I love being out in Nature, it’s great. The fresh air. The sounds of birds chirping. The beautiful scenery. It is enough to make you forget about all your cares. However, there are still some things my dad thought me to always mindful of when out in the wild.
How dangerous is camping? How risky is it to be sleeping outside exposed to the elements? Should people still be camping at all? These are the kinds of concerns I will be addressing today. Keep in mind I have been camping since I was a boy, and I am still here today and have taken my own family camping as well. There are risks to camping like there are risks to everything you do in your life and knowing about them will help you prepare for them and keep you safe.
There will be some numbers mentioned here about injuries or deaths. Keep in mind these numbers are provided by the National Parks Services, and they are out of millions upon millions of people who camp at these parks every year. That means that instances of these things happening to you is minimal. We are going through them not to scare you from camping but to teach you how to be safe.
Animals to be mindful of when camping
Nature can be wild. That is the appeal and the risk of it. In Nature, animals want to stay away from people and live their lives. However, when we go camping, we need to keep in mind we are guests in their homes.
Seventy-three people died of animal attacks in 2017 while camping across the country. There are some animals to be mindful of mainly, and here they are:
• Bears. These are just big hungry balls of muscle and fur found all across the country and in every National Park. They are constantly wandering the woods for their next meals, and they aren't particularly picky. Despite how the media wants to portray them, bears try their best to stay away from people, and they only invade our space when food is hard to come by.
The way to avoid bears while in the woods is to let them know you are there. Make noise and make it loud. This will help the bear steer clear of your site. Also, be sure to lock up all food and keep it away from where you are sleeping.
The less reason the bear has to poke around, the better. So use a bear box, either one of your own or one the campsite has provided, to lock up anything edible and avoid using any fragrant products like perfume or deodorant as bears are attracted to the smells.
• Bugs. It is impossible to avoid all bugs when you are out camping, which is understandable. Mosquito bites can ruin a pleasant evening or morning. We all have come back from a camping trip with bites on our arms and legs, and it isn't enjoyable. That is just part of it.
Mosquitos have been known to transmit diseases through their bites, so be sure to pack repellent and maybe some deterrents to keep them from your camp. Ticks are another nuisance. These are very sneaky, and they are hard to spot. Ticks are significant carriers of Lyme disease and can also carry worse things. They latch on and suck your blood and can be very hard to get off.
The best way to avoid them is wearing proper clothing when you go out hiking or in heavily wooded places. Long pants tucked into your boots or shoes and long sleeve shirts are the best way to stay safe. Be sure to check yourself after a long day outdoors, even if you are wearing the right things.
• Snakes. I have written a couple of articles about snakes. What to do when bit and what snakes to watch out for. Please read these as they can be very helpful when out in the wild. Snakes like bears get a bad rap. Please read, How to Avoid the 10 Top Venomous North American Snakes.
They are just trying to live their lives and are crucial to the environment and ecosystem. As long as you are mindful of where you step when hiking and keep your distance from them, you will be fine when you see one. Snakes do not pursue or chase people. They will either stand their ground or run away. Both options give the hiker a chance to escape, use it.
• Rodents. Rodents are not limited to the wild. Plenty of people in the city have seen rats scurry across subway platforms or an occasional mouse sneaks into a home somewhere. However familiar they are, they can still be a menace while camping.
They can sneak into your tent, eat your food, leave droppings and bring diseases. Take precautions to store food properly while away from your camp and at night. Please do not leave anything out as these little scavengers will find it and bring their friends.
Injuries and Illnesses Common to Camping
There are plenty of hobbies and pass times that include some risk. Tennis elbow, athlete's foot, dancer's hip. These can happen when the body hits a point that it can't bounce back from right away.
The things on this list may seem trivial, but unlike the injuries listed above, you won't be home but out in the woods, far away from immediate help if these happen. Records from the National Parks Service have documented hundreds of cases of campers who have called for help or have perished because of these, so bear that in mind when reading them. Safety while caping starts and ends with you.
• Dehydration/Heat exhaustion. These two things may seem similar, but they are different yet equally familiar. Dehydration occurs when the body has gone an extended period without water or has lost a large amount of water due to sweating profusely.
Dehydration can even happen in cooler times of the year when you are not sweating but have been active for extended periods. Be sure to remain mindful about hydrating and schedule it whenever you stop and rest while hiking and returning to camp between activities.
