When it comes to outdoor recreational activities, there is no denying that camping is at the top of many people’s lists. There is just something truly surreal about spending time in the great outdoors and being one with Mother Nature.
For some folks, it’s all about escaping the hustle and bustle of the fast-paced city life, away from smartphones, computers and gadgets. For others, it’s simply the joy of having unforgettable outdoor moments with family and friends. Camping offers great benefits for both your body and mind, but it is camping safety that will preserve them.
Camping is not just about setting up a tent and building a fire because there are things that you need to keep in mind to ensure an exciting and comfortable outdoor experience. Any seasoned camper will tell you that camping safety is one thing you can’t afford to disregard. Many people underestimate the wilderness and end up learning the hard way.
If you are planning to go on a camping adventure, whether it’s on a local camping site or tackling the Appalachian trail, these camping safety guidelines will teach you basic outdoor survival skills to help ensure a safe, comfortable and fun outdoor experience.
Choosing Your Campsite
Choosing your camping ground is one of the most essential outdoor survival skills you need to learn. It always pays to conduct thorough research in order to find the best camping location that best fits your needs. This is especially important if you are a beginner.
Whether you are camping in a designated area or an unprepared site, here are a couple of things you need to evaluate:
- Is the location close to a water source? Aside from staying hydrated, you will need water for things like cooking food. If you’re close to a water source, you won’t have to lug around water with you. Otherwise, you can at least prepare and bring an ample water supply with you.
- Is the site prone to natural hazards like flash floods, rock falls, avalanches, etc.? Awareness of the local environment is a must if you don’t want to get hurt or worse.
- Is the site government or privately owned? The last thing you want to happen while camping is to have a brush with the law. Depending on the location, you may need to secure the proper documentation and permits to access the site and camp. Additionally, inform yourself about the site’s local regulations and restrictions.
Preparation is the key to a successful outdoor experience. One big aspect of outdoor preparation is securing the essential camping gear and equipment.
These essential items will not just keep your outdoor experience comfortable, they will keep you alive. So prepare to add these items to your shopping list:
- Knife: seasoned campers should ensure that they have a knife with them. They offer so many uses, not just during camping but in daily life as well. Just having a knife with you increases your chances in a survival situation. You can use it for building emergency shelters, cutting rope, opening cans and packages, cutting bandages and more. For camping, we recommend getting fixed blade knives; save the folded knives for less demanding tasks.
- Map and compass: even if you bring your smartphone with you, there’s will likely be no coverage in your camping spot so you can’t rely on your trusty GPS. A map and compass are navigation essentials that will help you find your way in your area, and to and from your car. It goes without saying that you should also learn the necessary skills to use a map and compass. For more tips on how to adjust compass declination, see our earlier article on this topic.
- Medical supplies: being so far away from civilization is no laughing matter. This is especially true if you contract an illness or get injured. When you are out there, a simple wound can take a turn for the worse once it gets infected. Having a first-aid kit handy will enable you to quickly treat anyone in your group that requires medical attention.
- Illumination devices: another one for your checklist is a reliable light source. Whether it be a lantern, headlamp or flashlight, a handy illumination device will keep you from stumbling aimlessly while going to the bathroom in the dark. Bring at least two illumination devices with plenty of extra batteries, or you can opt for solar-powered versions.
- Sun protection: being out in the wild means prolonged exposure to the sun. You might think that a little sunburn is no big deal but those blistering sunburns actually increase your risk of malignant melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer. So bring a sunscreen with you on the day of the trip and apply it 30 minutes before heading out.
- Hydration system / water bottle – pretty self-explanatory. Without water you’ll end up dead. Steer clear of those water sacks or soft bottles since they can be easily punctured and don’t last long. If you’ve got the money, invest in a hydration bladder / engine. Drink at least 16 ounces of water every hour especially if you’re engaging in high-intensity outdoor activities. For the top water bottle, see our piece on this topic.
- Signaling equipment: being in the wilderness means you’ll have no easy way to contact people. If you got separated from your group or become trapped, you need a tool that will signal other people about your location. In this case, a signaling mirror and whistle are good items to have. When it’s dark, an illumination device like a flashlight (preferably with a powerful beam) is great for signaling during emergencies.
