Emergencies while car camping fall into three main categories: medical emergencies, environmental emergencies and equipment emergencies. All of these emergencies are impossible to predict but easy to plan for while car camping. You do not need to know exactly what will go wrong, but it is important to understand that the environment you are driving into is a dynamic one. Let’s plan accordingly.
Build the Best First Aid Kit — A basic first aid kit is essential anytime you hit the road. It is an easy thing to put together and even easier to store in your vehicle. Of course, the further off-the-grid you go, the more you are going to want to expand your kit. Having a car certainly makes evacuation easier to accomplish but it is not something to rely on. There are plenty of ways you can get hurt around camp and even more ways you can get hurt while hiking, biking, climbing and fishing. The most common medical situations that you may run into are blisters, burns, bites and stings, dehydration, and allergic reactions. Prevention is always the best treatment, but addressing these issues right when they happen can save you the need for an urgent evacuation.
Since space is not limited when building a first aid kit for car camping, it is recommended that you keep your medications current, within their expiration dates, and in their original containers. This removes any room for error if you do have to tap into your supply. The essentials can get shaved down if going fast and light or they can be expanded based on activity, location or weather.
Plenty of Water — The human body can only make it about three days without water, so when traveling off-the-grid, hydration should be prioritized. Amount of water needed can vary from person to person but a good rule of thumb is to account for one gallon of water per person per day. Factors such as altitude, heat, and exercise will increase that requirement. If you can’t carry all of your water in your vehicle, then having a way to filter or purify water is a must. Always remember to alternate water with electrolytes so you feel your best while off-the-grid. Dehydration is a real sneaky scoundrel so make sure to continuously sip water throughout the day. Remember: if you start to feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated!
Have an Exit Strategy — The further out you go, the more important it is to have an exit strategy and route. Before you head into the wilderness, locate and familiarize yourself with the nearby towns. This could be as simple as knowing whether or not there is a nearby gas station. Before driving out of service, make sure that someone knows where you are headed and a rough itinerary. Finally, it may be worth it to consider investing in a satellite communication device, such as a Garmin InReach or a Spot Device. These devices are for serious emergencies only, but they could get an alert out to a search and rescue team when a cell phone cannot. Sometimes the peace of mind is worth the price, especially for the folks at home who love you and want you to return!
It’s better to stay put, when lost, if you are anything less than certain about an exit route. The only time you should leave your last known location is if you’re absolutely confident that you will be making progress towards a known destination. If it is night time or you’re injured or exhausted, you should stay put, regardless of your confidence.
Know Before You Go — Checking the weather forecast should be a no-brainer before every trip you take. Wunderground and Mountain Weather are two reputable resources for the weather forecast and radar. If you are traveling in the West, where mountains are plentiful, know that weather can change in a split second. If you are along the Rocky Mountain corridor, it really could snow any day of the year. If you are traveling during the summer, thunderstorms can pop up without much of a warning. Flash floods, wildfires, wind, and lightning storms can all be deadly if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. When traveling in the mountains during the winter months, especially early spring, get in the habit of checking the local avalanche report. During a lightning storm, you are safest inside of your vehicle. During high winds, trees will be your biggest threat. Flash floods can occur quickly and usually begin with a low rumble followed by a wall of water. Wildfires are unpredictable and can easily threaten your escape route. While it is hard to plan for these things, prevention and a little bit of planning can be your best line of defense.
Take Care of Your Vehicle — Your most important piece of gear when you are overlanding is your vehicle. Without it, you will not get very far. Get in the habit of oil changes, tire rotations, and fluid top-offs. It’s rather helpful to learn how to change a tire, test your oil, and decipher your car’s warning lights. If your route takes you up and down steep passes or over steep terrain, familiarize yourself with how to drop into a low gear to take the pressure off your brakes. An emergency jump start kit can get your vehicle the boost it needs without needing to hook jumper cables up to a second vehicle. If you take good care of your vehicle, you will be able to go further and stay out longer.
Know Your Limits — Understanding the limits of your gear and vehicle is one very important step in keeping you out of dangerous situations. Limiting factors include: tires, ground clearance, and fuel capacity. It is a simple thing to do, but slow down and assess each situation, from road to mileage to terrain. Take your time. Avoid preventable mistakes and keep your vehicle and gear functioning.
S.T.O.P. (Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan)
Remaining calm in the face of an emergency is far easier said than done, but it is undoubtedly a crucial response to any crisis. Begin by assessing the situation as calmly as possible. Focus on immediate, attainable solutions that you can manage confidently and solutions that exist within your realm of expertise.
Lastly, always trust your instinct! The safest approach to many outdoor situations is the one that is best at that moment in time. No one likes to hear “I told you so.” Make good choices, and stay safe out there.