If you're about to set off for your first-time camping adventure, you're in the right place. We've created this step-by-step guide to camping for beginners to help you get started. Also, we've prepared a definitive camping checklist to make your camping trips trouble-free and more enjoyable. Without any doubt, there is a lot to learn, but don't worry — it's not hard to be a happy camper.
Choosing Right Place To Go Camping
Of course, the first thing to include in the beginners guide to camping is selecting the place for your first night in the great outdoors. To pick the right spot for your first-time camping, you need to consider what you want to get out of the camping experience. Traditional campsites, glamping spots, national parks, or your backyard — go for a place that can best meet your personal needs.
Camping at a campsite
This option is the most popular with beginner campers. Fair enough, as a campsite typically offers a range of amenities to make your first experience easier. In addition, you can rent a tent right at the campsite. On the flip side, they cost a lot and might be overcrowded in the high season. Don't forget to book your campground in advance.
Wild camping in remote landscapes like a national park is definitely the most exciting option. Just imagine sleeping in beautifully wild locations away from crowds. Totally mesmerising, isn't it? However, keep in mind that you need to be self-sufficient as it requires more outdoor experience. Dispersed camping is ideal for a backpacking trip, but you won’t have access to any resources like bathrooms, running water, or RV hookups.
It might sound too straightforward, however, if it's your first-time camping, you can pitch your tent in the garden to test out your new gear before you set off for your grand adventures in the wild campgrounds.
Finally, here's the most luxurious option for your first trip. Glamping, or glamorous camping, refers to a campsite with amenities and resort-style services. It's expensive and allows you to enjoy the luxuries of hotel accommodation in the great outdoors.
Basic Camping Gear
As soon as you've decided on your destination, it's high time to start gathering all the necessary camping gear. In this section, we've put together a list of camping basics that you'll need on any camping trip, no matter if you're car camping or backpacking. Sure, these aren't the only things you need to bring, but these essentials will direct you toward a successful camping trip.
It goes without saying that a good tent is critical: it will shield you against the elements and keep you warm and dry. Since it belongs to the most essential camping gear, you have to approach selecting your shelter with ultimate responsibility. That's why we included detailed tips on choosing a quality tent in our beginner's guide to camping (see this section below).
We're totally convinced that a decent sleeping bag is just as imperative as a good tent. Fair enough, because if you sleep badly, you won't enjoy your trip. While choosing your sleeping bag from the great variety of their shapes and designs, pay attention to temperature rating. Bags are rated to be comfortable in a certain temperature range, so pick one that will keep your warm in the coolest expected temperature. A word of advice: if you tend to be cold, get a sleeping bag that is at least 10 degrees warmer than the lowest temperature you might face.
A sleeping pad is no less essential for a good night's sleep. Sleeping pads provide a cushioning and insulating air layer between you and the cold ground. There are a few different sizes and styles of sleeping pads to choose from, which will vary depending on the length of your trip and the environment in which you’ll be camping.
Other Camping Essentials
Although camping pillows aren't usually included into sleeping gear lists, we recommend getting one for your first night outdoors, especially if you go car camping and the pillow doesn't take up space in your backpack. There's obviously a difference between resting your head on bunched-up clothes and sleeping with a pillow.
You'll need a stove to cook your meals, plus it can be used to purify water by boiling. With a camping stove, you'll do it much quicker and safer than over the fire. Unless you've chosen a campsite with cooking facilities, you'll need your own stove. Not to mention, a portable camp stove is a must to keep you warm on a winter camping trip. When shopping for a stove, consider the following factors:
- whether you will be car camping or backpacking,
- whether you are going to actually cook, or just warm up pre-cooked meals,
- how many campers will rely on the stove.
Lights not only enable you to do things at night, but can also serve as signal devices in case of emergency. The two most popular options include a headlamp and a lantern. A headlamp allows you to keep your hands free, which is helpful for climbing and hiking in darkness. Soft-glowing, battery-powered lanterns are typically used for eating areas and the inside of your tent.
Consider getting a cooler to keep your camping food fresh. It's also a good idea to include this piece of gear into your list if you love enjoying cold beverages.
To keep clean, pack any toiletries you would normally use, such as soap, shampoo, or toothpaste. Additionally, get a couple of hand sanitisers and stock up on antibacterial wipes for extra safety.
