Many beginner campers don’t realize how dangerous camping can be. If you’re careless during your trip, you could end up suffering multiple common camping injuries.
Luckily, most common camping injuries are minor, causing mild pain or discomfort that typically clears up on its own in a few days. Other types of injuries, however, can be much more painful and serious. In some cases, they can completely derail your camping trip if they require immediate medical attention.
Whether you’re frontcountry camping or backcountry camping, it’s important to be well prepared ahead of time and take all the necessary precautions to prevent common injuries. Here are some of the most common camping injuries and how to avoid them.
Quick disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It’s not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice. If you have any specific concerns or are feeling ill, please consult with your doctor or health care provider.
1. Insect bites
Insect bites are probably the number one most common injury—and hard to avoid completely if you’re camping in the thick of bug season. They’re more of a nuisance than anything, but they can cause a lot of itchiness, swelling, and discomfort if you’re not careful.
Blackflies and mosquitos are usually the ones you have to worry about, however there are others—including horseflies, deer flies, bees, wasps, hornets, and maybe even spiders depending on where you’re camping. In some cases, they can cause allergic reactions.
I was once bitten by either a horsefly or deer fly on my wrist. My entire forearm and hand swelled up like a balloon, and I felt muscle pain similar to what you’d feel when your muscles tense up in icy cold water. It cleared up after a couple of days, but at that point, I really regretted not bringing an antihistamine with me.
How to treat insect bites
Don’t scratch: It’s tempting to scratch when you’re itchy, but try not to. Scratching can break open the skin and make you more susceptible to infection.
Take an OTC pain reliever: You can also take an over-the-counter pain reliever like Tylenol, or an antihistamine like Benedryl to relieve pain from swelling.
How to prevent insect bites
Besides using insect repellent, we recommend checking out our guide on how to keep mosquitos (and other insects) away while camping.
Sunburns might just be tied with insect bites for common camping injuries. It’s easier than you think to get one when you’re camping, especially if you’re out in the sun during peak daylight hours or near water where there’s a reflection. And even if it’s not warm or sunny out, UV rays can still penetrate through the clouds and cause damage to your skin.
We all make mistakes with protecting ourselves from the sun. We wear warm weather clothing that exposes our skin, we apply sunscreen once and then forget to do it again after sweating or swimming, and we think that just because the weather is cool or windy, we’re safe from getting burned.
It’s important to keep in mind that even mild sunburns aren’t good for your skin—no matter what anyone tells you. More serious burns can cause blistering, peeling skin, and pain.
How to treat sunburn
Seek shade: If you do get a sunburn, the first thing you should do is get out (and stay out) of the sun.
Cool off: Then, take a cool dip in the water (if you can) to relieve pain and inflammation. Be sure not to swim or bathe in hot water, as that will only aggravate your skin further. When you get out, gently pat (don’t wipe) the sunburned area to dry it.
Soothe the burn with aloe vera: Gently apply aloe vera gel or moisturizer to your skin to help cool and soothe it. You can also optionally take ibuprofen or aspirin to help with pain and swelling.
Keep the affected area cool: To further help relieve discomfort, consider placing a cold compress on the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin, as that can cause more damage. Instead, wrap it in a cloth or towel first.
If you have severe sunburn that is causing blistering, peeling, or severe pain, see a doctor as soon as possible.
How to prevent sunburn
Use sunscreen: The best way to prevent sunburns is by using sunscreen—even on cloudy days. Be sure to apply it liberally and often, especially if you do activities that make you sweat or go swimming during the day. Always remember to reapply after towel drying off.
Cover up: You should also wear clothing that covers your skin as much as possible, including a hat with a brim to protect your face, neck, and ears. You can purchase long-sleeved shirts and pants made out of light, moisture-wicking material that has built-in sun protection (UPF 50+).
Stay in the shade as often as possible: If you can, try to stay in the shade during peak sun hours (10am to 4pm), and be extra careful near bodies of water where there is a reflection.
