There’s nothing worse than constantly sniffling, sneezing, and wiping your dripping nose on a camping trip.
And that’s not all.
Sometimes you find yourself waking up in the morning with puffy or swollen eyes, terrible congestion, and a headache.
Sounds like camping with allergies, right?
What causes allergies on a camping trip?
If you notice that your allergies flare up whenever you go on a camping trip, it could be due to any of the following:
These include pollen, ragweed, tree nuts, and grasses.
Mold spores can also trigger allergies—especially if you’re camping near bodies of water.
Temperature and humidity
Changes in temperature and humidity can also trigger allergic reactions.
This is especially true if camping during the spring or summer, when the weather is warm.
It’s the perfect conditions for mold to thrive and pollen to circulate—even more so than if the weather was cooler and drier.
Dusty or moldy gear
Although more rare, camping gear can also be the cause of camping allergies.
Biting or stinging insects
Most people end up with itchy, red, and swollen skin when they get bit or stung by insects like mosquitos or wasps, but for others, it’s a whole other story.
I’m personally quite allergic to horse fly bites.
I’ve been bit in the same place twice over the past two years on my wrist, and both times within a few hours, my entire forearm became incredibly swollen, tender, and sore.
Some camping sites are home to poisonous plants, such as poison ivy, poison oak, and giant hogweed.
These can cause a variety of allergic reactions that range in severity—from itchy bumps and rashes to more serious skin irritations.
It may seem tempting to cozy up by the campfire, but doing so can cause serious respiratory distress in people who are sensitive to it—aggravating conditions like asthma and bronchitis.
Smoke from campfires can also trigger rhinitis (nasal allergies) if the wood that’s burning contains pollen or other plant allergens.
Signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction while camping
If your airway or skin comes into contact with any of the above allergens, mild signs and symptoms you can expect to experience include:
- Sneezing or coughing
- Watery eyes and/or swollen eyelids
- Itchy nose, ears, throat, and/or skin
- Runny or stuffy nose
These symptoms can usually be managed on your own with a few simple strategies.
More serious symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Tightness in the chest
- Severe headaches
- Hives or blisters
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dizziness, weakness, or fainting
If you ever experience any serious symptoms from an allergic reaction, seek medical help right away.
How to deal with allergies while camping
I’m not saying that you can completely cure yourself of your allergies, but you can definitely take measures to reduce the amount of exposure you have to allergens.
Here’s what you should do:
Research the environment where you’re planning to camp
In general, the drier and sparser the camping spot, the less your allergy symptoms will be triggered.
Beware of environments that include:
- Swampy, boggy, or marshy areas that are constantly wet
- Wooded areas with birch, elm, cedar, oak, pine, poplar, walnut, ragweed, bluegrass, Bermuda grass, nettle, sagebrush, tumbleweed, lamb’s quarters, and English plantain
- Open fields and meadows where ragweed and nettle grow
- Stagnant pools of water, rivers, and ponds that are home to mold and insects
Plan your trip when trees and plants are less likely to be in full bloom
To avoid breathing in plant allergens, the best time to camp would be in the late fall, winter, and early spring when most plants are still dormant.
In general, tree pollination happens first—early in the spring.
Grass pollination occurs later on in the spring and throughout the summer, followed by ragweed in late summer and fall.
It may not be as pretty, and the weather may be cold, but there are certainly fewer allergens circulating in the air of you camp in the off-season.
Bonus: There are little to no bugs during shoulder seasons and winter.
Check the weather forecast
You should know the temperature (highs and lows), humidity level, and pollen count prior to camping.
If possible, avoid camping in extreme heat and humid weather conditions.
Wear full-coverage clothing
Long-sleeved shirts, pants, socks, and shoes (not sandals) will help cover your skin and protect it from insect bites, plant irritants, and other allergens.
If it’s hot out and you’d like to wear summer clothing, plan to wear your shorts, tank tops, and sandals when you’re in an open area away from any plants—such as your campsite or the beach.
Pack allergy medication in your first aid kit
There are numerous over-the-counter medications that can help reduce your body’s reaction to allergens while camping.
Common medications include antihistamines, decongestants, eye drops, steroid nasal sprays, and inhalers.
It’s also a good idea to bring at least one travel-sized pack of tissues in case of a runny nose or sneezing.
Upgrade your gear to be hypoallergenic
Some camping cots, tents, sleeping bags, air mattresses, and camping pillows come with antimicrobial treatments or materials specifically designed to help reduce your exposure to allergens.
You may also want to consider investing in camping equipment that comes with an airtight seal to keep bugs and mold out.
Experiment with the airflow of your tent
If heat and humidity tends to set off your allergies, you may benefit from opening your tent’s windows, flaps, and any other vents to increase circulation.
On the other hand, if pollen tends to set off your allergies in the morning, you may want to close your tent’s windows and flaps up until the pollen count drops later in the afternoon.
Use a camp stove with fuel in place of a campfire
If smoke tends to trigger your allergies, you may want to consider avoiding campfires altogether.
Bring a camping stove and fuel instead, so that you can still enjoy camping meals without breathing in any smoke.
We’re big fans of the Bushbox titanium XL, which works as a twig stove and an alcohol stove.
Unlike canister stoves, the Bushbox provides more of a campfire feel without having to actually build a campfire.
Clean and store your gear properly
Forgetting to clean camping gear after each camping trip can lead to an accumulation of pollen, dust mites, and other allergens.
Be sure to thoroughly wipe down your camping gear with a damp cloth before allowing it to fully air dry and storing it away.
It’s also important to keep your camping gear in dry and well-ventilated environments.
Your garage or shed is fine as long as there’s no risk of moisture or mold.
We like to store our gear in big plastic containers with lids to prevent dust, dirt, and moisture from getting in.
Talk to your doctor
This is really just general advice, but it’s important to talk to your doctor before camping if you suffer from allergies and they impact your ability to enjoy your trip.
Your doctor may be able to provide additional advice on camping with allergies, or prescribe special medications that will reduce your body’s reaction to allergens while camping.
They may also be able to refer you to a specialist who can help manage your camping trips.
Allergies such, but they can usually be managed if you’re willing to do a little extra planning.
Next up: 14 of the most common camping injuries and conditions—plus how to prevent them!
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).