ESSENTIAL SKILLS

Camping Safety: Tips for Injury-Free Wilderness Adventures

Bear and camping safety
Henry Silva
Written by Henry Silva

There is nothing like escaping into the great outdoors for a fun, relaxing trip away from the bustle of daily life.  However, enjoying yourself may come at a cost if illnesses or injuries become part of your adventure.

That’s why it is important to consider the following camping safety tips, not just for your time at the campground, but to properly prepare and pack for your trip before you even leave the house.  Doing so can ensure a safe and healthy trip, so you can spend your time enjoying yourself rather than tending to wounds or rushing to the emergency room.

Preparing for Your Trip

Whether packing for a two-week vacation or just a weekend at your favorite camping spot, you have to prepare and pack correctly, to be prepared for any occurrence. Our list on the top things to bring on your camping trip will give you ideas on what to pack on your next trip.

Get Vaccinated: Illnesses such as meningitis or whooping cough may not seem like an issue when camping, but you never know what diseases other people you meet during your trip may be carrying.

First get vaccinated

That’s why it is important for your first step to be up to date on your vaccinations, so you don’t bring any unexpected, and potentially fatal, souvenirs home with you.  This goes for all members of your party, including spouses and children, and even your pets.

Packing for the Weather: When packing clothing, be sure to check out the weather report for the area you’ll be camping in so you can pack clothing appropriately.  But don’t just pack according to the report, because weather can change at any time. If you are unaware on what clothes to pack on your next camping trip, see our article on that topic to help.

If the report calls for sunny days and clear nights, pack some pants and sweaters along with your t-shirts and shorts in case it cools off, or unexpected rain showers move into the area.

This goes for bedding as well.  Having a few extra blankets won’t take up that much room, but it’s better to have them and not use them than to freeze during an unexpectedly cool night.

Fans and heaters are also a good option if you have the room and access to electricity; just be careful where you place them, and be sure there is enough ventilation to reduce any risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Packing Food and Water: Water is a necessity, especially in high temperatures where you’ll be sweating excessively and need constant hydration.  Many areas do not have clean drinking water, so be sure to pack enough for all members of your party during the entire trip, and check to see if there is a store nearby to purchase more, just in case you begin to run low. You can even learn how to prepare camping food that requires no heat – see our popular article on this topic.

camping packing food and water

When packing food, be sure any meat is packed carefully so it will not come in contact with any other food items.  Contamination could mean discarding an entire cooler of food, leaving you with nothing.  Using sealable containers is the best choice, so there will not be any chance of meat juices leaking into other items.  Also, if there is cooked meat and raw meat, keep them separate as well, to reduce the risk of food-related illnesses.

Prepare a Safety Kit: Should injuries happen on your trip, you don’t want to be left unprepared.  That’s why a safety kit should be prepared in full before you leave.  The kit itself should be a sturdy, waterproof container, and include:

  • Bandages-rolled, plastic, triangular, butterfly, large and small
  • Sterile compresses
  • Adhesive tape
  • Splints
  • Gauze pads
  • Antiseptic sprays or wipes
  • Cotton swabs
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers and nail clippers
  • Safety pins
  • Thermometer
  • Creams – Antibiotic, burn, poison ivy
  • Sunscreen and after sun lotions
  • Peroxide
  • Hot/cold packs
  • Bug spray
  • Razor blades
  • Pain and sinus medications
  • Antacids
  • Eye drops
  • Snake bite kit (if poisonous snakes are in the area)
  • Ipecac (to induce vomiting if poisonous or harmful items are ingested)
  • Latex Gloves (and a non-latex type, in case of a latex allergy)
  • Road flares
  • Any personal medications normally taken, prescription or otherwise

Not only should you carry these items, but you should know how to use them all.  It is also a good idea to take courses in both CPR and First Aid, so you can be prepared for any type of injury or situation.

Portable camping safety kit

Check your safety kit often, as some of the items in this list do have expiry dates, and may need to be replaced before your camping trip begins.  And be sure to replace anything used, so your kit is always fully stocked. For more tips, see our article on how to pack your own first aid kit to customize it to your needs.

