How to Stay Happy and Healthy When Camping

A family of four roasts marshmallows at a campground, the mother is holding her daughter as they smile.
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Summer is upon us. Kids are finishing their final lessons of the school year, and adults everywhere are pining for a much-needed vacation. While it’s true you can schedule time off any time of year, there’s a reason most prefer summer family getaways. When we need to quiet the “noises” associated with normal daily activities, a dose of Mother Nature is just what the doctor ordered.

Time spent outdoors heals the body, mind and spirit.

Family outings don’t have to be complicated or costly to be fun.

For a simpler option, consider a good old-fashioned camping trip. Aside from allowing your family some “unplugged” bonding time, it’s a low-cost experience the whole family.

Before you head out tents-in-tow, you’ll want to be sure you know how to protect your family while braving the wilderness. Careful planning will prevent many potential safety issues.

Be Weather Wise

Living outdoors makes you vulnerable to the elements. Weather can often change quickly, exposing you to dangerous conditions like flash flooding or lightning storms. Bring a weather radio (and extra batteries) to stay on top of the forecast, and know where to seek alternate shelter if necessary.

Choose the Correct Gear

Camping means leaving behind the many comforts of home, but you don’t have to be miserable. Choosing the correct equipment can make all the difference and ensure your family’s safety and happiness.

Tents

When selecting a tent, there’s a lot to consider so you can make sure your equipment matches your family’s needs. While some factors have more to do with comfort, like how much space you need or how heavy your tents are, others are important to your family’s safety. Understand weather and temperature ratings, proper ventilation and standards for fire resistance.

Scheduling a dry run to set up the tent(s) together in the back yard before the big trip arrives can be fun and go a long way toward a smooth setup when you arrive — especially if you’re racing the clock.

Some tents take more time to set up than you’d imagine, and nature can often present unforeseen challenges like a quickly setting sun or unexpected downpour.

Creating a checklist for each person in your family so that they know what they need to contribute to the task may also help make it a simple process.

Sleeping Bags and Cots

To make sure everyone gets what they like out of their sleeping gear, it might make sense to let them pick their own.

Determine the amount of insulation and temperature rating required for safety on your trip and set a budget, and then have a shopping trip to pick out the perfect option for everyone.

Don’t Forget The Extras

Every camping trip is unique, and you’ll need to adjust depending on the setting, time of year, activities and duration. In some situations, the “extras” can surprisingly be the most important gear:

  • Bug spray
  • Cell phone or other communication devices (remember in some areas, you may not be able to get a cell phone signal)
  • Extra food and water
  • Fire starters
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight/lanterns
  • Sunscreen
  • Tools for navigating

Follow Campground Rules

Camping gives you — and other families — a chance to escape from the daily grind. Make it an enjoyable experience for all campers by following the campground rules. They are in place for a reason. If you have any questions about the rules and regulations, contact your nearest park ranger or camp manager.

Keep Your Food and Water Safe

Keeping food and water safe is essential for a successful camping trip. Contaminated foods or water can create serious health risks for your family by exposing them to the infectious diseases caused by germs and bacteria.

These tips will help you protect your food and water:

  • Drink only bottled or potable water
  • Keep perishable foods chilled
  • Make sure foods are cooked to proper temperature with a food thermometer
  • Never use fuel-burning devices inside a closed shelter (since they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning or fires)
  • Store raw foods away from cooked foods
  • Use proper hand-washing (hand sanitizer if you do not have access to water)
  • Use waterproof bags or containers to store foods

Know How to Identify Poisonous Plants

The greenery you find in abundance during an outdoor adventure is part of its charm. But don’t forget that some plants are actually poisonous. While side effects can vary in severity from person to person, for most contact with these plants means an itching, burning and blistering rash that’s easily spread when touched.

Be on alert for these three:

  • Poison Ivy: Grows on solid green vines with pointed leaves that hang from the stem in groups of three
  • Poison Oak: Grows in groups of three and as a woody shrub
  • Poison Sumac:Grows as a small tree or large shrub. The branches grow in groups of seven to 10 leaves and are easily identified by its red stems and tiny white fruit growing among the leaves

Know Your Limits

When enjoying physical activities like boating, swimming, hiking, rock climbing, off-roading, biking and canoeing, you should know your limits and listen to your body’s signals. Pushing yourself beyond your physical limits can invite injury.

Having high-quality and appropriate gear such as helmets, sturdy shoes, hiking boots and life jackets — and using the buddy system — can be lifesaving.

Protect Yourself from Insects

Camping exposes you to many types of insects including mosquitoes and ticks. These simple guidelines may increase your chances of avoiding diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever or West Nile Virus:

  • Avoid areas of known outbreaks
  • Avoid grassy or dense vegetation areas
  • Check for ticks on your body and clothing often
  • Know peak biting times and avoid being outdoors during that time
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants tucked into your socks or boots and a hat when appropriate
  • Use a bed net for protection while sleeping
  • Use insecticides, such as DEET and spatial repellents that treat the area around you

Understand Campfire Safety

Did you know that most forest fires can be prevented by following these safety measures?

  • Dig your fire pit away from low-lying branches
  • Don’t pull lit sticks from the fire
  • Don’t sit on the rocks around the campfire as they heat quickly, and stay heated for a long time
  • Don’t start a fire if there are strong winds
  • Have adult supervision at the campfire at all times, and never leave it unattended
  • Keep a bucket of water or sand and shovel near at all times
  • Maintain a 10-foot area around the dirt of the campfire free of items that can catch fire
  • Make sure your campsite allows campfires (and that there are no burn bans)
  • Never put anything but wood in the campfire
  • Put the fire out and make sure it’s cold before leaving the campsite
  • Store firewood away from the campfire
  • Throw your matches in the campfire after your fire is lit
  • Use rocks to circle the fire pit

Find Help If You Need It

Camping can bring your family together and give you a chance to have an adventure this summer. If you find yourself in need of medical care, we’re here for you.

Find a location near you or your campsite.

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