Is Tent Camping Safe – What to Watch Out For


yellow tent at night

Tent camping, like anything, is not without its dangers.

But is tent camping safe?  Tent camping is a safe activity in that there aren’t many deaths or even injuries associated with it.  This being said, people have been killed or injured while tent camping so it’s important that you take the appropriate safety precautions before pitching your tent.

In this post, we’ll go over the potential dangers you might face while tent camping.  We’ll also talk about how to avoid, reduce, and even eliminate some of these dangers.

Tent Camping Dangers

Firstly, we have to identify what the dangers of tent camping actually are.  After all, “a problem identified is a problem half solved”.

Here are some of the dangers you might face while tent camping.

  • Natural Events
  • Natural Disasters
  • Exposure
  • Animals
  • People

Natural Events

A natural event could be as simple as a tree falling down, a flood plain filling up with water, a large rock rolling downhill, or a lightning strike.   These types of events aren’t classified as natural disasters, but to the people affected by them, they can be just as bad.

Luckily, these events are generally very easy to avoid.

Lightning

Lightning strikes are much more likely to occur during a thunderstorm, so you can generally avoid them by avoiding camping in the rain.  This being said, just because it’s raining doesn’t mean you have to completely cancel your camping trip.

In general, lightning likes to strike the highest point in the area.  As a result, you can avoid being hit by lighting by avoiding the highest point.

For example, don’t set your camp up at the top of a mountain when a thunderstorm is likely to occur.  You don’t have to be on a mountain to be struck either.  If you’re beach camping, you might need to move to a lower area of the beach.

Fallen Trees and Branches

Dead trees and tree branches are much more likely to fall over than healthy trees and branches.  Inspect the trees around you before you set your tent up so that you can make your camp away from any weak-looking trees.

It’s a “dead” giveaway when a tree doesn’t have any vegetation on it in the spring and summer months.

fallen tree branch

Of course, a tree doesn’t have to be dead to be dangerous.  Trees with shallow roots growing over rocks they can’t fully penetrate won’t stand up to windy conditions as well as trees with deeper roots.  Avoid making camp near these trees, especially when there is a strong wind.

Rocks

Camp underneath of a large rock outcropping or at the bottom of a steep valley, hill, or mountain and you’ll risk having a rock dropped onto you.  A single large rock rolled onto your head while you’re sleeping could be just as devastating as an avalanche.

Another time when falling rocks could prove dangerous is when you’re cave camping.  A cave-in could easily kill you so you’ll want to go camping with an experienced cave camper before you attempt to do it on your own.

Water

Learn how to spot potential flood plains before you go camping.  These are generally found within ravines and at the bottoms of hills and mountains.

Even if the area is dry and the weather looks clear, you have to remember that a rainstorm many miles away can send water rushing through the flood plain and into your campsite.  If there is any doubt in your mind about the area you’re setting up in, find a different campsite.

Designated Campsites

You can often avoid many of these problems by staying in designated campsites.  Rangers check the campsites within state parks and they set them up away from flood plains, dead trees, and falling rocks.  They’ll also keep an eye out for dying trees and they’ll cut them down when necessary.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can turn your brain off.  At the end of the day, you’re responsible for your own safety so it can’t hurt to inspect your campsite before you set your tent up, even if you’re at a state park or private campground.

Natural Disasters

Natural disasters come in many forms.  When you’re in a tent, you could be exposed to hurricanes, tornados, forest fires, avalanches, floods, and even blizzards.

You can reduce your chances of falling victim to some of these natural disasters by timing your trip.  For example, if you’re worried about a blizzard, go tent camping someplace warm.

Other natural disasters might not be so avoidable but you can at least learn what to do when faced with them.  The more knowledge you have before you head out, the safer you’ll be.

Hurricanes

Luckily, hurricanes rarely ever come without warning.  Also, they generally have a season, so you should know what times of the year to be extra cautious.

For example, hurricanes are most likely to develop along the Atlantic coast from August to late October.  If you’re going camping during these times be sure to check the weather reports right before you head out.

If you’re caught out in a hurricane, you’ll have to worry about lightning, strong winds, flooding, and exposure.  Try to get to a shelter and avoid any open areas, dead trees, and high points.

Tornados

Camp in a tornado-prone area and your campsite may actually have a tornado shelter nearby that you can go to.  Be sure to find out where this is in advance so that you’re not looking for it when you need it.

If you’re caught out backpacking or just in a campsite that doesn’t have a tornado shelter, you’ll have to take care of yourself. Try to get away from anything that will become a projectile and move into a shallow depression so that the ground can give you some protection.

