For many of us, there is nothing quite like falling asleep under the stars to the chorus of nature. However, when you’re alone in your tent with strange noises all around you, a night in the wild can feel rather more threatening than you bargained for.
Camping can be dangerous, but it is easy to keep yourself safe once you know the risks. Data from the US National Parks Service indicates that around 330 people die in national parks, but considering there are 237 million recreational visits annually, the numbers aren’t very alarming.
The dangers that you face when camping depends on a number of factors, including terrain, fire hazards, wildlife, and weather. This is not an exhaustive list though, as there are a lot of potential risks to consider. Below, we go into each of them in more detail.
General Camping Dangers
The environment that you are exploring will influence the potential threats that you are exposed to when camping. The key is to be cautious when venturing out into the wild as many of the dangers may be things you haven’t considered. The good news is that most of these risks can be easily mitigated with a hearty dose of knowledge and common sense.
No good camping trip is complete without a cozy campfire for toasting marshmallows. However, fire can be a cruel mistress when it charges out of control. Human ignition is responsible for 84% of wildfires in the United States, which wreak havoc on the environment and the lives of those that inhabit areas nearby.
To keep yourself and others safe from fire, make sure that you know how to properly build a campfire and understand how to keep it under control. The teepee method is often favored among adventurers as it is simple to construct and directs heat upwards, generally making it easier to manage. A fire pit is another good way to contain a fire.
You should always build fires a safe distance from your tent and should not use a campfire in high winds. When it comes to extinguishing your campfire, use water to make sure it is completely out.
The type of terrain you are exploring is likely to pose all kinds of challenges. On rocky ground, you’re more likely to fall or twist an ankle. Likewise, a particularly dry area makes it much more likely that your campfire will get out of control.
In recent years, the drive for “the perfect selfie” has caused an increasing number of deaths, many of which have occurred in wilderness spaces. A global study analyzing the six years between 2011 and 2017 has shown that trying to take risky selfies killed 259 people.
Of these deaths, most accidents were caused by people falling, drowning, and becoming involved in traffic accidents. The first two are particular concerns when it comes to camping as much of the terrain favored by campers and hikers offers incredible views with a mountain backdrop.
If you are hiking in the mountains, you also need to consider the possibility of altitude sickness. Also known as acute mountain sickness, altitude sickness is brought on by the shortage of oxygen typically in areas located higher than 1,500 meters above sea level.
Altitude sickness is mild for many campers. However, there is a minority who develop very severe symptoms that can prove fatal. If you’re planning to camp at high altitudes, make sure you allow yourself a few days to acclimate. If your balance, speech, or coordination begins to be impacted by the high altitude, you need to descend immediately and seek emergency medical attention.
Whether it’s bears or ticks, no matter where in the world that you are camping, there will be some sort of animal or insect which is likely to cause concern. The most common annoyance for campers is likely to be insects. After all, no one wants to wake up next to creepy crawlies! However, insects are actually one most common dangers for those spending time in the great outdoors.
Mosquitos can carry malaria and dengue fever, while ticks can transmit Lyme’s disease, all of which can be very serious. Malaria and dengue can even be fatal. To keep yourself safe from critters, make sure that you use an insect repellant that contains DEET.
This will need to be reapplied at regular intervals. Before going to bed, you should also check your body for ticks. If you find one, you’ll need to remove it immediately using either fine-tipped tweezers or a specialist device.
Resident in both the USA and Canada, plus a select few destinations in Europe and the Far East, bears are a common concern for many campers. On average, there are around 40 bear attacks per year and half of these occurred when there was an encounter with a female and her cubs. Just 20% were surprise attacks.
To lessen your chance of running into trouble with bears, you need to be particularly careful about food storage. Invest in a bear canister or bear bag to store food products, containers, and cookware and hang it a little distance from your tent. Always cook at least 60 meters from your tent and don’t leave food unattended under any circumstances. It is also recommended that campers carry bear spray just in case.
Dangerous Weather When Camping
The impact of dangerous weather is likely to be a camper’s most serious concern. Unpredictable conditions can make camping not only unpleasant but downright dangerous. Everything from thunderstorms to flooding all pose a threat to a camper’s safety.
If you are camping during the rainy season, flooding is something that can put a real damper on your trip. Dry areas have traditionally been the most susceptible to flash floods, but with the climate crisis evolving at an alarming rate, flooding can be seen anywhere. Keep an eye on the forecast and always pitch your tent away from moving water, dry riverbeds, and low-lying areas.
If you’re somebody who camps a lot, chances are you’ll get caught in a thunderstorm at some point. While excessive downpours can often do more harm than anything else, being close to a lightning strike can also be very dangerous.
The CDC estimates that the average person’s chances of being struck by lightning are 1 in 500,000 in a year. However, the risk increases for people that spend more time outdoors. To lessen your chances of becoming injured in a lightning strike, try to avoid pitching your tent near bodies of water or in exposed areas. It’s also useful to put extra layers between you and the ground.
Whether it’s hot or cold, extreme temperatures pose a serious threat for campers. You should always make sure you bring extra layers in case the temperature drops suddenly and excessively. Likewise, making sure that you have an adequate supply of drinking water can aid heat-induced illnesses.
Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. For reference, normal body temperature sits at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite what you may have heard, hypothermia is not just a winter problem and can strike during cold summer nights too.
According to The Guardian, 5 million people die every year from excessively hot or cold conditions and deaths caused by extreme heat are rising. Keep yourself protected from the sun’s rays by wearing sunglasses, a hat, light-colored clothing, and by using sunscreen. Also, make sure you have an abundant supply of drinking water to keep yourself hydrated.
Camping can be made more complicated in high winds. If you are pitching your tent in these kinds of conditions, you’ll want to construct it so that it faces the direction that offers the most shelter from the elements.
Morbidly dubbed ‘widow makers’ among campers, dead and rotten tree branches are hugely dangerous to those spending a night in the outdoors. According to Forest Research, in a public space, you have around a one in 20 million chance of being killed by a tree.
While forests offer more shelter from the wind than other areas, trees can pose a danger in high winds. In general, it is safest to pitch your tent away from trees. However, this is not always possible, so make sure you follow the forecast to make an informed decision.
There is no doubt that camping can be dangerous. Extreme weather, fire, wild animals, and challenging terrain can all pose threats to campers. This shouldn’t put you off spending time in the backcountry though!
The wilderness is a wonderful place to explore and feel close to nature. Striking the balance between adventure and safety is imperative, not only for your own well-being but also for your enjoyment. Now you know how to mitigate the dangers you are most likely to encounter camping, the only thing left to do is to plan the next trip!