Safe Camping Tips
Tents. Coolers. Portable stoves. For the many Americans who love nature, few summer activities beat camping outdoors. But just like any outdoor activity, camping involves safety risks. So it’s important to take steps to ensure your family’s safety before and during your excursion.
Controlled campsites offer many amenities, while more remote locations, like those that can be reached only by backpacking, invite unexpected events. Any night spent under the stars means sharing your space with natural elements and wildlife, and it’s important to respect and understand what surrounds you. It’s also important to know that human activities can impact the wilderness, sometimes in tragic ways (think wildfires). So being well-versed in safe camping practices is an important part of any excursion.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have posted a number of Camping Safety Tips, summarized here:
- Get vaccinated. Vaccinations can help protect against certain diseases and conditions associated with camping. Be sure your vaccinations and your family’s vaccinations are up-to-date. This includes vaccinations for family pets who will be coming along for the trip.
- Prepare healthy, safe food. It’s always a good idea to bring healthy snacks on a camping trip, and to follow these food safety tips:
- Pack foods in tight, waterproof bags or containers. Store in an insulated cooler.- Wash hands and surfaces often. Use hand sanitizer if water is not available.- Separate raw foods from cooked foods. Cook foods to proper temperatures (for example, ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees).- Chill foods promptly.
- Practice fire safety. Watch for fire warning signs, or ask campsite operators or rangers if a campfire would be safe in your location. If you build a campfire, obey the following rules:
- Build or use a campfire pit that is not near overhanging tree branches.- Make sure the pit has a metal fire ring or is encircled with rocks.- Always keep a bucket of water and a shovel nearby.- Never leave a campfire unattended, and be sure to put out your campfire completely before you leave or retire for the evening.- Use fireproof cooking equipment.
- Take part in safe physical activities. Common camping activities include hiking, bicycle riding, boating, and swimming. If you’re going to participate in any of these activities, be sure to bring protective gear, such as bike helmets, life jackets, and sturdy hiking shoes. Know how to avoid poison ivy and other dangerous plants, and never hike, swim, or boat alone. Tell someone where you’re going, sign in at the beginning of trails when required, and carry a cell phone if you’re in an area where you have a signal. Never let children near water or on hiking trails without close adult supervision. For more information about safety in the sun and around water, see our last blog post on Keeping Kids Safe in the Summer Sun.
- Protect yourself and your family/friends against carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause illness or death in people and pets. Never use fuel-burning equipment such as gas stoves, heaters, lanterns, and charcoal grills inside a tent, camper, or other enclosed shelter. This practice can cause dangerous levels of carbon monoxide to build up. Bring adequate bedding and clothing for warmth, and consume extra calories and fluids to prevent hypothermia (a dangerous loss of body warmth that can cause death).
- Avoid wild animals, and protect family pets. A good rule of thumb is simply to leave wild animals alone. Don’t touch, feed, or get near them. Some carry diseases that are dangerous to people, including rabies, hantavirus, and Giardia infection. Approaching them can also endanger their welfare. Store foods in sealed containers and out of the reach of animals. Make sure your family pets are vaccinated, and never leave them unattended while camping. Keep a close eye on them at all times, and check for ticks. If you see one, remove it promptly, and inform your veterinarian. Make sure pets have plenty of water, food, and shelter during camping trips.
- Do your best to avoid bug bites. Mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects can cause certain diseases. For example, mosquitoes can cause West Nile Virus, and ticks can cause Lyme disease. Apply insect repellent containing DEET to clothes and exposed skin, and apply the insect repellent permethrin to clothes to help keep ticks from attaching to them. Check for ticks daily, and remove them promptly. Wear long sleeves, pants, and other light-colored clothing to help prevent tick bites and spot ticks more easily. If you suspect a tick bite has occurred, it’s always a good idea to inform your doctor when you return home.
- Prevent temperature-related illness. In addition to bringing adequate bedding and clothing to stay warm, use a plastic ground cloth under your tent to help stay dry. Drink plenty of alcohol-free and sugar-free fluids to help prevent heat-related illness. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Wear layers of light-weight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing, rest often in shady areas, and protect yourself from getting too much sun.
- The Boy Scouts are correct: Be prepared. When camping, always be prepared for the unexpected. Before you leave, check the weather report, learn about security at your camp location, and tell family and friends about your plans. Know what to do when toilets are not available. Be sure to bring a first aid kit, compass or GPS, map, flashlight, blankets, batteries, food, clothes, and medications. Bring extra supplies in case you are away longer than you expect. Know who to contact at the camp to report any issues that come up. And when you return home, check for ticks, poison ivy, diarrhea, and other problems. Visit your doctor if necessary.
Camping is an extraordinary experience, but it is important to know what you’re doing outdoors, to be prepared for what might happen, and to be conscious of safety rules and practices. The more careful you are to stay safe, the happier and more enjoyable your camping trip will be.