If you have never experienced a camping trip before, you’re in for a wonderful surprise. The idea of sleeping on the dirt doesn’t sound appealing at first glance. Luck for us, camping is so much more than that.
It’s time away from the city where you can sit down, decompress, and spend time with the people that you care about the most. For the uninitiated or first time campers, there is a fine line between having an awesome time and never wanting to go camping again.
To make sure that you have an awesome first experience we put together a list of 50 beginner camping tips to make your first trip smooth as silk. This list was put together through years of trial… And, a few choice words.
The Beginners Guide to Camping
Camping is a tremendous experience and your first trip can make or break your love for it. To get the most out of your first trip take all the information in that you can. This is not a hard set of rules, it’s more of a loose set of guidelines to make every maiden camping voyage a smashing success.
Planning your first trip
Prior to making a camping list and checking it twice, you want to start with a solid base of preparation and research.
1. Find a campsite close to home
Since we are assuming it’s your first camping trip, choose a spot that is close to home. If something goes wrong or for some strange reason you end up hating it you’re just a short drive from the comforts of home.
2. Choose an established campsite
Modern facilities are not available at every campsite. For your first trip, it’s nice to have a hot shower in the morning and general supply stores nearby in case you forget something (which even experienced campers do).
3. Camp during summer
No one can predict the weather with 100% accuracy. Camping in the summertime takes the least amount of gear and gives you the longest amount of daylight to enjoy the wild world around you.
4. Reserve a campground
Popular campsites fill up quickly. High season it is always harder to find a campsite. Be sure to book ahead of time to avoid showing up to find out you have to turn around.
5. Plan for one weekend
A weekend camping trip requires less gear, supplies, and planning in general. Your first trip, you aren’t going to be sure if you like camping. Keep it short and simple.
6. Spend a night in the backyard
If you are extremely unsure if camping is your jam, set up a tent in the backyard and spend a night sleeping on the ground. Camping isn’t for everyone and this saves you time and money, meanwhile, giving you a small taste of what camping is all about.
Improper planning leads to piss poor results… Or something like that. A little preparation goes a long way and will help you avoid those unexpected catastrophes.
7. Arrive early
Trying to put together a campsite during the daytime is hard enough. Setting up camp for the first time when it’s dark out makes it ten times worse. Arrive early and give yourself plenty of daylight to get everything situated and ease into the evening.
8. Rent camping equipment
This is a little trick that many people simply don’t know is an option. You can rent nearly all the equipment that you need at places like REI or other outdoor gear shops in your area. It will save you major dollars in the beginning while you’re figuring out if you’re going to commit to camping or not.
9. Stop by the dollar store
Finding good stuff at the dollar store is more like a scavenger hunt where everyone loses. That being said, head in and look for the plastic bins for storing first aid, cooking gear, and kitchen gear. Choose a different color bin for each container so you can easily distinguish them from one another.
10. Give the tent a dry run
If you haven’t used your tent before, it’s always a good idea to dig it out from the garage and give it a test run. Set it up in the backyard and make sure that you have all the parts and pieces necessary before you leave. There’s nothing worse than getting to camp only to find you forget the tent poles at home.
11. Pack clean water
This is especially important if you are heading to a place where water is a scarce commodity. However much water you think you need double it, within reason. Keep in mind water weight 7 pounds per gallon so it adds up quickly.
12. Pack the car accordingly
This one takes a little bit of practice, however, once you get the hang of it you won’t have it any other way. Pack the car so as you unload it you can set up the campsite as you go. It essentially eliminates one step in the process.
13. Utilize camping bins
Use the colored bins you got at the dollar store to organize your camping gear by pots and pans, bathroom, flashlights, spices, etc. This way you can grab the bins and toss them into the car without thinking twice about it.
14. Bring flip-flops for the campground showers
If you are using public showers this is very important. Foot fungus lives in on the floor of showers and flip-flops are the barrier between you and the nasty organisms that want to infect your beautiful feet.