Car campers with some distance from the tornado should get in their car and drive away from the area.  Leave your gear if you have to – it isn’t worth your life.

Forest Fires

The best way to avoid forest fires is not to start them.  Always practice proper fire safety and know what the fire threats are in your area while you’re camping.  If the threat is high, you may have to forgo the campfire on this trip.

forest fire

Of course, this doesn’t mean you won’t get caught out in a forest fire.

Here is what you should do if you find yourself camping near a wildfire.

Attempt to evacuate the area.  Forest fires can move quickly and the smoke they put off can be just as dangerous as the fire itself so you don’t want to be anywhere near them.

If you can’t get away from the fire, move into the nearest body of water and crouch down low with a wet rag over your mouth to reduce the amount of smoke you breathe in.  When there isn’t any water to move into, move to the nearest clear area.

The area will still be hot after the fire has passed over you, so be careful when evacuating and be sure to protect any burns you may have received.

Landslides and Avalanches

Don’t camp at the bottom of inclines.  Any incline with a slope of 30 degrees or greater is very susceptible to landslides and avalanches.

Also, remember that a landslide can push dirt, rocks, and snow well past the bottom of the incline.  Keep away from flat areas within striking distance of the incline.  Slopes are particularly dangerous after heavy rains or prolonged droughts.

Floods

As we mentioned earlier, you want to make sure you set your tent up away from any areas that could flood.  However, doing so is no guarantee that you’ll be safe from flooding.

Keeping your tent above the flood lines might not be enough to keep you safe from flooding.  If it isn’t, move to higher ground.

Also, never try to cross over or through an area that is flooding.  It doesn’t take much water to knock a person off their feet and you can drown in water that doesn’t amount to more than a puddle.

Blizzards

Camping areas generally shut down during blizzards so you’ll probably have fair warning to leave the area.  Backpackers won’t always have this luxury.

Backpackers should realize that sleeping in a tent probably isn’t the best option and should try to seek out a shelter immediately.  Otherwise, set the tent up in an area that is away from weak trees and ideally protected from potential snowdrifts.

Exposure

Tent camping shouldn’t make you uncomfortably hot or uncomfortably cold.  If it does, you probably aren’t wearing the right clothes or sleeping with the right gear.

Make sure you choose the right sleeping bag for your environment and you should be just fine.

Animals

Animals are unlikely to attack you while you’re in your tent.  This is especially true if you don’t have any food inside with you.

The best step you can take to protect yourself from animals is to practice proper food safety rules for your area.  Do this and bears, mountain lions, wolves, and any other large predators you can think of will probably leave you alone.

bear in forest

Snakes can also be a threat but they’re pretty easy to guard against.  Just keep your tent closed whenever you’re not using it so that snakes can’t slither their way in.

For more details on keeping safe from snakes, see my post titled, “How to Avoid Snakes While Camping and Hiking“.

Bugs and Insects

Probably the biggest threat to your safety while tent camping is bugs and insects.  Ticks, mosquitos, spiders, and scorpions can all poison you or give you diseases.

Once again, your best bet is to keep your tent zipped closed at all times.  This will eliminate any chance bugs and insects have of getting to you.

Also, inspect your campsite so that you don’t end up setting your tent up over a fire ant nest or near a hornet’s nest.

When you’re not in your tent, wear the appropriate clothing and use insect repellant whenever necessary.  This will ensure that you don’t drag any bugs into your tent with you.

People

It’s an odd phenomenon but statistics prove that you’re much safer when tent camping than you are in your house in most cities.  I think part of the reason is that it is very hard for somebody to commit a crime in a campground without somebody noticing.

In state parks and campground facilities, you’ll usually be surrounded by people with their families.  These people are highly likely to come to your aid or at least call the authorities if they see that you’re in trouble.

When you’re backpacking, you’re also unlikely to be harmed by other people.  One reason for this is that there won’t be many people around.

The other reason is that backpackers generally don’t make good targets.  Other than camping gear, you probably won’t have anything to steal and you’ll probably have bear spray and a knife with you so you aren’t exactly defenseless either.

If you’re worried about people harming you while you’re tent camping, bring some friends with you.  When it comes to camping, there really is safety in numbers.

Final Thoughts

Tent camping is one of the safest activities you can do.  On top of this, camping is good for you so the more you camp, the longer you’ll live.

Want to learn more?  Here are 11 reasons why camping is good for you.

Christopher Schopf

Christopher Schopf loves camping, hiking, canoeing, and basically anything that gets him outdoors.

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