annually. Most of them happen during violent summer storms. Most people who are injured or killed from lightning aren’t struck directly, but are shocked or burned by a ground current after the bolt has hit a nearby object (like a tree, tower, or rock outcrop). August provides prime lightning strike condition—something eclipse watchers need to consider.

It should go without saying, but DO NOT SMOKE while you are camping out for the eclipse.

If you are camping, boating, or hiking, keep an eye out for building thunderheads. Especially at risk are hikers and climbers on ridgelines or mountaintops.  If a quick-moving thunderstorm moves in, you don’t want to be at risk for a lightening strike. Pick a spot where you can get to low-ground quickly and safely.  Don’t seek refuge in a cave, under a tree or near a wire fence or electrical tower. Find a low spot (like a ravine) and crouch down to minimize your exposure (don’t lie down). And make sure you ditch all of your equipment, as any metal will attract a strike.

Flash Floods

Flash floods kill more people in the United States annually than lightning strikes, hurricanes, and tornados. Any low-lying area—a riverbed, dry lake, basin, or wash—can be vulnerable to a flash flood. Flash foods can be the result of a thunderstorm miles and miles away, or a long heat spell that quickly melts snowpack.

Make sure you stock up on water, food, and any essentials.

Leave No Trace

We’re all for creature comforts to make exploring the wilderness less about roughing it than enjoying it, but be sure to follow the central tenant of hikers, bikers, and campers: leave wherever you go in better shape than when you arrived. This means pack out all your trash (including toilet paper), don’t take any part of nature home, and leaving the area undisturbed.

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