Story by Tricia Edgar
Vacay.ca Outdoors Columnist
Whether you’re venturing into the Canadian wilderness for the first time, or you’re heading off to camp on the urban fringes, the best camping is scenic, but it’s also safe. Make safety a priority when you’re camping, and all you’ll remember is the wonderful views, pristine lakes, and relaxing campfires of summer.
1. Be aware of wildlife.
To many Canadians, camping equals amazing experiences with wildlife. Keep those experiences beautiful. From bears to bugs, you’ll want to know what’s out there in the great outdoors before you go camping. Do research before you go, or ask campground officials if you’re going to a staffed campsite. This will help you prepare. Whether it’s a need for bug repellant or a bear-proof food storage system, being prepared for wildlife will help you rest easy — and without as much itching!
2. Get to know the local plants.
There’s nothing worse than frolicking around your campsite, only to discover that you’ve frolicked yourself into a bed of stinging nettles. Avoid the calamine lotion aisle of the grocery store and give yourself a primer on local plants instead. While most plants are safe to touch, there are a few to watch out for. This list includes devil’s club, stinging nettle, and poison ivy. Luckily, the Canadian wilderness is mostly full of very friendly plants, so you just need to know the few tough guys, and you’ll be itch-free.
3. Know your trails.
To get that rosy-cheeked camping glow, you may want to embark on a hiking trip. Going for a day trip up a mountain? Heading out onto the West Coast Trail for days of strenuous hiking? Either way, you’ll need to know your trails. Get a good trail map of the area, and let people know where you’re going. If you’re going on a longer trip that combines camping with hiking, make sure you understand exactly how long and challenging the hike is before you embark.
4. Get the right gear.
Be prepared with the camping gear you need for a spectacular experience. Whether it’s rain gear for the wet west coast or down sleeping bags for mountain camping, good gear will mean that you’ll be happy campers sleeping in comfort. Don’t forget to add some sturdy shoes for day hikes.
5. Know what to do if you get lost.
You’re not planning to get lost. But what if it did happen? Or what if it happened to your kids? Are you prepared?
It’s not pleasant to consider, but part of camping safety is planning for when things go awry. Pack a safety kit for everyone in your family, and make sure they all know how to use it.
Your kit should include an orange garbage bag to keep you warm, dry, and visible. It should also include a whistle that you can use instead of yelling. Make sure your daypack is stocked with snacks, water, and a flashlight. Don’t count on cellphone reception to get you out of a sticky situation: not all sites and trails have dependable cell signals, so it’s best to be prepared. If you do get lost, stay in one place, and let others know where you are before you go so that you improve your chances of being found quickly.
6. Don’t drink the water.
The water looks clean, doesn’t it? But unless you’re specifically advised otherwise, it’s best to drink the water provided at the campsite or bring your own. That way, you won’t find yourself playing host to little organisms like Giardia (beaver fever) that send you running to the outhouse.
7. Be cool.
Temperature is one of the quintessential Canadian topics of conversation. In the summer, certain parts of Canada can be very, very warm. Break out the water bottle, sunscreen, and hat, and practice sun and heat safety. Find shade on the trails and in your campsite, and plan activities for the morning and the early evening, the cooler parts of the day.
8. Stay warm.
Cold in the summer? Yes — but it depends on where you camp. If you’re going camping in the Rockies, mountain temperatures can be quite cool, especially in the evenings. In northern Canada, fall comes early, so if you’re camping in late August you’ll want to be prepared for cold temperatures. Bring cool weather clothing and be prepared with thicker sleeping bags.
9. Know your fire restrictions.
Every summer, it gets hot. Heat makes the forests dry, and dry forests have a tendency to burn. To avoid the chaos that an uncontrolled burn involves, Canadian parks place fire restrictions on campers. This means that you might be roasting your Smores over a communal firepit, and in some cases, it means that you may need to forgo the fire entirely. The plus side? It’s not raining on your camping trip.
Even if there are no fire restrictions, remember to keep water beside your fire pit and make sure that the fire is completely cool before you go to bed.
10. Have a Plan B.
Is your campsite being invaded by bears? Is a forest fire blocking your path? Camping in the Canadian wilderness is not without its setbacks. Make sure you have a backup plan for summer fun, so that you don’t wind up stuck on the couch this summer!
Note: Photo courtesy of BC Tourism