This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read my full disclaimer for more information.
Camping for Beginners
Are you thinking about going on your first camping trip, but not sure where to start, what you’ll need, or what to expect? Well you’ve come to the perfect place! Today I’m going to share all of my tips for beginner campers. I’ll share my favorite meals, all of my favorite gear, and step by step tips for planning your first camping trip.
BEFORE YOU GO
Invest in Basic Camping Gear
The first thing you’ll need to do is invest in some good camping gear. If you’re not 100% committed to becoming a camper, then I recommend borrowing some camping gear from a friend for a “test run”. You can also buy used camping gear from people who thought they’d become campers but then chickened out (that’s how we got our $5 tent). Check out my recommended camping essentials for more detailed information on what you’ll need for your first trip.
Practice Using Your Camping Gear at Home
Once you have all of your gear, you’re going to need to practice setting up and using your gear at home. Make some space in your garage and practice setting up and taking down your tent. If you’re not sure how to set up your tent or use any of your other gear, then check out youtube tutorials for assistance. The last thing you want to do is try to figure out your camping gear when you don’t have the time or resources to learn. Take the time beforehand and practice using everything.
Waterproof Your Tent
Waterproofing your tent is super important because dew and rain can seep into your tent (even if your tent claims to be waterproof). To waterproof your tent, you’ll need to apply a seam sealer to all of the exterior seams on the tent. Then you’ll need to spray the remaining fabric (rainguard included) with Scotchguard Water Shield. Let the seam sealer and the Scotchguard dry for at least 24 hours before packing your tent back up.
Once you have your gear, start researching campgrounds in your area. You can start with a basic google search and see what pops up or check out my favorite camping apps. I would recommend staying in a state, city, or national park for your first camping trip. They tend to have more options for activities, better amenities, and better prices. Once you’ve found a park you’d like to visit, check the list of amenities available. I would recommend camping with water and electricity for your first trip. Also having a public restroom available is a big bonus in my book.
Stay Close to Home
Try not to go too far away from home for your first camping trip. You should try to stay within an hour or two from home when you’re first starting off. If things don’t work out or if the weather gets bad, then you can always return home.
Keep it Short
Your first camping trip should be pretty short, 1-2 nights max. Remember your first camping trip is a test run, where you officially try all of your gear and learn from some of your mistakes.
Select A Good Campsite
Once you’ve decided on where you want to camp, then you have to select your campsite. I prefer campsites that have privacy, shade, and are somewhat close to a bathroom. I don’t want to be right next to the bathroom because those sites are typically louder with people coming and going. Privacy is the biggest thing for me when picking a campsite. I want it to be quiet and peaceful, if I wanted to hear a bunch of people then I’d camp in my front yard. To find the best sites, I look at the park map and check google earth. It’s not an exact science but so far it’s worked out pretty well for us.
Make Reservations Early
Campsites get booked up pretty quickly now that everything can be done online. The best sites will go first and then come the leftovers. Sometimes I want the best site and I’ll plan 6 months in advance, other times I really don’t care and just take the last spots available. Either way I have to make reservations early or get put on a waitlist.
Use a Checklist to Pack
We used to just pack up our car to head out for a weekend trip and we always forgot something! We would forget matches and end up spending an hour driving into town for matches that cost $20 (ok maybe not $20 but still more than what we would’ve paid at home). A few months ago we started using a camping checklist and it’s so much easier. We haven’t forgotten anything in our recent trips and it helps me relax. I don’t have that “I think we forgot something” feeling. Check out my camping checklist here, it’s a free download for you.
Create and Organize Camping Bins
We place all of our camping gear in storage bins. We have one bin for sleeping gear, one bin for cooking gear, and another bin for general camping supplies. Camping bins make it super easy for you to pack up and head out on the road. Camping bins also easier to find things once you’re at your campsite.
Pack Plenty of Water
Not only will you need water to drink, but you’ll also need water to wash your hands, brush your teeth, wash your dishes, wash your cooking utensils, and to cook your meals. Lots and lots of water! You can invest in a camping water jug or just buy a few gallons of water at the store. Don’t forget to read about the amenities at your campsite because not all campsites provide water. We’ve been to state parks that don’t have any running water in the entire park, so do your research and go prepared.
If you have the space in your vehicle, then I recommend packing some firewood. We don’t always have space so sometimes we have to buy firewood when we arrive at the campground. The only problem we’ve had with buying firewood is that it’s not always the best wood to burn. We’ve had wood that burns in 10 minutes and then we’ve literally had wood that won’t burn at all. It’s frustrating so if you have space I recommend packing your own firewood. If you don’t have space, then buy some when you arrive and hope for the best.
Pack Extra Clothes
Camping is about enjoying mother nature and the great outdoors. Since you’ll be spending so much time outdoors, be sure to pack plenty of clothes. You’ll want to layer and be prepared for colder temperatures (there’s no escaping the cold). Also be prepared for your clothes to get dirty and sweaty, bring some extra clothes to change into.
