Seeing kids take to the backcountry is a good thing, Dr. Mike DiStefano said — but the regional chief medical officer of Children’s Hospital Colorado also said parents need to ensure they adhere to proper safety tips before heading out.
“You’re just as vulnerable in the backcountry as you are in doing other activities,” DiStefano said, urging parents to take precautions, just like they would if their children were in sports, or riding a bicycle.
With the advent of hunting season, Children’s Hospital Colorado, of Colorado Springs, is working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to remind parents to prioritize safety in the wilderness.
Although the bulk of injuries DiStefano sees are not those that occur in the great outdoors, there are risks when in the wilderness, particularly exposure and traumatic injury.
“An exposure risk would be from hypothermia, which is rare, but they are at a little higher risk for that, and then dehydration,” he said.
Children are not small adults — their body surface area means they tend to lose fluids and heat more quickly than adults, putting them at greater risk.
When heading out with kids, encourage them to drink plenty of fluids and have proper clothing.
“Dress your child as you would dress. Make sure you bring extra layers. If you get cold, it’s guaranteed that your child has been cold for longer. They tend to lose body heat a little quicker,” DiStefano said.
“We’ve had kids unfortunately lose parts of their limbs from frostbite. That’s on the extreme side,” he also said.
“The other (big risk) is traumatic injuries. If you look at the higher percentage, it’s mostly what you would expect — from falls. We do see ATV accidents, but we see those year-round. With falls, we’ll see broken limbs, whether it is a leg, arm or collarbone. Those are our more common fractures.”
Children’s bones are still growing and more vulnerable to types of fractures that don’t occur in adults; the damage can damage growth plates and impede their growth.
Watch children for signs of dehydration and provide them with small sips of water if they show signs, DiStefano said. For fractures, getting help as fast as possible is critical, but in the meantime, carry supplies that can be used to stabilize and child (or anyone) with a fracture.
“I always carry what we call splinting material, so if there is a break, you can stabilize it. It’s still going to hurt, but the fracture isn’t moving around as much,” DiStefano said.
For major bleeding, apply tourniquets and evacuate the injured party as quickly as possible.
CPW’s Youth Hunter Outreach program allows kids as young as 12 to take to the fields during hunting season. Young hunters must complete Hunter Safety Education through CPW before they can be licensed to hunt with a firearm or bow.
“Hunting is safe and getting safer all the time in Colorado, but preparedness is key to that safety,” said Travis Long, hunter education coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, in a provided statement.
“When you avoid dehydration, hypothermia and other injuries, you reduce the overall risks for accidents with the tools and equipment used in your backcountry activities. It’s important to be even more cautious and alert after a long, tiring day in the elements.”
Minors should be supervised when using firearms, DiStefano said.
“Make sure the maturity level is such as to handle firearms, go through the proper training and always have adult supervision when kids are handling firearms,” he said.
“It’s part of a way of life. Because it’s part of the culture, (parents) don’t pause to think, ‘What do I need to do, not only to protect my child, but also to protect myself?’”
DiStefano and CPW recommend having a basic survival kit, including a knife, waterproof matches, fire-starter material, reflective survival blankets, high-energy food, water purification tablets, first-aid items, a hemostatic device, such as QuikClot, and an unbreakable signal mirror.
“Planning, that’s the biggest thing, making sure to have those basic survival items. But you also kind of need to think and prepare for the what-ifs and exit plans, if and when (emergencies) occur,” said DiStefano.
“ … We love that kids are out in the backcountry, but I think that sometimes, we don’t give much forethought in how to protect kids and ourselves.”