How to go camping for the first time? Hang on tight, while we share with you everything that you need to know about Camping and Hiking. If you’re a beginner you will find the “Beginners Camping Guide for Smart Campers” your go to resource. Welcome to Hiking and Camping World. In this website, we will bring you everything that helps you to make your hiking and camping experience a thrill filled and a memorable one. If you’re an experienced camper or hiker you won’t miss out either. Why? Because there are plenty of resources such as various product reviews and articles, which you’ll surely find useful.
Table of Contents
Obviously, the first thing you need to decide where you want to go? Also, the necessary things for camping that you’ll need to pack. So, do you have a fabulous place in mind already? If yes, then start digging out more information about that place. It is always a good starting point to talk to friends and families. Yes, people who have already been there before. Or, if that’s too much. You might simply like to get in touch with your local camping and hiking club or association.
Camping is the only outdoor activity that can be carried out at a pace suitable to the camper. If you want, you can either include many physical activities in it, or you can just eat, read, count the stars and have a good time while doing so. Camping provides the benefits of fresh air, light exercise and carefree existence that work wonders for people looking for a break in their monotonous schedules. It is adventurous, yet at the same time wonderfully idyllic.
So, if you are attracted towards it and wondering how to go camping for the first time, then you will find all the related information in this article including tips on how to buy or rent the basic camping gear. The article has all the guidelines on camping for beginners. I have also included definitions of few basic camping gear and related terms for newbies. So, find out what all you will need as a first time camper and get started right away.
Location, Location, Location
The first question that comes to the mind of any camper is where to go? The word “camping” conjures up images of wilderness, sounds of flowing water and maybe some wildlife sighting. Well, it need not be that dramatic for the first time. You can easily choose a more comfortable campground that boasts of all basic amenities. From community showers and flush toilets, some campsites even offer you fully furnished roofed tents for you to stay.
Camping Terms for Beginners
- Campsite: Place where an individual or a family can pitch their tent.
- Campground: A ground or open area that has many campsites.
National parks and State parks have scores of campgrounds each housing hundreds of campsites. Though there is a National Park Service website which has information about all the national parks across states, it does not give camping information. The ideal place to look for camping sites is the Recreation website that lists the national parks where campgrounds are available. It also has a review on each one of them. You can also find out about the facilities given in each park like electrical connections, drinking water, toilets and so on.
- Amenities available
- Pets allowed or not
- Nearest gas station and grocery store
- Charges per night
- Weather information
- Reservation policy (if it is on first come first serve basis or you need to pre-book)
- Specific policies (like firewood safety policy which does not allow you to bring your own firewood)
- Activities available nearby the camp like hiking, fishing, boating and so on
While you are searching for a location you will come across two terms, Frontcountry Camping and Backcountry Camping.
Frontcountry camping means you can take your vehicle to the camp site and set up your tent near your vehicle. It is also called car camping and is recommended form of camping for beginners. You can even sleep in the car if you find sleeping in the tent difficult. Many facilities are available in the campgrounds which help to make your first experience as a camper more comfortable.
Backcountry camping is remote camping. These campsites are not nearby roads and will involve considerable hiking to reach them. They are good for professional and seasoned campers but should be avoided by people on their first camping trip.
Before packing make sure camping is for you
Before you try to find out answers to how to go camping for the first time you will first need to answer if camping is suitable for you or not? Since camping will require some monetary investment in things like tent and sleeping bags it would be better to ascertain if you will be using all those items for long term. Before you splurge your money make sure camping is how you want to spend some of your weekends or holidays.
Camping for beginners – Facts about camping
- Camping involves work. Setting up tent, washing dirty dishes, hanging wet towels to dry and many more things are done by campers.
- If you are used to getting served on a tray while on a vacation, then you are in for rude shock here. Camping means you will have to cook your own food with the most basic amenities and eat it too!
- If you are a light sleeper, then sleeping in the tent with unique smells and sounds surrounding you might make it difficult for you to sleep well.
- If you are finicky about cleanliness, then camping might prove a rather tedious exercise in self-grooming for you.
- There are bugs and unexpected weather changes that can also put a damper on your camping spirits.
With all that said, camping gives a unique experience to anyone looking out for ways to spend their holidays differently. In order to make it a smooth experience for you, here are a few tips that will help you in your first camping trip.
