Do You Know The Basics Of Safe Camping?

It’s no use going out into the wilderness if you don’t come back.

​​​​Read this quick guide on basic camp safety to learn tips, tactics and resources to stay safe when you’re out there.

We’ll cover:

  • Wild animals
  • Temperature safety
  • Fire safety
  • Not getting lost
  • Basic first aid resources

With a little information, you’ll be better prepared for your next camp or hike.

Bears

Black bear on a trail.

Seeing a bear on the trail is equal parts terrifying and exhilarating.

Staying safe is the most important thing.

While bear encounters happen often, bear attacks are relatively rare.

A few guidelines and resources to stay safe in bear country:

Make yourself known:

  • The best way to avoid a bear is to let it avoid you. In areas where bears are known to be present, make noise (talk, clap, sing) as you approach any blind corners or bends in the trail.
  • If you see a bear before it sees you, slowly and quietly back away.

Food:

  • A bear’s sense of smell is better than a dog’s. Keep food and garbage sealed. Scented toiletries attract bears. Treat them like food.
  • At camp, hang your food at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet off from the trunk of any tree.
  • Sleep 100 yards away from your food. Don’t keep any food in your tent.

If you see a bear:

  • Do not run. Bears can run 35 mph. You cannot.
  • Speak calmly, confidently in a monotone to let the bear know you are a human
  • As you slowly back away...
  • Do not make eye contact.
  • Most bears will leave the area once they determine you are not a threat.

Many people encounter bears, few are attacked. But it does happen.

Carry bear spray and read these general bear facts as well as facts for the area you will be in.

Cougars

A cougar on the rock.

Also known as mountain lions, pumas and panthers.

Encounters with these big cats are even rarer than bear encounters. But the same principles apply.

Make your presence known and they will almost always avoid you.

Keep food sealed and away from you at night. Read more about what to do in an encounter here and here.

Stay Warm, Keep Cool

Hypothermia and heat stroke are dangerous but avoidable.

Being prepared and knowing the signs will keep you at the right temperature.

Cold Weather Camping

Follow these tips to avoid cold weather trouble before it starts.

  • Make sure you have enough gear to keep you warm.
  • Layers are key, especially a waterproof outer layer so you...
  • Avoid getting wet.
  • Stay fed and hydrated. Your body uses a lot of fuel to keep you warm. Feed the fire.
  • Make sure your sleeping bag and/or hammock quilt is rated for at least 15º colder than the coldest night time temps you are expecting.

Signs Of Hypothermia

Keep an eye out for these signs, both for yourself and for other campers.

During the later stages of hypothermia, a person no longer feels cold, and death can result. See the signs before it gets to that point.

  • Shivering
  • Difficulty with coordination
  • Speech problems
  • Incoherence

What To Do

If you notice any of the above signs, do something about it immediately.

Possible treatments include:

  • Jumping jacks, short bursts of exercise can warm a body at the early stages of hypothermia.
  • Move to shelter (a tent out of the wind if nothing else).
  • Add dry layers, remove wet ones
  • Hydrate
  • Get help

Hot Weather Camping

Stay cool by wearing the right clothes and hiking at the right times of day.

  • In severe heat, hike in the mornings and late afternoons
  • Keep the sun off with a wide brimmed hat and a light-colored, long sleeve shirt in a breathable fabric
  • Keep hydrated (A hydration bladder will encourage you to drink more and more often)
  • Neck wrap - a wet bandana around your neck can help cool you
  • Seek or create shade (Set your tent up in the shade or try to create shade with your tent tarp)

Signs Of Heat Stroke/Heat Exhaustion

Keep your eyes out for any of these signs among people in your group.

They could be signs of heat exhaustion:

  • Sudden muscle cramping
  • Rapid pulse
  • Heavy sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Disorientation

What To Do

If you notice any of the above signs of heat stress, it’s time to do something about it.

  • Find shade and rest
  • Cool down - remove clothing, pour water on the head
  • Drink water
  • Seek help

Hypothermia, heat exhaustion and heat stroke can be deadly.

Wear the right gear, stay hydrated and know the signs. Act immediately to keep yourself and your fellow campers safe.

