Camping is an enjoyable and inexpensive way to unwind, commune with nature, and spend time with friends or family. Both adults and kids enjoy the sense of adventure that camping represents; and, as a part of their trip, campers may choose to hike the area, go swimming, or do nothing but relax. As it is an outdoor activity, it is typically some distance away from city amenities and resources. While this is generally the purpose of camping, it can represent a problem, particularly when safety issues arise. For this reason it is important that campers know what potential hazards are associated with camping. New and experienced campers alike will benefit from knowing what to expect and how to handle and avoid safety concerns.
What to Pack
Camping safety begins even before a person makes it to his or her campsite. When packing for the trip a person must know what items are necessary for both safety and comfort. In addition to a waterproof and lightweight tent, a sleeping bag, and cooking supplies, there are certain basic items that should not be left at home. A map of the area, a compass and a flashlight with batteries must be included for safety purposes, along with waterproof matches and a fire starter. For emergencies, pack a well-stocked first aid kit that includes bandages, aspirin, antibiotic cream, insect bite cream, and antiseptic wipes. When packing food, include extra non-perishables and additional bottled water. Other important items that may be necessary in keeping campers safe during their trip include extra clothing, rain gear, insect repellents, a pocket knife, foldable shovel, nylon rope (between 50 to 100 feet long), a mirror, sunglasses, and an extra pair of shoes.
- Packing Checklist
- Summer Safety - Hiking and Camping Safety (PDF)
- Winter Camping Equipment List (PDF)
- Camping Checklist
- Personal Equipment
- Must Have Camping Checklist
- Camping Pamphlet - Gearing Up
Severe Weather Conditions
The best way to ensure one's safety during severe weather conditions is to avoid camping when there is a threat of a storm or other disturbance. Before going camping check area weather forecasts for any warnings or predictions. If there is the threat of a storm it is best to postpone one's camping trip to another time. This however, is not foolproof, as storms can be unpredictable and occur without any warning. Knowing what to do allows campers to act quickly and take the necessary steps to remain as safe as possible. In the event of a thunderstorm, seek the safety of nearby vehicles if possible. If in or near the water, get out quickly and move away from it. Campers should not stay inside of their tents during a thunder or lightning storm. Instead, they should seek safe, low ground outside of any flood zone and away from tall trees, metal, and bodies of water, where they can crouch and become as small an object as possible. In the event of a tornado, people should not seek shelter from their cars as they may be picked up or damaged by the high winds. If there is no nearby shelter, locate a ravine and lie flat inside of it, covering the back of the head and neck. If weather conditions deteriorate to a hard rain without lightning, seek shelter within the tent. Move the tent to higher ground in the event of a downpour and to avoid flooding. Change from wet clothes into dry clothing as soon as it is safe to prevent loss of body heat.
- Camping Weather Safety Tips
- Tips and Safety Guidelines
- Scouting Magazine: Survive When You're Snowed In - Trapped in a Tent
- Thunderstorms and Camping Safety
- Lightning Safety for Campers and Hikers (PDF)
Protection from Animals
Campers are surrounded by wildlife that can, at times, seem deceptively harmless. It is important to remember that animals encountered during one's camping trip are wild and, as a result, they are unpredictable. Poisonous snakes and bears are two common and potentially dangerous types of animals that pose a threat to human safety.
When a camper encounters a bear, he or she should back away slowly and avoid disturbing it. If approached by a bear, establish dominance by making oneself as tall as possible and creating excess noise. A person should never lay down or play dead. If attacked, it is important to fight and attempt to break away from the animal. Properly labeled "Bear Pepper Spray" may be carried if it meets certain guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency. To protect oneself from poisonous snakes, a person must pay attention to his or her hand or foot placement at all times.
Before the trip, it is also important to learn what snakes are common in the area, which of them are poisonous, and what first aid procedures exist for those types of snakes in case of a bite. As there are various types of animals that a person may encounter, the safest course of action is to always be alert and avoid contact with them whenever it is possible.
