Camping has been a treasured American pastime for hundreds of years. It’s the perfect way to spend quality time with your loved ones, in your favorite landscapes. With a consistent rise in popularity, camping has become a staple tradition for friends and families all over. Then, in 2020, something happened that upended the lives of millions of Americans: a novel coronavirus called COVID-19 spread across the globe, causing a pandemic. As a result, people all over the country were isolated to the confines of their homes.
Eventually, campgrounds and camping areas began opening back up, and in the summer of 2020, we saw a massive surge in camping reservations. Camping became one of the most ubiquitous post-lockdown activities. And it’s no wonder; camping is the perfect way to get out of your house and enjoy some fresh air, even amid uncertainty. No matter what else is going on in the world, you’ll always have your tent and the morning dew.
But the question remains, is it safe to camp with COVID? We have all the answers to this question and more. As long as you make a few safety precautions, you can have an amazing camping experience.
Can You Camp With COVID?
So, can you safely camp in the middle of a pandemic? The short answer is yes. According to some experts, camping is one of the lower-risk activities you can take part in during a pandemic. But it’s not without risks. So it’s essential to follow safety measures to ensure you can have an enjoyable and safe camping trip.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the authority on infectious diseases (like COVID). They offer a cornucopia of COVID-19 guidelines, resources, and information to help protect yourself and others from COVID. We have all the information you need to enjoy your coronavirus camping trip safely.
How to Safely Camp With COVID
The safest way to camp with COVID is to pitch your tent in your own yard. Backyard camping is a great way to enjoy the night sky without the risk of infection. But if you’re itching to get out of Dodge, you can still plan a proper camping trip.
Your safest option is a solo camping trip. Camping by yourself can be very rewarding, and you won’t put anyone else at risk of COVID. It’s worth mentioning that solo camping is only a good option if you feel well enough to take care of yourself while you’re out there. The time alone can be gratifying, but you’ll be relying on yourself for survival.
If you prefer a more traditional camping experience in an established campground, you can do that too. Follow these helpful guidelines to ensure a great camping experience with minimal risk.
Assess your risk
The best way to assess risk is to check the COVID-19 Community Levels where you’ll be camping (and traveling). You’ll need to know the county, so gather any necessary info before checking risk. Keep an eye on the community levels up to the day before you leave for your trip, as they can change quickly. Depending on the county’s risk level—low, medium, or high—follow the recommended guidelines for safe prevention. You can also check helpful data points like vaccination distribution and social impact history.
The Community Levels is a great starting point. But you know better than anyone whether you’ve been exposed in recent days and weeks. Even if the Community Levels are low, if you feel like you might be at risk or have an underlying medical condition, err on the side of caution.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or you’ve tested positive for coronavirus, consider rescheduling your camping trip for a later date. Your camping adventure will be much more enjoyable if you feel healthy and strong. Even if you’re unsure, you may want to get tested before taking any trip. If you test positive, be sure to quarantine for at least five days prior to your camping trip. If your camping trip puts you in close contact with other people, you should get tested again when you get home, and quarantine if you test positive. It’s quick, easy, and affordable (or free) to get tested for COVID-19 using community-based testing sites or at-home rapid tests.
Everyone in your camping party (including children) should get vaccinated before the trip. If you’re not vaccinated, get one of the vaccines for COVID-19 as soon as possible. Locate the nearest vaccine provider and set up an appointment. Keep in mind that it can take up to two weeks for vaccines to be effective against COVID, so try to plan ahead. And even if you’ve been vaccinated, it’s a good idea to stay up to date with vaccine booster shots. Once you get vaccinated, carry your proof of vaccination with you at all times.
Plan your trip
Spontaneous camping can be a fun way to add adventure to an otherwise mundane existence. But a pandemic might not be the best time for impromptu trips. If you want to go camping with COVID, you’ll need to plan. Buy all your food, gear, and supplies in one fell swoop before you leave, rather than stopping at grocery stores along the way. You’ll want to be as autonomous as possible, so bring your own water, first-aid kit, and plenty of trash bags to clean up after yourself.
Place reservations and order permits from your computer or phone). That way, you can print them from home, minimizing face-to-face contact. And stock up on masks, cleaning supplies, gloves, and other protective gear for everyone in your group.
