Can you get sick from sleeping in your tent while camping?

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I take pleasure in being someone who plans for everything. I’m always imagining the worst-case scenarios and how I’d deal with them (it actually drives my husband crazy because I’m so “pessimistic”).

Nonetheless, the first time I became sick while camping, I wasn’t totally prepared.

I’m not referring to a case of the sniffles. I practically puked my guts all over the route. It was just me and my daughter (then 5 y.o.) on the trip. Luckily, it was me who got sick and not my daughter.

Here, I’ll explain what occurred, what I learnt, and how to prepare if you ever fall ill while camping.

Everything Started Out Fine…

Even before I became ill, the camping vacation was not going well. Because of the weather prediction, I had adjusted our plans at the last minute. So, I thought it would be fun to camp inside of a cave so we could take shelter there. It did not rain in the end. Make a mental note to never alter plans again because of the weather prediction!

It turns out that camping inside a cave is not as enjoyable as it seems. The cave was filled with dust that swirled in the wind. The earth functioned as a heat drain, and my flimsy sleeping mat provided minimal insulation.

Oh, and there was that vipera berus – a highly venomous snake – which was hanging out just 1 meter from the tent! I’m not frightened of snakes and know what to do if I encounter one, but it still made me nervous.

Our camping site – I’m still not unwell at this time.

Then I Woke Up Puking and with Diarrhea

I awoke extremely early in the morning and had to vomit right away. I won’t go into detail about the diarrhea! Needless to say, I didn’t have time to dig a cat-hole, and feel really bad about not following the “leave no trace” rule of wild camping.

When my daughter woke up, we packed up camp and hiked down to the road (which luckily wasn’t very far). We then hitchhiked to the next town.

We went to a pharmacy so I could get anti-diarrhea medicine. Hey, did I mention I was in Bulgaria and didn’t know the language? I had to pantomime what medicine I needed! In hindsight, it’s amusing.

Electrolytes Saved Me

I wasn’t entirely preparing to become ill while camping. One thing that I had in my mini first aid kit was electrolytes.

What Are Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are minerals that are essential for maintaining fluid balance in cells. You can drink tons of water but won’t hydrate yourself without also consuming electrolytes. Basically, electrolytes help hydrate your body super quickly. That is why electrolytes are included in sports drinks.

If I hadn’t included electrolytes with my kit, I would have been seriously dehydrated after vomiting up all of the water I’d consumed. I was still exhausted from not being able to eat, but at least I was hydrated.

These electrolytes contain 30 packets and cost $24. You can buy them here.

These electrolytes contain 30 packets and are essential for your first aid kit.

What I Learned from Getting Sick while Camping

1. Always Have a SOLID Backup Plan

When traveling with my daughter, I Always have a backup plan in place in case anything goes wrong. . For this trip, I’d written down the addresses of 3 different guesthouses. We attempted to see them after visiting the pharmacist.

Sadly, they were quite difficult to locate. We ended up walking all over town trying to find the address (me puking along the way).

The first guesthouse wasn’t open.

We avoided the second guesthouse since it was so bad.

The third guesthouse was fully booked.

My backup plan had failed!

Luckily, I stumbled across a nice taxi driver. He drove us to a neighboring campsite.

Next time, I will make sure to:

  • Check in with the cops in case anything goes wrong and I can’t get out!
  • Obtain phone numbers and directions to my backup sites.
  • Have a cab company’s phone number handy so I don’t wind up roaming throughout town vomit.
  • Better research backup accommodations, particularly when possibilities are restricted!

2. Resting in a Sleeping Bag Is As Good As At Home

When sick while camping, you do what you’d do at home: stay warm, hydrated, and relax. In the campsite, I did just this. After setting up the tent, I put on all of my warm clothes and curled up in my sleeping bag. I took a break as Isabel went about chasing bugs (we both really like insects).

Maybe I would have fared better in a heated hotel with a good bed. Yet in the campsite, there was a toilet and running water. I’m glad that we ended up in the campground and not in a boring hotel where my daughter would have just been watching cartoons all day while I rested.

3. Have a Good First Aid Kit

My first aid kit has subsequently been updated. Electrolytes are essential. I also have anti-diarrhea medicine (no needing to pantomime to the pharmacist!), activated charcoal, and fever medicine.

  • My lightweight trekking first aid kit checklist may be found here.
  • If you’re going vehicle camping, check out my complete travel first aid pack checklist here.

travel first aid kit list

This is the complete version of my travel first aid kit.

4. Always Bring Soup Camping

I had packed soup for a few of our backpacking meals. The other meal was unfit for a sick person. So I cooked the soup for myself and handed the other meal to my kid. I just added additional water to the soup to make it easier on my stomach and more hydrating. Lesson? While camping, always carry plenty of hot soup.

Should I Have Given Up on the Trip?

I felt a little better after a day of rest. We were also able to go trekking in the surrounding region and visit a neighboring cave system. Yet, as I returned home, I became irritated with myself.

Why do I have to be so “tough” that I walked for hours with a pack on my back while vomiting on myself?

Why didn’t I just give up and go back home?

Why do I feel like I have to prove something?

Then I remember this little excursion we took. That was difficult. Not just the sickness part, but camping in cold weather, seeing a venomous snake, Isabel overcoming her fear and exploring caves, hitchhiking all day…

It was also really worth it.

How many 5-year-olds can claim to have slept in a cave?

How many youngsters love bugs so much that they stop on the path to remove every single insect so it doesn’t get squashed?

How many students get to see weathering, erosion, and plate tectonics up close and personal?

So, yeah, being ill while camping is possible. Just do what you would have done if sick at home: eat soup, stay hydrated, and relax as much as possible. You’ll discover that sleeping in a sleeping bag outdoors is just as comfortable as sleeping on your sofa at home. Is it worth it to be strong and persevere? Yes, absolutely.

Tips in Case You Get Sick While Camping

  • Always have electrolytes in your first aid kit
  • Consider include anti-diarrhea and anti-vomiting drugs in your first-aid pack, as well as fever medications (this is my updated kit checklist)
  • Have multiple “Plan B” accommodations
  • Check in with the local police or park rangers; get their phone number in case you need to call for help. Use a GPS communication gadget if you are venturing far into the woods.
  • It’s OK to abandon the journey. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone.
  • The greatest defense is to keep warm and dry, and to always treat your drinking water (I use the Sawyer Mini)

What would you do if you were ill while camping?

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