Camping is a family fun activity you can enjoy year-round. The key is to know your limits, bring the right equipment, and of course, understand camping safety rules.
One of the things we’re asked about most frequently is camping safety for kids. We’ve been taking our son along on camping adventures since he was 8 months old.
We began teaching him camp safety as soon as he was old enough to sit up. It’s good to remember that kids are beginner campers, so you need to teach them the rules as you go.
Here, we’ll talk about some of our top camping safety tips for kids. Things to do, not to do, and equipment to bring on your journey.
The first step in a safe camping trip is knowing your campsite and the potential dangers it holds. Check for things like:
- Nearby water
- Poisonous plants
- Animal sightings
- Weather warnings
It also helps to know where nearby trails lead, and keep kids informed of all the potential dangers around the site. Here are a few other things to keep in mind:
Wear a Whistle
A whistle is a tiny object, but it could save your life in the wilderness. If separated on a hike, the first instinct is to scream out. Screaming wears on the vocal cords. Eventually you won’t have the capacity to call out. A whistle, however, never tires.
Whistles come in all shapes and sizes. Choose one with a good sharp blast and wear it on a lanyard or carabiner. Practice whistle calls before you go camping, so everyone knows what it sounds like and what to do if someone gets lost.
You may have to remind young children several times that the whistle is NOT a toy and it’s not for blowing unless you need help.
Know Your Campsite Number
Campsites on developed lots are numbered. Knowing your campsite number, and ensuring your younger kids know it, helps you find home base.
If your young campers wander off to find a nearby playground on the campground, they can follow the site numbers to find you again.
Most campsites have maps you can print or pickup at the information center. Circle your site on the map for your children, and write the number on their wrist in sharpie.
Also show them where bathrooms and other campground features are on the map.
Bring a Buddy
Never hike alone. This is one of those basic safety rules for kids. It’s exciting to wander off and explore, especially for older kids who feel they don’t need mom or dad around.
Having a buddy keeps campers aware of their surroundings and makes them think twice about stepping off the trail.
Teach kids that the buddy system is also beneficial because if one person gets hurt, the other can go for help.
Food is the next big issue for any camping family. While camp foods are full of whimsy and fun ways to cook, there are a few ways to make the experience safer for all.
Things to think about in terms of food safety while camping, include the following.
No Eating in the Tent
If you camp in bear country, you’re probably already aware of this, it’s one of the top camping safety rules.
It’s tempting to eat bedtime snacks in the tent, especially cookies, trail mix, and granola bars. It’s best to fight the temptation, however. Eating in your tent comes with repercussions, such as:
- Crumbs which attract insects and animals
- Forgotten food which forms mold
- Food mess which can stain your tent (and even cause it to deteriorate faster)
Keep all food in your camp kitchen area, or outside on a picnic blanket. This keeps crumbs away from your campsite and deters pests and animals.
Wash Hands Before Eating
If there’s one thing we all learned recently, it’s how quickly germs spread. Washing hands before eating, touching your face, or preparing food is important and isn’t just a camping rule.
Washing up before little ones put fingers near their face keeps germs from spreading. We always tell our little guy to wash his hands before rubbing his eyes or blowing his nose as well.
Drinks in a Separate Cooler
We know some families who pack one cooler on camping trips to save space. While it makes sense to mix food and drinks in terms of space, it’s not always beneficial for food safety.
Staying hydrated is important. This means opening and closing the cooler multiple times a day. If you pack drinks and food in the same cooler, some downsides include:
- Cooler food warming up over time (leads to bacterial growth and spoilage)
- More hands in the cooler throughout the day (more germs entering the cooler)
Separate coolers for food and drinks keeps food fresh, germ free, and dry.
Campfires are such a big part of our family camping trip. We love sitting around the fire and telling stories, roasting marshmallows, and warming up. Here are some tips to follow for fire safety for kids.
Only Sitting by the Fire
A rule we instilled early for our son was, sit by the fire, never run, jump or play near it.
Kids get energetic and excited during a camping trip. It’s normal to want to bounce around.
Deter fireside bouncing by creating a safe play space on your campsite away from the fire or by going on hikes to wear them out first.
We also limit sticking things into the fire. It’s okay to roast marshmallows and weenies with help from a grownup.
But remind kids to not poke things in the fire just for fun. This leads to dangerous accidents and potential burns.
Don’t Walk Between the Chairs and the Fire
Sitting too closely to the fire is dangerous. Explain to young campers to be careful when walking past the fire as well. Moving from chair to chair, or getting up to get a drink is fine. Just don’t cross between the fire and the chairs to do so.
We like to set out a preplanned path for our campsite. We show our son where to walk to leave the fireside, and how to avoid tent ropes and pegs in the dark.
