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

Basic Snake Safety Tips Every Hiker and Camper Needs to Know

Every RVer needs to know the following snake safety tips to keep you, your family, and pets safe while camping and hiking

Do you know how many U.S. states have venomous snakes? And I’m talking about venomous snakes, not just snakes in general. 

If you don’t know, go ahead and take a guess. I can hear your thoughts churning… 

Okay, Alaska’s too cold, and several of the northern states are probably too cold, too. All southern states have snakes but do they all have venomous snakes?

I bet your guess is in the 30s range, right? Yeah, I’m sure there are more states with snakes but you asked about venomous snakes!

Well, unless you only eliminated four states from your list, you’d be wrong. 46 of the 50 United States have venomous snakes! (I’ll tell you which four at the end.)

That’s why, no matter where you’re traveling, you should be up on your snake safety. Venomous or not, you need to know how to avoid snakes and what to do if you encounter one. This knowledge can keep you, your kids, and your pets safe!

Texas is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Types of venomous snakes in each state

Chances are, the first venomous snake you’d think to find in America is a rattlesnake—and for good reason. There are 32 different species of rattlesnakes in the U.S. but they’re not the only potential threat. 

(Note that I say potential threat because following snake safety protocol greatly reduces the risk of getting bit. And, let’s be honest, it’s usually us humans doing the threatening.)

Some rattlesnakes in the U.S. don’t have rattle in their name including sidewinders and massasaugas but they are still rattlesnakes.

Then there are the copperheads and cottonmouths (aka water moccasins). These snakes are pit vipers like rattlers but do not have a rattle at the end of their tail. Although, some are known to shake their tail like rattlesnakes!

Last, there are the coral snakes. These colorful snakes are most closely related to cobras and mambas and have very toxic venom. 

Coral snakes are more toxic than rattlesnakes; however, they’re less deadly. Why? For one, they’re less aggressive. More so, their fixed fangs and small mouths don’t make them very good biters. They are more inefficient at delivering venom and need to chew on their prey to deliver it effectively. 

Regardless of deadliness compared to rattlesnakes, coral snake bites can be extremely painful and if left medically unattended can still lead to cardiac arrest. 

Texas is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What kinds of venomous snakes can you find in Canada?

Believe it or not, you can find THREE types of venomous snakes in Canada. But please don’t live in fear, thinking that you are going to be bitten. In general, snakes try to avoid any contact or interaction with people. 

Prairie Rattlesnake can be found in southern provinces of Canada (mostly southern Alberta and Saskatchewan) in open prairies, grasslands, semi-desert shrublands, and forested environments. Eastern Massasauga is found in the wet habitats in the Great Lakes area of Canada. Western Rattlesnake in southern British Columbia primarily in the semi-arid Okanagan Valley.

Basic snake safety tips you NEED to know

I’m going to share the snake safety basics every RVer needs to know in this first article of the series. Keep an eye out for more snake safety articles to come!

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

Texas is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP #1: Do your research EVERY time you go somewhere new

I came across this excellent resource that lists out the types of venomous snakes in each state (wildlifeinformer.com/venomous-snakes-in-each-state). You should review the list whenever you’re traveling into a new state and read up on each type of snake. 

For example, Arizona is home to 19 different species of venomous snakes with most of these species being rattlesnakes. Most of these species are found in desert areas but Rattlesnakes are also known to be frequent visitors to golf courses and can be found out on the green.

Texas is home to 15 different species/subspecies of venomous snakes making it one of the more biodiverse states for venomous snakes. Venomous snakes are common in rural areas and secluded habitats but can also be common near people’s houses hiding in brush piles, wood piles, and garages.

For as many species of reptiles found in Florida, there are surprisingly few species of venomous snakes found there. Of these species, the Cottonmouths and Copperheads are the most common. Because it gets so hot during the day in Florida, the best time to find them is during the evening when temperatures begin to cool down.

Familiarize yourself with where the snakes are most likely to be found, how aggressive they are, and what to do if you encounter one.

TIP #2: Check your campsite when you arrive

Because snakes are coldblooded, they are less active in cooler months. If you’re camping during snake season, it’s important to check your campsite for snakes when you first arrive. Snakes are likely to avoid you once they know you’re there but you chance sneaking up on one when you first arrive.

Keep your dogs and kids (and scared spouse) in the RV and safely peruse your campsite. If there are any logs, rock croppings, or heavy brush, try to peer from several feet away and use a long stick if need be. 

