If you’re going camping in unfamiliar regions of the country, there’s things that go bump in the night or even the light of day that may scare you. These are reason enough for you to know the all of the camping dangers and what to be aware of when camping in the wild.
Look up! Look down! Look all around. That’s what you must do when camping outdoors. While getting out to enjoy the outdoors, there are certain camping dangers that lurk in the wild day and night.
However, those environmental threats vary from region to region. It’s important, even lifesaving, to know what you may encounter that has potential to injure or even kill you.
In other words, if you’re not familiar with new areas where you’ll be camping, you may run into trouble. Situation awareness is job #1.
So, let’s see what the camping dangers entails and how you can still enjoy camping without fear..
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8 Camping Dangers: What to be Aware of When Camping in the Wild
In some parts of the United States, weather changes like the wind. You could be camping under beautiful warm sunny skies one moment. And the next, you may be frantically looking to escape a tornado, lightening or torrential rains.
That’s precisely why you need a good weather app on your smartphone. Acquaint yourself on how to use it before you head out. So,
i f when a threatening storm heads your way, you’ll know how to monitor it.
Also, you need to know what to do in the case of a weather emergency. Have an escape plan in place. Know the route you’re going to take to evacuate or get away from the storm. Seek ample shelter.
Which is a good reason to have your emergency go bag packed and ready to go in the event of evacuation. If you’re traveling with pets, make certain you include them in your evacuation plan.
Extreme Temperatures & Dehydration
Dehydration and Heat Stress
Along with weather, some areas of the country are more prone to high temperatures that can lead to serious health risks if you don’t take the heat seriously.
Especially in more arid parts of the country such as the hot desert southwest region, you’ll dehydrate much quicker than in humid climates. You
could will fall victim to dehydration and heat stress if you don’t recognize the signs and symptoms.
So, when you’re camping in the heat, it’s important to have enough drinking water to stay hydrated. This goes for your pets too.
If you’re going to be hiking, always carry an ample water supply. A Camelbak or hydration backpack are great hands-free water reservoirs.
But a large water bottle also also suffice. However, make certain you have one large enough to hold the prescribed amount of water you’ll need to carry in your daypack.
According to the CDC, “When working in the heat, drink 1 cup (8 ounces) of water every 15–20 minutes. This translates to ¾–1 quart (24–32 ounces) per hour. Drinking at shorter intervals is more effective than drinking large amounts infrequently.”
Hypothermia & Frostbite
Equally, you need to be just as concerned with encountering cold weather while camping in the wild. You still need to stay hydrated. And you need proper clothing to stay warm and protect yourself from extreme exposure.
Because, if you’re not prepared with wearing proper clothing, hypothermia will set in quickly to the point of losing consciousness or worse, death.
So, be prepared for all weather and temperature elements. Always expect the unexpected and know the vast differences between night time temperatures versus daytime temperatures. Be aware of the weather in the areas you’ll be camping.
Again, pay strict attention to the health signs and symptoms. As well, know how to prevent them.
Most importantly, if you exhibit severe signs or symptoms, immediately seek professional medical treatment.
Toxic or Poisonous Plants
Once you know where you’ll be camping, you need to learn what toxic and poisonous plants, bushes, trees you’ll be camping near. Become familiar with leaf patterns, shapes and colors.
VeryWellHealth states in their article, How to Identify Plants That Cause Rashes, “Many plants can cause skin irritation that can lead to a rash. These include poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, stinging nettles, ragweed, leadwort, baby’s breath, and giant hogweed.”
Also, anyone who has spent serious time outdoors knows that in survival situations, edible wild plants are often the only sustenance available.
So, if you think you’ll be living off the land while camping or hiking, know how to recognize the good versus the bad before chowing down on plants and berries. Proper identification of these plants can mean the difference between survival and death.
Bugs & Spiders
Certain parts of the country have dangerous spiders, scorpions and nasty insects. So, it’s important to learn about those creepy crawly things before you get bit, stung, sucked.
The most common insects that pass on disease are mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and sand flies. Spiders and scorpions are venomous; meaning they are capable of injecting venom by means of a bite or sting.
