Walking, riding a bike, learning to drive, the list goes on and on. Everyone is a beginner at everything they attempt to accomplish at some point in their lives. Your first trip camping is both exciting and overwhelming and we’re going to help you with what to avoid to have the best time.
There’s a right and a wrong way to do everything and after camping for 20+ years I would like to think that I made have made them all. That couldn’t be further from the truth, every trip I make a mistake and 75% of the time I learn from that mistake. The trick is not making the big ones, the mistakes that leave you questioning whether or not you’ll ever camp again.
Camping mistakes can’t all be avoided and we’re not here to pitch you the perfect camping trip. What we are here to do is help you avoid the most common mistakes that we make and have made to make your trip just a little easier.
39 Beginner camping mistakes
This list isn’t going to be perfect and chances are you’ll screw up somewhere, we always do. Camping isn’t as much about the gear you bring and the exact location you set up. It’s about the experience and enjoying time together with people that you otherwise don’t get to spend a lot of time with.
Mistakes to avoid before you leave
Camping involves planning and preparation, and there’s always a chance you forget something. In fact, there’s probably something we forgot to add to this list. We have tris to put together the big stuff and the little stuff to remember before you take off.
1. Mistake number one, not making mistakes
The best way I learn is from screwing something up and then knowing to not make that mistake again. Getting upset when you make a mistake rather than laughing it off and learning from it isn’t going to get you anywhere. Live and learn.
2. Not checking the weather report
This one is huge and can make or break a trip and has ended many trips prematurely. The weather is going to dictate the type of gear you need to bring camping. Pack your gear for the season and expected weather, always be prepared for the worst possible conditions.
3. Arriving late in the day or night
Setting up camp in the dark after a long drive is not awesome at all. You want to get a jumpstart on your day and arrive as early as possible. You’ll beat the crowds to the campsite and have the ideal conditions when you set up.
4. Packing too much
The first time you go on a camping trip, for whatever reason, packing more than you will ever is super easy to do. A good rule of thumb for any trip is to pack your bags, and then cut it in half or at least by 25% if you’re uncomfortable with half.
5. Not checking out the location
Oopsies… We found an awesome campsite and then showed up only to find out that it’s completely full. Take a little time beforehand and make sure you make any necessary preparations to avoid getting spun at the gate.
6. Failing to plan your meals
It’s easy to overpack your food just like your gear. Out in the woods, the middle of the day is meant for exploration and a quick snack. Get together with your camping crew and organize a meal plan for breakfast and dinner beforehand.
7. Not having enough water
It may not be your beverage of choice, however, it is the beverage of life. Bring lots of water in large jugs that everyone can share. If you can find it where you are going you don’t need to worry as much, however, it’s always good to bring some water.
8. Forgetting toilet paper
Using your hand is the norm in a few cultures, not ours. Forgetting toilet paper and being forced to figure out a way to use water out of a bottle and a sock to clean up is less than ideal. Remember to bring toilet paper and never rely on the campsite to provide it.
9. Use the times three rule for firewood
However much firewood you think that you need, triple it. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of firewood that you’re going to need. The more the better and trying to buy it at the campsite they price gouge the shit outta you.
10. Wearing cotton in winter
We have covered this more than a few times on this site. Cotton is the absolute worst material to wear, cotton absorbs 27 times its weight in water. Avoid wearing it at all costs, especially in the winter.
11. Not checking the pet policies
Dogs are the best in our humble opinion. Unfortunately, dogs aren’t welcome at every campsite or national park. Before leaving verify that your dog is invited, turning around a trying to find a campsite on the fly because a no dog policy is the worst.
12. Leaving your rainfly behind
We live in the Pacific Northwest and to say it rains a lot would be an understatement. One year, camping in August I figured why even bother with the rainfly. Yep, it rained and I ended up wet and miserable, be smarter than me and don’t forget the rainfly.
13. Running out of coffee
Camp coffee in the morning is one of life’s greatest joys. Not bringing enough is grounds for termination and possibly execution.
14. Who drank the last beer?
Water is great and all, but don’t forget to bring an ample amount of your beverage of choice (beer). It’s a real bummer when you run out of soda, juice, beer or whatever you prefer besides water. Save water, drink beer.
15. Leaving the flashlight at home
Waking up in the middle of the night you are drowsy is disorienting, now imagine trying to find your way to the bathroom in the dark while drowsy in unfamiliar territory. This story ends with a wet leg or worse.
16. Not enough batteries
Chances are the flashlight that you use for camping gets used maybe a few times a year. The only thing more frustrating than not having a flashlight is having a flashlight with dead batteries. Always bring extra batteries.
17. Not giving your tent a dry run
Tent set up can be a 5-minute ordeal or can turn into grounds for divorce. If you have a tent that your not familiar with spend an evening after work and learn how to set it up. Set up can get ugly quick when a new tent is involved.
18. Not sharing you’re location
If you have ever seen the movie 127 hours you know exactly what we’re talking about, and yes it is based on a true story. Aron Ralston had to cut his arm off to survive, nobody wants to do that. Let people know where you’re going so in the off chance that something horrible happens, you won’t have to chop off an arm.
