If you have plans to explore the great outdoors with your family this year, you’re in for a treat. Family camping trips can encourage you and your brood to grow closer and form lifelong memories.
Before you head out, though, make sure you’re prepared for an experience that’s both memorable and safe.
First things first? Choose your spot with care.
Before You Arrive
Choosing the best camping spot begins long before you arrive at the campground.
First, think about what type of camping you want to do. Housing options may include tents, RVs and cabins. Amenities for each, including electrical hookups, vary from one campground to the next. If you’re planning to camp during a particularly hot or cold season, you might appreciate the shelter of a climate-controlled cabin or camper.
Also, not all campgrounds offer the same level of service.
State Farm recommends choosing a facility that offers safety features like a security gate and a night patrol. Knowing that someone is keeping an eye out may help you sleep soundly all night long.
If you’re opting for a camping experience with fewer amenities — “roughing it,” so to speak — then you still need to plan ahead.
Scout locations that still offer a way to get help if you need it, such as parks with access to a ranger station or areas that aren’t completely cut off from other humans. Having access to safety features won’t take away from your au natural experience, and you’ll be glad for the assist if it comes to it.
Once You Get There
Survey a campsite before you start unpacking your gear and setting up your tent. Take a look around for hazards like animal burrows, poisonous plants or rocky drop-offs. If you’re camping with young children, for example, nearby water can be both a benefit and a risk.
You also need a space that allows you to spread out. Your fire circle should always be at least 15 feet away from your tent and any brush or trees.
And cover the basics of first aid ahead of time.
Accidents happen, especially while you’re out in the wild. Always start your camping trip with a fully stocked first aid kit. That could include:
- Adhesive bandages
- Alcohol wipes
- Antibacterial ointment
- Gauze and nonstick pads
- Medical tape
- Moleskin pads
- Pain medication
It’s smart to preload your phone with a reliable first aid app, too, such as the one available from the Red Cross. You can’t always count on cell service while camping, though, so pack a paperback manual or basic safety pamphlet as well.
Familiarize yourself with poisonous plants, too.
Research shows that time spent in nature is good for your body and your mind. Not all green plants are equally beneficial, though. Poison ivy and other itch-inducing greenery can quickly turn your camping trip into an agonizing experience.
Before your trip, study up on poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac so that you’ll be able to recognize them. You may also want to download an app like Leafsnap to help you identify plants on the go (and make sure images are available offline in case you can’t access the internet).
If you do end up with an itchy rash, you may be able to treat it with cool compresses and calamine lotion. But don’t try to tough out a truly awful case. Stop in an urgent care clinic if these at-home remedies don’t help or the rash gets worse.
Have a plan for weather emergencies.
When camping, you should always be alert for the possibility of severe weather. Thunderstorms, flash floods and tornadoes are among the top concerns here.
Check the weather before you go. If severe storms are in the forecast, it may be best to reschedule your plans. A little rain is one thing, but you don’t want to get caught in a flooding situation if you can avoid it.
Of course, circumstances can change in an instant, so stay vigilant throughout your trip. Keep a weather app on your phone and check it often. But again, since you can’t always count on having cell service in the woods, pack a portable weather radio as well.
Have a plan for where you can go before a storm strikes, too. According to the National Weather Service, it’s best to find a sturdy shelter, preferably one with a basement.
If that’s not an option, locate a low ditch, crouch down and cover your head during a thunderstorm or a tornado. If flash flooding is a concern, seek higher ground instead. During any storm, avoid trees and metal structures. Don’t worry about your stuff, either. Leave your car and gear behind if it’s between you and getting to safety.
And don’t forget about sun protection.
Bring broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers at least SPF 15. Reapply at least once every two hours, and wear hats and sunglasses as needed for extra protection.
During the sunniest part of the day — about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. — focus on indoor or shady activities if you can.
Or tiny pests, for that matter.
Most insect bites are an itchy nuisance, but some can spread serious diseases. Do your best to keep bugs at bay during your camping trip.
The most effective insect repellents contain the chemical DEET. It’s approved for use by kids aged 2 months and up. You should apply this type of product only once a day. Aim for a variety with a 30% concentration of DEET so it will last longer.
Wearing long pants, long sleeves and closed-toed shoes in the woods can provide extra protection. At the end of each day, check each other over for ticks, too.
To deter pests from hanging around your campsite in the first place, spritz the area with essential oils. Pest-repelling options include geranium, lemongrass, mint and citronella. KOA recommends combining several drops of oil with 1/2 cup of water, 1/2 cup of witch hazel and 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol.
Always keep your tent zipped or your camper door closed to keep bugs from getting inside.
Keeping a campfire burning is a smart way to shoo away pests, too. Sprinkling dried rosemary or sage leaves in the fire will increase the effect.
Speaking of fire, respect the blaze.
Although fires are great for keeping away bugs and creating a cozy atmosphere, you’ve got to respect the burn — and the possibility of actual burns. Make sure children are fully aware of the dangers, too.
Some tips? When it comes to campfires, do not . . .
- Build the fire bigger than it needs to be;
- Run near or around it; or
- Leave the fire unattended (by an adult).
And, importantly, always keep a bucket of water and a shovel on hand to put out the fire if you need to.
Unless you’re in a cabin with a wood-burning fireplace, never try to light a fire in your sleeping space. Don’t use fuel-burning lanterns inside, either. Even in a tent, lanterns can cause a dangerous buildup of deadly carbon monoxide.
Oh, and don’t forget to guard your food.
Nonperishable foods are ideal for outdoor living, but a well-insulated cooler will allow you to bring refrigerated items, too. Keep the cooler stocked with ice, and put cold foods away as soon as you’re finished using them. Perishable items can easily spoil in the summer heat.
Not only are coolers important for keeping food at a safe temperature, but they can also protect your stash from wildlife.
Some animals can open coolers, though, so you might want to lock all food supplies in your car overnight. If you’re camping in an area with bears, the campground may have specific food-storage rules for you to follow. Check ahead of time so you know what to bring.
Finally, make sure that everyone in your family stays hydrated. Dehydration can make you feel sick. It can also make you more attractive to biting insects who are drawn to hot, sweaty skin. Remind your group to take frequent sips even if they don’t feel thirsty.
Of course, use water only from campground sources that are marked safe for consumption. And to make sure you have an adequate supply, pack your own bottled water, enough to last for several days for everyone in your party.