Camping Health Hazards – 8 To Know

By: Cristal Herrera

June 01, 2015

A family sitting around a bonfire

Camping should be fun not a hazard. Whether you’re going for a swim, a hike or just enjoying an evening by the fire, nothing can ruin your camping excursion faster than illness or injury. Let us help you prepare for your next outdoor adventure with some easy-to-pack safety tips.

It’s hard to resist the call of the wild when the days grow longer and warmer and you begin daydreaming of your nearest mountain range, lake or campground.

The great outdoors is calling for campers, but don’t load up the car or RV just yet. Take some time to plan and prepare for your camping adventure and you’ll minimize the chance of camping-related mishaps and enjoy the outdoors to its fullest.

Being out under the stars — and toasting gooey s’mores over the fire — is not only a summertime favorite — some studies say it’s got significant health benefits including increased serotonin, vitamin D production and problem-solving and strengthening of bonds with camp mates.

Before you head outside, avoid eight of the most common camping health hazards by preparing for your journey with these tips.

Sun Exposure

The summer sun feels good, but can be a camping health hazard. Too much sun exposure can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Young children, the elderly and athletes who are outdoors in the hot sun for extended periods of time are at the greatest risk. Avoid adverse effects by drinking plenty of fluids, wearing a hat and sunglasses and frequently applying sunscreen. It’s also best to avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Seek shade, remove outer clothing and rehydrate if you experience the following:

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Get immediate medical attention if you experience the following:

  • Skin is hot and dry
  • Fever higher than 104
  • Confused
  • Lethargic
  • Seizures

Water Safety

Summer isn’t the same without swimming, but safety definitely comes before the fun. Here are some suggestions to keep you out of harm’s way in the water.

  • Do not swim alone.
  • Never dive into a river or lake that you do not know well. Always enter the water feet first to check for water depth and any obstacles.
  • Use appropriate flotation devices while boating or swimming.
  • Do not operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol.
  • Never let children swim unsupervised, even for just a few minutes.
  • When possible, wear tennis shoes while swimming in rivers and lakes to help reduce your chance of injury from broken glass or other unseen debris in the water.

Poisonous Plants

Whether you plan on camping or hiking, be mindful of poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. A good rule of thumb to be able to identify these plants; if you see leaves of three, let them be. Wear long sleeve shirts, pants, shoes and socks to minimize contact. If you come into contact with this poisonous greenery, wash the exposed skin with soap and water within 15 minutes. The oil found in these plants causes contact dermatitis (a rash or irritation to the skin). You may develop itchy, red streaks with hives or blisters within 8 to 48 hours after contact. The rash and blister fluid is not contagious. Treat the infected area with over-the-counter calamine or antihistamines, but if the rash is large and especially irritating seek medical care.

Spiders and Snakes

This is a camping health hazard no one wants to think about. Keep a safe distance from snakes and spiders and avoid touching them. Especially poisonous snakes and spiders. These include rattlesnakes and coral snakes and the brown recluse and black widow spiders. If a snake bites you, remove any constrictive jewelry and clothing, raise the affected area to decrease swelling and seek immediate medical care. Do not use a tourniquet and do not try to suck out the venom. Black widow spiders are most easily recognized by the red hourglass spot on their abdomen. If you are bitten by a poisonous spider, seek immediate medical attention.


Lyme disease, a bacterial illness, is spread through tick bites, so protect yourself and dogs from ticks during excursions in the woods. Stay away from areas where ticks are abundant, wear protective clothing, use tick repellant, and always take a bath and check yourself for ticks after you have been in the woods. If you find one, remove it immediately, as it takes 24 to 48 hours of attachment for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease to move into the tick’s saliva. If you see a bull’s-eye rash appear one to four weeks later, see your doctor.

Insect Bites and Stings

  • To avoid getting stung by a bee, wasp or hornet:
  • Do not wear perfumes or colognes.
  • Avoid wearing brightly colored clothing, especially floral prints.
  • Keep sugary food and drinks covered as bees are attracted to these.
  • Wear long-sleeved clothing.
  • Avoid walking barefoot on your lawn.
  • If a bee or wasp is flying near your head, stay calm and be still — don’t swat at it.
  • Avoid flower gardens and flowering plans if you have a bee allergy.

Leave the vicinity of the insect and remove the stinger as quickly as you can. Most people experience local redness, swelling and a hive-like reaction. Treat the pain and itching with an antihistamine, ibuprofen or Tylenol, and apply an ice pack for up to 20 minutes.

Allergic to bees? Keep your EpiPen with you at all times in case you are stung and have a systemic or anaphylactic reaction such as shortness of breath, wheezing, dry scratchy throat, dizziness or weakness.

Food Safety

A great summer day is not complete without tasty food, but always remember to keep proper food safety top-of-mind. Because the bacteria that cause food poisoning thrive at room temperature, it is important to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Keep hot foods above 140°F and cold foods below 40°F to avoid bacteria growth. Separate raw foods from cooked foods, and do not leave foods that contain eggs or mayonnaise out for an extended period of time. Quickly pack and store leftovers at less than 40°F.

Fire Safety

No camping trip is complete without the traditional campfire and delicious s’mores. Whether you are enjoying the evening by the fire telling ghost stories, singing, or just talking about the day, these tips will help you avoid burns:

  • Build fires in designated areas only.
  • Remain at a safe distance, and be aware of flying sparks from the fire.
  • Keep loose clothing and blankets away from fire.
  • Do not allow children to play near or around the campfire, and supervise small children at all times.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Bring a fire extinguisher to the campground.

Should your body or clothing catches on fire, stop, drop and roll. If you experience a first-degree burn with slight swelling, redness and mild to moderate pain, submerge the injured area in cool water for at least 15 minutes. Do not apply butter, oil or ice. Take Tylenol or ibuprofen for pain as directed on the bottle.

The following conditions require immediate medical care:

  • A second-degree burn with severe and intense pain, redness or swelling with blisters, or the burn is larger than 3 inches.
  • A third-degree burn that is white, black, painless, or exposes bone, muscle or tendons.
  • Weakness, a rapid pulse, nauseous or are unconsciousness

So go ahead — dive into summer and enjoy. By putting safety first, the fun is sure to follow.