How to go camping for the first time – Tips for beginners
- Choose your first camping site that has maximum amenities. This way you will not feel too far away from home comforts.
- Search for a campsite which is nearest to home. If you find camping a bit rough you can always go back home and still enjoy whatever is left of the weekend or holiday.
- Try to take an experienced camping buddy with you. He/she will help you with all the nitty-gritty of camping like setting up the tent or starting a campfire thereby saving lots of your time and energy.
- Research thoroughly and pack everything that you think will help you make more comfortable. This is another reason to go for car camping as it does not have any weight restrictions. You can carry as much as your car can hold.
And this brings us to what all you should take with you on your first camping trip.
Basic camping gear will include tent, sleeping bag, headlights, and lantern, stove and so on. Since you will be camping for the first time you can decide to take on rent most of the equipment instead of buying them. Once you are sure that you want to camp on a regular basis, then only buy all the stuff.
Here are two sites where you can find good camping gear for rent. These sites also have store locators through which you can physically go to the nearest store and check the stuff.
Before taking things on rent make sure they are in good working condition and clean (especially sleeping bags).
Tent: There is an article published in Telegraph, which lists some 10 common mistakes people make when they go camping. Choosing the wrong sized tent is at number 1.
Hence, get the right sized tent for a comfortable camping experience. Always buy one size bigger than you actually need. The reason is simple. Generally, tents are advertised as one adult, two adults, and four adults and so on. It means that in a two adult tent two people can sleep side by side without any space for keeping other camping gear. This will make things cramped if you like to move a little in your sleep. This will also not provide enough space to sleep comfortably if you want to keep some of your things inside the tent.
Next, check the material and zippers of the tent to ensure that you get proper weather protection. A nylon tent which is lightweight, strong and waterproof with durable zippers is recommended as it will withstand all types of weather, windy or rainy.
It is always better to set up your tent in your backyard before you take it on a camping trip. This will help you know about any problems in advance.
Read https://www.wikihow.com/Choose-a-Tent for a more comprehensive guideline on choosing the right tent.
Tent Groundsheet: Though you will find many sites listing it as an optional camping gear, we would recommend it very strongly. Tent groundsheet or footprints is a large piece of material that is placed under the tent. It is used to protect the tent material from the rough terrain below.
Benefits of using footprints
- They are quite cheap and it would be better to replace them in case they tear rather than replacing the expensive tent.
- They provide a dry place to pitch the tent and also help to keep the tent extra warm.
- Pitching a tent becomes easier as you know exactly where the pegs will go.
Just make sure that footprint size is exactly the same as your tent bottom. A larger footprint will mean water accumulation during rains and reversal of all the benefits!
Sleeping bag: There are no two opinions about it. Go for the rectangular sleeping bag if you are car camping. Mummy bags (as the name suggests, their design is inspired by Egyptian mummies) are good for backpackers as they take less space but they will hardly give you any moving space while sleeping.
Have a look at the MEC blog on how to choose a sleeping bag for more details on various types of sleeping bags.
Take a pillow, a blanket and an inflatable mattress for added comfort. The mattress will also help you in keeping warm by providing an extra layer between your sleeping bag and the cold tent ground.
Lighting equipment: Here is a list of many types of lighting equipment available in the market today and you can choose one or two depending upon your specific camping needs.
- Handheld torch or flashlights: Flashlights are still very much in demand and are ideal for any emergency situation. They are lightweight and easy to use. The drawback of using flashlights is that they do not provide much freedom to use your hands.
- Headlamps: If you have to decide between flashlight and headlamp then go for the headlamp. They give you freedom to use your hands thereby making it possible to do many camping activities in the dark like setting up the tent or even cooking.
- Lanterns: Lanterns can ideally be hanged at one place to provide illumination in its surrounding areas. There are various types of lanterns like gas lanterns, battery lanterns, multi-fuel lanterns and rechargeable lanterns.
Choose the lighting equipment by factoring in the size, weight, usability, cost, comfort and quality of the equipment. Also pack extra batteries or take a spare wind-up torch that does not need batteries. Check all lighting equipment from home to ensure that they are in working condition.
Cooking stove: You will get a one burner, two burner and three burner cooking stove in the market. Some will have liquid fuel whereas some run on propane. Choosing a one burner stove will not fulfill all your cooking requirements. Three burner are not spaced out properly and can prove to be a bit crowded. Using a two burner propane gas stove is mostly recommended by seasoned campers.
