Treating Burns While Camping

When camping in the wilderness, there’s the possibility of getting injured due to extreme temperatures. It’s important to prepare for any conditions you may encounter when camping or hiking since there may not be medical care easily available. Staying out in the sun for too long can lead to heat stroke or heat exhaustion while staying too long in the cold can cause frostbite or hypothermia. In the same vein, burns may occur when cooking over a campfire or using nonelectric lanterns. The following information offers basic ways to prevent and treat burns while camping. For serious burns, you should always seek professional medical care. 

Preventing Burns

Practicing appropriate fire safety can prevent burns. When camping, you can practice fire safety by following these steps. 

  • Line a fire pit with rocks to prevent it from getting out of control.
  • Always make sure a fire is completely out before leaving it. Be prepared by keeping water handy to put out your campfire.
  • If you encounter a grease fire, never use water to put it out. Water and oil don’t mix, so water can make a grease fire much worse. Instead, use baking soda, sand, or a fire extinguisher to quell the flames.
  • Supervise children around fires or nonelectric lanterns.

Degrees of Burns

Burns are categorized into three degrees of damage, each requiring different amounts of care. The damage done by a burn also depends on the area affected and amount of skin burned. 

First-Degree Burns

First-degree burns are mild and only affect the superficial layer of skin. An example is a sunburn. First-degree burns are painful and can cause redness and swelling around the burned area. 

These burns will heal on their own within a few days or weeks depending on the area of skin affected. While you usually don’t need medical help for minor burns, there are some ways you can protect the tissue and reduce pain. 

  • To cool down the burn and reduce swelling, put it under cool water or place a cool cloth over the burn.
  • Apply aloe vera and a loose gauze bandage to moisturize and soothe the burned area.
  • To relieve pain and swelling, you can take over-the-counter pain medicine.

Second-Degree Burns

Second-degree burns are more serious than first-degree burns because they damage the outer layer of skin, the epidermis, and the next layer of skin, the dermis. These burns are painful and can blister the skin. The skin may look white, deep red, or dark brown. Without proper treatment, second-degree burns may cause infection because the skin is the body’s first defense against harmful particles like bacteria.

If a second-degree burn covers a large area or is on a sensitive part of the body such as the face, hands, feet, or around a major joint, it is considered a major burn and you should seek medical care. If not, and the burn is less than 3 inches in diameter, you can treat it with the following steps.

  • Apply cool water. It may be tempting to put ice or cold water on the burn to cool down the area, but ice can further damage the skin and tissue by shocking the area and even causing frostbite. Instead apply a cool washcloth to the area or run the burn under cool water.
  • Remove any restricting items like jewelry, as burned skin is prone to swelling.  
  • Don’t break blisters, which protect the skin from infection. 
  • Gently bandage the area with clean gauze. Don’t expose the area anything that’s not sterile. 

Third-Degree Burns

Third-degree burns damage not only all the layers of the skin, but possibly the fatty tissue, muscles, and tendons underneath. Third degree burns also may destroy the nerves and cause a loss of feeling. If the skin and tissue is numb instead of painful, it’s a third-degree burn. The tissue may look charred and can look white, black, brown, or yellow.  

Third-degree burns are very serious and must be checked out immediately in the ER. While waiting for emergency care, there are a few steps you can take to reduce harm. 

  • Make sure the injured person is no longer in danger. Put out any fires and turn off any power sources if it’s an electrical burn. 
  • Make sure the injured person is able to breathe if they have suffered any smoke inhalation.
  • Remove any restricting items like jewelry or belts, as burned tissue is prone to swelling.
  • Don’t put the burned area into water unless it is on fire. Open water can introduce bacteria to a serious burn and the cold shock can cause hypothermia. 
  • Cover the burned area loosely with a cool cloth or bandage and keep the area above the heart level if possible. 

For more information on treating various degrees of burns, check out https://www.verywellhealth.com/degrees-of-burns-1298906


On The Trail: Water Purification

Water is an essential part of hiking and it is particularly important to stay hydrated while on the trail. When going out into nature, you should always bring a water bottle of some kind, no matter how short the hike. However, if you run out of water or are hiking for an extended time, you will have to find natural sources of water. Before you start drinking from any lake, river, or stream you come across, first make sure that the water is safe to drink by purifying it.

Is This Water Safe to Drink?

While you should never just assume water on the trail or in the woods is safe to drink, these basic guidelines will point you towards safer sources of water.

1. Look for clear, flowing water.

Clear, flowing water is the best bet for drinkable water in nature. Water that looks clear and free from surface particles is obviously a better option than cloudy or visibly contaminated water. Streams or fast-flowing parts of rivers tend to be the cleanest sources, but you should purify this water as well just to be safe from any water-borne illness.

2. Stagnant water is most likely unsafe.

Lakes and ponds are usually not drinkable because the water is stagnant and most likely full of bacteria. If you are drinking from these sources, you must purify the water beforehand to kill any bacteria or viruses.

3. Avoid water downstream from camping areas.

Water that is downstream from camping or farming areas may be contaminated with water-borne viruses from any waste that traveled into the water source. Steer clear of these areas and head upstream for better water quality.

