Minor cuts and burns are often just a part of camping. You are careless while cutting vegetables or firewood or perhaps unfamiliar with your propane stove or how to build a campfire. Like everything else, attention and prevention are the keys to avoiding cuts and burns, but unexpected things can always happen. Here’s some advice on how to deal with minor injuries and when to seek medical care.

Cuts and Abrasions

Some cuts are easily addressed with cleaning, antibiotic ointment and a bandage, but others may need stitches. If the cut is longer or deeper than ¼ inch, it will start to pull apart whenever you move and you should seek professional care. If there is a foreign object in the wound, the bleeding can’t be controlled within 10 minutes of direct pressure, or the wound is spurting blood, you also need to seek care. Finally, if the cut involves the hands or face, or is over a joint such as the fingers, elbow or knees, you may need stitches. Get the wound checked out.

For minor cuts, control the bleeding by applying direct pressure using a dry, clean dressing or cloth. When the bleeding has stopped, clean the wound, place topical antibiotic ointment over it and protect it with a clean dressing. If your pain increases, there is an increase in redness or swelling, you have a fever or there are red streaks spreading from the wound, this can indicate an infection. Puncture wounds, especially with rusty objects or through the sole of a shoe, need immediate medical attention.


If you have a minor burn and the skin is unbroken, use cool water to soak the area or run cool water over it. Once the skin has cooled, apply a moisturizing lotion, such as aloe vera, on it. Over-the-counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help relieve pain and swelling. If it blisters, try not to break it, as blisters protect you from infection. Also, the pain will be worse if they are broken.

Electrical burns and chemical burns should be examined promptly by a healthcare provider. If an electrical injury may have caused a burn, do not touch the victim directly. Instead try and turn the power source off and use a non-metallic object to separate the person away from the wires before starting first aid. Monitor the person’s pulse and breathing until medical help arrives. Anyone struck by lightning needs immediate medical attention. If someone is on fire, tell the person to stop, drop, and roll. Then wrap the person in a blanket, pour water on them and call 911. If necessary, start CPR and rescue breathing. Do not remove clothing stuck to the skin and do not apply ointments.

Keep on Hand

Clean bandages
Antibiotic ointment
Over-the-counter pain relievers
Water to rinse off wounds

Fire extinguisher

Prevention is Best

  • Install smoke alarms in your camper and check and change batteries at the beginning of each camping season.
  • Teach children about fire safety, the danger of fireworks, matches and campfires.
  • Do not leave campfires unattended.
  • Keep electrical cords safely out of reach.
  • Do not use flammable liquids to ignite campfires.
  • Teach Kids to Stop, Drop, and Roll in case of clothing fire.
  • Do not build campfire under power lines.
  • Keep a bucket of water on hand when you have a campfire.
  • Make sure everyone always keeps their tetanus shot up to date! 
  • Bigger is not better when it comes to camp fires; keep them manageable.
  • Keep campfires in a contained unit, with a safety boundary. 
    Do not build campfires directly on the ground.
  • Make sure your campfire is extinguished safely and there are no remaining embers. 

This article on cuts and burns was originally published in Girl Camper Magazine.

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