BACKPACKING BASICS

Camping Safety Basics: Rules You Need to Follow

Camping basics
Bradley Page
Written by Bradley Page

Camping safety should be your main concern when preparing an outdoor expedition.

Depending on the type of trip you are planning (whether it’s in the mountains or the plains, if it’s a summer trip or a  winter one), there are different safety rules you should follow.

The Most Important Factors to Consider, Safety-Wise, when Camping

Exposure to temperatures

You must be extremely careful to protect yourself from extreme temperatures (heat or cold) when camping. Because you spend most of your time outdoors and you sleep in a tent, extreme heat or cold can affect your health or even put you at serious risk.

How to prevent heat-related problems:

  • Make sure you stay well-hydrated all the time. Find out if there are safe drinking water sources where you are planning to camp. If there aren’t, or you can’t find reliable information, bring enough drinking water with you (about a gallon per day, per person).
  • Cover your head when hiking in the sun; Wear loose, light-colored, cotton clothes and use sunscreen on all body areas exposed to the sun.
  • Try to avoid hiking during the day’s hottest hours (between 12 noon and 3 PM). You can use that time to rest somewhere with a shadow.
  • Install your tent in an area that is less exposed to the sun.
  • Unless you have access to a refrigerator, bring only food supplies that don’t spoil because of the heat (canned or dehydrated foods, without fresh meats or dairy).

How to prevent cold-related problems:

  • The first and most important step to avoid frostbite and other cold-related health issues is to buy good-quality camping equipment. Keep in mind that, in the mountains, the weather can change suddenly, even in the summer, so you need to be prepared for every scenario. Make sure that your tent and your sleeping bag can protect you not only against low temperatures but also against heavy winds. There are many brands and models out there to pick from, so do your homework, do a little bit of research and pick reliable gear.
  • Clothing and boots should also be specially designed for cold weather and waterproof. It’s very important to protect your body’s extremities, because you lose a lot of heat through them, so don’t forget about gloves, hats and wool socks. If you expect temperatures to fall well below 32 degrees Fahrenheit and snow, merinos undergarments are an extremely useful accessory.
  • Conditions combining snow and sunlight can damage your eyes and skin. Wear sunscreen and use special sunglasses to protect your eyes from the intense light.
  • It’s important to be able to eat or drink something hot every day, so don’t forget to pack a portable gas stove.
  • Avalanches are another risk when camping in the mountains during winter. Besides the obvious rules (following the advice of mountain rescue services and avoiding areas with high risk or avalanches), you should also get some safety gear: an avalanche transceiver that sends electronic signals, allowing rescuers to locate you in case of emergencies, a snow shovel, collapsible probes to help you find people buried in the snow;

Extreme weather safety rules

Temperatures are predictable, so it’s pretty easy to be prepared for hot or cold weather.

Backpacking essentials

Extreme weather, on the other hand (heavy raining, flooding, thunderstorms) can take you by surprise. Here is how you should protect yourself from extreme weather when camping.

Thunderstorm:

  • Protecting from a thunderstorm when outdoors is not an easy task. The best thing you can do is trying to avoid such a storm altogether. You can do it by avoiding camping in areas or seasons prone to thunderstorms and by checking weather prognosis often. If you hear thunders and you are in an open space, try to find shelter ( a building, a car) as soon as possible;
  • Tents are not safe during a thunderstorm, because of their metal skeleton;
  • If you are in an open space, without a building or a car nearby, the best strategy is to stay away from tall trees and other tall objects;
  • Look for a low-lying area, such as a valley, and try becoming the smallest target possible. Crouch with your heels touching and your head between your knees. Do not lie down flat. You should minimize your contact with the ground as much as possible.
  • If you are inside of a forest when the thunderstorm starts, find a group of smaller trees surrounded by taller trees, or other low areas, such as a valley or a ravine;

Heavy rains and flooding:

  • Preventing an unsafe or uncomfortable situation is definitely the vest strategy. Check weather prognosis and try to avoid areas/seasons prone to heavy raining and/or flooding;
  • Get a good-quality tent with high rain resistance, made of waterproof materials;
  • Buy waterproof jackets and boots;
  • Pack an inflatable boat or raft;
  • Avoid valleys and other low-lying areas when installing your tent. Look for higher grounds and camp there;
  • If it’s raining heavily and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop, it’s safer to just pack up your things and retreat;
  • In some areas, it takes only a few hours of rain for sudden floods to occur.

