Is Camping Dangerous? Tips for Staying Safe

Every year millions of people camp safely in all types of environments and conditions. The overwhelming majority of these trips are completed without encountering any dangerous situations, but sometimes things go wrong. 

Year after year there are devastating and even fatal events that occur to people camping in the wilderness. 

There are no guarantees in the backcountry but there are some proactive steps to avoid danger and keep yourself safe. The general checklist for any camping trip is: have a plan, check the weather, bring the right equipment, have enough supplies, and practice good campsite etiquette. 

In this blog post, we will break down each step in detail and give you tips to camp confidently, responsibly, and safely.

Have A Plan 

The first step is to have a plan. Having a plan starts with doing research about the area you are visiting and familiarizing yourself with the topography. 

A man is studying some area on a map

There is a wealth of information available on the internet from the people who have previously hiked and camped in areas, and that information can be helpful if you check to make sure that it is current. 

If you’re not sure if what you read or hear is current you should check with the governing body of the land, that entity should have the most up-to-date information. 

The governing body can also give you information on permits and closures. Once you have learned about the area and the current conditions you’re ready to create your route.

The first tip about trails is to know how much elevation change there is on a route.

Elevation change takes into account the difference between the elevation gain and elevation loss of a route. Elevation change greatly influences the distance a hiker is able to travel in a day. People spend significantly more energy going uphill and can only safely support so much weight going downhill. 

Four tourists with backpacks walk in the autumn forest

If you know the hike is going to be strenuous, it’s important to get a gauge of your capability. A great way to do that is by packing a bag with the gear you’ll be taking, or with similar weight, and hiking a trail near you that can simulate the terrain of your trip.

If the simulation hike proves to be too difficult you should consider training until you feel capable and comfortable hiking at that level.

A hiker with a backpack walks in the forest

The next step for creating your route is choosing a campsite. This is a crucial step if you want to be safe and enjoy your trip. Ideally, a campsite is dry, flat soil that is clear of debris and somewhat close to water. 

Of course not all campsites are ideal. You’ll need a good sleep while camping and the best way to do that is to find a campsite that is flat and dry. If you’re planning a route with multiple campsites, make sure to think about how they are spaced out. 

You should be able to hike the distance between each campsite easily and arrive well before sunset. If you arrive exhausted and after sunset, you likely won’t set up camp as efficiently or safely.

Once you’ve got a route with campsites and you’re feeling ready it’s extremely important to have a map with you. It’s very common these days to have a GPS device that can track you via satellite but they can be expensive. 

A hand in a glove holds a smartphone with a map

If you are an avid hiker and camper who frequently goes into the backcountry alone it is recommended. Even if you do have a GPS device it is always an absolute necessity to take a physical map of the area with you.

Electronics can run out of power or malfunction but a paper map is simple to use if you happen to get lost.

Along with bringing a paper map, you should always tell someone about your plan. Tell someone close to you about the trip and send them an itinerary including the route you’re taking, where you plan to camp each night, and what day you’ll be returning. 

It greatly increases the chances that emergency services will be able to find you and rescue you if something goes wrong.

Mind The Weather

Adequate planning starts weeks and often months before a trip takes place. As the trip approaches, the next step you’ll want to take is checking the weather. This step is important because it can completely dictate how you hike, the gear you bring, and if a trip should be undertaken at all. 

Check the weather for heat waves, cold fronts, and rain storms. Each of these weather events is dangerous for different reasons. The high temperatures during heat waves can quickly lead to heat exhaustion and dehydration. 

A weather forecast map

When considering the heat, think about the intensity of the UV and the amount of exposure you’ll experience along the route. If you are camping in hot temperatures make sure you bring sun protection, stay hydrated, and take breaks in the shade. 

Cold fronts increase the risk of hypothermia. When considering the cold, think about the intensity of the wind chill which increases the rate at which your body loses heat. 

If you’re camping during cold weather be sure to wear layered clothing with insulation on your feet, hands, and head. The outermost layer should be windproof and more importantly waterproof.

Have the Required Equipment

Equipment will be the most specific to your trip. The first thing to consider is the clothing you’ll need based on the overall climate and the current weather pattern. You can think of clothing for three distinct parts of your day. 

First, what you’ll be wearing when you’re hiking or simply going about your day, second what you want to wear at camp, and third what you’ll wear when you’re sleeping. You’ll also want to dress in layers, it gives you a greater ability to regulate your body temperature and allows you to pack more efficiently. 

There will be items you wear for multiple activities but it’s important to keep one set of clothes dry and in your pack at all times in case you fall into water so you can dry off quickly. You’ll always want to bring a waterproof layer for unexpected storms. 

