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risk management when camping


  • to live is to take risks
  • to reduce harm is to manage those risks

Research BEFORE you go

  • are there issues with your destination?
    • likely to be over-crowded?
    • closed from storm damage, floods, road closures, rivers may not be able to be crossed, etc
    • region currently infested with pests such as mouse plague, European wasps, mosquitos carrying viruses
    • extreme weather events forecast
    • likely weather for the duration of your trip
    • check for up to date local knowledge if possible - hiking tracks may be so over-grown after a wet season they will be hard to navigate
  • have a Plan B and C BEFORE you go
    • other camp grounds and back up camping gear

The human factor

  • is it legal?
  • lack of preparation, knowledge and understanding
    • failure to risk manage:
      • dehydration risk
      • hypothermia risk / hyperthermia risk
      • UV protection
      • wet weather protection
      • mosquito protection - they can carry deadly or nasty viruses such as encephalitis viruses
      • navigation management such as map and compass as well as smartphone or GPS, and recovery options such as carrying an EPIRB and informing others of destination and expected return time
      • trauma - first aid care
      • drowning - if swimming in deep waters, consider wearing a life jacket if you are not a strong swimmer
      • snake bites - bring your crepe bandages and be vigilant at all times
    • in May 2021, 21 very fit alpine ultramarathon runners (of 171 who participated) died from hypothermia when a storm hit
  • inadequate hygiene or drinking/eating contaminated water or poorly kept foods
    • food poisoning or gastroenteritis is not something you want and if food is the source and shared, the whole party may be affected
  • risky behaviours
    • being foolish is not really a great option
      • fires inside your tent while you sleep is very risky even with safeguards and not recommended but doing so without a carbon monoxide alarm is plain stupidity
    • being drunk or drug affected seriously raises the risk of harm:
      • falling into fires
      • failing to do safety checks for gas BBQs before lighting them
      • falling asleep with unattended fires
      • other injuries due to falls, etc
      • aggression and violence risk, esp. when everyone is cranky and intolerant with short tempers on extreme hot weather days
    • leaving camp fires unattended or lighting them on Total Fire Ban days:
    • 4wd off-road Land Cruiser demolition derbies are not only expensive but may cause injury or leave you stranded in a remote inaccessible area
      • 4WD recoveries are high injury risk events - if you have a choice, avoid those potentially deep mud holes and river crossings
      • perhaps there are less expensive and safer ways to get your adrenaline rush!
  • stubborness in the face of danger
    • yes, we have all been there - put a lot of energy into planning and preparations, taken time off work, and then then weather forecast turns sour - do we or do we not cancel or at least change destination plans
    • in June 2021, a Low pressure system brought over 200m rain and very strong winds to Victoria's alpine region blowing over perhaps hundreds of thousands of tall mountain gums and pines, not only destroying over 100 houses but damaging access roads which were blocked by the massive gums and knocked out regional water, electricity supplies and mobile phone towers for over a month - obviously even if you did survive in your tent because you chose a sheltered location away from falling trees, strong winds, flooding and landslides you were not going to be getting out of there for a long time and you were not going to be able to call for help so easily.
    • If bad weather is predicted - cancel your plans!
  • accidental harm from third parties
    • cars driving over poorly visible swags at night
    • road traffic accidents especially on busy “long” weekends or school holiday periods
  • malevalence
    • the main crime issue in camp grounds is petty theft and break and enter crimes
      • avoid taking expensive gear
    • there will always be those who seek to take advantage of vulnerability or opportunity for theft and complacency of campers is a major contributor to risk of petty theft
    • fortunately major crimes at camp grounds are rare in Australia
    • see camping security for more details on minimising theft, etc

Equipment failure

  • a compromised shelter can expose you to life threatening hypothermia
    • take repair kit or back up shelter such as a tarp, space blanket, etc
    • if heavy rains are possible, avoid camping on ground likely to fill up with rain water
      • even your “waterproof” floor of your swag or tent may not deal with this adequately and a wet mattress or sleeping bag can easily end your trip!
      • if avoidance is not possible, consider getting everything off the ground eg. use a stretcher bed or use additional waterproofing such as a tarp (as long as water does not get on top of it)
  • electrical systems failures such as AC inverters and lithium battery explosions can result in you being severely injured or your vehicle being damaged - make sure they are operated safely and not exposed to physical damage, water or short circuiting (NEVER put lithium batteries in pockets with car keys!)

