Camping is one of the best ways to leave the stress of everyday life behind and enjoy the beauty of the outdoors. The fresh air, starry skies and campfire all allow for unique experiences that help refill our tanks. If you’re jonesing for some time outdoors, we’ve put together some tips to help you on your initial trips. Following these steps will ensure successful camping for beginners.
Car Camping doesn’t mean sleeping in your car (though this is an option). Car Camping simply camping somewhere you can drive to and unpack all of your gear. Car camping allows you to pack anything you might want to bring along without worrying about size and weight restrictions of what you bring.
Don’t overthink your first few camping trips. You don’t need to find nearby hikes to fill your day or catching your own fish for dinner. Ensure a successful and pleasant entrance into camping by focusing on the essentials and leaving plenty of time to simply enjoy the experience.
Don’t be overly ambitious on your first few trips. An overnight camping trip allows you to bring less, requires less planning, and has less to go wrong. Get the basics down for a single night before pushing things on a multi-day trip that requires a lot more preparation and planning.
Don’t be intimidated by all of the specialty camping gear available on the market. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to have a fun camping trip. You can bring a lot of necessary gear from your home to get you through your first few trips. When you decide to camp more frequently, then you can invest in gear.
The key to successful camping for beginners is proper planning. Once you’re comfortable sleeping in the outdoors, planning is less essential, but when just getting started with camping, it’s important to think through your trip beforehand.
Modern campgrounds are typically a mix of rustic and comfortable. Most campgrounds have toilets, potable water and garbage facilities on site. Campsites typically have a parking spot (or 2), a cleared and level area for you tent and a picnic table. Some campsites have a firepit ring.
The best campsites to choose when beginning camping are ones that are reservable online. Reserving your spot ahead of time will ensure that you have a site when you arrive. The website Recreation.gov has a searchable list of campgrounds in National Forests across the US and is a great spot to start your search. Campendium is another campsite resource we highly recommend. While primarily focused for RV campers, Campendium has campground reviews, cell service information, and camper-taken photos that can also help you find the perfect tent campsite. Popular campsites book quickly, so plan ahead to reserve your dates.
Most campgrounds have a number of campsites that aren’t reservable. These are first-come-first-serve campsites that can be claimed when you arrive. If you head out without a reservation, make sure to plan to be there early to have the best chance to get one of these spots. Don’t plan on arriving at 5pm on a Friday and being able to find a spot. Your best bet is to plan on arriving just before the “check-in” time to grab an open spot before the masses arrive.
Knowing what Mother Nature may throw at you while camping is important. Not having warm enough clothes during a chilly evening or having your single pair of shoes soaked by rain can ruin a camping trip quickly. Check the weather at your camping location when packing to make sure you have the right clothing. If rain is in the forecast, don’t necessarily cancel your trip – some of our most memorable outdoor experiences have been accompanied by the soothing sound of rain on our tent’s roof. On the other hand, if the forecasted low temperatures are cooler than expected or if extended rain is in the forecast, it may be a good idea to reschedule.
Temperatures also will have an effect on your outdoor activities. If it’s hot during the daytime, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of shade – either by trees at your campsite or provided by the gear you bring. If rain is in the forecast, make sure to plan indoor activities. Books and board games are great things to have on hand for rainy days spent inside your tent. When camping, it’s important to allow for weather to be a part of the experience. A rainy day is a great excuse the get that long nap you’ve been dreaming of taking or working through that book you wish you had more time to read.
Whatever the weather is, be sure to plan and pack accordingly. Bring an extra change of clothes in case you get wet. Pack layers of clothing. Remember that you can always remove layers as temperatures warm. For your first few camping trips, steer clear of nighttime temperatures lower than 40 degrees. You’ll most likely need specialized gear or a heat source to sleep comfortable in temperatures lower than 40.
Beyond watching the weather, it’s a good idea to think through your trip to make sure you have everything you need. If you plan on exploring the nearby area and plan to leave your campsite unattended, do you have a plan to secure your valuables? If you plan on fishing in a nearby creek, don’t forget to pack your rod, reel, bait. Do you have a valid fishing license? Looking forward to having s’mores around campfire at night, don’t forget to bring everything you’ll need to start the fire and the ingredients for the s’mores. Even the most experienced campers forget things from time to time, but walking through your trip outdoors will help you make decisions before you head out.
When packing for your first camping trip, don’t over pack – one of the joys of camping is the simplicity of it and lugging around extra gear isn’t fun. Bring what you’ll need, with backups of the essentials in case of rain. Like your mom suggested when spending the night at a friend’s house when you were a kid, an extra pair of socks and underwear is always a good idea. Pack warmer clothing that you think you’ll need. It’s easy to add and remove layers of clothing as the temperature changes, but it’s tough to do if your layers are at home. In the outdoors, evenings and early mornings can be chilly – it’s part of the charm of camping – so plan accordingly. If rain is in the forecast, a light rain jacket will do wonders to keep you dry.