19. Not packing a repair kit
Shit happens. You never know when something is going to break or stop working when you’re camping. While you may not know how to fix everything, having the means to at least make an attempt will go a long way. Plus, these days you can find out anything on Youtube.
20. Not packing a groundsheet
It can be a piece of cloth cut specifically for your tent or a tarp that you throw underneath. Some sort of protection on the underside of your tent has dual purposes. It will protect your tent from moisture as well as protect your tent from damage.
21. Packing the wrong tent
If you are cold weather camping then a 3-season tent is essentially worthless. Bring a tent that is rated for the weather conditions at hand. In the winter a 4-season tent is a must and any other time of the year a 3-season will be fine.
Mistakes to avoid when you’re camping
The best camping trips are often a comedy of errors. The best advice we can give you is to not let a mistake ruin your trip or turn into a divorce-making, friendship-ruining argument. Laugh it off and have a funny story to tell, and remember that mistakes are how we learn.
22. Not following the leave no trace principles
The Leave No Trace principles were put in place to promote conservation and preservation of our natural playground. Stick to these principles to the best of your ability every time you go camping.
23. Setting up camp after dark
Setting up camp is difficult enough without adding little to no light to the equation. Try and arrive earlier in the day, not only will it be easier to set up you have more time to enjoy yourself.
24. Not having a backup
Batteries, tarps, stakes, and medicine are a few of the things that are difficult to replace. Forgetting any of these can make a bad situation much worse. Bring backups to these four pieces of gear to reduce the heartache of running out.
25. Showing up without a reservation
Especially in high season, this is a big no-no. The most popular campsites are often booked months in advance, so if you want a good campsite and want avoid not having one at all, book in advance.
26. Keeping a messy campsite
You’re inviting every creature to a feast on your behalf and they aren’t polite about it. Having a clean and organized campsite makes everything easier to find and minimizes the chances of unwanted guests. If you have neighbors they’ll appreciate it too, no one wants a junkyard next door.
27. Arriving at the hottest time of day
You don’t want to set up in the dark and you want to avoid setting up during the hottest part of the day in the summertime. If there’s one thing that is worse than setting up at night, it’s setting up during the hottest part of the day. The early bird gets the worm, or in our case, the most enjoyable campsite setup.
28. Not taking notes
Whether it’s a piece of paper and a pen or you use a note taking app on your phone. Each time you remember something that you forgot or make a mistake that you don’t want to make again take a note of it. It sounds super anal, however, after a few trips you’re going to have a personalized list.
29. Not using your bug spray
Since you’re paying attention to this list you remembered bug spray, next step is using it. No matter where you’re camping mosquitos suck. Remember to apply the bug spray and apply it liberally, all day and all night.
30. Forgetting to cover your firewood
Ok, so you looked at your firewood and followed the three times rule. Then you left it out uncovered and an unexpected rainfall hit and you’re screwed. Always cover your firewood with a tarp and try and find a place that also has a little natural coverage.
31. Not putting your food away
You are in the wild, after all, leaving out old food is an invitation for every creature that calls that place home to a feast. Make sure bring put all your food away as soon as you are done with it in airtight containers to keep away wildlings.
32. Not having enough layers
It can get cold in the evening and it’s always good to pack layers. Have enough clothing to keep you warm at night if you expect it to get cold in the evening. I know we said to cut everything in half earlier and we’re sticking by that, just make sure you have layers.
33. Not keeping your tent clean
It’s amazing how much dirt and other crap can find its way inside of your tent. All those little parts and pieces will not only annoy you they can also poke little holes and tears on the inside of your tent.
34. Not knowing how to make a fire
Throwing a match at a pile of logs isn’t going to start any fires. Learn how to build a fire, or bring a lot of lighter fluid. Either way, just make sure you have some way of starting a fire.
35. Not having cash
While it may seem like the last thing that you need to remember, it’s always good to have a little tucked away for an emergency. You never know what’s going to happen.
Mistakes to avoid when you leaving
You’re all finished with the weekend and now it’s time to head home, mistakes can still be made. There are a few things to avoid when packing up and heading home
36. Not throwing your shit away
Nobody wants to clean up after you, and you don’t want to clean up after anyone else. Leave the campsite the way you found it, assuming you found it clean.
37. Leaving old food behind
If you do have some food left try and give it to your neighbors, nobody can say no to a free package of bacon. Just don’t leave any food out, it goes back to putting your food away for the simple fact that all animals love free food.
38. Putting your tent away wet
It’s easy when you get home to just throw everything into a pile and leave it until the next trip. Mold and mildew can easily form when fabric and camping gear is put away wet and will ruin your gear.
39. Not having fun
Camping is about having fun and the biggest mistake that you can make is not enjoying yourself even when things go wrong. Have a fun and remember all you can do is smile.
The best camping trips are full of unexpected occurrences and that’s the beauty of it. The most important part of making a mistake camping is learning from it so that it doesn’t happen again. No trip is ever going to mistake free nor should it be.
You’re there to have a good time and learn something new. If you’re not learning and growing then what’s the point. Enjoy yourself, and remember to keep calm and camp on.