Another great tip for fire safety with kids is to practice the stop, drop, and roll. Always keep a large container of water nearby.
A Stick in the Fire Stays in the Fire
It happens. We poke the fire to spark it back to life, or we’re trying to roast a marshmallow and the stick falls in. Teach young campers that once a stick falls into the fire, it stays in the fire.
Sticks stay hot long after they’re pulled from the fire and may not look hot. It’s easy to get burned and no one wants to use the first aid kit when they take kids camping.
No Stoves in the Tent
Even if it’s pouring rain, do not bring a stove into your tent to cook.
Besides the obvious fire hazard, using a gas stove inside a tent can lead to a dangerous build up of carbon monoxide, which is deadly.
Always use your gas stove outside and in a well ventilated area.
Nature is exciting. There are so many sights, sounds, and even smells to explore. We tend to take a naturalist approach to nature hikes with our son.
A great rule of thumb is, take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints. Here are some other nature safety tips:
Don’t Eat Food From the Woods
Mushrooms, berries, and even some nuts grow in the woods. Don’t eat them. Many plants mimic other plants in appearance. This makes it tough to tell which mushroom or berry is which. In fact, even some experts have a hard time knowing.
Teach littles that wild foods growing in the woods are sometimes poisonous. Bring snacks on hikes to deter any urges to sample wild fare.
Leave Wildlife Alone
Everything in the wild is there for a reason. It’s neat to find bird’s nests or animal tracks in the woods. It’s important to leave these nests and animals alone. Teaching children while they’re young to respect nature, makes them more respectful as adult campers.
Leaving wildlife alone is also a safety issue. Disturbing a nest, for example, might incur the wrath of a mother bird. Similarly, disturbing a fox den full of kits, could risk a dangerous encounter with a mama fox.
Use Sunscreen and Bug Spray
Always wear sunscreen and spritz on bug spray before heading into the woods. This is especially important for younger children as their skin is more sensitive than our own.
For kids, The CDC recommends SPF 15 or higher, applied 30 minutes before heading outside.
You hear stories of people getting lost in the woods. The most common dangers they face are the elements and dehydration. Teaching your children about environmental safety will keep them warm, dry, and ready to face the elements.
Here are a few of the ways we encourage camping safety for kids.
Be Aware of the Weather
No matter if you’re camping in summer or winter, you want to keep an eye on the sky. Being aware of incoming rain storms, heat waves or cold snaps is important.
Know your personal limits and the limits of your gear. If you don’t have the gear to stay warm enough, staying can be dangerous. Knowing when to pack it in and go home is just as important as knowing how to tough it out.
Wear Good Shoes
It’s such a small thing, but footwear makes a big difference. Wearing the right footwear ensures a good grip on terrain and shock absorption while hiking. It also keeps feet dry. Choose shoes that are made for hiking, and avoid flip flops and bare feet.
We like to choose hiking shoes with extra padding inside to keep our son’s feet comfy. There’s nothing worse than a blister on a long hike.
Stay Dry/Stay Away From Water
If your site is located along a lake, river, or stream, urge littles to keep out of the water. Unless you’ve chosen a lake site to swim in during the summer.
To keep kids safe in the water, go over swimming guidelines. For example:
- Only swimming when an adult is present
- Wearing appropriate life jackets
- Staying in the shallows
If you’re going to have little ones in the water, make sure one adult is tasked with watching the kids who can’t swim. Drowning happens fast, so if you need to take a break or use the bathroom, get another adult to take over for you.
Getting wet makes your internal body temperature drop quickly. Hypothermia sets in fast, and this is dangerous for adults and children.
Remind young campers to avoid jumping in puddles or stepping in streams with shoes on. It’s tempting, but wet feet take a long time to dry during the cooler months. Get proper water shoes if you’re going to be in water that doesn’t have a sandy bottom.
Follow the Trail
Finally, stick to the trails. This is a big one for young campers. It’s fun to trek off course. There are so many new sights to see. A fallen tree here, a unique hole in the ground there. Explain the importance of following the trail to stay safe, because of:
- How easy it is to lose sight of the trail
- Wild animals
- Poison ivy, poison oak, and similar
A great extra piece of advice in terms of trails is to teach your children how to use a compass. If someone goes off trail, that whistle we mentioned early paired with a compass, are a great help.
As always, we hope this guide has been useful to you. Camping safety for kids is a lot about boundaries. Showing our young campers boundaries in nature, at the campsite, and on the trails. Have fun out there, and stay safe!
I’m Molly Foss, aka Momma Critter. I’ve been camping since I was 9 years old and I always wanted to be Robin Hood and live in the forest when I grew up. I’m excited to share my love of camping with my son as he grows up. My favorite thing to do while camping is roast marshmallows over the fire.