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How to Avoid Poison Ivy & Poison Oak While Camping

Learn how to avoid poison ivy and poison oak from Heather Menicucci, author of Let's Get Primitive, in this Howcast video.


I think the thing that's so scary about poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac is that when you get it, when you brush up against it, you didn't see it coming. That's sort of what scares people the most. You go into the woods and there's green everywhere, and it seems like it's lurking around and hiding, and I think that's what makes people the most scared. As much as you know the basic rules: leaves of three, let it be, waxy leaves, red stem, it can be really hard to spot. Also, in certain seasons, poison ivy and poison oak can have berries. There are certain berries; white berries, yellow berries. Keep in mind, leaves of three, red stem, waxy leaves; all that is stuff you should stay away from. It's possible that you could brush up against it unknowingly; it's really common. If that does happen, there are a couple of things you should do. First, wash the area where you're starting to get the rash. You can use cold water or you can use alcohol swabs. That's another reason why I like alcohol swabs in my first aid kit. If it brushed up against your clothes and all, you want to take your clothes and bag them up, and you don't want to touch those clothes again. The oil from the plant can get all over everything, so it's not just on your skin, it's on anything you were wearing when you came into contact with it. A run-in with poison ivy can be minor, not a big deal, a slight rash. Or it can be major. If you were to grab poison ivy and put it in the fire, all of that stuff is being released into the air and you can actually get the rash on your esophagus, down your throat.

So, it really depends, if it's a minor run-in with poison ivy, I say deal with it, keep camping, wash the area. Maybe if you've got some cortisone or calamine lotion in your first aid kit, you can stop the itching.

If it's a major run-in, if you're covered in poison ivy rash, if you manage to inhale poison ivy because you've burnt it in the fire, I would say pack up and get to the doctor. But, for the most part, obey the basic rules of poison ivy. Like I said before, leaves of three, waxy leaves, red stem. Avoid trouncing around on plants, and you'll probably be okay and it won't be too serious. If you do have a major run-in with poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, I say pack up and head to the doctor.

There are also a lot of home remedies for rashes from poison ivy. Something called jewel weed can be used; you can mash it up into a paste with water and rub that on the affected area. The thing about that is you have to be really good at identifying poison ivy to avoid coming into contact with it. Then, on the flip side, if you do come into contact with it, you have to be really good at being able to identify jewel weed. So, it's a little bit mysterious, especially for beginning campers. I would just say you want to judge how severe your run-in is and go from there.

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