Going camping is a great way for church members, students, and youth groups to connect with each other and with nature. There’s something about the fresh air and a relaxed setting that strengthens relationships with each other and with God.Choosing a safe place to camp is essential for a successful camping trip, but this decision may not be as straightforward as you think. Even state parks and commercial campgrounds have risks that can disrupt your group’s restful and restorative campout.
The first thing to consider when looking at campsite safety is where you are setting up camp. Pathfinder clubs regularly set up campsites in more remote environments for camporees and on backpack trips, while a church campout is likely to be held at an established campground with defined campsites.
While these two types of campsites have some risks in common, there are risks unique to each location.
Fire, Water, and SupervisionA campfire is one of the biggest risks on any camping trip. Campfires should be built in designated fire pits when available. In remote camping locations, first check if campfires are permitted—then construct a fire ring. With any campfire, clear away grass, sticks, and other flammable debris at least six feet from the fire ring. Campfires should be at least 15 feet away from tents and the kitchen/dining area.
The need for fire safety only grows after you’ve selected a location for your fire pit. Closely monitor activity around the fire to avoid someone falling into the fire while playing around. Don’t allow items such as sticks or paper to be put in the fire and then removed. This can create excess sparks that can easily travel. In case the fire gets out of its designated area, always have a fire extinguisher or bucket of water nearby.
Depending on where you’re camping, water presents different risks. In remote campgrounds, access to clean water is critical. Drinking or cooking with contaminated water can lead to severe illness or worse. Never take water from a stagnant water source or drink untreated water. Filter or boil any water that is not from a faucet, or bring drinking and cooking water with you.
Commercial campgrounds may have running water, but water safety is still a concern. If a lake, river, or other body of water is present, drowning becomes a serious risk. Supervising young people is critical, even when they are there with their parents or guardians. Children playing near the shore can fall into the water and drown before anyone even knows they are missing.
Camping in nature may give a false sense of security, causing us to become complacent when it comes to supervision. In addition to watching the waterfront, it’s important to continue to perform general supervision duties.
Unfortunately, a relaxed schedule and remote locations can lead to increased opportunities for sexual abuse. This is especially true when camping at a commercial campground or around other groups. Just because someone is camping doesn’t mean they don’t pose a threat to our children and youth. You have a duty of care to protect those entrusted to you—do not let your guard down when camping. Know where the children are, and continue to use the two-adult rule when supervising children.
Hygiene, Kitchens, and Food StorageCamp hygiene is also important, both for individuals and the campsite. Latrines should be at least 500 feet away from camp and at least three feet deep. Handwashing and dishwashing should occur in separate, designated places away from the kitchen. Never leave dirty dishes out in between meals or overnight as this can attract animals. Always use soap and hot water to wash dishes, and consider using a bleach-water rinse to sanitize dishes.
Kitchen safety is also important, including where stoves are placed, how food is stored, and where knives, fuel, and other dangerous equipment is stored. Just like your campfire, kitchen stoves should only be used in an open area away from flammable material. Make sure there is adequate protection from wind to protect open flames on the stove. Your stove should also be clean and level. Do not store fuel near an open flame or in direct sunlight.
Food storage while camping is often difficult. The smell of food can bring unwanted wildlife into your campsite, including rodents, racoons, and, in some places, even bears. Knowing what wildlife is in the area and how to protect food from curious animals is critical. Store food in secure containers that cannot be opened by animals or, if possible, in an enclosed trailer or vehicle. Some animals, such as bears, can defeat many seemingly strong containers, so be sure to plan accordingly.
Keeping food at a proper temperature is another challenge when camping. Bacteria can rapidly grow in food in what’s called the “danger zone,” between 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.44° Celsius) and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60° Celsius). Food should never be out of refrigeration for more than two hours and no more than one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2° Celsius). Regularly change the ice in ice chests, and dispose of any food left out too long.
Equipment and Other HazardsCampsites contain dangerous tools and equipment that many of us do not regularly use. Axes and saws, generators, lanterns, and even knives—pocketknives and kitchen knives—are all things that should be stored properly and used correctly. Only authorized people who have been adequately trained should use dangerous equipment. When not in use, these items should be out of the way and secured so no one can use them.
Because you’re out in nature, there is an endless amount of natural hazards that can create slips, trips, and falls. These include tree roots, rocks, downed branches, and slick surfaces after a rain. There are often many additional hazards that make up a campsite, including tent stakes, ropes, and extension cords. Games, running, and other types of play activity should happen well away from the main campsite to avoid injury or accidents.
Campsite Inspection FormIn 2009 Adventist Risk Management, Inc. (ARM) created the Camp Safety Pathfinder honor to help reinforce the importance of safe campsites. One key requirement of this honor is to physically inspect several campsites using ARM’s Campsite Inspection Form.
This checklist gives detailed safety precautions that should be followed for every camping situation, regardless of who is camping and what type of campsite you’re using. For church family campouts, give a copy of this checklist to everyone who registers. Have members of your safety committee or experienced Pathfinders working on their Camp Safety honor ready to answer any questions families may have. For some, this may be their first time camping and they will benefit from the guidance of those who camp more regularly.
Camping is a wonderful opportunity to experience God through nature. No matter who is camping or where your campsite is located, make safety one of your top priorities. A safe campsite is the first step in a successful camping trip.
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