National parks like the Grand Canyon, the Great Smoky Mountains, and Utah’s own Zion are among the most popular destinations in all of the United States. Together, they draw millions of visitors every year, more than visit Disneyland annually. But while they are certainly tourist attractions, they are a far cry from a theme park.

With wild nature come dangers. From blisters and rolled ankles to more serious threats like rockslides or flash floods, knowing what to do when disaster strikes can make all the difference. Keep reading to learn a few first aid tips that every hiker should know.

Prevention Beats Treatment Every Time

While it’s a good idea to learn some basic first aid, preventing common hiking injuries starts with picking–and packing–the right gear. Wearing the wrong kind of shoes or hiking boots that don’t quite fit can leave you with blisters or cause you to roll an ankle. Failing to dress in layers can leave you wet and shivering if the weather changes while you’re on the trail. Not having enough water with you can lead to dehydration.

Whether you only plan to do a few shorter, easy trails or want to tackle the hike to Angels Landing or The Narrows during your visit, having the right gear will help keep you safe and comfortable.

Build Your Own First Aid Kit

You can pick up a hiking first aid kit at just about any outdoors store. But building your own will ensure that you have everything you need to treat common injuries, all without breaking the bank. Your DIY first aid kit should include:

  • Bandages in a variety of shapes and sizes
  • Butterfly closures for larger cuts
  • Gauze for covering bandages and dressing
  • Dressing pads that are not adhesive
  • Adhesive tape
  • Scissors for cutting clothing away from cuts or cutting dressing and gauze
  • Thermometer to let you know when a hiker may need to be taken off the trail quickly in the event of illness
  • Tweezers for removing splinters or debris from cuts and scrapes
  • Rehydration salts for treating dehydration and heat exhaustion
  • Hydrocortisone cream for bug bites, poison oak, or allergic reactions
  • Pepto Bismol for treating stomach upsets
  • Antihistamines for treating allergic reactions
  • Aloe vera gel for treating minor burns
  • Antiseptic pads for cleaning wounds

There are plenty of other things you can add to your first aid kit, like aspirin or a splint. But as a bare minimum, the above list is what your DIY kit has to include.

Make Your Own Blister Kit

Perhaps the most common–and one of the most painful–hiking injuries you’ll encounter are blisters. While the gear in your first aid kit can help you treat a broken blister and keep it from getting infected, it won’t help you continue on your hike pain-free. For that, you’ll need a blister kit. These are available at any hiking store, but you can also easily make your own.

Your blister kit should include:

  • Antiseptic like Neosporin
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Blister cushions or gauze pads
  • Bandaids
  • Duct tape
  • Pocket knife

When you first start feeling a blister come one, break out your DIY kit. Use alcohol wipes to clean the area. If you have an open blister, apply antiseptic and place a bandaid over it. Then, use a blister cushion or cut a gauze pad to cover the area. Wrap duct tape over the gauze or blister pad to protect the area. The duct tape will reduce friction, helping you continue on your hike without the constant pain of your boot rubbing your blister.

Safety on the Trails Starts Before You Leave Home

We’ve already mentioned that prevention beats treatment. But that rule goes beyond just packing the right gear. Prevention should actually start while you’re still at home, planning your Zion adventure.

There are plenty of flat, easy trails that anyone can hike, without any real physical stamina. However, taking on more difficult hikes requires a bit more. If you want to hike even a moderate trail during your visit, you should do a few practice hikes or hit the gym in the weeks leading up to your trip. If you can, exercise outside in elements similar to what you’ll experience in Zion. This will help you learn what you can expect and tell you whether you are truly prepared.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

Nothing will put an end to a fun hike faster than dehydration or heat exhaustion. In minor cases, you’ll be left feeling tired, weak, and ill. Let it get past that stage, and you could find yourself in a life or death situation.

Proper hydration should actually start a couple of days before your hike. Make sure that you are drinking plenty of water so that you don’t wind up dehydrated before your hike even starts. On the trail, a healthy, active hiker should be drinking at least one liter of water every two hours. For more strenuous hikes or in hot conditions, you’ll likely drink more.

Don’t Unplug Completely

Hiking in Zion and other national parks is a great way to get away from the demands and fast pace of your everyday life. And while you should definitely put down your phone and enjoy nature while you’re in the park, don’t leave your phone at home. Your smartphone can be a valuable tool if disaster strikes while you’re on the trail. 

Pack your smartphone, but place it in battery-saving mode and place it in your backpack. Make sure that your location services or GPS are turned on. If you’re going on a long hike, pack an external battery that you can use to charge your phone. That way if something does go wrong, you’ll be able to at least try to get a signal and your GPS may be able to be used by emergency service to spot where you are.