Sooner or later, your dad or boyfriend is going to suggest a camping trip.
While it is always cool to experience new things as a family or in a relationship, camping is one of those things that can go horribly wrong if you are not properly prepared. So before we get to the list of the important things to pack with you, let’s help you narrow down a few pre-trip details.
1 – Where Are You Going?
Sure, you may be one of the lucky ones living somewhere where you can just pitch a tent anywhere and make it a campsite. However, for the majority of us, we live in a part of the world where our choices range between two main options.
We can seek a campsite in a national or state park, or we can go to one of the gazillion private campgrounds that dot the continent. If you are a complete newbie, you may want to test drive your skills at a privately-owned and operated campground.
Yes, the firewood is going to cost you money as will anything else in the on-site shop, but at least if something goes bad on your camping trip, you’ll have others nearby who can lend a hand. Also, for your first trip, don’t go too far away from home, just in case.
2 – When Are You Going?
If the weather forecast calls for snow, you may wish to alter your camping plans a bit. The same goes for certain times of the year. Long weekends are murder on the highway and if you didn’t book your campsite about two years in advance, don’t expect to find too much open and ready for you to set up camp.
The shoulder seasons that fall just before the May long weekend and follow the September long weekend will be quieter on the roads and camping fees will be reduced. However, you also stand the chance of discovering bad weather that can really put a damper on your plans. Weekends during summer will be insane, and one way to avoid that becoming your mental state is to aim for weekday camping.
3 – Why Are You Going?
This is going to be the most profound question asked here simply because it will assist in determining the purpose of your camping trip. If it is a family outing where you plan to introduce your children to outdoor activities such as cooking on a campfire, sleeping in a tent and fishing on a lake, then you have a really solid reason to take your first camping trip as a family.
If your goal is to try to impress the girl, try to scare the girl so she will cling to you all night in the one-person tent you pre-planned on taking or you are trying to score with the girl out in the wilderness where no one will hear her, you may want to reexamine your goals. There is nothing wrong with building your relationship with a camping trip, but if your intentions are way off track where camping turns everything into an unsafe situation, you need something other than this.
The Camping Essentials For Your First Camping Trip
Alright! You have your campsite reservation, and it’s at a private campground located just outside of town. You are taking the family so all of you can spend quality time swimming, fishing, playing games and singing around the campfire at night. It’s a great plan. Now you need some gear, but you can’t just load up on any gear. Here is our list of what you need for your first camping trip and keep this list handy for future camping trips.
1 – The Sleeping Arrangements
You could get away with just a tent, but in order to fully appreciate the experience and experience the difficulties of setting up a tent, you need a few more items to make your campsite bedroom all that more functional.
You will need a tent that is large enough for your family or two separate tents – one for adults, one for children. You will also want to pack along tarps, poles, tie downs and stakes which will all make sense if you end up setting up camp during a torrential downpour. And you’ll definitely need tips from a Camping Expert to get it right.
2 – The Sleeping Gear
Unless you are quite comfortable with sleeping on a rock, you are going to want to make nighttime as bearable as possible for both you and your family. This means hauling sleeping pads, sleeping bags, extra quilts, blankets, pillows and assorted other soft and cushy items to curl up on, in and around while attempting to fall asleep to the sound of crickets or coyotes or some other howling wildlife that sounds completely different to the highway traffic you normally hear.
3 – The Lights
Here’s a piece of valuable information for you: there are no streetlights in the woods. Therefore, camping in the woods means it is going to get dark at night.
Depending on your exact camping location, it may get darker in a shade of black you have never witnessed before. This is why you will want to carry with your headlamps, lanterns, and flashlights. Your campfire will provide some illumination, but if there happens to be a campfire ban, you’ll have to find another way to see like using a night vision scope.
4 – The Water Stuff
As tempting as it may be to suddenly start drinking the water from the babbling brook just over there, you would be wise to hold off until you had a chance to clean that water up a tad. Naturally, you would have stocked up on bottled water before you left home, but in case you skipped that part to save on storage, you could get around it with a water filtration system or treatment tablets. Either way, you won’t go thirsty, and at least the water will be safe to drink.
