RVer Safety: The good, the bad and the ugly of self-protection in a campground


By Mike Sherman
Regarding RVer safety and self-protection, particularly in a campground, let’s take a look at the good (weapons of choice and a plan), the bad (what happens if you are forced to use a weapon) and the ugly (acknowledging that bad things can happen).

The Good – “Bear spray has a much lower concentration of oleoresin capsicum, and should only be used as a bear deterrent. Pepper spray is a self-defense weapon intended to incapacitate human threats, and it is very effective at doing this due to its higher concentration of oleoresin capsicum.” (Several sources. Emphasis added.)

As I scoured the internet, I discovered there is a wealth of information. I learned that bear spray emits a fog, which could easily engulf the user if not used correctly. Pepper spray has a bold, focused steady stream. Pepper spray can also be used against bears and other animals threatening you. Like I have previously stated, the entire issue of self-protection can get complicated, and the more you look into all the options, the more confusing it can get. The protection of your family and yourself is very important, and that is why your final decision is so important. There are dozens of nonlethal weapons available.

The bottom line is that it’s good that we have the right to be armed and it’s unfortunate we even have to think about it. I have always advocated for the right, because I know from personal experiences that the police can’t get there faster than a bullet. It’s good that nearly every home in Sweden has a weapon (it was required by law up until a few years ago). It might explain their very low crime rate, and no enemy has ever attacked their homeland out of fear they would fail.

I also read some time back that Japan considered an armed ground assault on America’s shores but discarded the idea, acknowledging the fact that too many Americans had weapons in their homes. They chose the Pearl Harbor route instead. “Japan knew America had government-sponsored rifle matches and local municipalities also sponsored rifle, shotgun and pistol matches and Americans were privately and personally armed. They were not going to attack an armed and trained civilian population that kept these arms in their homes.” (Source: Bob Cayton, Flagstaff, AZ Daily Sun 6-15-12 edition)

So it stands to reason: Being able to defend yourself is a good, preventive measure.

Be smart, aware, trained and ready, then relax – odds are you’ll never be attacked while camping.

The Bad – Imagine those at sea for months at a time – it’s not like they can call 911 if there’s an emergency. Similarly, camping in the woods puts us all in the position of having to handle emergencies. Being unarmed lays us wide open to assault without recourse. Bad stuff happens all of the time in this world but fortunately, not often while camping.

I’m sure we have all read the occasional story about a homeowner surviving an attack because they were armed. Few citizens in London have firearms due to very strict gun laws. Then came the headlines out of London one year ago: Their murder rate for the month of February exceeded New York City’s. Weapon of choice? Knives. So I am thankful I get to live in a country that allows me to make my own choices on how I protect myself, because there is evil out there running amok.

Fortunately, evil generally avoids campgrounds, but bad stuff does occasionally happen. If you are ever under attack, thoughts of ammo, bear spray, mace, collateral damage, legal considerations, etc., will be the last things on your mind. Many will be “scared to death” and react out of a rush of adrenaline and tunnel vision. You might even end up in jail. Fortunately, you will be judged by your peers. Retired peace officers will be judged in a different light due to their prior training and experience. Imagine that: Your experience and training could actually be used against you. That’s bad.

The Ugly – Search on Google for “campground violence.” There are dozens of articles and analyses addressing the issue. You will come to the conclusion (as pointed out in many of the articles) that serious crime in campgrounds is very minimal. I think we worry about it because crime news seems to dominate the 6 o’clock hour every night. However, here is a glimpse at 2016, from the website RVLife.com:

September 14, Northern California
As reported in the Napa Valley Register, a couple goes camping near Napa at Lake Berryessa. At about 1:30 a.m. they awake to the sound of smashing glass. They later learned what happened: Their brand-new smart car was demolished by campground thugs.

September 7, South Carolina
The Independent Mail reported that two men carjacked a camper’s pickup truck at gunpoint and stole his cell phone. The man wasn’t even done setting up his campsite when the crime occurred.

August 23, Ontario, Canada
Canadians aren’t immune to crime in the outdoors either. An armed camper barricaded himself inside his trailer at a campground in Ontario’s Bay of Quinte region. The Quinte News learned the Ontario SWAT team rushed to the campground, broke into the trailer and disarmed the potential shooter.

August 20, Illinois
According to wifr.com, a group of courageous campers in Rockton, IL, stopped a shooter at a campground by tackling him and grabbing his gun. The alleged gunman began firing when a site fee collector asked for money.

July 2, Massachusetts
At a Salisbury, MA, campground the Eagle Tribune reported a drunk man assaulted a female RVer. According to news reports, the woman was in her trailer when a stranger barged inside without permission. Reporters say he “told her that he found her attractive and then asked if she had any cocaine. The victim told him to leave several times but he refused.”