You don’t have to go out and buy hiking boots to go camping. Honestly, for many hikes, you don’t need hiking boots. In most cases, simple tennis shoes will do fine for both camping and hiking. Since you’ll be treading in natural areas, open-toed shoes aren’t ideal. You can bring a pair of sandals if that’s your thing, but you’ll discover quickly that your feet will be filthy. In case your shoes get wet, it’s a good idea to have a second dry pair t put on. It’s not necessary, but if you have the room, bring them along.
If you’re camping for one night, toiletries will be minimal, but there are a few items you shouldn’t be without when camping for the first time. Make sure to bring your medications and personal hygiene items. You won’t need to worry about shower items as you most likely won’t have a shower at your campsite – you don’t need a shower anyway for one night away. Bring handsoap and a bottle of hand sanitizer is always good to have on hand in a pinch. A first-aid kit is helpful to have in case of injury, but you can also just bring a few bandaids and medication from home. I always bring along some sort of pain reliever when I camp and recommend bringing a small bottle to fight off a headache, stiff back, or sole muscles. Don’t forget sunscreen and bugspray – you may not need them, but you’ll be glad you packed them in case you do. A towel to dry your hands and a roll of toilet paper in case the campsite bathroom runs out are also a good idea.
With a little advanced preparation, camping meals can be a highlight of the experience. Regardless of how you approach cooking while camping, it’s important to plan out your meals before you leave for the trip. Meals with simple ingredients and simple preparation are best, but that doesn’t mean your camping meals have to be bland or boring.
I’d caution against being overly ambitious on your meal planning for your first few trips. Scratch plans to cook over an open fire. Weather conditions and fire restrictions may leave you hungry if you don’t have another way to cook your food. It’s better to plan meals that can be cooked over a small camp stove. Plan meals that will be easily to cook and pull off while outdoors with minimal effort. Hamburgers, bratwurst, or even chicken breasts marinated at home are great lunch or dinner options.
Breakfast is typically the meal my family looks most forward to while camping. There’s nothing better than some eggs, country potatoes, and bacon – all cooked in the same pan after a night of deep sleep under the stars. Pancakes are another campground favorite. A “just-add-water” pancake mix makes the process easy with minimal utensils needed.
Lunch is the easiest meal to keep it super simple. Sandwiches are a great option here to keep the stress low, but any dinner meal can also be subbed in for a lunch.
Basic is best in the spice & seasoning department. Salt and pepper are must-brings, but packing your favorite all-around seasoning is a good idea as well to give your meals an extra kick of flavor.
Don’t forget the coffee or tea. If you have a stovetop kettle and have room in the car, bring it along. If not, you can heat water in a pot on the stove to use for your coffee or tea. When camping, I make my coffee using a stovetop espresso maker (moka pot), but a percolator will do the trick as well.
Whether you grab dinner on the road on the way to your campground or cook a 5-course dinner at your campsite, thinking through each meal ahead of time will help you shop and pack appropriately. And don’t forget the details to make sure you bring everything you need along on the trip.
Campsites are built to help campers get into nature. They are primitive with only basic facilities (water, bathrooms, trashcans), so keep that in mind when packing your gear. Camping is all about getting away from the complexity and stress of everyday life in the city, so embrace the environment you’re headed into. Pack what you need, leave behind what you don’t.
A typical campsite will have an area for your tent, a table, a parking lot, and (possibly) a campfire ring. Bathrooms and water sources will be a short walk away. The benefit of car camping is that you can bring as much gear as you can fit in your vehicle – and can leave it in your car if you don’t need it.
Camping gear can be expensive. Don’t be intimidated by the high cost of some camping gear or discouraged by the wide variety of specialized gear that you don’t have. Ask friends, family, or a neighbor to borrow the essentials before investing in the gear yourself. Whether you purchase the essentials or borrow them, here is a list of the gear you’ll need for a successful camping trip.
Don’t forget pillows. The most forgotten item when my family goes camping are pillows. Having a pillow while camping can make all the difference in the world – don’t forget yours.
Google camping recipes. If you want to put some extra culinary effort into your camping experience, you’ll find some pretty creative camping meal recipes online. These 27 Easy Camping Meals to Make Camp Cooking a Breeze from Fresh off the Grid is a good place to start.
Bring along a power bank. While the point of camping is to get away from technology, its wise to keep your phone close by and charged in case of emergencies. Having a power bank on your trip will ensure you can keep your phone charged the whole time.
A hammock is a wonderful thing. Stretched between two trees at your campsite – laying in a hammock is the perfect way to read a book or to take an afternoon nap. If you decide to pick one up, try ti find one with tree straps included, like this one.
Camping is an awesome outdoor activity. It can help to reduce stress, improve mental health and connect us more deeply with nature. If you haven’t been camping before, don’t be intimidated or discouraged by your lack of experiences. Following the tips in this article will get you well on your way toward a successful outdoor experience. With proper planning and preparation, camping can be done easily and inexpensively. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and give it a shot. You may find yourself fall in love with the fresh air, quiet spaces, and freedom from everyday life.