Plan Your Meals in Advance
Keep your meals simple when you’re first starting off. Some easy breakfast items include omelet in a bag, yogurt, and pre-made baked goods (muffins, banana bread, donuts, etc). For lunches we typically eat sandwiches, trail mix, jerky, and fruit. We like to keep our lunches easy to pack up for a hike. Dinners are typically our biggest meal of the day. Don’t try anything new, just keep it simple. Some burgers and brats after a long day of hiking are a great treat! Don’t forget the condiments and grilling supplies (and make sure your campsite has a grill). We always carry Mountain House Camping Food as a back up meal. Sometimes we don’t have time to meal prep so we just eat the mountain house meals. The lasagna and the beef stroganoff are the best!
Pack Up Your Cooler
The day before your camping trip, rearrange your refrigerator so that all of your camping meals are in one location. We place everything in grocery bags in the refrigerator so we know that we aren’t forgetting anything when we pack the cooler the next day. Also try not to break up your ice as you put it in the cooler. Ice will last longer if it’s in a big chunk instead of tiny pieces. We recently starting using the Hello Fresh ice packs for our cooler, they work like a charm!
Print Campground Map
Print the park and campground map before you leave. We’ve arrived at campsites late at night and it can be really hard to find your site if you don’t know where you’re going.
Check the Weather
Keep an eye on the weather reports. There’s nothing wrong with cancelling a trip if the weather isn’t going to cooperate. Storms bring rain, wind, and falling trees. Don’t risk it! Also camping in the extreme cold or heat just isn’t enjoyable. Make sure the weather is nice so you can enjoy your first camping trip.
SETTING UP CAMP
Give yourself plenty of time to find your campsite and set everything up. It’s hard to set up a tent at night, especially after a long day at work. Don’t rush yourself and make sure there’s enough time for you to set up camp and make dinner.
Place Your Tent on Level Ground
Walk around your campsite and find level ground for your tent. Normally you’ll be able to see where others have placed their tent or there might even be a cement pad for your tent. Once you’ve found a good spot, remove all of the rocks and sticks in the area. A rock under your tent can pierce your tent fabric, so remove as many rocks as possible.
Place a Tarp Under Your Tent
Avoid Tripping on Tent Stakes
Tent stakes are the worst. They’re impossible to see in the dark, making them super easy to trip on. There are several solutions to avoid tripping on tent stakes. You can put neon ducktape around the lines and stakes making them easier to see at night. You can also wrap glow sticks around the stakes or attach them to the lines using a clothespin. Another solution is to invest in some stakelights, which will also help you find your tent at night. The last option is to learn life the hard way, trip over the stakes a few times and you won’t forget them again.
Set Up Lighting
Before it gets dark, set up your lighting. I love putting up string lights around our campsite. I literally just pack some of our Christmas lights and hang them up, cheap and easy to roll up at the end of the trip. If you don’t have electricity at your site, then check out these solar powered lights.
Know Your Surroundings
If there’s a restroom or camp store close to your campsite, find it before it gets dark. Take a walk around the area to see what other attractions and amenities are close by. You never know you might find a nice pier for fishing or a playground for the kids close to your campsite.
Start a Fire
First, you’ll need to check the campground to see if there is a burn ban in effect. Most parks will have a sign as you’re entering the park or they’ll post the info on their website. If you’re new to starting a campfire, watch some videos before you go and practice if you can. To start a good campfire you can use lighter fluid, a toilet paper roll stuffed with dryer lint, a cotton ball coated in petroleum jelly, a few paper towels wrapped together and then dipped in vegetable oil, or you can purchase a fire starter log.
As you’re unpacking, be cautious of leaving your food out for the animals. We typically leave our food in the car, unless it’s time to eat.
Hang Trash Bag
Don’t ever leave any trash or anything on the ground. Hanging your trash protects it from critters and keeps your campsite clean.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE
Play By the Rules
Observe the quiet hours and follow all of the campground rules. No one likes to hear a bunch of loud teenagers in the middle of the night. Respect others and respect mother nature.
Enjoy some hiking, kayaking, biking, and swimming on your exciting camping trip. We always try to do a few things outdoors and then a few things to just relax. At the end of a long day, we normally try to play a board game or read a good book to unwind. You can also bring a projector, dvd player, and hang a sheet for an outdoor movie night!
Leave No Trace
Clean up all of your trash and try to clean up some items that may have been left behind by others.
Check the campground map for the dumpsters and drop all of your trash off before heading home. Be sure to close the lid so the animals can’t get into the dumpsters.
As you’re packing up, try to keep everything organized. Place your items in the appropriate bins so it’s easier to find for your next camping trip.
Make a List
At the end of every camping trip, we reflect on our gear and make a list of items we need to replace or invest in. Try to order any gear you need now before you forget. Example, if you used all of your foil then buy more foil for your next trip. This will help you prepare for future trips.
Document Your Trip
Start a journal, folder, blog, or whatever to document your camping trips. Keep a list of places you’d like to return to or recommend to others.
I hope this helps you prepare for your first camping trip! If you have any questions along the way feel free to reach out, I’m always here to help!