The weather

strong winds

  • strong winds > 60kph can destroy your tent or tarp set up and expose you to life threatening wind chill, rain, and possibly injuries
    • broken poles will not only compromise your shelter but the sharp ends will pierce the fly letting in rain or cause other damage
    • tipi style tents / tarp set ups rely upon the integrity of the pegs and/or guy ropes to provide tension on all sides to keep the centre pole in place
    • ensure your pegs are stable enough for the soil and wind conditions (if the pegs push in easily by hand, they may not hold in strong winds)
    • many pegs will rotate in strong winds resulting in the guy rope falling off
    • ensure all guy out points are guyed out and regularly check the tension in the guy ropes
  • strong winds > 100kph, particularly from an unusual direction, place trees at high risk of having large branches snapped off, or, particularly if the ground is wet, the trees falling over
  • take care with site selection and consider avoiding camping when strong winds are forecast - unfortunately, not all forecasts are accurate!
  • consider taking an emergency shelter such as a emergency ultralight bivy bag or a spare ultralight tent or tarp

alpine influences

  • if air is well mixed (as in windy conditions), the air temperature decreases with increasing altitude at a rate of 0.6–1.0°C per 100 m for humid air, and about 1.0°C per 100 m for dry air.
  • moist air masses hitting a steep mountain will be pushed upwards resulting in cloud and rain on that side of the mountain and warmer drier air over the other side of the mountain
  • the reduced friction at high elevations means winds are stronger and more steady - the wind speed on open land above 1000 m is 2-2.5x stronger than on low-lying land.
  • sunlight at 1200m has twice the UV radiation as at sea level

convection lightning storms

  • being caught outdoors in a storm is dangerous and these can occur quite quickly without much warning and are especially a risk in alpine areas where the harm can be much greater
  • may occur in fair weather days in the late afternoon or evening following convective columns over hot land
  • may occur preceding cold fronts
  • are common in association with low pressure systems and humid weather
  • sound of the thunder travels 1 km in 3 seconds
  • risks:
    • lightning
      • in summer this will also create a bush fire risk
      • when the time between lightning and thunder is less than 30secs (ie. storm is less than 10km away), you become at risk of being hit by lightning
    • hail - if large enough, can easily compromise your shelter and risk physical injury
    • flash flooding - especially in valleys and risk of land slides
    • gale force winds
      • likely to compromise your shelter and break tent poles
      • high risk of injury from falling trees or branches or flying debris
      • will significantly increase risk of hypothermia due to wind chill
      • high chance that fallen trees will block your routes out of the camp ground as well as damage local power and mobile phone infrastructure - often for weeks!
    • rain will risk you and your gear getting wet and risk severe hypothermia
    • rarely a tornado may form
    • in May 2021, 28 of 172 ultramarathon runners died and 8 others were injured in China when a freak storm hit with high winds and freezing rains causing severe hypothermia whilst they were running across the mountain trek, some wearing only T shirts and shorts. Many lost their way due to poor visibility.
  • risk mitigation
    • avoid camping (and delay setting up tents until the storm has passed) if storms are forecast or at least keep away from:
      • exposed sites such as ridges, open slopes, coastal areas, near bodies of water
      • any high points; crags, rock outcrops, isolated trees, power lines.
      • gorges or narrow river valleys are particularly dangerous as risk of flash flooding
      • being adjacent to large trees which may be hit by lightning or blown over by the wind
      • standing or sitting on tree roots
      • entrances of caves or under rocky overhangs
      • any metal objects (but getting inside a car or a building is a good option)
      • other hiking members to reduce risk you all get hit
    • lightning and how to reduce your risks such as adopting lightning posture

cold fronts

  • these are usually predictable a few days ahead thanks to the weather bureau and by the presence of high cirrus clouds forming well ahead of the front or high flying aircraft leaving long-lasting contrails in the air which indicates relatively high levels of moisture.
  • may be preceded by very strong winds and thunderstorms and the rare tornado
  • are followed by cold air masses, clear skies (add to cold night risk) with frequent periods of rain showers
    • at elevations above 900m may result in snow falling especially if the air mass is polar maritime rather than southern ocean maritime
    • hypothermia is a major risk especially at higher elevations
    • faster moving type a cold fronts generate powerful cumulonimbus storm cloud systems ahead of the front
    • slower moving type b cold fronts generate a larger altostratus and nimbostratus cloud covering a wide area ahead of the front and producing a longer period of rainfall after the front has passed
  • risk mitigation
    • see as for storms
    • plus avoid being at high elevations as risk of hypothermia is high

