Camping during COVID-19: Do’s and Dont’s

With most of the U.S. and other parts of the world reopening this summer, campgrounds and public lands are opening as well. This is sparking both veteran and novice campers to pack tents, backpacks, and sleeping bags to escape the city and get outside.

Outdoor activities like camping have a proven lower risk of coronavirus exposure than indoor activities. The acting homeland security undersecretary for science and technology said the virus “dies quickest in the presence of direct sunlight.” And a recent study of 318 COVID-19 infections concluded that only a single case originated through outside exposure.

But safer doesn’t mean completely safe. Individuals still need to dodge confined areas, crowds, and close contact to dramatically reduce the likelihood of contracting the virus. Distancing yourself from others while camping is still recommended, especially if you – or anyone you come in contact with – has potentially been exposed in the preceding 14 days.

If you are preparing for a camping getaway, the following tips will make you and your campmates safer:

Plan Ahead

Research, call, plan, and call again to get the most up-to-date information. Campground rules may change overnight and campers need to be aware of the latest restrictions, recommendations and rules––plus how they are being enforced. If possible, plan your excursion at a not-so-busy time, perhaps avoiding holiday weekends, and weekends altogether if possible. Most of all, have patience. A lot of people are trying to get outside right now. Have a back-up plan if the information or situation changes, such as trailhead parking being full or campsites being occupied.

Know the Common Areas

Campgrounds, tent sites, mountain summits, popular trails, public restrooms, and picnic areas tend to be more densely populated and thus increase the risk of community spread of COVID-19. If there is a bathhouse or common area, you can ask how frequently it is being disinfected. You may want to consider bringing your own cleaning supplies. Although you know to keep yourself safe, not everyone is abiding by the rules. Travelers should plan safety strategies for communal areas. If you are visiting a wilderness area or remote site, remember that wilderness ethics such as Leave No Trace still apply.

Keep It Local

Consider camping close to your town, so that you’re familiar with the resources available and medical services if needed. Local camping also limits car travel and the number of stops along the way. Those stops for gas, food, or bathroom breaks can put you and other campers in close contact with asymptomatic spreaders of the virus. This is not the time for epic backpacking trips and bucket list excursions, even if they are in your home state. Officials in many states, as well as search and rescue groups, are urging the public not to take unnecessary risks that may place individuals and first responders at higher risk.

Choose the Location

As restrictions ease, you may feel more comfortable looking outside your immediate community to different states and different types of camping. National parks are great options for campers, and you can check online to see which parks are open. As of June 1, two thirds of the 419 units of the National Park System are open. Check online for reservation and permit requirements. Keep in mind that while parks may be open, park buildings and restrooms may remain closed to limit exposure to the virus. Roads for vehicles, trails or certain areas of the park may be closed as well. You should plan ahead and verify regularly. Many state parks and private campgrounds are in different phases of re-opening, so check with your local state government for the up-to-date restrictions, regulations, and advice.

Essentials

You should bring along alcohol-based hand sanitizer (at least 60% ethanol alcohol or 70% isopropyl alcohol), plus soap and enough water to wash your hands at your campsite. Bring a face covering––mask, bandana, or scarf––to wear in public places. You could also sign up for a travel protection services membership so you’ll have access to medical evacuation, travel intelligence and assistance services designed to assist and protect you when you are away from home.

Interstate Travel to Campsites

Keep in mind that each state has its own regulations and safety requirements. Changes may happen without notice while you are traveling, so you should keep actively checking for any change of rules, stay-at-home orders, or mandated quarantines.

David Keaveny
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