Camping Pro Tip: 5 Dangerous Desert Spiders to Avoid in the Southwestern U.S.
Mosquitoes are those pesky buzzing flying bugs that bite! Well, they don’t really bite nor do they sting. Yet, we associate mosquitos to biting because that’s what it feels like.
However, something you may not know is only female mosquitos inject to draw out your protein from your blood for its eggs!
Some mosquito bites make you itch. However, some mosquito bites can make you ill. It’s important to recognize the symptoms of
Something you also may not know is, according to Hardly Diagnostics, mosquitos are the deadliest animal in the world! Of course, death isn’t as prevalent in the United States as it is in other parts of the world.
That said, mosquitos can spread viruses like West Nile, Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya, Yellow Fever, and Malaria.
Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of infected ticks. The Blacklegged Tick (deer tick) spreads the disease in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central United States.
Flea-borne typhus is spread to people through contact with infected fleas. Fleas become infected when they bite infected animals, such as rats, cats, or opossums. The CDC says it’s important to know the signs and symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of this disease.
Sand Fly (Midges) bites are painful and may cause red bumps and blisters. These skin injuries can become infected, cause skin inflammation, or dermatitis. Sand flies transmit diseases to animals and humans, including the parasitic disease, Leishmaniasis.
According to Desert USA, about 90 species of scorpions are found in the U.S. All but four of those naturally occur west of the Mississippi River. They are mostly abundant in semi-arid regions. The highest concentration of scorpions are found in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas.
But, the United States has one type of scorpion that is considered deadly to humans; the Arizona Bark Scorpion.
The Arizona Bark Scorpion bodies are tan, and their backs are slightly darker in color. Under UV light, these scorpions will glow a bright bluish color making them easy to spot. They are nocturnal and are generally only seen at night.
So, if you’re going to be camping out in the desert southwest, I highly recommend using a scorpion light to detect them at night.
Bite Prevention Tips
Never leave backpacks, blankets, shoes, boots or clothes outside; especially on the ground. Don’t put on any clothes or shoes that were left outside until you have shaken and pounded them out. You certainly don’t want to bring those nasty critters inside your tent, RV or even your vehicle.
Brush off your camp chairs before sitting in them. You also should check under picnic tables, stationary grills and fire pits for scorpions and nasty spiders. I found a Black Widow hiding under the seat of a picnic table in Kentucky!
Check your entire body from head to toe for bites and stings often. Have a fellow camper check your scalp to ensure no ticks or fleas have decided to take refuge in your hair. This also goes for your pets you take camping with you too.
To help prevent ticks, fleas, flies and other bugs, wear high top socks, long pants, and long sleeve shirts. Always spray your legs down with insect repellent that has a high concentration of DEET.
And to triple your protection against ticks (and other nasty bugs), spray your clothing, gear and tent with Permethrin. And for those itchy drive-you-crazy mosquito bites, try using After Bite to subside the itch.
Camping Pro Tip: Before loading up on different insect repellents, check out our Insect Repellent Ingredients: Are They SAFE?
Snakes give most people the willies. But venomous snakes have their own chapter in the book of camping dangers!
Depending on where you’re going camping, there’s specific venomous snakes you need to be aware of. In addition to dangerous Rattlesnakes and Copperheads, Coral Snakes and Cottonmouths are present in some regions of the country.
The important thing is to know how to identify venomous snakes. Also, learn about where their habitats are, what they eat and where they like to hang out.
Rattlesnakes will usually warn you by shaking their infamous tail rattle. However, Copperheads will not. All snakes, when surprised or threatened, will become aggressive; especially Cottonmouths.
So, watch where you step and reach! Stay away from rock crevices, nooks and crannies where snakes can hide or nest.
When you’re camping or hiking, use your trekking poles or walking stick to tap ahead of you or stick into cracks and crevices before you step into them. Before reaching for that log or piece of firewood, use a stick to push it before picking it up.
If you’ll be in camping during Rattlesnake season or where they’re common, you may want to invest in snake gaiters, snake chaps, or snake-proof boots.
