Camping is generally safe. The things beginner campers are usually afraid of like animal attacks or getting lost in the wild rarely happen.
That said, there are still some safety risks you need to be aware of including animal encounters, bad weather, and fires. Here are the top 10 camping safety tips that will make your camping experience safer and more fun.
1. Choose The Right Camping Site
Do a lot of research before choosing your campsite. Understand the risks around the campsite and whether a particular campsite is ideal for your situation.
If, for instance, you are camping with young kids, avoid places with dangerous terrain or many wild animal encounters.
If you are a beginner camper or have a medical condition, avoid camping sites too far away from help. Stick to popular and easily accessible sites.
You’ll also want to avoid camping sites that are likely to experience (or are already experiencing) hazards like wildfires, storms, blizzards and so on.
2. Have The Right Gear
Having the wrong gear can put your safety at risk when outdoors.
For instance, a sleeping bag that’s not warm enough for the weather puts you at risk of hypothermia.
Get camping gear that’s appropriate for the weather and location of the camping site. If you are planning winter camping, for instance, you’ll need a good quality 4 season tent.
If you expect night time temperatures to drop, you need to have warm sleeping gear including the sleeping bag and sleep clothes.
If the camping site has strong winds, make sure you have the right tent and tent stakes.
If it’ll be extremely cold, you may need to pack a heater or consider setting up a hot tent. And if it’ll be raining, don’t forget to pack a rainfly.
3. Watch Out for Extreme Weather
Bad weather is one of the biggest safety risks when camping. Strong winds, heavy snowfall, and even extreme heat can be dangerous if you are not well prepared.
The first step is to choose the right season to camp. For most people, summer camping is the best and safest option.
But watch out for extreme heat and rain. Check the weather forecast of the place you’ll be camping at, including humidity and temperature. Pack the right gear based on the expected weather.
Winter camping is more challenging because of the cold and snow. Check how cold it’ll be (it’ll help you decide whether to pack a 0 degree or 30 degree sleeping bag) and how much snow is expected.
Other weather risks to watch out for include strong winds, storms, and tornadoes.
Bottom line: know what to expect in terms of weather and pack appropriately. In fact, pack for worse weather than the one forecasted. If the expected temperature is 20F, go with a 0 degree sleeping bag.
4. Watch Out For Wild Animals
Wild animals generally stay away from humans. An animal attack is not a major concern when camping.
But some campsites are at a higher risk of dangerous encounters than others (e.g. campsites in bear country).
The most important thing is to know how to avoid attracting wild animals and what to do if you encounter one.
Research the site you’ll be camping at to find out which animals are found there. This will help you determine what to pack (e.g. bear canisters and spray if there are bears around) and make sure you are ready for a possible encounter.
One of the most important tips when it comes to wild animals is to avoid keeping food in your tent. It’ll attract animals. Keep it in your car, outside in a hard sided box or cooler, or in a locker.
5. Be Careful About Food and Water Safety
This is one most people don’t think about. The food and water you depend on for survival could put you at risk.
Be extra-careful that the food you eat and water you drink are safe.
For food safety, storage and handling are important. Meats should stay frozen and separated from other foods. Dairy should stay chilled.
For water safety, it’s best to carry your own water that you trust is safe to drink. If water is provided at the campsite, ask if it is safe for drinking.
If you have to get water from a river or stream, it should only be because it’s an emergency. And even then, you should have a way to treat the water like boiling or using a water filter like LifeStraw.
6. Stay In Communication
Being able to call for help in case of an emergency is one of the most important safety measures when camping.
It’s also important to keep your loved ones aware of where you are and how you are doing.
If the campsite you are going to has good network coverage, your phone is adequate for communication. We recommend carrying a power bank to ensure it stays charged.
If you’ll be camping further out where there’s a chance your phone might not work, carry a different communication device that can work in the backcountry.
Examples include a satellite phone and other satellite communications such as the Garmin inReach and the SPOT X Satellite Messenger.
7. Park Emergency Gear
Prepare for the worst by packing essential emergency gear. It can save your life if you get in danger, whether it’s bad weather, getting lost, or an injury.
Here are some must-haves in your emergency kits. Feel free to add anything you feel is important.
- An emergency communication device such as a Personal Locator Beacon or a GPS device with an SOS function. Such a device lets you call for help and makes it easier for rescuers to find you.
- First aid kit. Remember to include any medication you are on.
- Emergency thermal blanket. It’ll protect you from cold, heat, wind and rain. It can prevent heat stroke, hypothermia and other weather-related health emergencies.
- Power backup for your phone. Get a power bank that can recharge your phone at least 2-3 times.
- Extra batteries for your flashlight.
- Bear spray to keep away wild animals, not just bears.
- Extra food rations just in case your food runs out. A few packets or cans of dried or preserved food are great for emergencies and they take up little room.
- A water filter like LifeStraw to make sure you can drink water from anywhere in case the water you carried runs out.
8. Learn Basic Survival Techniques
Another way to be ready for the worst is to learn some basic survival techniques.
You don’t have to turn into Bear Grylls; just learn a few things that will increase your odds of making it out safely if there’s an emergency.
Some of the techniques you can learn include making a fire using different methods, constructing an emergency shelter, and how to call for help without a communication device.
Here’s a helpful video that illustrates several survival techniques.
9. Check Fire Risks (And Practice Your Own Fire Safety)
Wildfires in the US have gotten bigger and more deadly. You need to be careful to avoid the risk of being caught in a wildfire, and also avoid starting one.
The first step is to check the current status of the location you plan to camp at. Most national parks will have updated information on their website where you can check whether particular spots are currently safe to visit.
Also check the news to see where wildfires are currently raging.
Tip: Don’t just check for wildfires where you’ll be camping; also check whether you’ll pass through any areas with wildfires. You could be easily caught in a wildfire when driving through a forest road.
When you get to the campsite, check the rules regarding fire safety including whether you are allowed to light a fire.
You should also practice fire safety measures such as never leaving a fire unattended and always putting out a fire before going to sleep or leaving.
10. Don’t Camp Beyond Your Comfort, Skills & Experience
There are different levels of camping based on experience and skills.
For instance, we wouldn’t recommend 0-degree winter camping for a first time camper. Nor is it a good idea for a beginner camper to try dispersed camping where there are no facilities.
If you camp beyond your comfort, skills and experience, you are putting yourself in more danger. You likely don’t know how to deal with things like extreme cold and may not even have the right gear.
If you are a beginner camper, start with easy summer camping at well established campsites.
As you learn camping skills, collect more camping gear and get more comfortable being outdoors, you can start pushing yourself further with more challenging camping trips.