People roasting marshmallows over campfire

Treating Burns While Camping

camperCamping Safety

When camping in the wilderness, there’s the possibility of getting injured due to extreme temperatures. It’s important to prepare for any conditions you may encounter when camping or hiking since there may not be medical care easily available. Staying out in the sun for too long can lead to heat stroke or heat exhaustion while staying too long in the cold can cause frostbite or hypothermia. In the same vein, burns may occur when cooking over a campfire or using nonelectric lanterns. The following information offers basic ways to prevent and treat burns while camping. For serious burns, you should always seek professional medical care. 

Preventing Burns

Practicing appropriate fire safety can prevent burns. When camping, you can practice fire safety by following these steps. 

  • Line a fire pit with rocks to prevent it from getting out of control.
  • Always make sure a fire is completely out before leaving it. Be prepared by keeping water handy to put out your campfire.
  • If you encounter a grease fire, never use water to put it out. Water and oil don’t mix, so water can make a grease fire much worse. Instead, use baking soda, sand, or a fire extinguisher to quell the flames.
  • Supervise children around fires or nonelectric lanterns.

Degrees of Burns

Burns are categorized into three degrees of damage, each requiring different amounts of care. The damage done by a burn also depends on the area affected and amount of skin burned. 

First-Degree Burns

First-degree burns are mild and only affect the superficial layer of skin. An example is a sunburn. First-degree burns are painful and can cause redness and swelling around the burned area. 

These burns will heal on their own within a few days or weeks depending on the area of skin affected. While you usually don’t need medical help for minor burns, there are some ways you can protect the tissue and reduce pain. 

  • To cool down the burn and reduce swelling, put it under cool water or place a cool cloth over the burn.
  • Apply aloe vera and a loose gauze bandage to moisturize and soothe the burned area.
  • To relieve pain and swelling, you can take over-the-counter pain medicine.

Second-Degree Burns

Second-degree burns are more serious than first-degree burns because they damage the outer layer of skin, the epidermis, and the next layer of skin, the dermis. These burns are painful and can blister the skin. The skin may look white, deep red, or dark brown. Without proper treatment, second-degree burns may cause infection because the skin is the body’s first defense against harmful particles like bacteria.

If a second-degree burn covers a large area or is on a sensitive part of the body such as the face, hands, feet, or around a major joint, it is considered a major burn and you should seek medical care. If not, and the burn is less than 3 inches in diameter, you can treat it with the following steps.

  • Apply cool water. It may be tempting to put ice or cold water on the burn to cool down the area, but ice can further damage the skin and tissue by shocking the area and even causing frostbite. Instead apply a cool washcloth to the area or run the burn under cool water.
  • Remove any restricting items like jewelry, as burned skin is prone to swelling.  
  • Don’t break blisters, which protect the skin from infection. 
  • Gently bandage the area with clean gauze. Don’t expose the area anything that’s not sterile. 

Third-Degree Burns

Third-degree burns damage not only all the layers of the skin, but possibly the fatty tissue, muscles, and tendons underneath. Third degree burns also may destroy the nerves and cause a loss of feeling. If the skin and tissue is numb instead of painful, it’s a third-degree burn. The tissue may look charred and can look white, black, brown, or yellow.  

Third-degree burns are very serious and must be checked out immediately in the ER. While waiting for emergency care, there are a few steps you can take to reduce harm. 

  • Make sure the injured person is no longer in danger. Put out any fires and turn off any power sources if it’s an electrical burn. 
  • Make sure the injured person is able to breathe if they have suffered any smoke inhalation.
  • Remove any restricting items like jewelry or belts, as burned tissue is prone to swelling.
  • Don’t put the burned area into water unless it is on fire. Open water can introduce bacteria to a serious burn and the cold shock can cause hypothermia. 
  • Cover the burned area loosely with a cool cloth or bandage and keep the area above the heart level if possible. 

For more information on treating various degrees of burns, check out