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Fitness and family health

June 29, 2017

What to pack for a safe camping trip

Before you head up north this summer to a campsite or the cottage, be sure to pack the gear you’ll need to keep your family safe and healthy.

Whether you’re heading for a campsite or the cottage, now’s the perfect time to take advantage of the warm weather and find fun ways to stay active and healthy outdoors. 

Spending your time outside, away from the comforts of your own home, does require some preplanning, though: Lobster-red sunburns, itchy bug bites and illness can put a real damper your trip.

Here’s what you should pack to keep the good times rolling:

First-aid supplies

A well-stocked first-aid kit can help you quickly and efficiently address many minor summertime injuries. While you can assemble your own kit, Dr. Dina Kulik, a staff physician in paediatric emergency medicine at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, recommends buying a pre-fab kit that typically contains the basic supplies you need to clean, disinfect and bandage cuts and scrapes. 

Kulik also recommends supplementing a store-bought kit with additional supplies. “I always like to take topical hydrocortisone, either a cream or ointment,” she says. “It’s great for soothing bug bites and stings.” She also advises packing pain medication such as acetaminophen and an antihistamine for allergies such as Benadryl.

Bug protection

Swollen, itchy bug bites aren’t just uncomfortable: Mosquitos and deer ticks can carry infectious diseases, posing a more serious health risk. Kulik recommends packing plenty of bug protection, including bug spray containing DEET (diethyltoluamide), a proven repellant, to keep your family safe.

“Bug spray is an essential,” she says. "A repellant with less than 10% DEET is safe for kids over 6 months old.” (A children’s or family formula will typically contain 6 to 7% DEET.) And while they may seem healthier by name, avoid bug repellents labeled as “all-natural,” cautions Kulik. “There are a lot of natural products out there that can actually be more toxic to kids than DEET-containing products.”

Bring tweezers so you can remove any ticks you find on your nightly inspections, along with zip-top sandwich bags to bring the ticks back to your doctor to be tested for Lyme disease. If you’re camping, consider investing in a screened dining shelter to keep the bugs at bay. Pack portable mosquito netting as well, which can come in particularly handy for protecting small children in strollers and car seats.

Sun protection

Nothing ruins a summer trip faster than a red, angry sunburn. Opt for the highest SPF sunscreen you can find – Kulik recommends a minimum of SPF 35 to 40 for kids – and be sure to apply (and re-apply) frequently.

“You want to apply at least enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass for the whole body. That's much, much more than most people apply,” she says. “Reapply within an hour of going outside or even more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating.” Don’t overlook frequently missed body parts like ears, the nape of the neck, calves and tops of the feet. And pack hats and long-sleeved swimming tops for more protection.

Food safety essentials

Those burgers and that potato salad may be quintessential summer fare, but you’ll need to pack smart to keep your food safe, especially if you don’t have easy access to a fridge. “Food-borne illnesses are very common this time of year when the weather gets hotter,” says Kulik. “Salmonella and E. coli can live on dairy products, egg products and meats in particular. They’re quite hardy, and they can definitely ruin your trip.”

If you’re packing risky foods like meat, eggs or dairy on your camping trip, keep them cold on ice until served, and eat them the first day out. The rest of the trip, stick to lower-risk foods you can reheat or add boiled water to, as well as healthy snacks such as almonds or low-sugar granola bars, to avoid food-borne illness.  

Travel insurance

Even the best planning and most perfectly stocked first aid kit can’t completely eliminate the possibility that you’ll need medical care on your trip. If your family is travelling out of province or outside of Canada, travel insurance is a must to help cover medical costs in the event of an emergency. Since all provincial health coverage is not the same, your provincial health insurance may only pay for part of your out-of-province medical care, so you need travel insurance to cover any additional costs.

Ask whether your employer offers travel insurance as part of your benefits package, and find out what is and isn’t included in your group plan. Then consider buying travel insurance or topping up your existing benefits to ensure your family’s summer travels are covered.

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