First aid kit
Hopefully, you won't need it for anything serious, however, it's very likely that you or another camper from your group will get a small cut, scrape, blister, or let's say a minor burn while making a campfire. Always plan for sun (especially in winter!) and be ready for bugs by bringing sunscreen and insect repellent. Before you set off, check if your first aid kit is stocked with everything you need. See our recommendations at the bottom of this article.
Camping equipment repair tools
Things happen, and your task is not to let small issues spoil your weekend camping trip. For this, pack tools to help you quickly fix your gear, such as a tent repair kit, an extra guyline or string, and duct tape — a real lifesaver when it comes to simple, on the go repairs.
Tips for Choosing a Tent
Today, it's easy to get spoiled by the choice in tents, and buying a shelter for your first tent camping trip might be challenging. Tents come in different sizes, designs and materials, and picking the right one may be really confusing for a beginner. Let's take a closer look at what you should pay attention to while choosing your wildlife shelter.
Tents typically come with person ratings: 3-person, 6-person etc. Therefore, you should go for a tent that will meet your need to accommodate a certain number of campers. However, keep in mind that in tent descriptions, you often see the number of people that a tent can fit if they are using sleeping bags. So our tip is to pay attention to the tent's dimensions as well.
Also, pick a more-person tent in case you plan to use camper beds or a table inside, or just feel that you'll need additional space for your gear. All in all, it's always better to go bigger with your tent: a 3-person tent will give a bit of extra breathing room to a couple, and a family of four will feel like home in a 6-person tent.
Season-wise, tents fall into several categories: 1-season, 2-season, 3-season, and 4-season tents.
- 1- and 2-season tents are meant for warm weather with mild precipitation. They aren't able to withstand even a moderate rain and are good only for summer campers.
- 3-season tents can handle moderate rain and wind, they are designed for spring-to-fall use.
- 4-season tents are meant to be used all year round. They are strong enough to withstand high winds and heavy snowfalls.
Canvas or polyester? To be honest, each tent fabric has its advantages and drawbacks. Which material is the best will depend on your needs.
For starters, let's take a deeper look at polyester. First of all, polyester tents are more affordable. Then, it's worth mentioning that they are lighter and less bulky, which makes them the perfect choice for a backpacking adventure. Lastly, polyester tents are quite quick to dry out and are more resistant to mildew and rips. However, if compared to canvas, they are not good insulators: such a tent can get very hot when it is warm, and chilly when it gets cold. In addition, the lightweight material means it can flap around a bit more in the windy weather, and make some noise. To top it off, polyester is far from breathable.
What about canvas? First of all, canvas insulates well enough not to get hot on a warm day or cold in the chilly weather. Next, cotton is a breathable fabric, which means that you won't have any issues with condensation. Finally, this material can last a long time and is more resistant to harmful UV rays than polyester. On the downside, canvas tents are heavy and bulky. Plus, they require more maintenance. Keep in mind that it's imperative to completely dry out your canvas tent before putting it away, which takes a lot longer than polyester. Otherwise, you are very likely to get mildew in your tent.
Dome and outfitter tents are two of the most popular designs. Your final decision should depend on the duration of your camping adventure, the kind of camping ground you're going to visit, the number of campers, the expected weather conditions, the height of the campers, and finally, the amount of storage space you'll need. If you consider all these aspects, it will be simpler to make the right decision on what kind of wildlife shelter will best meet your camping needs.
In general, an outfitter tent provides more space than the average dome tent. If you need a shelter to share with a large group, an outfitter tent seems like the most reasonable solution. They provide more floor and headroom due to their straight wall design. Not to mention, this also means more storage space as well as opportunity to use bunk beds. Campers can stand upright inside an outfitter tent thanks to its high ceiling.
On the flip side, dome tents don't offer much headroom and storage space as their walls slope in all directions from the peak. However, dome tents are more lightweight, which makes them easy to transport, and they are most suitable for backpacking and hiking. Plus, they are easier and faster to pitch. The crisscrossing poles ensure that your wildlife shelter will stand firm against the elements.
Clothing for Camping
While you prepare for your first camping trip, there's one more crucial thing to keep in mind: the right camping clothing. Here are some tips to make your choice easier.
- Bring a waterproof jacket.
- Bring layers. First, you'll be less likely to get cold, and next, you can remove the outer layers when it gets warmer. Merino base layers plus fleece sweaters and pants coupled with waterproof pants are a good solution.
