According to the Outdoor Foundation’s 2016 Topline Research Report, camping was the third most popular outdoor activity of people who were younger than 25 years old and the fifth most popular for people older than 25. In fact, an estimated 65 million Americans went camping in 2015.
If camping is in your future this summer, keep safety in mind.
Nothing is worse than having a long-awaited summer camping trip interrupted by an illness or injury. Just ask the Allen family.
After days of packing and hours of driving, the family finally arrived at the campground on the shores of Lake Superior. The parents set up the campsite as the children rode their bikes.
But, the promise of s’mores and campfire conversation changed the instant Megan fell off her bike. Instead of enjoying a night under the stars, the family crowded into the van and spent the rest of the evening in the emergency room of a rural hospital waiting for X-rays, a diagnosis and ultimately a cast to immobilize and protect Megan’s broken arm.
Unfortunately, even with the best of plans, accidents like this can happen. But, you can minimize their impact, by planning ahead and considering a few safety tips.
Before leaving home, check out your health care options.
Locate health care facilities near your camping destination. Rural hospitals can give initial, life-sustaining care. But not every small hospital has access to an orthopaedic specialist. If you experience a complex fracture, severe sprain or a dislocated joint, you may want to follow-up with your primary care provider or an orthopaedic specialist when you return home.
Call your insurance company. Ask about your coverage and any special instructions you need to follow if you seek medical care outside your insurance company’s network. Knowing this information in advance enables you to assess your options and make the best health care decision for your family.
Pack a first aid kit.
Whether you are camping in Gramma’s driveway or in a remote location without electricity or running water, having a basic first aid kit and a first aid manual can come in handy for the bumps and bruises you may encounter along the way.
You can buy a ready-made first aid kit, or you can put one together yourself using a clean, waterproof container with a tight-fitting lid and the following supplies.
- Bandages, dressings and tape
- Large (5 x 9 inch) absorbent compress dressings
- A large package of assorted adhesive and butterfly bandages for all sizes of cuts and scrapes
- Triangular bandages
- Several packages of rolled bandages (3″ and 4″ inches wide)
- Several sizes of sterile gauze pads
- Splinting materials
- Large (5 x 9 inch) absorbent compress dressings
- Cleaning materials and ointments
- Triple-acting antibiotic ointment
- An oral antihistamine
- Antiseptic and alcohol wipes
- Chewable aspirin or aspirin packets (81 mg each)
- Ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- Hydrocortisone ointment for bug bites
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Other items for care
- A lightweight, insulating blanket
- Instant cold compresses
- A travel-safe thermometer
- Large plastic bags
- Safety pins
- Items to keep yourself safe while administering first aid
- Several pairs of large non-latex gloves
- A breathing barrier (with a one-way valve)
The American Red Cross also suggests a list of supplies you should have on-hand in case of emergencies. Check their emergency supply list to see if any of these items are feasible for you to take on your camping trip.
Besides your food and clothing for all types of weather conditions, you may want to consider packing a few other items that might come in handy on your trip.
If you are hiking or biking in an unfamiliar area, a map and compass are lightweight tools to have on hand. Mark the location of your base camp before starting your adventure. Then, if you become lost or disoriented, you can ask for directions.
Whether you relax lakeside or trek into the woods, sunglasses, sunscreen and insect repellant will prevent insect bites and painful sunburns from interfering with your fun.
Bring a good old-fashioned, battery-powered flashlight. Check the batteries and bulbs before you leave home. A conventional flashlight can provide light for many hours.
A jackknife or hacksaw is helpful if you need to build a shelter, clear a trail or cut a fallen log.
Do not forget supplies to start a fire. If you are backpacking, matches in a zippered plastic bag are easy to carry. If you’re “glamping” in a trailer, an extension lighter might be handy for starting pilotless burners or candles.
Bring clean drinking water and water bottles if you plan on hiking, biking or kayaking on hot summer days. Hot temperatures and exercise can leave you dehydrated. Make sure you drink enough water and other fluids to avoid heat stroke or heat exhaustion.
