Beginner’s Camping Guide

Now I know what you are telling yourself…I would really like to camp, it looks fun but I have no idea how to camp, what to bring or what to expect. There are a few things that you really have to determine before you can figure out what you need to do to get ready for your camping trip.  Answering the following basic questions will guide you to finding your footing.

What type of camping have you decided to do? 

Did you want to RV camp?  Camper/Trailer camp?  Tent camp?  Backpack/Hike camp?  Canoe/kayak camp? 

Determining the type of camping you want to do can aid you in what sort of equipment and expertise is needed.  For example, you would need a vastly different sort of equipment for RV camping versus hiking camping.

Types of Camping:

  • RV Camping (or recreational vehicle camping) is most like living at home because you bring a furnished vehicle that you basically live in with you.  You can make your RV just as comfy as you like.  Everything that you need from home can most likely be brought with you in your RV.  All you really need to think about are what foods and personal items you would like to stock it with.  This type of camping is generally for the people who do not like to “rough it” but also might like to be social since many times RV are parked fairly near each other or in similar sections.  Though there are some normal maintenance items with RVs, you basically park them and live in them.
  • Camper or Trailer camping is just a step more rugged than RV camping.  Many times campers or trailers do not have showers or toilets, unlike most RVs.  Depending on the camper or trailer, a refrigerator may not be included either.  Generally, camper or trailer camping is more for people who do not like to sleep on the ground or worry about severe weather but still want to get out there.
  • Tent camping is generally more for people who would like to “rough it.”  Tent camping requires you to think about all of your basic needs ahead of time (food, hygiene, restroom requirements, shelter, seeing at night, warmth).  There are actually varying levels of tent camping as well.  Some people like to bring a tent and shop for all of their needs while others like to camp in more remote areas away from people.  Packing for a tent camping trip can be time consuming because you have to think of everything you might need.
  • Backpacking or Hiking camping is a bit more for the experienced campers.  Think about it…everything you think you are going to need you have to be able to strap to your back and carry it for quite a distance.  You have to be able to pack well and pack light!
  • Canoe/kayak camping is much like hiking camping in regards to packing but you have to add another element.  You have to make sure that everything is waterproof.  Canoe/kayak camping would be for the more experienced camper and of course, for people who know how to canoe and/or kayak.

Recommendations for camping situations:

  • RV Camping – Shop around and do research before you decide on an RV for purchase.  Talk to people who already own them and ask them what they like and don’t like about their particular model.  Go to RV dealerships and walk through a bunch of them.  Maybe, go as far as renting an RV on a small trip to see what you do or don’t like about RV camping.
  • Camper/Trailer Camping – Because there might not be amenities like a refrigerator, more setup and forethought is required.  You most likely will have to purchase a cooler or two to keep your food and beverages chilled.  Also, you may have to think about generators if you would like to run electrical items.  Though you might have beds in the camper you may have to put bedding in.
  • Tent Camping – Think about the type of tent camping you’d like to do.  Does my tent have to be lightweight?  Waterproof?  Wind sturdy?  What size tent do I need (family size or just for me)?  What terrain will I be camping on?  A good camping tent can make all the difference on your trip.
  • Backpacking/Hiking Camping – Look for lightweight supplies, as you have to carry them all.  Equipment research into lighter weight sturdy hiking backpacks is a good idea.  Always check ahead of time if the area you wish to hike and camp allows people to do so.  Pay attention to “no trespassing” signs and heed them.  Check your weather!  You need to know what equipment to pack for the weather.  It is also recommended that you camp with a buddy.  In case something should happen, there should be someone who can go get help.
  • Canoe/kayak Camping – It might be advisable to take some canoe or kayak lessons (and swimming lessons) before attempting a camping trip in this way.  Perhaps you may wish to rent a canoe or kayak to make sure you like the activity before diving in.

Where have you decided to go camping?  Are you going to be camping in the Desert?  Beach?  Forest/woods? 

This is a very important question to answer in order to figure out your main needs.  You’d prepare very differently for desert camping than you would for camping in the forest.

In Desert camping temperatures can have extreme ranges from the heat of the day to the cold of the night.  The biggest threats (most of the year) in the desert are the sun and dehydration.  It is very important to protect yourself with sunscreen and drink plenty of water.  Due to the dry air you are not aware of how much you are perspiring because it evaporates so quickly off your skin.

