How to Prepare for a Camping Trip During a Pandemic

Please note that regulations vary by region and state, and they are constantly changing, so be sure to stay up to date on the latest CDC recommendations.

Social distancing is the number one priority these days, but the monotony of not going anywhere or seeing anyone is starting to drive me crazy. There are only so many days I can go on the same walk, see the same sights, and hear the same dogs barking at me without losing my mind. So, after months of quarantine, my sister and I packed up our car and went on a camping trip. I can’t overstate how good it felt to drive off into the woods and leave all the stress of the past few months behind.

That being said, preparing for this camping trip was definitely a different experience than planning for previous ones. We had to anticipate and respond to new challenges posed by the pandemic and pack accordingly (mainly, bringing lots of masks). Following a successful return, I am here to share my insights on avoiding the new obstacles COVID has set in motion for camping. If you’re planning a camping trip anytime soon, here are a few places you’re likely to run into other people, and how to safely navigate them. 


1. When Buying Your Gear

Before setting off, you’ll probably need to stock up on supplies, even if you’re just missing the basics like food and water. Not all campsites are open with drinking water, so I recommend bringing your own water just in case. Check if there’s a local store that does curbside or contact-free pickups. My sister and I stopped at a Target on the way to our campsite, and they brought out the supplies we had ordered and popped them straight in the trunk without anything more than a phone call from us when we had reached the parking lot. A lot of camping and hardware stores are doing a good job with social distancing, so call ahead to where you’re planning to buy your supplies and see what options they have for you. Make sure to include a lot of hand sanitizer, wipes, and masks in your order if you don’t already have any. Trust me, you’ll need them a lot during your trip. 

2. Public Bathrooms

If I could just pee in the woods forever, I would. But (unfortunately) most campgrounds don’t allow that since it makes achieving Leave No Trace difficult with their high volumes of campers rotating through. If you’re hoping to avoid any indoor spaces, then you should check out the campground’s bathroom policy before making a reservation and see if there’s one near you that allows you to go wherever you like. Some campgrounds will have different regulations and opening times, so call ahead to check, as online information isn’t always updated.

Assuming that you’ll need to go indoors and use a public bathroom, that’s where your mask comes in. Keep it on even when no one else is in the bathroom, since vapors can hang in the air for hours after the last person has been there. Make sure to social distance even while in a stall. Pick the stall farthest away from the rest, or at least have one between you and the next person. My sister and I washed up at odd hours when we hoped no one else would be up or they’d be off hiking. Generally, waking up early or going to sleep late helps to avoid the risk of someone walking in while you’re brushing your teeth. I wouldn’t put off a camping trip just to avoid indoor, public bathrooms; simply prepare accordingly with masks and hand sanitizer.

  3. Trails

If you’re planning to hike on a campsite’s surrounding trails, especially during the summer, you’re bound to run into other people. While that’s pretty typical, during a pandemic you need to be on alert so you can pull your mask up and move to the side before you’re within six feet of another hiker. I’m a huge fan of Buffs; I keep one around my neck or in my hair so it’s not always on my face, but within reach to pull over my nose and mouth. As for staying six feet away when passing other hikers, I always assume that I need to be the one to step aside. I know there’s etiquette about yielding to uphill traffic, but I’m not relying on other hikers knowing or abiding by that rule. I prefer to dictate how much space I’m giving the trail and my fellow hikers. There isn’t always enough room to navigate, so sometimes you may come within six feet of another hiker, but when that happens just move quickly and keep your mask on. Try not to hold another hiker up with conversations or questions. I know you’re just trying to be friendly, but a pandemic may not be the best time to make new hiker friends and invite them to hang out at your campsite later.

Which brings me to…

4. Your Own Campsite

The whole purpose of choosing a camping trip for your socially distanced getaway comes into question if you get to your campsite and find out it shares a border with someone else’s. You don’t have to be too concerned since the virus doesn’t travel well outdoors, but when first reserving your campsite, find out which site is the most isolated from the rest. Think about foot traffic as people leave the campgrounds for hikes, and if they’ll be passing by for the bathroom. If there isn’t a secluded one and you’re nervous about having neighbors, consider booking both your campsite and the bordering one to ensure you’ll be social distancing throughout your trip. If someone does show up in the adjacent campsite, communicate with them and see if you can identify a no-go-zone to ensure that no one is setting up tents, playing games, or enjoying meals within six feet of each other. It’s annoying to block off three feet of your probably already small campsite, but it’s worth the security that you’re safely distanced and out of range for COVID transmission.  

Better yet, if you’re nervous about any of the above and want to be as far away as possible from other campers, you can always look into dispersed camping on public lands. The Bureau of Land Management has plenty of sites separate from developed facilities and amenities where you can set up camp and feel the most secluded from other people.

Going camping can be the perfect summer trip. It offers a change of pace and allows you to think beyond the day-to-day stressors plaguing so many people right now. I was even surprised to find that after spending months with no one but my family, I saw a new side of my sister on our trip. We had new things to talk about when we switched up our surroundings, and now we have a new, non-COVID related memory to share when we look back on 2020, which I’m very grateful for.

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