If you’re camping in the wilderness, a mirror, a whistle or a pocket flare can help people find you if you get lost or injured.
Duct tape can be used to keep mosquitoes out, make simple repairs or create a splint if necessary. Duct tape is a versatile tool. You may want to pack a roll or two.
A long, sturdy rope packs nicely and may come in handy if you get stuck or need to store your food in a tree.
Pack items you need to stay safe based on the length of your trip, the type of camping you enjoy and your proximity to civilization.
Create and share your itinerary.
Before you leave home or leave your campsite to head out into the wilderness, let friends and family know where you will be, how long you plan to stay, and when you are expecting to return. Call them when you return home to let them know you are safe.
If you’re hiking in an unknown area, check in with the camp staff or park rangers before you leave and after you return to your base camp.
Sharing your itinerary will save time if you become lost or injured. It could save your life. People will know where they should start looking.
Keep a weather eye.
Be aware of the weather, especially when approaching storms or colder temperatures are in the forecast.
If a thunderstorm approaches while you’re camping in a tent or pop-up trailer, move to a safe shelter until the storm passes. Lightning can strike through the canvas.
You may be able to ride out the storm in a car, a fully enclosed travel trailer, fifth wheel or mobile RV. But, it has nothing to do with the myth of rubber tires; it’s because a fully enclosed metal vehicle acts like a Faraday Cage.
According to Howstuffworks.com, the metal sides of your RV or trailer conduct the electrical charge around your camper and into the ground. But use caution, avoid running water, using electric outlets, or touching metal handles. These objects can still conduct lightning’s electrical current from the outside.
Even if you are camping in an RV, you may need to seek safe shelter if severe weather threatens. Travel trailers and RVs can tip over in high winds and tornadoes. Plan ahead and talk to the campground director or a park service employee about where you should go in the event of severe weather.
Take shelter as soon as you hear a rumble.
If you can hear thunder, you can be struck by lightning. Not all lightning strikes directly below the cloud. It can travel more than 10 miles in a horizontal direction. If you hear thunder, take cover in a basement or an interior room of a large building. Remain in place for at least 30 minutes after you hear the final boom.
If you’re outside without shelter during a thunderstorm, keep these tips in mind.
- Do not hide under a tree. Lightning seeks a ground to discharge electricity. It’s attracted to tall objects.
- Get low. Avoid being the tallest object around. Find the low ground, a ditch, a valley or any indentation that puts you lower than ground level.
- Do not lie down. You want your connection with the ground as small as possible. Lightning can travel along the ground and give you a jolt from below.
- If you are swimming and hear thunder, get out of the water immediately. Water is a great conductor of electricity.
It is also a reason for you to take lightning seriously. Sixty percent of your body mass is water, making you a good conductor of electricity, too.
Mosquitoes, ticks and bees, oh my!
When you’re camping, take precautions to keep yourself safe from the smallest critters in the woods. Mosquitoes, ticks and bees can cause immediate irritation and long-term health conditions.
The best way to avoid Wisconsin’s biting mosquitoes and consequently, the West Nile Virus, is by preventing mosquito bites in the first place.
According to Consumer Reports, there are several effective products adults can use to repel mosquitoes. Sprays containing 20 percent picaridin and 30 percent DEET, which is known by the chemical name N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, can be sprayed on exposed skin and clothing and will repel mosquitoes for hours.
If you’re going to be in a heavily wooded area, choose an insect repellent with a higher concentration of the active ingredient. As a rule, higher concentrations offer longer protection.
If you prefer a more natural repellant, Stacey Rodriguez and her team at New Mexico State University found lemon eucalyptus oil repelled mosquitoes almost as well as products containing DEET. A later study found the Off! Clip-on offered some protection from mosquito bites, but it was not as effective.
But, DEET alone is not your best defense against Ticks.
Combine a spray-on insect repellant with clothing treated with permethrin to prevent tick bites. Permethrin is a powerful insecticide that bonds with the fibers of your clothing. It can kill ticks within 30-seconds – often before they have a chance to attach to your skin.
