- When going hiking or taking a camping trip, it’s important to be careful and to be aware of the potential dangers and hazards you may face.
- Fortunately, your chance of dying in a national park, at least those in the US, is quite low. That being said, many things that cause fatalities during camping trips and hikes are probably not what you’d expect.
- Staying hydrated to avoid heat-related illnesses and storing your grill outside of your tent to prevent potential carbon-monoxide poisoning is important.
- Drowning is the leading cause of death for those who visit US national parks, so be careful when swimming or standing near bodies of water and keep an eye on children and those who are not strong swimmers.
Fortunately, camping and hiking may not be as dangerous as you think. Per The Washington Post and data from the US National Park Service, 120 to 140 people typically die at national parks each year, not counting suicides. It sounds like a lot, but when you take into consideration that these parks have about 280 million visitors each year, your odds of dying in a national park are really low.
That being said, it’s still important to be cautious when venturing into nature, especially since many of the biggest dangers are things you might not normally think about.
Here are some potential dangers to keep an eye out for as well as some tips for keeping yourself safe during your next venture into nature.
Drowning is the leading cause of death at US National Parks
For visitors in US National Parks, the leading cause of death is drowning. Many prime locations for hiking and camping include bodies of water for swimming, canoeing, and other recreation, so it’s important to take safety precautions when planning to visit these areas.
The currents, temperature, and depth of natural bodies of water can be unpredictable, so it’s important to always wear a life jacket. When swimming at parks, try to stay in lifeguard-protected areas and keep an eye on children and those who are not strong swimmers.
In addition, you’ll want to be very careful whenever you’re crossing a stream or small body of water that doesn’t have a bridge. To avoid being washed downstream or injured, the American Hiking Society said you should always keep some kind of footwear on in the water to better maintain your footing. You should also avoid wearing long pants that can throw you off balance in moving water.
Hikers should always be aware of their surroundings to prevent fatal falls
Don’t get too close to the edge of a cliff. mikroman6/Getty Images
Although venturing cliffside to snap the perfect photo is tempting, it comes with risks and should be done carefully or from a distance.
“The number of fatalities from falls while people try to get the perfect Instagram shot has increased in recent years. Standing on the edge of a canyon or cliff to get a few extra likes isn’t worth the risk,” Wesley Trimble, program outreach manager for the American Hiking Society. told INSIDER.
To avoid fatal falls, stay on marked trails and take careful steps when near cliffs or slippery rocks. Remember, you can never be sure how sturdy certain rocks or cliff edges are so when in doubt, take a different route.
Fatal vehicle accidents can be common near parks and the areas leading up to trails
“Anecdotally, hikers are much more likely to be killed while driving to the trailhead than on the trail,” said Trimble. Per The Washington Post and data from the US National Park Service, from 2003 to 2007, over 250 people died from a vehicle accident while visiting a national park.
Drivers should always be careful while behind the wheel, but narrow roads, uneven pavement, and pedestrians hiking in the area can cause driving conditions to be more hazardous than usual.
According to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, simple steps like watching for pedestrians, following the speed limit, and taking extra caution in hard-to-see situations can help prevent car accidents.
Hikers caught in an avalanche aren’t super likely to survive after being buried for over 45 minutes
When hiking, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing through the snow, there’s a chance that an avalanche could occur and be fatal. According to National Geographic, in the case of avalanche incidents, 90% of avalanches are triggered by the victim or someone in the victim’s party and over 150 people are killed by them each year, worldwide.
Avalanches commonly occur within 24 hours of a storm releasing 12 inches or more of snow. If you get caught up in an avalanche, try to move to the side of its icy path and grab onto something sturdy like a tree. But if you weren’t able to get out of the way, try to swim through the snow to create a pocket of air for breathing and then punch through the cold surface so you can be rescued.
Hikers who are found and dug out within 15 minutes of an avalanche are very likely to survive (National Geographic reported a 93% survival rate). After 45 minutes of being buried, only between 20% and 30% of avalanche victims are found alive.
Taking precautions can prevent heat-related deaths
Many people are inspired to get outside during warm weather, but extreme temperatures can be dangerous. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the US alone, over 650 people die from heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, each year. Hikers and campers can be especially at risk if they are traveling in high temperatures.
