Camping Safety Tips

By Suzanne Wiley

Growing up in Northwest Arkansas provided me many opportunities to explore a variety of outdoor activities. My parents were diligent about making sure my brother and I spent plenty of time outside. We camped regularly, as well as went on day trips adventuring in the state’s parks and natural attractions—caves, waterfalls, lakes, natural springs, hiking trails, rock formations and mountains. It is a beautiful state and the perfect place to teach youngsters how to appreciate and respect nature. We were very blessed.

A waterfall in Devi's Den State Park, West Fork, Arkansas
Devil’s Den State Park, West Fork, AR

Though I obviously didn’t realize it at the time, my parents were teaching me huge life lessons during these trips:

  • How to be a problem-solver and think outside the box.

Often, camping requires you to come up with solutions to problems on the fly without having all the necessary tools to fix them.

  • Becoming comfortable with being self-sufficient.

Even drive-in tent camping provides important lessons on essential survival skills—building a fire, primitive camp cooking, purifying water, basic first aid…we even made our own fishing poles.

  • Building resiliency.

Resiliency is the ability to adapt and cope quickly when faced with adversity. Though you can’t always control everything that will happen on a camping trip, you can control your reaction to it.

Campers—young and old—can learn these same life skills by planning and preparing properly for a camping trip. My parents wouldn’t have been able to teach us how to cope, adapt and just overall be chill about the unexpected if they didn’t have the wherewithal to deal with it themselves. That means they packed the right camping equipment, had solid plans, along with an emergency contingency plan and enough gumption to compensate quickly when things went awry…and went awry they did. Having the right camping gear is certainly essential, but so is knowing some important camping safety tips.

Covering Cuts, Soothing Burns and Preventing Injuries

Hiker putting up first aid supplies
A first aid kit is an essential piece of camping gear.

Camping is generally a very safe activity, especially if you are cautious and aware, but any time you are out in the wild, there is a possibility you will be injured or have an accident. Fortunately, the most common camping injuries (falls, blisters, sunburn, bug bites, poison ivy, sprains and burns) are easily treatable—and most are preventable.

A basic first aid kit stocked with items to treat these common injuries is essential.

  • To avoid falls which leads to sprains, make sure you have sturdy shoes made for the outdoors. They should have excellent traction and strong ankle support.
  • Know how to identify poison ivy and poison oak and avoid it at all costs. If exposed, wash the area with lukewarm water and soap. Remove any clothing that had contact with the plant and keep it separate it or launder it right away. Treat the area with calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream. Cool compresses may help with itch.
  • Use the buddy system when swimming, hiking or exploring. If someone falls and injures themselves, the other can go for help. Children should never venture off or swim alone. Obey all warning signs posted on trails and the water.

To pick the right camping first aid kit, click here.

If anyone in your crew is allergic to bee stings, wasps, certain plants or any other thing you could be exposed to, make sure you have an EpiPen on hand and some Benadryl for less severe allergic reactions.

Creeping and Curious Critters

Use the R.I.C.E. method for treating sprains—rest, ice, compression and elevation.
Use the R.I.C.E. method for treating sprains.

Part of the thrill of being outdoors is spotting and watching wildlife. And mostly, if you observe from a safe distance, you should be able to avoid having an unpleasant—or life-threatening—encounter with an animal.

Usually, wild animals will avoid you; however, you will want to bear- and raccoon-proof your campsite. When it comes to food, bear and raccoon don’t care…

  • Remove trash completely from your campsite. Throw it away properly every night.
  • Keep food in airtight containers or tubs with lids in your car. Or hang it securely from a tree branch at least 12 feet high, 4 feet away from the tree trunk and 100 yards from your campsite. Do not store food in your tent.
  • When done for the evening, put the cooler in the car or put it in a food storage locker provided by the campground.
  • After eating, thoroughly wipe down tables, stoves, grills and benches or chairs. Throw away any food that has fallen to the ground. Not only will the smell attract raccoons and other critters, but it will also quickly attract pesky flies.
  • Throw grease, bones and fruit pits, peels and rinds in the trash.
  • Wash dishes right after eating and store them in secure plastic tubs.