4. Never drink salt water.

Salt water can dehydrate you which is the last thing you want while hiking. It is best to avoid any saltwater lakes when looking for drinkable water.


Mountain stream

How to Purify Water

Purifying water means removing harmful viruses, bacteria, and chemicals that may be in natural sources. There are several methods of purification to choose from; some are more convenient and effective than others.

1. Filtration

Filtering water before you purify it is a good idea if the source is especially dirty, but usually purification alone is enough. Some filters can be inconvenient to use and heavy to carry; a simpler yet less effective way to filter water is to pour it through a paper coffee filter which can easily be carried in a bag or backpack.

Filtration can also be used as a purification method in and of itself. This process is generally done by pumping water through a ceramic or charcoal filter and then treating the water with chemicals. After pumping natural water into a separate water bottle, it will be clean and safe to drink. Some water bottles have built-in filters for an easy and convenient filtration option.

2. Boiling

One of the most effective ways to purify water is by boiling it, which removes any bacteria or viruses it may be contaminated with. Water can be boiled in a metal cup, pot, or canteen over a fire. Keep water at a roiling boil for at least 60 seconds to ensure it is safe and let it cool before drinking.

3. Iodine

Water purification tablets or iodine droplets are the most convenient and affordable way to purify water. Tincture of Iodine 2% is used to kill any viruses or bacteria and will leave you with safe, drinkable water. Iodine is also the active chemical in many water purification tablets which will accomplish the same thing. Add a few tablets or drops of iodine to your water bottle and let the water set for at least 20 minutes for the chemicals to react. Iodine-treated water may taste strange, but it will be effectively clean.

4. Ultraviolet Purification

Ultraviolet water purifiers involve treating water with UV light to neutralize contaminants and organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. This method works best on clear water, so it is best to filter your water first. Some ultraviolet water bottles come with a built-in pre-filter. After filtering your water, stir it with the UV purifier for about 90 seconds. While UV purification is very effective, it can be more expensive than the other purification methods.


On The Trail: Packing Your Bag

One of the most important things when going hiking is to be prepared. Hiking can be a fun, refreshing way to reconnect with nature but it can also be dangerous if you’re not careful. It is better to hike with other people instead of on your own and before heading out to the trails, your bag should be packed full of tools to aid you on your journey. It should be noted that the longer and more complicated your trail, the more items you will need. The items listed below are just some basic essentials to bring on every hike.

1. Water

The most crucial tool in your backpack is water. Anytime of year, but especially in the warmer months, staying hydrated is a necessity of hiking. Whether on a straight, paved path, or on the rugged terrain of a mountain, hiking is a lot of exercise and you can get dehydrated pretty fast. It is important to replenish not only water but electrolytes as well. Consuming electrolytes help you maintain a good water-salt balance. Good sources of electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium, include bananas, salty snacks (in moderation), and sports drinks. Drinks with caffeine, like coffee, soda, or tea, or alcohol, can cause dehydration and should be avoided on the trail.

To be environmentally-conscious and also for the ease of refilling, a reusable water bottle is your best bet on a hike. If you plan to purify water from natural sources, make sure to bring all the tools you need for purification, whether that’s iodine drops, ultraviolet filters, or tools for boiling water. For more information on finding and purifying water on your hike, check out the article On The Trail: Water Purification.

2. Snacks

Another key to a successful hike is keeping up your energy. Hiking can use up a lot of energy and it’s hard to focus on connecting with nature when you’re hungry or tired out. Rather than stopping for a long lunch break, pack small, energy-boosting foods for regular snack breaks. Eating smaller portions more frequently is healthier for your body and helps to sustain you for the duration of your hike. Foods rich in carbs and proteins are the best way to gain energy during your hike. Some snack suggestions are granola bars, nuts, fruits, peanut butter and bananas, energy bars, and trail mix. You can make your own trail mix through a combination of nuts, dried fruits, and seeds.

3. Sun Protection

If you are going to be hiking out in the sun, sun protection is a must. The sun can do a lot of damage to your skin, so it is important to take precautions every time you are hiking outside. The sun’s rays are generally strongest between the hours of 10am and 4pm, so be extra careful of sunburn and heat stroke during these hours. However, sun protection is important despite the

time of day. Apply sunscreen before leaving and bring extra in your bag to reapply. Other items to bring include SPF lip balm, sun-protective clothing, sunglasses, and a hat.

4. First-Aid Kit

The trail may seem harmless, but there is always the possibility of getting injured in the wilderness. Rugged terrain in particular offers more dangers than a smooth path, but it is always best to be prepared. A great tool to pack in your bag is a first-aid kit. You can buy an already-made kit or make your own. A few things to include in your first-aid kit:

➔ Band-aids

➔ Gauze

➔ Antibiotic Ointment

➔ Aspirin

Always make sure your first-aid kit is stocked and replace anything you use before your next hike.