- Take care of extra socks and underwear.
- While packing your clothing for a camping trip, go for comfortable clothes. Get this: you'll be bending and crouching way more than usual, so choose an outfit that won't restrict your movement.
- Bring your most comfortable footwear. You'll be on your feet most of the time, so bring comfy shoes that you don't mind getting dirty, for instance, old sneakers. In case you want something more practical, get hiking boots or camp shoes.
- Pack a sun hat and sunglasses. As you'll be outside all day, you'll need them to protect you from the sun.
- Last but not least, your clothing decisions should heavily depend upon the season and weather conditions. If you expect rain, bring extra boots, a water-resistant coat and umbrella. Picked a seashore campsite? Don't forget your swimsuit / swim trunks and flip flops. Finally, go for thermal layers, a wooly hat, gloves, a scarf, an insulated coat, and thick socks if you go camping in the cold weather. Cold weather camping requires more preparation and gear, so if you decide on setting off for a camping trip in the winter, check out our winter camping tips.
Camping for Beginners: Useful Tips
Camp cooking for beginners
Get this: camp cooking isn't as easy as at home. So when you go camping for the first time, keep in mind that the food part doesn't have to be complicated. If you're not much of a chef, probably it's a good idea to book a campground with cooking facilities and bring some pre-cooked or frozen meals. However, we believe that you can cope with cooking on a stove or over a fire as well, just give it a try. Besides food, don't forget to pack fuel, cooking utensils, cups, dishes, forks, knives etc (see our checklist at the bottom of this article).
Remember that the easiest meal to eat when camping is the one you're most comfortable making at home. It's an excellent idea to bring a cooler to keep your food fresh. Also, you will burn more calories when you're active, so plan on eating more than you normally would at home. Pack food rich in proteins, fiber and complex carbohydrates. Don't forget about snacks, for instance, fruit, granola bars, nuts, candy and sunflower seeds. Finally, bring plenty of water, a gallon per camper per day.
First time camping checklist
It often happens that first time campers overlook a checklist. However, it's no fun arriving at your camping destination and finding out that you forgot to pack something. So our advice is to stay organized and make sure nothing is left behind by keeping a camping checklist.
Shelter and comfort
- Tent footprint
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad / air mattress
- Light source plus spare batteries
- Tent repair kit
Clothing and footwear
- Waterproof jacket and pants
- Base layers
- Clean and dry clothes to sleep in
- Winter clothes if applicable
- Suitable footwear
- Extra underwear and socks
- Sun protection
- Fire starter and matches
- Picnic table and chairs
- Pots, pans and kettle
- Cutting board
- Cooking and eating utensils
- Plates, bowls and mugs
- Dish cloths and sponge
- Dish soap and bowl for washing up
- Rubbish bags
- Tin and bottle opener
Hygiene and protection
- Any toiletries you would usually use: soap, shampoo, conditioner
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitizers and antibacterial wipes
- Insect repellent
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
First aid kit
- Roll-on band-aid
- Blister prevention and relief products
- Anti-diarrheal medicines
- Headache remedies
- Skin burn remedies
- Strong painkillers
- Any prescriptions
- Supplies for outdoor activities
- Credit card and/or cash
- Water bottle
- Phone plus portable charger
- Campsite reservation confirmation (if required)
🏕 What is the best way to organize and pack camping gear?
What is the best way to organize and pack camping gear?
- To save space, go for multi-use items and use compression sacks. Utilize all of your backpack’s existing pockets to keep you organized.
📦 What are requirements for outdoor camping clothing?
What are requirements for outdoor camping clothing?
- It depends on the season. For summer, go for breathable underwear and socks, moisture-wicking T-shirts, pants/shorts, and a lightweight hat. However, don’t forget something warm to put on at night — the nights are cooler even in summer. For cold weather camping, bring extra layers, some pairs of warm socks, a warm hat, gloves and boots.
💡 Shall I practice setting up camp at home?
Shall I practice setting up camp at home?
- It’s a great idea. This will help you to practice pitching your tent, to figure out how much time it takes, and finally, to make sure your tent is in proper working order.
❓ What shouldn’t you bring camping?
What shouldn’t you bring camping?
- For safety reasons, avoid glass items (including beer bottles), perfumes, and scented lotions. Also, you probably won’t need jewelry, fancy clothes and makeup at the camp.