Poisonous Plants to Beware of on Hikes

Beware poisonous plants while hiking

By Stephanie McHugh

You may think that having proper hydration, broken-in hiking boots, some nature, and perhaps bug repellant is all a hiker really needs. But an encounter with one of many poisonous plants is all it may take to learn how things really are. Some knowledge about poisonous plant life is important when hiking in untamed areas. Without such information, hikers can suffer such misery as eye and skin irritation, extreme fatigue, and nausea experienced as a result of a brush against the wrong kind of plant.

Oil from poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac contains a substance that can cause blisters and rashes known as “contact dermatitis”. The oil, called urushiol oil, adheres to almost any surface it comes into contact with, including clothing, blankets, and towels. The rashes caused by an encounter with any of these plants are severe about 25 percent of the time, due to allergies. The rash can persist from two to five weeks, and a prescription of prednisone may be needed to halt skin damage, particularly in the eyes.

More about Poison Ivy

Poisonous Plants - Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy

Poison ivy is a widespread problem throughout much of North America, including Quebec and all of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. In the mountainous areas of Mexico, hikers can also encounter this troublesome plant. Although it can grow in open fields, it is more common for poison ivy to flourish in wooded areas, especially along breaks in a tree line. Numerous rhymes are used to describe the appearance of poison ivy, to help people of all ages avoid an unfortunate encounter. The following are a few of those rhymes:

  • “Leaflets three; let it be.”
  • “Hairy vine, no friend of mine.”
  • “Longer middle stem; stay away from them.”
  • “Berries white, run in fright.”

Poisonous Plants: More about Poison Oak and Poison Sumac

Poison oak flourishes in the shady canyons of valleys and mountains of Canada and the western U.S. Poison oak also grows in leaves of three. The color of the poisonous plant varies from green to red, depending on the season.

Poisonous Plants - Poison Sumac
Poison Sumac

Poison sumac is a small tree or shrub. The leaves are two-to-four inches long. Their shapes are oval to oblong, and they taper to a sharp point. Greenish flowers about 0.2 inches across grow in loose clusters. Poison sumac is found exclusively in flooded or very wet soils, such as peat bogs and swamps in the eastern U.S. and Canada.

Giant Hogweed

Poisonous Plants - beware when hikingGiant hogweed can be encountered on a hike in Central Asia, Europe north of the Alps, the northern U.S., and Canada. These poisonous plants are native to Caucasus and Central Asia. Outwardly, giant hogweed looks like common hogweed. The difference between the two is that giant hogweed carries a phototoxic sap throughout all parts of the plant. If your skin comes into contact with the sap of giant hogweed, it will become hypersensitive to ultra-violet rays. The result of a brush with giant hogweed can be painful blisters that leave persistent scarring. If the eyes come into contact with the poisonous plant, the result can be blindness. Should you ever encounter giant hogweed on a hike, wash the sap off with soap and water as quickly as possible and avoid being in the sunlight for about 48 hours.

Poisonous plants -The Deadly Manchineel
The Deadly Manchineel


Manchineel is deadly, if ingested. It’s important that hikers in certain areas of the Caribbean and Florida become familiar with this innocent-looking toxic plant. Manchineel has one-to-two-inch pomes that resemble apples. Even brief contact with toxic parts of the plant can cause burning blisters.

Stinging Nettles

Poisonous Plants - Stinging Nettle
Stinging Nettle

If you are hiking in many areas of the U.S., Canada, Asia, Africa, Europe, or South American, you may encounter painful stinging nettles. If the stinging hairs of the plant make skin contact with a hiker, the result can be redness and severe itching.

A good tip for avoiding problems on an adventurous hike is to study about local poisonous plants before setting out. It’s probably safe to say, however, that staying on manmade hiking trails is another way to avoid an unwanted encounter with toxic plants.


Understanding Mechanics: Stay out of Trouble

mechanics 1

By Janessa Tice Miller

What is better for any camper than rolling down a back road somewhere in the boondocks, knowing your next big adventure is just around the bend? It’s exhilarating, a giddy anticipation of every adventure that is to come!

But in order to experience all of those adventures, understanding your transportation is vital – particularly when heading out alone into the boondocks. It is important to educate yourself on how to handle your vehicle and understanding things that affect basic mechanics before heading into the boondocks so that you are prepared if and when something goes wrong.

Maintaining your vehicle is the key to preventing larger problems down the road.

mechanics 2If you go camping frequently or live on the road, this is extremely important for your safety and general ease of travel. Learn how and when to maintain your vehicle to prevent problems with mechanics; it is after all a machine that needs care and attention.

Get regular oil changes and tune-ups, and be sure you have a mechanic who is checking on things like your vehicles spark plugs, hoses and belts every 30,000-60,000 miles.

Check your owner’s manual to find out how frequently you should change your oil – depending on your vehicle, the miles covered before you need to change your oil can range from 3,000-10,000.

Here is a quick video on doing an overall checklist before setting off

You can learn to do a few milder, regular inspections yourself!

Every 500 miles, you want to be sure to check on a few very relevant aspects of your vehicle.  Below you will find a few simple, short video tutorials you can refer to:

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the mechanics of your own vehicle.