If you find yourself trapped by flooding, contact emergency services immediately.

If you didn’t bring an inflatable boat or raft, try to find something that floats to hold onto in case the water gets really high. Empty plastic cans or an improvised raft made of wood are good floating devices.

Wildfires and fire safety rules:

  • Wildfires can occur naturally, due to a combination of dried vegetation and very high temperatures. Try to avoid areas known for wildfires during the hottest months of the year;
  • Another cause of wildfires are campers that don’t follow fire safety rules. Don’t be that person!
  • Never leave your campfire unattended and make sure it’s extinguished completely before leaving the camp or going to sleep;
  • Use lighting and heating devices with care, do not leave them unattended;
  • Do not throw cigarette butts or matches on the ground. Completely extinguish them before disposing of them;
  • Avoid spilling flammable substances or stove fuel;
  • In case you notice smoke while camping (more smoke that it should come from a regular campfire), inform emergency services immediately and leave the area;
  • If you find yourself surrounded by wildfire, the best strategy is to clean the dead vegetation from the ground, following a circular pattern. If you have the time, use a shovel to dig up a small groove around the cleaned area; The fresh dirt, without any combustible materials, will act as a shield against the wildfire.

Health-Related Safety Rules

Camping can be rough and extenuating, meaning that it can accentuate previous health conditions, you can get injured or you can end up with food poisoning, diarrhoea, pulled muscles, heat-stroke and others.

Kit First Aid Health

If you have some chronic condition, contact your doctor and discuss if a camping trip is safe for you. Also, make sure you put together an emergency health kit to bring with you.

Health kit for camping trips:

  • Bandages in different sizes and shapes;
  • Elastic bandages for sprains;
  • Blister pads;
  • Gauze pads;
  • Emergency aluminum reflective blanket;
  • Iodine solution;
  • Antibiotic cream;
  • Recipients with sterile saline solution for cleaning up cuts and wounds;
  • Rehydration salts;
  • Anti-diarrhea medication;
  • Antacids;
  • Antihistamines for allergic reactions (both ointment and medication);
  • Anti-inflammatory ointments;
  • Pain-relievers (Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Tylenol);
  • Anti-itch creams or sprays;
  • Anti-burn sprays;
  • Petroleum jelly against chafing;
  • Insect repellent;
  • Tweezers and scissors;
  • A snake-bite kit if you are hiking in an area with venomous snakes;
  • Prescription medication you or your companions use;

Protecting from Wild Animals

  • Find out details about wildlife and dangerous animals in the area you are planning to camp; Contact local authorities and park rangers to find out what you should do to avoid encounters with wild animals;
  • Take an anti-rabies shot before the trip;
  • Suspend your food supplies on tree branches, mid-air, or keep them in metal containers;
  • Never feed wild animals;
  • Don’t approach wild animals; don’t try to take pictures from up close. Admire them from a distance;

Safety Measures when Cooking

One of the joys of camping is to cook your food outdoors and enjoy some nicely roasted marshmallows around a camp fire.

But, to enjoy only the good parts and avoid all the risks, there are some rules you must always follow:

  • Always build you camp fire inside a stone fire pit;
  • Store the wood fire at a reasonable distance from the fire pit, to avoid the wood catching fire;
  • Also, build the fire a few yards away from the tents;
  • Never build a fire in areas where such an activity is restricted;
  • Keep flammable substances away from the fire;
  • Never leave the fire unattended;
  • Make sure the fire is completely extinguished before leaving the camp or going to sleep:
  • If you are using a portable stove for cooking, always put it on a straight surface, resistant to heat and flames;
  • Manipulate the gas cartridges with care, deposit them away from the sun;
  • Never puncture gas canisters, don’t store them near a wood fire, never put used gas canisters onto an open fire;
  • Don’t use portable cooking stoves inside the tent or vehicles for cooking or warmth.

