How Camping Works

How to Camp Safely

If you're planning on camping in the cold, pack plenty of layers and prepare to drink lots of hot cocoa.
If you're planning on camping in the cold, pack plenty of layers and prepare to drink lots of hot cocoa.
Ian T. Coble/Getty Images

Bear attack might top your list of camping fears, but in reality it's an unlikely event -- an average of three people per year are killed by bears in the U.S. [source: GBOP]. Most camping dangers are much more mundane -- mishaps usually happen simply because people aren't prepared. Let's take a look at some common safety hazards.

The biggest mistake campers make is not being prepared for the weather. If you camp in the mountains, you might experience sudden temperature and weather shifts. Temperatures also can drastically drop during the night. To be on the safe side, bring clothes that are easily layered, a rain poncho and an emergency blanket. If you're camping in hot weather, overheating can be a risk, particularly for children. So on particularly warm days, hike in the morning and evening, and stay in the shade during the heat of the day. Stay hydrated and use sunscreen.

When setting up your tent, look for wasp nests -- wasps like to build their nests close to groups, in proximity to tasty food. If berries grow near your campsite, that's another risk -- bears or other creatures might forage there.

When you're building a fire, look for a clearing and build a fire pit. This will help contain your fire. In dry seasons, it's safest to bring along a portable stove for cooking instead of making a fire.

Steer clear of poisonous plants like poison sumac, ivy or oak. These plants aren't always easy to identify, but the general rule is, "Leaves of three, leave it be." But keep in mind that poison oak and sumac can have up to five leaves. So, to avoid contact with these plants, wear long sleeves and pants if you're camping near a lot of vegetation. You might also want to carry some calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream or antihistamines in case of an allergic reaction. These items can also help if you get bitten by an insect. Speaking of bugs, keep an eye out for ticks, which can cause Lyme disease.

One major mistake campers make is to get lost. So if you're heading into the wilderness away from an organized campsite, be sure to bring a GPS or compass and a map. These serve as valuable tools in the wilderness. If you're up for a more high-tech camping experience, indulge in a GPS, which will allow you to fix your position using latitude and longitude, measure bearings and distance, and even track your speed of travel. But, even if you use a GPS, you'll still need to know how to read a map and compass.

Other high-tech items you might bring along include water bottles with built-in filters, collapsible buckets for toting water to camp and creature comfort items like portable electronics and coffee presses [source: Forbes Traveler]. The great thing about camping is that it can be as high-tech or low-tech as you want. Tailor your trip to suit your wants and needs.­