When it comes to nature’s most troubling foes, few inspire fear like the snake. Maybe it’s the snake’s mythological reputation of tempting humans out of paradise.
Maybe it’s the fact that 20% of snake species are venomous, which makes them all look a little bit suspect.
Whether a snake is venomous or not, you probably don’t want one in your campsite. So, here are a few simple ways to make sure your camping trip remains snake-free.
Keeping Your Campsite Snake-Free
1. Don’t sleep where snakes sleep.
Sounds simple, right? You stay out of their bed, and they’ll stay out of yours. For the most part.
That means camping in open spaces with well-trodden grass. Or clearing a site and stomping down the grass before you stake your tent if you’re in the unkempt backcountry.
Keep away from fallen trees, leaf piles, stick piles, and especially rock piles, which provide both heating and cooling for these cold-blooded creatures.
And situate your campsite at least 100 feet from lakes, rivers and other water sources. You should anyway to protect the delicate plant life at the water’s edge. But also because snakes love a drink.
In summation, when looking for a campsite:
- Avoid rock piles
- Avoid leaf and stick piles
- Avoid fallen trees
- Avoid water
- Avoid weeds and tall grasses
2. Keep your camp home clean and uncluttered.
Snakes aren’t particularly attracted to people food. But rabbits, birds and rodents are, and snakes are definitely attracted to those tasty delicacies.
By keeping your campsite clean and uncluttered, you can avoid attracting snake food into your camp.
To keep your campsite clean, keep all food and food waste in airtight containers. You can use sealed bags as long as they are designed to be odor-free.
All trash that might have food smells on it (like paper plates and napkins) should be treated with equal diligence, packed up and un-smellable. If you drop crumbs, pick them up and bag them or toss them on the fire.
To keep your campsite uncluttered, keep your gear up off the ground. In the absence of rock piles or stick piles, the stuff you bring to camp with you can look pretty cozy to a snake.
If you’re traveling in a vehicle, this is considerably easier. Just keep everything shut up in the car when not in use. (But still be careful with food waste!)
If you’re hiking to your campsite, keeping your site uncluttered takes a little extra equipment. The most compact camping gear you can use to accomplish this task is a hammock with a tarp.
String the hammock up between two trees, secure the tarp over it, and you’ll have a space to stash your gear that keeps it both dry and snake-free.
In summation, to keep your campsite clean and uncluttered:
- Store all food and food waste in airtight, odor-free containers
- Store all food trash, like napkins and paper plates, in airtight, odor-free containers
- Pick up crumbs
- Keep your gear in your vehicle if it’s close by
- Keep your gear in a hammock or otherwise secured off the ground when backcountry or off-the-grid camping
3. Build a campfire.
Sitting around the campfire is one of the great joys of camping. I mean, are you even allowed to sing campfire songs without one? It’s also both your light and your heat source at night. So, you probably plan on lighting one anyway.
But here’s another reason.
Snakes don’t like the smoke. It sends their enhanced senses of smell into a tizzy. As long as you have a campfire burning, you’ll keep snakes at a healthy distance.
But you should still never leave a campfire burning when you leave your campsite or go to sleep. So, this is only a solution during waking hours. Just put the fire out right before bed.
In summation, to displease snakes noses:
- Start a campfire
- Sing campfire songs
- Put the fire out before you sleep
4. Check your campsite for snakes.
It’s obvious, I know. But the most important thing you can do to avoid snakes while camping is to regularly check your campsite. Especially when you return to it.
Snakes don’t want to deal with you. So, if they see you, they’ll go the other way.
The problem is when you’re not around.
When you are out hiking or fishing, that’s when snakes are most likely to make themselves comfy in your space. And they’ll hide anywhere they can find shade. Shoes. Sleeping bags. Even under your tent.
That’s why it’s essential to keep everything zipped up in your tent or up off the ground. And, if you forget and leave something accessible to critters, shake it out well.
It’s also why you should check your campsite every time you come back to make sure nothing is lying in wait.
In summation, to keep your campsite snake-free:
- Don’t give snakes a place to hide
- Shake out shoes, sleeping bags, or anything that’s been left out
- Check your campsite (and under your tent) every time you return to it
Having a Snake-Free Camping Adventure
Keeping your campsite free of snakes is undoubtedly a top priority. But your campsite isn’t the only place you might encounter snakes on a camping trip. It’s not even the most likely place.
If you backpack in and out of your campsite, or do any hiking or climbing while you’re there, you have a much greater risk of encountering a snake. The majority of snake bites happen when a snake gets touched by accident.
These tips will help you stay safe when traveling through common snake habitats to camp.
1a. Consider the season.
Snakes adapt well to changes in temperature. But they do so by getting lazy. This laziness allows them to conserve energy so they can survive the cold weather.
