Dos and Don’ts of Snake Safety While Camping

Going camping during snake season? Here are the Dos and Don’ts of snake safety to help prevent and deal with snake bites.

I recently wrote an article on the Basic Snake Safety Tips Every Hiker and Camper Needs to Know. As the title suggests, I covered the basic safety measures every RVer should take whenever they go camping in Snake Country.

As we learned, almost all of the United States and much of Canada is snake country. 46 of the 50 states are home not only to snakes but venomous snakes. So, you and everyone in your travel party must learn snake safety.

I covered the basics in that article but now I’m going to go into more depth. I’m going to list the Do and Don’ts of snake safety.

You’ll also want to read my articles on bear safety and ticks:

Let’s start with what TO DO and NOT DO whenever you’re camping or hiking in snake country. Then, I’ll talk about what TO DO and what not to do if someone is bitten. I’ll conclude with safety tips for dogs. I’ve pulled much of this information from the U.S. Army.

Arizona is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Dos: Snake bite prevention

  • If you’re unsure, assume every snake you encounter is venomous. Stay at least 4 feet away.
  • Check your campsite for snakes when you first arrive (see Basic Snake Safety Tips).
  • Use the buddy system when walking or running on trails in snake country.
  • Wear over-the-ankle boots, thick socks, and long loose pants, especially when venturing off of heavily used trails.
  • Tap ahead of you with a walking stick before entering an area where you can’t see your feet. Snakes will try to avoid you if given enough warning.
  • When possible, step on logs and rocks, but never over them as you may surprise a sheltering snake.
  • Avoid walking through dense brush or blackberry thickets.
  • Be careful when stepping out of your RV. Snakes like to shelter under things including your RV steps. Look behind your steps before you step down.
  • Keep your campsite clear of unnecessary items and debris for snakes to hide in or under.
  • Keep your dog on a leash. 
  • Teach your kids and travel companions snake safety.
Texas is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Don’ts: Snake bite prevention

  • Don’t step or put your hands where you cannot see.
  • Don’t pick up a wild snake. Give it the right-of-way and move around it at a safe distance.
  • Don’t wander in the dark without a flashlight. Most snakes are active on warm nights.
  • Don’t leave your shoes outside. If you do, dump them out before you put them on.
  • Don’t touch a dead snake. Dead snakes can still reflexively strike you and inject venom.
  • Don’t think that nonvenomous snakes aren’t dangerous. They are still wild animals and should be respected. Any snake bite is painful and can get infected. 
  • Don’t let young children or pets play on or near high brush, debris piles, or rock croppings. 
Diamond-back water snake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Dos: If bitten

  • If bitten by a venomous snake (or unsure), call 911 immediately.
  • Keep the person calm, reassuring them that bites can be effectively treated in an emergency room. (Slower heart rate = slower spread of venom).
  • Restrict movement as much as possible.
  • Keep the bite below heart level to reduce the flow of venom.
  • Rinse wound with fresh water, if possible.
  • Remove any rings or constricting items or material because the area may swell. 
  • Wait for help to arrive; only move the person if you must in order to get them to help. 
  • Take a picture or remember details of the snake. 
  • Everyone stay calm! Out of 7,000-8,000 people bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S. every year, only about .0006 percent die.
Texas is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Don’ts: If bitten

  • Do not allow the person to become over-exerted. If necessary, carry the person to safety or leave them in a safe place while you go for help.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet. A tourniquet localizes the venom increasing the chance of lasting damage in that area.
  • Do not apply ice or cold compresses to a snake bite. 
  • Do not try to suck out the venom by mouth.
  • Do not cut into the snake bite with a knife or razor.
  • Do not give the person stimulants or pain medications (including aspirin) unless a doctor tells you to do so.
  • Do not give the person anything by mouth.
  • Do not raise the site of the bite above the level of the person’s heart.
  • Do not wait to seek medical attention! The very small snake death rate in the United States would be even smaller if more people sought medical help immediately.
  • Do not use venom extractors or other commercial snakebite kits. (Studies have shown that field treatments are more likely to make the situation worse.)

NOTE: When you call 911 from a cell phone, the call often goes to a regional center. Immediately tell the call-taker where you’re calling from and the type of emergency. Even better, prepare ahead of time by recording local emergency numbers on your cell phone.

Diamond-back water snake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dog snake safety tips

  • Keep your dog on a leash.
  • Keep your dog on marked trails.
  • Don’t let your dog stick their snout into brush, under rocks, or debris piles.
  • If your dog attacks a snake, don’t intervene with your hands. Try to pull them away from the end of the leash (see Basic Snake Safety Tips).
  • Teach your dog come and leave it commands, practicing with a fake snake or rattle.
  • If bitten, follow safety human protocols listed above. Keep the dog calm and carry them if possible. Seek veterinarian attention immediately.
  • If you didn’t see your dog get bit or see a bite but they are exhibiting snake bite symptoms (having difficulty breathing or has collapsed) take your dog for a vet evaluation immediately.
  • Most dogs survive snake bite wounds if treated.
Texas is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Respect, not fear

Snakes are beautiful and incredible creatures. Like any wild animal, they should be respected and given a wide berth when we’re in their territory. 

Remember, snakes would much rather spend their venom on prey than waste it on you. Like any creature, they want to defend themselves to survive another day. Snakes shouldn’t be hated for that just because they do a better job defending themselves than most.

Worth Pondering…

Even if a snake is not poisonous, it should pretend to be venomous.

—Chanakya