Never allow your dog or cat nose around shrubs, bushes, cactus or any holes where a snake (or any form of wildlife) could be hiding. It would be a good idea to keep your pet leashed or confined on your campsite.
Lions and tigers and bears, OH MY! While I say that jokingly, wild animals can be a serious threat. But, that doesn’t mean you should avoid camping. You and they can coexist but with caution, vigilance and respect. Look for signs of their existence such as tracks and scat. If you notice fresh evidence, you may want to camp elsewhere.
Always be on high alert when you’re camping in areas of bears, big cats, wolves and coyotes, feral hogs and javelinas as well as big game animals. It would be a good idea to learn different wild animal tracks and animal scat.
Wildlife “Scat and Tracks” Guides for different Regions of the United States
According to the National Park Service, “Three species of bears live in North America: black bears, brown bears (which includes grizzlies), and polar bears.
You can check out the NPS map of National Parks with bears to see where you can find the different species.
But, even if you’re not camping in National Parks, it should still give you a good guide of where bears are located in a particular region.
Before you set up camp, you may want to visit or ask the local Ranger or State Fish and Wildlife Department if there have been any recent bear sightings.
Camping Pro Tip: Camping in Bear Country? Safety Tips That Could Save Your Life
Big cats such as Mountain Lions, Lynx, Bobcats, Ocelots, Jaguars and Jaguarundi are known to roam various regions of the United States. Jaguars are the only cats in North America that roar. They’re considered the largest cats in the Western Hemisphere.
Big cat species typically hunt at night. And, they tend to lounge or sleep in high places like canyon ledges, rocks, trees, and whatever other elevated location they can get. Not only do those serve as prime sleeping spots but they also give big cats height advantage for hunting.
Wolves and Coyotes
According to North American Nature, wolves are more dangerous than coyotes; gray wolves. Owing to their massive size and aggressive nature, wolves qualify as one of North America’s most dangerous animals.
Wolves and coyotes aren’t typically dangerous to humans. Humans are not on their menu. In fact, they’re actually afraid of people and try to avoid human activity. Especially coyotes spend a lot of their time scavenging for food; especially in the Spring or Summer for their pups.
On rare occasion coyotes have been known to attack humans (and pets), but risks are minimal. The majority of wolf and coyote attacks can be reduced or prevented through modification of human behavior.
One of the main ways to prevent wolves and coyotes from entering your camp is to not leave food out or accessible. Store all food in your RV or in a bear bag or cooler in your vehicle.
Be mindful when walking our dog, especially at night. And of course, keep your children close by.
If a coyote or wolf gets uncomfortably close to your camp, throw rocks or sticks, make loud noise, shine bright lights to scare them away.
Javelina and Feral Hogs
Other than Javelinas (Collared Peccary), Feral Pigs and Wild Boar are actually a non-native, invasive species. Pigs are not native to the United States.
According to Arizona Game and Fish, Javelina occasionally bite humans, but incidents of bites are almost always associated with people providing the javelina with food. Javelina, feral pigs and wild boar are known to carry diseases that are harmful to humans and pets.
Javelina form herds for social interaction, to stay warm in cold temperatures, to defend their territory, protect against predators. They use washes and areas with dense vegetation as travel corridors. Javelina are most active at night in warmer seasons. But they may be active during the day in the late Fall, Winter or very early Spring.
Defensive javelina behavior may include charging (because they have bad eyesight), teeth clacking, or a barking, and growling sounds. Javelina and Feral Hogs can inflict a serious wound if provoked or they are searching for food.
So, the moral to keeping distance away from potentially dangers wildlife is to keep food inaccessible. Store all your food, both perishables and non-perishables, in your vehicle or RV. Stay away from their young. Never approach, feed, corner or try to herd them. Don’t camp close to water sources or high vegetation areas and even farm fields where wildlife feeds.
For more information on these destructive wildlife, check out U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wild Pigs: Damage and Disease Threats.
Weirdos and Creepy Campers
Unfortunately, ill-willed persons who may have criminal backgrounds may be hiding out in remote areas to avoid the law.
Not trying to instill fear or dissuade you from camping, just be aware you may encounter creepy campers. You know, those weird people who raise the hair on the back of your neck; leaving that uneasy feeling.
