If you are looking for first time camping tips, you came to the right place, but I can’t promise you that this new adventure will be easy. After all, with tent camping, you will have to create a whole new household with all its functions, just far from comfortable. And you need to pack it all, set it up, then pack it again to take it back home. It sounds like fun already, right? Add to it bugs, possibly rain, tight spaces, and no temperature control. If after this cheerful introduction, you still want to give it a try, here are essential tips on camping, including family camping.
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FIRST TIME CAMPING TIPS – ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW
What is good about camping? Memories! It is especially true if you are traveling with children. They will not remember another hotel or the movies you watched at night, but they certainly will remember spending a night with their parents under the tent, sitting by the fire, and playing games at the picnic table. No other type of travel creates more family bonding than camping.
To make things clear, in this post, we’re strictly talking about car camping tips, meaning that your car will be available to you at a close distance. RV camping or backpacking are entirely different species and will not be discussed in this post.
Is camping for you?
Obviously, the first question you need to ask yourself, am I the right candidate for camping? I know a few people who loved this outdoorsy adventure from the first sight, but it is not always the case. Some people are just not made for roughing it. Still, surprisingly a lot of people that I gently pushed to try it actually like it a lot. To help you decide if you are the right candidate or not, I created the test below, admittedly based just on my intuition with no background in science.
- Do you hate bugs or are afraid of spiders?
- Are you afraid of germs and dirt?
- Are you a neat freak?
- Do you hate an image of your kids going to bed with their teeth glued with marshmallows?
- Do you dislike the idea of camping to the point that you can’t see absolutely nothing fun about it?
- Is your idea of a good vacation an all-inclusive resort or a cruise?
- Are you afraid of facing the world without makeup?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might not be a camper. I suggest an RV or cabin camping first to see how you do.
Why is camping so hard?
Because it is like moving. Remember, you need to take everything with you from a roof over your head to the functioning kitchen. For that reason, packing and unpacking are merciless. Unpacking especially because everything is dirty and, most of the time, wet. Yes, wet! Viciously, when it is time to go home, a single cloud will arrive and make sure to pour on you! In this scenario, you need to unpack everything when you arrive home, dry it, and pack it again!
FIRST TIME CAMPING TIPS
1. Make a list of items to take
Unlike for any other type of travel, the list of things you have to take is long, and missing one item could turn your trip into a fiasco. Use this camping list as a base for your own. Adjust it to your personal needs and keep updating it with every trip until it is perfect for you.
2. Buy a good quality tent
A good quality tent is a base for a successful camping trip. It does not mean you need to spend a fortune. The most expensive tents are designed for backpackers who carry their tents into the woods. These tens are high-tech, very light, and suitable for a verity of weather. When car camping, you do not need to be concerned with the weight. Go with a brand like Eureka that I trusted with my camping needs for 30 years. For family camping, I suggest Copper Canyon LX, 3 Season Camping Tent. I had a previous version of it and loved it.
3. Buy the Pop-up Canopy with mosquito netting
The canopy works as your living room/dining room/ kitchen that shelters you against the sun, rain, and mosquitoes. In case of rain, it lets you enjoy the company of others without forcing everyone to hide in a tent. It allows you to cook, play cards, read a book, etc. It also creates some sort of privacy and outdoorsy coziness. This is the one I am using recently, Quictent 8×8 Ft Easy Pop up Canopy with Netting, and it serves me well. A larger version is also available.
4. Plan to stay at least two nights
This is an essential tent camping tip, stay at least two nights. What happens when you camp for one night? You arrive sometimes in the afternoon, according to check-in hours. Then you put everything together, have a few evening hours to enjoy, go to sleep, and you need to start packing in the morning to check out. That is a lot of work with no time to explore the location. For the first trip, I suggest four nights. This way, you will have a few days of relaxation and an opportunity to tour the area.
5. Pick your campsite wisely
When picking a site, look for at least partial shade; otherwise, you will be frying all day long if you are lucky enough to have sunny weather. Also, look for sites located on the outside borders of the campground for some privacy, or you will be in a full view from all angles. If possible, look for a waterfront not only for the views but again for more privacy. When it comes to privacy, electric sites are usually smaller and less wooded than regular ones since there are often designed with RVs in mind. The last tip, do not pick a site too close to bathrooms. In some cases, the smell can be disturbing.
Also, pick your geographical location wisely. The more beautiful the area, the more likely you will approve the idea of camping. Here is my favorite, the 1000 Islands in New York state.
6. Start packing a week in advance
The packing list for your trip will be long, so you are better off starting early. If you leave everything for the last day, I predict you will begin hating camping even before leaving your house. Of course, it does not mean packing your car that far in advance. Just have a designated area in your home and put all the items in one place, preferably grouped by category. For example, one day put all the shelter items there, another day kitchen stuff, then toys, etc.
7. Practice to put your equipment together ahead of your trip
Buy your camping equipment ahead of time and check it before your camping trip. It is a good idea to have enough time to exchange or upgrade it if needed. Believe me, it also makes sense to practice how to assemble it. When you arrive at a campground, and you need to unpack and build your kingdom all at once, the stress level is high, and you do not and aggravation of figuring out how to put your tent or canopy up. Reading instructions may also help!