3. Campfire burns
Similar to sunburns, campfire burns are common injuries that are easily preventable. They usually happen when people get too close to the fire while adding logs or cooking over it. You can also be burned by sparks or embers that jump out of the fire.
Campfire burns can range from mild to severe, and they can cause a lot of pain and discomfort the more serious they are. Mild burns might just feel hot and irritated for a short period of time, but severe burns can cause a painful burning sensations for long periods of time—eventually leading to blistering.
How to treat campfire burns
Run cool water over it: If you or someone else gets burned by the fire, it’s important to act quickly. Hold the affected area under cool running water for at least five minutes, or until the pain subsides. This will help stop the burning process and prevent further damage.
Avoid icing the area: Don’t put ice on the burn, as that can cause more irritation. You also shouldn’t pop any blisters that form, as that can lead to infection.
Clean and cover the affected area: Gently dry the area and apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment to help keep the area clean and moist. Then, cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage or wrap. If you don’t have any gauze, you can use a clean cloth.
Take a pain reliever if necessary: If the burn is more than just mildly painful, consider taking ibuprofen or aspirin to help with discomfort. You can also place a cold compress on the area for 10-15 minutes at a time.
Once the burned area is covered, keep an eye on it for signs of infection, like excessive redness, swelling, or pus. If you notice any of these signs, see a doctor as soon as possible.
How to prevent campfire burns
Be aware of the campfire: The best way to prevent campfire burns is by being careful around the fire. Make sure the fire pit is built properly before you start a fire (even if that means restructuring or rebuilding the rocks around it), set up your tent and other camp gear a safe distance away, and be sure to keep a close watch on kids and pets at all times if you’re camping with them.
Use gloves: Another important thing you can do is invest in a good pair of fire resistant work gloves. Whenever you add logs to the fire or cook over it, make sure you’re wearing the gloves. This will help protect your hands from the heat.
4. Cuts, scrapes, and bruises
Scrapes, bruises, and cuts are common injuries that can happen anywhere, but they’re especially common when you’re working or exploring outdoors. You might brush up against the bark of a tree while hiking, bump your leg into a big rock underwater while swimming, or make contact with a piece of gear that has a sharp or jagged edge while setting up camp.
Most scrapes, bruises, and cuts are minor and don’t require much more than some basic first aid. But in some cases, they can be more serious—especially if there’s a lot of bleeding or the cut is deep.
How to treat cuts, scrapes, and bruises
Clean the affected area: Bruises typically don’t require much treatment since the skin isn’t broken, if you have a minor scrape or cut, start by grabbing your first aid kit and using a disinfectant wipe or alcohol-soaked cotton ball to clean the affected area and prevent infection.
Apply pressure: Next, apply pressure to the wound with a clean cloth to stop any bleeding. If the bleeding doesn’t stop after a few minutes or if it’s spurting out, then you’ll need to seek medical attention right away.
Protect and bandage the area: Apply an antibiotic ointment like Polysporin and use a bandage or wrap of your choice to cover the wound. You can use a regular adhesive bandage, butterfly closure strips, or even just a clean cloth.
If you have a more serious cut that requires stitches, don’t try to close it yourself. You’ll need to get a medical professional to do that. In the meantime, hold a clean cloth against the wound and apply pressure to stop the bleeding.
How to prevent cuts, scrapes, and bruises
Have a barrier between your skin and the elements: For instance, if you’re hiking or setting up camp in an area with a lot of trees, wear long sleeves and pants to protect your skin.
Be careful around trees, rocks, and gear: Pay attention to your surroundings and be careful not to brush up against tree bark or rocks. If you’re handling gear, be aware of any sharp or jagged edges.
5. Friction rashes and blisters
Friction rashes and blisters can happen when your skin rubs up against something for an extended period of time—like when you’re hiking with a backpack that rubs your armpit area, or when you’re wearing tight-fitting pants that chafe your skin with each step. In most cases, these rashes and blisters aren’t serious, but they can be painful.
If ignored and not cleaned properly, friction rashes and blisters can become infected. So it’s important to take care of them as soon as possible.
