Woods and Camping Safety for the Whole Family

Woods and Camping Safety for the Whole Family

A family camping trip can be a lot of fun with a little preparation. Knowing everyone's limits, planning ahead, and packing the right items will help your adventure come off without a hitch.

Here are the basics of woods and camping safety.

Planning Ahead

If you're not skilled in the outdoors, begin your adventures by taking day trips. But even then be aware of camping safety issues, such as insect bites and stings; plants that can cause rashes and allergic reactions; exposure to heat, wind, water, and cold; and getting lost.

First Aid Guide Insect Stings Go First Aid Guide Allergic Reactions Go

Once families feel comfortable with their camping skills, they may want to plan a few days or a week in a wilderness park. But first, get information from park rangers, read guide books about the terrain and weather, and talk with campers who've been there.

Common Camping Dangers

One common mistake made by camping families is not being ready for seasonal changes. Storms blow in and out during all seasons, and there can be sudden shifts in temperatures in spring and fall, particularly on high mountains. Precipitation and wind lead to rapid cooling, especially when temperatures drop at nightfall.

Excessive heat can be a problem for young children, whose sweat glands are not fully developed until adolescence. On hot days, hike in the cooler mornings and evenings. During the day, spend time in shaded areas. Wear skin protection whenever you or your kids are exposed to the sun, including hats, sunscreen, and cotton clothes.

Another common problem is getting lost. Teach your kids how to recognize landmarks at the campsite and on hikes. While hiking, encourage them to turn around and look at the trail to familiarize themselves with their surroundings. Teach them to remain where they are and stay calm if they are lost. Kids should wear whistles (whistles can be heard farther away than the human voice) and know the universal help signal of three blows or loud sounds. Try to take your cellphone along in case you can get a signal.

Before your trip, look for a local class or go online to find out more about map reading and finding directions. For wilderness trekking, always carry a topographical map and compass.

Proper Clothing

To protect against sudden temperature and weather changes, think layers. Layers of clothing(tank tops, long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, etc.) made of polyester, polypropylene, and wool let you add or remove clothing as needed. To protect against rain and wind, bring breathable, lightweight waterproof jackets and pants.

All family members need comfortable hiking shoes to prevent blistering. When hiking, tuck pant cuffs into socks and boots to protect against ticks. Kids should wear brightly colored clothes to increase visibility. Caps or hats will help guard against the sun and insects.

Setting Up a Campsite

Natural hazards, such as forest fires and fallen trees, are less likely to be a problem at campgrounds that you can reach by car. But other dangers lurk, such as broken glass, discarded needles, and other hazardous trash.

Scout the area before setting up a tent. In wilderness areas, look for signs of animal and insect use; for example, yellowjacket wasps build their nests in the ground. If berries are plentiful at a site, bears may forage for food there.

To build a firepit, look for a clearing and previous firepits. During fire-hazard periods and dry seasons, use portable stoves rather than campfires.

Drinking the Water

Assume that all wilderness streams and creeks are potentially contaminated water sources due to domestic and wild animals. Giardia lamblia, a common parasitic contaminant, can cause nausea, bloating, gas, stomach cramps, and explosive diarrhea leading to dehydration.

If you are can't bring bottled water with you or your supply runs out, iodine is an inexpensive and easy way to purify water (you can buy iodine tablets that dissolve in the water; check the expiration date before using). You can also use water filters. Boiling is an excellent method for purifying water, but takes a lot of time, energy, and resources; also, proper boiling times can vary based on elevation.

Food Supplies and Foraging

Plan your meals according to how many days you will be on a trip, and then bring extra food. Pack plenty of portable foods, such as granola bars, packaged trail mix, breads, peanut butter, fruit, and other camping-friendly foods. You can even buy dehydrated meals that only need water added to them.

It's best to leave foraging for berries to the animals because it's easy to mistake toxic berries for edible ones that can make someone pretty sick and ruin the entire trip.

Plants and Insects

Common plants to be wary of are poison ivy, oak, and sumac. Show your kids pictures of these plants before your trip, and if in doubt, avoid touching any unknown plants. Dress your kids in long-sleeved shirts and pants to protect the skin from exposure to plants that may cause allergic reactions. You can apply protective products before hiking that will act as a barrier against the oils of the plants.

Any area that comes in contact with a poisonous plant should be washed immediately with cool water to help remove the oil that causes the allergic reaction. Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream (1%) may help to stop the itching that's common with poison ivy.

First Aid Guide Poison Ivy Go Antihistamines taken by mouth are effective for allergic reactions or itchy rashes — from contact with poison ivy to mosquito bites to bee and wasp stings. Use citronella-based products to repel insects and put it on clothing instead of skin whenever possible. Repellents containing DEET also can be used. Choose a repellent that contains no more than 10% to 30% DEET; in higher concentrations, the chemical (which is absorbed through the skin) can be toxic. Be sure to follow the directions on the label. DEET-containing products should not be used on children younger than 2 years old.

First Aid Guide Tick Bites GoAnother camping concern is ticks, which can carry several types of infections, including Lyme disease. Check your kids at the end of each day for ticks. Examine places where ticks like to hide, like behind the ears, in the scalp, under the arms, and in the groin area.

Be aware of the bulls-eye rash seen in some people with Lyme disease. This red ring may grow to about 2 inches in diameter around the bite about a week after the tick bite.

