When done right camping can be a wonderful experience! There are, however, some things you need to watch out for like bugs that bite and plants that sting. Campers need to remember that they’re at the mercy of Mother Nature and while nature provides us with all we need, it balances itself out with dangers that must be avoided. One special mention goes to fire hazards. While it doesn’t bite or sting, it can be pretty dangerous when left unattended.
A campfire can be magical, but it can also spark danger when setting it up in a hurry. It’s essential to properly build your fire to prevent it from spreading and burning out of control — not only for your safety but also for the protection of the forest. Remember: Only you can prevent forest fires. In addition to taking measures to avoid spreading flames, make sure to start your fire from a safe distance from your tent. The majority of tents are made of flame-resistant material, but that guarantee they’re indestructible.
Safety Tip: Keep flammables away from your fire. If possible, build a ring of rocks around your fire to prevent it from spreading.
1. Poison Ivy
Probably one of the most common harmful plants you will encounter on a camping journey is Poison Ivy. Always remember this wise old saying, “leaves of three, let it be.” Poison ivy grows on a vine with firm green, pointy leaflets grouped by threes. While the effects of Poison Ivy aren't fatal, you’ll be pretty uncomfortable for a couple of weeks. The toxic oil present in the plant’s sap is called urushiol and it causes itching, irritation and burning when your skin comes into contact with it. The sap sticks to anything, so if your camping equipment touches it and your skin touches the camping gear, you're guaranteed to have a rash. If you find poison ivy — or oak, or sumac — do not attempt to throw it in the fire to get rid of it. The oil from the sap will vaporize in the smoke and the effects can be dangerous. Inhaling the smoke causes the rash to spread through the whole body instead of being contained in one spot.
Not everyone who touches Poison Ivy will have a reaction to it since the rash is an allergic reaction. However, it’s still not the best idea to make contact with it and find out the hard way.
2. Poison Oak
Poison oak shares many similarities with Poison Ivy. It grows in threes, and contains the same toxins in its sap. The easiest way to tell them apart is if it grows in a shrub. Like Poison Ivy, its stems and leaves will create a rash if you come into contact with the plant.
3. Poison Sumac
Poison sumac grows in bush form making it easy to tell apart from the other two urushiol-carrying poisonous plants. The branches grow in bunches of seven to 13 leaves instead of threes. Its red stems and white, tiny fruits growing with the leaves make it easy to spot and distinguish from other plants.
Treatment for Poison Ivy, Oak or Sumac:
If exposed to any of the three while camping, there are a few things you can do. Wash the affected area with soap and water immediately. In the case that the rash has broken out into sores, make paste out of baking soda and lukewarm water, apply to the affected areas and use the solution to dry out the sores. You can alternatively use calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream to relieve the itching. And the most important thing to remember is DO NOT SCRATCH THE RASH. It will make the rash blister and become infected. Wash your clothes and any equipment that came in contact with the urushiol.
And as always, seek medical attention when necessary. A trip to the emergency room would do you good if the rash spreads, your throat closes up and if you have trouble breathing.
When camping in the mountains, look out for Aconite. It grows in the mountainous regions of the USA and other parts of the world. Aconite is also called “Wolf’s Bane” and “Monkshood.” You can identify the plant by its purplish-blue, wing-like flowers that grow in stalks.
The plant is beautiful but dangerous as it’s laced with aconitine poison. Merely touching the plant will make your skin start to tingle or go numb, and ingesting makes everything so much worse. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, heart irregularities, coma, which could eventually lead to death. The symptoms typically begin usually within an hour of making contact with the plant. If you or a fellow camper touches or ingests Aconite, seek medical attention right away.
While some spiders are just pests, other species out there are dangerous. True to their name, they have a shiny black exterior. Black widows are black and have a red hourglass shape on the underside of her belly. Only the female black widows bite and said bites are enough to kill.
Brown recluse spiders on the other hand are hairier and a less than an inch in size. The brown recluse is fast. You'll know how to tell it apart from other spiders by the violin pattern on its back which also gives it its nickname, "fiddle back." Spiders like hiding inside shoes and other dark areas. Shake clothing before putting it on.
If bitten by a venomous spider, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Some people experience mild symptoms, while for others, it becomes severe or even life-threatening, requiring medical intervention and treatment.
Chiggers are a tiny mite whose parasitic larvae live on or under the skin of warm-blooded animals, where they cause irritation and dermatitis and sometimes transmit scrub typhus. These small pests enjoy living in grassy areas in the wilderness. They are tiny in size, and when they bite, they leave toxins beneath your skin. Their bites cause intense itching and red bumps. When walking through tall grass, ensure that all your exposed skin is covered with skin-tight dri-fit clothing. Tuck your pants into your socks and slip gaiters over them to keep the chiggers out. Try to stay on the trail and try not to brush up against plants and grassy areas. When you finish hiking, take a cold shower. It will remove any chiggers that may have gotten through. If the chiggers get on your clothing, wash them in warm water as it will kill the insects.
If you were bitten by chiggers, calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream and dice help with the itching. The bites should be within a week, but if the itching persists and infection sets in, you should seek medical assistance.
Bees are one of the most common dangers you will encounter while camping.
Bees typically hang around flowers, but there are other breeds that can be found elsewhere. One of the most dangerous types of bees are Africanized bees. What makes them so terrifying is their tendency to swarm and chase their victims, stinging them as they run. It's difficult to tell them apart from other bees because they resemble honeybees. Also, jumping into water won't help much. The bees can cling to you even when you're underwater. It's best you find a non-permeable source of shelter to get away from the bees.
Bee first aid is pretty easy to execute. You need to get the stinger out so it doesn't keep spreading venom under the skin. Don't try to pinch the stinger out because it will juice more of the venom into you. Instead, scrape the stinger sideways with a credit card or any similar flat object. Ice can help with the pain. If you were stung multiple times or are allergic to bee stings, pull out your epi pen (epinephrine). It's important that you carry an emergency bee-sting kit with you if you are allergic.
Flies aren't as big of a problem as spiders and/or bees, but they can be a nuisance. Bites from a horsefly, for example, can be painful and leave a mark similar to a scissor cut. Horseflies don't usually move in big groups, so they’re not nearly as threatening, but their bites can be large and painful.
Black flies like to hang around watery areas. Similar to mosquitoes, they feed off your blood. Black flies commonly move in swarms. They're even worse than the horseflies we mentioned earlier.
The best treatment for fly bites is calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, Benadryl or ice.
Black ants are honestly nothing to worry about. They're capable of biting, but it wouldn't cause you any harm. You could, however, feel a little sting from the small red ones. What you should be worried about are fire ants. They're dangerous. They could climb up your pants and bite you with a painful, stinging venom. Their stings are much worse than a regular ant bite, and the color may range from a bright red to reddish orange. Fire ants live together in colonies (much like all ants), and if one is around, it's likely there are a thousand others lurking around the area. Their bites leave welts that itch, and if you happen to be allergic to their venom, your skin will also swell.
To treat fire ant bites, the best remedy is ice wrapped in a soft cloth applied over the welts on your skin. If you experience a severe allergic reaction, you must seek emergency medical assistance as quickly as possible.
The next time you go out camping, be sure to only touch and approach things you’re familiar with. Don’t go off poking plants here and there because you might get lucky with the Poison Ivy. And the best thing you can do to keep safe in the wilderness is to stay covered up. The less exposed skin you have, the lesser the chance of something coming in contact with it. A safe camper is a happy camper! You don’t want to cut your journey short or inconvenience your fellow campers with a rash.
P.S. Always keep an emergency kit in your bag, it will be your (literal) lifesaver!