This is our ultimate list of camping safety tips.
Camping is one of the best hobbies you can take up. You get to have fun and be close to nature, but being close to nature isn’t always entirely safe.
There are a few safety tips to keep in mind when you’re heading out into the wilderness. Use these tips as a camping safety guide:
- Practice campfire safety
- Be prepared for the weather
- Learn about local wildlife
- Eat and drink safely
- Be careful near water
- Use sun protection
- Minimize bug bites
- Avoid poisonous plants
- Protect against carbon monoxide poisoning
There’s a lot to cover here, so prepare for lots of tips on the different aspects of camping safety.
Choose the Right Shelter and Campsite
Choosing the right shelter and campsite is the first step towards any kind of safety when camping.
If you camp in the wrong area with a low-quality tent, then you’re setting yourself up for disaster.
Choosing the Appropriate Tent
There’s a lot that goes into choosing a tent, but if you’re a beginner, then you may favor an instant tent for ease of use. Consider the 16 best instant tents for every type of camper.
Selecting a tent with the right features will ensure the tent remains stable, keeps you appropriately warm, and shields you from the elements. These factors contribute to your safety and comfort on the trip.
Here are a few things that you should heap in mind when choosing a tent:
- Ensure your tent has a hydrostatic head rating of at least 1,000, ideally 2,000 to 3,000, along with taped seams and ideally a bathtub floor
- Make sure your tent has UV protection
- Choose a seasonally appropriate tent; 3-season tents are best for spring and fall camping, and 4-season tents keep you warmer in winter
- Get the right size; two people should camp in a 4-person tent, four people should camp in a 6-person tent, etc.
- Ensure your tent comes from a reputable brand; Core, Coleman, and Ozark are fantastic
Choosing a Campsite for Car Camping
Choosing a campsite isn’t just about researching a place nearby and getting in there. First, you have to consider whether you want to book a spot or go walk up camping.
Learn all about walk up campgrounds in depth if you’d like.
If you choose to book your site in advance, then check out the different ones available online at Recreation.gov. Select the cleanest, flattest site you can, and look for a windbreak if possible. Avoiding debris and harsh winds will ensure your tent doesn’t get damaged.
Camping on a site strewn with debris that you can’t clear may damage your tent, as that debris could be sharp and rip the bottom of the tent.
Meanwhile, camping on a slope may cause you to roll if you move in your sleep. You might end up sleeping against the tent wall. This will be uncomfortable, and you’ll likely end up covered in condensation if your tent isn’t ventilated well.
If you must camp in a sloped area, then choose the top of the hill. Camping at the bottom will let your tent flood if it rains.
You want to avoid getting caught in an area that’s easily bombarded by water and wind.
Camping in a windbreak will ensure you’re protected from harsh winds, and that will stop your tent from collapsing in on you. Even the sturdiest tents can buckle in extreme winds.
Choosing a Campsite for Backpackers
Backpackers should settle down somewhere that somebody has already camped, so bring a map that lets you know where common camping sites are.
If it’s not marked on the map, then doing a little research should clue you in as to where people usually camp on the trail. Ask a park ranger if you can’t find information online. Trails are full of hazards, but previously-used camping spots are likely to be safe.
Make sure your setup is at least 200 feet from the trail, and be sure to sleep in a real tent if you know the weather is going to be harsh. Having a proper shelter is essential, as without it, the bad weather may make you sick, and the wind may blow sharp debris at you, causing injury.
Experienced backpackers may be able to get away with a sleeping bag under a tarp, but beginners should always start with an ultralight tent.
Getting to Know Your Site
Whether you’re on the trail or at a regular campsite, you need to be knowledgeable about the area.
Research the area around your campsite, and make sure you know if there are any hazards nearby. Take note of the campsite’s rules, too; some have limitations on tent size, some may not allow pets, and there are more rules to consider depending on the site.
