The Camper’s Guide to Snake Safety

Here's what to do—and what not to do—if you encounter a wild snake while camping, hiking, RVing, or just spending time in nature.

If you frequently hike, camp, RV, or just spend time in nature, it’s extremely important to be aware of any possible dangers. One of those dangers is snakes. While most snakes are completely harmless, there are a number of venomous snakes that pose a threat to humans. 

If you’re able to identify venomous snakes, you can easily tell when a snake is safe to approach. However, if you’re unsure, it can be riskier to interact with a wild snake. This makes stumbling upon them frightening for some people. 

One of the best ways to avoid snake bites is to do your research and know how to safely interact with a snake. Before you put on your hiking gear, here are a few tips that will help keep you and the snake safe if you encounter one in the wild.

A poisonous snake slithering in the underbrush near a campsite
Photo: Shutterstock

Snake Safety Tips While Camping

Leave It Alone

The best thing you can do when you come face to face with a wild snake is to leave it alone. This is especially true if you aren’t sure what species it is. There are only four types of venomous snakes in North America: rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, and coral snakes. If you’re unsure of how to identify these snakes, it’s better to proceed with caution and assume any snake you come across is venomous. 

It’s a common misconception that snakes are malicious and will chase you if stumbled upon. It’s also easy to forget that snakes are more scared of you than you are of them. A snake’s primary goal is to stay alive and get away as quickly as possible. Some snakes choose to look threatening and may even strike if you get too close, but others will simply try to run away. If you keep your distance and respect a snake’s space, it will not expend the energy to come after you. 

If you come across a snake in your camp or RV, the first thing you should do after maintaining a safe distance is to try and identify it. If you’re able to confirm that it’s a harmless species, like a common garter snake, it’s usually safe enough to pick it up and remove it from your campsite. If you’re unwilling to interact with it, unsure about its identity, or confident that it’s a venomous species, the best thing to do is to leave it alone and wait for it to leave. 

Back Away Slowly

If you find yourself a little closer to a snake on the trail than you’re comfortable with, back away slowly. Most snake bites occur when people try to move or antagonize a snake. The worst thing you can do when face to face with a defensive snake is to try and move it. Even using sticks or throwing rocks can be dangerous. These actions can make a snake feel like its life is in danger, and that’s when it’s most likely to bite.  

If you encounter a snake in the middle of a trail, back away slowly and wait for it to pass, or find a way to move around it. Keep your eyes on the snake as you back away and move slowly to not scare it further. When there’s a safe distance between you and the snake, it will likely slither away and out of your path. Make sure you keep some space between you and the snake, as large snakes can strike within a distance of up to 4 feet. Keep a distance between 10 and 15 feet if possible. At these distances, snakes will likely feel comfortable enough to try and get out of your way entirely. If it doesn’t immediately leave, move around it while maintaining a safe distance. 

a hiker snaps gaiters over trekking boots outside
Photo: Shutterstock

Wear Footwear That Covers Your Ankles

If all else fails and you find yourself unknowingly getting too close to a snake, there are a few preventative measures that will help you avoid a bite. One of the best things you can do to avoid snakebites is to wear protective clothing. Often long pants and boots that cover your ankles are enough to prevent a bite. Though snake teeth are sharp, these precautions can help avoid a bite from breaking the skin. 

If you’re hiking in areas that are known to have venomous snakes, consider investing in snake boots. Snake boots are knee-high boots made of materials that snake fangs can’t penetrate. However, just because a snake strikes at you, doesn’t mean it intends to bite. A “false strike” is a closed-mouth strike that intends to scare away a predator. If a venomous snake does bite, it might “dry bite,” which means it doesn’t inject any venom. 

How do you keep snakes away when camping?

Though frequently advertised, there are no effective snake repellants. But there are a few ways that you can encourage snakes to stay away from your camp. 

Store food in airtight containers or hard-walled coolers so you don’t lure mice and other rodents into your camp. If your camp attracts rodents, it will also attract snakes. Another way to keep snakes away is to ensure there is no clutter or places that snakes can hide within your camp. Pick up rock and branch piles, close your tent, and check for small nooks and crannies where snakes could hide. 

