Living Well: Safety tips for camping in Colorado’s high country |

Living Well: Safety tips for camping in Colorado’s high country

Lauren Glendenning/Brought to you by Memorial Regional Health
With less oxygen in the air at higher altitudes, the body must adjust. Drink plenty of fluids during altitude exposure, and try to increase altitude gradually so your body can acclimate.

Aside from getting attacked by a bear, there’s perhaps no worse way to spoil a camping trip than by coming down with sickness or experiencing an injury.

Camping in Colorado is practically a mandatory summer event. But sleeping in the woods at elevation can turn from fun to terrible if people aren’t careful. 

Here are some of the ways to stay safe while camping this summer.


One of the most common ways to experience discomfort while camping is from mosquito bites. Don’t let itching ruin your trip — always bring a mosquito repellant that contains DEET, which repels bites from disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) receives more than 30,000 reports of Lyme disease (transmitted by deer ticks) and 80 to 100 reports of La Crosse encephalitis virus (transmitted by mosquitoes) annually.

Be bear aware

Colorado Parks & Wildlife warns campers against attracting bears. By stashing your trash and using bear-proof containers when available, you can keep bears away from your campsite. Colorado Parks & Wildlife advises campers to double-bag trash and lock it in the trunk of the car or RV — never leave it outside. 

“Store attractants safely. Store food, beverages and toiletries in air tight containers and lock in your trunk,” says Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Many bears have discovered that coolers, bags and boxes are full of food; never leave them in your tent or anywhere a bear could see, smell or reach.”

Keep your tent and campsite clean, and lock your vehicles, to further protect against interest from bears.

Altitude safety

Northwestern Colorado is high country — the elevation in Craig is more than 6,000 feet. At higher altitudes, a thinner atmosphere filters less UV radiation.

With every 3,000 feet increase in altitude, UV levels increase by 10 percent to 12 percent, according to the World Health Organization. Make sure to use sunscreen with a high SPF (sun protection factor). 

“Many individuals get caught up in the excitement of the mountains and endless outdoor activities, and attempt to go from sea level to the top of a fourteener in less than a day,” said Dr. Mary Wardrop, an emergency medicine physician at Memorial Regional Health. “It is important to take into consideration the effects of altitude, and plan your trip accordingly.” 

With less oxygen in the air at higher altitudes, the body must adjust. Drink plenty of fluids during altitude exposure, and try to increase altitude gradually so your body can acclimate, according to Harvard Medical School.

“Try to spend the first night at an intermediate elevation, such as Denver, and give yourself a day to acclimate before you start pushing yourself physically,” Wardrop said. “The longer you are at altitude the more your body adapts, so start the trip with slower paced activities at lower elevations, and then rev up to the big, high-altitude adventures.”  

Check the weather

The U.S. Forest Service recommends checking the weather report before you leave home. 

“When you arrive at the campsite, keep an eye on the skies for changes and, if possible, carry a compact weather radio,” says the Forest Service.  “In inclement weather, take shelter until the bad weather passes. Stay dry — wet clothes contribute to heat loss. Also, keep sleeping bags and important gear dry at all times.”

In Colorado, the weather can change quickly. Wear layered clothing, including a water-resistant coat, wool socks and long underwear, according to Always bring a tent with a rain cover, too. 

Keep your food and water safe

That mountain spring water might look crystal clear, but that doesn’t mean you can drink the water. Never drink water from lakes, rivers or streams. Bring an outdoor water filtration system, or boil water for three minutes at altitudes greater than 6,562 feet to kill all pathogens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Filtration can be used as a pathogen reduction method against most microorganisms, depending on the pore size of the filter, amount of the contaminant, particle size of the contaminant and charge of the contaminant particle. Manufacturer’s instructions must be followed,” says the CDC. “Only filters that contain a chemical disinfectant matrix will be effective against some viruses.”

To stay safe from foodborne illness, wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer, especially before handling food or eating, and always after going to the bathroom.

Pack foods in tight, waterproof bags or containers and keep in an insulated cooler. Always separate raw foods from cooked foods, and cook foods to proper temperatures.

Be smart

The U.S. Forest Service warns campers to beware when encountering wildlife, watch out for bugs, use caution with propane stoves and grills, and ensure fires are always supervised. 

Other precautions, such as knowing which plants are poisonous, checking for potential hazards and choosing a safe place to pitch a tent, are also recommended. Never go camping without a first-aid kit, and bring emergency supplies such as a map of the area, compass, flashlight, knife, waterproof fire starter, personal shelter, whistle, warm clothing, high energy food, water, water-purifying tablets and insect repellant. 

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