15. Plan for cold weather
Bring cold weather gear so evenings by the campfire don’t get too cold. Pack hoodies, sweats, and rain gear for the unexpected turn of the weather. As they say, mother nature always wins.
You’ve arrived at the campsite and it’s time to get going. Setting up camp is a skill that is mastered over time through mistakes that we have all made. It’s not rocket science and like anything else practice makes perfect.
16. Know the burn laws
Burn laws vary from state to state and every summer there are certain times of the year where you cannot burn anything. Hop online or check with the local officials and verify if you have a fire.
17. Give each person a job
This is a great way to get everyone involved in sharing the setup. Be clear and give each person a task: Kitchen, tent, coolers, etc. Not only will it be less work for everyone, but the worst part of camping will also be over faster.
18. Educate everyone on Leave No Trace
The Leave No Trace guidelines are a set of rules based on conservation of the environment. They work to maintain the pristine beauty of the natural world all around us.
19. Use a bug screen
A major nuisance while camping is getting chewed alive by mosquitos. Bringing a bug screen to put around the kitchen table will keep most of the bugs at bay. Not all, but most.
20. Pack a place for toddlers
Some of the best times spent camping are with friends, family, and children. Safety is always paramount in any situation and packing a playpen for the kids is a good way to keep the young ones safe in their own place to hang out.
21. Give everyone space
The last thing you want is prying eyes while you sleep and do whatever else in your tent. In this era of the erosion of privacy, every little bit counts. Orient your tent door so you’re not facing your neighbors.
For your first camping trip you don’t need to have everything, however, there are a few things that you should not be overlooked.
22. Use a tent footprint
A footprint places underneath a tent serves a couple of purposes. It protects the bottom of the tent from inadvertent damage from rocks and debris. Also, it keeps ground moisture from seeping through and getting the tent wet.
23. Pick up a sleeping pad
A great way to add a little comfort while you sleep is using a sleeping pad underneath your sleeping bag. You can find a thin foam pad online or at most outdoor stores.
24. Bring ear plugs
Especially for the light sleepers in the household. Pack some generic earplugs for those unexpected noisy neighbors.
25. Consider using an air mattress
Packing an air mattress is the closest you can get to sleeping in your bed. They make all sizes that will accommodate nearly every size tent. Warning: use an air mattress once it’s hard to go back.
26. Electric air pump
This works for everything from the floaties to the air mattress. It will save you time and a handful of head rushes.
27. Astroturf as a doormat
Place a small cutout of astroturf in front of your tent as a place to keep shoes and other items that get dirty throughout the day. This will help to keep dust and dirt from getting inside the tent and act as a makeshift mudroom.
Campsite kitchens are a place of pride and joy for campers. For the beginner campers, the bare essentials will do the trick.
28. Plan your meals
Make a list of all the meals and snacks that you plan on eating throughout the day. Start with breakfast and dinner, then figure out what type of sandwiches and snacks you’re going to eat for lunch. It’s easy to overpack and you’ll end up wasting food.
29. Store perishable food in a cooler with ice
Coolers are the refrigerator of the campground. Store any food that may spoil inside and only open the cooler when absolutely necessary to preserve the ice from melting.
30. Get everyone involved
Get everyone’s input on what they would like to eat and who is going to prepare the meals. Camp cooking is a lot of fun and getting everyone involved makes it easier on you and gets everyone excited about cooking.
31. Prepare meals in advance
Cooking every single day while camping can feel like a burden at times. Prepare a few simple meals that are easy to reheat. It gives you a welcomed break from the dinner preparation ritual.
32. Pack paper utensils
Dishes are no fun no matter who you ask. Packing paper plates and utensils will cut the number of dishes for whoever has kitchen duty that evening.
33. Secure your food
Yogi Bear loves campsites and free food. Make sure that you secure your food in the evening and anytime you are away from the campsite for extended periods of time.
34. Clean as you go
Letting crap pile up adds up quickly. Leaving food scraps behind is an invitation for wild animals to treat themselves to the leftovers.