You should also make sure to memorize what different hazard signs around the campsite mean before you head out. This will make sure you stay as safe as possible throughout your trip. Some signs you may encounter include:
- Danger of falling: A crumbling cliff or sharp edge with a person falling beside it
- Deep water: A wavy line and a long arrow extending from the line to the bottom of the sign
- Beware of bears: Bear silhouettes
- Loose rocks: Rocks falling down a cliff face, sometimes onto a figure with raised arms
- Electricity hazard: Lightning bolt with an arrow on the end
Sometimes the signs are self-explanatory, as there’ll be a figure on them that’s experiencing the danger (like a drowning person). Some signs also have lettering alerting you of the danger, as this product depicts, pictured below.
Unfortunately, some, like as this product depicts, lack the lettering:
You’ll have to rely on yourself to know what it means.
Practice Campfire Safety
A campfire is a quintessential part of camping. You gather around, get cozy, roast marshmallows, and tell ghost stories.
But you also need to ensure you stay safe. Keep pets on leashes, and make sure you teach your kids about proper fire safety.
Following the tips below will also ensure you practice campfire safety.
Know the Rules
Different campsites will have different rules about what you can and can’t do with a campfire. Some disallow campfires, some need them to be a certain size, and some only let you build them at certain times.
The USDA has rules related to campfires while camping that you can read here, on page two.
Individual campsites may have campfire-related rules on their websites, and some will give you a list of rules when you arrive. If you have any questions about campfires, then ask your park ranger.
You may also see signs that have a depiction of a fire with a red arrow through it. This means campfires are prohibited on the site.
Use A Pit
If the site has a pit, then build your fire in it. However, if there’s no fire pit, then you’ll need to make your own.
Lay down a circle of stones, then dig a pit about 6 inches deep inside the circle. Make sure you’re away from grass, trees, and bushes. The only grass nearby should be the dried grass or leaves that you’re using as kindling.
Minimize Fire Popping
Once you create your bit, build your fire as safely as possible. Minimizing popping will make the fire much safer!
Sparks from popping fire vary in size and may fly out of the campfire area, landing on and burning anyone sitting around it.
But, why does a campfire pop? If you don’t know, then you should learn before you try building one. Learning why a campfire pops will help you minimize that popping. Spoiler alert: dry fuel/wood = less popping!
Don’t Leave Your Fire Unobserved
Ensure there’s at least one person with the fire at all times, and put it out before you go to bed. Don’t assume that it’ll burn itself out.
Keep a bucket of water nearby to throw on your fire to put it out. It’s also useful to keep this water nearby in case your fire gets out of control.
Make sure you know how to put your fire out properly, too:
- Dump water on the fire
- Move the ashes around with a stick
- Put more water on the fire pit
Use Fireproof Cookware
Do you plan on roasting sausages or toasting marshmallows over your fire? Then you’re going to need fireproof cooking gear. Stainless steel is an excellent fireproof material.
Sticking with cookware made of stainless steel will ensure you and the cookware stay safe, and your food will be cooked to perfection. Look for gear made specifically for camping, too, as it’s likely to be lighter.
If you’re looking for a fireproof, stainless steel camping cookery set, then the BeGrit Backpacking Camping Cookware will do nicely. It’s lightweight, and it’s the perfect size for camping with. Make sure each piece is clean and cool before packing it away!
You can use other metals over a campfire, but be sure to know their melting points. You’ll find them in this article which answers the question, “How hot is a campfire?”
Be Prepared for the Weather
The weather is erratic and changeable, and it’s a good idea to know the weather conditions that you’re heading out into on every camping trip.
If you camp exclusively when the skies are clear and the winds are tolerable, then you’ll be fine. However, you should always be prepared for getting caught up in extreme weather. It’s highly unlikely that you will be, but it’s better to be over-prepared than underprepared.
Preparing for the Worst: Camping in a Storm
Bring extra supplies, a tarp, a spare rainfly, and a few towels so you’re always ready for an unexpected change in the weather.
You can keep this extra gear in your car. You won’t need it 99.99% of the time, but it’s smart to be ready for torrential rain and windstorms.
Leave your tent during severe weather, such as a thunderstorm. Ideally, you’ll take shelter in an established building nearby, but your car will suffice in emergencies.
If you can’t leave your tent during a thunderstorm, then don’t touch your tent’s poles or walls. Burrow down in your sleeping bag, and put as many layers between you and the ground as you can.
