This is by far the most definitive guide on how to stay safe while out camping.
In this guide, you will learn:
Let's dive right into it:
According to the 2017 American Camper Report, camping attracted more than 40 million people; half a million less than the previous year but still a large number. To non-campers, this activity may seem like a riddle as they wonder why anyone would abandon the security, luxury and comfort of their homes in pursuit of a somewhat risky outdoor experience.
Well, camping doesn’t have to be a dangerous affair. Here’s how to avoid 8 of the most common camping hazards:
A good camping trip can move from enjoying embarrassing stories around the campfire while toasting s’mores to a shamble when a wild fire erupts and puts a stop to everyone’s fun.
In fact, 84% of wildfires are caused by human activity ranging from burning of debris to arson and even campfires. This means that campfires definitely require careful handling to avoid wildfires.
These guidelines will help you take precautions to avoid danger while camping so you can have an easy time connecting with Mother Nature.
The first safety measure to avoid a fire outbreak is to learn how to properly build a campfire. This is not something that you can just wing if you have no prior experience.
Use designated campfire rings or pits. Most campgrounds usually have them built on gravel. If unavailable, then you have to begin building your fire by choosing an appropriate location.
Avoid grass and build the fire over dirt and ensure that it is surrounded by rocks. This creates a barrier between you and the fire so that in case your fire grows it will remain within these borders.
Build the fire at a safe distance from your tent. The recommended distance is at least 8 feet from the tent or any bushes. Although tents are usually made from non-flammable material, they are still susceptible to fire and so is your property.
The same goes for any flammable material such as dry paper, litter and pressurized containers. Scrape any of these that happens to be within a 10 foot diameter from the fire.
In the same way, avoid building the fire at a steep slope and while you are at it ensure that any extra wood is piled away from the fire.
Next, keep your fire contained. The Department of Environmental Conservation in New York State actually advises that the fire should be no more than 3 feet in height and 4 feet in diameter.
Do not build one directly under a low tree or a tree with low-hanging branches. If the fire gets bigger than anticipated then there’s a high likelihood that the branches will easily become flamed.
Always have water within your proximity. You are definitely going to need it in case a big gust of wind intensifies the size of your fire. Use this or dirt to control the fire.
Never leave the fire unattended simply because even a small breeze has the power to spread the fire quickly. This is especially important when camping with children and pets. Ensure that they are not close to the fire without the supervision of an adult.
Pour a lot of water to put out the fire. In fact, completely drown out the fire with water as submerged coal can reignite with a gust of wind and result in burns. If water is unavailable then dirt is a good alternative that will get the job done.
After that, use a shovel to stir the embers to check whether they are all put out. Make sure that the very last ember has been put out, not just the red ones. Only when the embers, sticks and coal are cold and wet should you then proceed to sleep.
A campfire is however not the only source of danger. Poorly put out cigarettes can also result in massive fires. If you are smoking then ensure that the butt is completely put out. Use your boot to step on the cigarette end for certainty. Don’t shy away from telling smokers to properly put out their cigarettes as your safety comes first.
Seek your campground ranger with any questions if you are unsure of anything regarding the fire pit. They can, for instance, confirm whether the fire pit is ready to use and save you the trouble of causing and escaping a wildfire.
Even with all these safety recommendations, accidents still do happen. So how can you ensure that you and your family are safe? If anyone happens to catch fire, including children, the simple rule is to stop, drop and roll.
If the fire erupts from within a tent then make sure that everyone gets out right away.
Bears are cute, huh? You enter the woods wishing to hear them cooing from miles away and hope that you do not have any close encounters with them. Cute as they may look, these animals pose a danger to your life if intimidated.
Although the number of deaths from bear attacks in North America is a staggering 2 to 5, they are not the only wild animals you are likely to encounter. Being in the wild, there’s always a slim chance that you might come by rattlesnakes or mountain lions. After all, you are in their territory.