Heat exhaustion is when your body cannot maintain its temperature and has been exposed to extreme heat for too long. The body will start to shut down because of this. People have been known to faint and even suffer cardiac issues, which can be fatal because of Heat Strokes.
Be sure to have plenty of sunscreens to help deflect the rays of the sun, get plenty of fluids and on hot days, seek out shade whenever you can, especially during the hotter parts of the day. Avoid overexerting yourself on summer trips and plan things to do that will keep you cool, like swimming. Both of these conditions can be avoidable.
• Hypothermia. Exposure to the elements can lead to many problems. Planning and preparing properly can help negate these issues. Over four years, 400 people died of hypothermia in the US. Hypothermia is more than just feeling cold.
The body cannot maintain its temperature due to outside factors such as cold or wetness. This can be a significant issue during the colder months but can even occur mildly in the warmer ones if you spend too long in the water or wet clothes.
When you are packing clothes for camping, bring something warm to sleep in as temperatures drop steeply at night and have backups if whatever you are wearing gets soaked or you need to layer up. Hypothermia can be easily avoided if people bundle up appropriately.
• Heart Attack/Exhaustion. Our bodies are exact in the way they operate. If our everyday life includes a light jog, it adapts to that. If all we do is sit at a desk at work, come home and sit on a couch, it adapts to that. When we decide to jump from sitting at a desk all day to suddenly hiking two miles on rocky terrain, well, that can cause some issues.
The leading cause of heart attacks in campers is over-exertion. Over 8 National Parks, there have been 78 deaths due to heart attacks. Please prepare your body ahead of time if you are going camping and physical activity is not part of your daily routine. Either that or be sure to take it easy when out in the woods.
Exhaustion is another significant concern. Hiking is very different from walking to the store or a day at the mall. Overconfidence can lead to poor decisions, and you being stranded in the middle of a trail, too tired to make it back. Know your limits.
• Sprained Ankles and Broken Bones. The terrain experienced out in the wild can change from moment to moment. It can go from a flat beaten dirt path to a rocky and jagged hill in moments. This sudden change can lead to a simple slip or fall that ends in injury. Sprained ankles are the most common injury reported to the NPS.
Shortfalls may not lead to much in the city or civilization, but one can cause some damage in Nature if you happen to fall on a rock jutting out from the ground or your foot gets caught in a crack in the ground. This can lead to at least a sprain and, at worse, a broken bone. Always watch where you are stepping, wear proper footwear, and not rush. You will enjoy the hike more and stay safe.
Natural Occurrences that can be Dangerous
No matter how much you plan, there are things in Nature you cannot stop from happening. Weather, for example, is something we cannot do anything about. Natural disasters can happen at any time. We should be mindful of these instances but should not keep us from enjoying the outdoors. Here is a couple that campers deal with specifically.
• Lightning. Only 10% of people die immediately after being hit by lightning, and very few people die each year from lightning strikes in general. This is not an ordinary incident or an imminent danger. However, campers are more likely to be hit by lightning. The sheer fact you are out in the open and most likely camping in a clearing can make you a target. Just be mindful when camping and are out during thunderstorms. Stay low and take cover.
• Avalanches and Landslides. When hiking in the mountains, you need to be very aware of what is happening around you. Avalanches and landslides can occur randomly and can be very dangerous. Rocks can dislodge and fall, creating a domino effect leading to larger rocks and boulders falling as well. Avalanches can also occur randomly, even in the summer.
Mountain tops can stay cool enough for snow not to melt year-round, and the snow can easily be dislodged or cause rocks to shift and fall down the mountainside. Just be aware of your surroundings. Often, Parks Services will post signs indicating areas that are more likely to have these events occur, so hikers can stay vigilant or decide to take a different trail.
• Falling trees. Many factors play into when a tree fall. Part of that can be observed, like rot or damage outside the tree. Other factors may be hard to distinguish, like termites eating away at the inside. Falling trees and branches are a common occurrence and can lead to death or significant injury. It is best not to camp directly under any trees for this reason. Also, inspect all the trees surrounding your camp. Better to be safe than sorry.
Camping is a beautiful way to experience Creation. I love every minute of it. The great outdoors has a rejuvenating effect on me and can help me unwind after the constant stresses of life. Do not let the possibility of something happen to stop you from enjoying life.
If people did that, we would all be sitting around, not experiencing all that life has to offer. Remember that all the instances on this list occur to campers very few times, and many of us will never share them at all as long as we take the proper precautions and camp smart.
Have fun out there, be smart and stay safe.