90 percent of bear attacks are due to a human’s lack of personal responsibly. Be diligent when camping in bear country.

If you do encounter a bear, back away slowly and talk to the bear in a low commanding voice. Jumping on top of a rock and waving your hands above your head and yelling loudly (so you appear larger and dominant) can deter an aggressive bear. If one does attack, National Park rangers say to fight back as hard as you can and only use “playing dead” as a last resort. Some people attach bells to their packs to alert bears there are others in the woods.

One last word of caution: Never touch or bother wild animals.

How Do You Keep Food While Camping— Camping Food Safety Tips

Though I have camped primitively, I much prefer car camping—it’s just easier. The tips that follow are geared towards those who car camp as opposed to dispersed camping.

Avoid a run in with bears by storing your food properly—either in the car or stringing it in a tree at least 12 feet high and 4 feet away from the trunk.
Keep food away from bears by stringing it in a tree or keeping it in your car.

Because you are without modern conveniences, electricity, and possibly without running water, it is important to practice proper food handling and storage. Meats and perishables need to a safe temperature. Do this by keeping them in a cooler with ice.

Each camping trip teaches me lessons for the next trip. To cut space once, I packed everything in one cooler—including ice to put in drinks. One of the meat packages leaked and ruined it all. So, I now take two coolers—one for food and one for beverages and drinking ice.

Here are some other lessons I’ve learned:

  • When packing your cooler either remove meat from its original packing and put it in a sealable container or put the original container in a sealable bag.
  • Keep raw and cooked foods separate.
  • Bring plenty of Ziploc bags or Tupperware to store leftovers.
  • Wash hands before and after handling raw meat. If you aren’t close to a bathroom or have running water at your campsite, use hand sanitizer.

For some easy and delicious camp cooking ideas, click here.

Campfire SafetySmokey the Bear says "only you can prevent forest fires."

Camping doesn’t feel complete without a campfire. However, campfires are the primary cause of child injury during camping. To prevent burns or causing a forest fire, follow these campfire safety rules.

  1. Do not start a fire if there is a burn or open flame ban.
  2. Use an existing fire ring or build a proper fire pit at least 15-25 feet away from vegetation, tree overhang, shrubs, tents or anything that can burn.
  3. Keep children and pets away from the fire.
  4. Have a way to put the fire out close by like a bucket of water or sand.
  5. Extinguish the fire completely before going to bed. This means every single ember needs to be out.
  6. Never leave a campfire unattended.

Safe Fun in the Sun

Sunburns are miserable…and dangerous. Keep everyone covered throughout the day, even when it’s cloudy. Pick out a sunscreen containing (at least) SPF 30 that protects against UVA and UVB rays. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to further protect yourself from the sun.

Avoiding Heat-Related Illness

Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can cause heat-related illness like heat stroke (sun stroke) and heat exhaustion. Heat-related illness can be deadly…and fortunately, preventable.

When your body is unable to cool itself, you are at risk to suffer from heat stroke, the most serious heat-related illness. Heat exhaustion is caused when you lose too much water and salt through sweating.

How to Prevent Heat Exhaustion

  • Avoid strenuous exercise in the heat of the day.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Replenish salt and minerals with sports drinks.
  • Avoid alcohol and sugary drinks like sodas.
  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored and breathable clothing.

There really are no hard and fast rules when it comes to camping (except following the rules of Leave No Trace.) We each have our own style and have to figure out our own groove. I did, through trial and error with the building blocks my parents provided me when I was young. Each camping trip provides a new opportunity to learn something for the next trip. The more you camp, the more you will be able to add to your camping safety gear and checklist.

Do you have any camping safety tips? Leave them in the comment section.