While this may seem extreme, just be aware of your surroundings and the people you encounter while camping in the wild. Get a good description (age, gender, height, weight, hair and eye color, etc.) and remember it. Note what color their tent or type of RV is. If they have a vehicle or RV, try to get their license tag number.
But, keep your distance if something doesn’t feel right. If a stranger gives you the willies, text or call a loved one with your GPS coordinates. Then, pack up quickly and LEAVE. There’s tons of other places to camp. Once you get to a safe populated area, report your findings to local law enforcement or a Ranger.
Do, however, make certain you let whomever you left your Camp Plan (below) with that you’ve relocated.
Other camping dangers to think about
I always have this thing when I’m out in the wild. I am constantly looking up, down and all around. It’s called situation awareness.
Make certain you’re not setting up camp under trees that may have dead limbs overhead. A wind storm could roll through and those branches could break and fall.
Never camp on a river bank that could flood at anytime. Again, pay attention to your weather app we discussed earlier in this article.
And for what it’s worth, remember that water sources also draw wildlife such as bears, big cats and other animals you may not want knocking on your RV or tent.
Be mindful of where you procure your drinking water. Stagnant water is a breeding ground for bacteria and diseases. Use a LifeStraw or water purification powder or tablets.
Also, it’s imperative to have the a complete camping first aid kit. Make certain you have extra antibacterial wipes, alcohol swabs, and antibiotic ointment.
Camping Pro Tip: Check out our Best First Aid Kits for RVs or Campers
Always leave a Camp Plan
Anytime you go camping near or far, whether solo or with other campers, it’s imperative that you leave a Camp Plan. Similar to a Float Plan for boaters, a Camp Plan is specific information that you leave a loved one or friend who stays behind.
Camp Plan Info:
- What time you’re leaving
- Planned stops along the way
- Route you’re taking to get to the camping area
- GPS coordinates of where you’re camping
- Estimated time of return
- How many in your camping party
- Names & ages of who you’re camping with
- Medical concerns of all campers in your party
- Description of Vehicle, RV and/or Tent (color)
- License Plate Information of Vehicle or RV
- How many days worth of water and food you have
Personal protection while camping in the wild
If you’re going to be camping alone, you may want to carry some sort of protection in case of wildlife or human attacks. Because you just don’t know what dangers of camping may present themselves.
While you may think bear spray, wasp spray or personal defense spray or a personal defense stun gun may be enough to escape or impair a wild animal or attacker, know that it’s only temporary and it may not have the effect you hope for.
Also, using either of those for human defense can cause you legal repercussions should the person decide to press assault charges. So, know the laws for each federal, state, county and local camping areas.
Regarding handguns and rifles, there are certain stipulations regarding whether or not you can have firearms in National Parks.
For example, according to the National Park Service’s PDF document, A Quick Guide to Gun Regulations in the Intermountain Region, “Congress approved a new law allowing loaded firearms in national parks starting Feb. 22, 2010. That means people can openly carry legal handguns, rifles, shotguns and other firearms and also may carry concealed guns as allowed by state statute.” (Quoted exact words so there is no misinterpretation or loss of translation)
And, on the NPS page, Firearms in National Parks “In areas administered by the National Park Service, an individual can possess a firearm if that individual is not otherwise prohibited by law from possessing the firearm and if the possession of the firearm complies with the laws of the state where the park area is located.” (Quoted exact words so there is no misinterpretation or loss of translation)
Again, it’s important to familiarize yourself with firearms laws for each federal, state, county and even local camping areas regarding firearms and personal protection.
I highly recommend that you read both of those NPS links above before taking any firearms camping with you.
Final thoughts on the camping dangers
I hope listing all these camping dangers didn’t scare the bejeezus out of you. The intent of this article is to help make you aware that you’re not alone wherever you camp. Situation awareness should always be your highest priority.
Be proactive of safety and protective of your well being. Camp with capable friends. Remember, there’s safety in numbers. Prevention is key to successful and enjoyable camping. And lastly, just get in the habit; look up, look down, look all around.
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