Camping Tips and Tricks

Staying Safe in the Great Outdoors

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The perfect camping trip celebrates the best of nature with great hikes, gorgeous scenery and cozy campfires. But before you get carried away with visions of sleeping under the stars in the great outdoors, consider the potential disasters like bear sightings, fast-moving thunderstorms and poorly marked trailheads that could derail your camping excursion.

To prepare for the unexpected, it’s essential to do some research beforehand. Whether packing for a family camping trip or a solo hiking adventure, consider these tips and tricks to stay safe on the trail.


Assemble a Camping Emergency Kit
Over packing is a disaster in itself when camping, especially if you have a multi-day trip. But don’t leave behind the critical first aid kit in attempting to lighten your load. Gear stores like REI and LL Bean sell ready-made emergency packs. You can also create your own small and mighty kit tailored to your camping itinerary, with common sense tips and suggestions from the Center for Disease Control and the USDA Forest Service.

Even if you’re just car camping, bring along basic first aid gear (including bandage supplies and antibiotic creams to treat wounds), necessary medications, a small knife, lighter and hand crank camping lantern or LED flashlight (with extra battery). For longer excursions, protect yourself from the elements with a reflective survival blanket, rain poncho and hand warmers, as well as a whistle and small mirror to signal for help. Finally, water purification tablets, a collapsible water storage container and an extra tarp and nylon filament or cord should round off your list of emergency essentials.


Make Your Plans Public
Sneaking off into the wild may seem like a good idea -- unless you’ve seen the film 127 Hours, which recounts the story of hiker Aron Ralston who cut off his arm after being pinned by a heavy boulder against a slot canyon wall. Leave behind a detailed copy of your itinerary with trusted friends or family -- and stick to it, especially if you’re heading into backcountry territory. Also check in with the local ranger station; let them know about your plans as well and ask if you need a special camping permit.


Master the Old-School Essentials: Map and Compass
Getting lost in the wilderness -- there’s an app for that (check out iSurvive Wilderness for wilderness survival tips such as tying knots and making shelter). But there’s no guarantee you’ll have cell phone service when you need it most. And while you can map out your hiking routes with a GPS device, you may go out of range as you navigate peaks and valleys. So, even if you’re familiar with the territory, pack a map and compass. Most importantly, before you set out, be sure you know how to accurately use both tools in case your technology fizzles out.


Track the Weather
Before your trip, check NOAA’s National Weather Service for any possible extreme weather warnings, including blistering heat, hurricanes and other severe storms. Even with proper planning, though, it’s possible to find yourself sleeping outside or a few miles along the trail when a storm rolls in. The USDA Forest Service outlines helpful lightning safety tips, such as not to pitch your tent under the tallest trees. And though it may go against your natural instincts, if you can’t find safe shelter (like a car or building), head deep into the woods instead of sticking around an open space with sparse trees. Crouch low to the ground (instead of lying or sitting down) to diminish the path lightning can follow if you do get struck.


Prepare for Animal Encounters
Bear lockers are available at many campsites for good reason, as are precautionary warning signs about the dangers of wildlife encounters. The National Park Service’s website provides insight into avoiding such scenarios. However, safety tactics do vary by animal, so make sure your research and talks with a park ranger on arrival address this point. If you encounter a bear near your campground, the National Park Service suggests you make loud noises to scare it away. However, if you see a mountain lion, you should maintain eye contact and back away slowly. If a mountain lion approaches you, throw rocks, make noise and never play dead in the event of an attack -- keep fighting because this wild cat is sure to do the same.