When warm weather hits, nature lovers across the country head outside, pack up their tents, sleeping bags, gear and get ready to hit the wilderness. If you’re new to camping, you might wonder if it’s actually safe to sleep in a tent? How could those thin fabric walls actually keep you safe?
Is sleeping in a tent safe? Yes it’s generally safe to sleep in a tent. Camping is obviously riskier than staying at home, but you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Pay attention to your surroundings and take precautions against animals, inclement weather, fire and other campers.
Camping in a tent isn’t dangerous, but there are risks involved. In the rest of this post, I’ll go over the dangers of tent camping and give you tips for dealing with the most common dangers.
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Is Sleeping in a Tent Safe?
Camping in a tent is generally safe, but there are a few potential dangers you need to consider. Think about it for a second. You’re out in the middle of nowhere hiking through unfamiliar terrain, with wild animals, and there’s only a thin piece of fabric separating you from the outside world.
Lightning, bears, wasps/bees, snakes, injury and dehydration can all put a serious damper on your trip, but chances of serious danger are slim with a little planning. While sleeping in a large locked building is always going to be safer, a tent isn’t all that dangerous.
There are occasionally tent related injuries that occur, but those are extremely rare. Children can be injured playing with a tent, you can trip over a stake, get cut by a pole, or in the worst case scenario a tent can catch on fire. Most camping injuries are mild and you can clean your self up with a basic first aid kit.
Tent Camping Is Rarely Dangerous
Most of the risks associated with camping have nothing to do with sleeping in a tent. The dangers all stem from a single fact. You’re miles away from civilization which amplifies the risk of any injuries that occur.
Stumbling and breaking your ankle wouldn’t be a big deal if it happened at a grocery store. It would be extremely painful, but you would have easy access to medical attention. That same injury could leave you stranded without a chance of rescue if you’re halfway through a multi-day backpacking trip.
Most camping injuries could happen anywhere. The vast majority of reported camping injuries are falls, sprained ankles, broken bones, heat exhaustion, hypothermia, dehydration, heart attacks, and strokes. Those are the kinds of injuries that could happen anywhere, but they’re 10 times worse if your in the middle of the forest.
Nowadays you can use your cell phone to call for help in most state/national parks, but it’s always a good idea to have a backup plan. That’s why you should always leave your route itinerary with a trusted friend or family member. Somebody needs to know where you are if there’s an emergency.
Think About All Those Campers
You should never feel like you’re in danger when sleeping in a tent. Millions of people camp every year throughout the world, and very few are ever in any real danger. The number of campers attacked by animals is almost laughable and maybe a handful are attacked by other humans (mostly drunken morons).
The human element is unpredictable, but the risk of robbery (or worse) is low. You just have to trust your gut and try to take yourself out of bad situations. If you get into a situation that doesn’t feel right pack up and move on.
Animals are even less of a concern. Keep an eye on wildlife, use common sense when choosing your campsite, do a little planning and you should be alright. Taking precautions to protect your food in the backcountry will solve 90% of problems.
Bears can smell for miles so you need to keep your food away from your tent. Store all of your consumables and anything that smells in a bear canister (my favorite). If a bear or other animal finds your bear canister they won’t be able to get inside. They’ll play with it for a while testing the weak spots and move on to an easier meal.
If you’re not comfortable camping start out in a family friendly campground. Most campsites are filled with families and young children running around. Nobody will hesitate to call the police if there’s any type of danger.
Keep Your Car Closeby
You don’t have to trek miles out into the forest to have a great camping trip. Inexperienced campers probably shouldn’t venture too far away from their car. Test out your camping skills at a public campground before taking a backcountry backpacking trip.
If you ever feel uncomfortable sleeping in your tent just retreat back to the safety of your car. You’ve got protection against the weather, animals and even other campers. You might run into a handful of problems, but they’re rarely more than a minor nuisance.
This might sound weird, but there isn’t much of a difference between camping and hanging out at home. Everything’s a little bit harder, but it’s not that complicated. Planning your trip, finding gear, and getting used to the basics is the hardest part. Everything else boils down to common sense.
- Random Injuries: Random unavoidable injuries are by far the biggest danger on a camping trip. You can do your best to avoid unnecessary risk, but you never know when you’ll take an unfortunate tumble.
- Weather: The weather forecast always seems to change from one day to the next. Thunderstorms might not be a big deal when you’re sitting at home, but they’re much less fun on a camping trip.
- Animals: For the most part animals aren’t going to bother you. All they want is your food. So never bring food into your tent and consider buying a bear proof container (this is my favorite) when camping in bear country.
- Other Campers: Unless you’re backpacking miles into the woods you’ll probably run into other campers. Give them a few drinks and friendly people turn into idiots.
- Fire Danger: When you have children around campfires, or drunk adults, campfires can produce nasty accidents. Make sure there aren’t any fire bans in your area and stay safe around the campfire.
Will a Tent Protect You Against Bears?
You always need to take a few extra precautions when camping in bear country. Your tent isn’t going to provide any physical protection against bears, though it does offer a psychological barrier. Either way, if there’s food inside your tent a bear will smell/find it.