Every vehicle is different. Study your owner’s manual, and have a good chat with your local mechanic. As you spend time with and in your vehicle, you will begin to learn what level the fluids and gauges need to ride at to be considered healthy or flagged as abnormal. Being aware of all of this is vital for avoiding problems with mechanics in the future, or even getting to a mechanic on time when something does go wrong.


First of all, every woman should learn how to change her own tire if anything ever goes wrong.

mechanic 3Try this tutorial video by clicking here.

Every one of these items should be kept in your vehicle at all times in case of tire trouble. Many will come with a standard vehicle. Be sure to learn how to use them!

  • Jack
  • Tire iron
  • Spare tire
  • Tire repair kit (with plugs)
  • 12 volt air pump (hooks to cig lighter)
  • Tire pressure gauge checker



mechanics 4Be sure to ALWAYS:

  • Carry jumper cables in your vehicle.
  • Double check that all lights are off, nothing is plugged in, and/or no trailer power cord is plugged into your vehicle. Any of these items could quickly drain the battery.
  • Monitor the battery level by the gauge on your dash.
    • If the battery is not charging when your vehicle is turned on, this means your alternator is broken. If the vehicle is still running, stay on the smallest roads possible (avoid highways!) and drive to the nearest mechanic. Don’t turn off your vehicle or you will be stranded.

If you are parking somewhere for a long time, every two or three days you should start your car and run the engine for 10-15 minutes.



mechanics 5Always have these extra items in your vehicle at all times:

  • 1 quart of oil
  • 1-3 gallons of extra fuel
  • 1 gallon of coolant

Before heading into the backcountry, always be sure to:

  • Check your oil level
  • Check your coolant level
  • Check your brake fluid level

Always keep a monitoring eye on your fluid gauges on the dashboard of your vehicle, to make sure everything is in good condition.

When driving on a rocky, backcountry road: if rocks are hitting bottom of your vehicle, pay extremely close attention to your oil pressure gauge. If your oil pan breaks, continued driving could kill your engine. If you see that the oil pressure is going down, stop your vehicle, and call a mechanic!

mechanics 6


A Week In The Life of A Full Time Camper

full time camper 1

By Janessa Tice Miller

What does it look and feel like to live life as a full time camper? It’s difficult to narrow this down and express, because one of the great joys of road life is that every person can mold it to fit their own adventurous spirit! So with that in mind, here is a glimpse into what life looks like for me.

Being a Full Time Camper

I have been living on the road with my husband for a year and a half now in our little 17 foot Casita Travel Trailer. At different phases our daily life can take on a different appearance – sometimes we have to focus more on travelling for work, sometimes we get to play, play, play. Currently, my husband and I are boondocking in the beautiful state of Wyoming, and we would define this phase as a play-heavy. This is our favorite sort of road life living, the bulk of how we spend our time, and the whole reason we live the way we do.


full time camper 2Our mornings are usually taken up with working. My husband has to be keep his cell phone service available from 9-5 EST no matter our time zone, because his company is based in our home state of Pennsylvania. I do freelance writing and editing, and usually spend a bit of my time on a few college courses, as well.

We do all of our working from mobile hotspots off of our Verizon cell phones. We don’t have much trouble finding service, and use a Wilson Booster to ensure we have a good internet connection. It has boosted us from one bar of 1X to three bars of 3G for days on end!

full time camper 3Hiking / Swimming / Fishing

In the afternoons, we generally like to do some kind of fun activity. Often we will hike the area around where we are camped and look for local wildlife.

If there is any kind of water nearby – lakes, rivers, the ocean – we go like to hike to private areas and go swimming or build saunas, and my husband loves to catch something fresh for our evening meal if fishing is an option.

full time camper 4Reading / Writing

I particularly process through writing out my thoughts – both as an emotional process and as a manner of praying and expressing my faith. Both my husband and I are avid readers, and so this usually sneaks in throughout all of our days.

We often read in the evenings or on lazy afternoons. We also enjoy mutually listening to audiobooks (and occasionally a few podcasts) on long drives or in the evening around camp.


full time camper 5For breakfast, we usually have something simple like granola and fruit or oatmeal. A few mornings a week we usually cook up a larger breakfast of fried eggs and toast, and maybe some bacon. All of this is generally done on our propane stove inside our little kitchen.

For our main meals, we generally cook meats outside over our Double Flame fire pit or on our MiniMax Big Green Egg smoker. We like to eat very basic foods like a main meat, raw vegetables, and a simple side like rice or potatoes.


We have a little shower in our Casita which we usually use at least once or twice a week, but keeping enough water around to do dishes and take showers can be difficult. We sometimes fill and use a solar shower outside, as well. If there is any fresh water nearby, such as lakes or rivers, we always dive in with some biodegradable soap and use the world as our shower.

Trips to town

When we are out boondocking for whole weeks at a time, like we are now, trips to town usually come once a week. On a trip to town we generally: stock up on groceries, possibly stop at a laundromat, grab Wi-Fi from a library or café if we need to upload anything, and finally stop at a local gas station or truck stop to refill external jugs of water and the solar and throw away any trash.

