“Camping, backpacking, fastpacking, thru-hiking, boondocking, roughing it, glamping…” There are so many terms to describe the different ways we sleep outdoors. Everyone has a different style, favorite location, essential gear, and reason for camping out.
Camping has almost doubled over the past two years, accounting for more than 40% of all leisure trips. Almost 94 million Americans went camping just last year, and at least 9.1 million households went camping for the first time.
Regardless of what you call it, camping involves many small decisions that can make the difference between a wonderful experience and a miserable suffer-fest. Outdoor health plays a fundamental role in camping because you bring your home with you.
Are you prepared for your next campout? Whether it’s your first adventure or your 100th excursion, these are my top three hazards to avoid for a successful, safe camping trip.
1. Burns (and sunburns)
Will you use a stove or campfire? Do you have the right medications and know-how to treat a burn? Don’t ruin your camping trip with a s’mores injury! Safe camping starts with fire safety.
- Always keep a close eye on kids whenever a fire is nearby
- Pack antibiotic cream and non-adherent bandages for dressing burns
Remember that the most common type of burn outdoors is actually a sunburn. Stay on top of sun protection to ensure a comfortable campout.
- Bring your SPF sunblock and a hat
- Wear sunglasses as your eyeballs can get a sunburn (spoiler alert, it really hurts)
- Be extra cautious around water and snow, which refract light and increase the burn potential
- Be aware of the power of the sun at high altitudes (the intensity of ultraviolet radiation increases about 3% for every 1000 feet of elevation gained)
- Reapply that sunblock more often than you think you need to!
2. Tick bites
There are more ticks than ever these days, especially in the warm summer months. They can carry nasty infections like Lyme disease, but removing them within 36 hours will substantially reduce the chances of transmission and illness.
If you are traveling in an area known to have tick-borne illnesses, learn the signs and symptoms of these diseases. A little knowledge of how to safely remove a tick can provide a lot of peace of mind.
- Wear protective clothing like long-sleeved shirts and pants
- Utilize repellants with chemicals like DEET or Picardin to treat skin and clothing
- Perform regular tick checks on people and pets
- Know how to safely remove a tick and watch for signs of infection
3. Poison ivy, poison oak, and other rashes
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest meant summers full of strawberries. Since moving to California, I think tomatoes… and poison oak.
Summer rashes from toxic plants can range from a mild itch to horrific oozing sores like an infestation out of an old John Carpenter horror movie. (For real, it can be gnarly.)
If you’re camping in an area with toxic plants, be aware; travel with care.
- Learn to recognize poison ivy, poison oak, and other toxic plants (their appearance can differ by region and season)
- Consider wearing taller socks and long pants
- Bring a soap or scrub to help wash off oils after a potential exposure
- Pack calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to treat itchy rashes
What are you waiting for?
When I think of camping, it brings a distinct compilation of sensations to mind: the sound of the wind as it rushes through the tops of tall pine trees, shakes my tent, and then fades away… the sight of the morning sunlight marching across the valley as a bright line, pushing back the cold, dim dawn… the vitalizing shock of icy lake water on sweaty skin after a long day hiking in the high Sierra mountains… the smell of campfire smoke in the summer.
Camping is a fully immersive way to explore and connect with the outdoors. You get a unique satisfaction from making a home away from your regular comfort zone and the trappings of civilization — even for just one night.
If you’re new to camping, there’s no better time to get out there! Car camping is a great way to drive out and spend the night not far from your vehicle.
If you’re ready to push your comfort zone, the wilderness has so much more to offer. Solitude in nature can be incredible, and the stars are amazing.
Get prepared for safe camping
Plan and prepare for your next campout with the GOES Health App, featuring our full archive of expert knowledge. With a premium subscription, you can get 24/7 access to our team of wilderness medicine physicians and our offline-enabled digital health assessment tool.
Stay safe and have fun!