Perhaps most importantly, be flexible. Enjoying your vacation amidst a pandemic means you may have to adapt to unforeseen events or circumstances. For example, you might have to cancel or adjust plans at the last minute or bring extra supplies in case kitchens and restrooms are closed. If possible, aim for a weekday trip to avoid busy weekends. Patience will go a long way to an incredible camping experience.
If you plan on camping in a campground, check their website for updated information on COVID-19 guidelines, policies, and protocols. Follow the guidelines and posted signs throughout your campground so everyone can enjoy camping with COVID.
Wear a mask
Even in the great outdoors, you’re at risk of contracting (or spreading) COVID. Social distancing can help minimize the threat of infection, but you should always be prepared with a face mask or respirator. The most effective options for preventing COVID-19 are surgical masks and N95 masks. Surgical masks can reduce your chances of contracting COVID by up to 35%.
There are certain situations when you should wear a mask while camping. Wear a mask if you’re in a crowded area around strangers—like busy hiking trails, visitor centers, buses, or restrooms. If you’re breathing heavily—during indoor or outdoor recreational activities—wear a mask.
If you’re enjoying indoor entertainment—like playing camping games in your tent—wear a mask. And if you’re immunocompromised in any way, wear a mask. If you forget to pack a mask or respirator, you can also use a bandana or Buff, but it may not be as effective as a proper mask.
It may seem evident that camping affords you more space for social distancing. But if the campground is busy, you could brush shoulders with fellow campers. Even if your campground allows you to social distance, you may end up sharing narrow hiking trails or crowded basketball courts with other enthusiasts. Whenever possible, stay at least six feet away from anyone you don’t know.
Limit your camping group to people you know and live with (like your family). Many state-run campgrounds limit camping parties to ten people, so plan accordingly. It’s important to keep your social bubble small to minimize the spreading of disease. The more intimately you know someone, the more familiar you’ll be with where they’ve been, what they’ve touched, and whether they’ve been vaccinated.
And whenever possible, sleep in your own well-ventilated tent. Infectious COVID-19 particles can linger in an enclosed space, like a tent, for hours after the person has vacated. So you’ll be safer minimizing the number of people per tent.
If you feel isolated or restless, you might be tempted to travel farther to your camping destination. A change of scenery can be refreshing when you’ve been exposed to the same environment day in and day out. But, experts agree that campers should stay local if at all possible. The farther you travel, the higher your risk of contracting or spreading COVID.
Choose a campground in your home state versus traveling across states. It’s a great opportunity to revisit old favorites or gain a renewed appreciation for your local camping spots.
If you plan on flying, check the CDC’s guidelines for flight travel to mitigate risk. And if you’re driving, minimize physical contact with people and objects. You’ll probably make stops at fuel stations, public restrooms, and grocery stores. Be conscious about social distancing, wear a mask whenever you’re outside your vehicle, and wash your hands regularly.
You can maximize social distancing by opting for free dispersed camping in open areas with fewer people. Many dispersed camping areas provide wide open spaces where you can enjoy the great outdoors in privacy. If you’re not sure where to camp, check resources like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the United States Forest Service (USFS), who often host free camping areas.
If you plan to camp in a developed campground, choose a large campsite with more room to spread out. Many campgrounds offer group sites for larger parties or conjoined sites during the off-season. Many state and national parks have online campground maps where you can select the most spacious sites.
You can also treat yourself to a glamping trip. Most glamping resorts offer luxurious glamping tents, yurts, or cabins spread out with ample space between you and your neighbor.
Bring your own sanitizers
Most campgrounds are expected to follow the CDC’s guidelines for cleaning facilities. Even so, you can’t be too careful. Come prepared with your own stock of hand sanitizers, soaps, and disinfectant wipes to keep your campsite (and publicly-shared areas) clean and safe. You might not always have access to running water, so it’s especially important to carry waterless hand sanitizers or gloves on you at all times.
Camping is a fantastic way to rest and rejuvenate. It allows you to step back from life’, enjoy adventure, and spend quality time with loved ones in a peaceful environment. The coronavirus may have changed the state of the world, but one thing remains the same.
Nature will always be there, waiting for you to breathe deeply and soak it all in. If you take some safety measures, your relationship with the great outdoors doesn’t have to change. So get out there, pitch your tent, and roast up some marshmallows.