8. Packing food for camping
Invest in a 5-day cooler that will keep your food cold for a longer time than a regular cooler. Most campers use ice to keep their food safe, but ice is messy. It quickly melts, and food is floating in the water. I came up with a better idea. Buy water in plastic bottles. Open each bottle’s a little and place it in the freezer. On the day of your trip, take the bottles out, tighten the cap, and put them in the cooler in an upright position. This way, you will prevent a mess and eventually have cold water to drink. If you need ice anyway for drinks, have a separate small cooler just for that.
9. First time camping tips on cooking
Here are some ideas to make things easier when you cook at the campground:
- Bring food that can be cooked over a campfire
If you can forget about a healthy diet, go with basics, and bring hot dogs or even better, good quality kielbasa. This kind of dinner requires almost no preparation. Everyone gets to make his or her own food. Use roasting bamboo sticks for cooking not only your hot dogs but for making smores after at night. These sticks work best to hold your food and are safe for kids.
- Hobo Tin-Foil Meals
You can create delicious dishes while camping without much effort by cooking foil pocket style, also called Hobo Meals among campers. The idea is simple, create a foil pocket and throw any ingredients there you think will go together well, add spices you like, then cook it over a campfire. Kids love it because they can create their own food. When you are done cooking, eat from the pocket and throw the foil away when finished. Practically no cleaning required! Alternatively, you can use aluminum foil pans for a stronger hold, and just cover them with an aluminum foil.
Find some hobo style cooking ideas here.
- Cook meals in advance, and freeze them
This is another way to survive campground cooking. Cook before your trip and bring your favorite frozen meals in a cooler. Heat them up on the fire or a stove. Additionally, along with the frozen water bottles, these meals will keep your cooler cold.
- Bring store frozen food
No food preparation needed. Just bring store frozen food or buy it while camping. I tried frozen pizza and pierogi, and it worked.
- Order food or do a drive-through, if possible
This option can work really well, but of course, it is the most expensive.
- Take at least one hardworking person with you
This is a strategy that always works for me. Find a guy like this!
10. How to safely store your food against wildlife
One of the most important tips in car camping is to put your food into the car when you are not around or sleeping. The wildlife is always there and waiting for your leave. Almost any animal, from a squirrel to a bear, will feel invited if you leave your food out, even somehow protected. On one occasion, a group of raccoons stole a heavy bag full of bread from my picnic table. It was an organized crime, four raccoons carried the bag into the woods. The bag was gone without a trace, and so was the bread. But most importantly, you do not want a bear to play with your food! Do not take any food with you into a tent!
11. Camping tips for families
Kids love camping. It spells freedom to them. Try to let them enjoy it by giving up on their daily routine.
- Let them get dirty and get dirty with them
- Let them stay late by the fire
- If they fall asleep by the fire do not wake them up to brush their teeth
- Play games with them
- Bring their bikes and let them explore the campground
- Get them involved in cooking
- Talk to them about your childhood. You will have their uninterrupted attention.
12. Safety camping tips for beginners
Follow these tips to help ensure your camping trip is safe and enjoyable.
- Avoid wild animals
Avoid touching, feeding, and getting near wild animals. Keep a safe distance!
- Protect yourself from the sun
Protect your eyes and skin from the strong ultraviolet rays of the sun. Wear sunscreen, lip screen, and sunglasses. You can get a sunburn even on overcast days.
- Be careful with water activities
Never swim alone. Always wear a life jacket when boating.
- Look for poison ivy, oak, and sumac
Avoid touching any unknown plants. Any part of your body that comes in contact with a poisonous plant should be washed immediately with cold water to help remove the oil that causes the allergic reaction. Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream may help to stop the itching with poison ivy.
- Protect yourself from bug bites and tick
Wear long sleeves, pants, and other light-colored clothing to help prevent to protect yourself from insects. This is what I do because I try to avoid harmful chemicals, but if you do not mind them, apply insect repellent containing DEET to clothes and exposed skin. Check for ticks daily.
- Never use fuel-burning equipment inside a tent
This is an essential first time camping tip. Do not put any flammable equipment in your tent. Using gas stoves, heaters, lanterns, and charcoal grills inside a tent can cause dangerous levels of carbon monoxide to build up.
13. First Time Camping Tips – Campfire safety
- Build or use a campfire pit away from overhanging tree branches
- Make sure the campfire has a metal fire ring or is encircled with rocks
- Keep a bucket of water and shovel nearby
- Never leave a campfire unattended
- Be sure to put out your campfire completely before you leave
14. Planning your last day of camping
- Do not plan anything else than packing on that day. Usually, the check out time does not allow for hanging around. I find it less stressful to just pack and leave, and then stop somewhere for a nice breakfast on the way home.
- Have a roll of big garbage bags ready to put your wet or dirty tent, wet towels, etc
- Leave your site the way you found it! Inspect it for any items left behind and pieces of garbage.
15. Unpacking after a camping trip
Unless your personality would not let you do it, take it easy with unpacking. Otherwise, you will remember the last day of your trip as overwhelming. Packing and unpacking on the same day is too much. Plus, you want to do it methodically, by category, just like you packed before the trip. Store all your camping staff together for the next time.
16. Think of replacing bags that originally came with your camping items
Almost everything you buy for camping is packed so tightly it is a struggle to pull it out and then put it back in. Sleeping bags, for example. They are way too heavy for a backpacking trip, so saving on space makes no sense either, yet pulling them out of a bag and putting them back in, requires two people and a lot of aggravation. Over the years, I accumulated bigger sacks that allow for fast and easy packing and backpacking.
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