Medical Aspects of Camping and Other Tips You Need to Know About

As the weather begins to warm up, it is time to think about outdoor activities we can pursue not only for pleasure but to hone and practice our outdoor survival skills.  Speaking for myself, camping is high on my list of summer activities, including a first-time adventure using a tent.

Most of us plan to hunker down and shelter in place in the event of a disruptive event. That said, if our homes are no longer safe, either due to location or to physical destruction, we must have a plan to evacuate.  In some cases, the answer will be short term camping.

Dr. Joe Alton is here to today to weigh in on what we need to know about the medical aspect of camping plus some other tips to make the overall experience both pleasurable and educational.

Medical Aspects of Camping | Backdoor Survival

Safe Camping Tips for Preppers

School will be out soon and a great way to teach your family survival basics is by taking them camping. The skills needed for successful camping are akin to those required for the activities of daily survival. Once learned, these lessons last a lifetime. There’s no greater gift that you can give young people than the ability to be self-reliant.

Camping trips create bonds and memories that will last a lifetime.  A poorly planned campout, however, can become memorable in a way you don’t want, especially if someone gets injured. Luckily, a few preparations and an evaluation of your party’s limitations will help you enjoy a terrific outing with the people you care about, and maybe impart some skills that would serve them well in dark times.

Start Small

If you haven’t been camping much, don’t start by attempting to hike the Donner Trail. Begin by taking day trips to National Parks or a nearby lake.   Set up your tent and campfire, and see how it goes when you don’t have to stay in the woods overnight.  Once you have that under your belt, start planning your overnight outings.

Whatever type of camping you do, always assess the capabilities and general health of the people in your party. Children and elderly family members will determine the limits of your activities. The more ambitious you are, the more likely the kids and oldsters won’t be able to handle it.  Disappointment and injuries are the end result.

Important Considerations

An important first step to a safe camping trip is knowledge about the weather and terrain you’ll be encountering. Talk with park rangers, consult guidebooks, and check out online sources. Some specific issues you’ll want to know about:

· Temperature Ranges
· Rain or Snowfall
· Trails and Campsite Facilities
· Plant, Insect, or Animal Issues
· Availability of Clean Water
· How to Get Help in an Emergency

Medical Aspects of Camping

A very common error campers (and survivalists) make is not bringing the right clothing and equipment for the weather and terrain. If you haven’t planned for the environment you’ll be camping in, you have made it your enemy, and believe me, it’s a formidable one.

Although Spring and Fall have the most uncertainty with regards to temperatures and weather, you could encounter storms in any season. Always take enough clothing to allow layering to deal with the unpredictability of the season.

Conditions in high elevations lead to wind chill factors that could cause hypothermia. If the temperature is 50 degrees, but the windchill factor is 30 degrees, you lose heat from your body as if it were below freezing. Be aware that temperatures at night may be surprisingly cold.

In cold weather, you’ll want your family clothed in tightly woven, water-repellent material for protection against the wind. Wool holds body heat better than cotton does. Some synthetic materials work well, also, such as Gore-Tex. Add or remove layers as needed.

If you’re at the seashore or lakefront in summer, your main problem will be heat exhaustion and burns. Have your family members wear sunscreen, as well as hats and light cotton fabrics. Plan your strenuous activities for mornings, when it’s cooler. In any type of weather, keep everyone well-hydrated.  Dehydration causes more rapid deterioration in physical condition in any type of stressful circumstance. Allow a pint of fluids an hour for strenuous activities.

The most important item of clothing is, perhaps, your shoes. If you’ve got the wrong shoes for the outing, you will most likely regret it. If you’re in the woods, high tops that you can fit your pant legs into are most appropriate. If you go with a lighter shoe in hot weather, Vibram soles are your best bet.

Special Tips: Choosing the right clothing isn’t just for weather protection.  If you have the kids wear bright colors, you’ll have an easier time keeping track of their whereabouts. Long sleeves and pants offer added protection against insect bites that can transmit disease, such as Lyme disease caused by ticks.

Location, Location, Location

A real estate agent’s motto is “location, location, location” and it’s also true when it comes to camping.   Scout prospective campsites by looking for broken glass and other garbage that can pose a hazard.  Sadly, you can’t depend on other campers to pick up after themselves.

Look for evidence of animals/insects nearby, such as large droppings or wasp nests/bee hives.    Advise the children to stay away from any animals, even the cute little fuzzy ones. If there are berry bushes nearby, you can bet it’s on the menu for bears. Despite this, things that birds and animals can eat aren’t always safe for humans.

Learn to identify the plants in your environment that should be avoided. This especially includes poison ivy, oak, and sumac.  Show your kids pictures of the plants so that they can steer clear of them. The old adage is “leaves of three, let it be”. Fels-Naptha soap is especially effective in removing toxic resin from skin and clothes if you suspect exposure.

