Are you new to the world of camping, or perhaps are considering going on your first camping trip? As someone who has been camping since I was a child, and now enjoy it with my own children, let me share with you some camping tips for beginners. Don’t get me wrong, we have had our fair share of bloopers! (Most of which we look back on now and laugh) I’ll tell you the things that we do that makes camping easier, helps us enjoy it more, and the things that work for us. (As well as some things that have NOT worked for us.) Let’s get to it!
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How Do You Make Camping Easier?
Planning ahead makes camping easier for me. If my husband flips out over anything, it’s probably going to be while we are there. For me, I flip beforehand because I am trying to plan, organize, and not forget anything. (At least that’s the idea – I don’t know of a single camping trip yet where I have actually successfully thought of every single thing. )
If I had to pick ONE camping tip for beginners, I would say don’t sweat the small stuff. You will forget something. Unless you are very adventuresome and have planned your first camping trip for back o’ beyond that’s miles away from civilization, getting some minor forgotten item is not a big deal. (And I should know…. see the last statement in the previous paragraph.)
Plan, but don’t over-plan. I like having totes to organize everything in and write out lists of things that I will need. If you are a beginner camper, it’s ok to not have all the fancy stuff. You accumulate that over time. Your biggest purchases when you are starting off will probably be your shelter. Or, if you have friends or family that camp, see if you can borrow theirs.
Speaking of lists, I will be happy to share my customizable family camping checklist with you. Just enter your email address below to help make your camping trip easier. It’s 5 pages and you can print off as many copies of whichever page(s) that you need. (See the pin image below for a preview of the checklist)
How Do You Enjoy Camping?
If you are the type that likes to go, go go, you might have a hard time relaxing when you go camping for the first time. In a world of high stress and crammed schedules, camping is the pause. It’s the day that you don’t have anything planned. You don’t have to go anywhere. unless you want to. Consider the time you plan out for your camping trip gifting yourself the freedom to make it up as you go along.
You can go fishing or swimming all day. Go hiking or biking, or you can use your campsite as a “base camp” while you day trip and explore the surrounding area. You don’t have to go anywhere at all. You might spend a good portion of the day reading, playing cards or board games, or set up an outdoor movie. Some parks have boats you can rent to spend all day on the water. Some also offer some interesting interpretive programs. What you do is completely up to you. You can make gourmet meals on the grill, cook over the campfire, bring an electric skillet, microwave everything (if you bring one), or go out to eat.
My best answer and camping tip for beginners on how to enjoy camping is you do you. Savor it. Be mindful and don’t rush it, and do whatever appeals to you. Making it up as you go is perfectly acceptable. Just remember to be polite to your neighbors.
12 Awesome Camping Tips For Beginners
Every family has a little bit different way of camping. The versatility of camping is one of the best things about it. I have camped in a tent, a pop-top, a camper, a 5th wheel camper, and motorhome. I can honestly say I enjoyed them all. Here are my best camping tips for beginners!
#1: Bring a Broom and a Clothesline
You will get dirty. The kids will get dirty. That is ok. It’s part of being outside. There are things that you can do to lessen the dirt though, like putting a mat outside of the door. No matter what you do, you will need a broom to sweep out the dirt that inevitably gets in. A dustpan to go with it is not a bad idea either.
The only dryer you will have is the “solar dryer” aka… the sun. Bring a clothesline with you to dry your towels, washcloths, swimsuits, and anything else that gets wet. I have tried several kinds of string, twine, and rope for clotheslines and what seems to work the best is paracord. On a similar note, bring a spare change of clothes or two – especially if you are camping with kids.
(If you want to know what gear we don’t leave home without, it’s worth a look.)
#2: Plan your meals
For your first camping trip, I recommend going for a few days instead of a longer period of time like a week. One of the reasons for that is that ice chests have to have ice added to them often to keep your food cold. Be sure that your food is sealed up well in ziplock bags or waterproof containers. Otherwise, it gets soggy. Since space is limited, you will need to plan your meals ahead of time.