Carbon monoxide builds quickly inside enclosed spaces with poor ventilation and can cause collapse and death.

Carbon monoxide doesn’t have a smell or a taste and anything that burns can give off carbon monoxide. The symptoms of carbon monoxide intoxication are dizziness, headache, drowsiness, chest pains, nausea and vomiting. If you experience any of those symptoms, get into fresh air immediately and seek medical help.

Safety Rules when Camping with Kids

Introducing your children to the beauties of nature and to the joys of camping is definitely a great idea and a lot of people go camping with children, even young ones.

Camping with kids

There are however some precautions and safety rules you should follow when camping with children:

  • Adjust the difficulty of the hikes to the age of your children. Teenagers, especially if they have some hiking experience, can keep up with adults, but the same if not true for smaller children. Don’t expect them to be able to walk for hours. Set up camp in a nice area with plenty of opportunities for short, easier hikes and don’t plan ones longer than 3 to 4 hours;
  • Children are more sensitive than adults to temperatures. They will heat up easier than you and will lose heat rapidly when temperatures drop. Make sure you have adequate clothing for any type of weather, including waterproof jackets and boots. Also, buy a sleeping bag that’s the right size for children and check on them during the night to make sure they are warm enough;
  • Children should always wear a hat when walking in the sun;
  • Keep them well fed and hydrated;
  • Use insect repellent and sunscreen every day;
  • A mid-day nap is a very good strategy to keep children from getting exhausted during camping trips. They will protest, but try to get them to nap or at least rest for a couple of hours;
  • Never let them out of your sight, especially in case of younger children. However, you should talk to them about what they should do in case they get lost. Tell them to stay put the moment they realize they are lost and to wait for you to find them.  It’s a good idea to give them whistles, which can be heard farther away compared to the human voice. Also, teach them the universal emergency signal: three short blows, three long blows, three short blows again;
  • Advise them to stay away from wild animals, including small ones like frogs, snakes, squirrels or chipmunks. Mammals can carry rabies, while reptiles could be venomous;

Another very important rule is to always know your limits. Sometimes, people tend to overestimate what they are capable of, and it’s in such moments that injuries occur.

Camping with the right equipment

Don’t try difficult climbs if you are not an experienced climber and you don’t have the right equipment. Don’t camp in remote areas if you never camped before. Safety should always come first. Now, that you learned the most important safety rules, how exactly do you plan to make your next trip a little bit safer?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bradley Page
Bradley Page

With several decades of experience as a backpacker and outdoor adventurer, Bradley is an open encyclopedia when it comes to gear, clothes, and other items that matter on the trail. He tested hundreds of shoes, pants, jackets, and backpacks in his long career and is always up to date with the new appearances in the niche. His experience makes him one of the authority figures in backpacking and he can help anyone to get prepared for a great adventure!

  • Mark Lee

    Is it a good option to bring filtered water bottles when camping in places that are prone to extreme heat? I feel that even if we bring gallons of water in stock if it is a big group, there may be a shortage. But if there are nearby bodies of water, maybe a water filter is beneficial?

    • Bradley Page

      I think bringing enough water is a wise move. Bringing filters with you is also necessary. Remember that there may not be a body of water nearby so come prepared.

  • Linda Jones

    I love to go camping with my family. We often do this. We really like to cook outdoors, but want something new. Tell me, please, if there are any edible berries, nuts and mushrooms, which we can find in the forest. I have to be sure in what we eat.

  • Bradley Page

    Hi Linda! There are a lot of edible berries, nuts and mushrooms out there, however, if you are a newbie, I wouldn’t recommend going to such extremes. There are compact cooking stoves available that you can use to cook whatever food you had packed. Also, there are food dehydrators that you can use (most are very inexpensive) to dry-pack your food for camp.

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