Camping is the best way to kick back and enjoy the great outdoors, but if you relax too much, it’s easy to forget that dangerous things can be just around the corner.
From wild animals to wildfires, dangerous things can happen when camping, so we put together a list to help you stay alert and safe on your next camping trip.
When you know what to watch out for and learn how to avoid dangerous camping conditions, you’ll help ensure everyone in your party has a great time and comes home safely!
- 1. Wild Animals
- 2. Contaminated Water and Bad Sanitation
- 3. Campfire or Grill Burns
- 4. Snake Bites
- 5. Broken or Sprained Body Parts from Slips and Falls
- 6. Wildfires
- 7. Severe Weather
- 8. Insect Bites
- 9. Poisonous Plants
- Camping Dangers Wrap Up
1. Wild Animals
Of the 9, big and small wild animals can be dangerous if you encounter them during camping trips and want to avoid them. Bears are a top concern for northern camping destinations, but mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, moose, elk, and deer can do severe damage if you aren’t careful.
Even cute little field mice can carry hantavirus and pass along hantavirus pulmonary syndrome to humans. This illness affects the lungs, digestive tract, and other body parts, making you very sick.
Mating and birthing seasons are especially dangerous times when males may be defending territory or females are protecting their young. So staying extra alert while out on hikes or hanging around your campsite is imperative.
How to Protect Against Animal Encounters During Camping Trips
To avoid having bears or other animals visiting your campsite, you must store any food or smelly personal items like lotion, deodorant, or toothpaste in airtight plastic bags inside a sealed tote or backpack. Hang the tote or backpack from a tree limb at least 100 feet from your campsite. If your camp has bear-proof metal boxes, use them.
Even a tiny bit of trail mix or cracker crumbs can attract mice or rats to enter your tent, so don’t eat or store food there. Instead, pick a designated area outside your tent for eating, and clean up quickly to reduce the smells of food traveling in the wind.
When hiking, make noise if you’re in any territory with dangerous animals. Talking loudly, playing music, or wearing a bell like the Coghlan’s Bear Bell will let animals notice you are nearby and allow them to move away.
If you encounter a black bear or other animals, stop, spread your arms wide, and slowly move backward until you have enough distance to safely turn around and head in the other direction.
You can use an animal repellent spray like Counter Assault Bear Spray if you feel an animal is ready to attack. Always carry some and keep it outside your backpack or in an easily accessible clothes pocket because you may only have seconds to grab and use it. Most sprays can shoot 20-30 feet, so the faster you can disperse the liquid and distract the animal, the better chance you can escape unharmed.
2. Contaminated Water and Bad Sanitation
Finding potable water while on a remote camping trip can be a challenge. Even water from a crystal clear spring can harbor dangerous pathogens that make your intestines feel like they are going through a shredder.
Taking bathroom breaks while on the hiking trail or in a camp without facilities can also leave traces of fecal matter on your hands that is hard to remove without running water.
Carrying in jugs of fresh water to drink, wash, and cook with when camping can leave some canisters exposed to the weather for many days. This can increase the chance germs will enter and replicate enough to cause illness to anyone who ingests it.
How to Avoid Sickness from Contaminated Water or Dirty Hands While Camping
To avoid problems with cryptosporidium, giardia, and norovirus that hide in freshwater rivers, lakes, and springs, you should always carry a water filter system or water purifying tablets.
A LifeStraw, Survimate Filtered Water Bottle, or Aquatabs Water Purification Tablet will kill or remove dangerous pathogens so you can stay safely hydrated.
Hand sanitizer is the best option for cleaning hands after using the bathroom or before cooking meals since it doesn’t require using up precious water supplies. However, for hand sanitizer to work, you must use a generous amount and rub all parts of your hands together until the liquid dries.
3. Campfire or Grill Burns
Cooking over the campfire or a grill puts everyone in close proximity to dangerously hot flames and metal cookware that will instantly burn if it contacts the skin. Once a campfire is out, it’s easy to forget that hot embers could be hiding underneath the ashes or that the metal cooking grate is still too hot to handle.
Another concern with burns is hot embers falling onto your tent or clothing and starting a fire. Fire safety should be a top priority, no matter how experienced a camper you are. Even fire-proof tent material can melt and stick to the flesh, causing severe burns.
How to Avoid Burns When Cooking During Camping Trips
Start by building any campfire or cooking station as far from your tent as possible to keep flying embers from burning fabrics or people. Another reason to keep fires away from tents is to prevent people from accidentally tripping into hot coals if they leave the tent in the dark of night to relieve themselves.
Have a stable place to set down hot pots and pans cooking over the fire. It can be a camp table, a flat stone, bare ground, or a metal pan. Keep flammable items like towels, napkins, food boxes, matches, and lighter fluid far from the grill or fire pit.
If there is no firepit, use stones to create a barrier to alert camping guests of the danger. Clear leaves and other natural debris from a five-foot wide swath of ground around your fire to stop sparks from spreading to the forest or grass.
4. Snake Bites
Of these 9 dangerous things, snakes are up there because they tend to leave people alone, but they will bite if you get too close, startle them, or have the unfortunate event of stepping on one, so avoid these when you go camping at all cost. Venomous rattlesnakes inhabit many parts of the US, and you may also encounter cottonmouths, copperheads, and coral snakes.
Even bites from non-venomous snakes can pack a punch or get infected, so it pays to always be on high alert.
How to Avoid Snake Bites While Camping
Avoiding snakes while camping means avoiding stepping too close to fallen logs, rocks, piles of leaves, or near holes. All these places are ideal for snakes to hide out, waiting for prey to come along.
Snakes love to warm themselves in sunny areas after chilly nights, so take time to scan anywhere you plan to walk or sit.
