BE WILDERNESS READY!
Do NOT wander into the woods alone! Never! - Take a Buddy *and* tell someone else!
Take Map and Compass - It is very easy to loose your directions in the woods! You can take GPS device and/or Cell Phone but don't count on them! Poor or no reception, a dead battery, fall and break them or get them soaked and your 'fool-proof solution' is worthless! It never hurts to take a look back and try to recognize landmarks for the return trip. Don't rely on your 'Inner Indian' or determining cardinal compass points by the sun! A whistle and small mirror also might help.
Take Plenty of Water & Some Food! - Don't count on making it back to the car!
Count on getting Chiggers and Ticks + Med Kit - If deer have bedded in the area, you could get *thousands* of small 'seed' ticks on you. Before you realize it, you and clothes are covered. A small roll of duct tape, spray of soapy water (1/2 cup Lysol to 3 cups water recommended) & a small bottle of tea tree oil are all good ideas. Don't count on insect spray to fend them off! Also consider bandaids, sterile cotton pads, 'Q' tips, sterile razor blade, salt tablets, antiseptic cream. Pack along an 'ace' bandage and some medical tape for sprained ankle. Honey is sterile for open gash; mustard is great for burns. Need essential medications like diabetic or allergy? Take them!
Appropriate Footwear Essential - Wear tough, ankle-supporting lace-up boots that are not new! Heavy treaded soles and perfect fit required! 'Snake bite' proof even better. Most areas of the Ozarks have large, irregular & rough cobbles that will turn an ankle easy! In fall leaves, heavy snow or thick undergrowth, you will not see rocks!
20-30' of Climbing Rope - Could save the day around streams and/or cliffs.
Stay Cool! - Heat exhaustion in Ozark summers can be brutal! Brimmed hat a must - sunglasses too can be critical.
Stay Warm! - Hypothermia due to getting wet and cold can kill! Temps can get cold if you have to spend the night! And sleeping on rough rock is no fun. Light rain gear and some dry clothes could save the day!
Take waterproof matches or Fire Lighting Kit - Don't count on a Lighter or regular book/box of matches!
Floods & Floodplains - There are many good reasons why geologists call them 'floodplains!' Yes, except for ridgetops, floodplains are often the only flat spot in a hundred miles and therefore great for a flat camp spot. However, a heavy rain or snow melt on saturated ground will cause the 'creek to rise' in a big hurry. If you are asleep in your cozy tent or RV, a flash flood in steep terrain can catch you by surprise in a matter of minutes. Many have been killed in Ozark Mountain floods - sudden floods, whether local or regional, can have devastating consequences. Know the forecast and be ready to head to higher ground in a flash! And Never Ever attempt to cross a swollen stream in a vehicle or on foot!
Use a Walking Stick! - It will ease the burden on your legs, could save a twisted ankle and prevent a nasty fall! Some light gloves will improve grip and comfort.
Caves & Cliffs - Sneakers and a flashlight will get you killed in a cave! Spelunking (caving) as well as rappelling and rock climbing are dangerous and require special gear and training. Learn from local enthusiast groups and ease into these activities with others who are experienced. Tread carefully with deliberate caution.
Beware Wild Critters! - I have personally seen wolves, bobcats, rabid skunks, 8' rattlers, copperheads, water moccasins, a mountain lion and heard bears. Some say there are panthers. Make some noise and watch where you put your feet!
Expect the Unexpected! - MISC - Just when you thought it was safe! Sudden weather can produce ice storms, lightning, dramatic temperature changes, tornadoes, 'popcorn' (small) thunderstorm cells, blinding downpours, high winds and hail. Rocks, trees and limbs can fall at any moment. Holes in the ground can be hidden - even old wells. Chainsawing a limb? ... it may try to kill you. Brown recluse and black widow spiders, red wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, crazy people (there are reports of a couple), stinging nettle, greenbriars, poison ivy (daub w/ tea tree oil immed.), poison oak, huge snapping turtles, old 'trot line' hooks and sunburns have all been known to ruin an otherwise good day. STAY ALERT!
Please do not go into any off-trail, Ozark wilderness without taking some basic precautions!
Take the following items - 5 lbs extra weight is a small price to pay.
Now you are a little better prepared to ENJOY YOUR OZARK OUTDOORS!