Remember, rattlesnakes have excellent camouflage! I have scanned across one before and had to take a double take to realize it was a snake. 

Move slowly and take sure steps so you can freeze in place if need be. 

Note: Unusually warm weather can start snake season early or prolong it longer.

Texas is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP #3: Freeze and slowly back away

If you do see a snake (ANY snake), freeze in place immediately. Sometimes it’s hard to tell a rattlesnake from, say, a gopher snake and a coral snake from a king snake. Some snakes even shake their tails to mimic a rattlesnake.

Non-venomous snakes have evolved to look like their venomous counterparts. Some of them do such a good job that we get desensitized to them. Oh, it’s just another gopher snake. Oh wait, no it’s not! 

Small rattlesnakes are particularly difficult to identify, especially babies. Their triangular heads may be less pronounced and they might only have a couple of little nubs on their rattle. But they still have venom in their fangs!

So, if you see ANY snake, freeze in place. Assess your position and slowly move away with sure-footed steps. If you’re curious, you can try to determine if it’s venomous or not once you’re at a safe distance.

If the snake is in your campsite, send someone to alert the campground manager while you keep an eye on the snake. The campground manager will likely be able to identify the snake and handle it accordingly.

If the snake is away from the campground, you’re in its campsite and need to leave!

Arizona is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP # 4: Keep your dogs on a leash

Dogs are more likely to get bit than humans because they want to run and jump and shove their noses into every nook and cranny of the outdoors. If they come across a snake, they’re not going to freeze and slowly back away.

As is the case in almost every camping and hiking scenario, it’s best to keep your dog on a leash. You need to be able to yank them away from the threat.

If your dog spots a snake, do not reach for your dog with your hands! You risk spooking the snake and getting bit yourself that way. Step back and pull back on the leash. 

If your dog attacks a snake, do not interfere with your hands! Do not reach in to try to pull your dog away. Try to pull your dog away from the end of the leash but be careful that your dog doesn’t fling the snake at you or bring it closer to you. 

Chances are, the attack will be over quickly. As soon as your dog drops the snake, drag your dog away from the end of the leash. If your dog is not leashed, call him away or try to get his attention by throwing a stick or small rocks away from the snake.

I know you love your dog but it’s better for your dog that you don’t get bit, too. So, do not interfere in the middle of an attack. You need to be able to take it to a vet immediately especially if it’s a venomous snake.

Approximately 80 percent of pets survive a snake bite if treated quickly, so a prompt response is essential. This involves recognizing the initial symptoms of a snake bite and immediately seeking care.

Although the intensity of snake bite symptoms will vary, watch out to see if your dog is exhibiting any of these signs:

Sudden weakness and collapse, followed by your pet getting up normally. This is a symptom characteristic of snake bites—though not the only thing that can cause this type of collapse.

  • Trembling, shaking, or twitching of muscles
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting
  • Unsteadiness/weakness in hind legs
  • Excessive salivation, drooling, or frothing at the mouth
  • Bloody urine
  • Dilated pupils
  • Paralysis

If you suspect your pet has been bitten by a snake, seek veterinary attention immediately. Most pets will survive a snake bite if attended to immediately.

Texas is snake country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

TIP #5: Teach you childrens snake safety

It’s important to teach your children snake safety before you start any camping trip. Calmly explain to them that we don’t need to be scared of snakes but we do need to be careful around them. Explain to your children that snakes don’t want to bite you but they will if they think you’re going to hurt them. 

For young children, make them imagine what it’s like being a small snake looking up at their big human bodies. (Kids will like the idea that they’re big compared to snakes.) Then take them through what they would want a human to do if they were a scared little snake.

Freeze. Stay calm. Slowly back away. Go get an adult.

Have them practice by pretending a stick is a snake. You can test them a couple of times during the trip, too. Toss the snake stick in the middle of the campsite and see if they respond correctly. Retrain them as needed.

States with NO venomous snakes

So, what are the four states that do not have any species of venomous snakes, you ask? They are:

  • Alaska
  • Hawaii
  • Maine
  • Rhode Island

More in-depth tips

Today, we’ve covered the 5 basic snake safety tips every RVer needs to know. I have more snake safety articles coming your way that will list out the Dos and Don’ts and give you even more in-depth tips. 

Worth Pondering…

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

—Chanakya