Setting Up Camp
There are a few basic precautions for camping at night that every camper should be aware of, especially beginning campers who are unfamiliar with the rigors and routines of setting up and efficiently running a campsite.
Because most camping areas provide little or no light, campers are responsible for supplying their own means of illuminating the darkness. A flashlight with new batteries should be available to everyone on the trip, along with backup batteries and bulbs. Flashlights should be durable and “drop-resistant.” Lanterns can be used for prolonged light. If the lantern uses kerosene, white gas (Coleman fuel) or any liquid fuel, a funnel should always be used when refilling. Propane lanterns are safer, but like all fueled lanterns, should always be refueled at a safe distance from fires and other sources of heat. Always extinguish lanterns before going to sleep. Battery-powered lanterns are other good light sources, as are fluorescent nightsticks, which are both safe and affordable.
At night, in a dark tent or around a poorly lit campsite, it’s easy for campers to accidentally step on equipment that could injure them, such as knives or axes. To avoid potential mishaps, it’s best to have all gear well organized before it turns dark. Sharp objects should always be sheathed and stored way. Also, large bulky items such as coolers and chairs should be stored out of walking areas to avoid trips and falls. Lastly, any item that a camper might want to have quick access to in the middle of the night, such as a flashlight, should be placed within easy reach of their sleeping area.
Carbon Monoxide/Fire Hazards
Campers face the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and fire if they use lanterns, stoves, heaters or other devices that burn fuel such as white gas, kerosene, butane and propane in enclosed areas like tents or campers. It is estimated that up to 30 people die in the United States annually from carbon monoxide poisoning while camping. Never use propane heaters and/or burners in an enclosed environment, unless they are specifically designed for indoor use, which is usually indicated prominently on the unit itself and/or its packaging. Even when using a propane-burning device designed for indoor use, proper ventilation is critical, and users should never use it while sleeping. Also, charcoal should never be used for heating an enclosed environment. Most tents are made from highly flammable material, so extra caution should be exercised whenever a flame of any kind is burned inside a tent.
Campfires are great for providing heat and light and cooking food, but there are several precautions that should be taken to keep them safe. When possible, campers should use an established fire ring or pit. Campfires should not be built below overhanging branches or close to other wood, such as rotten stumps or logs. A fire hole should be hollowed out two feet across and five to six inches deep, and soil and rocks should ring around the edge. Fires should be kept small, and campers should be prepared to put it out quickly if it spreads by having both a bucket of water and shovel at hand. The best way to extinguish a campfire is to douse it with water, stir the remains and douse it again. If dirt is used, the camper should make sure all embers are completely extinguished because buried burning coals can smolder and break out again. Also, campers should not leave camp the next morning without double-checking that the fire is out (the leftover water at the bottom of an ice chest works well for this).
To prevent unwanted animals from entering camp at night, campers should store all foodstuffs in sealed containers, which are then stored in areas away from sleeping areas, such as in the trunk of a vehicle or tied high above ground. Utensils should be washed and also stored away. While in bear country, food items (and other items with enticing odors, such as lotions) should be sealed and then stored in bags that are suspended at least 10 feet in the air and away from the camp. If bear lines are not already present, the bags can be hung from a rope over a tree branch. The same practice works for avoiding encounters with nuisance critters such as skunks and raccoons.
Setting Up Camp
Setting up camp in the dark can be difficult, especially for a beginning camper, and a poorly set up camp can have safety-related consequences. Without a thorough evaluation of the surrounding terrain—which is nearly impossible at night—potential hazards cannot be fully identified. For instance, a tent could be inadvertently set up in avalanche terrain or in the path of flash flooding. Or perhaps the chosen area is too close to marshy areas full of insects, or in the middle of poison ivy, oak or sumac. That’s why it’s important, when possible, to set up camp long before the sun begins to set. Both sundown and sunrise times are helpful to know, and both can be found with weather information.