How to treat friction rashes and blisters
Clean the affected area: If you have a friction rash, start by cleansing the area with an alcohol-based disinfectant wipe or cotton ball. Then, pat it dry it and apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.
Be mindful of blisters: If you have a blister, leave it intact if possible. This will help protect the area from infection. If the blister pops on its own, clean it with an alcohol wipe or cotton ball and then apply an antibiotic ointment.
Optionally pop large blisters with a pin: If you have a large blister that’s causing a lot of pain, you can puncture it with a sterile pin or needle (to help release some of the fluid) and then cover it with a bandage as described above.
Bandage the area: You can also cover the blister with a bandage to help keep it clean and protected. Just be sure to change the bandage regularly to keep the area clean and dry.
How to prevent friction rashes and blisters
Wear proper clothing: The best thing you can do to prevent friction rashes and blisters is by wearing clothes and gear that fit well and won’t rub against your skin.
Apply anti-chafe cream: If there are specific areas that are prone to chafing no matter what you wear, you might want to consider applying an anti-chafe cream to those areas before you head out.
Use bandages or moleskins: You can also prevent blisters by applying a bandage or moleskin to areas that are prone to rubbing. I tend to get blisters on the back of my heels when I hike, and moleskins really come in handy in these situations. They create a barrier between your skin and the fabric, help reduce friction, and cushion your skin.
6. Allergic reactions to poisonous plants
Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are all plants that can irritate the skin and cause bad allergic reactions in some people. These reactions can range from itching and a mild rash to more serious symptoms like swelling and difficulty breathing.
If you’re hiking or setting up camp in areas with these types of plants and you’re unaware, or you don’t know what they look like, it’s easy to brush up against them without realizing it. Once the oils from the plants get on your skin, you’re likely to have a reaction.
How to treat allergic reactions from poisonous plants
Carefully rinse the affected area: If you think you’ve come in contact with a poisonous plant, the first thing you should do is carefully rinse the area with water or submerge it in the lake or river if you’re nearby—being careful not to touch the area with your hand and potentially spreading the oils. Instead, use a cloth or rag to gently wipe the affected area.
Apply anti-itch cream: After you’ve rinsed the area, apply an over-the-counter cortisone cream to help reduce inflammation and discomfort. You can also take oral antihistamine to help with itching.
If you’re having difficulty breathing or swallowing, or if your swelling is severe, seek medical help.
How to prevent allergic reactions from poisonous plants
Know your plants: The best way to prevent an allergic reaction from poisonous plants is to be aware of what they look like and where they grow so you can avoid them altogether.
Wear protective clothing: When hiking or working around camp, make sure to wear long pants, long sleeves, and shoes and socks (instead of sandals) to protect your skin.
7. Fishing hook wounds
Fishing is a common camping activity, which means it’s also one of the most common ways people end up getting hurt while camping. A fishing hook can easily puncture the skin when you least expect it, and if you’re not careful, it can get lodged in there pretty good if the hook isn’t barbless.
Your biggest risk of getting hooked is when you’re baiting your hook or removing the fish from the line, but it can also happen if you’re just handling the pole—especially if it’s not in a sheath. You can even hook other people by accident while casting or when reeling in the line a little too enthusiastically.
Another common way to get hooked is by leaving the rod lying on the ground and having someone step around it in bare feet. Wherever there’s a exposed hook, there’s a risk of it getting caught in your skin.
How to treat a fishing hook wound
If the fishing hook is stuck in your skin: The first thing you should do is stay calm. It’s going to hurt, and it’s going to be hard not to freak out, but it’s important to remain calm so you can think clearly and avoid making the situation worse.
If the hook is just stuck in the skin and not embedded: You can try to remove it with a pair of pliers. Be careful not to pull on the skin too much as you’re doing this—you don’t want to make the wound any bigger than it has to be.
If the hook is stuck in your skin but the barb is still outside: You can try to push it through so the hook comes out the other side. This is going to hurt, but it’s often the best way to remove the hook without doing too much damage to the surrounding tissue.
