Camping 101: 5 Hazards to Avoid

Written by Yuki Hayashi

(4 min read)

When it comes to good old-fashioned summer fun, camping sits at the top of many Canadians’ lists. There’s nothing like escaping to the great outdoors, far from civilization, spending days by the lake and evenings by the campfire (and let’s not forget those s’mores!).

Camping safety is critical to ensuring your trip goes as smoothly as possible. Make the most of your next camping trip by taking basic precautions to protect your safety and comfort. Here are 5 camping hazards you should plan for, whether you’re roughing it close to your car, heading to a national park, or journeying deep into the backcountry.

1. Sunburn

Avoid sunburn and long-term sun damage by taking cover between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun’s rays are at their brightest (wild animal spotting is more productive at dusk and dawn anyway). Spend peak sun hiking beneath the forest canopy or napping under a shelter. 

Always layer up on sun protection with a broad-brimmed hat, 100% UV protection sunglasses, tightly woven or UV-protective clothing, and a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF of 30 or higher. 

2. Blacklegged ticks

These six-legged mini-monsters can spread Lyme disease – and are on the rise this year. Blacklegged ticks (the ones you need to be leery of), can be found in wooded and grassy areas. They don’t jump but will hitch a ride if you brush against them. If you’re hiking, stick to the middle of the trail where you’re less likely to brush against tall grass and branches. Be sure to wear an insect repellent with DEET or picaridin. Dress in long sleeves, tuck in your clothing and wear light colours to make it easier to spot ticks. If you’re at a campsite with shower facilities, use them! Check your body for hitchhiking ticks and get a partner to check areas you can’t see. 

3. Mosquitoes & black flies

Mosquitoes can potentially spread illnesses like West Nile or La Crosse virus (Zika virus is not a serious threat in Canada), while black flies are just an itchy annoyance. Deter biting insects by covering up in long, loosely fitting clothes, and using a DEET or picaridin-based insect repellent. Read instructions on how to apply repellant, and reapply when needed!

4. Unclean drinking water

Contaminated drinking water can lead to a wilderness trip you’d rather forget. Never assume water is safe to drink. Crystal-clear lake water can harbour giardia or cryptosporidium, which cause diarrhea, vomiting and nausea. Even tap water may or may not be potable (safe to drink). 

At a serviced campground: Look for signs indicating if tap-water is safe to drink; always ask if you’re unsure.

In the backcountry: Purify your water. You can boil it, use a portable water filter, and/or treat it with chemicals or UV light. Experts recommend doubling up on water purification methods. 

Staying hydrated with safe drinking water is key to avoid heat exhaustion, which could lead to heatstroke if untreated. So make sure to monitor your body temperature during the extreme heat of summer camping.

5. Food faux pas

Stay nourished with a balanced diet. Dehydrated meals are a lightweight choice for hikers, while paddlers and car campers may prefer to transport fresh foods in a cooler or dry bag. 

A meal plan will allow you to shop, pack and ration food efficiently. I stay organized by grouping meal ingredients in bags. For example, I’ll put washed and dried whole veggies into a paper bag, writing on the exterior: “Day 1 Dinner: Chop and boil. Pair with steak.” After that, the bag helps get the campfire started (when packing steak, I freeze it solid beforehand, so it stays icy in our cooler for the long voyage to a backcountry campsite). 

Don’t take risks when it comes to food safety. Avoid food poisoning by following these summer food safety tips, and bear-proof your stash with these tips for camping in bear country.

Remember to always pack a first aid kit and watch for weather warnings in your area. 

Join the conversation:  What’s your favourite camping destination?

Newbie camper? Don’t sweat it. Parks Canada has got you covered to make your camping experience as smooth as possible.  

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