Can a snake bite you through a tent?

While snake fangs can technically pierce tent fabric, it’s extremely unlikely that a snake will bite through your tent. Snakes don’t use their fangs to tear through things like dogs or cats do; they only bite when capturing prey or as a defense measure. If you keep your tent closed, you’ll likely never come face to face with a snake when waking up in the morning. 

Rattlesnake poised to strike in a desert landscape
Photo: Shutterstock

Will a campfire keep snakes away?

Some people assume that snakes stay away because they inherently fear fire, though there isn’t really any evidence that this is the case. Many people believe that snakes avoid campfires because of the noise of humans that is usually associated with it. There’s also a belief that fire smoke can deter snakes because of their sensitive sense of smell. Either way, campfires can help keep snakes away and increase visibility at night, which will make you less likely to step on any snakes that may be around. 

Can snakes get in your camper?

Snakes are great at maneuvering into tight spaces and your RV is no different. The best way to keep snakes out is to seal up your RV as well as possible. Use sealing foam or silicone to seal any holes, cracks, or crevices in your camper. You also shouldn’t leave your RV open for long periods of time as snakes are agile climbers. These strategies are also effective at keeping mice out of your camper—and where there are mice, snakes will usually follow. 

What to do if you see a snake while hiking?

If you come across a snake while hiking, the safest thing to do is leave it alone. Back away slowly until there is ample space between you and the snake, and let it go about its business. If it’s blocking your path, move around it—but make sure to stay at least 4 to 6 feet away. 

What to do if you’re bitten by a snake while hiking alone?

If you’re bitten by a snake while hiking, try to identify it. If you know it’s venomous or are unsure of its identity, seek medical attention immediately. 

First, take a picture or try to remember what the snake looks like for identification purposes later. Next, remain calm to keep your heart rate down—keep the bite below the level of your heart, and sit or lie down—and call emergency services. If you don’t have cell phone service, make your way to someone who can help you, or to a location with service. When bitten, don’t apply a tourniquet, try to suck the venom from the wound, cut the wound, or apply ice. 

a dog get close to a small black snake
Photo: Shutterstock

How do you keep your pets safe from snakes while hiking?

If you’re camping or hiking with your pet in an area with snakes, you should take extra precautions. Georgina Ushi Phillips, DVM and advising veterinarian and writer for, recommends keeping your dog on a leash and staying on marked trails. Avoid thick brush or rocky areas where a snake might linger. Also, make sure your dog is comfortable with commands such as “come” and “leave it” so you can effectively communicate with it if you encounter a snake on the trail. If you live in, or frequently camp in, an area with venomous snakes, Phillips recommends practicing training with a fake snake or rattle. 

While not all snakes are venomous, a snake bite can still be dangerous to another animal as snakes can carry bacteria, according to Phillips. If your dog does get bitten by a snake, follow human safety protocols until you can get to veterinary care: Note what the snake looks like (but don’t put yourself at risk), position your dog so the bite is below its heart to slow down the spread of venom, and carry your dog and keep it calm so its heart rate stays low.

Dr. Brittany Wolfe, DVM, a veterinarian with HomeVets, advises washing a snake bite with water to help remove superficial venom. Even if you don’t see a wound, take your pet for evaluation, she says, as snake bites can be small and hard to see under dog fur. 

If you come across a wild snake and don’t know if it’s venomous, your best bet is to leave it alone. Don’t approach it and give the snake ample space and respect. If you leave it be, it won’t bother you. 

If you happen upon a snake and end up too close, keep an eye on it and back away slowly until you’re a safe distance away. You want to be at least 4 feet away to avoid a strike, but 10 to 15 feet will give the snake more space to get away. You can also take some precautions to avoid bites before you even leave your house, like wearing long pants and sturdy boots that cover your ankles. 

Snakes are amazing animals and you shouldn’t panic if you come across one on the trails, by your campsite, or even in your RV. With these tips, you can appreciate how amazing wild snakes are and still stay safe.