Beach camping is very nice but you should prepare for it.  Due to the nature of sand it is difficult to weigh things down with normal tent stakes.  There are tent stakes that are much longer for this specific purpose.  You also must be prepared for the possibility that sand could get into everything.  Depending on how deep in the sand you’d like to go you should think about the vehicle you are using to get there.  Again, with the nature of sand it may be difficult to dig yourself back out.  You may wish to bring a shovel or random piece of wood.

Forest/woods are usually great for shelter from rainstorms and sun.  They are also great for hammocks but you have to be aware of biting insects and certain itchy plants.  Bug spray would be a huge recommendation for camping in the woods.

When or what time of the year are you going camping?

Figuring out what type of weather you are going to have to deal with while camping is key.  Personally, I think this is the most important information required to plan a proper camping trip.  Of course if you have an RV, this information probably doesn’t help you because you aren’t exposed to the elements.

Colder weather camping obviously requires warmer clothes but you may wish to consider a warmer camping sleeping bag regardless of what method of shelter you are using.

Wetter weather camping means that your terrain may be more difficult to deal with.  If you are tent camping, it would be recommended to lay a tarp under your tent, look for slightly higher ground to pitch your tent and always use your rain fly.

In hotter weather always make sure to keep yourself hydrated.  If you bring your water with you, bring lots.  If you are hiking camping, you may wish to consider a water treatment or a camping water filter.

Congratulations on taking your first step toward camping by answering these preliminary questions.  You are now on your way to planning for a camping trip tailored more to your specific needs and desires.

Below is a list of general items to take camping.  Please take from it what works best for you and your situation.  Note: Personal items should be included at your discretion.

10 Things to Consider Before you go Camping

1. Choose your tent wisely

When choosing a tent the most important things to keep in mind are size, weight and weather rating.

2. Consider pitch position.

When you pitch a tent, one of the best tips to remember is to choose the location very wisely. If you can, try not to sleep on a slope. Think about where the sun comes up, and goes down. Think about some shelter in the day, it’s often useful to have trees on one side of you to provide some natural protection from the heat, or any foraging animals that may decide your tent looks interesting enough to explore. If you plan to have an open fire, be sure that the flames won’t reach any overhanging canopy of branches that could trigger a fire. Take note and follow any posted warning signs and look for animal tracks on the ground. Do not disrupt mother nature.

3. Read the instructions!

An obvious but often overlooked camping tip is to read the instructions to learn how to put your tent up before you even go off on your camping trip. If you have a new tent, which you haven’t used yet, and are unfamiliar with how to put it up, it’s a good idea to pitch the tent in your back yard for practice. When you do this see if each pole is marked and if not, take some masking tape and label each piece in a manner that it is foolproof. Mark pole 1 a-b, pole 2 b-c, pole 3 c-d and so on. Also if you return from your trip and your tent is wet, it is a good idea to set it up in the back yard and let it dry out before storing for your next trip.

5. Deal with your food needs appropriately.

You may not know the area you will be camping in very well and therefore not know what shops if any are in the local vicinity. If this is the case, try to take some basic food items with you, so that if you are unable to obtain any extra food, no one will go hungry. If you are planning on cooking all your own meals, make sure the gas cylinders are full, and you have packed everything you need to make meals from scratch. Don’t forget the matches and remember to keep them dry! When you leave your campsite, make sure that all food is out of reach of wildlife. They will rip open boxes and climb trees to reach food if they really want it! It’s a good idea to carry your food in a plastic container so that it will be kept safe, especially if you’ll be camping in areas where there are larger animals, like bears. Keeping the food out of site (and smell) will prevent these dangerous creatures from being lured to your campsite. If you are camping in a location where there are bears it is imperative to use bear boxes. Bears can rip a car apart looking for food and can easily open a cooler and eat its contents if left out overnight.

6. Stay organized.

Be neat, tidy and organized inside of your tent and outside on the campgrounds. Although too much of a routine can be bothersome, having a few general rules is one of those camping tips which prove invaluable in the long term. Simple things such as not allowing dirty shoes inside the tent will not only make the camping trip a cleaner and more enjoyable experience, but also protect the tent’s material making it last longer than it otherwise might. Assign everything a place inside the tent. Also have specific places where things that are often needed can be found so that you aren’t fumbling in the dark and waking others looking for a flashlight or spending hours hunting for the matches.