Make Sure Your Tent Can Cope
If you plan on camping in potentially difficult weather, then you need to know that your tent can cope with harsh weather conditions.
Read reviews of your tent before making a purchase. See what people are saying about their tent regarding severe weather.
If you’re looking for a tent that you can trust, then read all about the 10 best waterproof tents. They’ll certainly keep you dry if you’re camping in the wind and rain.
Be Ready for Cold Weather
Are you considering going cold weather camping? These 41 cold weather camping tips will be of great help.
Here are a quick few safety tips for camping in cold weather
- Use a winter tent
- Bring lots of extra blankets and clothes
- Don’t bring pets if you think it’ll be too cold for them
- Know the signs of hypothermia
- Don’t be ashamed to go home if it’s too cold for you
- Don’t swim during the day when you know it’s going to be freezing that night
Learn About Local Wildlife
Bear attacks are a very real threat on some campsites. Some campsites are frequented by wolves, too, and even cougars!
Know what wildlife is in an area before you visit it, and be prepared to deal with them in the rare case of an attack. The best way to deal with an attack is to play dead, and make sure you carry bear spray.
And be sure to read up on how to defend yourself against the animals in the area!
Thankfully, wildlife will rarely attack you, and there are a few things you can do to lessen the chances of an encounter even further.
There’s no way to fully eliminate the odor from your food and drink. Soaps, deodorants, and other toiletries with scents can also attract the animals.
You can’t just not bring these things with you. However, you could:
- Hang your food 10 feet from the ground in a plastic bag
- Keep your food in your car or RV
- Use certified food storage containers
These will keep your tent odor-free.
Change Your Clothes
Change your clothes before you go to bed, and never cook in your pajamas. The smell will linger on your clothing, and it could entice a bear to attack you while you sleep.
Store the clothing you cooked in with your food and scented items.
Keep Pets On a Leash
Even if you have the most well-behaved pet in the world, they need to be on a leash. Animals are curious about other animals, and your exploring dog might end up bringing a bear to your campsite.
Eat and Drink Safely
You need to bring a variety of safe, healthy food on a camping trip. Plan your meals, and make sure there’s enough food and water to last the duration of your trip.
Bring plenty of food that won’t spoil, such as canned goods and freeze-dried foods. If you’re going to bring fresh foods, then make sure you store raw and cooked foods separately.
Here are a few tips you can employ when dealing with food:
- Use waterproof containers
- Always cook your food thoroughly
- Bring hand sanitizer to wash up before and after a meal
- Bring a cooler or insulated container for cold foods
- Bring active antibacterial wipes to clean chopping boards and utensils
- Practice cooking with your camping stove before heading out
Also, make sure that you have plenty of water with you. Bring more clean water than you need. You’ll need water for cooking, washing dishes, washing your hands, and drinking.
Never assume that you’re going overboard when it comes to water and food safety.
If you do find that you don’t have enough water with you, particularly on long hikes and backcountry camping, then you’ll need to know how to purify any water you collect.
Boiling water is the easiest, most effective purification method. To be even safer, bring 2% tincture of iodine on your trip. Add two drops of this per liter of clear water or 10 drops per liter of cloudy/colored water. Wait 30 minutes before drinking this purified water.
Be Careful Near Water
Speaking of water, it’s not just drinking water that you have to be careful with. There are plenty of lakes and rivers near campsites; you need to ensure that you practice proper water safety around them.
If you plan on doing water-based activities, then don’t go camping alone. Anything could happen whether you’re at the water’s edge out on a boat, so bring a friend with you.
You and your campmates need to employ these general water safety tips:
- Shower after you swim: There could be parasites and diseases lurking in the water
- Wear a lifejacket in a boat: Even if the water is shallow, you never know what can happen
- Warm up after swimming: You’ll grow colder as the water dries, particularly in cold weather, so dry yourself thoroughly and do some vigorous activity after you finish swimming
- Know how to swim properly: Take some basic swimming lessons if you can’t already swim, as swimming may save your life one day
Use Sun Protection
High-quality tents come with a UV protective coating, but you still need to wear sunscreen while in your tent.
Plus, your tent is going to be incredibly hot if you stay in it all day. You’ll want to spend time outdoors, enjoying nature. For that, you need a screen tent.