How many RVers are really crime victims?

The list of campground crimes goes on into infinity. In an age of instantaneous reporting, acts of violence are reported almost as quickly as they occur. However, when RVers examine camping crime in community settings like the iRV2 Discussion Forums, the vast majority of respondents say they have never been a campground crime victim.

Note the conclusion of the vast majority: They have never been a victim. Thank goodness for that! Most of the stories above are mild compared to a killing spree in Northern California in 1971. Two campers murdered, four seriously injured, by a nutcase with a knife. Two campers had guns, yet they died, and the guy with the knife lived.

We will analyze that event next week in “A Case Study – Murder on the Bear River.”

Note: We know what we discuss in this column may be controversial. While we invite your polite, constructive comments, inflammatory remarks will be immediately deleted.

Mike Sherman is a retired street cop and investigator with 30+ years of RV experience as a traveler, camp host and all-around advocate for the joys of living on the road. His articles are for general discussion purposes only – you should always consult your local authorities or legal counsel for specific answers if necessary. Write him at MikeShermanPI@gmail.com if you have questions, or leave a comment below.


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Primo Rudy's Roadhouse

Good to know about bear spray being a fog


We keep a can of wasp spray by the front door and by the bed. It can spray up to 20 feet. Can also kill wasps, and ants that try to crawl up the power cord and into the rig.

Linda K

I am thankful that RV Travel has added this column to provide us with helpful information on the subject of defending ourselves if/when the need arises.


Great article and discussion. It is such a benefit to discuss this difficult subject, vs not thinking about it until a tragedy occurs. Thank you for having this category and discussion with us all!


“I also read some time back that Japan considered an armed ground assault on America’s shores but discarded the idea, acknowledging the fact that too many Americans had weapons in their homes.”

Actually Japan did land troops on America’s shores on two islands in Alaska and held them for quite some time. I doubt any major military force like they had would be intimidated by a defensive militia type of action. The AlCan highway was built by the US military for exactly the concern of a Japanese ground assault.

Kate Krueger

Well said!


It seems like this article would be more appropriate in a gun advocate magazine. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, not withstanding how uninformed they may be. For example ur completely incorrect on ur description of bear spray. A canister of bear spray will shoot a stream much further than a canister of pepper spray and is much more debilitating. Also ur characterization of England’s culture and violent crimes compared to our country is not representative at all. If u want to advocate for guns fine, but there r more appropriate places than rvtravel.com and ur opinions need to be much better researched.

Eric Eltinge

Went to 2 south Orange County CA county parks this past week. This is a very high income area. Had to leave both parks when illegal aliens, homeless, and gang members in “Breakin’ Bad” motorhomes were present. Park rangers did nothing. CA state parks are even worse. Installed shotgun locker in Winnebago motorhome. Protect yourself. P.S. At Yuma AZ dove opener, saw several bumper stickers that said: “Black Rifles Matter.”

Tom Fitch

“The Bad – Imagine those at sea for months at a time – it’s not like they can call 911 if there’s an emergency.” Begs the question: What WOULD you do if your boat was approached at sea by another? At least on land, you can run as fast and as far as possible, but at sea, what can you do?

Marty Chambers

I still say that the best defense is being aware of your surroundings. How many victims say, “they came out of nowhere”. Unless the bad guy is “beamed down” by the Starship Enterprise this does not happen! Look and listen to your surroundings before getting a gun. If something looks bad it probably is. Trust and hone your observation skills before even considering getting a gun.

And a gun is not the great equalizer people think it is. That gun might save your life or the gun might be taken away from you by a bad guy and used to kill you. As a cop you have remember that every confrontation has at least one gun in play, yours. Years ago more cops were killed by a bad guy who took their gun and killed them than by killers with their own gun. You have to be more prepared than people realize.

And after a shooting are you prepared to live with it. For example, a local Subway store owner got a gun for protection at work. Well, a young man came in with a gun to rob them. Well, the Subway owner was able to shoot first and he killed the robber. Happy ending? No. The Subway owner was so tramatized over killing the robber and watching him die that he had to immediately close the store and retire. Taking a life is not a simple matter, even for a cop. It’s not “saw crook, shot same”, it’s a whole big bag of issues. Too numerous to list here

27 years a Florida State cop and criminal investigator. I was also a firearms instructor.


In the RV Travel Newsletter Issue 886 I was led to believe there would be a review/discussion of firearms suited for camping self defense in this article. Did I miss something in the article?


I believe it is Switzerland that required all homes to contain a firearm, not Sweden. In fact Sweden, has some very restrictive firearm ownership laws.


My entry door has a sign that states the following: I don’t call 911 I call Mr. Glock! LOL