Build your fire in established fire pits and away from dry brush. In drought conditions, consider using a portable stove instead.  Children are fascinated by fires, so watch them closely or you’ll be dealing with burn injuries. Food (especially cooked food) should be hung in trees in such a way that animals can’t access it. Animals are drawn to food odors, so use resealable plastic containers.

If you camp near a water source, realize that even the clearest mountain stream may harbor parasites that cause diarrheal disease and dehydration.  Water sterilization is basic to any outdoor outing.  There are iodine tablets that serve this purpose, and portable filters like the “Lifestraw™” which are light and effective.  Although time-consuming, boiling local water is a good idea to avoid trouble.

Get Your Bearings

Few people can look back to their childhood and not remember a time when they lost their bearings. Your kids should always be aware of landmarks near the camp or on trails.  A great skill to teach the youngsters is how to use a compass; make sure they have one on them at all times.

A great item to give each child (and adult) is a loud whistle that they can blow if you get separated.  Three blasts are the universal signal for “help!” If lost, kids should stay put in a secure spot.  Of course, if you have cell phone service where you are, consider that option as well.

Bug Bites

Even kids in protective clothing can still wind up with insect bites.  Important supplies to carry are antihistamines like Benadryl, sting relief pads, and calamine lotion to deal with allergic reactions.  Asking your doctor for a prescription “Epi-Pen” is a good idea, as they’re meant to be used by the average person. They’re effective for severe reactions to toxins from insect bites or poison ivy.

Citronella-based products are helpful to repel insects; put it on clothing instead of skin (absorbs too easily) whenever possible. Repellents containing DEET also can be used, but not on children less than 2 years old.

Don’t forget to inspect daily for ticks or the bulls-eye pattern rash you might see in Lyme disease. I mean it when I say daily: If you remove the tick in the first 24 hours, you will rarely contract the disease.

Of course, you’ll need a medical kit as part of your supplies. Consider some of the items in our compact, lightweight personal IFAK kit, specifically meant to deal with mishaps on the trail. You might have your own favorite items to bring with you; if so, feel free to post them in the comments section below.

The Final Word

Now that I live adjacent to the forest, I want to get a tent.  The plan is to get something easy to set up because, after all, I am not a young as I used to be and want to save my energy for things like hiking and doing a bit of wood chopping.  Then, as Joe suggests, I plan to camp in my own one-acre backyard before venturing further.

One thing is certain, it is a lot more fun to practice survival skills when you couple the experience with a family adventure!


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Bargain Bin:  Here for your discernment are the items mentioned in today’s article.

Windstorm Whistle | Backdoor Survival

Windstorm Safety Whistle:  When being heard is a matter of safety or even life and death, you want a whistle that is not only loud but can be heard for a long distance.  This particular whistle is not the cheapest one out there but I have proven to myself that this particular whistle can be heard a long distance away and above howling wind and other competing sounds.

Fels-Naptha Soap: This is soap has been around for years and is commonly used as a stain remover.  In addition, it can be used to laundry clothes the old-fashioned way using a washboard.  Mostly though, if you read the reviews of firsthand experiences, it is an excellent treatment for poison ivy.

Coleman Citronella Candle Outdoor Lantern – 70+ Hours:  While preparing this article I found this citronella candle lantern and thought it was worth purchasing for less than $6.

Portable Aqua Tabs (iodine tablets): These tablets make questionable water bacteriologically suitable to drink. Easy to use and the water is ready to drink in 30 minutes. One 50 tablet bottle treats 25 quarts of water.

NALGENE BPA-Free Water Bottle:  These $8 water bottles have served me well.  I fill them up with water from my Royal Berkey and keep one bedside, one at my desk and another in the bathroom.  Keep in mind that price-wise, some colors will be more expensive so if the color does not matter, go with the cheapest (currently the green version).

Volcano 3 Collapsible Cook Stove: For off-grid cooking, the Volcano Collapsible cook stove is so versatile; it works with charcoal, wood, or propane.  I like that it collapses down to 5” making it transportable.  I also have the older model, the Volcano 2.  Anytime I own two of something, you know it is a favorite.

LifeStraw Personal Water FilterThe Amazon Top Ten Most Wanted Survival and Outdoor Items Backdoor Survival:  The LifeStraw has become somewhat of a gold standard for carrying in packs while out in the field. It is lightweight and portable and is considered the most advanced, compact, ultralight personal water filter available. The Lifestraw contains no chemicals or iodinated resin, no batteries and no moving parts to break or wear out. It weighs only 2 oz.  For more information, read my LifeStraw review.


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Emergency Essentials | Backdoor Survival


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Author Bio:  Joe and Amy Alton are the authors of the 3 category #1 Amazon Bestseller "The Survival Medicine Handbook".  See their articles in Backwoods Home, Survival Quarterly, and other great magazines as well as their website at The opinions voiced by Joe Alton, MD, and Amy Alton, ARNP. are their own and are not meant to take the place of seeking medical help from a qualified healthcare provider.
Dr. Joe Alton weighs in on what you need to know about the medical aspects of camping and other safe camping tips.

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