10 Mistakes New Campers Make (And How to Avoid Them)

beginner camping mistakes

Each year, more and more families are taking their first camping trips. And each year, more and more families are making their first camping mistakes!

We’ve all been new at something before—but mistakes made while camping can make a fun trip into a miserable one… and fast.

Whether you’re totally new to camping or have taken a few trips of your own, read these top mistakes that new campers so you can avoid them on your next venture outdoors… we saved the best for last!

1. Not Testing New Gear

There are few things worse than arriving to your campsite to set everything up, only to realize you have no idea how to do it.

When you purchase any new camping equipment, no matter what it is, test it out beforehand!

Have a mock camping trip in your backyard. Set up that new tent, tear it down, test out your camp stove and figure out how that new light works.

It’s better to know how everything works ahead of time so that you won’t be unprepared for any necessary adjustments at the campsite.

2. Arriving Too Late

One of the most common mistakes with new campers is arriving to the campsite too late.

It is incredibly difficult to set up camp in the dark, especially when you’re new! Also, it’s almost impossible to pick out a good spot in the dark, there are many things you’ll overlook that you’d notice readily in the daylight.

Plan to arrive on site early in the day so that you can pick out the best campsite and get set up with plenty of daylight to spare.

3. Picking a Bad Campsite

If you’re in a developed campground, chances are you’ll have a campsite assigned to you that’s laid out in a self-explanatory way.

Other times, you’ll be assigned a big campsite and have to figure out where you’ll set everything up.

Or, if you’re camping outside of a developed campground, you’ll be totally on your own.

Common mistakes when choosing a campsite include:

  • Setting up camp in a washout
  • Setting up camp on a slope
  • Not having enough shade
  • Setting up camp in a high foot traffic area

Avoid setting up your camp in a lower lying area or a depression – if it rains, chances are these places are where water will accumulate.

You won’t sleep well on a slope – look for a spot with a large flat area, some trees for shade if possible and away from paths and trails for privacy.

4. Not Researching Your Trip

Camping always requires some research so you can be as prepared as possible. Be sure to research the weather so you can plan accordingly.

Research the local wildlife so you know what to expect, especially when it comes to potentially nuisance or venomous animals! Also, brush up on your knowledge of the local poisonous plants so you avoid itchy and painful rashes on your camping trip.

Researching the area will also help you plan fun activities to do while you’re there!

5. Underestimating Your Lighting Needs

So you’ve packed a couple headlamps and you’ve got your cell phone flashlight, that should be enough… right? Wrong!

If you’ve never been outside in the dark with just your cell phone to light the way, you should know: cellphone flashlights are (almost) useless except at close range. And headlamps are great for camping… but not as a sole source of lighting!

There is no such thing as too much lighting when you’re camping. Lanterns, string lights, tiki torches, and flashlights are all great ideas to bring along.

Illuminating your campsite will help eliminate trips and falls and make nighttime camp life a lot easier, not to mention cooking!

6. Relying on a Campfire for Cooking

vegetables and meat cooking over a campfire

Many new campers are under the assumption that they should cook all their meals by campfire for a true camping experience. However, relying on a campfire isn’t ideal for multiple reasons.

There are few things more miserable in life than being hangry with hangry family members or friends and trying to get a fire lit in the dark with wet wood so you can cook.

Provided you get it lit, it takes a bit of time and experience to cook food properly over the fire without burning the outside… and sometimes you won’t be able to light a fire at all!

While campfires are amazing for sitting around, roasting marshmallows and hot dogs and even heating up the kettle for morning coffee, it’s not a great idea to rely solely on a campfire for cooking.

Bringing along a simple camp stove will make all the difference in how quickly and efficiently your meals are prepared… Your campmates and your stomach will thank you!

7. Improper Storage of Food and Garbage

Wildlife is beautiful to admire… from a distance. The quickest way to create unwelcome with the local wildlife and insect population is with improper storage of your food and garbage.

Never store any food inside your tent – be especially mindful of this in bear country! Animals can smell food in your tent and will do whatever they can to get inside of your tent for a snack… and it could happen while you’re in there!

Store food away from your campsite in secure containers and coolers. If you can keep in in your locked car, even better!

Store garbage in bags off the ground and away from the campsite. Most developed campsites come with a tall pole and hook for hanging trashbags – but if you don’t have this, you can always hang it from a tree with a rope or keep it in the car.

Keeping it off the ground and away from camp prevents animals from entering camp and rummaging through it while trashing the area.

8. Bringing Too Much or Too Little

It’s easy to get carried away when packing for a camping trip and realize you have packed your entire bedroom, but it’s not necessary to bring all your creature comforts!

Pack the necessities for shelter, first aid, food and warmth, but don’t bring the whole house!

Another common mistake new campers make is not bringing enough, particularly food. It’s easy to assume that everyone will be so busy with camping activities that they won’t want to eat as much, but that can’t be further from the truth!

It almost always seems like people get hungrier when camping, lots of outdoor activity can work up a huge appetite. Plan to prepare whole meals and lots of snacks for in-between… nobody likes a hangry camper.

9. Not Bringing Enough Water

Not bringing enough water deserves a point of it’s own… because it’s so important but so often overlooked!

If you’re not going to a place with potable water available, you will be responsible for supplying all the water yourself. Don’t assume you can get it nearby, because this isn’t always the case.

You will need water for many things while camping, not just drinking… and you’ll go through it faster than you realize!

You’ll need water for:

  • Drinking
  • Cooking
  • Washing and Rinsing Dishes
  • Personal Hygiene

Bring more water than you think you’ll ever need – you’ll be happy you did.

10. Not Making a List

Making a list is the most simple but most overlooked aspect of planning a camping trip.

Making and using a list is the most efficient way to ensure you are totally prepared for your trip and aren’t forgetting any essential items. It’s a no-brainer!

Your list will evolve and change over time as you become more experienced and know what you’d like to have and can do without, but general list items will remain the same.

Break up your list into sections such as:

  • Medical – medications, first aid, sunscreen, insect repellents, etc
  • Permits and IDs – identification, camping permits, fishing permits etc
  • Kitchen
  • Bathroom
  • Clothing
  • Bedding

And more as you see necessary.

There is no such thing as being over-prepared for camping. In fact, the more prepared you can be, the better!

Camping is an amazing experience that is fun for the whole family, but a few forgotten items can turn a potentially happy and memorable trip into one that no one will ever forget… and not in a good way.

Remember: plan ahead, test your gear, bring extra water and make lists… and do yourself a favor – bring a camp stove!

10 Mistakes new campers make (and how to avoid them!)

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