Camping is a popular recreational activity all across the USA, with approximately 40 million campers using tents, RVs, cabins, and yurts for their adventure vacations each year. However, just like any activity, camping comes with its own set of dangers and safety risks. This may lead many people to wonder, is camping safe?
It’s only natural to have some concerns before setting off into the outdoors, so we’ve put together a comprehensive guide about how to stay safe while you’re camping. It’s full of safety tips and tricks to help you avoid any nasty accidents, to put your mind at ease and ensure your camping experience is a positive one.
Preparation for a camping trip
The first stage of any vacation, trip, or camping expedition is always preparation. Being properly prepared for your camping trip is the first step to ensuring that everyone in your party is safe and has a good time. First and foremost, your trip should be properly researched. The biggest mistake many people make when going on a camping trip is improper research. Before you go you should know about what campsite you’re staying at and the facilities there, and also if you need to make a booking.
If you’re primitive camping (or wild camping) this is even more important, as you should know about any safety risks for the area and important information such as where your water supply is. Does your campground have full hookups? Does it allow pets? And then there’s the matter of the area and environment you’re in. Are there dangerous animals, or hazardous natural features? If you’re going to be near a forest or a desert, you’ll need to take different gear.
National parks make great destinations for camping trips, so if you’re heading there, check out the guidelines online, and you can talk to park rangers if you’re worried about anything. Try to be well informed about your destination before you set off. It’s also a good idea to check the weather forecast to see if you’ll require and special preparation for this too. Finally, make sure you have up to date maps of the area, to prevent anyone from getting lost.
You’ll also need to make sure you’re taking all the safety equipment you may need, we’ve provided a list below of things you’ll need to consider. If you’re planning to do any activities like climbing, kayaking, or swimming, you will also need to bring along the proper safety equipment for these too.
- Tent and plastic groundsheet, for adequate shelter
- Bedding and sleeping bags for the expected temperatures
- Sunscreen (15spf minimum) and sunglasses
- Wide-brimmed hat for extra sun protection
- Hiking boots or other sturdy footwear
- Long-sleeved clothing for sun and insect protection, we recommend clothing that can be layered in case of changing temperatures
- Protective gear you might need for activities, such as helmets and life jackets
- Map of the area, and trail maps for hiking
- Hand sanitizer
- Insect repellent
- Any medications
- Flashlights with batteries
- Any emergency numbers you might need, for medical problems or emergencies on the trail
When it comes to camping equipment, make sure you know how to set up your tent, and any other basic camping requirements. Don’t bring any advanced equipment that you don’t know how to use, this is a common way that novice campers get injuries. The clothing you bring should be appropriate for the weather, and you should be prepared for any sudden changes. Although it’s favorable to pack light, always bring along a spare clean and dry set of clothing, in case of a sudden downpour or any other unforeseen clothing issue- trust us, it’s better to bring a redundant change of clothes that to spend the day cold and soggy.
First Aid Kit
One very important thing to remember is a fully equipped first aid kit for camping. Although you should always carry a basic first aid kit on any vacation or adventure, it’s more important when camping as there are certain things which pose more of a threat than usual. We suggest you bring a kit including these basic items:
- Band-aids and bandages
- Adhesive bandages
- Cotton swabs
- Safety pins
- Sterile gauze
- Antibiotic cream
- Painkillers, anti-inflammatories
- Sunburn cream
- Snakebite kit
- Heat and cold packs
- First aid manual
- Sterile compress
Don’t be concerned about things such as the snake bite kit, it’s unlikely that you’ll need it, but it’s always better to be prepared for proper camping safety. You should also bring along any prescription medications needed by members of your group, such as asthma inhalers, make sure to organize this ahead of time.
It’s also a good idea to bring along allergy medications such as those for hayfever, a generic antihistamine will do. Keep a list of medications, allergies, and doctors phone numbers for everyone in your group, so you’ll be prepared for an accident or sudden illness. Vaccinations and shots should be up to date for the while of your party, for example, tetanus shots.
If you’re bringing along a furry friend, you should also consider any health preparations for them. Rabies shots should be up to date, and you may need to take proof of this to show at the campground. Make sure your pets are microchipped, just in case.
It’s also a good idea to have everyone in your group know what to do in an emergency. If everyone has a little survival knowledge, it’ll go a long way to set your mind to rest. Read our article on how to build a camping tent from scratch for emergency shelter, and look up how to properly build a campfire if you plan to use one for cooking.
We recommend making a checklist of everything you need to take, especially the most important gear, such as a first aid kit. You wouldn’t want to forget anything vital to a successful camping trip.
While you’re on your camping trip
Once you arrive, hopefully fully prepared for your adventure, there are different camping safety concerns. We’ll start with water, as it is, of course, the most basic thing that humans need to survive.
Always make sure you have a source of safe drinking water. When backcountry camping, carry drinking water with you. Refill your containers with water you know has been tested and is safe, and never count on water from lakes or streams, no matter how clean it appears.
If you do need to use water from an untested source, purify it first. You can achieve this by boiling it thoroughly or using water purification tablets containing iodine, halazone, or chlorine. These tablets will kill the majority of waterborne bacteria, viruses and (some) parasites. You should also filter the water, this will help remove any remaining parasites. You should also use this clean and sanitized water for any dishwashing or cleaning fruits and vegetables.
Choosing a campsite and shelter
When choosing a campsite and shelter, you’ll need to consider the needs of yourself and of anyone else in your group. Think about age, physical limitations, and medical needs. Check out the amenities available at your campground and make sure they’re adequate for your needs. Tent camping means bringing along sleeping bags and air mattresses, which may not be suitable for those with back problems. If this is the case, camping in a cabin may be a better alternative, where full beds and bunks are provided.