Apply pressure: Once the hook is out, hold a clean cloth against the wound to help stop the bleeding. If the bleeding is heavy, elevate the area above your heart if possible.
Clean the wound: When the bleeding has stopped, clean the wound with soap and water. You can also use an alcohol-free cleansing wipe if you don’t have access to running water.
Apply antibiotic ointment: Once the wound is clean, apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment to help prevent infection.
Cover the wound: Put a bandage over the wound to keep the area clean and protected.
If the barb is embedded in your skin: You’re going to need to see a doctor or go to the emergency room to have it removed.
How to prevent fishing hook wounds
Be careful when handling hooks: That goes for baiting, casting, and removing fish from the line. Always assume the hook is sharp and handle it accordingly.
Keep your fishing rods in a sheath: This will help protect you and others from accidental hooking.
Be aware of where your rod is at all times: Don’t leave it lying on the ground where someone could step on it.
Go barbless: You can buy hooks without barbs or file the barbs down on regular hooks to make them less likely to get stuck in your skin. This also makes it easier to remove hooks from fish if you’re catching and releasing them.
8. Digestive problems
Digestive problems include heartburn, acid reflux, indigestion, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea. They’re no fun to deal with at any given time, but they’re especially not fun when you’re camping.
The most common reasons digestive issues occur while camping include:
- Eating foods you’re not used to eating (or eating too much)
- Eating spoiled food
- Drinking contaminated water
- Not staying hydrated
To make matters worse, you don’t always have access to a proper bathroom or privacy in general when you’re camping, making it difficult to relieve yourself and rest. Digestive problems can strike at any time—even when you’re being careful, so it’s important to be prepared.
How to treat digestive problems
Take an antacid or dramamine: If you have heartburn, acid reflux, or indigestion, the best thing you can do is take an over-the-counter antacid like Tums or Rolaids. For upset stomach, nausea, and vomiting, try taking an over-the-counter antiemetic like Dramamine (Gravol).
Take a stool softener or laxative: If you’re constipated, you might want to try taking a stool softener or laxative to help get things moving along again.
Take Imodium or Pepto Bismol: If you have diarrhea, take Imodium and make sure to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Pepto Bismol is another good choice for a variety of gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea.
How to prevent digestive problems
Store food properly and filter your water: The best way to prevent digestive problems is by being careful about what you eat and drink while camping. Avoid eating spoiled food (especially meat), and only drink water that you know is safe (either from a trusted source or that you’ve filtered/treated yourself).
Stay hydrated: Also, make sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day—even if you’re not thirsty.
And finally, pay attention to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t hesitate to take a break and rest.
Fatigue is common when you’re camping, especially if you’re not used to being active outdoors. Symptoms include feeling tired, weak, or dizzy. You might also have trouble concentrating or focus.
Fatigue can be caused by several things.
Dehydration: Not drinking enough fluids can lead to dehydration, which can lead to fatigue.
Lack of sleep: If you’re not getting enough sleep, your body won’t have the energy it needs to function properly.
Lack of food or poor food choices: Not eating enough can also lead to fatigue. Low blood sugar from eating mostly simple carbohydrates and refined sugar can cause symptoms like dizziness and weakness.
Overexertion: Pushing yourself too hard physically can also lead to fatigue.
How to treat fatigue
Take a break: If you do start to feel extremely tired or low on energy, the best thing to do is rest. Get off your feet and find a cool, shady spot to take a break.
Rehydrate and refuel: Drink some water and eat a snack if you’re feeling lightheaded or dizzy.
How to prevent fatigue
Drink plenty of fluids: Make sure you’re drinking enough water, especially in hot weather. Avoid alcohol, which can actually contribute to dehydration.
Eat regularly: Eating small meals or snacks throughout the day will help keep your energy up. Make healthy food choices that include protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates to help you sustain your energy and avoid crashing.
Get enough sleep: Getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night will help you feel rested and ready to take on the day.
Pace yourself: If you’re doing a lot of physical activity, take breaks often and don’t overdo it. Start slowly and build up your endurance as you get used to being active.
