Is It Safe To Camp Under a Tree? (& What To Watch Out For)

Camping under a tree doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, right?

The shade it provides seems like a brilliant solution to avoiding the unbearable heat on a summer morning. It’s a problem that every camper who likes to sleep in struggles with.

But here’s the problem: branches and trees can collapse at any time without warning.

Although it’s an extremely small risk, it has happened to people before so there’s no reason it couldn’t happen to you.

You could argue that the shade is worth the risk, but what if I told you that camping under a tree annoys you more than it benefits you?

In this post, we’ll look at the disadvantages and dangers of camping under a tree. By the end, you’ll understand why camping under a tree should be avoided unless you have no other option.

As for the short answer to the question “is it safe to camp under a tree?”, see the next paragraph:

Camping under a tree carries a risk, but it’s an extremely small one and in some areas unavoidable. However, the risk increases if you camp in stormy weather, under a dead/rotting tree or under certain types of trees.

Let’s have a more detailed look, starting with how to recognize dangerous trees.

Falling Branches And Trees

Sometimes you’re forced to set up your tent under a tree, but it’s your job to choose the tree with the least risk.

So how do you do that?

If possible, avoid trees with Sudden Branch Drop Syndrome.

There are a few trees you better not camp under unless you have no other choice. The trees listed below are more likely to suffer from Sudden Branch Drop Syndrome (SBDS), a mysterious condition where a perfectly healthy tree sheds its branches without warning.

  • Oak
  • Beech
  • Elm
  • Cottonwoods
  • Eucalyptus (also known as gum trees)
  • Sycamore
Bark of an Eucalyptus tree

No one really knows the cause of this Syndrome. Some experts claim it’s triggered by high humidity in the tree, others think it’s caused by bacteria.

Since the cause is a mystery, it’s not easy to identify these trees.

However, one clue is discoloration or dark spots where water might seep out of the tree. These branches won’t necessarily fall off, but they do pose a greater risk and it’s best not to camp under them.

It’s worth noting that even if a tree doesn’t show dark spots, it may be suffering from SBDS and shed branches unannounced.

A tree experiencing Sudden Branch Drop Syndrome

Avoid widowmakers

Widowmakers are dead branches that have fallen off but are still entangled in the tree. They can also be dead trees that have fallen down but are now leaning against a live tree.

Obviously, you don’t want to camp under these types of trees because a little wind or rain can loosen these branches/trees and send them your way.

A widowmaker tree
A widowmaker (image by Jerry Friedman)

Avoid trees that show these signs

Aside from widowers and SBDS trees, there are a few other signs that may indicate a weak tree that is more likely to fall over.

  • Dead branches (on the tree or on the ground under the tree)
  • Broken branches
  • Huge trees (more surface area means more chance of falling over)
  • Lonely trees (they’re exposed to the wind and more likely to be knocked over)
  • Cracks and splits in the trunk of the tree
Cracks and splits show weakness
  • Premature shedding of leaves and fewer leaves than usual
  • Branches that are dying back at the tips
  • Cracked or raised soil where the trunk meets the ground (could indicate root rot and dead wood)
  • Fungus growing on or near the tree’s roots or trunk (could indicate root or trunk rot)
Fungus is a strong indicator of root or trunk rot
  • Deep cavities (openings and holes) near the base of the tree
Avoid trees with holes near the ground
  • Coarse or fine sawdust at the base of the tree (indicates the presence of either carpenter ants, which nest only in dead wood, or borers, which weaken and usually kill the tree)
  • Animal holes near the trunk can indicate extensive decay
  • Missing bark could indicate a dead section, infection or fungus attack
missing bark on a tree
Missing bark could indicate rot, infection or fungus attack
  • Trees with two or more trunks that show a tight “V” shape (wider, “U” shapes are stronger and not a threat)
“V” shape on the left, “U” shape on the right

It’s especially important not to camp under these trees when it is stormy and raining. These trees usually pose no risk in normal weather conditions, but for your own peace of mind, it’s best to avoid them when you can.

Now that you know how to identify a relatively safe tree to camp under, let’s move on to the dangers of lightning.

Should You Worry About Lightning?

Nature is lazy. It will always choose the path that requires the least energy.

And lightning is no exception. Electricity seeks the path of least resistance, and a tree is the fastest way to earth.

So it’s obvious that it’s safest to avoid camping under trees when it’s storming, thundering or lightning.

It’s worth noting that more trees means less risk. The lightning has more trees to choose from, so it’s less likely to choose the tree under which you’re camping.

Therefore, you should only worry if it’s lightning and you’re camping under one of the few trees in the area.

tree hit by lightning
You wouldn’t want to have camped under this tree when it was struck by lightning

Lethal Amount of Carbon Dioxide Released By Trees—Myth Or Fact?

The video below claims that sleeping under trees is unhealthy because they release a dangerous amount of carbon dioxide at night. “You may feel suffocated from lack of oxygen,” the video says.

But this makes no sense at all.

Think about it.

First of all, the video makes a claim without showing any evidence. This wouldn’t be a problem if the evidence could be easily found online, but it’s not.

Second, I’ve slept under a tree more times than I can count. Not once have I felt suffocated.

And third, humans have lived in forests for thousands of years, birds and monkeys sleep in trees and foxes dig holes to live under the roots of trees.

Not to mention, the carbon dioxide released by trees is immediately mixed with oxygen.

I can’t say for sure, of course, because I’m not a scientist, but I found at least two sources (1 and 2) that give us a more credible answer that, unlike the video, is actually based on science. In fact, I couldn’t find one credible source that supported the claim of this video.

My instinct and the credible part of the internet tell me that this is a myth.

Let’s not waste any more time on this false fact and move on to the next part of this article:

The Cons of Sleeping Under a Tree

Besides the dangers, sleeping under a tree can annoy you in many ways:

  • Bird poop: This doesn’t need much explanation. Birds are fun to observe from a distance, but like humans, they eat and poop when necessary. So maybe don’t pitch your tent under a tree that attracts a lot of birds.
  • Tree sap: Some trees, like maple and pine, produce more sap than others. It can drip onto your tent, which is unfortunate because it’s not so easy to remove.
  • Dripping leaves: It’s true that trees provide some sort of coverage for rain, but keep in mind that leaves continue to drip long after it stops raining.
  • Bugs and insects everywhere: I consider myself bug-resistant, but get a whole bunch of them in one place and I’m out of there. Well, bugs are always more likely to gather around trees, but some trees attract more of them than others. I’ve heard stories about people who were literally swarmed with bugs and critters while camping under a tree.
  • Tree pollen and other debris: Some trees produce pollen that can give off a color, usually yellow, brown or white. Be prepared to see color changes in your tent even after you wipe them down. Fortunately, this is only a problem during the spring months.
  • Lots of noise: Trees can make a lot of noise when it’s windy or raining. They can also attract owls and other night birds that could keep you up all night.
tree pollen
It’s not advised to camp under a tree that produces pollen

Final Words

So in conclusion, it’s better not to camp under a tree unless you really have to. There’s no need to take unnecessary risks, especially since camping under a tree has more disadvantages than benefits. This means that even if it were perfectly safe, it would still be a bad idea.

I hope this article has answered all your questions. You can always contact me if you need help with anything.

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