If you choose to pitch a tent, make sure you carefully choose the location. It’s advisable to set up near trees for protection from the elements, and avoid ditches and the base of hills or mountains, as this could cause flooding if it rains.
Depending on the type of camping you’re doing, you’ll need to bring different types of food supplies, however, there are still some basic guidelines every camper should follow for food storage and preparation.
- Keep food in an insulated cooler or refrigerator, in waterproof bags.
- Don’t leave food out on picnic tables or anyway not secure, this could attract wildlife.
- Bring along foods that don’t require refrigeration like dried fruit and nuts, pasta, dried meats, and peanut butter. The best way to bring food camping is dehydrated, read our article on dehydrated backpacking recipes for some inspiration for your backcountry meals.
- Wash hands before food preparation, and use a well-washed clean surface for cooking.
Whether you’re at the beach, out hiking, or floating around in a kayak, you should always have adequate protection from the sun. Protect yourself and the rest of your group from damaging UV rays, and on sunstroke on especially hot days. Camping is first and foremost an outdoor activity, so take the proper precautions if you’re going to be in the sun all day.
Apply sunscreen, at least 15 SPF, 30 unites before going out into direct sunlight, and reapply several times a day. A wide-brimmed hat will protect your neck and ears from the harsh sunlight, as these are the most common areas to burn. A nasty sunburn can ruin a camping trip, but it’s also dangerous for your health, so always use proper sun protection. Sunglasses are also a valuable item to bring along, and always make sure you have something to cover up and some shade if the weather gets too hot.
Outdoor and wildlife safety
It’s astonishing how many people ignore outdoor warning signs when they’re on an adventure. Always obey any signs and take care to heed warnings about the environment, such as for falling rocks or dangerous wildlife. Don’t climb over guards or barricades, and always stay on the trail when you’re hiking. The last thing any camper wants is to lose a member of their group.
Seeing the local wildlife is an exciting part of visiting National Parks on camping excursions. We should all get to enjoy seeing animals in their natural habitat, and especially if you’re on a break from the city, it’s wonderful to see what nature has to offer. However, tourists often forget that these are wild animals, not used to human contact, so always observe from a safe distance.
Never touch or get too close to a wild animal, even if they seem tame, they could still carry dangerous diseases like rabies or hantavirus. Although the majority of animals you’ll see on the trail aren’t aggressive, any wild animal may defend its habitat if it feels threatened.
Never get between a wild animal and its young, especially dangerous predators like bears. You should also never feed wild animals, as human food could be very dangerous to them, and it could also lead them to become aggressive. At the end of the day, if you don’t bother the wildlife, it’s unlikely to bother you- just enjoy from a safe distance.
To protect yourself from mosquitos, ticks, and other creepers, use a strong insect repellent containing DEET, ideally one which is water-resistant. When hiking, it’s best to wear long trousers to avoid direct contact with insects, and you should check for ticks at least once a day to prevent possible Lyme disease. Wearing light-colored clothing will help protect against mosquitos and other insects as it makes you harder to see. Mosquito screens are a must-have item for camping, on tents and other common areas.
Sitting around a campfire is a well-loved part of camping, with almost every adult holding treasured memories of sitting around one in the evening and making s’mores. However, campfires are also a danger to you and your surrounding environment. Unattended or improperly extinguished campfires are a leading cause of wildfires in the US, each year they cause huge devastation to our natural environments. Before setting off on your trip, read the full campfire safety guidelines.
Always check with the campground or park rangers before lighting a match, to see if campfires are allowed and the conditions are favorable. Keep a bucket with water or sand nearby at all times, to put out the fire in an emergency, and never leave children or pets unattended around a campfire. Your first aid kit should contain supplies for any small burns, and for larger accidents and injuries, go to the hospital straight away.
Many families enjoy bringing along dogs or even cats on their camping adventure, it’s fun to have a furry friend around. However, this requires its own preparation in order for your pet and the people around to stay safe. As mentioned already, ensure your pet has up to date vaccines and inoculations, you may need to bring proof of recent rabies vaccinations to show the campsite staff. Keep your pet on a leash at all times, to prevent them from getting lost, into conflict with other pet and wild animals, and from other people at the campground.
Make sure to bring the appropriate food, a water dish, and your pet’s bed along, as well as any medication that might be needed. As well as checking yourself, you should check your pet for ticks every day, as even they have been treated, they can carry them inside your tent or RV and spread them to you. Keep your pet in your sight at all times, and never leave them locked inside the car. This can be incredibly dangerous, not to mention it’s illegal in most places.
So, is camping safe? In our opinion, yes camping is a safe and very rewarding activity, which has been enjoyed by families for generations. With most of this information coming down to common sense, don’t be worried about your camping safety, just be smart about it. All you have to do is be prepared for your camping trip, and follow the safety guidelines we’ve set out.
Most potential safety issues can be avoided with proper planning, so just make sure you have properly researched your trip. Plan your activities in advance so you bring the appropriate equipment, learn to identify local wildlife, and if you go for a hike into a wilder area, just let someone know where you are going and when to expect your return.
As a piece of parting advice, stay hydrated! Drink water regularly throughout the day, especially in hot weather. You should carry with you an emergency three to five day supply of clean water, just make sure everyone in your group is hydrating regularly. Remember, if you’re thirsty, it means you’re probably already dehydrated.
Don’t let all this information scare you, camping is completely safe so long as you are smart about it. You’ve already completed the first step to having a safe and successful camping trip- reading this article! Now you know all the things you need to do to prepare, and how to remain safe and sound throughout all of your experience.
Bonus tip: As we all know, a good campsite deserves a good campfire. Learn how to build one in the video below!