7. Leave no trace.

Once your camping trip is at an end, make sure you tidy up after yourself, leaving no trace you were even there. If using a private or public campsite, this is essential, since people arriving will be arrive to use the same spot after you’ve left.

8. Prepare for next time.

You should be preparing for your next camping trip from the moment you end the current one. This means packing away all your equipment, including the tent in a way that makes it easy and simple to start the next camping trip. Make sure the tent goes away dry (if it’s raining as you pack up, air the tent out once you get home) and clean so that it’s suitable to use without any fuss in future. As you pack away, make a note of any equipment you may need to buy, such as new pegs or a replacement gas bottle. Also make a note as to items that need to be repaired.

Things to take camping:

FIRST AID/SURVIVAL KIT

  • Prescribed medications
  • Snake bite kit
  • Calamine lotion
  • Insect repellent
  • Distilled water
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Cotton balls or cotton swabs
  • Bandages
  • Moleskin (for sore feet)
  • Tweezers
  • Needles
  • Feminine products
  • Scissors
  • Thermometer
  • Individually wrapped gauze pads
  • Adhesive tape
  • Antiseptic
  • Clean old towel or part of bed sheet folded up
  • Steristrips (to hold cuts together)
  • Aspirin
  • Motion sickness medicine
  • Pepto Bismol
  • Aromatic ammonia
  • Glucose packs (for diabetics)
  • Water purifying tablets or filtration kit
  • Razor blades
  • Waterproof matches & container
  • Whistle
  • Solid knife
  • Hydrogen peroxide

BASIC CAMPING SUPPLIES

  • Tent (tarp, stakes, rain fly)
  • Sleeping bag (sleeping pad for under or air mattress)
  • Pillow
  • Small hatchet
  • Flash lights (& good extra batteries)
  • Camping lanterns (with fuel or good extra batteries)
  • Disposable butane lighter
  • Compass
  • Maps
  • Hammock
  • Cooler (& ice)
  • Water (and/or water filter or water purification tablets)
  • Clothing (weather appropriate)
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Good walking shoes
  • Personal toiletries
  • Pocket knife
  • Canteen (or hydration pack)
  • Firewood (bring or buy at campsite)
  • Backpack (and/or day pack)
  • Camping
  • Games (cards, frisbee, small portable games)
  • Camera (& good batteries)
  • S’mores fixings (large marshmallows, graham crackers & Hershey’s® chocolate)

CAMPING COOKING SUPPLIES

  • Obviously food (canned & packaged usually do well)
  • Stove (& fuel or charcoal) or a grill or dutch oven
  • Pot & pan (and cooking utensils if planning to cook)
  • Cups & plates & eating utensils
  • Re-sealable plastic bags
  • Plastic containers
  • Paper towel or napkins
  • Note:  If there are bear boxes where you camp…..use them!

THINGS OFTEN FORGOTTEN WHILE GOING CAMPING

  • Can opener
  • Wine bottle opener
  • Utensils
  • Towels
  • Soap (dish soap & bar soap)

IN CASE…

  • Flares
  • Folding shovel
  • Tea bags
  • Broth cubes
  • Poncho
  • Candles
  • Rope or cord (12′ to 24′)
  • Signal mirror
  • MREs (military term for “meals ready to eat”)
  • Suturing kit (for extreme cases)
  • Fish kit (& 15′ of 10 lbs. line & sinkers & 35mm film container & fish hooks)
  • Water filter or water purification tablets
  • Lifejackets (camping near water)
  • Baking soda (for toothpaste, insect bites, antacid, odors, etc.)

Camping Food Tips

Camping involves plenty of planning, and that goes for food planning too. Prepare your menu ahead of time, and have a menu for each meal that includes every item you’ll need. The more detail you have on your menu, the better prepared you’ll be to shop for exactly what you require, no more and no less.