That’s why snakes are seen far less often in the winter months than in the summer months in most places. Only regions near the equator have active year-round snakes.
The majority of bites in the wilderness occur between April and October in the Northern Hemisphere, and opposite that in the Southern Hemisphere. If you enjoy cold-weather hiking and camping, you can spare yourself a lot of snake woes.
Though, you should still be cautious in places where venomous snakes live. (Snakes don’t actually hibernate. They are still very much awake during the winter. Just not as active.)
1b. Consider the temperature.
The same goes for temperature.
Snakes are super picky li’l buggers. They like temps between 80 and 90 degrees and will be the most active when the heat index is to their liking.
That means snakes are most active in the spring months and early fall when daytime temps hover around 80 and 90 degrees, and are more active in early mornings and late evenings during the summer months.
By knowing when snakes are most likely to be out, you can plan accordingly.
In summation, to avoid snakes altogether:
- Opt for cold-weather camping in the snakiest spots
- Be more cautious of snakes from April through October
- Avoid hikes through snake territory during snakes’ favorite times of day
2. Choose where to walk, hike, or gather supplies with care.
Some places are attractive to snakes. Staying out of those places is one of the simplest ways to avoid them.
It’s the same as when you’re finding your campsite. Avoid piles of rocks, sticks, and leaves. Stay away from shrubbery and out of tall grasses.
When walking on stone or barren surfaces, don’t step on cracks you can’t see into. And step up onto large boulders in your path, instead of stepping over them. This allows you to check for snakes that may be hiding on the other side.
When they’re available, stick to trails or worn paths. Snakes are reclusive and stay out of wide-open spaces unless they’re sunning.
Also be careful when collecting items for your campsite, such as firewood. Never stick your hands or feet where you can’t see.
Most snake bites in the wild occur when a snake is touched by accident. The hands, feet and ankles are the most common places for people to get bitten.
In summation, when walking, hiking or gathering in snake territory:
- Avoid piles of rocks, sticks and leaves
- Stay away from shrubbery and tall grasses
- Don’t step on cracks in stone
- Step up onto boulders to check for snakes on the other side
- Use trails/paths
- Always looks before putting your hands or feet somewhere
3. Watch for snakes as you walk.
I know it’s been said, but snakes really do want to avoid you. So, the easiest way to avoid encountering them on a trail or in your camp is to give them the chance to do that.
Along with staying out of their favorite places, you should keep a keen eye out for snakes along the trail or wherever you walk in the woods.
If you see one in your path, stop moving immediately. Take a step back and wait. If you can, go another direction.
If the snake doesn’t retreat into the forest, your safest option is to give it a wide berth as you move around it.
It is never advisable to try to remove a snake from your path, even with hiking poles. Especially if you can’t identify what type of snake it is. Most bites occur when a person attempts to handle or move a snake.
In summation, when traveling in snake land:
- Watch for snakes on the path ahead
- Stop moving if you see a snake
- Retreat and go another direction if you can
- Move around it carefully if you can’t go another way
- Never try to move a snake from your path
4. Wear hiking books and long pants. Or, better yet, wear snake boots or snake gaiters.
If you are hiking in snake territory, you should be wearing hiking books and long (loose fitted) pants even in the dead of summer.
Boots and long pants won’t prevent you from getting bitten, but they do provide a layer of protection that can lessen the amount of venom that gets through if a snake decides to give you a venomous bite.
In snake-heavy areas, you may want to go a step further with snake boots or snake gaiters.
Knee-high snake boots are designed to withstand the bite of (most) snakes without letting fangs (and venom) through. Snake gaiters are basically the same idea in a separate shin-guard like piece that can be worn with your usual hiking boots.
While neither of these clothing items are 100% effective, they do offer a serious layer of protection against snake bites. Much stronger than hiking boots alone. Think armor aimed expressly at snakes.
In summation, when dressing for backcountry camping:
- Wear long pants
- Wear hiking boots
- Wear snake boots or snake gaiters for greater protection
- Never wear sandals in the woods
- Never wear shorts in the woods
Snake Repellent – Does it work?
Many companies market and sell granules and stakes as snake repellents. These devices are largely ineffective. They are also hazardous and contain the same poison as mothballs.
Indeed, snake repellents may be counter-effective since people who use them think they are safe when they really aren’t any safer than they would be without a repellent.
Some campers use mothballs as a cheaper alternate to snake repellents. But the active chemicals in mothballs are highly toxic. Not just to critters, but to humans.
The chemicals in mothballs can cause changes in neurology that lead to dizziness and headaches, and are also potential carcinogens.
Presumably, while in nature, you prefer to breathe fresh, healthy air.