Expect to make some mistakes and discover new challenges. Cooking outdoors for every meal takes practice, but once you become accustomed to it, there’s nothing else like it.
35. Bring a stove
Depending on how serious you are about cooking, a two-burner stove is pretty standard for 4-6 people. You can still prepare nearly any meal and it’s much easier than using a single-burner stove. Single-burner stoves are ok for 1-2 people, but then your menu is limited.
36. Pack fuel for the stove
Most ranger stations and state parks will know where to refuel or buy fuel if you forget it at home. Keep in mind, these places often jack the prices up because they can. If you can, always bring fuel from home.
37. Pots and pans
You don’t need any special pots or pans. Whatever you have in the cupboards at home will do the trick. It’s a good idea to use older pans if you have them, that way if any damage occurs it won’t ruin your day.
38. Bring a dishwashing tub
There is usually running water at campgrounds but it’s not always close to your campsite. Bring a plastic tub to carry and wash the dishes in.
39. Try cooking over the campfire
Cooking over the campfire is a blast. You probably don’t want to use it for fancy meals, but for hot dogs and hamburgers… Absolutely.
Now that you have the campground put together it’s time to enjoy yourself. Kicking back and enjoying nature is a great way to pass time, but it’s a good idea to have a few other activities up your sleeve.
Cell phones and electronic devices have become the norm for everyone. Being in nature while constantly being distracted by social media takes away the enjoyment of nature around you. Leave the phones at home or in a safe place in case of emergency and enjoy the scenery.
41. Bring cars and board games
Board games and card games are a great way to enjoy yourself while socializing with the people around you. Pick your favorite game and get everyone involved.
42. Get to know your neighbors
Break the ice by offering them a drink or ask them if they’d like to join you for dinner. Getting to know your neighbors will make everyone feel more comfortable and they will be more understanding if there’s a noisy late night or noisy early morning.
43. Bring books or a kindle
Reading is awesome. If you’re not an avid reader finding time to enjoy a good story most likely doesn’t happen every day. Set aside some time in the afternoon or evening and get into that book you always wanted to start but never had the time to.
44. Take a hike
There will be a trail nearby and if not take some time and explore the area around you. Hiking has a number of health benefits and is a good way to disconnect and get in touch with yourself and nature.
45. Bring some music
If you’re close to your neighbors it’s a nice gesture to keep it down or ask if they mind if you play some music quietly. No neighbors… Then crank it up and get down.
There are always going to be unexpected hazards anywhere you go and camping is no different. If you take precautions and prepare as much as possible, the risks will be limited.
46. Pack a first aid kit
Whether you put together one yourself or buy one at the store, a first aid kit will help you treat minor injuries. Before you go, be sure to take a look inside and make sure that it contains everything it should.
47. Pour water on the fire
Unattended coals may appear to be completely extinguished, however, looks can be deceiving. Always pour water over the coals before you go to bed. The last thing you want to do is cause a forest fire.
48. Secure your food
Place your food in a metal airtight container. Bears can smell your food from miles away and love to get their paws dirty. It’s not only dangerous for the bear, but you are putting anyone you’re with at risk as well.
49. If you get lost, don’t move
This rule applies to all ages. If you end up getting lost and can’t find your way back don’t move. Our minds want us to keep walking, however, often times that makes things worse.
50. Familiarize yourself with anything poisonous
Understand that if there are any plants, spiders, or snakes that are poisonous. Knowing what they look like will help you avoid danger if you accidentally stumble across anything that can cause serious harm.
This list is long and in depth but there is no need to be overwhelmed. These are just a general set of guidelines that we have figured out by making a million mistakes so that you don’t have to. It is not meant to be a steadfast list that must be followed step by step.
The single most important thing for the beginning campers is having fun. Of course, there are going to be times when you’re frustrated and things just aren’t going right. Don’t let these moments ruin your trip, instead try and smile, crack a joke, and have a laugh about it.
Camping is a way of life and when done correctly we firmly believe that anyone can have a wonderful time. Keep calm and camp on.