Camping Health and Safety Tips and Packing Checklist
Camping is a fun way to get family and friends together to enjoy the outdoors. Follow these tips and use the packing checklist to help ensure your camping trip is safe and healthy.
Vaccinations can help protect against certain diseases and conditions while camping. Check with your doctor or nurse to see if you've had all of the recommended vaccines. He or she may recommend tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), meningitis, and/or hepatitis A, depending on your medical history, destination, and other factors.
Prepare healthy and safe food.
Bring healthy food along on your camping trip. Follow these steps to keep your food safe:
- Pack foods in tight, waterproof bags or containers. Keep them in an insulated cooler.
- Wash hands and surfaces often. Use hand sanitizer if water is not available.
- Separate raw foods from cooked foods.
- Cook foods to proper temperatures (for instance, ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees).
- Chill foods promptly.
Include safe physical activities.
Camping is a great way to get physical activity. Do things such as walking, hiking, biking, or swimming to keep you active during your camping trip. Be sure to bring protective gear, such as helmets, sturdy shoes, and life jackets. Avoid poisonous plants, like poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Know your limits, and take steps to avoid injury during activities. Never hike or swim alone. Watch kids closely. Adults should get at least 2½ hours a week and kids should get at least 1 hour a day of physical activity.
Protect against carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless and can cause illness or death in people and pets. Never use fuel-burning equipment such as gas stoves, heaters, lanterns, and charcoal grills inside a tent, camper, or other enclosed shelter. It can cause dangerous levels of carbon monoxide to build up.
As alternative heat sources to fuel-burning appliances inside an enclosed shelter, campers should bring adequate bedding and clothing and should consume extra calories and fluids during the outing to prevent hypothermia (a dangerous loss of body warmth that can cause death).
Avoid wild animals, and protect family pets.
Some wild animals carry diseases that are dangerous to people, including rabies, hantavirus, Giardia infection, and more. Avoid touching, feeding, and getting near wild animals. Enjoy watching them from a safe distance in their natural surroundings. Keep foods stored in sealed containers and out of the reach of animals. Make sure your family pets are vaccinated and always keep a close eye on their whereabouts. Check for ticks, and remove them promptly. Make sure pets have plenty of water, food, and shelter.
Fight the bug bite.
Mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects can cause certain diseases. For example, mosquitoes can cause West Nile Virus, and ticks can cause Lyme disease. To help fight the bite, apply insect repellent containing DEET to exposed skin. Repellents containing 20% or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can protect up to several hours. Apply the insect repellent permethrin to clothes to help keep ticks from attaching to them. Be sure to follow directions on the package. Check for ticks daily, and remove them promptly. Wear long sleeves, pants, and other light-colored clothing to help prevent and spot ticks more easily.
Prevent temperature-related illness.
To help prevent hypothermia during cool nights, bring adequate bedding and clothing to stay warm. Use a plastic ground cloth under your tent to help keep you dry. To help prevent heat-related illness during hot days, drink plenty of alcohol-free and sugar-free fluids. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Wear layers of light-weight, light-colored, and loose-fitting clothing. Rest often in shady areas. Protect yourself from too much sun.
Protect yourself from the sun.
Protection from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is important all year round. UV rays from the sun can reach you on cloudy and hazy days, as well as bright and sunny days. Use a broad-spectrum (against UVA and UVB rays) sunscreen and lipscreen with at least SPF 15. Seek shade, especially during midday hours, when the sun’s rays are strongest. Cover up with clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses.
Avoid water-related illness and injury.
Camping often includes playing in and around the water. To help protect yourself and your fellow campers from illness, don’t swim if you have diarrhea, and don’t swallow the water you swim in. Take a shower before and after swimming. Never swim alone. If you plan to ride in a boat, canoe, or other water vehicle, be sure to wear a life jacket. Avoid alcohol.
Always prepare for the unexpected. Before you leave, check the weather report, learn about security at your camp location, and tell family and friends your plans. Know what to do when toilets are not available. Be sure to bring along a supply kit that includes a first-aid kit, compass or GPS, map, flashlight, blankets, batteries, food, water, clothes, and medications. Know who to contact at the camp to report issues that may come up. When you return home, check for ticks, skin rashes or sunburn, dehydration, and other problems.
Travel Advisories: Outdoor Safety (USDA Forest Service)
Remember to pack:
- Adequate bedding/sleeping bag and extra blankets
- Lightweight, light-colored clothing, including long sleeves and pants
- Tent and plastic ground cloth
- Insect repellent containing DEET for skin
- Permethrin insect repellent for clothing
- Broad-spectrum sunscreen and lipscreen with SPF 15 or higher
- Wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses
- Healthy on-the-go snacks and other food
- Water and other alcohol-free and sugar-free fluids
- Insulated cooler
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Life jacket, helmet, and other protective gear
- First-aid kit
- Compass or GPS
- Extra batteries
- Sturdy shoes
- Extra set of clothes
- Medical record, including information on vaccinations; insect, food, plant, and other allergies; diseases and conditions; medicines, dosing schedules, and storage instructions; emergency contacts; and activities your doctor or nurse says to avoid.
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Page last modified: May 30, 2013
Page last reviewed: May 30, 2013