So here are a few safety precautions that you should take:
Conduct proper research to determine whether bears reside in the area that you are camping. Dig further to know what type of bears they are and ensure that each person in your group is aware of the safety precautions to take in order to avoid a bear encounter. It is mandatory that they are also aware of how to act in case of an encounter with these animals.
There are bear-resistant containers or food lockers that are delegated for camp food storage. They are created in such a way that by being insulated bears cannot smell their contents. To be on the safe side, store the containers at least 100 feet from your site because bears can sometimes still manage to smell food. Most camping sites usually have areas that are designated for eating so you best stick to them.
Clean any dirty dishes after meals and do not leave leftovers hanging out in the open. Again, the smell of food will definitely attract bears towards your location.
If such certified food containers are unavailable then your best bet would be to hang food remnants between two trees over ten feet from the ground. This food should however be properly sealed.
Most campgrounds also have bear resistant dumpsters that are harder to open. The chances of bears getting closer to acquire food are therefore scarce.
Do not sleep in the same clothes you used while cooking. The whiff of your cooked food is likely to stay with you after cooking. Simply have a change of clothing and secure your removed clothes in an air-tight bag.
Designated dumpsters, however successful they are, still won’t protect you from bears and rattlesnakes if you are wearing strongly scented perfume whose odors attract animals.
If you come across any wild animals, the rule is simple; do not approach them. Why? Because they are naturally protective of their pack and young ones. Just like you, they associate foreign things with danger. They become alert and will definitely attack you if they feel threatened.
With snakes, be extra careful when moving logs in search of firewood and rocks. They especially like to hide between rocks so you should wear gloves for protective measure. If bitten, do not try to suck out the venom. Instead, seek medical attention immediately.
Make noises to alert animals of your presence when camping as they are likely to keep away from you. You do not have to exaggerate it as usually the sound of your car engines, together with your voices and the burning campfire will keep them at bay.
Do not turn your back or make an attempt to run away if you notice a bear or its cubs within your vicinity. The idea is to give it its space so that it feels safe and un-attacked. Slowly back away while facing the bear and try to make yourself look big by waving your arms.
Being in the wild, you are exposed to insects such as mosquitoes, ticks, bees and wasps. This exposure puts you at risk of catching malaria, Lyme disease or getting stung by bees and wasps.
This can start by simply not building your tent near a damp or swampy area where insects are likely to reside. You can as well use insect repellents especially if going out for exploration. Take note that the insect repellent that you use should contain DEET (diethyltoluamide) as it will keep mosquitos at bay.
Ticks tend to hide in the areas that you least expect to find them. Note that a tick has to be attached to you for more than 36 hours in order for it to transfer the disease. If you find a tick on your body, remove it immediately as the bacteria that causes Lyme disease is yet to move into the tick’s saliva.
Also, see a doctor if a bull’s eye rash appears within four weeks of finding the tick.
In the event that you are stung by a bee or wasp, check for any swelling around the area where your skin had contact with the insect and immediately remove the sting from your skin.
The nature of weather is that it is unpredictable and thunderstorms can occur impromptu. Such severe weather can place you and your team in life-threatening situations and stop a rather fun outing.
As such, readiness and preparedness is inevitable if you want to stay safe.
Do prior research on the weather pattern around the area you will be camping. You can do so by checking the weather forecast for insight on the type of weather you are likely to experience.
Take note that due to the spontaneous nature of weather sometimes, you will also have to monitor the weather pattern during your trip.
Lightning is particularly fatal as it can carry a current of more than 30,000 amps while a 15 amp household current has the power to kill you. Moreover, wildfires occur naturally when sparked by lightning.
If you can hear the sound of thunder 10 miles away in the midst of a storm then you should immediately seek shelter. Water happens to be a very good conductor of electricity. Therefore, you should instantly get away from it if you happen to be swimming or in a water carriage such as boats or canoes.
In the event that there's a severe storm, avoid tall or lone trees, especially the 'dead' ones. Position yourself where small trees are surrounded by larger ones if you are deep in the woods.
