6 Camping safety tips everyone should know
Going camping is almost a rite of passage here in Australia and it’s a great way to combine our sense of adventure with the wild outdoors. Yet any adventure carries with it some element of risk and even the most seasoned camper can fall victim to a minor injury or ailment while on holiday. The good news is that by planning ahead and having an adequate camping first aid kit on board, you won’t be put off by the odd bite or scratch. Below, we cover some of the injuries and ailments you may have to deal with next time you’re in the bush.
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke
Most people want to be out and about during the summer months when the weather is warm and the beer needs to be cold, but as temperatures increase, so does the risk of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. As with most ailments from exposure, the best way to avoid them is to cover up with appropriate clothing and seek shelter from the elements. Along with proper hydration and a way to keep cool, heatstroke should be easy to avoid. However, if someone in your camp has had a lot of time in the sun and starts to feel dizzy, confused or complains of a headache, then they may need some intervention. Move them to shade, loosen any tight clothing, slowly rehydrate and fan them. Anything you have on hand like cold packs, cold beverages, ice put into a Ziploc bag etc. should be placed under the arms and groin to start lowering the person’s body temperature and their clothing can be dampened as well. If they are no longer sweating and their skin is dry to touch, then they have moved from heat exhaustion to heatstroke and may need medical attention.
Along with heatstroke, dehydration is one of the most common issues for campers and hydrating properly is important in summer and winter temperatures. Setting up a water station at your campsite so that children have unrestricted access can dramatically reduce the risk of dehydration. If they start complaining of sore muscles, a dry mouth, dizziness or are generally listless than immediately begin replacing liquids slowly and move them into the shade to rest.
Nothing ruins a camping holiday faster than a bad sunburn; but this one is very easy to prevent. Sunscreen, protective clothing, sunglasses and a hat are your best friends when trying to avoid sunburn, although you must remember that sunscreen needs to be reapplied at least every 2 hours; don’t forget to remind the kids. Prolonged exposure can lead to heatstroke, with the extra warmth generated from a severe sunburn compounding the effects and making it more difficult to return a person’s temperature to normal levels. If you do find yourself, or your children with a bad case of sunburn, you should seek shade immediately, rehydrate with plenty of water and apply a topical lotion with Aloe Vera on the affected skin to ease the burn. Covering up for the rest of your trip will avoid any further damage.
Insects and ticks
Bugs are annoying, that’s a fact but most bites and stings (even the dreaded tick) are avoidable by applying tropical strength insect repellents and wearing appropriate clothing. Mosquito, ant and spider bites and Bee stings can be soothed by applying ice intermittently to the affected area to reduce swelling and calm the itch. Bee stingers must be removed first by scraping over it with your nail and tick tweezers are a great addition to your kit to aid in proper removal of those little nasties. Antihistamines and mild painkillers like Panadol can also be used to alleviate swelling and pain from a bite or sting. If the swelling doesn’t reduce, or you think you may have been bitten by a poisonous spider (funnel web, redback etc.) then seek appropriate medical attention.
Cuts and sprains
Falling or getting a scape while camping isn’t abnormal, especially with kids, and you’ll easily be prepared for these minor accidents if you pack a decent first aid kit. Clean, treat (antiseptic etc.) and cover the abrasion or cut and the kids are good to go again. However, if someone rolls an ankle they may need an extended stay in their camping chair. Rest, apply ice (intermittently), compress the injury and elevate the limb above heart level (R.I.C.E) to reduce pain and swelling; an anti-inflammatory (like Nurofen) wouldn’t go astray either. They may have to take it easy for the rest of the trip, but it won’t ruin your holiday.
When the weather gets warmer, it’s not just people who come out of hiding from the winter cold, flora and fauna begin to make an appearance too. Alongside all the lovely flowers come other potentially dangerous creatures, including snakes, but unless you are a snake expert, you should consider all snakes as poisonous and treat bites accordingly. Avoidance is the best safety measure and you should stay vigilant by watching where you are walking and where you put your hands. If you are hiking or camping in denser scrub, closed in footwear plus gaiters or jeans will also give you added protection as most bites occur on the ankle and lower leg and a snake’s fangs are too short to penetrate thick material. In the event of a bite, make sure the snake has left the area before you attend the victim or you may put yourself in danger as well. Remember that bites can look like a superficial scratch, not the two puncture wounds you might expect, and that a headache is usually one of the first symptoms. Keep the victim calm and immobile and immediately send or call for help. Cover the wound (the hospital will use any venom on the skin to identify the snake) and apply a pressure bandage to the affected limb beginning at the end – like the hand or foot – and firmly wrapping up towards the torso at about the same pressure that you would apply to a sprained ankle. Immobilise them by using a splint and keep them in a sitting position; the longer they are immobilised, the longer the poison will take to spread around the body, increasing their chances of survival.
While it’s impossible to avoid every camping malady, you should be able to prevent a lot of them if you use your common sense and take steps to protect yourself. Organising your first aid kit into four main categories will make it easier to put your hands on what you need fast and allow you to always see what needs replacing.
A cleaning and sterilising section should contain medical disinfectants, such as Dettol, alcohol wipes, saline solution, and implements to clean and remove debris from wounds. A covering and wrapping section has Band-aids, gauze, bandages, sports tape, slings and the like. A medication and painkilling section should have relief for bites and stings, antifungal cream, Aloe Vera lotion and analgesics like Panadol. Finally, an area needs to be set aside for cutting instruments like scissors and a knife, plastic gloves, tweezers, a first aid manual and a notepad and pencil. A well-equipped camping or wilderness style first aid kit will have most of the things you require, but additional items may need to be added such as personal medication, antihistamines, diarrhoea and constipation medicine, heat and cold packs, sunscreen and insect repellent, hand sanitiser, a light source and a fire source and some high energy, long lasting food like protein bars; these items will round out your kit so you’ll be prepared for any incident.
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