#3: Use What You Already Have
I have brought a small fridge with us before when we camped in a tent and that worked much better to keep our food at a safe temperature. I did not buy a fridge for this purpose, however. It was a mini one that I had in college. Likewise, I looked around the kitchen for what I already had when it came to cooking utensils. I had a spare spatula that I took, as well as a can opener, and lots of other things. I have seen many people repurpose white Christmas lights to illuminate their campsite at night.
#4 Where to Camp/ Pick You Campsite In Advance
Pick your campsite in advance. Many campgrounds have online reservations. Take advantage of that! For your first camping trip, try going somewhere closer to home. We like to do what we refer to as “scouting runs” to pick out campsites. Yes, there are pictures online, but sometimes the quality of the pictures is not great and sometimes you can’t see things in the pictures that you really need to know about. (For example, the huge boulder that almost tore the transmission out of the truck when we were trying to back in our camper for the first time. Yikes!)
If you have a tent, make sure that you take a tape measure and you know the dimensions of your tent. On your scouting run, take your tape measure out and find a nice flat spot that your tent could go on and make sure that it’s big enough to accommodate your tent. You don’t want to be sleeping at an angle.. or worse… sleeping in a puddle! Another plus of reserving your campsite in advance is that you know you have a spot waiting for you. Much better than driving around for hours trying to find a site.
Also, keep in mind the hookups and amenities. We have always camped in a spot that had electricity. Yes, I might be in a tent, but the box fan feels great at night, and I want somewhere to plug in overhead lights and my electric skillet to cook breakfast in. Take note of where the showers, restrooms, and playground equipment is. If you are in a tent, being within walking distance of the bathrooms is a definite plus.
#5 (A Cautionary Tale): Beware Water Drainage and the Weather Forecast
Yes, this is probably one of our biggest camping bloopers. We once planned a 4-day camping trip with our tent and thought we had taken water drainage into consideration. We packed up our big tent as well as a smaller one to serve as an additional storage area. I also tried desperately to talk my brother into coming camping with us. “Look! You’d have your own tent!” (The storage one)
Rain, Rain, Go Away!
The first day was fine, but then it started raining. It wasn’t too bad at first for us and we congratulated ourselves on smart tent placement. Our poor neighbor camping in a tent in the space beside us was not so fortunate. We awoke in the morning to find him gone. Only a puddle remained where his tent had once been. (Clearly, he melted away, like the Wicked Witch of the West in the “Wizard of Oz.” Ok… more like he did not want to sleep in a puddle and packed up all his stuff in the night and went home. )
After the second day of rain, it was not so fun. Our storage tent flooded and I gave silent thanks that my brother had refused the invitation. Something told me he would not have been happy finding that he was sleeping in a wet bed. The power cord for the fridge went under too, and we all know how well electricity and water mix. Fortunately, there were no major accidents. (Just a tiny zap, but we won’t talk about that.)
Look Mom, A DIY Water Park!
I distinctly remember sitting under the tarp we had strung up over the picnic table (that leaked) and watching my youngest son happily playing in the rain with the umbrella. Our tent had a cover that extended over the door, giving a shaded area. That’s what it was SUPPOSED to do anyway. What actually happened was that it filled up with rain and when an adult stepped out of the tent and stood up too quickly, we got a bucketful of cold water down our backs.
Our youngest son discovered the impromptu “reservoir” hanging above the tent exit. He poked it with the umbrella and gallons of water came splashing down on his head. He laughed so hard he nearly fell over. At least the kids had fun.
Don’t Hang Out and Be Miserable – It’s ok to Go to Plan B
As adults, we were soaked and miserable. Everything was wet and covered in grime inside and outside the tent. If your camping trip goes like this, don’t be stubborn and stay there, miserable, until your air mattress starts floating away. Go home. Better yet, look at the forecast before you go so that you can make better arrangements than we did.