Carry a long stick when walking around your campsite or on trails, and use it to flush out any hiding snakes before you step too close. Wearing leg protection, like Apkaf Snake Gaitors, while hiking can provide an extra layer to stop snake fangs from penetrating the skin if they strike.
5. Broken or Sprained Body Parts from Slips and Falls
Hiking or exploring the wilderness puts everyone in danger of slipping or falling with mud, loose rocks, moving waters, and uneven terrain.
How to Avoid Bodily Injury When Hiking and Camping
The first line of protection against accidental injury is never to take on terrain above your skill and physical level. Always wear the appropriate footwear for the journey, whether it’s non-slip shoes for crossing rocky creek beds or hiking boots with extra ankle support.
Camping trips are not the time to test your boundaries regarding rock climbing, white water rafting, or other sports, especially if you aren’t with an experienced partner. Have fun, but use good judgment to traverse trails, wade through water, or climb hills safely.
In the list of 9 dangerous things to avoid while camping, A small campfire can turn into an out-of-control wildfire in the blink of an eye, so always follow the rules to keep all fires contained. However, lightning strikes can also start wildfires.
If you’re out hiking and see a wildfire coming your way, or if you accidentally start a wildfire that you cannot contain immediately, you’ll need to evacuate the area and alert authorities as soon as possible.
Shifting winds can blow a wall of flames through dry grasslands or forest leaf litter fast, so don’t delay heading for safety.
How to Avoid Starting a Wildfire
Follow these basic rules for campfire safety:
- Always use a contained fire pit
- Don’t keep matches and other flammable items near the fire
- Never build a fire on windy days
- Never leave a campfire unattended
- Completely extinguish flames and embers before leaving the campsite
- Keep fires as small as possible to lessen blowing embers
7. Severe Weather
Weather extremes can pose real dangers to campers if you aren’t ready for all the possible scenarios, from tornadoes to lightning storms, to freezing temperatures or hot and humid days.
Flash floods can happen and catch you off guard, or unexpected snowfall could leave you trapped because mountain roads become impassable.
How to Avoid Harm from Extreme Weather While Camping
Practice safe camping techniques and carry the gear for each of these weather-related scenarios:
Dehydration: Ensure you carry enough drinking water for each person to stay hydrated on hot days. One liter every two hours is the minimum to avoid issues.
Hypothermia: Freezing temps or even getting sweaty during a summer hike and then having the night air cool down can bring on hypothermia. Carrying a Swiss Safe Emergency Mylar Thermal Blanket for each party member can help bring body temperatures back to a safe level.
Lighting: If possible, head to an enclosed building or vehicle if you see lightning when camping. A tent or under a tree is unsafe, especially if you are in an otherwise open field.
Flooding: Never set up camp alongside a river, no matter how calm the water appears. Storms miles away can cause water levels to rise quickly and catch you in a flash flood, especially at night when you sleep. Always stay a minimum of 100 feet away from any water source for safety.
In desert regions, don’t camp in dry washes. These “tracks” in the ground indicate where water will flow if it does rain, so avoid them.
8. Insect Bites
Insect bites are almost unavoidable while camping, but you do need to take precautions to stop the transmission of diseases or allergic reactions from mosquitoes, ticks, wasps, bees, spiders, ants, scorpions, and other bugs.
How to Avoid Insect Bites During Camping Trips
The number one way to prevent bug bites is to use an insect repellant that contains picaridin or DEET in a high concentration. Don’t forget to reapply it if you’re sweating or you go swimming.
Check your body for ticks before going to bed. Don’t forget to have someone look in your hair and behind your ears or in other locations that are hard to see. If you see a tick, safely remove it by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and pulling upward until it pops free.
If you see any interesting nests in tree holes or branches, leave them alone. One poke can start a swarm of bees or wasps. Likewise, a pile of soil can indicate fire ants are lurking below, ready to attack anything that disturbs the ground.
Scorpions and spiders love to hide inside shoes or under clothing, so shake everything out before getting dressed.
Stay on cleared paths while hiking, reducing the chance insects will jump onto you from low-hanging branches or foliage.
9. Poisonous Plants
To end this list of the 9 dangerous things to avoid while camping, we’ll talk about poisonous plants. Unless you’ve had years of training in identifying wild plants, berries, and mushrooms, never ingest anything you find in the wild while camping because it could be poisonous.
Some plants’ effects may be a slight gastrointestinal illness, while others can kill you in mere minutes. Many can also cause painful rashes or anaphylactic shock if you touch the leaves.
How to Avoid Rashes or Sickness from Poisonous Plants When Camping
Avoid touching or eating wild plants or berries unless you are 100% certain they are safe. Mushrooms are especially dangerous to eat because edible ones can look nearly identical to poisonous ones.
If you can, carry along The Official US Army Illustrated Guide to Edible Wild Plants to learn more about what is safe to eat at your favorite camping locations.
Poison ivy and poison oak have distinctive leaf patterns you should learn to identify so you can avoid them while hiking or exploring the wilderness.
Tecnu is a great product that can stop a reaction from poison ivy and oak if you can apply it soon enough after exposure. However, washing with soap and water thoroughly also removes the oils that cause rashes.
Lastly, never add poison oak or poison ivy leaves or branches to a campfire because inhaling the smoke can cause serious lung issues.
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Camping Dangers Wrap Up
Please don’t let this guide to camping dangers deter you from taking adventures into the wilderness where you can enjoy all the natural beauty this country offers.
Instead, prepare yourself and your camping party for potential issues so you can react quickly and stay safe if dangerous conditions arise! I hope this article stating the 9 most dangerous things you could face and want to avoid while camping helps you stay alert.
"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt."
-- John Muir