Camping for Beginners
Updated: Feb 8
How to start camping if you have never really gone before.
Are you a complete newbie to camping in the outdoors? Then, this information is for you. See, most people who are seasoned campers had their start early on in their lives. They could've had parents that took them camping or grandparents who introduced them to sleeping outdoors through hunting and fishing adventures. But, there are plenty of people who just never had the opportunity to grow up camping, and that is okay. After a few camping trips you will really get the hang of it.
What you really need to consider taking as a beginner camper are those things that fall into these main categories that are considered essential camping gear.
If you carefully consider these essential camping items to take, you will be prepared for a great camping experience.
Decide how you are going to go camping first. Shelter takes many forms, but as long as you have an idea of how you will camp, it will set the stage for the rest of your camping items.
The most common way to camp and the best item for a beginner is to use a tent as shelter from bugs, rain and wind. Tents are very inexpensive. They usually are under $100 for a basic tent. Coleman tents are great quality tents and Ozark Trails are not bad either, but are massed produced with fewer quality control inspections in my view. What does that mean? Well, if you buy any tent, make sure to unpackage it, set it up in your backyard or a park first, to make sure you have all the parts, like the rain fly, tent, poles, and tent stakes. Next, operate all the zippers, check for rips or unsewn edges. If you are really thorough, spray water from your garden hose in the air to simulate a rain storm, then check the inside for any leaking issues. If you have any defective or missing parts, return it and get a new tent. If money is an issue, think about asking friends or family to borrow their tent first. This is a great way to start, because you can figure out the right tent for you by trying out others first. Remember that you still need to get it out and set it up before packing it for the trip. A missing piece will ruin your trip in a hurry.
Here is one of my many tents. It is a Coleman Highline ll - 4 person tent.
As a beginner at camping, you might also consider car camping instead of camping in a tent. Vehicles, like trucks, cars, vans and SUV's (Sport Utility Vehicles) can be a form of shelter while camping. Many people who go car camping, do not feel comfortable sleeping in a tent in the woods. They often sleep in the back of their vehicle.
Truck camping is usually done by installing or taking advantage of an existing truck cab.
Here is a large camper for a truck.
This is a truck cap or topper that can be used for Truck camping as well.
If you can fit, some people sleep in the backseats of their car. They sell inflatable mattresses for different types of cars and trucks, or people make their own creations.
I actually prefer to sleep in my Toyota 4Runner by laying down the back seats and getting a foam mattress to put over a simple DIY sleeping platform. Since I am tall, it allows me to stretch out and not feel cramped.
Obviously, other more expensive camping shelters are RV's, Travel Trailers and Cabins in certain areas. But, as a beginner, you will most likely need a tent to fulfill your shelter requirement.
The 3 parts of a camping sleep system is a sleeping bag, pillow and sleeping pad. The most complained about topic in camping is being uncomfortable while trying to sleep. If you put some thought into your sleeping system, it will reward you with a warm, comfortable night's sleep.
The sleeping bag and blankets you bring along will help you sleep well if chosen correctly. Sleeping bags are rated for expected temperatures you may encounter. So say, a 20 degree sleeping bag should keep you warm with low temperatures down around 20 degrees. If the area you are sleeping in drops down around 35 degrees overnight, you should be toasty warm. But, if you are camping in the summer and you take a 20 degree bag with you, and it only drops down to the mid 60's overnight, you are going to be too hot and constantly opening it up and then closing it up. You would be better to bring a 40-55 degree sleeping bag. Bringing blankets that you could cover up with while sleeping on top of your bag can help as well, when it is not that cold. In preparing for your camping trip, look up highs and low temperatures that are to be expected where you plan to camp on a weather site. Always be aware of changing weather that can make temperatures drop dramatically.
Next, bring a comfortable pillow. Just grab the one you use at home.
Finally, a sleeping pad or mattress will help you sleep better every single time while camping.
What should you get? The cheapest sleeping pad is usually a folding camp pad for less than twenty dollars. It may not be comfortable though. It is usually used by backpackers because it is light, cheap and durable.
The most popular sleeping pad is an inflatable mattress. They are cheap, but have three disadvantages. They often lose air overnight, they are easy to puncture and deflate and they make noise and disturb your sleep during the night every time anyone moves on it. Many people use them, but they don't seem to last long. Often, they will pop on the first weekend of use.
A more durable sleeping pad will cost more, but should last longer if taken care of. Here is one that is smaller, but made to be a bit more rugged.
Over the years, I have come to prefer a nice 4 inch memory foam mattress that I have installed into the back of my Toyota 4Runner. If I am tent camping, I use the durable camping pad pictured above. I take getting restful sleep very serious. I hate waking up all hours of the night switching sides because of inadequate padding or being too cold because of a cheap sleeping bag.
So, get a good sleeping bag, pillow and pad to set you up for success.
The lighting system consists of camp lighting like flashlights, a headlamp and/or solar lights. Again, feel free to ask and borrow some of these items if you can. A good LED flashlight will help you look farther out into the woods or across the lakes and camp better than a headlamp.
But, a headlamp can be very useful by freeing up your hands for doing other camp related tasks like cooking, gathering fire wood, etc.
