Heading out for a night or two in the woods is one of the best parts of summertime. Whether you’re an experienced camper or just heading out for the first time, take care to follow basic camping safety tips to make sure your trip is a good one.
1. Prepare for changing weather conditions
Plenty of camping trips get ruined by sudden rainstorms or even some snow in higher elevations. Always check the weather forecast for your campsite and keep an eye on changing conditions. Rain that soaks camp chairs left out during a storm can make you grumpy when you should be relaxing. Freezing your toes off because you didn’t bring warm socks, only summer sandals, isn’t fun at all. And a sunburn due to lack of protective clothing or sunscreen is an unpleasant camping trip memory to make. A hand-crank radio can be helpful to check NOAA weather updates a few times a day, and reading a portable barometer and reading cloud patterns can save you a lot of worry in the long run.
2. Plan your campsite carefully
If you need to reserve a site at an authorized campground, make sure you do so well in advance. Some sites offer first-come-first-served spots for last-minute campers, but those also can fill up with folks who snag them during the week. If you’re heading out on a backpacking camping trip, make sure to obey rules of the trail for how far away from trails and water sources you need to pitch your tent. Avoid camping in areas that could be prone to flash floods, like dry creek beds or at the bottom of hills or in ravines.
3. Protect your food and trash
While many campgrounds have only minor issues with wild animals, like raccoons or coyotes, that might tear open your garbage bags in search of a discarded sausage. Many campsites in the Rocky Mountains, for example, require you secure food away from wild animals, including bears. You should check with the rules and precautions before leaving for your trip. If you don’t own a bear-proof storage container, you can borrow one from a friend or even rent one from a local camping supply store, if available. Remember that wild animals have much more powerful senses of smell than humans, and something as stinky (but not really “edible”) as toothpaste could even be enough to lure an animal into your tent. Here’s a list of items you should put in either a raised “bear bag” or bear-proof container while camping. Pack out any food scraps and leave no trace.
4. Be careful with fire
Besides not wanting to set your clothing or supplies on fire, you should also take care to not cause wildfires while camping. Rules include only lighting safe campfires in designated fire rings, where allowed, and avoiding spreading sparks while camping (from discarded cigarettes or even a stray ember), which could ignite dry brush. Follow local rules on outdoor fires, especially during windy, dry and hot fire seasons when conditions could spread a tiny spark rapidly. Many areas in National Forests and back country campsites prohibit fire rings, and restrict fire use to small portable camp stoves used for cooking. At campsites where fires are allowed, follow rules for collecting and burning firewood (some prohibit bringing in wood from elsewhere to slow the spread of invasive insects) and always make doubly sure your campfire is completely out by following tips on smothering embers.
5. Have fun
Safe camping doesn’t mean not having any fun. You can be a smart camper while relaxing in nature and recharge your mental batteries before you head home again. Lots of camping rules and local laws like gated roads or blocked trails are there for your safety as well as the environmental impact (like on muddy roads during spring thaw). When roads are blocked, for example, don’t go around barriers or cut locks on gates. You could be headed to a dangerous situation where you could be injured, become lost or even require rescue. Check in with a friend before you leave and let them know when to expect you back home. If you happen to not return home at your designated time, it’s good to have someone know that something could be amiss.
If you get expensive new gear for camping, make sure you add the replacement value to your homeowners policy, if needed. This goes for valuables like expensive tents, electronics, or even professional backpacking gear. If it goes missing on your trip from your vehicle, you may be covered under your car insurance policy. If you’ve chosen to camp in an RV, make sure your gear and other appliances in the trailer are included in your policy, should they be damaged or stolen. Talk to a PayneWest agent today about protecting your camping vacation from start to finish.