#6 Pack Extra Clothes
Yes, I am a planner. When we camp, especially the first few times I had everything written down in multiple lists. It helped me to think of it as I will need everything that I normally pack for a trip, plus food, bedding, and shelter. I know that most travel blogs will encourage you to “pack light” for trips. Don’t do that for camping, especially if you have kids! Pack extra clothes.
#7: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
I am a perfectionist. I struggle with transforming that perfectionism. I think I have come a long way, but I am still very prone to sweat the small stuff. Relax. You are on vacation. Is it the end of the world that you forgot the toothpaste? No. Run to town, get toothpaste and come back. Problem solved. It’s not a major disaster. Some of the best memories are made when things don’t go according to plan.
The whole family laughs when we remember the rainy camping trip I described under tip #5. You know what I remember the most about that trip? I remember the delight on my youngest son’s face when I said “Yes, you can play in the rain with the umbrella.” (The one that stayed over his head for 0.005 seconds after he walked out) I remember the surprised shock on his face as the water came crashing down on his head and the ringing of his laughter through the entire campground as he did it again, and again.
Life is made of little moments like that.
#8: Don’t rush things; Be Mindful
Camping is a great time to practice mindfulness. Live in the moment. Enjoy the moment. Breathe in, and take in all your surroundings. Listen to the birds, feel the soft breeze, see the waves gently roll in on the lake. Take time to pause and enjoy this time with your family. Stop worrying about what’s happening back at work or things you can’t control. This is your time to get away from all that.
Related: What To Do When You Worry Too Much
#9: Lock Up Your Food
While the areas that I usually camp in are not bear country, it’s still important to lock up your food. This also means to take care of your trash before you go to bed. We have hung our trash bag up on a tall pole with a metal hook thinking it would be safe, only to have it torn to shreds by a very fat raccoon looking to make an easy dinner out of our food scraps. They don’t wear masks for nothing – they are bandits! Ha! (Although very cute ones.)
#10: Start Small
Another of my camping tips for beginners is to start small. You don’t have to spend a fortune on gear and start off spending a week somewhere in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing wrong with borrowing a tent or getting one second-hand. Go for one night to see if you like it. You will not have all the gear that experienced campers do if it’s your first time. That stuff kind of accumulates over time. It’s even ok to try camping in your backyard first if you are very hesitant about it. All you need is a weekend. Try it out and see if it’s for you.
If the thought of sleeping in a tent fills you with dread, then check local camper dealerships to see if they rent RVs. Most of the time we camp in Arkansas because it’s beautiful, but the summers are also hot and humid. Having a place to cool down in the air conditioning makes a huge difference as to how much we enjoy the trip, as well as having an actual bed.
Related: Why We Traded Our Tent for a Camper
#11: Bye Bye Buggies!
Keep in mind that these camping tips for beginners come from someone that camps in a place with hot, humid, summers. That means bugs. Luckily, there are things that you can do to reduce them. We bought a bug zapper last year. I objected at first, to be honest, but my husband insisted. Plugging it up at night has led to reducing the local mosquito population by hundreds. (Maybe not, but it seems that way.)
Also, take some household bug spray like you would spray around your house to get rid of ants and other bugs. Spray it around the edges of your tent when you get it set up, or around any part of the camper that contacts the ground, like the wheels and jacks. This is a great way to deter insects from invading your sleeping quarters.
If you have a tent, especially, remember, if you turn on the light, they will come! Make sure your tent is zipped up before turning on any lights inside. (Been there, done that, got eaten. Save yourself!)
Pack some anti-itch cream too. Despite your best efforts, someone will probably wind up with at least one mosquito bite.
(If you want a funny story about how we got overwhelmed with mosquitos on a camping trip last year, check out “What You Don’t See When You Compare Yourself to Others.” Also… avoid camping in delta regions where they grow rice.)
#12: Camp Your Way
Camping tips for beginners that fit everyone is hard because everyone camps a bit differently. Every family is different and each has their own way of doing things. Some people roll their big camper in, set it up, and stay in it the entire time. Others set up a tent, park the boat in the water, and send most of their time on the lake. Some park the camper, and spend most of their time outside hiking or swimming. (That’s us) Yet others just use their camp as a “base camp” and spend a lot of the day exploring the area and day tripping. (Also us at times.) Do what suits your best. Camping is what you make of it.
