Water, Weather and Wildlife: Planning a Safe and Satisfying Camping Trip
By Martha Michael
If breathtaking sunrises and starry night skies are among your favorite experiences, you may be one of thousands of Americans looking forward to camping this summer. With a little preparation and some helpful tips, you can make sure your plans for tying flies and toasting marshmallows doesn’t turn into painful accidents or hospital visits.
National parks such as the Grand Canyon are notorious for the number of deaths and injuries caused by falling accidents, but a significant number of people die from preventable causes. They are often unprepared for the triple-digit temperatures.
An article in Food & Wine magazine offers suggestions to prevent possible camping setbacks caused by the weather.
Wind - It can be more than a little annoying when high winds plague your camping experience. When choosing a campsite, it’s best to avoid areas under dead or dying trees that can potentially fall on campers. Be sure your structure is tightly secured with stakes, and use blocks behind the tires of your vehicle. Fold down awnings and other external structures so they don’t collapse and injure someone in heavy gusts.
Extreme heat - Look for a shady spot when choosing your campsite -- especially in the summer. If you’re headed to deserts or areas with a lack of shade trees, bring containers filled with frozen water and ice packs. You can dampen bandanas or other items of clothing to cool down if you get overheated.
Stormy weather - When you’re in the planning stages of your camping vacation, check the weather patterns to see if you’re optimizing the chance of a comfortable stay. If lightning is in the forecast, choose a campsite that isn’t the high point of an open area and refrain from hiking to mountain peaks. Tent camping isn’t a good idea in a lightning storm; you’re safer in a car, an RV, or building with plumbing and electricity.
Because nearly two-thirds of the human body is made up of water, it makes sense that hydration would be one of your greatest concerns while communing with nature. Packing an abundance of drinking water is important wherever you travel, but be sure to include containers for day hikes or other short trips. Many natural areas have poor cell phone service, so you may not have access to help if you run out of water.
If your supply runs dry and you’re too far from civilization, make sure you only drink water from clean sources or learn to treat what you retrieve from natural areas where the water quality is unknown. Drinking liquids with parasites, bacteria, or viruses can cause stomach pain, diarrhea, or vomiting.
The CDC website has a guide with various methods for treating contaminated water to make it safe for drinking:
Boiling - The most effective way to kill organisms is to boil the water for 1 minute, or 3 minutes at elevations above 6,500 feet.
Disinfecting - When boiling is not an option, use an unscented chlorine bleach. Although this method is not effective against many parasites such as giardia, chlorine dioxide tablets may eliminate the parasite cryptosporidium, which causes diarrhea.
Filtration - If you have a portable water filter that’s certified by NSF Standards 53 or 58, there is a good chance you can eliminate parasites, but you need a reverse osmosis filter to remove bacteria or viruses.
UV light - A portable ultraviolet light unit can eliminate microscopic contaminants in clear water but is less effective with murky water.
Another type of water safety is of great importance when camping near a beach, lake, river, or ocean. Maintain proper supervision of children and pets near water sources to prevent drowning. Swimming, boating, or other forms of recreation are great ways to make memories, but they require an added measure of caution to keep family members safe.
Sometimes the threat of fire is a weather or climate issue and has nothing to do with campers. If traveling in the Western United States, check with the National Park Service to avoid the peak of its fire season.
When it comes to campfires, however, safety is within your control. An article on the Reserve America website has useful tips for campfire safety.
- Before pitching your tent, check the campground’s campfire rules. Some areas have temporary bans when wildfire risk is at high levels. Use designated campfire pits and build your fire methodically to keep the flames under control. Begin with dried leaves and grasses, then add kindling -- sticks that are less than 1 inch in diameter. As the blaze begins to grow, you can add logs to your fire, making sure there is a spacious clearance of rocks and/or dirt surrounding it.
- Keep a bucket of water and a shovel next to the fire pit. In the case of runaway flames, you can extinguish them quickly with water and add dirt or sand to top it off. Some campers keep the dirt around their fire pit damp to prevent embers from becoming enflamed.
- Keep kids and pets safe with proper supervision. Fires are the leading cause of injuries to children while camping. Educate your youngsters about fire safety; before you ever light a match, be sure to teach them the “stop, drop, and roll” response. Keep kids and pets on your lap while sitting around the campfire.
- Put out the fire completely before departing the campsite. Use water on the flames and stir the ashes with a shovel, then do it again. Be sure the pit feels cold before you leave the area.
Plants and Animals
Like ants to a picnic, encounters with wildlife can be uninvited guests on a camping trip. You respect their habitat most by taking precautions to stay out of their way. Depending on your camping destination there will be specific tips for averting encounters with harmful critters, according to an article on Advnture.com.
If you’re in the woods, you need to hang your food in a bear bag or keep it safely housed away from your campsite. Never feed the wildlife because it makes them more likely to seek human interaction in the future.
If mushrooms or berries look inviting, resist the temptation to sample them because some are poisonous. Camping in wooded areas may bring you into contact with poison ivy, whereas woods, grasslands, and coastal scrub areas are places where poison oak thrives. Do an online search for photos of their appearance so you can avoid these tri-leaf plants.
While approximately 8,000 people per year are bitten by snakes in the United States, only about 10 are fatal, according to an article on the website LoveTheOutdoors.com. Victims of poisonous snake bites typically develop symptoms within about five minutes, which may include pain and swelling followed by weakness, fading vision, and nausea. Avoidance is the best form of snakebite prevention, but if you’re bitten by a venomous snake, do your best to remain calm. Immobilizing the area of the bite limits the spread of venom through your circulatory system. Get medical intervention as soon as possible.
There’s a reason the Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared.” Laying a groundwork that includes safety measures and prevention tips will lower the chance of accidents and misadventures on your next camping trip. Whether your plans include hiking, biking, or spelunking, you’re more likely to enjoy your camping trip when it doesn’t involve falling, itching, or an early exit for medical care.
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