Inform Others of Your Plans: Before you leave, make sure others are aware of your destination, and how long you’ll be gone.  This could be a family member or a friend, whichever you prefer.

This way, if something happens and you are left stranded in the woods with no cell service, someone will be expecting you home and will be concerned if you don’t show up.  Do not post your plans on social media, though.  Telling the world you’ll be away for even a few days could invite break-ins and theft, so keep your plans off of Facebook and Twitter.

After Your Reach Your Destination

Whether camping in the wild or at a busy public park, be sure to follow these tips to ensure your trip will be filled with laughter and fun, rather than pain and injury.

Setting up Your Site: When setting up your tent, be sure to do so away from the fire pit area so there will be little chance of sparks landing on the material and starting a fire.  Campers are less at risk, but if a canopy is opened, it could also catch on fire, so plan your site accordingly.

camping and setting up your site

Food Storage: For those using a cooler, hopefully you’ve followed the advice on packing your food items listed above.  If so, there is only the risk of spoilage to worry about, so be sure to keep your food cold by replacing the ice that has melted each day, especially if in hotter temperatures.

An insulated cooler is the best choice, because it will hold its temperature longer, as long as it is not opened unnecessarily throughout the day.  There are even plug-in coolers available, but if you’re not at an electrical site, these will be of no use.

After cooking meals, be sure to pack up all extra food properly and safely, and store it in the cooler.  Do not leave food laying around your site, because this could attract unwanted animals, from small, harmless ones like squirrels to large, dangerous bears. See our article on DIY storage canisters  and learn how to protect your food from these hungry animals.

Also, do not keep food in your tent, for the same reason.  If possible, store your cooler and other non-refrigerated items in the trunk of your car, to reduce the likelihood of unwanted animal attention.

bear in the tent

Sun Protection: Be sure to use sunscreen at all times when camping, even if it is overcast.  Harmful UV rays can still reach you through the clouds and cause burns you may not realize you are getting.  If you are swimming, apply it about half an hour before entering the water, and reapply it often.  Sunglasses and hats are also a good idea to protect your eyes on bright days.

Critter Protection: Bugs can carry diseases, and a single bite could bring with it an unwanted illness along with itchy discomfort.  That’s why you should protect yourself from mosquitos, ticks, and other unwelcome pests by using bug spray throughout your trip.

Larger critters can also be harmful, though there is no spray for small animals.  If snakes, squirrels or birds are nearby, do not try to touch them or interact with them.  For smaller mammals and birds, you could carefully shoo them away from a distance.

critter protection on camping

Snakes or other potentially poisonous animals should be avoided, and if you find you are too close to one, back away slowly, and leave them be.  They probably won’t stick around if there are people nearby.

Having fun: Camping trips include all kinds of outdoor activities, including hiking, bicycling, swimming, and many others.  If these activities are going to be part of your trip, be sure to prepare for them by bringing the appropriate gear.

This includes helmets and padding for knees and elbows when biking, proper footwear for hiking and walking, life jackets when boating, and swim rings and water wings for swimming.

Be sure all of the members of your party can handle the terrain for the hiking and biking trips, and don’t force anyone to go farther than they can handle.  Keep in mind that little children will tire out, and the further you are from your site when they stop walking, the longer you will be required to carry them.

When swimming, don’t go alone, and supervise any inexperienced swimmers closely.  Bring snacks and lots of water for these adventures, but don’t eat right before swimming to reduce the risk of cramps.

For some quiet time, bring a few toys and coloring books to keep the kids occupied in the site, especially if you have littler ones who need naps.  Blowing bubbles is also a great way to entertain kids for hours.

Getting Lost: No matter what activity they are engaged in, be sure to watch your children closely when camping, and explain to them the risks of getting lost if they wander away into the woods, so they are aware of the dangers of wandering off alone.  Of course, not only children can get lost.

getting lost in the wild

Many adults head out for a hike and can’t find their way home.  That’s why it is important to always tell someone in your party where you are heading, in case you don’t return.  Carry a map if possible, as well as a GPS locater and a compass.  Even having a whistle can help you to get rescued, and it is small enough that it is easy to carry in a pocket or on a rope around your neck.