low pressure systems

  • these are predictable in advance by a few days and generally cause prolonged heavy rain periods often lasting 24-72hrs and flooding often with periods of strong winds which are likely to blow down even the biggest gum trees which will cause road access issues as well as knock out regional power, internet, mobile phones and water for weeks
  • may be associated with frequent thunderstorm activity
  • of course in the tropics these may form or come from cyclones which are certainly not a time to go camping!
  • risk mitigation
    • see as for storms
    • be aware that roads and tracks may become impassable for a few weeks
    • land slides may be an issue
    • ensure you take extra steps to keep your gear dry as it is unlikely to dry out for several days

really hot days 35-45deg C

  • dehydration, UV burns, hyperthermia and confusion are all high risks and death can come quickly for the unprepared
  • bushfires are a major risk, especially if there is also a forecast of thunderstorms
  • risk mitigation
    • do not hike in bushfire prone regions on Extreme bushfire risk days
    • avoid hiking on very hot days but if you must, then take plenty of water - much more than usual, wear protective sun cover clothing and regularly drink as much water as possible

very cold nights

  • this is mainly an issue in inland areas, in valleys, or in alpine areas, particularly when there are clear skies with little wind which allows the local ground to become colder
  • risk mitigation

Animal life

  • many insects are attracted to light, a phenomenon called positive phototaxis, the good news is that most cannot see our visible red light in the range of 600-740nm so use orange/red lights when camping
  • of course, other insects such as mosquitoes are attracted to high levels of CO2 (your exhaled air) and skin odours so an orange/red light will not suffice for these
  • the most common issue is that of insects - mosquitoes, sand flies, bull ants
    • these are largely mitigated by no-see-um mesh in modern tents
    • mosquito bites and the risk of infections such as Ross River virus, Japanese encephaitis virus, etc can be further reduced by:
      • cover skin when outdoors with loose fitting clothing
      • use of insect repellants when outdoors
      • additional use of a mosquito net hanging inside your 4P or larger tent to drape over your bed
      • use a 2P Mozzie tent inside your larger tent for extra protection
  • a chemical from certain very tiny beetles in NE Victoria (peak cases are around Wangaratta to Wodonga region but can extend west to Echuca) and SW NSW may cause an intensely painful eye condition called Christmas Eye
    • wear glasses outdoors in these regions where possible
  • ticks while walking can be an issue on the eastern coastline in particular
  • leeches can be an annoyance walking in rainforests
  • rodents, wombats and other animals, and even occasionally, large bullants, may create a hole in a tent if they smell food or other smelly things (including perfume, smelly socks or backpacks inside)
  • mice
    • mice plagues often occur in inland Australia in particular after flood events along the Murray River
    • mice, when in large numbers can cause havoc with campers - mouse urine on canvas, holes eaten in canvas, etc
    • keep all food enclosed and try green camphor moth balls as deterrents
    • exposure to rodent urine does run the risk of catching the serious infection leptospirosis
  • in the tropics, crocodiles can be an issue if camping close to water