A solar charging lantern or a few of them can make tripping hazards obsolete during the evening. It can also light up the path towards a midnight wee.
And remember, almost all mobile phones have a flashlight feature on them too. Just be aware that it will lower your battery on the phone the more you use the flashlight. Also, in case you didn't know, the farther you are away from a mobile phone tower while camping in the back country, the quicker your battery will deplete on your phone from simply the phone using more energy trying to connect to the tower to check for text messages constantly. If you are ever in need to conserve your battery overnight, put your phone in airplane mode. This will allow you to conserve battery life. Another camping tip is to bring along an extra battery charging device like a solar battery charging device. (See Emergency Systems)
The joy of camping is often the experience of having a campfire at night. If it is allowed, you will need to remember to bring some type of fire lighting items. Matches, a lighter, or an emergency fire lighting device like flint and steel. I recommend a good lighter for camp use. I don't count on matches as much. They tend to fail easier or can get wet and become unusable.
Flint and Steel is a skill you may want to learn if you are going to become a more seasoned outdoors person. It takes much more practice to start a fire with flint and steel.
Two tools you should consider bringing along are a pair of scissors and a cutting knife. There will be times when you need to cut open food packages or cut string or rope around camp. I suggest bringing both if you feel comfortable having them and can keep them away from children.
Another tool to consider bringing if you will be camping away from standard toilets is a small hand shovel. This will assist you in burying your waste and toilet paper deeper so that it can decompose and not enter any water ways or harm animals. It is also good camping etiquette as you want to leave no trace of you ever being there for the next camper.
A Toiletry Bag consisting of the following items would be helpful.
Zip Lock Bags
Toothbrush / Tooth Paste
Medical Prescriptions, Prescription Glasses
Other Personal Hygiene Items
Light Kitchen System
When you first are learning to camp, I would suggest you go camping with already prepared food meals. Camp cooking will make your first couple of times camping more complicated and more expensive than it needs to be. I highly suggest buying meals that don't require alot of effort to prepare. Like say, a footlong sandwich for dinner with chips and a small fruit bowl. Maybe donuts or pastries for breakfast that are simply grab, eat and go. The reason I suggest this, is because the extra preparation needed to plan, buy, prepare, serve and clean up from a camping meal requires alot of extra gear and supplies like oils, seasonings, pans, cooking stoves, serving dishes, dishwashing, etc. Without running water, adequate counter space and a host of other challenges like decreased lighting, it can make your first few experiences overwhelming and not much fun. You should be relaxing, and enjoying the outdoors. Adding in cooking can come later.
My light kitchen system is items that support easy food items. Packing paper plates, paper bowls, and paper towels eliminate dishwashing or leaving food smells out for skunks or other wildlife. A clean camp is a less wildlife visitor camp.
Also, be sure to bring a can opener, trash bags, cleaning wipes and a spork if needed. Sporks are half fork half spoon. Less silverware the better starting out.
Emergency Supplies Box
These are items that are important to have in an Emergency Situation:
First Aid Kit
Solar Charging Battery Back Up
Paper Map and Compass
First Aid Kit
Back up charging solar battery. You can charge this up at your house and if it needs a recharge, the solar cells will recharge it while camping.
It has 2 usb connections to charge 2 phones at a time if needed during the day.
An Emergency Blanket will help reflect your body heat back to you in cold wet emergencies.
Bug sprays can make for a better nights sleep for sure.
Pepper Spray is good for Animal and Human Pests. Make sure to get one that shoots a stream rather than a fog, so you are not affected as well.
Bring your charger, your ID and Cash. Many places out of the city do not process credit cards or you may not have a signal to pay by phone. Also, some campgrounds require cash only for campsites or firewood.
We rely on our phones way too much. If you get into a canyon, or too far away from a town, your map apps and compass feature on your phone will not work. A paper map of the area you will be will become valuable in those circumstances.
When getting a compass, buy a decent one. many cheap ones break or flat out don't work. Next, start to learn how to use a compass as you build your camping experiences.
Finally, a good whistle or two fastened to your jacket or shoe can save your life if lost. You can whistle farther than the voice can yell and with less effort.
Camp Clothing System
The first thing you need to get for the system is a dry bag. Some type of bag that is waterproof to keep extra clothing dry is a priority. Here is a bag I keep extra camp clothes in.
This dry clothing bag can stay packed all the time and is there if needed when camping.
Now, What's in it?
2 pair of the following: shirts, pants, underwear, socks, and shorts.
poncho / rain gear
long sleeve shirt
winter puffy jacket
on the outside, and extra pair of shoes.
Food and Water
You should bring water along and easy to prepare food meals.
If you have all of the stuff above covered and have room to bring a few comfort items, I would suggest an ICE CHEST and ICE to keep food and drinks cool. A CAMP CHAIR and maybe a CAMP TABLE.
Keep your items organized in these groups and relax. Everything will go well, just have fun. You may have a few hiccups along the way, but remember other campers are there to help and you can always sleep in the car and go to a restaurant for breakfast if you need to. I hope you trust yourself enough to prepare and then just go. Your experience will go up and you will have a great time in the great outdoors. Know anyone else that could use this list? Share it with them. See you out Camping!