Using a propane stove is better than a liquid fuel one because you will not have to worry about spillages and it is safer to use than the liquid fuel.
Don’t forget to pack the waterproof matches or lighter to light up your stove.
Cooler: A quality cooler is a must if you don’t want your frozen items spoiled. Just keep it secure at night time so that it is not broken or taken away by any wild animals. Also it will be a good idea to use most of your frozen items in the initial days of camping to avoid wastage due to spoilage.
Cookware, table ware and other items: Don’t forget to pack kettles, cups, pots, pans, spoons, forks, knives, spatula, strainer, oven mitt, cutting board and plates. You will also need to wash the dirty dishes so take a couple of tubs/buckets to do the washing.
Soaps and detergents: You will need to pack some soap and shampoo for your showers and also some detergent or dishwashing liquid for your utensils. Bring paper towels and garbage bags for cleaning and tidying purposes. You will also need some rope to hang your wet stuff to dry. Bring some duct tape for emergency fixes.
Clothes and footwear: Whatever clothes you choose to take make sure they are comfortable and dry quickly. Carry some warm clothes too like a fleece to keep yourself protected from unexpected cold winds. It also advisable to cover your head while sleeping to protect it from the cold hence, carry something that will cover your head properly.
Take a raincoat along in case it starts to rain while you are camping. Take boots or shoes that are suitable for the rough terrain. Never take new shoes on a camping trip. Carry flip-ons too as you will need them when you go for a shower.
Food items and water: It will be wise to plan for each meal as it will save your time during camping. It will also give you an idea about the ingredients you will need to pack. Since camping involves basic utensils and stove, try to keep your meal plans simple too. Remember you will not have the luxury of running water and ample space to prepare for your meals. Look at the utensils you will be packing and try to imagine what all you can cook with them quickly and easily.
Try to keep the menu to sandwiches, fresh fruits, hamburgers, pancakes, hot dogs and so on. Pack a lot of dry snacks like chips, crackers, fruits bars, cookies, chocolates and of course marshmallows!
Keep lots of water and other drinks like juice. The rule of the thumb is if you feel three water cans are enough then pack four. You will be grateful for the extra can in case of emergencies or water shortages. Though some sites provide water it is always safe and hygienic to pack your own drinking water.
Other items you will need are condiments, butter, syrup, jam, nuts, milk, coffee, tea bags, sugar, milk powder, salt, pepper and cooking oil.
It is a good idea to cut veggies and keep them in vacuum sealed plastic. You can also marinate chicken and keep it in the cooler inside a plastic bag.
Games and other accessories: Though you will love resting and enjoying nature, there will be times when you will feel the need for some kind of time pass. During late afternoons or when it is raining, a game or two will come in handy. You can pack some board games that do not take much space on a table (there are travel size board games too) like monopoly deal, UNO, Farkel and Yahtzee.
Make a small first aid box too that will help you deal with small mishaps and injuries. Keep some lotions, creams, oils and insect repellents as well.
You can download and print a comprehensive checklist from Go-Camping website. It will come in handy when you start packing.
What to expect when you reach your camping site
Now that you have packed all you need, and made reservations at a campground here is what you can expect to see when you reach your camp site.
- You will find campgrounds crowded during peak seasons.
- Campsites do not offer much privacy. You can see and hear almost everybody around you.
- Your campsite might have twigs and rocks that will need removing before setting up tent.
Typical routine of a camper
Some campsites offer various activity options like hiking, boating and so on. You can manage your routine around those activities. In case these activities are not there or you do not want to participate in them, you can just have fun cooking, eating, reading and relaxing. Camping offers you an escape from your humdrum routine so make the most of it and enjoy!
Now that you have learned all about how to go camping for the first time have a look at some of the safety precautions that will come in handy and save you from mishaps. If you face any unsavory situation while camping just apply your common sense and make use of the stuff you have in hand.
- Always carry emergency supplies like a first aid kit or rain gear with you.
- Prepare food hygienically. Wash hands before you cook food or eat it. A good resource that will help to educate you about food safety and drinking water treatment is the center for disease control and prevention
- Keep food in vacuum sealed packs or tightly zipped packs.
- If you are using the water from around the camp grounds make sure to boil it properly before use.
- Know your limits while indulging in various physical activities like hiking or swimming.
- Keep away from wild animals.