Bears can smell food from miles away. So make sure you don’t cook near your campsite or bring food into your tent. Pack all your food in a bear canister or bear bag far away from your tent. Bear canisters are a much better deterrent and they’re also great for keeping raccoons and rodents out of your food.
There’s not much you can do if a bear decides he wants some of your food. A bear canister should keep him at bay, but that won’t stop him from investigating the smell. Give the bear a few minutes to get play with the canister and they’ll give up for an easier meal.
It’s best to just let him eat and stay a safe distance away. Some people recommend yelling at the bears to scare them away, but I don’t have the cajones to test my luck. Bears rarely attack humans, but you may want to keep bear spray (this is what I use) close by.
Tent Camping Safety Tips
If you’re new to camping there are a few safety precautions you should follow. Most of these are common sense, but they will keep you safe on your first camping trip.
1. Choose The Right Camp Site
Before heading out try to reserve the right campground site for your family. Consider your age, physical limitations and all of your medical needs. If you’re camping with kids/elderly you might want to ditch the tent for a comfortable cabin.
You’re the only person that knows what kind of campsite will be suitable for your needs. I recommend camping at a public campground first before heading out on a backpacking trip.
2. Watch The Weather
Keep an eye on the weather forecast before your trip. Make sure you pack for inclement weather. There isn’t much you can do when planning your trip months in advance, but keep an eye on the weather forecast.
Watch out for freezing night time temperatures, high heat, lightning and rain/snow. Your sleeping bags temperature rating needs to be 15°F lower than the expected nighttime temperatures. Plus you’ll need a high R-Value sleeping pad to keep you warm in colder weather.
As a general rule you’ll need a 2+ R-Value sleeping pad in warm weather, 3-4+ R-Value on colder spring/fall nights, and 5+ R-Value pad in the winter. You can stack sleeping pads if you don’t have one with a high enough R-Value.
3. Camp With Friends
Wait until you’re more experienced before going on a solo backpacking trip. Having an extra set of hands around camp makes everything easier. Plus you have somebody to help in an emergency and correct you if you’re doing something wrong.
Camping is fairly simple, but there are a few simple tricks you’ll need to learn along the way. Experience plays a huge part in your success on a backpacking trip. Try to find an experienced camper to show you the ropes before venturing out on your own.
4. Practice Proper Hygiene
Camping doesn’t mean you need to abandon all forms of hygiene. You still need to wash your hands before handling food to avoid food contamination. Food contamination is one of the biggest problems with inexperienced campers.
They cook and wash their dishes with contaminated water and that leads to waterborne illness. Diarrhea and vomiting is never fun, but it can be deadly when you’re camping in the woods. It can quickly lead to dehydration if you’re not careful.
5. Animal Safety
Watch out for wildlife! Never store food or smelly consumables inside your tent. That’s just asking for problems. All your food should be stored inside a bear proof container, storage locker, or left in your car. You don’t want to attract unwanted wildlife into your campsite.
This might sound weird, but bears aren’t the primary concern when it comes to food. Obviously, they’re a nuisance in bear country, but you’re far more likely to run into hungry racoons, skunks, possums, rodents, etc. They will be more than happy to help themselves to your unsecured lunch.
6. Campfire Safety
Everybody is afraid of animals, but fire is actually one of the biggest dangers. Keep fires at least 15 feet away from your tent walls and any nearby trees. The fire should be kept small and contained inside a designated fire pit and a water bucket should be kept nearby just in case.
You don’t want to get a nasty burn in the middle of nowhere. A first aid kit can treat mild burns, but nasty burns can quickly lead to infection. Clean the wound as well as you can and seek emergency medical care immediately if you’re badly burned.
7. Medical Emergencies
Try to prepare for any forseeable medical emergency when planning your trip. Think about allergies (don’t forget a epi-pen) and whether or not you can physically get to the campsite. Bring along all medications and figure out an emergency exit plan just in case.
You should also carry an emergency first aid kit on every camping trip. A well rounded mini first aid kit (like this one) has everything you need for minor emergencies. Treat minor wounds, splint injuries, deal with blisters, burns, etc. There are medical emergencies that you won’t be able to plan for, but a first aid kit is a great start.
8. Bring Extra Water
Bring along extra water and a way to filter emergency water. If your cars nearby, pack a few extra cases of water in your trunk. You don’t just need water for drinking, you’ll be cooking with it, cleaning and washing up your body.
Backpackers need to plan their trip around potable water sources and carry a filter or other water sanitation method. I use a Sawyer Mini Water filter as an inline filter on my Camelbak. Fill up your hydration reservoir and you have instantly clean water with every sip you take.
9. Pay Attention To Your Surroundings
Camping is a fun experience, but you need to pay attention to both your surroundings and body. Get plenty of sleep and keep an eye out for problems. Move your campsite if something doesn’t feel quite right.
Look up into the trees for dead branches, plan around flooding, research local wildlife, plan your route around water sources, etc. You can get out of most situations with a little bit of common sense.