Friday, December 9, 2022


Don’t let snakes frighten you out of RV country


By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Boondocking – traveling out away in the “boonies” and away from traditional campgrounds and hookups – has its own variety of knowledge base. Recently an RVer who contemplated trying boondocking inquired of other RVers, “What about snakes?”

It’s not uncommon to be a bit fearful of snakes, and when you get out away from the beaten track, it would seem you’re more likely to encounter these slithering reptiles. So what about it? Can you go camping in your RV and still be safe?

A bit of knowledge can help overcome anxiety. First off, your chances of dying from a venomous snakebite here in the U.S. is near to zero. Each year, less than 8,000 folks are bitten by a venomous snake, and of those there are only about five or six fatalities. Put another way, your chances of dying in a motor vehicle accident are about 6,000 times greater.

Still, none of us want to be in that “six died from snakebite” category, or even of the 8,000 who are bitten and live. Here are some principles to live by:

1. Eyes open: Don’t blunder through weeds and woods, and happily march down the trail. While snakes will try to avoid you, if you see them, it’s best to go the other way. When you step over a log or rock in the trail, LOOK before you plant your foot on the ground. Sweep your surroundings with your eyes. If something “looks out of place,” stop and look again.

2. Ears open: In rattlesnake country a rattler will most often signal his presence with an unmistakable rattling sound, probably before you see him. STOP! Don’t move – and try not to run – until you SEE where the snake is. Then go the opposite direction, withdrawing slowly.

3. Keep out of harm’s way: Snakes like brush piles, log jams, root systems, and shady spots when the sun is hot. Being reptiles, they’ll seek out a sunny spot to warm up when the weather is cold.

4. Footwear forestalls problems: Leather, ankle-high boots or shoes are best for walking in snake country.

5. Water wise: Snakes often like to hang around water, so keep alert when swimming or fishing.

6. Don’t sneak: Making plenty of noise while hiking alerts snakes of your whereabouts. They’re really not interested in “human prey,” and will do their best to get away from you, given the chance.

What if the worst happens and you get bitten? Forget the snake bite kit. Here are the best recommendations from the Mayo Clinic:

•  Remain calm.

•  Immobilize the bitten arm or leg, and stay as quiet as possible to keep the poison from spreading through your body.

•  Remove jewelry before you start to swell.

•  Position yourself, if possible, so that the bite is at or below the level of your heart.

•  Cleanse the wound, but don’t flush it with water, and cover it with a clean, dry dressing.

•  Apply a splint to reduce movement of the affected area, but keep it loose enough so as not to restrict blood flow.

•  Don’t use a tourniquet or apply ice.

•  Don’t cut the wound or attempt to remove the venom.

•  Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol.

•  Don’t try to capture the snake, but try to remember its color and shape so you can describe it, which will help in your treatment.

•  Call 911 or seek immediate medical attention, especially if the area changes color, begins to swell or is painful.

Countless RVers who have boondocked through snake country often have the same comment: Very rarely have they seen a snake, and usually they’ll just move along. Don’t let fear cause you to miss out on a great RV experience, out in the boonies.


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Laura P. Schulman, MD
4 years ago

As a retired ER doc, I have an addition to your first-aid instructions: if bitten by a snake, DO snap a pic of it if you have your phone/camera on you and your wits about you (identification can help with decisions about antivenin), but don’t waste precious time. The reason snake bite deaths are so low is due to quick and early treatment with antivenin. Once you know you’ve been bitten, if your vehicle is available and a driver, waste no time with cleaning, splinting, or any other local wound care measures. CALL 911 and find out where the closest faculty that handles snake bites is. If you have a driver, get in and go, and drive safely. If you are waiting for EMS to get there, have the victim lie down quietly and wait. The quicker you receive definitive treatment, the quicker you’ll be back on your way. Time is of the essence, so don’t waste it doing things that have minimal return on your time investment.

While the vast majority of snake bites in the United States and Canada will result only in local swelling and pain, in rare instances a person will have a generalized systemic reaction. These are true emergencies. I recommend that all RVers bone up on their CPR skills, because the life you save may belong to someone you love (or a complete stranger). Remember your ABCs: Airway, Breathing, Circulation, while you’re waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

3 years ago

Hi , Laura. Are you supposed to suck and spit out the venom?

4 years ago

some FYI info: Most poisonous snakes have a pupil that resembles a cat’s; an oblong shape with peaked ends, like a slit in the center of the eye. Non-venomous snakes usually have round pupils. … The shape of the face has to do with the location of the venom sacks, so triangular= beware!

4 years ago

Hey Russ,
Boondockers who fear snakes, ticks, spiders, scorpions, coyotes, or whatever, would be best suited living in paved RV parks.