A pair of hiking boots

You need appropriate shoes as well because you walk everywhere and will be covering large distances a day. Wear shoes with support and good tread on the bottom, preferably broken in instead of brand new.

The most important pieces of equipment you need to camp are a tent and a sleeping bag.

A quality tent keeps you safe from the elements and creatures like mosquitos when camping. There are substitutes for tents, such as hammocks and bivy sacks, but tents are the most suitable for the common camper.

A black packed tent in man's hands

Once the major pieces of gear are dialed in you should turn your attention to the smaller objects that are forgotten more often. If you want to camp safely you’ll need to bring a light source. 

Most campers choose to bring a headlamp which allows their hands to be free. Other options include flashlights for those who don’t like to wear headlamps or lanterns to light common areas around camp. No matter your preference it’s important to bring more than one light source. 

Lights are electronics and electronics can malfunction or break. Along with your two light sources, you should bring extra batteries or a power bank for both. Prolonged use throughout the night and cold temperatures increase the rate of energy use from batteries so you’ll likely run out of power faster than you think.

A camping gas stove

Another item that is often forgotten is the fuel for a cooking system. There are many types of cooking systems and all require a fuel source. You can calculate the amount of fuel you need by creating a meal plan and looking up how quickly your stove burns fuel. 

The most common type of fuel is gas in a canister. If you have a partially used canister you can measure how full it is by immersing it in water. The higher the canister floats, the less fuel you have.

The last piece of gear people often forget is a repair kit. Most pieces of gear come with a small repair kit and some campers build their own kit.

A few items that are very useful are duct tape, super glue, nylon rope, a small knife, and safety pins. With these few items you can connect, patch, and generally keep things from falling apart before your trip is over.

Maybe the most important tip regarding gear is to check it before you leave for the trip. You should be checking to make sure you know how to use the gear correctly and that the gear itself is functioning correctly. 

Camping gear

The last thing you want when you’re camping is to start setting up your tent only to find a giant hole in the side.


A crucial thing to have is a first aid kit, especially if you are camping far away from others and all alone in the middle of the backcountry. Make sure you include medication for those who need it. 

A first aid kit should always contain basic kits for cuts like bandaids, ace bandage, and gauze, but also consider splints and braces if you’re traversing some especially treacherous terrain.

A first aid kit

The amount of water you should carry depends on the available water sources along the route. Water is heavy so you should try not to carry all your water for the trip. 

It is important to carry a container that you can fill that is large enough to last until the next clean water source so plan your refills along your route. The water purification system you choose should be simple to avoid breaking. 

Gravity filters are nice for camp and for large groups but a smaller squeeze filter is perfect for solo hikers or small groups. A good tip is to bring some iodine tablets in case something goes wrong with your filtration system.

The food you bring is mostly personal preference but you’ll likely want to bring items that are dehydrated so they pack down and you aren’t carrying unnecessary water weight. It’s also difficult to keep perishable items cold, so items that don’t require refrigeration are a safer bet.


It’s mostly preparation that will keep you safe while camping but there is some important knowledge to have at the actual campsite. Oftentimes the most dangerous thing people deal with while camping is fire. 

Fires are not necessary and sometimes aren’t permitted but can be used in emergencies to stay warm. It is important to know how to prepare and properly maintain a fire. It starts by clearing an area and making sure there aren’t any low hanging branches above. 

A campfire

You should only use fire starters and natural fuel sources, never use aerosols in campfires. Be mindful of the wind direction, as fires are extremely dangerous in high winds. Always have extra water around in case the fire starts getting out of control. 

Never leave the fire unattended, it only takes a moment for a situation to become dangerous. When putting a campfire out you have to take your time and soak the embers multiple times to be sure nothing is still burning in the pit.

To avoid wild animals, be sure to store your food properly. Proper storage is in an odor-proof container placed far away from the campsite, ideally hung from a branch that can’t be reached easily by animals. 

The container should be made of a durable material that can’t be chewed through or clawed open. Never ever stash any food in your tent, and keep your dishwashing area far from your campsite, ideally at least 200 feet away from your tent. 

Keeping your campsite free of all food smells will keep the unwanted late night visitors out. 

Final Thoughts 

A group of campers sit in camping chairs near their tents in the forest

These are the most important steps you can take to keep yourself safe while camping. The tips included will help you camp confidently and help you enjoy your trip a little bit more.

Remember, there are no guarantees in the backcountry, but proper preparation and applying knowledge will give you what you need for a successful trip!

Alex Buchnev

Alex Buchnev

Alex loves kayaking, fishing, and all things outdoors. When he's not out there in the wild, he's probably typing away at his laptop or trying to be the world's best father for his two lovely daughters.

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