Choose your camp area wisely
There are a lot of different types of camp areas to choose from. There are kid friendly, dog friendly, RV friendly, backcountry, front country, developed, rustic, and everything in between. Make sure you do your research and know what you are getting yourself into. “Campground” does not mean the same thing everywhere you go, even within your own local area. It is important to check online, on the phone, or in person so you know what type of campground it is.
Important camp gear
There are lots of important things that need to be brought while camping, some things are evident and some things are not. I have put together this list of important camp gear that you need to have no matter where you are going.
A lot of campgrounds that are more developed will have running water nearby and a community bathroom. Many campsites come with a picnic table, room for a tent, and a place to park your car nearby (or on the site). None of these things are guaranteed and it is important to do research to know what the site is like.
If it is your first time camping, you may not have the equipment necessary to go on your camping adventure. That is ok though. It may be better for you to try it out before you invest money anyway. Try and find a friend who has some of this equipment and borrow it on a weekend they may not be using it. If you do not have an outdoorsy friend, or your outdoorsy friend is very possessive of their things, then it is possible to rent the needed equipment at many outdoor retailers.
- Tent – Tents are a staple in every camping trip. Unless you are going with some experienced people who know how to appropriately camp without one (eg. Hammocks) you are going to need one of these. Nearly all tents come with “person limit”. There are 2 person tents, 3 person, and can get as high as 15 or above. In general, go with one person more than will actually be sleeping in the tent. So a couple will want a 3 person tent, a family of four may want a 5 or 6 person tent. They tend to rate these as if people are sleeping like sardines. If you are camping with your family and have a particularly squirrely bunch, it would be advisable to go 2 people higher than what is suggested by the manufacturer (i.e. 4 people will want a 6 person tent).
- Camp stove – It is fun to cook over an open fire while camping, but this is often impractical and can be highly frustrating. Sometimes, it is even illegal to start fires depending on where you are. I suggest everyone tries it at least once per trip (regulations permitting), but for more practical cooking, a camp stove will be essential. Do not forget fuel too! Often camp stoves run on propane and if that is forgotten, you are going to have some very cold meals or a drive of shame to the nearest retailers.
- Lighting – Campsites do not have street lights or their own illumination. You will need to bring your own. Flashlights, lanterns, and headlamps will all come in handy depending on the task. You are going to want at least one lantern and a few flashlights (I tend to bring one per person, although some would call this overkill).
- First aid kit – The worst time to realize you need a first aid kit is when you need it. Always prepare ahead and make sure to have a first aid kit in your camp gear. You can find many good first aid kits online or in store. Double check your kit to see if it has the useful emergency handbook to help you through situations that you may not be familiar with. It can help save your life!
- Sleeping bag and sleeping pad – A good place to start when looking at sleeping bags is the temperature rating. If you are planning on going in the summer, a fair weather camping bag is all you need. If you are considering camping in the fall or spring, you may want to consider a one on the warmer side. A sleeping pad is not only there to provide comfort, but also to help prevent you from losing body heat through the ground. Big air mattresses are a route that a lot of beginners want to head down, but because of their lack of insulation, they tend to lose more heat than you might expect. If you do prefer to be off of the ground, consider a cot instead.
A lot of gear can vary widely depending on where you are going and what time of year you are going. You may need to tweak the suggestions made on this list to accommodate for any circumstances you know about the terrain, wildlife, weather, and regulations.
What to wear
A big stressor for people who are learning how to camp can be what to wear while out there. Keep in mind, while camping, you are going to be doing a lot of outdoorsy activities where you are not going to want to worry about getting your clothes dirty. Bring clothes that you won’t mind getting a little dirt on. If you are going during a colder season, you may want to avoid cotton because if it gets wet, the fabric tends to sap out heat from your body.
Always come prepared though. Nights can get chilly no matter where you are and what time of year. At least one light jacket or sweatshirt and one pair of long pants are advisable. You don’t want to let a cool breeze ruin your outdoor adventure.
The last thing you will want to consider is a trusty pair of shoes that will be usable for hiking, walking, running, or just about anything else you may be doing on your trip. A pair of waterproof flip flops are a good idea as well for any late night bathroom runs or (if your campground has it) showers.
What to eat while camping
One thing that can be challenging for some is not being able to plan last second what you will be eating that evening. When camping, you need to plan out nearly all of your meals ahead of time, or at least have a very good idea. What you bring is what you have to eat. There are lots of freeze-dried meals you can buy at outdoor retailers. These are usually intended for more hardcore backpackers and I would not personally suggest those as a first choice when you are early in your camping career. I suggest bringing easy to make food in boxes or even fresh food (as long as it is stored properly). My family also loves having lots of snacks including s’mores, pretzels, and other things that do not need to be refrigerated.
For coffee lovers, you can purchase coffee bags (they look just like tea bags) at many major retailers. These are usually easier to prepare in the mornings than traditional coffee pots or percolators and are my first choice.
Have fun and ask questions
Camping is one of the best ways to disconnect from day-to-day life and relax. Something about being in nature really calms many people and can be a great way to de-stress and have fun with the family. While preparing for your first camping trip, do not get wound up. Things will probably go wrong, but that is part of the fun (and tend to make the best stories).
Do not be afraid to ask others for help and suggestions. As you learn and build experience through trial and error, you will begin to understand what your family enjoys and adapt your preparation appropriately.
Eventually, you may build a new tradition that will influence your family for many years to come.