Getting out in the “Great Outdoors” is easier than many people realize. Not everyone grows up camping. When you don’t, you might wonder if how difficult it is.
No matter your age, it’s never too late to learn how to camp. It’s not even all that difficult. Common concerns are comfort, bugs, what to do, where to go, and what to bring. Here’s what you need to know to ease into camping.
If you’re just starting out, stick to these three key principles:
- Keep your first camping trip short.
- Make sure the weather is comfortable.
- Camp at a developed campground your first time out.
If everything else goes bad, sticking to the above should ensure you’ll at least have fun (maybe a few good laughs) and want to try camping again.
Planning Your Camping Trip
The first thing to do is find somewhere to camp. For the first time, there really is nothing better than a state park campground. National Parks are pretty epic, just keep in mind they can fill up fast and may not have showers, which are nice to have when you’re starting out.
Where To Reserve
ReserveAmerica.com is a great website to find campgrounds. For your first camping trip, you should look for a tent campsite at your nearby state park. The website will have pictures of what the campsite looks like, which is helpful. Ideally, you’ll book one night. If you’d like, it can be 2 nights, but don’t book any longer than that. For reviews of campgrounds and campsites check out thedyrt.com before you book on ReserveAmerica.
For your first trip don’t reserve or camp anywhere classified as dispersed camping. Dispersed camping refers to sites that don’t have services like trash, showers, and may only have pit toilets. Backcountry, or primitive, sites won’t work for your first camping trip either. These are completely in the wilderness. They don’t have any services at all. If you find you develop an interest in backpacking, at that point you’ll try out backcountry sites.
Until then, ease in with developed campgrounds. Developed campgrounds have sites with picnic tables, and sometimes fire rings. They also have trash service, flush toilets, and usually showers.
Considerations Before Reserving
Before you book, think about the weather. Nothing will ruin camping for you like being too cold, too hot, or swarmed by mosquitoes. Even the most seasoned outdoorsman will find it hard to enjoy a camping trip if drenched in sweat and slapping at mosquitoes. He’d have a hard time if the chattering of his teeth were keeping him up at night too.
A good way to avoid bugs and any uncomfortable weather is to book days where the weather isn’t supposed to rise above 75 degrees or dip below 55 degrees. When that weather happens depends on where you are. Summer might be perfect to camp in some places, but it can feel terrible in others.
Keep in mind, comfortable camping weather will be a little hotter or cooler than what you consider comfortable inside your home. You won’t be in climate controlled environments, so you’ll have to learn to be a little flexible when it comes to weather and temperature.
Rain is impossible to predict in many areas of the country. Check the weather report, but don’t take it as gospel. Do the best can to avoid the rainy season and come prepared with extra clothes and rain gear.
What to Bring
You don’t need to spend a lot of money and buy top-of-the-line equipment to try camping. Bargain priced camping gear will work, it’s mostly the durability of the gear that differentiates it from the higher priced gear. You can buy some entry-level gear and then level up once you know what type of camping trips you’re interested in pursuing.
Gear You Already Own
- First Aid Kit
Hopefully, you won’t have to use it, but don’t go camping without a basic first aid kit.
You might want to bring travel-sized items. You’ll need your toothbrush and toothpaste to use in the bathroom sinks. Face wipes, sanitizer, and deodorant wipes are also very handy. If the campground has showers, remember flip flops, a towel, and shower toiletries. Don’t forget to bring some change because some showers are coin operated.
- Sandals, slip-on shoes, or whatever you use for comfy shoes
Think comfort over style when it comes to camping.
- Athletic shoes
If you don’t have hiking boots, running shoes will work just fine. If you’re not planning on hiking, you can skip the hiking boots.
- Insect Repellent
Feel free to go high-end on your bug solution (Sawyer’s Picaridin is a great option to have in your bug-fighting arsenal), but whatever you have at home will work.
Grab a couple pillows off your bed at home to take with you. You’ll be happy you did.
- Rain Jacket
Take a rain jacket even if you think it’s not going to rain.
You’re going to be outside, so don’t take your nicest clothing, but be sure to pack various layers. Sometimes weather changes quickly, and layers are the way to deal with changing weather when you’re spending all day outdoors. You’ll be car camping, not backpacking, so it’s okay, even recommended, to over pack. Leave the extra clothing in your car where it will remain dry no matter what.
