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Camping safety: 6 hazards to watch out for

A camping trip with the kids can be all kinds of fun, but there are some dangers lurking in the great outdoors. Learn how to keep your family safe.

By Marissa Stapley Ponikowski
Camping safety: 6 hazards to watch out for

Photo: iStockphoto

6 perils of camping-new size

01Bears

“Make noise when you’re on trails or in the woods, so bears know you’re there and can avoid you,” says Parks Canada’s Ed Jager. With the caveat that each bear encounter is unique, he advises campers to back away slowly and avoid eye contact if they do meet a bear, because you don’t want your actions to be interpreted as a challenge to the bear. You can carry bear spray, a non-lethal capsaicin-based deterrent, or an air horn.

Your food will attract bears, so keep it in latched coolers or containers, or in the car. Dispose of garbage daily or lock trash away. Never feed bears, and if they aren’t behaving normally (the most abnormal behaviour for a wild animal is willfully approaching a human), contact a park ranger or land steward.

A bear walking through the woodsPhoto: iStockPhoto

02Bugs and creepy crawlies

Bugs in the tent are a harsh reality of camping. Before you leave home, check your tent for rips and be sure to shake out sleeping bags at bedtime. Bug repellent will help with mosquitoes (a maximum concentration of 10 percent DEET or 20 percent icaridin is suitable for kids six months to 12 years; infants under six month shouldn’t be sprayed with repellent at all). However, there’s no fool-proof way to repel horse flies and deer flies, which leave painful bites. Wear light clothing and soothe bites with aloe vera.

Camping safety: 6 hazards to watch out forPhoto: iStockPhoto

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03Poison ivy and poison oak

Identifying poison ivy and poison oak is simple: “Leaves of three, leave it be.” Both have a broad middle leaf with two smaller side leaves at the end of long stems. The leaves are bright to dark green in summer, and red in fall. The oils on the leaves can cause a streaky red rash, followed by oozing blisters that last up to three weeks. Washing the oils off the skin with soap within 30 minutes can prevent reactions, so go for a swim or shower after hikes or contact with vegetation, especially if you weren’t wearing protective clothing. Apply cool compresses and calamine lotion to soothe the itch.

Camping safety: 6 hazards to watch out forPhoto: iStockPhoto

04Ticks

Find out if populations of Lyme disease-carrying ticks are present in the area you’re camping by checking out government Lyme disease surveillance lists. If they are, cover up and stick to light clothing, so ticks can be seen easily and removed. If camping with pets, get a tick-preventing ointment or collar from your vet before you leave. But try not to worry: Not all ticks carry Lyme disease and, when those that do carry it bite, it doesn’t always pass on the disease. It’s important to remove any tick that bites as soon as possible. Symptoms of Lyme disease include a localized circular rash, fever, headache and fatigue. Antibiotics will be needed, so you should get to a walk-in clinic, but it’s not an emergency situation unless left untreated.

Learn how to protect your kids from Lyme disease

Camping safety: 6 hazards to watch out forPhoto: iStockPhoto

05Lightning

Postpone your trip if there are severe storm warnings, but if you do get caught in a storm, follow these tips: 1. Get in the car. The rubber tires will ground the vehicle, so it’s the safest place to be. A campground kitchen shelter will provide better protection than a tent because you’ll be away from the metal poles. But if you have no other options, stay in your tent rather than wandering around outside. 2. Avoid high ground, lone trees and the water. In most campgrounds, your chances of a lightning strike are lower because there are so many trees, and the more trees there are, the less likely each tree is to be struck. 3. If you end up being without shelter during a storm, go to the lowest lying area you can find, away from trees, poles or fences.

Tent in a stormPhoto: iStockPhoto

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06Snakes

Snakes don’t seek out human contact. If they hear you coming, they’ll slither the other way. But if you surprise them, they might lash out, so wear long pants and shoes if hiking through tall grasses, and make noise as you walk.

Camping safety: 6 hazards to watch out forPhoto: iStockPhoto

Read more:
Lyme disease is on the rise: Here's how to protect your kids from ticks
14 first-aid kit essentials
Cool camping games for kids

This article was originally published on Jun 11, 2013

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