Summer camping season is here, and it’s time to get excited for warm-weather outdoor adventures. Whether you’re new to setting up a tent or a seasoned pro who always has an enviable setup, we’ve put together a safety and preparation checklist to help you get ready for the next trip. From packing temperature-regulating merino wool layers to checking whether you should bring a snake bite kit on your hike, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Always check the weather before heading out on your next adventure, and be sure to keep an eye on it as your trip draws nearer. Especially in mountain environments, weather can change without much notice, and the forecast may change frequently in the days—and even hours—before you depart. While rain shouldn’t stop you, thunderstorm warnings should be heeded, as lightning presents a serious safety risk. For all other kinds of weather, pack merino wool women’s base layers or men’s base layers to stay cool during hot days and cozy on cold nights.
GPS devices and smartphones come in handy, but it’s still important to carry a map of the area. Our handheld devices can lose service or run out of battery, so bringing a backup map and understanding how to use it could help you should you ever get lost in the wilderness.
Before you head out into the wilderness, make sure you understand the region and territory you’ll be trekking through. Make sure you know what kind of wildlife you might encounter—bears? Poisonous snakes? Mountain lions?—and check for water safety issues if you plan to filter natural water sources instead of packing it all in.
Even if you’re just heading out for a day hike on a trail you’ve traversed a dozen times, you should always have at least a basic first aid kit with you. Even if you don’t expect to injure yourself, it’s never a bad idea to be prepared to help others if you come across another hiker who’s gotten hurt. Outdoor stores offer hiking- and backpacking-specific first aid kits that are pack-friendly and highly organized, but of course you can also make your own if you prefer. Some basic essentials you don’t want to forget include painkillers, bandages, antiseptic wipes, and region-specific essentials such as a snake bite kit, tick remover, or poison ivy wash. If you’re interested in solo camping or backpacking, you might want to consider taking a wilderness survival training course, too.
In the great outdoors, learning how to start a campfire is essential to staying warm and cooking. It’s also just fun to roast marshmallows with your buddies under the stars. However, learning fire safety is just as important. But especially during wildfire season and in dry climates, a single ember can have devastating consequences. Make sure you check and abide by all local fire restrictions and use established fire rings. Bring enough water to completely douse your campfire so it’s out cold and no steam or sparks remain. Never leave it unattended. Check local guidelines about firewood, too. In some areas, you’re allowed to collect sticks and fallen branches, and in others you’re not. Buy firewood as close to your campsite as possible to keep invasive pests hiding in the wood from wreaking havoc on the local ecosystem.
Respecting wildlife is one of the seven fundamental Leave No Trace Principles, and for a good reason. When wildlife becomes accustomed to human interaction, it can become dangerous and turn into a dangerous situation, for both you and the animal. Bears that become accustomed to human food and get too comfortable around people often have to be euthanized. Not only should you never avoid purposely feeding animals, but you should also properly store your food so it doesn’t attract them to commonly used campsites. And while it may make an adorable selfie, you should never get between a mother and her young. Even touching a baby animal could make the mother reject it.
When camping, it’s important to store food properly to avoid foodborne illnesses and to avoid attracting wildlife. If you’re camping in bear country, take advantage of bear boxes offered by the campground—many National Park and National Forest Service campgrounds have these available at sites where bear activity is common—or get a bear-proof cooler that locks shut with padlocks through the corners.
Never leave your food outside or unattended, and don’t bring it into your tent, either—curious wildlife won’t see your tent as a formidable obstacle if they smell something tasty. If bear boxes aren’t available, you should food in a stuff sack and hang it in a tree at least 200 feet from your tent.
If you’re camping in an area without clean running water, you’ll want to bring enough to last for your whole trip. Outdoor stores sell large refillable containers that can be more economical and eco-friendly over time than buying tons of gallon jugs at the grocery store.
If you’re camping for an extended period of time and know you’ll have a natural water source available, you can boil water or clean it with purification tablets or a water filter. Check for any water safety warnings in the area before you depart and make sure whatever water filtration or purification method you plan to use is sufficient for any waterborne illnesses that may be known to the area. Untreated water can have parasites and bacteria that can make you sick, ruining a trip and potentially resulting in dangerous circumstances. Don’t forget to use this water for washing dishes and foods, too.
If you’re camping in a heavily forested area or a place with tall grass, particularly in the northeast and upper midwest, you’ll need to watch out for ticks. Ticks can carry Lyme Disease, which can have serious long-term side effects including partial facial paralysis. Bug spray can help, but you should also wear long pants and sleeves and tuck your pant legs into your socks when you venture into wooded areas. Bring a tick removal tool—a small metal device that fits on your keyring—and check yourself well after every venture into the woods. Ticks like to hide in warm spaces like armpits, behind the ears, in your hair, and around the groin. If you think you’ve been bitten, you should save the tick (after killing it by dropping it into rubbing alcohol) so it can be tested for Lyme if you start to develop symptoms.