10. Heat exhaustion
Heat exhaustion is more of a condition rather than a common camping injury, but it is common in hot weather. Symptoms include dizziness, headache, nausea, and lightheadedness. You might also have trouble focusing or concentrating. Your skin might feel cool and clammy, and your pulse might be fast and weak.
Heat exhaustion is caused by overexposure to heat and can be made worse by dehydration.
How to treat heat exhaustion
Seek shade: If you start to feel any symptoms of heat exhaustion, it’s important to get out of the heat and into a cool, shady area.
Rehydrate: Drink plenty of fluids—especially water—and remove any excess clothing.
Cool off: You can also apply a cold compress to your neck or head to help cool you off gradually.
How to prevent heat exhaustion
Drink plenty of fluids: Make sure you’re drinking enough water, especially in hot weather. Avoid alcohol, which can actually contribute to dehydration.
Wear appropriate clothing: Wear loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing in hot weather. If you’ll be outside for a long period of time, consider wearing a hat or other head cover to protect yourself from the sun.
Take breaks: Get out of the heat and into a cool, shady area often to give your body a chance to recover.
11. Sore or pulled muscles
Sore or pulled muscles are common injuries that can happen when you’re camping, especially if you’re not used to being active. Common places people tend to pull muscles are in their back, shoulders, and legs.
You might not be used to hiking certain terrain, carrying heavy gear, portaging a canoe, or setting up camp. All of these activities can lead to a muscle strain or sprain. You might notice soreness or pain right away, or it might not start bothering you until several hours later or the next day.
How to treat sore or pulled muscles
Use the RICE method: If you have a sore muscle, the best thing to do is rest and ice the area for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Follow the RICE method:
- Rest: Take a break from whatever activity caused the injury and avoid putting weight on the area.
- Ice: Apply ice to the area for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
- Compression: Use an elastic compression bandage to help reduce swelling.
- Elevation: Keep the injured area elevated above heart level as much as possible.
Take a pain reliever: You can also take over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
If you have a more serious muscle injury like a sprain, you’ll want to seek medical attention.
How to prevent sore or pulled muscles
Improve your fitness and flexibility: The best way to prevent sore or pulled muscles is by staying active and in shape leading up to your camping trip. If you’re not used to being active, start slowly and gradually increase your activity level.
Know your limits: Be realistic when considering your own strength and endurance levels. If you know you can’t spend four hours hiking up a mountain, don’t do it. If you know your upper body strength isn’t up to snuff, don’t try to lift a 70-pound canoe over your head.
Avoid working cold muscles: When you do decide to do something that tests your fitness level, make sure to warm up and stretch first. And finally, listen to your body. If something doesn’t feel right, stop and rest.
12. Joint pain
Joint pain is common as we age, but it can also be caused by overuse or injury. Joints are the places where two bones meet, and they’re held together by ligaments. The ends of the bones are protected by a layer of cartilage, which helps them move smoothly against each other.
It’s common to experience joint pain in the knees, hips, ankles, and shoulders while camping due to the increase in activity and potentially bad form. The pain can range from a dull ache to a sharp pain, and it might be worse when you move or put weight on the area.
How to treat joint pain
Use the RICE method: Similar to muscle soreness, the best thing to do for joint pain is rest and ice the area for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Follow the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) to help reduce swelling.
Take a pain reliever: Taking an over-the-counter pain medication like Advil or Tylenol can also help with pain relief.
If the pain is severe or lasts more than a few days, you might want to see a doctor.
How to prevent joint pain
Increase activity gradually: Make sure you warm up and stretch before doing any physical activity. This will help loosen your muscles and joints, and increase blood flow to the area.
Mind your technique or form: Second, pay attention to your activity—poor form can lead to joint pain. For example, when lifting something heavy, make sure you’re using your legs and not your back. And when squatting down, make sure your knees don’t go past your toes.