Staying Cool: No matter what you’re doing, it is important to stay cool and hydrated, especially on hot days.  Drink lots of water to replenish what you are losing, and reduce the risk of heat stroke.

If playing games, with grown-ups or children, try to do so in a shady area, and be sure to sit down and rest if you feel yourself overheating.  Don’t go for long hikes or bike rides if the temperature is especially high.

Cooking Safety: Some rules for cooking when camping are the same as those at home.  Be sure to prepare food on a clean surface. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling any food items.

camping cooking safety tips

Cook meat to a safe temperature before eating, and carry a meat thermometer to be sure this is done correctly.  Don’t mix raw foods with cooked foods, especially meat, so there is no contamination that could lead to food poisoning or other food-related illnesses.  After eating, store any leftovers away promptly.

If cooking over the fire, be sure to use sturdy metal utensils with safety handles, and wear a fire-retardant cooking mitt or glove to keep from getting burned.  Don’t cook over high flames.  Have somebody keep any children and pets away from the fire when you’re cooking, because you may be too focused on what you are doing to watch them at the same time.

If using a stove or grill, be sure to store the fuel canisters properly in an upright position.  Don’t place them too near a fire pit, and don’t try to change any canisters near an open flame or if the stove is already hot.

Make sure you are in a well-ventilated area when using these items, and never try to use one in a camper or tent, because of the threat of carbon monoxide, as well as a risk of fire.  When not in use, turn it off and remove the fuel container, so there will be no chance of injury or explosion.

Fire Safety: At the end of the day, there is nothing more relaxing than sitting around a fire, chatting with your family and friends, or just enjoying the quiet.  But in order to fully relax, you need to be sure your fire will stay where it belongs.

Making camping fire pit

If there is no proper fire pit provided, and you must make your own, be sure to do so in an open area, away from any tents, trees or other flammable items.  Place a ring of large stones to enclose your fire.

Keep a bucket of water, sand, or a fire extinguisher nearby just in case it gets out of control.  Do not leave it unattended for any reason, and be sure to extinguish it completely before leaving your site or heading off to bed.  Also, be aware that in dry seasons, there is a higher risk of forest fires, so check for any bans in the area before even lighting the match.

Conclusion

By following these simple safety rules, you can be sure your risk of injury or sickness will be kept to a minimum. No one wants to cut their trip short for any reason, and though you should hope for the best trip possible, you should also prepare for the worst situations, so you will never be caught off-guard.

Are there any tips we have missed during the course of this guide?  If so, please let us know by leaving a comment below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Henry Silva
Henry Silva

Henry was hiking since he was 4. He was lucky enough to be born in Boulder, Colorado and enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park hikes growing up. His favourite is Longs Peak, which rises to 14,259 feet (4,346 m) above sea level. It is the highest point of the park. Henry likes to explore new hikes and spend his spare time in the wilderness.

  • Tracy Porter

    There is no replacement for experience, in the feeling confidently safe while camping in the wilderness, is there? This article and list are the next best thing, though.
    A little bit of research ahead of time can help put fears to rest such as finding the nearest ranger stations, or any other helpful outposts and orienting oneself to those in relation to the chosen camping area.
    I think our own minds tend to be our worst enemy as we have a lot of time to think about what could happen or what was that noise in the brush. It is necessary to be prepared, though. Thanks for this!

  • Henry Silva

    You’re welcome Tracy and glad to help. I started as a novice camper and learned through experience, as well as from other campers, too. Having the right gear and honing my survival skills are just some of the preparations I made that helped me a lot. When you’re out camping, remember to have presence of mind and be prepared for anything.

  • Brian Green

    Another tip is to learn how to do basic camping tasks like starting a fire in your backyard first or local park. Spend some time learning how to use your compass before the trip. If you are not good with maps, practice reading a map in an area you are already familiar with instead of trying to figure out these things when you are in the woods already.

  • Henry Silva

    Thanks for the tip Brian! Being prepared is a must! That means getting the right gear and making sure they’re from trustworthy brands and of course, practicing some skills related to camping. Don’t forget to hone your skills on map and compass reading, starting a fire, building a temporary shelter or making water potable.

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