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17 Safety Tips for Camping During the Pandemic

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S’more to Watch Out For

Given the choice between staying in a hotel that may or may not have been cleaned properly or in the beautiful outdoors (ideally) far from other humans with gear you’ve packed personally, camping seems more popular than ever as a vacation option. But even with the obvious benefits, there are precautions that still must be taken to make a COVID-19 era camping experience smooth and successful. We asked travel, outdoors and camping experts to share their tips for camping during a pandemic.

Related: 20 Beautiful Beachside Campgrounds Across America

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Know Where You’re Going

If you like to hit the road and find campsites as you go with little to no planning, this isn’t the time. Many state and federal recreation areas are still closed or have minimal working facilities. “Lots of campers are finding this out only after they have taken time off work, bought food, or coordinated travel plans with other friends and families,” said Dan Carpenter, founder of GearLobo, pointing campers to resources such as a National Park Service quick reference page showing where camping is allowed. Chad Farrell, creator of the site Youth Outdoor Adventure, recently made a 16-day road trip covering more than 5,000 miles, 10 states, and nine national parks. Not planning out camping locations — and having to get a hotel at the last minute — was, he said, “the biggest mistake we made.”

Related: 30 Gorgeous Spots for Spring Hiking and Camping on a Budget

Park office camping area registration sign
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Be Sure You Have a Spot There

With camping being extra popular, it’s not wise to rely on a first-come, first-serve campground. “Campgrounds are filling very quickly and most are reporting record crowds,” said Amelia Mayer, who lives in Grand Teton National Park, a camping hotspot, and writes the blog Tales of a Mountain Mama. “If you plan on getting a spot at a first-come campground, be sure to get there early. Many in our local area of Jackson, Wyoming, are filling up before 10 a.m.”

Best Cheap Camping Gear
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Consider Dispersed Camping

While it may not be for everyone, Mayer suggests dispersed camping — meaning outside designated campgrounds is “a really good idea right now.” But it’s not for everyone, and “doing it safely and responsibly is important for yourself, future campers, and the land.”

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Avoid COVID-19 Hot Spots

Know the coronavirus situation at your destination, and at every stop along the way. “Are they doing well, or are cases increasing? It’s best to avoid traveling to or through locations that are seeing a surge in cases,” said Julien Heron, co-founder of Outdoors Generations. “Likewise, if your local area is also experiencing an increase in cases, it’s best to stay local with your camping trip, so as not to spread the virus to smaller communities with fewer medical resources.” Check before heading to a new state to ensure you don’t have to quarantine upon arrival.

Related: Iconic Activities Canceled by COVID-19 in Every State

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Don’t Share Campsites

Social distancing is a camping thing too. The family of Rosanna Mitchell, founder of A Pragmatic Lens, a website dedicated to outdoor family adventures, camps only with small groups of friends, and each group gets their own campsite, maximizing the distance between tents. “For the most part, we come from different areas and all have different levels of exposure,” Mitchell said. “This way, we give each other as much space as it is reasonably possible.”

Related: 12 Outdoor Workouts Perfect for Social Distancing

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Familiarize Yourself with the Surroundings

While true under the best of circumstances, it’s even more important now to fully familiarize yourself with a campsite and the surroundings when you arrive. Don’t wander off into the unknown. “There are fewer people out and fewer workers on campgrounds, so the chances of you being found if you get lost are lower than usual,” said Mark Evans, a summer camp consultant with Summer Camp Hub. “Try to have a satellite communication device with you when you go camping. It's always good to prepare for the worst-case scenario.”

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Bring Plenty of Food

Don’t expect to find all the food you’ll need at shops close to your campsite. “Many restaurants and grocery stores are very limited right now, especially in small mountain towns,” Mayer said. “While it's fun to go for a treat when camping, be sure you have enough food to be self-reliant for your entire trip.”