Avoid overloading your body: If you’re carrying a heavy load, distribute the weight evenly so you’re not putting all the stress on one joint. Take breaks and listen to your body to prevent overuse. It’s always better to pace yourself than risk injury.
13. Sprained ankle
A sprain occurs when the ligaments that connect bones to each other are stretched or torn. The most common type of sprain happens in the ankle when you roll your foot inward (inversion) or outward (eversion).
You can sprain your ankle while hiking on uneven terrain, maneuvering around rocky areas, struggling to carry heavy gear, or simply stepping in a hole. The pain is usually sudden and sharp, and you might hear a popping noise. The area will swell and might bruise. You might also have swelling and bruising around the area, and it might be difficult to put weight on your foot.
If you suspect you have a sprained ankle, it’s important to seek medical attention—a more serious injury like a fracture can feel similar to a sprain but requires different treatment.
How to treat a sprained ankle
Use the RICE method: If you think you’ve sprained your ankle, the first thing you should do is stop what you’re doing and rest. Don’t try to “walk it off.” Next, use the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) to help reduce swelling.
Take a pain reliever: You can also take over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen or Tylenol to help with pain relief.
If the pain is severe, lasts more than a few days, or you can’t put weight on your foot, see a doctor.
How to prevent a sprained ankle
Wear proper footwear: Make sure you have supportive shoes with good traction and ideally ankle support. Avoid wearing flip-flops or sandals in areas where you might trip or stumble.
Be careful on uneven terrain: Watch your step, and take your time when hiking on rocky or uneven terrain.
Don’t overdo it: If you’re carrying a heavy load, take breaks often to give your ankles a rest. And if you’re doing any physical activity that puts stress on your ankles, make sure you warm up and stretch first.
14. Fractures and broken bones
A fracture is a break in the bone that doesn’t go all the way through. A broken bone is a crack or break in the bone. Both are common camping injuries that can happen in similar situations to a sprained ankle—often by losing your balance and falling. This generally happens when you’re hiking on uneven terrain, climbing or maneuvering around rocky areas, carrying around heavy gear, or participating in other activities that put stress on your bones.
The most common signs of a broken bone or fracture are severe pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty moving the affected area. If you think you have a broken bone or fracture, seek medical attention immediately—these injuries require professional treatment.
How to treat fractures and broken bones
Unfortunately, this is one of those more serious injuries that can’t you can’t treat yourself. You can, however, take care of the area to prevent further injury before getting to the emergency room.
Immobilize the area: To do this, use a splint or sling to immobilize the bone in the position you found it.
Use the RICE method: You can also use the RICE method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) to help with pain and swelling.
Take a pain reliever: If you’re in a lot of pain, take over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen or Tylenol.
Once you’ve done that, seek medical attention as soon as possible. X-rays will be needed to confirm the diagnosis and determine the best course of treatment.
How to prevent fractures and broken bones
You really don’t want to break or fracture a bone as this can be very painful and will almost certainly require you to get to the emergency room as quickly as possible.
Wear proper footwear: You should have hiking shoes or boots that fit well and come with with proper arch and ankle support.
Watch where you step: Pay attention when you’re walking on rocky, uneven, or slippery surfaces. Go slow and don’t rush.
Take breaks: If you’re carrying a lot of gear or supplies, or you find yourself losing steam, take a break to rest your body and give your bones a break. Your mind will also be in better shape after a break to watch for potential hazards.
Risking common camping injuries and conditions isn’t worth it
Nobody likes to get injured, but the risks and dangers are heightened when you’re away from home—and especially if you’re camping somewhere that’s very remote. It’s important to be aware of the types of injuries that can happen while camping and be as prepared as possible for them to happen.
Besides taking good care of your health and fitness, having the proper gear, and being aware of your surroundings, you should also consider having a first aid kid on hand and potentially a personal locator beacon or satellite GPS messenger that comes equipped with an SOS button when camping in the backcountry. We recommend the SPOT Gen4.
We want you to have a safe and fun camping trip. Keep these tips in mind to help you prevent common camping injuries so you can enjoy your experience in the outdoors to the fullest!
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).