5 – The Footwear
News Flash! A camping trip is no place for heels. Open-toed sandals are also probably not so smart to wear at the campsite, either. You can get away with just wearing sneakers if you are just going to hang around the campsite or wander a little bit on nearby paths. However, if you intend to do some serious hiking or the terrain around your campsite is a bit on the rugged side, hiking boots would be a good, safe, intelligent, logical, brilliant item to have stowed away in the car.
6 – The Maps
Here’s another News Flash for you! Even if your first camping trip happens to be within town limits, don’t expect to be able to rely on GPS with your cellphone. That’s because the wilderness doesn’t normally have a signal. It has something to do with cell towers messing with the landscape and the constant noise of various ring tones confusing the plant life. So, don’t be too proud to carry a few paper maps with you so you can find your way around when out hiking.
7 – The First Aid Kit
Do we have to explain why you may need one of these with you? It’s to fix the boo-boo’s that may happen. Yes, boo-boo’s tend to happen when you are several miles away from the nearest emergency room. It’s the Law of Camping, and you may as well get in the habit of stocking up on various first aid items – including a snake bite kit. Not to say you’ll need it every time you go but the one time you do will make you appreciate it more. Note that bringing practical camping gear will
8 – The Spares
We’re going to just slip this one in as a handy little reminder that whatever you have already packed for your camping trip, you could be even more prepared if you had a spare of each of those things also stashed somewhere in your vehicle. An example is waterproof matches. You can’t go wrong with a spare container of those. Toilet paper also comes to mind. Never expect the outhouse you’ll be using to be fully stocked. Yes, you’ll be using an outhouse.
The Campsite Kitchen
We gave this a sub-heading of its own simply because it is your most important part of your campsite. While others will claim that the tent and sleeping bag outranks the campsite kitchen, you don’t want to try to fall asleep on an empty stomach. It’s not fun, nor is it really something you would want to have to experience on your first ever camping trip. Sure, pack along some snacks in case the fire doesn’t work or someone forgot to bring the hamburgers along.
1 – The Cooking Stuff
Okay, you could pretend to know what you’re doing and attempt to cook all your meals over a campfire, but you’d do better with a camp stove. It’s a lot more reliable and allows you to cook more than just weenies on a stick. With the camp stove, you will need fuel and something to light that bugger up. You are also going to discover that there is a very, very wide range on prices and capabilities of the average camping cook stove. Take your time to pick the right one for you.
2 – The Cooking Stuff – Part 2
It’s all well and good to have a camp stove in your campsite, but you can’t cook beans very well in foil. Well, you probably could, but pots and pans that are meant for campsite cooking will do a better job. It also means your camping menu will get somewhat longer when you have the right gear at your fingertips. Don’t be afraid to bring various sizes of pots and pans because you are very likely going to need or use each one of them before you tear your campsite down.
3 – The Utensilsa
Try eating beans out of your hand, and you’ll understand why it’s a good idea to have some camping bowls, cups and all the other things like spoons, knives, and forks. Yes, there is a way to just improvise and cook up meals you can eat with your fingers, but the store in the private campground will be stocked in these things as they know a lot of newbies forget to pack ‘em. It’s up to you if you want to spend $25 on plastic spoons or bring your own from home instead.
4 – The Jolt Machine
We’ve already stated that the kitchen at your campsite is the most important part of your camping set up. In actual fact, the Number One most important thing at your campsite is the system you use to make coffee. That’s because everyone knows that things go better with excessive amounts of caffeine. This means you will have to search around for the best coffee maker for your camping needs. Once you find it, you’ll know if it’s the right one or not.
5 – The Cleaning Stuff
Your campsite should be left the way you found it, provided it was clean in the first place. The idea here is to learn good camping habits from your very first visit to the woods. As easy as it may be to stuff all your trash in a bag and pitch it over the canyon wall, that’s just not cool. You could also jam it all into the waste receptacles on site and let someone else worry about it, too. But the smart thing is to haul your garbage home so you can toss it into your home garbage can.
Other Important Things About Camping
So now that you have this incredibly awesome list of the gear you need to get out and experience nature the way it was intended to be – in a small, shredable tent sitting on a nice flat surface with food and other goodies nearby – how will you know you have all you need?