As you prepare for warm-weather hiking trips, be sure to check that the trails or camping sites have ample access to fresh drinking water. If there isn’t access to potable water, you should bring enough to last for the entire trip (and then some) or invest in a purification system to bring with you.
It’s also smart to hike early or late in the day so you’re not exposed to the more extreme heat of the afternoon. And, be sure to protect yourself with sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, and light-colored clothing.
In some situations, deadly carbon monoxide can get trapped inside of sealed tents
Avoid sealing your camping grills inside of your tent. iStock
Carbon-monoxide poisoning is considered to be a silent killer because it’s completely odorless and without a detector, there’s no immediate way to know you’re being exposed to it.
Per Forbes, in the US each year about 500 people die from carbon-monoxide poisoning in places such as their homes, cars, or garages. This doesn’t include the 20,000 to 30,000 people who become ill from this gas each year in the US alone.
Notably, campers can also be at risk of being exposed to this deadly gas. Some watertight tents are excellent at keeping rain out but they can also trap carbon-monoxide fumes in. Per the CDC, entire families have been found dead inside their tents after bringing their camping stoves inside for warmth overnight.
After just 20 minutes, some camping stoves emit unsafe levels of carbon monoxide, which can become trapped in certain types of tents. The easiest way to prevent carbon-monoxide poisoning while camping is to always keep stoves and grills outside of your tent and away from your shelter.
It’s unlikely you’ll be killed by a wild animal if you keep a safe distance
Although wild animals may seem like an obvious danger, it’s not very likely that you’ll be killed by them. From 2007 to 2013, only six people were killed by wild animals in US national parks, but creatures can be unpredictable and it’s important to respect their personal space and keep your distance.
Per the US National Park Service, if hikers or campers spot a large animal nearby, they should stay at least 100 yards away to avoid startling the creature. If visitors see a small creature, they’ll want to stay at least 25 yards away from it. It’s also important to keep a close eye on your pets if they’re accompanying you on your trip because wild animals might view them as prey and attack.
In addition, campers should ensure all their food is stored in airtight containers, so animals aren’t attracted to it. It’s also important to store food out of reach from animals by keeping it in your car or in food-storage lockers provided by a campsite.
Dry climates are most susceptible to deadly flash floods
Flash floods happen when areas that are typically dry experience a bunch of rain. People hiking in canyons or other dry areas should keep an eye out for sudden changes in the forecast during their trip.
If you’re hiking or camping in a location where flooding is common, stay informed about the changing forecast and be cautious if there’s any chance of heavy rain. According to the National Weather Service, if you haven’t completely evacuated the area, be sure to get to higher ground and stay out of the flood waters.
It’s crucial to stay hydrated while hiking, especially if it’s hot out
Pack plenty of water on your next hike. iStock
Staying hydrated is critical while on all hiking and camping trips, but especially in high temperatures. Some hikers and campers don’t bring enough water with them to keep up with the water loss happening in their bodies and dehydration can sometimes be fatal.
Your body can lose up to 2 liters of water every hour while hiking and only replace about a 1/2 liter in that same time frame, so it’s important to continue replenishing your body’s water supply throughout your trip.
To avoid dehydration, slowly drink small amounts of water both prior to hiking and during your trek. When you sweat, you’re also losing important salts in your body, so be sure to eat salty snacks like trail mix or drink sports drinks beverages that contain electrolytes.
Hypothermia can start to set in when your body temperature dips to 95 degrees Fahrenheit
Campers can experience extremely cold temperatures in lush forests and high altitudes, so it’s important to be prepared. Without additional layers, hypothermia can set in when your body temperature dips to 95 degrees Fahrenheit — a human’s average body temperature is usually around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some common symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, slurred speech, clumsiness, or lack of consciousness. If someone has begun experiencing any of these, you’ll want to remove their wet clothing (if they’re wearing any), bundle them up as much as possible, avoid moving them in any jarring, vigorous way (so you do not trigger cardiac arrest), and immediately seek help.
To be cautious on your next trip, especially if you’re camping in locations where temperatures dip at night or hiking in a potentially chilly location, be sure to bring lots of layers, a hat, and other protective accessories to stay warm. Campers can also use a liner in their sleeping bags to help insulate it and make it warmer.