Fire Safety

The 2 major dangers from campfires are the possibility of wildfire and burn injuries to campers.

Stay safe from both with the guidelines below.

Avoiding Wildfires

Before you go, make sure you know the fire rules in your camping area.

In certain areas and at certain times of year all fires are prohibited.

There’s a good reason for this. Don’t cheat the rules and risk starting a wildfire.

Camping rules.

Some areas will not allow campfires but will allow you to use a camp stove. Find out the rules before you go and learn how your camp stove works.

It’s no use to carry a stove to your campsite and realize you’re missing a component to use it safely.

If you do light a campfire, make sure it is fully extinguished before you bed down for the night and before you leave the campsite.

To make sure it’s out:

  • Douse the fire with water
  • Stir the ashes with the dirt below
  • Touch it with your hand. If it’s not cool to the touch, it’s still too hot

Use the same precautions with your camp stove as you would with a campfire. Don’t burn when extremely windy.

Clear the area around the fire from all flammable debris (leaves and twigs) and never use any fire in or near tents or hammocks.

Avoiding Injury

Stay safe from burns by using extra awareness around fire.

Keep the area around your campfire free of trip hazards.

Take a look at your campsite.

Does a natural traffic pattern (like from the tent to the picnic table) cross near the fire? Consider moving the tent so campsite traffic flows around and not across the fire area.

When bringing a camp stove, make sure you know how to use it before you head out. Most injuries happen when changing the canister. Read your instructions so you know how to do it right.

Before lighting your stove, check for leaks that may have developed in transport.

Campfires (and hot food from camp stoves) are part of the fun of camping.

Respecting fire and taking extra care around it will keep you and the wilderness around you safe.

Stay Found

Campers looking at map.

Should you ever lose your way when camping or backpacking, it will be 1,000 times easier to find you if rescue workers know where to look.

This is why you absolutely have to leave checkin information with friends, relatives and/or park officials.

Even if you think it will just be a short trip, even if you are car camping. Storms, vehicle failures, dead cell phones — any number of things can happen.

You are much safer if you tell people your plans.

Tell them:

  • Where you plan on going, including specific trails
  • What you’re wearing (color of your windbreaker, etc)
  • When you plan to be back
  • At what time you will check in

If you miss your check in time, friends and family should notify officials (National Park Service, Forest Service, etc). Likelihood of a lost hiker being found goes up the sooner the search begins.

Navigation

GPS devices are excellent tools. Learn to use your particular model and be sure the map of the area you’re exploring is downloaded onto your device before you go (in case you don’t have a signal). 

Just remember, electronic devices can die or become damaged.

If you’re heading into the backcountry, it’s a good idea to also learn how to read and carry a topographical map and compass.

If you’re backpacking, you might also consider getting a satellite communicator. It’ll keep you in touch with the folks back home and can be used to signal for help should the need arise.

Learn First Aid

First aid kit close-up.

Carrying a basic first aid kit is a good first step.

Knowing basic first aid is a good second step.

To really stay safe out there, consider taking a course on wilderness first aid offered by the Red Cross, a local store, or your local community college.

Not only will you know what to do in an emergency, that knowledge will help keep you calm. A level head improves the outcome of any difficult situation.

Be Prepared… So You Can Have Fun

Hopefully no calamity will strike and you can simply enjoy your time camping and hiking in the great outdoors.

Being prepared, avoiding danger and knowing what to do will set your mind at ease and make the time you spend in the wild significantly more satisfying.

How about you? Is there anything we missed? Any tips you have for camping safety?

We’d love to hear about it!

About the Author

After spending 5 years testing gear, meeting people and exploring his home state of Colorado with his wife, Andrej realized something about the outdoor industry. Mostly, that it was complicated. Andrej set out to create no-nonsense gear that was just as easy to use as it was reliable. He recruited a team of wilderness professionals and educators and hit the drawing board. The result was simple gear that you could trust, with specs you understood. Now he’s inspiring others to get out there and explore, by giving them the confidence to trust both themselves and the gear they use.

>
» ANNO​​​​UNCEMENT OUR SHOP IS LIVE!