If you would like to see any glimmers of our travels and life as a full time camper, you can follow us on Instagram @unboundnomads or my personal account @earthlyvagabond.

There is also a video below you might find interesting where I show you all around our Casita Travel Trailer.


Hiking with kids – Making it fun for all

Hiking with Kids across a river

By Lynley Joyce

Camping and hiking with kids can be rewarding for everyone.  Here are some things you should consider to make the experience a really good one to enjoy and remember.

Keep the long-term in mind

Is the goal to climb that mountain this weekend, or to encourage a life-long love of hiking?  The world is full of passionate campers and hikers introduced to the great outdoors by their parents or others.  Sadly, there are others put off by bad experiences.

Keep it well within their abilities

Healthy kids can walk a good distance in a day but, when pushed to the limit, they are unlikely to enjoy it.  It’s best to choose routes they can manage, or you can stop when you want to.

Major uphills or boggy walks can interfere with the fun for novice walkers.  Boulder-hopping can be fun for some kids, but tiring for long stretches, especially for those with shorter legs.  Keep the trickier walks for when they are older, or to explore on their own when they are ready.

hiking with kids at beachPick your place and time

Like adults, kids like variety and interest. It’s best to pick tracks with different landscapes.  Streams, bridges, lakes and beaches can be fun on the way.  Older kids love ruins and abandoned things.

Reconsider the trip if the weather is looking rough.  Trudging all day through a cold, wet, windy landscape is no-one’s idea of fun.  Often you can do a shorter walk, a less exposed walk, or shift your plans to a different location to make it more fun for everyone.

Take breaks

The journey is the destination with hiking, and most kids don’t like walking for long.  Part of the fun for them is to play in places they normally wouldn’t: say on a secluded beach or in a mountain tarn.

It’s often said that kids don’t get tired with hiking, just bored.  It’s true.  While adults sit when having a break, kids will often start an active game or explore their surroundings. Make sure the route from A to B allows for plenty of diversion time.

Groaning tummies, groaning kids

hiking with kids inlandActive kids eat constantly.  Have lots and a wide variety of snacks to keep them fuelled.  Avoid sweets unless they are eaten with other foods that provide more sustaining energy. Otherwise kids may suffer from sugar lows after their sugar highs.  Scroggin is great, as are muesli bars, dried fruit, biscuits and just about anything your kids like to eat that travels well.  Try offering only some snacks each time you stop.  Keep some new interesting snacks for near the end of longer walks.

On hikes for adults we can portion out minimum food quantities.  With kids, you’re likely to bring home unused food.  Take plenty of extras to allow for kids’ fluctuating energy needs and food pickiness.

Chat with them

Hiking is a great time to catch up with your kid and find out what’s going on in their life.  Make the most of it!

Go with friends

Both kids and adults enjoy hiking with friends.  Kids are also less likely to whine and give up in front of their mates.  There are more people to talk to along the way, and to share loads better.

Keep the load light

hiking with kids across a small riverMost kids don’t enjoy carrying heavy weights for any distance.  Keep it as light as possible, while still encouraging them to share the load, and train them up.

Any kid old enough to walk should carry their own warm clothes, wet weather gear, a drink and some snacks at least.  As well as sharing the load (and training them up!), this is a safety issue.

If older kids rush ahead, it’s time to slow them down with some of the extra load adults are undoubtedly carrying.  If you play it right, it would be you, not them just carrying the wet weather gear and your own snacks in a few years.

Multi-day hikes are very doable with healthy kids, as long as you do not have to carry all your own water.  By 10 or 12 most kids should be able to carry their sleeping bag, their clothes and some food.  Adults will probably carry tents, stoves and most of the food.

Unless you’re super fit or a weight-carrying fanatic, carry dehydrated or light foods. While it’s good for kids to pack their own bag, check they don’t add in extra things adults will end up carrying.

Make sure they know the safety stuff

Staying safe hiking with kidsIt’s important that kids know a few basic safety rules when walking, no matter how young they are.

Young kids should know to never go out of adults’ sight or hearing. If they do, they should stop, listen and shout out.

The greatest risk is when a small child goes ahead to catch up with others ahead.  It’s best to keep together, or regularly all meet up.

Older kids should know to regularly stop and wait for the adults, particularly when they come to a track intersection.

Give kids have a basic idea of where they are walking.  Show them a route map and talk them through it.  For example, they should know they are following a coast, or staying this side of a mountain range.

All kids should know what to do if they encounter dangers, for example, a snake.  Most kids find this an interesting conversation topic on a walk.

Hiking with Kids – Making it special

Hiking trips should hold a special place in kids’ memories for good reasons.  Special stopping spots and what you do there can make the trip memorable.  It’s the fun, little things that stick with them, such as a new game or a special meal.  A camp-stove picnic can be something they ask for again and again. Fresh home-made potato crisps on a camping stove are fun, if you want to carry the potatoes and oil, otherwise pancakes are a good option.  A special shop-bought treat at the end, such as a milkshake, can also add to the fun.

Having fun hiking with kids

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