- Insect repellents: every camping trips come with bugs. Those crawling and buzzing pests and bugs can easily ruin your outdoor adventure so you will want to keep them away, especially at night. However, there’s a common misconception that one bug spray will work on all types of insects. A good rule of thumb when purchasing a repellant is to read the label and look for a product that contains a DEET concentration of at least 20%. If you want to make your own, see our piece on how to make a DIY insect repellent for information.
- Emergency food – food options that don’t require cooking like granola bars, beef jerky, canned soup and beans, trail mix, peanut butter are all great emergency foods. This is handy during survival situations where cooking food is not an option, such as during a rainfall where you can’t get a fire going.
Choosing Your Tent
Of course, you can’t talk about camping safety without the outdoor essential that is your tent. Unless you fancy sleeping on the ground and challenge the harsh weather of the great outdoors, you need to setup a tent which will serve as your temporary shelter. See our article on the best two-person tents for more information.
Since you’ll be spending considerable amount of time in your tent during the camp, choosing the right one for you is imperative. Choosing a tent can be quite daunting but following the guidelines below will greatly simplify your search.
- Size: the size of your tent should correspond to the number of person that will be sleeping in it. Tents come in many different shapes and sizes which range from a two-person tent to an eight-person pent, and some are even bigger. You can’t go wrong with buying a larger tent than the number of people in your group because you will need the extra space for your gear. Outdoor shops will be more than happy to set up the tent for you so you can determine if it’s the right size.
- Comfort: comfort is another aspect that you should consider when choosing a tent. One factor that’s most important is the ceiling height. Are you able to comfortably sit or stand inside the tent? On top of that, your tent should have good ventilation since it can get uncomfortably hot during high noon. Opt for the type that has a screen window in order to keep you cool.
- Price: of course, your budget is another big factor when buying a tent. The more expensive tents usually offer high durability and can withstand extreme weather conditions. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t find tents at a lower cost. Scour the internet and take advantage of outdoor gear sales. You also want a brand that provides lifetime guarantee to get the most value out of your money.
- Weather conditions: you need a tent that will protect you from the harsh outdoor weather conditions. If there is a slight chance of rain, don’t take any chances and get a waterproof tent, complete with rain cover, durable fabric and waterproof zippers. In most cases, a 3-season tent should get the job done. However, if you are camping in an area with high winds or during winter, a 4-season mountaineering tent is highly recommended. Always bring a tent that’s designed to protect you from the worst weather you expect to encounter.
- Weight: most camping trips will require you to do a fair bit of hiking so weight is also one important factor to consider. While shopping, feel free to test the weight of the tents. Some larger high quality (meaning more expensive) tents are actually lighter than smaller ones. In addition to looking at the actual weight, look for a tent that’s also easy to carry and transport.
- Ease of setup: if you are a newbie camper, consider getting a tent that’s easy to setup. Setting up a tent and taking it down can be quite a chore and use up a lot of energy. There are high quality tents that can only take as little as 6 minutes to setup. This can come in handy if you are expecting to reach the campsite at dusk.
Dress for Success
Wearing the right garments while camping is important if you wish to make the most out of your outdoor experience. It’s all about being comfortable while being out in the wild.
The right clothing will not only help you look the part but it will also protect you from harsh weather conditions that can lead to dangers like hypothermia. Whether it’s hot or cold, the right clothing makes all the difference.
Knowing which clothing to wear also means knowing the trail, the temperature, climate and how long you’re planning to stay outdoors. The following guidelines will teach you how to dress properly for your camping trip.
- Base-layer clothing: this refers to the material worn against your skin which can serve as your pajamas or for daily wear. You might be tempted to wear your favorite cotton tee but please don’t! Cotton will trap sweat and moisture. Aside from being uncomfortable, you will end up getting the chills once the temperature drops. For best base-layer clothing, go for synthetic materials like polypropylene for its moisture-wicking properties. It will keep you cool during the day and warm during the night.
- Camp wear: things can get dirty around the camp. Therefore, you will want to have a designated camp pants or shorts especially if you’ll be doing tasks like cooking or making fire. Whether it’s shorts or pants is entirely up to you and each has their own pros and cons. Just make sure that you bring a thick, durable pair just for camp. Of course, you should bring extra clothes and underwear handy. Change out of your dirty clothes to freshen up.
- Hats: wearing a hat is not just a good way to protect your face from direct, harmful rays of the sun but rain as well. There are specialized hiking hats that are made from water-repellant materials and are breathable in order to keep your head warm and dry in case there’s a downpour.