If you want to spend all day in a hammock reading a book with a fan blowing on you, no one is going to stop you! If you prefer to spend all day hiking and exploring, then go do that! If you want to go hardcore and backpack to remote places with amazing views, awesome! (and send me some pics – email@example.com)
One of the best things about camping to me is the freedom of being able to do whatever you want when you want. When we camp there is no set schedule and we make it up as we go. For us, that’s what makes it so relaxing.
Camping Tips for Beginners: A Word On Tents
My husband and I started off camping in a tent. It’s a great way to start off to see if you like camping or not. However, there are a few camping tips for beginners that I wanted to point out to help make your camping trip a bit more comfortable.
Just because it says that a tent is a 4-person tent or a 6-person tent, does not mean that it will COMFORTABLY sleep that many people. It’s more like “you can pack this maximum amount of people in this tent and they will have enough room to lay down.” They will be packed like sardines, but they can lay down.
Unless you are going backpacking where space and weight are huge considerations, I would suggest a minimum of a 4-6 person tent for your first one. We first started out with one that was rated as a 6 person dome tent, and then upgraded to a tall 3 room tent when the kids got bigger. (Our tent was like the one pictured below. That top part WILL fill up with water if it rains a ton.)
Consider set up time, and if you will have help setting up your tent as well. As a personal preference, we always put a tarp under our tents to help protect the bottom of the tent fabric and also give us an extra layer of protection in case it rained.
Where to Pitch Your Tent
Look for a flat area that’s free of large rocks. Rake the area first to get rid of any rocks or lumps that could cause you discomfort. Nothing says “good morning” like stubbing your toe on a rock under the tent when you first wake up. Pay attention to the slope of the land as well. If it rains, you do not want to wake up in a puddle of water because you pitched your tent at the bottom of a hill where all the runoff water goes. Those types of “water beds” are not very comfortable. 😛 (See camping tip for beginners #5)
Camping Tips for Beginners for Sleeping More Comfortably in a Tent
Speaking of sleeping more comfortably, if you sleep with a sleeping bag directly on the ground, you will most likely wake up feeling muscles you didn’t know you had. Said muscles will most likely be screaming at you as well. We had air mattresses that we inflated to sleep more comfortably in our tent. That’s a huge camping tip for beginners. Don’t sleep directly on the ground. You can also get cots or camping pads.
Our kids liked the sleeping bags that we just unrolled on top of the air mattresses. My husband and I shared a queen-sized air mattress that we just made up with regular bedding. We found that more comfortable than trying to wrestle with sleeping bags (Though they were perfect for the kids.) Our air mattress was a cheap one and we brought a thick blanket to go over the air mattress and under the bottom sheet since we found the grooves a bit uncomfortable for sleeping on. I think that a taller air mattress without the grooves would have been more comfortable.
Other Camping Tips for Beginners that Helped Us Stay More Comfortable In a Tent
A fan also helped to keep us more comfortable at night because the sensation of air blowing on us helped us to feel cooler. When you sleep in a tent, you have to be mindful of the weather forecast. If it’s going to rain, be sure that you have the rain shields on. Also, take extra blankets in case it suddenly turns cool at night.
We had a “no shoes in the tent” rule for the kids to try to reduce the amount of dirt they dragged in. We left our shoes outside the tent doors, preferably on a mat. We still had to sweep dirt out, but it did help a little.
The Last Thing You Need to Know About Camping Tips for Beginners
If I had to pick one best camping tip for beginners it would be to camp your way. Each family is different. If you like tent camping, then camp in a tent. If you like your air conditioning and tv, and a real bed, camp in a camper. Cook how you want to cook. Camp alone, with your family or in a larger group. It’s something that’s totally customizable and personal. So what are your best camping tips for beginners, or what would you really like to know? Leave me a comment below!