Australian snakes

  • a snake inside your tent is RARE in Australia - but wise to check before entering
  • the venomous Australian snakes are generally not active at night unless it is a very warm night (ie. they are diurnal) - they are NOT likely to crawl into your sleeping bag with you - I have never heard this happening in Australia, but eastern brown snakes in Queensland have been known to get into beds in a house
  • non-venomous pythons (these are the most common snake as a pet) live in trees and are active at night but are rare in southern parts of Victoria being mainly found north of Wangaratta and along the Murray River system and latitudes north of this - a third of houses on the Gold Coast in Qld have a python living in the roof!
  • snakes are generally well-natured and they will avoid humans whenever possible, although may remain still if they sense nearby danger
  • whilst they are common they are usually only a danger if one does not see them whilst walking and steps on or near them, or is stupid enough to try to catch them without training
  • they are not going to chase you but may come towards you if you are between them and their preferred safety destination - just move sideways out of their way or stay completely still - biting you is usually their last defensive resort
  • they avoid exposed open areas and prefer longer grassed areas, vegetation, or fallen trees (however, in the morning they will often bask on paths to get direct sunlight)
  • snakes are more common near waterways where they have a better food source in frogs, lizards and rodents and generally more vegetation for shelter
  • snakes are far less active in the colder winter months in southern parts of Australia
  • on warmer days they occasionally will seek shelter under or inside a tent, or under a vehicle (especially on a warm day where there is little other shade they can access safely)
  • reduce snake issues in or near your tent by:
    • pitch tent in an open area with low grass or no grass and away from bushes, fallen trees and branches
    • if you are leaving your tent up during the day:
      • zip it up and seal any holes - assuming it has a floor
      • if it does not have a floor or you have a large tent, consider having a sealed 2P tent inside in which you can store your sleeping gear and sleep in
      • keep the floor of your tent tidy so it is more easy to spot a snake when you enter
      • do not have open food in your tent, this attracts mice and birds which attracts snakes (snakes themselves are not attracted to human foods though)
      • on returning to your tent:
        • check the outside for snake tracks or a snake tail sticking out from under it (if possible lift the tent up to check under it)
        • check the inside before entering
        • if your sleeping bag is not in a sealed tent, take it outside and carefully shake it upside down away from you - better still use a quilt or leave the sleeping bag fully open
      • if you are paranoid, consider white vinegar around your tent as this is said to reduce snakes as they don't like slithering over it - not sure if there is good evidence for this though!

goannas (lace monitors)

  • these apex predators are very large lizards up to 2m long and 20kg with sharp claws and a strong, sharp edged tail which can do a bit of damage, not to mention their mildly venomous bites which can cause infections and tissue damage
  • in Victoria, they are mainly in coastal areas east of Wilsons Prom and also including the alpine areas in east Gippsland
    • the Bell form has been reported in Healesville, Rushworth, and Murchison in Victoria, and the Flinders Ranges in South Australia (as well as NSW, Qld)
  • they will run up trees to escape threats (especially the younger ones)
  • they will generally leave you alone UNLESS they get upset if you have been feeding them and then run out of food - DON'T FEED WILDLIFE! and keep your distance!
  • the even larger Perentie monitor lizard is rarely seen as it is shy and lives in central Australia and across to the west coast


  • these native dogs roam in packs and can be dangerous especially to younger children
  • mainly an issue on Fraser Island but are also common in the Snowy Mountains and various other regions


  • these gentle marsupials have large claws and will destroy your tent if they smell food in there - keep all food out of tents or at least in sealed containers!


  • only an issue in the northern tropics of Australia
  • don't camp near them or go near the water's edge

Trees and other plants

sudden limb drop

  • some trees, in particular, some species of Eucalyptus such as red gum and yellow box have a potentially lethal and silent habit of suddenly dropping large branches without warning even when there is no wind
    • this is particularly the case if the tree has been identified as a risk and marked with a K (“Killer”), or an X (which may be inside a circle)
  • general advice is not to camp under large branches (especially if they are almost horizontal in orientation) of high risk Eucalyptus trees or where an at risk tree may fall over
  • risk is perhaps 1-2% per annum for such trees with branches 10-30cm in diameter
    • mainly occurs in summer, especially after a drought or after floods
    • thus if one assumes risk is around 1% over 3-4 months then the risk of branch falling whilst camping overnight in summer is perhaps of the order of 1 in 20,000 per night camping under such a branch. Risk may be significantly higher in periods of high winds.

stinging plants

  • mainly a problem in northern Queensland
  • Gympie-Gympie stinging tree
    • of the genus Dendrocnide, can cause extremely painful stings which may last months
    • Rx with analgesics, waxing to try to remove the tiny needle-like hairs embedded in the skin, warm dressings and perhaps very dilute acid washes 1)
    • 42% of cases occurred at Crystal Cascades, a favoured Cairns swimming hole

Additional factors taking young and even not so young kids

  • will they drown if not closely watched?
    • unfenced rivers, dams, etc are a risk
  • will they wander off and get lost?
  • will they get hit by a car?
    • are the fences to stop wandering onto main roads, etc?
    • is there adequate traffic management within the camp ground?
  • is there phone reception in case they get into trouble?
  • are there likely to be bad humans around?
    • caravan parks with onsite managers may be more safe in this regard
    • very hot days are conducive to people getting very drunk and some can get aggressive
  • are there likely to be snakes in the camp ground
    • eg. camp sites adjacent to natural bush or rivers, east end of 33rd/34th Ave Tidal River Wilsons Prom
australia/camping_risks.txt · Last modified: 2023/04/28 15:37 by gary1

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