A Guide to Staying Safe and Well in the Wilderness
Camping is a fun way to enjoy the great outdoors with family and friends, and a particularly popular option when the weather’s nice. Make sure your stay with Mother Nature is memorable with these practical health and safety pointers:
- Bring – and wear – protective gear, like helmets and life jackets, if you’ll be biking, swimming or boating.
- Never hike or swim alone – and watch kids closely.
- Stay away from wild animals and keep an eye on family pets, if they’re included. Make sure your pets have also been vaccinated and also perform frequent tick checks on them.
- Stay hydrated – drink plenty of alcohol-free and sugar-free fluids.
- Protect yourself from the sun – bring adequate sun protection, including sunblock, hats and sunglasses. Don’t forget a lip screen too, preferably SPF15 or higher. Apply every two hours.
- Bring a supply kit containing a first-aid kit, compass or GPS, map, flashlight, blankets, batteries, good water, extra clothing and medications. Pack adhesive bandages in case of blisters, cuts or other wounds that need coverage.
Sure-Footed for Sure
Whether you’re gathering wood, lighting a fire or taking a hike, the wilderness is the definition of uncharted terrain. A few key safety tips can help you avoid trips and ankle twists:
- Wear sturdy shoes. Your feet, ankles and back will thank you. Camping is not the time to put fashion first. Make sure you wear shoes that allow you to be sure-footed. Sandals are generally not a great choice since you’re not always sure what’s under your feet at night and you need a suitable barrier between your feet and the ground. A covered toe is preferable, as well as a shoe that can withstand water.
- If you have prescription glasses, but wear contacts, bring the glasses. You’ll want them if anything irritates your eyes.
- Bring a lantern or flashlight to illuminate any necessary nighttime walks and your campsite.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Look up, look down. Branches, tree roots, old campfires, water – these aren’t things you usually look for in your living room.
My Back, My Neck!
Your back and neck will thank you if you do some advance planning – packing your best pillow or other neck support. Camping pads, yoga mats, and other foam cushions will add comfort and a barrier to the hard ground. If your campground has electricity, you may even consider an air mattress. Your trip won’t be much fun if you’re unable to comfortably walk around because your body aches.
If you’re fortunate enough to park close to your campground, don’t feel like you need to carry everything in one trip. If you have to portage to your campsite, be careful of how much weight is in your backpack; pulled back muscles on the first night are not desirable.
Is It Edible?
Even though you’re living outdoors for awhile, you don’t need to survive on nuts and berries. The key is planning. Some tips include:
- Make sure food and beverages are properly stored. If foods are meant to be kept cold (meats, grill items), be sure to keep them packed in containers within an insulated cooler – and never combine raw and cooked items.
- When handling foods, make sure to wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.
- Though it may be tempting to get a drink from that nearby stream, don’t. The quickest way to get sick while camping is by drinking contaminated water.
- Don’t eat the beautiful berries and mushrooms you see in the woods. Doing so could make you dangerously ill.
- Never use a gas stove or charcoal grill inside your tent or camper. Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can quickly build up, causing sickness or death in people and pets. Cook outside where there is adequate ventilation.
- If it smells bad, it probably is – so don’t eat it. Without proper refrigeration, foods can quickly turn bad.
Mosquitos and Ticks, Oh My
Living and sleeping outdoors means cohabitating with nature’s other creatures. Some things to consider include:
- Mosquitoes, ticks and other insects can cause certain diseases. Check with your physician to see if you've had all of the recommended vaccines. This is especially important if you plan to camp outside the United States.
- Apply an insect repellent that contains DEET to exposed skin, following the directions.
- Check for ticks daily and remove them promptly. Try to wear long sleeves, pants and other light-colored clothing to help prevent and spot ticks more easily.
Campers know you leave with everything you bring and this hopefully includes your health – if you watch your diet, bug bites and, of course, all those sticks.