A few years ago, anyone seriously looking to go camping in a motor vehicle would have been after a car valuation for their existing machine in order to part-exchange it against a campervan or motorhome. Those kinds of camping vehicles usually come at quite a cost, the sort of investment that often goes hand-in-hand with a serious mindset.
These days, particularly post-Covid, many more people have been attracted by the freedom of the open road and the ability to control their immediate surroundings that camping often represents – especially if you’re in a campervan or towing a caravan. But whether you’re wild camping in Scotland, visiting a regulated camp site, or using a tent or a motorhome, there are a number of safety aspects you should think about, for your personal health and happiness, and that of other people.
Here we’ve outlined a few of the really important essentials, largely relating to things that can cause fire.
You can’t go camping without a campfire, right? What else would you sing Kumbaya around? But even supposedly controlled fires are inherently dangerous, so you need to adhere to some basic rules:
- If your campsite has dedicated fire pits make sure you use one of those and adhere to any rules that go along with the facility
- Make sure all previous ash and debris are cleared away before you start your own fire – this ensures you start with a stable surface and know exactly what you might be about to ignite
- If creating your own campfire location, surround the immediate area with non-flammable rocks to help contain the fire and clearly show the perimeter to participants
- Start small, and build the fire up gradually. Do not use flammable liquids
- Be aware that sparks can travel – so be mindful that flammable materials are kept well back
- Fires are best left to adults, make sure children are well-supervised
- Keep a bucket of water handy – for soothing burns and dosing flames
- When you’re done, make sure the fire is completely extinguished – even hot ash can start a wildfire
- Be extremely mindful of the conditions – even a well-controlled fire may not be appropriate when it’s very dry and hot, and the risk of a wildfire is higher
The risks for barbeques are similar to those of other fires, with the added danger of hot fat from cooking food, which can spit and burn, or even suddenly ignite. Most campsites will have specific rules about the use of these as well. Here are a few other things to consider:
- Never light a barbeque inside a vehicle or tent – the risk of fire is extremely high and the fumes can be dangerous
- Disposable barbeques should only be lit over 10 metres away from tents and other shelters
- Where possible use dedicated barbeque facilities if the campsite has them
- Follow the instructions for any barbeque very carefully
- If cooking on an open fire, make sure you have suitable equipment
- Keep a fire blanket handy to quickly extinguish any oil or fat that gets out of hand
- Always make sure food – especially raw meat – is thoroughly cooked, as food poisoning can ruin a camping trip just as well as an out-of-control fire
- When you’re done with the barbeque, make sure you extinguish it – a jug of water should do the job with a disposable, but be careful you don’t contaminate the surrounding area with ash
- Do not attempt to move a barbeque until it is fully cooled
- Once cold, disposable barbeques can be wrapped in clingfilm or similar to prevent spilling ash
Proper campervans come with cooking facilities onboard. This might be a microwave – but that relies on an electricity hook-up, so many instead feature gas-powered ovens and stoves. These are usually powered by portable gas bottles, which can also be used to heat water and even generate power. In this instance, butane is usually the favoured gas, as it’s less pressurised, but propane is also popular, and particularly suited to colder climates.
Propane is also often favoured by more conventional campers. It’s abundantly available and clean burning. It also comes in well-evolved canisters that don’t usually leak. But since it can cause suffocation, heart attacks and seizures if too much is breathed in – as well as explode if it catches fire – it’s important you know how to handle it properly.
Again, we have some vital guidance:
- Do not store propane – or any gas – in your tent. Instead keep it in a well-ventilated area, out of the sun and on a flat surface. Highly pressurised liquid propane could explode on impact, so you don’t want it to fall over. Even if doesn’t blow up you don’t want the valve to be damaged and start leaking
- Make sure connections are tightened correctly and valves sealed when not in use – again this is to avoid leaks
- When transporting camping gas, make sure the canister is extremely well secured – not only is there the danger of damage to the tank itself should it move around, but these are often heavy bottles that could easily damage your vehicle or yourself
- Always store and transport gas bottles in an upright fashion
- If travelling in a hot vehicle, make sure to keep windows open for improved ventilation – you don’t want a small leak to create a gas build-up inside
- Always dispose of empty gas tanks in the proper fashion – do not simply throw them away.