5. Directional Aid

Depending on the type and length of your hike, you may need tools to help point you in the right direction. GPS on your phone is a great tool if you get lost, but you may not always have service on the trails. For longer hikes or for hikes through more rough terrain, a compass and map can be helpful to aid your sense of direction. And remember, while it is highly recommended to hike with others, always let people know where you are going and when you expect to be back if you choose to hike alone.


Bonfire Safety

Bonfires are a classic staple of a fun camping trip; they keep you warm and were the birthplace of s’mores. However, it’s always important to practice good fire safety when you start any kind of fire. Follow these guidelines to stay safe while enjoying your camping trip and roasting marshmallows.


Only start fires in a safe environment.

Before starting any kind of fire, make sure that there aren’t any fire restrictions in place. If current conditions make wildfires more likely, a fire restriction may be implemented which may ban bonfires in certain conditions. Some areas such as parts of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area and the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness area never allow campfires in order to protect the area from potential wildfires. You can read about fire restrictions at fs.usda.gov.

You should also check the weather conditions to see if it’s safe to start a fire. If the area is hot and dry, your fire is more likely to grow into a forest fire. High winds can also cause fires to spread, so it’s best to avoid bonfires when it’s windy out. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!


Only use designated fire pits.

If you’re staying at a campsite, only use designated fire pits for a bonfire. These pits are either made of a metal material or surrounded by stones so the fire is contained. If you’re making your own fire pit, build it at least 10 feet away from any buildings or flammable materials. Make sure there isn’t anything in the fire pit that shouldn’t be burned before using it and make sure there’s no surrounding wood or vegetation it could spread to.


Only burn safe materials

When making your fire, stick will dry kindling and wood. Burning other materials such as plastic may release toxic fumes into the air, harming both yourself and other campers. Putting accelerants like gas or other flammable liquids in your fire is also a bad idea. Doing this will cause your fire to get out of control and may even cause an explosion.

Even if a fire is only built from safe materials, flying embers are a possibility and may be dangerous if you sit too close to the fire. In addition, smoke can be dangerous to your lungs, so it’s recommended to avoid breathing it in whenever possible.


Never leave a fire unsupervised.

Leaving a fire unattended is a recipe for disaster. Not only can your fire get out of control, it could also cause the start of a forest fire. Never leave a fire that’s still burning and never leave children unattended by the fire. When you’re done with the bonfire, extinguish it with water and wait until it’s completely gone. After dousing the flames, cover the pit with dirt to prevent any remaining sparks from being reignited.


The Forest Fire

Forest fires are devastating natural disasters that can destroy large amounts of land very quickly. Due to their size and the speed at which they can spread, forest fires have been a force of destruction worldwide, most recently in California and Australia. In the U.S., there have been an average of 67,000 wildfires per year over the past 10 years.


Forest Fire Conditions

All forest fires start with a spark. This spark may be human caused or naturally caused, with human-caused fires making up the large majority of all forest fires. Human causes may include cigarette stubs, bonfires, land-clearing fires, and other accidental fires. On the other hand, naturally-caused fires generally burn the most total area because they may not be detected as quickly and may not be contained as easily. Natural causes may include volcanic eruptions, lightning strikes, and the rare spontaneous combustion of dry sawdust or leaves.

All fires require fuel, oxygen, and heat, each part of the “fire triangle”, to start and to continue burning. As a result, the ideal environment for a forest fire is a dry forest on a hot and windy day. Western states and dry states such as California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona are at the most risk for wildfires. California and large parts of Australia have both recently experienced wildfires due to very high temperatures and dry conditions.

Forest fires increase in severity the higher up in the forest they burn. The three types of forest fires by vertical location are ground fires, which take place below the leaves, surface fires, which can be up to 1.3 meters high, and crown fires, which take place in the treetops. Crown fires are the most dangerous and can spread faster than the other types of fires. After reaching the tops of the trees, crown fires may be able to move from tree to tree and are difficult to extinguish.


How They’re Extinguished

The very first step in fighting forest fires is the notification that the fire exists. If a fire gets out of hand or a potential forest fire is spotted, it’s important to tell the authorities as soon as possible so they can start containing and extinguishing it.

After learning of a new fire, there are a couple of techniques that firefighters use to put it out. The main goal is to take away one or more sides of the fire triangle so that the fire can’t be sustained.



A firebreak is a strip of land that has been stripped of anything that a fire could use for fuel such as brush or debris. Firebreaks are built around the fire to prevent it from spreading further. This is the job of firefighters called hotshots who work in teams to contain the fire.



Backfires may also be used to get rid of any fuel in the fire’s path. A backfire is a fire that is meant to burn up fuel so the larger fire is contained. These fires are set by the ground crew who are able to contain the fire.


Air Support

Planes called air tankers are able to drop thousands of gallons of water and fire retardant from above. Helicopters can also douse the flames by dropping water bombs and by getting firefighters to the site of the fire.


Suppressing Small Fires

While the larger fire is being extinguished from above, specialized firefighters called smokejumpers suppress small fires on the ground so they don’t grow in size. Smokejumpers are able to get to the small fires away from the action by jumping out of planes.


For more information on wildfires and how to stay safe, visit American Red Cross Wildfire Safety.