Even more important, how will you know if any of the gear you have is going to work or whether or not you know how to use it properly? Well, we have a couple of suggestions to help with that.
1 – Borrow Some Gear
Before you drop a boatload of money into camping gear that you may end up using only once because the kids got scared and won’t ever do it again, you have an option. You are going to know someone who fancies themselves as the expert camper. This is someone you can use as a valued resource because not only can this person help you figure out what gear you need, they may even have a lot of extra stuff around that you can borrow and test drive on your own.
2 – The Test Drive
The whole point of test driving borrowed gear is to show you a few things. First, you should get a good idea of what items you may or may not need should you suddenly desire to become the new local camping guru. Second, it will show you whether or not you are actually cut out to be a camper. Don’t worry if you decide that you’d rather camp in the future in the comfort of a 4-Star hotel. Camping isn’t made for everyone, and the test drive saves you a lot of money to find out.
3 – The Second Hand Store
If you do decide that camping is your thing, you can save a few bucks right off the top by picking up some essentials at the second-hand store, the local thrift shop, through online sales and also at yard/garage sales or flea markets. Just beware what essentials you are willing to pick up used and which ones you prefer to buy brand new. You may find a great second-hand camp stove, but we’d probably opt for buying one of those brand new which includes warranties.
4 – The Backyard Camping Trip
The best way to test drive the items you have borrowed or picked up second hand is by taking an unofficial camping trip. This trip will entail setting up camp as you would in an ordinary campground only you’ll be doing this in your backyard. It’s a good way to try the experience without being too far from the comforts of home like flush toilets, wifi and a kitchen that is already stocked with the items you would need for any kind of meal regardless of the weather.
The Other Stuff You Should Be Doing
Trust us, you won’t learn everything you need to know about camping from us, but you can pick up a lot of tips. In addition to what we’ve told you so far, you can pick up even more insight by doing some of your own research.
Use the internet, your public library, and social media to find leads on gear and to learn more about starting the right campfire for your needs and other handy tips you won’t find anywhere else. Also, get to know the people in your local bait shop. They will be able to give you suggestions of where to take the family on your first few camping trips to ease everyone into the great outdoors. Once they are hooked, you’ll be on your way.
The Things No One Will Tell You About Camping Until It’s Too Late
There are a few things about camping that may seem obvious to most, but if you are a newbie, the chances are that you won’t find some of these things out or if you do, it’ll be the hard way. So, let’s give you a fighting chance by giving you a few hints that could make the difference between a successful camping trip and one that ends up in the back of an ambulance.
1 – Get To Know Your Plant Life
It may be fun to frolic around in the meadows you find while out on a camping trip, but you need to be aware of what you are touching and stepping on each step of the way. There are some nasty plants out there with names like poison ivy that you will want to identify long before the rash starts to develop. The more you know about the things that exist in and around your campsite, the safer you will be.
2 – Get To Know Your Wildlife
Stashing your food in a Styrofoam cooler and storing it on top of the picnic table may seem like a good idea to you. But to various wild animals like snakes, coyote, and bears, you have just given them an open invitation to stop by and help themselves to your salads, steaks, and popcorn. They call them s’mores because once a bear finds your food stash, it will keep coming back for s’more.
3 – Get To Know Your Cell Coverage
Your campsite might hit the local cell tower, but if you end up hiking somewhere that takes you behind rock faces, or in a cave or gully somewhere, that trusty cell phone of yours may only be as good as a paperweight. It is always a good idea to carry a set of walkie talkies with you so you can stay in touch with your camp just in case something goofy happens and you need a chopper to lift you out.
Oh, And Above All Else…Have Fun
As you have probably figured out by now, camping can be a complicated event. There is nothing about camping that is off-the-cuff or completely improvised. Well, that is unless you forgot to pack some of the essentials listed above. Regardless of the amount of work that goes into preparing for your first camping trip, if you end up becoming a seasoned camper, you’ll look back on your first with fond memories.
Family camping trips are truly a great experience that can be shared with all. Even if the trip is just you and your sweetheart, if you do it right, you’ll have some pretty amazing memories that were created under the stars and next to a campfire.