If you happen to have a car with you, opt for refuge in it as opposed to your tent. This is because car tires will absorb the electricity and reduce impact on the car if it were to be hit. This is however only a better alternative if you are not in a campground with a pre-designated shelter. If available, stay on its lowest floor away from the windows.
If there is no shelter whatsoever near you then your best bet is to stay in a low spot that is away from trees and metallic objects such as poles and fences.
The fundamental rule of camping with relation to floods is to set camp far from water sources such as streams as they are likely to overflow and carry you with them.
Do not swim alone and never enter into water whose depth you are unaware of. You should also never let your children swim unsupervised. Not only can water prove to be a risk by being contagious but by also drowning you or members of your group in case of floods.
Make no attempt to cross a flowing stream nor should you drive through a flooded road. If the water happens to be more than six inches deep and fast-flowing then its flow has the power to control your car.
Assume the lightning position, whereby you make yourself the smallest target position by squatting. Proceed to place your hands over your ears then your head between your knees without contact with the ground.
Whether you are a newbie or a seasoned camper, you cannot possibly identify all the poisonous wild plants. In this section, you will learn:
Camping exposes you to an intriguing world of wild animals and plants. Although intriguing, poison, ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are the most common and lethal plants you may come by.
There is a good chance that you are not an expert in identifying wild berries. The rule of the thumb while camping is to avoid touching any unfamiliar plants. To put it simply, if it comes with leaves of threes, let it be.
The reason is that these plants contain an oil pigment that causes dermatitis; basically a skin rash or irritation that is usually followed by red streaks. Use a disinfecting ointment over the infected area to alleviate the rash as soon as these symptoms surface.
If your skin comes in contact with these poisonous plants, immediately wash the area with water and soap.
Tent camping is by far the most common form of camping as compared to using cabins and RVs. To create a warm environment, campers usually use propane tent heaters. At the same time, some campers usually opt to cook inside the tent.
However, these seemingly innocent acts can result in gas poisoning as your gadget can turn out to be your worst enemy.
Do not operate gas powered items and fuel burning gadgets such as charcoal grills, gas stoves, lanterns and heaters in confined areas such as tents. Remember, these are man-made objects that can malfunction at any one point.
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs as a result of insufficient oxygen supply thus gases fail to fully combust. Because carbon monoxide is a colorless, tasteless and odorless gas, it can build up and reach dangerous levels within the tent without your notice.
The danger of these gas powered gadgets is that they require a lot of ventilation to deter the production of carbon monoxide. More often than not you will forget to leave an outlet for the carbon monoxide emitted by these equipment.
To begin with, gas heaters are made for outside use and should only be brought within the tent when not in use. They are better alternatives for camping sites that do not allow camp fires.
The problem is that when winter-camping, even insulated blankets may not be warm enough. Some may thus opt for candle lanterns which may end up causing a fire outbreak if left unattended. You would rather use an electric heater than a gas heater and lessen the chance of gas poisoning.
Propane heaters, for instance, are greater replacements for candle lanterns as there are some that are tent-specific. This means that they are catalytic and will produce heat without a flame. Still, the recommended method of use is to put it off before sleeping.
If you happen to notice symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue and nausea, then there is a high probability that you are suffocating from an excess of the gas in the enclosed area. Move to a more ventilated place as quickly as possible.
In place of these equipment and the necessary care required, opt for warmer clothing and sleeping bag. If you have to cook, a better alternative would be a gazebo.
The most immediate action in the case of carbon monoxide poisoning is to get yourself or the victim to an open place with fresh air.
Perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if the victim is not breathing then seek medical help from a camp ranger or emergency medical contact.
The sun may seem like the least of your worries when out camping. However, heat strokes and dehydration may result from extended exposure to the strong heat of the sun.
When it comes to sun exposure, sunscreen will help protect you from harmful UV rays from the sun.