There are excellent high-end coolers. For your first time camping whatever you currently use for tailgates or BBQs will do just fine. You should leave all your food in the car to keep it away from bears, raccoons, or whatever animal could get to it. You should also keep your camping trip to one or two nights. No need for the high-end cooler yet.
Developed campgrounds have water spigots with drinking water, but you might still want to bring a few jugs of water. Don’t forget a water bottle. And if you want to use the campground spigot, remember you need something to place the water in (like a jug).
Some quality sunscreen is always a good idea no matter where or when you go camping.
A hat provides additional sun protection, especially if you’re camping in the desert where the campsites aren’t always shaded.
- Camping Chairs
You probably have some camp chairs from tailgating, BBQs, or maybe temporary patio furniture. Again, you’re not going backpacking, so no need for the high-end stuff yet.
Camping Gear You’ll Need to Buy
You want a dome tent. Again, the less expensive tents will do for the first trip. Just don’t expect them to last. Tents are classified by the number of people they sleep. A rule of thumb is to add one for a tent that’s comfortable. So, two people would be comfortable in a three-person tent. You should also pick up a mallet and a stake puller. Be sure to practice putting up your tent in your backyard before you leave for your camping trip. Tents can be very confusing to put up.
*If you have a friend with a rooftop tent or a camper trailer, that will make for an even easier time camping your first time.
- Tent Footprint
This is placed underneath your tent to protect the bottom of it. You can buy one, buy a tent that comes with one, or google how to DIY one.
- Sleeping Pad
A sleeping pad is a must. You want to be comfortable and you won’t be comfortable if you’re sleeping right on the ground. Many first-time campers buy an air mattress. Don’t buy an air mattress. They’re cumbersome, can puncture, and most require an air pump of some kind. A sleeping pad is better, and you can splurge here and go high-end. A Therm-A-Rest sleeping pad is an excellent choice.
- LED Lantern
You’ll want one or two for the picnic table and to see outside during nighttime. It will be dark enough to stargaze. Bonus points if your LED lantern also has bug repellent. A ThermaCELL bug repellent lantern is a great option.
- LED Headlamp
This will make it easier to cook and see outside with your hands-free. Many inexpensive headlamps are good.
- Sleeping Bag
This is another item where you might want to spend a little more. You want to get a sleeping bag with a rating that’s appropriate for the weather you’ll be camping in. If a sleeping bag is rated for 40 degrees, that’s not the one you want to actually sleep in 40 degrees with. You have to add about 10 degrees to find the temperature that will be “tolerable” in that bag (so 50 degrees in our example). Then you want to add about another 10 degrees for the temperature you’ll feel cozy at (60 degrees in our example).
- Water Repellent Spray
You should coat your tent, shoes, and other outdoor gear with water repellent spray. You want to coat your tent to avoid any water getting in overnight. If there is a known chance of rain, you might also want to bring a tarp to hang over your tent.
- Camp Grill
A portable propane grill will make it easy to cook your food while camping. You may already have one, but if not pick one up. Coleman’s portable propane grill is a great option. Don’t forget a skillet or two, and a kettle for boiling water.
The Camping Trip
Buying food and snacks is the last thing you should do before your trip. Whatever you buy for tailgating and BBQs will work great. Eggs and bacon are an easy camping breakfast. Sandwiches work well for lunch. For dinner, you can’t go wrong with a meat to grill and some veggies. Be sure to bring drinks, energy bars, chips, salsa, and any other kind of snacks you normally enjoy at a BBQ.
Once your car is all packed up, you’re ready to head to your campsite. Check-in is often around 2pm, with check-out often around 11am. The first thing you should do is set up your tent (don’t wait until it’s dark).
The key thing here is that you’re easing into camping. Your first time out is basically an extended tailgate or BBQ. You’ll be sitting at the picnic table, sitting in your camp chair, talking, reading, enjoying a cold beverage, etc. All of that should feel as familiar as a day at the beach or a BBQ.
You can plan to go on a hike if the state park has trails onsite or there are any nearby. You can also paddleboard or canoe if they have a lake. Or you could just relax and disconnect.
You’ll receive a guide when you check-in at the campground. The guide will have information on properly putting out your campfire if a campfire is allowed. You must drown it completely before going to sleep.
All food items should be kept in your trunk. If there are bears in the area you camp in, grills will also need to be put away as well as the clothes you cooked in. Toiletries and anything scented will also need to be placed in your trunk.
Remember, camping should be a fun experience! If you ease into it, you shouldn’t feel intimidated. Starting out with a one-night trip in ideal weather is the best way to make your first camping trip a success.