Learn These Tips for a Safe Camping Trip!

By Colleen McTiernan
Safe Camping Trip

There are so many safety factors to consider when getting ready to go camping. From bears to poison ivy, if you are not properly prepared, camping can go from exciting to dangerous. Follow these tips to ensure that your next adventure in the great outdoors is as safe as it is fun.

Be Bear Aware!

Sighting a bear on your camping trip from a distance can be quite the treat. But if you stumble upon a bear while hiking around your campsite, that’s not the case.

To avoid surprising a bear on the trail, be sure to travel in groups of three or more and make plenty of noise (hit sticks together as you hike, attach bells to your backpack, etc.). Bears try to avoid humans, so if they hear and smell you coming, they’ll move.

If you encountering a bear, the National Park Service recommends identifying yourself as a human by talking in a low, calming voice and slowly waving your arms. This will help to distinguish you from a prey animal. Try to make yourself look as large as possible. If the bear has remained stationary, move away from the area slowly and sideways. If you are hiking with small children, be sure to pick them up immediately.

Bear Attacks

If the bear attacks, you’ll want to react one of two ways, depending on the type of bear. In the case of an attack by a brown or grizzly bear, the NPS recommends playing dead. However, if it is a black bear attacking, you should try to escape or fight back. If you are camping in Florida, you only have to worry about black bears. They are the only native bear species.

For a camping trip without hungry bears, store all food, garbage and scented items, like soaps and other toiletries, properly. Depending on where you are camping and the types of bears in the area, you may need to either place your food in a bag and hang it from a tree or use a bear-resistant food container.

TIP: Depending on where you are camping, carry bear pepper spray as a defense.

Is That Safe to Eat?

Unless you are a mushroom expert, just assume that all mushrooms you find while in the woods are poisonous. While there are plenty of edible mushrooms, there are also very toxic mushrooms that look almost identical to them. It is not worth the risk.

You’ll also want to stay away from eating any white, yellow or green berries that you find. 90% of these berries are poisonous, according to realitysurvival.com. Black or blue berries are more likely to be edible, but you should still avoid consuming anything you cannot identify. Your best bet is to pack your own food.

Fanning the Flames

Before you even get started with your campfire, be sure to check the rules on fires at your campsite. If you are building your own campfire, smokeybear.com recommends choosing a site at least 15 feet away from your tent and other flammable objects, like trees and shrubs, and take the direction of the wind into consideration. Once you have your site selected, clear the area of all debris, then dig a pit about a foot deep and circle the pit with rocks. If you are camping close to a lake or river, do not take rocks from the water. As they heat, the water in these soaked rocks will expand and the rock will explode.

Before you get your fire going, be sure to have a bucket of water and shovel nearby to extinguish the flames in case of an emergency. When it comes time to extinguish the campfire, smokeybear.com recommends allowing the wood to burn completely to ash, if time allows. Then either pour water on the fire until the hissing sound stops, or use a shovel to smother the embers until cooled.

TIP: A good rule of thumb for campfires: “If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.”

Is That Safe to Touch?

There are three big plants that you’ll want to avoid on for a safe camping trip — poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, poison ivy grows as a shrub in the Northern and Western United States, and as a vine in the East, Midwest and South. Each leaf has three small leaflets and it may have yellow-green flowers or green/ off-white berries, depending on the season. Poison oak is similar to poison ivy in that each leaf also has three leaflets and that it may have berries (yellow-white) depending on the season. Poison sumac, on the other hand, grows as a tall shrub or small tree, and the leaves often have brownish-black spots.

You’ll want to keep hydrocortisone cream and antihistamine pills on hand just in case you do come in contact with any of these plants. If you touch poison ivy, oak or sumac, be sure to rinse your skin and wash your clothes. If you have a more severe reaction (swelling, difficulty breathing, blisters, etc.) it may be time to pack up camp and head to the emergency room.

You’ll not only want to avoid touching these plants, but you’ll also want to avoid burning them, according to the AAD. You can have an allergic reaction if you breath in urushiol, the oil in the plants that causes the itchy rashes they are known for.

Identifying the Big Tree


Grows as a shrub and a vine, depending on location. Leaves are pointed at the tip and grow in groups of three. Usually has berries from spring to winter.


Leaves also cluster in sets of three with solid green leaves reminiscent of oak tree leaves. Most often seen in shrub form, but it can also grow as a vine.


Usually found in swampy or boggy areas as small tree or tall shrub. Leaves can have black or brownish-black spots. The leaf stems contain seven to 13 leaflets.

The Smokey Bear Wildfire Prevention campaign (created in 1944) is administered by the National Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council. It is the longest running public service advertising campaign in the United States.

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