When the weather is nice, itís time to get outside. Spending a few nights sleeping under the stars can be a great way to connect with nature, refresh your body and mind, and have an adventure. Here are a few areas you should focus on in order to ensure your camping trip is safe and enjoyable.
Plan for Emergency Situations
Whether itís your first time camping or you consider yourself a champion of the wilderness, basic safety practices in the outdoors are an absolute necessity when camping. There is no level of experience that can replace the proper emergency preparations in the wilderness. Sudden changes in the weather, encounters with animals and harmful plants, and accidents during physical activity are often impossible to predict.
A first-aid kit and CPR training are the most obvious safety precautions in order to combat sudden medical emergencies. You can find a variety of premade first-aid kits appropriate for different group sizes, the length of your trip, and the activities youíll be doing. Whether you choose a premade kit or create one of your own, here are some items that should be a part of any first-aid kit.
A large supply and variety of bandages, wound-closure strips, and gauze
Ointments and antiseptic wipes to clean wounds
Tweezers and scissors
Elastic bandage wrap for sprains or to make a splint
Basic medications, including anti-inflammatory drugs, antacids, painkillers, and antihistamines
Injectable epinephrine for severe allergic reactions
Do some research on any local hazards, including the risk for flooding or falling rocks, local wildlife, and poisonous plants, to ensure youíre prepared to respond to the appropriate scenarios. For example, is the area known for having poison ivy or ticks? Are there venomous snakes in the area, and where are you most likely to encounter them? Are there large animals such as bears or moose?
Most parks and natural areas will provide access to information and strategies for what to do if you encounter these dangers. Itís your responsibility to use this information before wildlife hazards become a problem.
Itís also a good idea to bring along a friend or a group, regardless of your experience level. This ensures that if one or more people are hurt, someone else could help offer initial medical attention and more easily locate professional help.
Pack the Right Gear
Preparing for weather and other conditions is just as important as being ready for potential medical emergencies. First, youíll want to be sure you have appropriate clothing based on environmental factors. If youíre in hot weather, a full brim cap can shield your face and neck from the sun, and sunglasses can help prevent eye strain. If youíre camping in cold or wet weather, be sure to pack a wool shirt, a jacket, and an extra pair of wool socks to prevent serious conditions like frostbite and hypothermia.
Also, if there is a good chance of rain, avoid wearing cotton pants since cotton wonít insulate your body temperature when wet. Bringing extra blankets ó even a space blanket ó can help you stay warm in case someone falls into a body of water unexpectedly or the temperature drops. As you probably know, weather reports arenít always accurate. So it may prove useful in a tough situation to keep some of these things on hand, even if youíre not expecting inclement weather.
Other essentials include:
A paper map of the area
Extra food and water (or a portable water purification system)
A flashlight or headlamp, along with extra batteries
Fire starter kept in a waterproof case
A knife or multi-tool
Of course, youíll also want to be well prepared for any specific activities you plan to do. For example, if youíre hiking many miles each day, youíll want to consider packing lightweight items in a backpack that is comfortable to carry and invest in a quality pair of hiking boots.
Next, consider shelter. Your tent and sleeping bag are two of the most important items as they will help ensure youíre safe, comfortable, and well rested on your trip. When selecting a tent, begin with the sleeping capacity youíll need. Are you part of a large group, or will several large people be sharing the tent? Do any of you toss and turn at night? Are you bringing a child, a dog, or extra gear? To ensure you have enough room, itís typically a good idea to look for a tent designed for one more person than will actually be staying in the tent.
If youíll be camping in hot weather, choosing a tent with plenty of ventilation to keep from overheating at night. The most popular tent style is known as a three-season tent, designed for spring, summer, and fall. These are lightweight with plenty of mesh panels to encourage airflow. However, they are not designed for cold weather or continuous exposure to heavy rain, wind, or snow. If youíre planning on facing inhospitable weather, four-season tents are designed with stronger materials and more specialized designs to face more extreme conditions.
Barring temperature-related factors, youíll have a lot of options with your tentís shape. For most casual camping trips, choose something that youíll be comfortable in. A-frame tents are cheap and lightweight, but they tend to be limited in space and may fair poorer against strong winds. Dome shapes offer more headroom, but if youíd like to stand all the way up, choose a spacious umbrella-shaped tent. For any of these options, you should make sure the tent comes with a quality rainfly.
If possible, aim to perform an in-store evaluation of any tent before buying. This will allow you to see how much room the tent actually offers, which can be difficult to tell based solely on product descriptions. You might also have the chance to take the tent apart and set it up again to see if it meets your needs.
As with tents, all sleeping bags are not created equal. At the very least, choosing the right sleeping bag can mean the difference between a good nightís sleep and being miserably warm or cold. However, it could also mean the difference between life and death, considering how drastically temperatures may drop at night. Thatís why you should always buy a sleeping bag designed for the coldest temperature youíll encounter. That being said, it might not be the best idea to bring a sleeping bag designed for mountaineering and subzero temperatures to a summer camping trip.
The shape of your sleeping bag is also important, depending on your needs. Rectangular sleeping bags are the most common for more casual camping, and these give you plenty of room to stretch out. Mummy-shaped bags are tapered toward your feet which helps to retain and trap warm air closer to your body. These are also more efficient with weight and space, though they may not be as comfortable for those who like to change sleeping positions throughout the night.
For a compromise between comfort and efficiency, a semi-rectangular sleeping bag design is in between the rectangular and mummy-shaped styles. You can also look for additional features such as an attached hood to keep your head warm at night or a draft tube which runs insulation along the inside of the zipper, protecting you from drafts.
Familiarize Yourself With Laws and Restrictions
Although camping can allow us to get in touch with our more natural roots, we are still expected to behave within a system of laws and regulations. In order to avoid committing a crime related to outdoor activities like camping, hunting, fishing, and hiking, itís important to do some research about national and local restrictions in the area you plan to visit. While many of these may seem obvious, itís possible to unknowingly commit a crime, which could result in hefty fines, increased danger for you or others, and damage to the environment.
Campsites and natural areas will often designate a set of rules for how you can use the area. These may affect where you can park your vehicle or pitch a tent; any areas that are off limits for certain activities; how many tents can be an particular area; if and where you can build a fire; where to dispose of certain materials; whether pets are allowed; and any rules that would apply to them. You should always follow these rules, both to avoid fines and to keep the area safe for yourself and other campers.
Clearly, littering is bad for the environment. Litter can contaminate water and food sources for animals and plants, and depending on the materials, littering could cause permanent damage to an area. To best ensure you wonít contribute to this problem, try to minimize the amount of packaging you bring with you into natural areas, and create a clear plan for collecting paper, plastic, and other trash you may accumulate.
Also, try to minimize food waste as much as possible. While some animals might enjoy eating human foods, these may not be good for animals and could even harm their digestive systems. In some areas, such as those with bears, there are often strict regulations on how to properly store and dispose of food in order to protect your group from curious yet dangerous animals.
If you choose to enjoy hunting or fishing on your trip, be sure you have the specific permits required to legally do so. Even with the proper permits, there are some animals, locations, seasons, and even times of day that may render these activites off limits. Keep in mind: These restrictions arenít in place simply to keep you from having fun but to help stabilize certain species and habitats.
Camping can bring you closer to a simpler way of life, but that doesnít mean you should go into it unprepared. People have spent thousands of years developing ways to survive, and modern luxuries allow us to live our daily lives with minimal risks from the natural world. Taking the time to research the local environment, plan for emergencies, bring the right gear, and understand local regulations can help you and your group to avoid potential dangers and have a great time in the outdoors.