Due to the escalation of the coronavirus outbreak, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for more information.

10 Tips for Campsite Safety

Weather monitoring, campfire safety, bear awareness—here are a few things to know. 

By Trent Jonas

10 Tips for Campsite Safety

Camping is one of the most freeing, exhilarating, and close-to-nature activities you can partake in. There is something about getting outdoors, unplugging, and leaving the daily grind behind that feels so liberating. Before you let your hair down and get back to nature though, make sure you're taking the proper safety precautions before, during, and while you are packing up for your trip. From fire safety basics to bear awareness, here are a few tips to know to ensure your adventure goes off without a hitch. 

Know the Weather Before You Go

Before you leave for any camping trip, check the weather forecast for the area(s) where you’ll be staying. Download the AccuWeather app one your phone and monitor it before your trip. But don't rely solely on your smart phone for the forecast. You may lose service while you're out there, so consider packing a pocket weather radio, like the C Crane CC Wx Radio, which receives weather information on seven different NOAA channels and can run for up to 100 hours on two AA batteries.

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Prepare for Changes in the Weather

Once you know the weather forecast—or have access to weather reports while camping—you need to be prepared for conditions to change. Pack layers that you can add or remove, as needed. You’ll always want rain gear, including rain pants, and a jacket or outer layer for warmth and wind protection, as well as a hat to keep both the sun and rain off your head and face.

Always Be Aware of Fire Danger Levels

Prior to heading out—or if you’re going to a state or national park, upon arriving—check to see what the current fire danger level for your camping location is. Most state forestry or natural resources departments post fire danger levels on their websites, as does the United States Forest Service.

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Know What to Look for When Selecting a Site

When you’re tent camping, especially outside of a designated campground, there are several things to think about when choosing a place to set up camp. First, camp away from trails and water sources. Next, select a site on level, higher ground to avoid the discomfort of runoff streaming through your tent and campsite and the danger posed by flash floods. In an ideal situation, you’ll set up camp in a clearing with no overhanging branches. If this is not possible, pitch your tent as far away as possible from dead or broken limbs and trees, even in a campground.

Use Guy Lines to Secure Your Tent Against Wind and Rain

Many, if not most, tents come with guy lines. If yours did not, buy some or use paracord to fashion your own. Use them to secure your tent and tightly to the ground. This will help to avoid a tent collapse in high winds or leaking during a heavy rain.

Be Bear (and Other Animals) Aware

The country’s bear species make their homes in 40 U.S. states. In the lower 48, with the exceptions of parts of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Washington, black bears are the species you’ll be contending with, as well as raccoons, coyotes, skunks, and other scavengers attracted by food smells. Never keep food or toiletries with fragrance (toothpaste, deodorant, etc.) in your tent. Use your car or a bear locker, if available. If not, hike with a bear canister and learn how to hang your food away from your campsite. Keep a clean campsite, and don’t leave food, trash, or dirty cooking utensils out. And, of course, never deliberately feed bears or other animals. In bear country, know what species you can expect, learn what to do if you encounter a bear, and always carry bear spray—and be prepared to use it.

Never Build an Uncontained Fire

When fire danger levels permit, a fire is one of the most welcome camping traditions, but only if done safely. Learn the fire regulations of the area where you’re camping. If a fire is permitted, always build it in a designated fire ring. where fire rings are not available, use a wood-burning camp stove or fire pan to contain your fire and leave no trace. In situations where a fire is necessary but none of the foregoing are available, look for a bare patch of ground away from vegetation. Dig a hole six to eight inches deep and surround the hole with stones. Light a small fire in the hole. When you have finished with the site, return the stones to where you found them and replace the dirt on the hole. Never use this technique in dry or windy conditions.

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Never Build a Fire Without a Way to Extinguish It Close at Hand

In addition, always keep campfires at a manageable size and keep a way of extinguishing them close at hand, whether it’s a fire extinguisher, water, sand or loose soil. When you have doused the fire, stir the ashes and spread them apart. Use the back of your hand to try and detect any heat coming from the ashes, and never leave a fire as long as it’s hot.

Pack a First Aid Kit

You should never head out on a camping trip without a first aid kit. Whether you buy a kit, like those sold by NOLS or build your own, you need to be ready for cuts, insect bites, burns, blisters, sunburns, aches, or just about anything else that can crop up in camp.

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Locate the Nearest Emergency Room or Urgent Care

Although you can pack a first aid kit, you simply cannot be prepared for every potential medical issue out there. In the event of an emergency, always call 911, or have someone call 911 for you. For other, less emergent medical issues, you need to know where to go. Before you head out, take the time to search and make note of the nearest hospitals and urgent care locations to your campsite and have an idea of how to get to them, for example, by dropping a pin on your smartphone’s mapping application.

Due to the escalation of the coronavirus outbreak, local destinations for outdoor recreation may be closed. Please visit official websites for more information.

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