Q: Is a Swiss army knife really necessary or is it just for Boy Scouts?
A: Oh, the mighty Swiss army knife! This little gadget is like the superhero of camping tools. It can open cans, cut ropes, serve as a makeshift screwdriver, and if rumors are true, it can even negotiate peace treaties between rival ant colonies. Jokes aside, it’s a versatile tool that can be really handy.
Q: Why do I need a sleeping bag? Can’t I just bring my blankets from home?
A: While your cozy home blankets may seem appealing, sleeping bags are specifically designed to handle outdoor conditions and provide warmth even in low temperatures. Plus, they’re much easier to pack and carry. So, unless your blanket is a Transformer that can morph into a sleeping bag, it’s probably best to leave it at home.
Q: Should I buy a camping chair or can I just sit on a log?
A: Log sitting is a proud camping tradition, but a camping chair can provide a lot more comfort, especially after a long day of hiking. Plus, logs are notoriously stingy with their armrests.
Q: Do I need a camping stove or can I just cook everything over a campfire?
A: While roasting marshmallows and hotdogs over a campfire is a classic camping experience, a camping stove allows for greater cooking versatility and control. Unless you’re a campfire gourmet chef who can whip up a soufflé with nothing but a stick and some hot coals, a camping stove can make meal preparation a lot easier.
Q: Is it necessary to buy an expensive tent? I saw a cheap one at a discount store.
A: While the bargain bin tent may be tempting, remember that your tent is your shelter from the elements. A quality tent will be more durable, provide better protection, and typically be easier to set up and pack away. Skimping on a tent is a bit like buying a colander to use as an umbrella – it’ll do the job, but you’re going to get wet.
Q: What’s the deal with camping toilet paper? Can’t I just use leaves?
A: If you’re fond of leaves, by all means, go for it. However, camping toilet paper is specifically designed to be biodegradable and less impactful on the environment. And let’s face it, it’s generally a smoother, more comfortable experience. Just make sure to bury it properly, or you might give some poor squirrel a surprise.
Q: I have a water bottle. Why do I need a hydration pack?
A: Hydration packs can carry more water and allow you to drink hands-free, which can be really convenient when hiking. If you’ve ever tried to juggle a water bottle, map, compass, and granola bar while fending off an overly curious raccoon, you’ll appreciate the ease of a hydration pack.
Q: I’ve heard of people using bear canisters when camping. Do I need one?
A: Unless you fancy playing tug-of-war with a bear for your lunch, then yes, a bear canister can be very helpful! These sturdy containers store your food and scented items safely, making it difficult for bears and other wildlife to get to them. They’re particularly important if you’re camping in bear country. And no, they’re not for storing actual bears, no matter how cute they seem.
Q: Are hiking boots really necessary? Can’t I just wear my running shoes?
A: While running shoes are comfortable, they may not provide the ankle support and traction that hiking boots do. This could lead to slipping or rolling an ankle on uneven terrain. Remember, sprained ankles are only fashionable in certain circles, and woodland creatures are surprisingly unsympathetic fashion critics.
Q: What is a camping hammock? Should I get one?
A: A camping hammock is exactly what it sounds like: a hammock designed for camping. They’re lightweight, portable, and can be a comfortable sleeping option in warm weather or a fun spot to relax. But beware: once you’re in one, you may not want to leave. You’ve been warned.
Q: Is it worth it to get a camping pillow?
A: It’s not just about having a place to rest your head – camping pillows are compact and designed to provide support and comfort without taking up a ton of space in your backpack. So unless you’ve mastered the art of folding leaves into a memory foam equivalent, a camping pillow might be a good idea.
Q: How much should I spend on camping gear?
A: This really depends on your camping style, frequency, and budget. You can start with basic gear and upgrade as you go. Remember, nature won’t judge you based on the brand of your gear, but that squirrel might give you the side-eye if you don’t share your trail mix.
Q: What do I do if it rains while I’m camping?
A: First off, don’t panic! Ensure your tent is properly set up to withstand rain and seek shelter. Remember, a rainy day in nature can still be an adventure – plus, you can always sing in the rain and see if the local wildlife forms a chorus line.
List of gear infographic