Medicine Mondays: Staying Healthy While Camping

Medicine by Dalibor Ogrizovic

Medicine Monday: Allergies and Common Sense

Or: trying to be as clean and organized as possible while camping in a tent, with or without running water available.

So, this week I am debuting a new theme day, Medicine Mondays. I will discuss a different technique or product I use to try to stay healthy, and what I use to take care of situations as they arise. Covering everything from wet wipes to nutritional issues, “medicine” is going to cover a wide variety of topics, since many more products get used as medicine while camping (including, but not limited to: meat tenderizer, roll-on deodorant, aloe drinks, essential oils, baking soda and two kinds of vinegar) than people generally expect.

This week, I’m going to keep it fairly simple:


Knowing what allergies and intolerances every person you are camping with is the easiest way to ensure as few problems occur as possible.

Whether medicinal, environmental or nutritional, know who can have what – and who needs to avoid what – for everyone you travel or live with.

I know, this sounds like common sense. However, I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve dealt with families that have signed releases just to find out that one of the kids is only responding to a family name: “Oh, no, I didn’t want my kid to be lonely so this is their best friend, it’s only for a few days” (or weeks).

“Oh, okay, so who’s getting sued for the fall over the cliff when they don’t listen? Cause it sure isn’t going to be me” is a response I’ve given, along with “Oh, no, lovely, that’s just lovely…so are they allergic to peanuts? You don’t know? Really? Of course, of course you don’t know. The kid’s 5, I’m sure they know their list of allergies as well as they know their cartoon characters….sure….”

So, not as common sense as we all would hope.


If your group is small enough, with few allergies, simply not bringing anything everyone is allergic to may be simple. Or it may not.

If someone has an allergy to ibuprofen and someone else is too young for acetaminophen, then you need to bring both, clearly labelling everything in a way everyone can read or identify.

Another solution, especially for larger groups, is to have everyone clearly label their own waterproof bags and keep a visible list of what is in each one readily available. However, if your group is hiking or camping minimalist, space is an issue that is hard to overcome.

If you’re spending a larger amount of time in the wilderness than usual, packing a tool bag or fishing kit with medicines for the entire group is also an easy, and easily accessible, way to clearly label and organize everything.

Bee Stings

I had a very good friend when I was a kid, more than one actually but I was over at her house a lot, who was allergic to bee stings. We all learned how to use the Epipen, and what to watch out for, and it just became part of our everyday lives. It was actually a lot like the friends we had who were asthmatic – we learned what we needed to know to make sure we could help them, and went right back to playing.

Adults, for some reason, don’t seem to think of this. Like if someone is allergic to peanuts, they also can’t have kiwi. If someone is allergic to bee stings, they’re also allergic to tarantula bites. Now, for everywhere I’ve camped both kiwi and tarantulas haven’t been a worry. But, again, it’s thinking in the right way to keep everyone safe.

If you are having a group meal, whether at the site or 20 miles down the trail, and the food is attracting flying insects, you want to know which insects are hanging around. Flies are annoying, but not deadly unto themselves. Bees, wasps and hornets, however, present an extra layer of deadliness, and you need to know ahead of time who may need assistance versus those who just flail around riling the bees up.

This is an older video, but is kid friendly and discusses two kinds of injectors.

Please watch and pay attention to the information, it could save someone’s life.

Poison Ivy

There seems to be some confusion over how poison ivy spreads, and how it can be soothed.

Simply, if you come into contact with poison ivy, you can spread the oils whether or not you personally react to it.

Poison Ivy is an allergy that can build over time. Some people are immediately allergic, opoison ivythers can become allergic after months or years and, theoretically, some can live their whole lives without ever reacting.

This WebMD image (right) shows this “leaves of three, let it be” plant.

If you have come into contact with poison ivy, DO NOT SCRATCH! It spreads the oils and increases the infection. Like Chicken Pox, it’s looking to break down the skin cells and spread. Irritating said cells only hurts you.

Immediately wash your hands and anywhere else the oil may have touched with water and dishsoap (or regular if that’s what you have). If you have rubbing alcohol with you, that has been said to help as well, but having never personally tried it I don’t know if it hurts.

Bag the clothes that have made contact separately, to clean in a Lysol-load of laundry when you are near civilization. [When you are ready to wash it, run the clothes through twice. First with half a bottle of “red bottle Lysol” (the Concentrated All Purpose Cleaner) and then with water and detergent.] Don’t just throw them out. Wash them even if you’re going to chuck them, you don’t know who might be picking up or rifling through a trash bin, whether at a camp site or your own garbage disposal worker.

After you are sure the oil is off your skin, I’ve heard you can use citric acid, particularly lemon or watermelon, to help the at-risk areas. My sister has used apple cider vinegar and aloe when she’s had contact (she was never allergic as a kid, but suddenly in her mid-30s she learned the hard way about her new allergy).

If you are near the end of your trip, soothing your affected areas becomes much like when you’ve taken care of chicken pox or sunburns. Washing the area down with milk, or taking baths with epsom salt or oatmeal, can help ease the discomfort.

If you are nowhere near the end of your trek: be careful, keep taking care of the area, and keep it out of sunlight. Soothe it with what you can: apple cider vinegar, roll-on deodorant, calamine lotion. Keep changing clothes and bagging any clothing that may spread the oil separately to be cleaned later.


let me say it for the people in the back


Not only does it spread the oil everywhere, it can put the oil directly into your lungs, and that is a deadly problem to have, or to inflict on anyone downwind.

So, not to end this on a scary note, but I want to make sure the message sinks in.

Do you have any tips on taking care of allergies or stories about common sense blunders out on the trail? Leave a comment below!

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I'm (now) an Affiliate, who blogs about the materials, gear and supplies needed for living in a tent and long term camping: http://longtermcamping.siterubix.com I also enjoy reading and sci-fi in all its many forms.

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