Let's Go Camping! Four Beginner Camping Tips

Camping can be a perfect way to disconnect, commune with nature, and enjoy the outdoors. Though summer not quite here yet, there’s still plenty of time to plan a camping trip. If you’re new to camping, it can seem overwhelming to plan, prepare for, and go on a camping trip. But if you use this short list of lessons to get you started, you’ll be well on your way to a great adventure.

Choose the Right Campground and Go With Family and/or Friends

Friends and I camped at a campground in Acadia National Park so we could take advantage of nearby hikes!

On your first trip, stay close to home and choose a campground with activities nearby. Both public (run by state park agencies, for example) and private campgrounds are good options. Using Reserve America to find places near you with camping available is a great place to start.

Additionally, most states maintain websites with lists of state parks and campgrounds, like Pennsylvania and New York do. Once you've found a park with a campground, most campground websites will list amenities available. If you know you’d like to be able to shower during your trip, look for a campground with that option. It’s also good to look for a campground with activities like hiking, biking, kayaking and rafting nearby so you've got something to do during the day.

Of course, enjoyment from nature is better when shared! Camping with friends and/or family can make a good weekend great. If you have friends or family members who’ve camped before, going with them can help you learn more about how to prepare.

Gear Up Properly

This trusty Eureka tent and our giant tarp come with my husband and I on all of our car camping trips!

Unless you truly want to sleep under the stars, you’ll need a tent. Choose a tent based on the number of people you’ll typically camp with, and if you plan to spend most of your camping time in campgrounds, look for something with plenty of room. If you’ve got friends willing to share tents with you, it’ll give you an idea what you want in your own tent.

Inside your tent, you’ll want a cushion between you and the ground. Sleeping pads do more than just keep you comfortable; if it’s a cold night, they’ll keep you from losing body heat to the ground. inflatable pads are a great choice. If you’re a beginner camper, odds are you’re camping in seasonable weather, and a sleeping bag rated to 30 degrees or higher will work well. You won’t need a super lightweight, expensive sleeping bag right away. And don’t forget a pillow!

Accumulating enough gear on your own is expensive, so if you're camping for the first time and not sure you're going to like it, I'd definitely suggest borrowing or renting gear if you can. For rentals, I've found them at local outfitters, even universities with outdoor programs; a quick Google search should yield good options. Sporting goods stores and outdoor outfitters like REI and EMS are great places to start when you’re looking for new gear.

Outfit Yourself with a Camp Kitchen

My friends and I visit the same campground just about every year, and our coolers are always stocked with our favorites!

There’s no need to compromise on the quality of your meals when you’re camping. Juicy burgers and grilled veggies are a piece of cake to prepare. Most public campgrounds have fire pits and picnic tables while others have grills already set up for cooking. Bringing a propane stove for boiling water or making pasta is a great option too.

I have a special set of camping cooking supplies, but regular pots and pans will work for car camping. Pack a cooler to make sure your perishables stay in good shape and leave it in the car at night to keep unwanted visitors away. Make sure you pack out what you pack in; even an apple core thrown in the woods is littering, and can cause problems for local flora and fauna. And make sure you avoid burning garbage in your fire pit; it's tougher for campground hosts to keep fire pits clean for future campers, and burning garbage can produce toxic fumes.

Make a Checklist and Be Sure These Key Pieces Are On It

You'll learn what works for you on camping trips the more you go!

Aluminum foil, gallon and sandwich sized plastic bags, cling wrap, cleaning supplies like towels, and plenty of silverware are key for the camp kitchen. Games, playing cards, frisbees, and other activity-based items are a great way to fill time while you’re waiting for dinner after a long day playing outside. Sunscreen, bug spray, Action Wipes, hand sanitizer, and paper towels are also great to have around. At night, make sure you have a lantern and/or headlamp to make navigating camp in the dark easier. If you think you’ll have trouble sleeping, keep these tips in mind.

Veteran campers, what tips did we miss? Tell us in the comments!

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