Any screen tent you purchase should have a fabric roof, but the walls should be fully see-through and covered in mesh. The roof needs UV protection, too.
I recommend the Alvantor Screen House if you’re looking for a screen tent, as it has the qualities above.
Alongside that, ensure you wear sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30, and reapply this every two hours. Wear long sleeves to add further protection from UV rays. Wearing a sunhat would be a good idea, too.
Minimize Bug Bites
Bug bites are a major issue while camping. You need to bring bug spray, and consider sitting in a screen tent (as mentioned above) to ensure bugs can’t attack during the day.
The most common pests you’ll deal with are:
Most of these aren’t drastically dangerous, but they can bite you and infest your gear.
The best thing you can do to minimize bug bites is to use bug and mosquito repellant on your clothes, skin, and gear. The spray by Spritz is safe for adults, kids, and pets, and it works well to get rid of all types of biting flies.
Lastly, make sure food waste is disposed of properly and all food is sealed up safely. This should stop ants from ransacking your things.
Dealing With Venomous Bites and Stings
There’s not much you can do for bug bites when they occur other than cleaning the bite and making sure you don’t get bitten again.
Most bites aren’t a huge deal unless you’re allergic to wasps or mosquitos. If you are, then you’re going to need medical attention, so end your camping trip ASAP and consult a doctor.
The most threatening thing you’ll deal with, however, is spiders.
Most spiders aren’t dangerous, but there are a few species with excruciatingly painful bites due to their venom. This video will help you identify venomous spiders:
Avoid the spiders from the video, and if you think you’ve been bitten by one, then here are some tips:
Avoid Poisonous Plants
Don’t eat any berries or mushrooms that you find in the woods.
It takes years to learn to safely identify edible plants and berries, so unless you’re an expert, never take that risk.
With that out of the way, now all you have to worry about is avoiding touching poisonous plants.
There are three main poisonous plants to look out for.
Poison ivy has three leaves, a long middle leaf, can have a glossy or dull surface, and can have a smooth or toothed edge.
Poison oak looks like an oak leaf, it’s covered in hairs on both sides, dull green, and is distinctly toothed.
Poison sumac has sagging white/light green berries and smooth edges on the stems.
This video will teach you more about identifying poisonous plants:
If you touch one of the plants listed above, then wash your skin with soapy water or rubbing alcohol, and rinse off well. Laundry detergent and dishwashing soap work better than regular soap.
The sooner you wash the skin, the better!
Protect Against Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Staying warm in and out of your tent is vital. Using an appropriate propane outdoor gas heater is fantastic for this. Using heaters outdoors will ensure the area is well ventilated, and you’re not at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning while outdoors.
However, you’re going to need to heat the inside of your tent too, and you’ll need a heater specifically made for tents. Propane heaters are safe in tents, but you have to choose the right one and take precautions.
Look for a heater that switches off if it falls over and shuts down if it detects low oxygen levels.
The Mr. Heater Buddy has both of those features, and this helps protect against carbon monoxide poisoning.
Keep your tent ventilated while you’re using the heater, and you shouldn’t have any issues. Closing your tent’s vents will raise your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Finally, there are a few tips to implement that are good practice while camping:
- Ensure you’re in good health before camping
- Learn what your allergies are before you go camping; bring allergy medication if needed
- Bring a first-aid kit and know how to use what’s inside it
- Tell someone at home where you are, and tell them when to expect you home
- Keep tech devices fully charged in case of emergencies; bring multiple portable power banks when backpacking
- Utilize Google Maps when needed
- Always use a regular map as well as Google Maps, because phone data is inconsistent
- Camp with a buddy when possible
- Bring pepper spray in case of attackers on the campsite
- Bring extra shoes in case yours get damaged/wet
The Bottom Line
Staying safe when camping is vital, and employing the tips above will give you the best chance of having a seamless camping trip. Consider using this article as a checklist before each camping trip, so you can be sure that you’re hitting all the marks to stay safe.
Always be informed and educated about where you’re going, and make sure someone knows where you are during every trip. It’s highly unlikely that something will go wrong on your camping trip, but if it does, these tips will ensure you’re prepared for anything.