Choose supper meals that you can prepare ahead of time and freeze, and freeze as much as you can in plastic bags to save space. The advantage of freezing food is that you will have “ice” ready for your cooler and not have to buy as many blocks of ice, and the food can safely defrost in the cooler. If it’s frozen tight and you’re planning on eating it that night, transfer the food from your frozen food cooler to the fresh produce cooler. Alternatively, thaw it out by placing the plastic bag in a bucket of cold water.

It’s a good idea to prepare food you can freeze a couple of weeks ahead of time and the rest of the food the day before you leave. Remember, the more you can prepare at home, the less time you’ll have to put into cooking while you camp.


Camping Code of Ethics

While traveling to your favorite camping spot, stay on designated roads and trails. It is a good idea to follow best practices for negotiating terrain for your type of travel. Don’t disturb the natural habitat by creating new routes or expanding on an existing trail. When you come to a stream, only cross at fords where the road or trail crosses the stream. When you come to a posted sign, comply with all the signs and barriers, they are there for a reason. It is always a good idea to go camping with two or three campers. Traveling solo can leave you vulnerable just in case you have an accident or breakdown. Always leave details with someone at home before leaving as to; where you are planning to go camping, how long you plan to be gone, and any other details that could be helpful in the event of an emergency or if you do not return when you planned. Respect the rights of others including private property owners and all recreational trail users, campers and others to allow them to enjoy their recreational activities undisturbed. Be considerate of others on the road, trail, or campground.

Keep noise to a minimum especially in the early morning and evening hours. Be considerate of other campers’ privacy, keep your distance and avoid traveling through their campsites.
Camping supplies in natural colors blend with natural surroundings and are less intrusive to other campers’ experiences.

Leave gates as you find them.

If crossing private property, be sure to ask permission from the landowner.
When driving yield to horses, hikers, and bikers.

Educate yourself by obtaining travel maps and regulations from public agencies, planning for your trip, taking recreation skills classes, and knowing how to use and operate your equipment safely.

Obtain a map of your destination and determine which areas are open to your type of travel.
Make a realistic plan, and stick to it. Always tell someone of your travel plans.
Contact the land manager for area restrictions, closures, and permit requirements.
Check the weather forecast for your destination. Plan clothing, equipment, and supplies accordingly. Carry a compass or a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit and know how to use them. Prepare for the unexpected by packing emergency items. Avoid sensitive areas such as meadows, lake shores, wetlands and streams, unless on designated routes. This protects wildlife habitat and sensitive soils from damage.

Other sensitive habitats to avoid unless on designated routes include cryptobiotic soils of the desert, tundra, and seasonal nesting or breeding areas. Avoid disturbing historical, archaeological, and paleontological sites. Avoid “spooking” livestock and wildlife you encounter and keep your distance. Motorized and mechanized vehicles are not allowed in areas designated Wilderness. Do your part by leaving the area better than you found it, properly disposing of waste, minimizing the use of fire, avoiding the spread of invasive species, restoring degraded areas, and joining a local enthusiast organization. Pack out what you pack in.
Carry a trash bag and pick up litter left by others.

Repackage snacks and food in baggies. This reduces weight and amount of trash to carry out.
Whenever possible, use existing campsites. Camp on durable surfaces and place tents on a non-vegetated area. Do not dig trenches around tents. Camp a least 200 feet from water, trails, and other campsites. For cooking, use a camp stove. They are always preferable to a campfire in terms of impact on the land. Observe all fire restrictions. If you must build a fire use existing fire rings, build a mound fire or use a fire pan. For campfires, use only fallen timber. Gather firewood well away from your camp. Do not cut standing trees. Let your fire burn down to a fine ash. Ensure your fire is completely extinguished. Do not wash in steams and lakes. Detergents, toothpaste and soap harm fish and other aquatic life. Wash 200 feet away from streams and lakes. Scatter gray water so it filters through the soil. In areas without toilets, use a portable latrine if possible and pack out your waste, otherwise it’s necessary to bury your waste. Human waste should be disposed of in a shallow hole (6″-8″ deep) at least 200 feet from water sources, campsites, or trails. Cover and disguise the hole with natural materials. It is recommended to pack out your toilet paper. High use areas may have other restrictions so check with a land manager.


Hopefully this was useful camping information. Enjoy the great outdoors and please leave it the great outdoors when you pack up and go home.