Since ticks always crawl upward, treating your shoes, socks, pants and shirts with a permethrin can keep you tick-free for several outings.
But, you’ll have to plan ahead if you’re treating your own clothes. To provide the most protection, spray your clothes with permethrin until they are wet. Allow them to air dry for at least two hours. When applied correctly, the permethrin stays bound to your clothing through four or five washes. A word of caution, liquid permethrin or clothing that is wet with permethrin can kill the family cat. Use care when applying permethrin or any other insecticide.
If you would rather not handle the chemical, you can also buy pre-treated clothing. Fabrics commercially treated with permethrin hold their tick-killing power for up to 70 washings.
The added protection is worth the cost.
Potentially, more than one in every three deer ticks in Wisconsin (35 percent) carry Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterial agent that causes Lyme disease. This was the rate of infection in 2013, according to a five-year study led by the Professor of Biology at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Dr. Lloyd Turinen. The number of infected ticks has probably increased in the four years since the study was published.
With adult deer ticks the size of sesame seeds and nymphs that fit on the head of a pin, many people never feel the painless bite of this tiny nuisance. That fact may have serious health consequences for 25 percent of the people bitten by an infected tick.
Only three out of four people infected with Lyme disease will develop the tell-tale sign of a bull’s eye shaped rash. The others may only experience minor symptoms that can be mistaken for the flu, sleeping with their neck in an awkward position or sore joints. Left untreated, Lyme disease causes swollen joints and arthritis-like pain. Eventually, the disease affects the heart and nervous system.
A study published in the Journal of American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons states, “Arthritis is the most distinguishing feature of late-stage Lyme disease. It typically develops months after disease onset in approximately 60 [percent] of untreated Lyme patients.”
If you have been in the woods, have had flu-like symptoms, a stiff neck or unexplained joint pain, talk to your health care provider about Lyme disease. He or she may order X-rays, conduct a physical exam, and ask for a blood test known as a Lyme’s titer to confirm your diagnosis.
The most common treatment for Lyme disease is a course of antibiotics.
Hornets, wasps and bumble bees pose a danger for some people.
Most of us can avoid bees’ nests that hang in trees or under the eaves of buildings. But, there are some wasps that build their nests underground. These nests are harder to identify and can lead to multiple stings if you happen to stumble upon one.
One bee sting can be irritating. Multiple bee stings can be dangerous. But, if you’re allergic to bee venom, any sting is life-threatening.
Be aware of the signs of an allergic reaction. If you experience them or see them occurring in someone else, call 911 get to the nearest hospital, immediately.
- Swelling at the area of the sting or on the face or lips
- Breathing problems
People who know they are allergic to bee stings often carry an EpiPen with them. If this is the case, traveling companions should learn how to use it.
At times, the first bee sting is the first sign of allergy. In both instances, call 911 and transport the person to a hospital as soon as possible.
Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac can wreck a camping trip.
“When you see leaves of three, let them be.”
The rhyme makes it easy to remember the number of leaves on several varieties of poisonous plants. According to the Department of Natural Resources, poison ivy leaves may have smooth or notched edges and appear shiny or dull. They recommend not touching any plant with three leaflets.
But, it’s not just the leaves that cause the reaction. You also can be affected if you touch the roots and stems of these poisonous plants.
Since the plants’ oils are transferrable to clothes and other objects, people who are extremely allergic can be affected far away from the woods.
If you’ve accidentally brushed up against a poisonous plant, wash with soap and water. Cover the infected areas with one-percent hydrocortisone cream. Do not scratch. Change and wash your shoes, socks and clothes. Wash your hands often to avoid spreading the oil to other areas of your body.
Some people find an oral antihistamine helps relieve the itching. Always check with your primary care provider before taking any medication.
Be aware of snake populations near your campsite.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website, there are 22 varieties of snakes in Wisconsin. Of these, only two species are poisonous, the:
The Eastern Massasauga and Timber Rattlesnake live in southwestern Wisconsin along the Mississippi River. Fortunately, both types of snakes are extremely shy and reclusive during their active months from April to October.