- Boots / shoes: having the right footwear will prevent you from suffering from aching feet and blisters. There is no shortage of camping boots available in the market but make sure that you choose a pair that’s durable, comfortable and can withstand the conditions of your campsite. While you’re at it, complement your footwear with the right socks. In this case, socks made of wool or synthetic materials are ideal for wicking away moisture.
- Rain clothing: while it’s nice to have a good base layer clothing, bringing along a raincoat is never a bad idea. Not only will it protect you from rain and keep you from being cold and miserable for the rest of the trip, it will also protect your backpack and keep everything inside nice and dry.
Having the right clothes for camping can make all the difference between a miserable and fun trip. So make sure you make conscious and smart choices when choosing camp clothing that’s optimal for you.
Camping safety also means avoiding unpleasant surprises that involve wild animals. Sure, running into some deer can be an exceptional experience but it might also mean that a predator is nearby. Suddenly, you find yourself in a life-threatening situation.
If you are camping in a spot where there’s a high frequency of animal encounters, it is best that you plan accordingly. The worst thing that you can do while camping in the woods is to act like you know everything about the place.
The best practice for animal safety is to avoid them in the first place. Here are some general tips that will help you avoid animal encounters while camping:
- Research your campsite: do your homework and find out if your planned location has a high frequency of animal encounters or not. Doing research beforehand will also enable you to know which animals you can expect to encounter. For beginners, you might want to settle with a site with little to no animal encounters. Otherwise, make sure you go with an experienced outdoor person. In most cases, prepared sites and state parks are generally safe with respect to animal safety.
- Camp away from animal activity: it’s tempting to camp near a picturesque lakeside but this might not be a good idea. Like humans, wild animals are also drawn to a water source. At night, the lakeside can turn into a hub of animal activity. Camp close to a water source but not in the immediate proximity of it.
- Keep your camp clean: any leftovers or uneaten food should be packed and sealed. Animals (especially the bear) can see and smell your food, and won’t hesitate to approach. Aside from preventing an encounter, you don’t really want a bear rummaging through your food supply. If they can’t see or smell your food, they won’t be interested in your campsite. Storing your food in a bear-safe container would be ideal. Obviously, you should never ever take and eat food with you inside the tent.
- Smelling like the great outdoors is fine: some people just can’t seem to give up their colognes and deodorants even during camp. Little did they know, these artificial aromas can also attract wild animals. If you can, do away with wearing “smellables” like colognes, deodorants, lotions, soaps and more.
It wouldn’t be a camping trip without having a campfire to roast marshmallows over, telling campfire stories and creating memories with family and friends. However, campfires can be quite dangerous if not handled with the appropriate safety precautions.
This is especially true during the hot summer weather. Before you unwittingly start a massive forest fire, be sure you keep these fire safety tips in mind:
- Look up and around: fire safety precautions start way before building the fire. When looking for your prospective pit, make sure it’s not near any bushes or trees and not below any low hanging branches. A good rule of thumb is to keep a clear area of about a 8- to 10- foot radius around your campfire
- Safety proof your pit: most campgrounds will have designated rings or pits where you can build your fire. When building your fire pit, see to it that you clear all debris like grass and garbage from around it. If a metal ring is not available, surround the pit with rocks. This will prevent the fire from spreading in case things get out of hand.
- Have fire control means at the ready: a sudden gust of wind can cause the fire to grow larger. Thus, it’s best that you have a bucket of water or dirt and a shovel nearby in case you need to put it out immediately.
- Always keep an eye on the pit: file this under common sense. Always watch the pit to make sure that the fire develops at a safe and controllable rate. Never use flammable liquids for building fire.
- Put it out before bed: it’s not the smartest idea to keep a live fire unattended.
Put out the fire by throwing water or shoveling dirt to the center of the pit.
Make sure there are no embers left and the coals are wet and cold.
Camping is undoubtedly a great way to experience the great outdoors. If you have a camping trip down the line, prepare to have the time of your life.
However, make sure that you exercise proper camping safety steps to ensure the very best outdoor experience that’s not just fun and comfortable but also safe. These tips should help you get on the right track. If we have missed something here, feel free to share in the comments section. Lastly, bookmark and share this article with your fellow campers to help them out.