To prevent dehydration, always have water in your vicinity. If you notice that you are thirsty, that's already an indication that you are behind on your drinking schedule. Symptoms of dehydration and heat stroke include headache, general weakness and nausea. Be on the look-out for them.
If you happen to experience adverse effects then you should seek medical attention.
A camping trip is only enjoyable if you get to experience the smell of roasted marshmallows, the bond created over teamwork or simply connecting with Mother Nature by drinking and cooking outside.
Even if you take all other precautionary measures, water and food can be the biggest threats to your health if they are contaminated. Learn what to do to avoid the risks of consuming poisoned food and unsafe water in this section.
To avoid food contamination, the general rule is; keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. This is because bacteria develops depending on the temperatures that food has been exposed to.
The most dangerous form of food bacteria is salmonella or E coli; popular in ground beef. That makes staple camping foods such as burgers particularly at risk of being contaminated if undercooked.
Using a food thermometer can help you determine if these foods are cooked enough for safe human consumption. For instance, with ground beef, the minimum temperature that the food thermometer should record is 160°F.
Generally, the minimum safe internal temperatures are as follows:
Ground beef, pork, lamb and veal: 160°F
Raw beef, lamb, pork and veal steaks: 145°F
As for perishable foods, it is imperative that they are stored in coolers because warmer temperatures give room for rapid multiplication of bacteria. The danger zone for these foods is between 40°F and 140°F where their multiplication is at the highest.
Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours of exposure to the ‘danger zone’. The only exception to this rule is if the temperature outside is higher than 90°F meaning that perishable foods should be refrigerated within an hour of exposure.
It goes without saying that cleanliness is also a fundamental safety measure. Properly wash your food (and hands) before consumption and correctly store the leftovers.
No matter how clean the water in a lake or a stream may look, do not drink it directly! Some water bodies contain microscopic pathogens that are not visible to the naked eye.
Drinking untreated water makes your body susceptible to acquiring water-borne infections such as beaver-fever. Beaver fever occurs when you ingest Giardia lamblia, a type of disease-causing microorganism mostly found in untreated natural water sources.
Symptoms of most water-borne diseases include diarrhea, vomiting, gas and muscle pain with extreme cases leading to death. The best way to safeguard yourself from water contamination and the diseases that accompany it is to carry purified water with you.
Alternatively, you can equip yourself with water purification tablets and portable water filters or simply boil the water to kill microorganisms.
Purification tablets function to kill waterborne bacteria and viruses while water filters will work to sieve out larger bacteria and parasites leaving your water safe for consumption. Take extra measure to replace the purification tablets as they tend to lose their potency with time.
Just for double measure, bring two coolers with you; one for drinks and snacks and the other for perishable foods. Ensure that the coolers are equipped with ice or frozen gel.
Contact the campground or cabin owner before setting out to find out whether there is a safe water system to avoid drinking and using untreated water.
Check for posted signs that indicate whether water is safe or unsafe for drinking.
Now that you are fully equipped with precautionary steps to avoid camping hazards, let’s look into what you need to pack in your emergency kit to combat these hazards, especially if you happen to be lost in the woods.
In this section, you will learn:
Learn how to perform first-aid and CPR as this will come in handy in case of an emergency. A first-aid kit is a must-have as its contents range from bandages to anti-bacterial creams and even gloves. You will always be well prepared for any danger with it in hand.
These will neutralize organisms and/or viruses making water safe for use if you are lost and happen to come across a water source.
This is for carriage of water when lost in the woods. Remember, not all water is safe for use and the aforementioned purification means will come in handy.
This will help keep animals away and aid with signaling for people searching for you.
These navigation tools will help you find your way back if you decide to do some exploring and end up getting lost.
You may need it especially at night to create a fire for warmth. Keep in mind the safety measures to take when building a fire.
Not only will a camping knife help you defend yourself against wild animals but also help in food preparation such as skinning fish.
An extra pair of clothing will come especially handy if you cannot access your car. Synthetic clothing is a better alternative as they are more breathable and easy to dry off.