Protecting Against Animals

Teach kids that animals in the wild are strong and will defend themselves and their young if threatened. Kids should not approach wild animals, even small ones, and should never feed them. Don't leave kids unsupervised — especially young children. Instruct them to stay calm and call loudly for help if they encounter a wild animal.

Always ask the park rangers about wild animals in your wilderness park. Keep the campsite free of food odors and do not bring food into tents. Pack food in your cars overnight; if you're going on a long camping trip, pack food in resealable plastic bags and animal-resistant containers.

What to Pack

Essentials for every camping trip include:

First-Aid Kits

Bring a first-aid kit that includes:

Knowing how to make a splint in case of injury is also useful and can be learned in first-aid classes.

Camping Emergency Basics

Before your trip, notify friends and families of your destination and time of return. And sign up at park registers before and after wilderness treks.

In the case of an emergency, the most important thing to do is to remain calm. If your kids have whistles and were instructed to wait in a sheltered area if they get lost, you should be able to find them more readily. If you bring a cellphone, make sure it's charged and consider bringing extra batteries.

Always stay on the safe side when setting boundaries for family camping. The more remote your location, the more care you should take in choosing your activities. Survey campsites for riverbanks and cliffs. Check out climbing trees for dead branches and moss, both of which cause falls.

So do your homework before your trip. Good preparation for camping lets the whole family enjoy the great outdoors safely.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: June 2014





Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995-2015 KidsHealth® All rights reserved.
Images provided by iStock, Getty Images, Corbis, Veer, Science Photo Library, Science Source Images, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com





Bookmark and Share

Related Resources
OrganizationAmerican Red Cross The American Red Cross helps prepare communities for emergencies and works to keep people safe every day. The website has information on first aid, safety, and more.
Web SiteCDC: Travelers' Health Look up vaccination requirements for travel destinations, get updates on international outbreaks, and more, searachable by country.
OrganizationNational Park Service This site contains information on America's national parks and the many ways you can enjoy the great outdoors.
Related Articles
How Can I Get My Kids to Be Active Outdoors? Kids parked on the couch watching TV or glued to a computer/smartphone/gaming system are missing out on the great outdoors. It's important for all kids to get outside - here are some ideas.
Road Trip Boredom Busters Road trips can be fun and educational with just a little planning and preparation. Here are some ideas to get your family revved up for a trip long on smiles and short on frustration.
Camping and Woods Safety Ah, the great outdoors! Find out how to stay safe while you're exploring the woods.
Camping Basics Whether you'll be in the woods, on the desert, combing the beaches, or climbing mountain trails, check out our article about camping basics for a few important survival techniques.
Active Vacations If an active family vacation sounds appealing, find out how to plan a trip that will be fun without being exhausting, especially for young travelers.
Rashes: The Itchy Truth Learn about rashes in a flash. Check out our article just for kids!
Kids Talk About: Summer Vacations We asked kids to tell us about their favorite trips. See what they had to say!
Summer Safety Center Want to avoid summer hazards so you can focus on the fun? This center offers tips for teens.
Summer Safety Keep the fun in summer by keeping your child safe in the sun, the water, and the great outdoors.
Stay Safe Center Go outside! Just be safe out there. Find out how to handle stinging bugs, thunderstorms, sunny days, and icy cold days, too.
When Can I Go to Sleepaway Camp? Ready for more than just day camp? Find out when many kids try sleepaway camp.
Dehydration Sometimes kids lose fluids and salts through fever, diarrhea, vomiting, or long periods of exercise with excessive sweating. Here are some tips on preventing or treating dehydration.
How Do I Watch for Lyme Disease After Removing a Tick? Find out what the experts have to say.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is a disease caused by a bacteria that is carried by certain types of ticks. Learn about the signs and symptoms of RMSF and tips for preventing infection in this article.
What's My Lyme Disease Risk? Is the thought of Lyme disease making you feel you'll be safer in the comfort of your room than the great outdoors? This article can help you assess your Lyme disease risk.
Sun Safety By teaching kids how to enjoy fun in the sun safely, parents can reduce their risk for developing skin cancer.
Heat Illness Active kids can be at risk for heat illness, which can result in heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heatstroke. Learn how to prevent and treat heat illness.
Are Insect Repellents With DEET Safe for Kids? Find out what the experts have to say.
Bug Bites and Stings In most cases, bug bites and stings are just nuisances. But in some cases, they can cause infections and allergic reactions. It's important to know the signs, and when to get medical attention.
Poison Ivy Poison ivy can give you a nasty rash. Find out more about it - and the other plants that can make you itch - in this article for kids.
Staying Safe Around Animals Do you love animals? Lots of kids do. Find out how to stay safe around them in this article for kids.
First Aid: Poison Ivy/Oak/Sumac Mild rashes from poison ivy, oak, and sumac plants can be treated at home. But severe and widespread rashes require medical treatment.
Poison Ivy About 60% to 80% of all people get a reaction to poison ivy. Check out this article for tips on what to do and how to avoid poison ivy.
Going Away to Camp Are you ready for sleepaway camp? Learn more about it in this article for kids.
Hey! A Tick Bit Me! A tick attaches itself to the skin of a person or animal and sucks blood. If you have a dog, it may have picked up a tick before! Learn more about ticks in this article for kids.
Developments Developments
Sign up for enewsletter
Get involved Get involved
Discover ways to support Akron Children's
Join the conversation Join the conversation
See what our patient families are saying