- Hiking and Camping Safety Tips - Wildlife and Avoiding Danger (PDF)
- Protect Against Animals
- Wild About Camping
- Hiking Safety - Encounters with Bears/Poisonous Snakes
- Day Hiking and Wildlife Video
- Center for Wildlife Information: Be Bear Aware - Hiking, Camping, and Food Storage
- Avoiding Conflicts with Bears
What to Avoid
In addition to wild animals, there are other things in the wilderness that can endanger the health and safety of campers; water is one clear example of this. While there may be plenty of streams and/or rivers near one's campsite, the water isn't always safe for drinking. Water may contain parasites and bacteria that can make a person sick. Giardia lamblia is an example of a protozoan that can cause intestinal problems weeks after ingestion. To ensure their safety, campers may choose to only drink bottled water from home or they may boil water for one full minute.
Insects are another problem that presents itself during camping trips. While they are typically considered a nuisance, certain types of insects carry diseases. Ticks, for example, may carry Lyme disease. People within a camping party should check themselves and their children for ticks that may have burrowed into the skin in areas such as the armpits, scalp, behind the ears, or around the groin. Other insects, such as mosquitoes and bees, may be repelled by insect repellents. Citronella-based products are effective and can be applied to one's clothing.
Researching poisonous plants is also important to avoid painful and irritating skin rashes. By learning to identify the leaves of poison ivy and sumac plants, people can avoid coming into contact with them. If the weather allows, long-sleeved clothing can also help protect campers from accidentally coming into contact with these plants when hiking.
- Camping Safety and Tips
- Take Care When Camping
- What is Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac
- Parent Health Bulletin: Camping (PDF)
- Advice to the Wary While in the Wild
Camp Fire Safety
Toasting marshmallows in front of a roaring fire is an image that many people associate with camping; however, if proper fire safety rules aren't followed, burns and loss of property can quickly bring the good times to an end. When building a campfire, location is crucial. Never build a campfire that is close to or in a tent, even if the tent is labeled as fire-retardant or resistant. Instead, build the campfire so that it is downwind and no closer than 15 feet from the tent area. Before going to sleep or vacating the area, make certain the fire has been properly extinguished to prevent any possibility of the fire spreading.
- Campfire Tips
- Campfire Safety
- Smokey Bear, Forest, Service Give Tips to Start, Control and Extinguish Camp Fires (Video)
- Camp Fire Safety (PDF)
- Camping Safety - Camp Fires
Safety Tips for Kids
Camping is a great way to encourage a love of nature within children. Parents can ensure the safety of their children by following a few safety tips for kids. First, children who are taken camping should be dressed appropriately. Clothing should protect them from the elements and add a layer of protection against scratches and scrapes. They should never be allowed to wander, swim, go hiking, or engage in any activity without the presence of one or more adults. Younger children should never be left alone near the campfire and should never be allowed to build one on their own. Giving each child a whistle to wear around their necks will give them a way to alert adults if they become lost are if they are otherwise endangered.
- Camping Safety Tips for Kids
- Camping Safety Tips That All Children Need to Know
- Kids and Camping Safety
- Camping with Kids - Safety Tips
- Families Must Make Safety a Priority While Camping and Hiking
- Woods and Camping Safety for the Whole Family
Unless a person never leaves his or her campsite, there is a possibility of getting lost. This is particularly true when camping in a new area or at a large state park. A person may wander from his or campground and is unable to relocate the camp, or he or she may hike further than intended or into an unfamiliar area.
Ideally, it is best to reduce the risk of losing one's way in the first place. Mapping out and sticking to a hiking plan is one way to do that. It is also important that each member of a hiking party carry a map and a compass with them to stay oriented when hiking. Knowing what actions to take or not take can increase a lost camper's chances of staying safe. Once a person realizes that he or she is lost it is best to remain in one location until found. Take cellphones on camping trips and carry them at all times. Although cellphones are not likely to have reception they do operate as a GPS system and can be tracked in an emergency. Sharing one's itinerary with other people before going camping or setting out on a day hike is also important so that a search party will have a general idea of where to look.
- What to do if You Get Lost in the Woods (PDF)
- Lost in the Woods – Tips for Staying Safe
- If You Get Lost (PDF)
- Hiking Safety Tips
- Safety - Distress Signals and Being Lost
Find more about the author: Kim Hart