If you’re camping near the Mississippi, you may want to invest in a pair of high-topped hiking boots, hiking poles and gloves. The boots will offer protection for your feet and ankles and the poles will help you move brush or explore crevices in rocks before you step over them. If you are foraging for firewood, a pair of leather gloves can protect your hands. However, be aware a coiled snake can strike distances equal to one-third of its body length.
The DNR’s publication, Avoiding and Treating Rattlesnake Bites in Wisconsin, offers other tips for preventing a snake bite.
- Be aware of the snake’s habitat.
- Stay on marked trails or paths.
- Do not put your hands into dark cracks, crags or clefts in the rock or ground.
- Do not harass or handle the snake.
If you are bitten, don’t panic. The last reported snake bite fatality in Wisconsin happened in 1900. Remove rings, watches or anything that could cause a problem if swelling occurs. Immobilize the bitten area with a splint and keep it positioned below your heart. Call 911 and get to the nearest healthcare facility that has CroFab® antivenom within an hour if possible. Contact the National Poison Center at 800.222.1222 to find the location nearest to you.
If you will be hiking along the Mississippi, it might be a good idea to download the DNR’s brochure for review and ready reference.
Be conscious of bear habitats.
Usually, bears are shy creatures. They want to avoid you as much as you want to avoid them. But with nearly 28,000 bears living in the forests of Wisconsin, you may happen upon each other.
To prevent a chance meeting, talk to campground administrators or local park rangers about the presence of bears in the area. If you’re camping in the wilderness, it might be wise to move to another area if you notice:
- Scratches on the trees
- Low, broken branches
- Bear scat
- Bear tracks
- A nearby berry patch
Do not accidentally attract a bear. According to the National Park Service, a bear’s sense of smell is 100 times greater than Some estimate that bears can smell food from one to two miles away, other people believe the distance is closer to 18 to 20 miles. No matter which distance is correct, the fact remains that food stored at your campsite can attract bears.
To avoid a midnight marauder in a black furry coat, cook and eat a considerable distance away from your campsite. Keep food and cooking scraps in tightly sealed, odor-proof containers. When storing food overnight, place it in a sealed container and store it in your car or tie it in a tree.
Even the smell of food on your clothes can attract bears. If you dribble while dining or spill food on yourself while cooking, take your clothes off and store them in a sealed container away from camp.
If you happen to see a bear, make noise, and make yourself known. Since bears are reported to hear twice as well as people, it may see you before you see it and fade back into the forest.
However, if you see the bear first, be proactive. Raise your hands over your head to make yourself as large as possible. Sing, yell or bang pots and pans to scare the bear away. According to the DNR’s Living with Black Bears in Wisconsin brochure, you should not run away, climb a tree or play dead.
If you see cubs at play, leave them alone and leave the area as quickly as possible. Do not try to get closer. Mother bears are very protective and will attack if they believe their babies are being threatened. Before your trip, you may want to download the DNR’s brochure and review it for other information about black bears.
Practice safety at camp.
Use the proper safety equipment for your activities. If you’re biking, wear a helmet. If you’re hiking, wear boots. If you plan to go kayaking, pack your personal floatation device or life vest. Do not hike or swim alone.
Do not use portable gas stoves, propane heaters or charcoal grills inside your tent or camper. Open-flamed heating devices produce carbon monoxide gas. In an enclosed space, the gas can become a silent killer. Your blood cells bind with carbon monoxide gas easier than they attach to oxygen, which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
If your camper is equipped with a gas stove, always crack the windows and vents when you cook. Do not use the propane gas burners for heat.
Practice fire safety. Before you start a fire, check the fire danger level. If it is high, do not build a fire. Your campfire could be catastrophic for you and many other people.
If the fire danger is not high, use a fire ring or pit located away from low hanging tree branches and other flammable plants or objects. Never leave your fire unattended. Extinguish it completely with water before going to bed.
There are many other topics related to camping safety, we’ve focused on just a few.
The orthopaedic team at Bone & Joint hopes you enjoy a healthy and injury-free summer.