Ah, the great outdoors. When you were a kid, every summer night was filled with fireflies in mason jars, fishing off the riverbanks and roasting s’mores around glowing coals. At least that’s how you remember it. You want those memories for your kids as well. Good for you. And them! But you may find that camping with your family is different as a parent. Sure, the outdoors is relaxing, but it can be stressful as well. Luckily, we have Bryan Kuhn, PharmD, a poison education specialist at Banner Poison and Drug Information Center to provide us with a few helpful tips for safety in the great outdoors. Follow these six pointers and you’ll be able to enjoy your family camping experience with a little more peace of mind.
1. Plan Ahead for Outdoor Ouchies
First up – first aid! Even when you are playing in the backyard, knees get scuffed on the regular. The same applies when you’re camping – but double. Pack your first aid kit with the basics, such as bandages, ointments, disinfectants and gauze. Then toss in a few items you might consider, specific to camping:
- Insect bite anti-itch gel or cream
- Aloe for sunburns
- Insect repellent
- Toilet paper
- Sunscreen and SPF lip balm
- Diarrhea medicine
- Irrigation syringe
- Cold compress
- Insulin, inhalers and EpiPens as needed.
Dr. Kuhn also recommended that people who require specific medication bring extra, just in case. Some other emergency items you may consider packing could include a water purifier, extra flashlight, matches, compass, paper map, batteries, emergency blanket and a few extra bottles of water. The old Boy Scout adage, “Be Prepared” definitely applies when it comes to camping.
2. Name that Plant!
You don’t have to be a botanist to know what to avoid. Cacti are easy to spot, and with a little practice, the same is true for some noteworthy leafy plants. It’s not a complete list of flora, but Dr. Kuhn warned of a few key plants that present a danger to campers in Arizona:
- Poison Oak and Poison Ivy – These plants tend to grow in wetter climates and will look like any other low shrub to the untrained eye. But there are unique features to identify the leaves and prevent an itchy encounter before it happens. You can treat the infected area with cool compresses and over-the-counter cortisone ointments. If the rash is widespread and severe or if you develop a fever, contact a doctor. Dr. Kuhn also recommended calling the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center if you need help identifying or treating the rash.
- Firestick/Pencil Cactus – There’s a real chance that you have one of these in a small pot on your kitchen counter. But Dr. Kuhn said that the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center receives more calls for this (it’s not technically poisonous, just contains an irritant) plant than any other. The sap inside the plant can be dangerous if ingested by humans or dogs. It can be extremely irritating and dangerous if it comes in contact with the eyes or other orifices.
3. Get Along with Wildlife
Wildlife is just that – wild. From squirrels to bears, any wild animal should be treated with respect when camping. Dr. Kuhn repeated one word for parents to remember. Educate, educate, educate. He encouraged parents to satisfy their child’s natural curiosity with photos and lots of educational material so that they are prepared with vital information should they come in contact with any of Arizona’s more dangerous creatures.
- Bees – Look out for signage and telltale warnings for nearby bees. Especially if you know that you are allergic, bee stings can be painful and dangerous. Should you find yourself in a swarm of bees, wasps or hornets, Dr. Kuhn recommended covering your head with your shirt or hood and quickly moving away from the swarm.
- Scorpions – Dr. Kuhn noted that his team receives about 6,000 calls per year about scorpion stings. Although any scorpion sting is painful, Dr. Kuhn commented that the Bark Scorpion is the most concerning due to their neurotoxic venom. Although the stings are generally non-lethal to older children and adults, the effects can be serious in children under 5 years old.
- Spiders – Dr. Kuhn listed a few noteworthy spiders for Arizona campers – the black widow and the Arizona brown spider (related to the brown recluse). A bite from the black widow produces a swollen area with two puncture points at the center. Cramping and abdominal pain may follow. A bite from the Arizona brown spider can result in a necrotic lesion which may require medical attention. Both spider bites don’t usually result in long-lasting or severe injury, although Dr. Kuhn does recommend calling the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center if your child is bitten and three years or younger.
- Snakes – “Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes...?” Like it or not, Arizona is home to many snakes including the infamous rattlesnake. If you come into contact with one, Dr. Kuhn has several recommendations:
- Keep your distance. The strike zone for a rattle snake is about half its body-length. But don’t test it. They are most dangerous when they are coiled.
- If you are bitten, call 911 and get to an emergency department as soon as possible. An ambulance will know exactly where to take you. Do not try to transport yourself.
- Do NOT try to remove the venom yourself by scoring the wound or “sucking out” the venom.
- Try to decrease blood flow as much as possible. If it is a leg bite, can you be carried?
4. Spray Before You Play
Tie your shoes, put on your hat and apply the bug spray. Dr. Kuhn recommended products that include DEET as an ingredient to prevent bugs from swarming to you. “Although 30% DEET is effective, higher percentages can help protect you for longer.” Dr. Kuhn also noted that DEET could be applied to clothing and advised that thicker layers like denim are your best protection against bug bites.
5. Check the Conditions
Arizona is an extremely diverse state. From the Valley of the Sun to the San Francisco Peaks, temperatures, plant life and animals are different wherever you go. Just because it’s hot in downtown Tucson, doesn’t mean that you won’t need your 30-degree sleeping bag, two hours away at the top of Mount Lemmon.
In his final tip, Dr. Kuhn advised campers to research conditions at their destination, including (but not limited to!) daytime and nighttime temperatures prior to packing up the truck. He warned that no Arizona destination is 100% safe. Sharp cactus in the valley is often traded for poison oak at elevation. A little research could save you a whole lot of itching, maybe even a trip to the emergency department.
6. Eat Safe
Camp cooking is just more fun than home cooking. Whether it’s pancakes on the griddle or s’mores by the fire, the food just tastes better too. Dr. Kuhn offered three tips for outdoor chefs:
- Precook meats at home.
- Pack lots of non-perishable foods
- Be advised that meat and foods that require refrigeration are the most difficult to keep safe.
Sleep easy under the stars or in your tent. There is nothing better than escaping the hustle and bustle of the city to experience the outdoors with your children. You’ll enjoy the Southwest’s diverse and scenic destinations when you are prepared. If you have questions about first aid or a poisonous/venomous reaction, contact the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center at (800) 222-1222.
For a quick list of tips to prepare for your next camping trip, checkout our infographic below: