Camping is a fantastic way to enjoy the great outdoors. But in the excitement of a trip, and because of the unfamiliar surroundings and ways of doing things, it can lead to life-changing accidents.
Life-changing injuries result most often from burns or fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Following some simple safety advice means your camping trip should be a memorable experience for all the right reasons.
On this page you will find advice about:
Open fires and barbecues
Having a fire away from tents and sleeping areas is critically important. Many sites have rules for this reason, and demand metres of space between tents to limit fire spread, as well as maintain some degree of privacy.
Starting a fire can involve as much art as science. Using accelerants such as meths (metholated spirits) and petrol comes with particular risks; when poured onto a fire/wood, they vaporise and can ignite much quicker than expected, and this isn't easily visible – at best you might have singed eyebrows, at worst - significant burns.
You should be able to step away from a fire without tripping/climbing over anything. That means no tents, no clutter – essentially, if the fire starts you can step away freely, pause and lower/douse the fire, and then get on with cooking.
For open fires, it is always a good idea to have a bucket of earth, sand or water to hand, or a fire blanket to help put the fire out.
Badly disposed of barbecues, such as those buried under sand, can cause significant injuries and burns to children, as the grpund retains heat for several hours after the barbecue has been extinguished. Be sure that fires and barbecues are completely out, and taken to a safe spot. If you can't take it away, make sure the barbeqcue/fire is obvious.
Cooking stoves use pressurised camping gas or meths. Understanding how the stoves work and what combination of equipment can be used is important.
Gas cartridges come in several types - mainly screw in/puncture - and often are only for use with a certain model. Check the manufacturer's guide for gas canister use, and safe disposal. You should never puncture gas canisters and never put used or full canisters onto an open fire.
Caravanners should have their gas-powered appliances serviced annually and should consider using an audible carbon monoxide alarm inside their caravan.
Carbon monoxide (sometimes referred to by its chemical symbol CO) is known as the silent killer because you can't see it, hear it, smell it or taste it. It can kill quickly and with no warning.
It can get cold at night while camping, and, tragically, several deaths have happened due to families using barbecues or fires for warmth inside tents, or vehicles.
Signs of CO poisoning
CO gas can build up quickly and at high levels it can cause collapse, unconsciousness and death. Symptoms of CO poisoning can include:
- Chest pains
If you suspect CO poisoning, get into fresh air and seek medical help.
- Anything that burns can give off invisible and dangerous CO gas
- A warm barbecue or smouldering fire can still be lethal
- Never use stoves, fires or disposable barbecues for cooking or warmth in an enclosed/indoor space with poor ventilation, such as a tent
- CO gas can build up quickly and at high levels it can cause collapse, unconsciousness and death.
Fire and learning about risk
Although we have pointed out the life changing injuries associated mainly with fire, many of the most severe cases arise from a lack of awareness of the risks, in particular the non-obvious nature of carbon monoxide poisoning.
As a learning tool, fire can foster independence and an understanding of risk at an early age, along with understanding the basic science. Including a balanced approach of the risks and benefits can be a powerful learning experience.
Resources and further information