Related: 20 Cheap Campfire-Friendly Meal

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If You Must Shop for Supplies, Be Smart About It

If you must shop along the way, be organized do it thoughtfully. “Don't stop at every gas station, store, and town on the way to your campsite,” said Steph Young, founder and writer at CampingCooks. Confining shopping or supply runs to one location, which limits your exposure to others.

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Don’t Share Your Food

It’s fun to gather around a campfire, cook burgers and hot dogs, and enjoy a meal with friends. You may want to skip it. “We no longer share food,” Mitchell said of her group camping trips. “Everyone is responsible for their food, drinks, and utensils. This is to avoid any incidents with food handling, and also to follow CDC recommendations regarding social activities.”

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Use Public Bathhouses as Little as Possible

Avoid campground bathrooms. Mitchell has camped nearly every recent month with her family — with a portable potty for the kids and a portable potty bucket for the adults. “Also, our kids usually take a water rinse outside, instead of a shower in the bathhouse. This is only possible to do in the summer because it’s warm outside,” Mitchell said. “We’re taking these precautions to avoid touching shared surfaces, and also because of the potential for aerosolized viral particles during toilet flushing. Campground bathhouses combine toilet stalls and shower stalls, so showering in a bathhouse, which would require mask removal, might increase exposure.”

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Pack Enough Toilet Paper

Even if you plan to use public restrooms while camping, bring toilet paper anyway, and plenty of it. “Depending on where you’re camping, some bathrooms are closed, or cleaned minimally. Having your own toilet paper assures that you don't get stuck in a tough spot without any,” Mayer said.

Related: 21 Things You Never Knew About Toilet Paper

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Avoid Communal Facilities

If you’re on a campsite with amenities, try to avoid them. “We do not use communal facilities such as shared swimming pools or playgrounds,” Mitchell said. “While coronavirus is not transmitted through water, it may linger in surfaces around the pool. Further, it’s difficult to keep our children from playing in close contact with others when visiting these spaces.”

Related: The Biggest Health Risk of Public Pools (It Isn't Drowning or COVID-19)

National Park Visitor Center
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Research Activities in Advance

In addition to planning where you’ll stay, confirm what activities are still operating or available. “Campers often like to wing their activities throughout the day. This year, check with the campground to see what activities are open and which events will be occurring,” said camping and travel blogger Pam Whyte, who created the site FamilyFunJoy with her husband, Marty. “Plan out your days based on what’s going on in the campground. If you’re used to a long list of activities at your campgrounds, that most likely will look different this year.”

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Bring Plenty to Do

Be well prepared with your own activities to pass the time. “Bring activities to entertain yourselves at your campsite, to help make up for any activities that may be off-limits,” said Donald Bennett Jr., president and CEO of Campground Owners of New York. “Bring your bikes or walking shoes if you want to hit the trails. Bring fishing gear if your family would like to fish at safe distances from other outdoor lovers. Don't forget fishing licenses required for those of age.”

Related: 42 Creative Ways to Beat Summer Boredom While Social Distancing

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Skip the Group Games

Leave some group games at home, or at least be selective about what you bring and who you play with. “Games around the campfire are loads of fun. Especially playing card games, throwing the football and tossing cornhole. But during COVID, you’ll want to leave the games at home. The last thing you want to do is have everyone in your campsite touching everything while not washing their hands,” said Jarrod Heil, founder of RambleAroundTheWorld. “Bigger games like football and cornhole are means to social interaction, so campground outsiders may want to join in — and that increases your risk.”

Hiking the Appalachian Trail
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Don’t Push Your Limits

It’s pretty standard for campers to hike, rock climb, kayak, and do other outdoor activities. But think twice about testing your limits physically during them. “Now isn't the time,” Young said. “Super strenuous trails increase the chance that you can get injured, and that may end up involving first responders — increasing the number of people you interact with.”

Related: 26 'Anywhere Exercises' for Staying in Shape on the Road