Get Ready

Be Safe

There are always things to be aware of both inside and out. Here are a few things to keep in mind that will help make your outdoor experience safe and enjoyable.

In an emergency, call 911 and contact a park employee. Directions to the nearest hospital are posted on bulletin boards and at the park office.

Know Your Location

Pre-plan your trip and know where you are headed. Be aware that in some areas, cell phones and GPS units may not work. It’s always a good idea to carry a map of the area and a compass. Being able to read a map and use a compass are good skills to have or learn as a family.

United States Search and Rescue Task Force: Compass Basics.

Having an emergency plan when you are outdoors is just as important as having one at home. Make sure the entire family, including child(ren), know the plan and what to do. Remind children that if they are lost, it is best to stay in one place, someone will come looking for them.

If you do lose your way, remember the acronym S.T.O.P.:

  • Stop: When you realize that you’re lost, stop immediately. You should have a whistle handy, and now would be a good time to use it.
  • Think: Try to remain calm so you can think through the steps of the plan your group has in place. What are your options? Think again before you take any action.
  • Observe: Identify what you have with you that could be useful, as well as taking a look around the area. Are you still on the trail? Is it safe to remain where you are?
  • Plan: If you have a plan set in place with your family members, follow through with it if you can. This is also the time when you’ll decide what you will do until you are found.

For more specifics, see the United State Search and Rescue Task force who are the premiere teachers on this topic.

You can also visit DCNR Bureau of Forestry’s tip sheet on how to avoide getting lost in the forest.

What to Wear

Dressing appropriately can help protect you from the sun, insects, thorns (briars) and branches.

  • Hats do more than highlight your favorite sports team. They provide protection from the sun and keep things out of your hair.
  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants are an easy way to protect your skin against bugs, like mosquitos and ticks, as well as scratches from thorny plants and tree branches.
  • Proper footwear, such as boots and sneakers, will give you the best footing while hiking. Sandals and flip-flops are not hiking friendly. They do not provide good support and traction on uneven surfaces. They are also open, exposing skin to insect bites and scratches.

Want more advice? See this video on layering from REI.


Before leaving the house, check the forecast for the area you are visiting. If possible, check with the park/forest office when you arrive to see if the forecast has changed. Dress accordingly and remember; you can always remove layers if you get too warm but you cannot put them on if you do not have them. Don’t forget the sunscreen!

If you happen to get caught by a thunderstorm, seek shelter immediately. If no shelter is available, avoid open areas and head to a small group of trees. Squat down to minimize your height and keep only your feet in contact with the ground.

Dealing with Stings, Bites and Itching

Keeping skin covered is the first line of defense against insect stings and bites, so dress appropriately. Bug sprays and other insect deterrents can be used as a second line of defense.

Because ticks can be found in most areas of Pennsylvania, it is good to do a tick check after your trip. Wearing light colored clothing that covers the arms and legs allows the tick’s darker body to stand out. If you bring your dog along on your trip, don’t forget to check them too! A tick removal tool is an easy and effective way to remove an attached tick.

Tick identification image (from CDC website):


Example tick removal tool:

Have you ever seen poison ivy? Did you know that it grows in three different forms—a creeping vine, a shrub and ground cover? If you aren’t 100% sure if a plant is poison ivy or not, it is best left alone. Remember the rhyme … Leaves of three, leave it be!


Every part of poison ivy can irritate your skin. The best prevention for getting poison ivy is to know what it looks like and to avoid it.

Poison ivy occurs in three forms: vine, shrub and creeping groundcover. The best way to identify poison ivy is that each leaf stem has three leaflets. “Leaves of three, let it be.” The leaf can have a smooth or a ragged edge and may be light green or dark green and usually is shiny. In autumn, the leaves can be yellow, orange and red.

Poison ivy has flower clusters and berry clusters that start out green then turn white. Poison ivy vine is difficult to identify when it is small, but when it is old it is covered in brown rootlets that look like hair.

If you think you have encountered poison ivy, immediately wash with soapy water.