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Enjoy the great outdoors with these camping safety tips

We Minnesotans love getting outside. For many of us, our summer plans include camping with family and friends. Planning ahead for an expedition into the wild can mean the difference between great Facebook photos and a new dread of the outdoors from a really bad experience. Here are my tips on how to make your camping experience fun and safe.

What to pack

While it's easy to imagine scenarios in which we encounter a moose or a wolf on our trip, the reality is that the common things that can go wrong at home are also the most common things that can ruin a camping trip. 

The best way to consider this is to review the baseline health needs of your family. Does one of the kids have epilepsy and need to pack regular meds and a rescue medication? Does another have a bee sting allergy and you need to pack the epinephrine? Make sure you bring those with you.

Imagine the specific activities your family will do. If you are going hiking, bring an elastic wrap for when someone sprains an ankle. Bring heel cushion bandages for when someone gets a blister. A good camping medical kit also should include adhesive bandages, ibuprofen or acetaminophen, tweezers, bacitracin-like ointment, hydrocortisone cream and an antihistamine.   

We are experts in mosquitoes around here and know the kind of trouble they bring. Light-colored clothing that covers all the skin is the first deterrent, but, in the summer, most of us don't want to be completely covered. A great trick is to spray permethrin, found in the lice section of your pharmacy, on your camping clothes. This will repel both mosquitoes and ticks, and it lasts for about 25 washings. Other options include avoiding being outside at dusk and dawn when the mosquitoes are hungriest and using skin treatments like DEET and picaridin that make us less attractive as a food source for these critters. 

These days, packing a cell phone can be a life saver. Even if you want to turn it off for the trip, most places will have some service or, if you have to evacuate, you will get service before you physically get to where you can ask for help.

Things to avoid and what to do if you didn't avoid them

Poison ivy is often in the same areas we campers like to go. Once you have gotten into some, the first thing to do is wash the area well with water and plenty of soap. The plant oils contain the itchy stuff, so soap is a must for getting it off of you. Then, enjoy the next two days of your trip because on the third day, you will get the itch. For many of us, that will be when we are already home. If you can bear it, putting on ice and a soothing topical cream will help you avoid a doctor visit and lots of potential side effects from the long course of the medication of choice: steroids.

Bees are more an issue in the late summer, but can ruin any day if they get too close. Usually getting out the stinger and trying to avoid teaching your kids any new TV Mature-rated words is all we have to do. Cortisone cream and ice can calm down the inflammation, too. If you get anaphylaxis from bee stings, you already know the above and have your epinephrine to inject while you are awaiting the ambulance. 

Campfires are some of the coziest parts of a camping trip, but can cause troubles. Remember they are hot! Camp cookware is usually more primitive than our home range-top cookware. The heat of the pot itself may heat the handle and the flames around a pot can burn you. 

Think about wind and embers and make sure your things are safe from fire as well as the whole rest of the forest. Unlike your gas fireplace at home, there is no flick of the switch to extinguish a camp fire. It takes lots of water or dirt to put one out. 

If you do get a burn on your skin, wash the area well and bandage it with a bacitracin-like ointment. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen can really cool off the pain of a skin burn. If this is not managing your pain well enough or the burn is big or keeps you from participating in the fun, it is time to evacuate and seek medical attention. 

Minnesota summers are some families' favorite time of year. If camping is part of your plan for outdoor fun, go prepared and have a great time making great memories!

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