- Use bug sprays and mosquito repellents. Wear full sleeved clothes that will protect you from insect bites.
- Camping weather can be unpredictable due to lots of tress and water bodies around. It can be hot during the day and cold at night so make sure to keep yourself warm during the night.
- Protect yourself from too much sun during the day. Use UV protection creams and wear hats and sunglasses.
- Test all your camping gear at home only. This will save your time at the camp trying to figure out how each stuff works.
- Arrive early so that you have sufficient day light to set up your tent and also to explore other parts of the campground like toilets, showers, water sources and so on.
Other than the list above, US forest service has also listed some safety tips for specific conditions like lightening or getting lost. Check them out too.
Though camping might give you some alone time it does not mean you are not in the company of other people. Camp grounds are always bustling with people and activities hence it is important to mind your manners and follow some camp etiquette.
- Do not take short cuts through other camper’s site. Respect their space and privacy.
- Most camps have quiet hours that are from 11 in the night to 7 in the morning. Adhere to them to make life easy for other campers.
- Do not wash dishes in the bathroom as it will not only be inconvenient for others using the bathroom but it will also be unhygienic.
- Use the recommended wood only for camp fires. Do not cut the wood from your surrounding trees as it will disturb the natural balance there.
- Always clean the site after use and do not leave garbage at the camp site. Dispose it off properly in the bins provided in the campgrounds.
- Always attend to your camp fire and extinguish it if you are leaving.
- If you have brought pets along with you, then make sure to clean up after them. Try to keep them beside you and do not let them wander to other’s campsite.
- If you arrive at the campsite in the late hours then try to use low lights while unpacking so that it does not disturb others.
- Choose a level ground for setting up your tent. Make sure your camp fire is at a good distance from your tent.
- Never cook inside the tent. It might lead to fires or carbon monoxide poisoning which can be fatal.
- Remove your footwear before entering the tent otherwise your tent and sleeping bags might become muddy or sandy making it difficult for you to sleep.
Leaving the Camp site
Always clean the campsite before you leave. Take all your belongings and put away the garbage as instructed on the campgrounds. Hopefully you have got some idea now about how to go camping for the first time. You can make your camping as exhausting or as relaxing as you want. Depending upon your requirements and stamina you can plan out things and decide upon camping locations accordingly.
Have Fun – that’s the main thing!
The important thing is to have fun and remember that some glitches are bound to happen. Camping for beginners is a wonderful and memorable first time experience and newbies will learn a lot that will add value to their next camping trip.
Just follow the safety guidelines of any campsite and keep yourself safe. Camping can become addictive and in no time you will find yourself making camping an annual festival that needs to be celebrated at least once every year. So have fun and happy camping!
Below, I have also covered in detail on how to choose a suitable tent for your next camping trip.
Choosing the right tent is important for the success of your camping expedition but it can become a bit tedious and will require considerable amount of research before finalizing the right one. In this article we will try to explain what all features to look for in a tent and how to pair your requirements with the availability. We will also try to provide answers to questions like how to choose a tent for backpacking or how to choose tents for camping with family?
Let us first familiarize ourselves with the basic structure of the tent and the terms used for each part.
Structure of the tent
Material: The tent is basically made of a single material, nylon or polyester. The material is made waterproof by special coating. We will discuss material specific terms like denier and thread count later on in the article.
Design: Some popular tent designs are:
- Geodesic Shape
- Dome shape
- Tunnel Shape
- Ridge Shape
- Pyramid Shape
- Cabin Shape
The shape of the tent helps us to know how much height of the tent is usable and if the tent can withstand snowfall or rainfall. Cabin shaped tent will provide maximum height but they will not be a good choice during snowfall. The snow will accumulate on the roof instead of falling off.
Other shapes like dome or tunnel are better for all types of climate as the snow/rain will slip off from the top to the ground. But unlike cabin shaped tents, the height will not be same everywhere and the space you are getting while standing up in the middle will not be the same as on the sides/edges.
Walls: Tents can have single walls or double walls. If the tent has single walls then it will have only one layer of waterproof material for the whole tent. If the tent has double walls then the inner layer of the tent is not water proof but it allows for better condensation. The outer layer is water proof which also helps in keeping the tent warm. Single walled tents are light weight whereas double walled tents provide better dryness and space.
Flysheets and groundsheets: Double walled tents have flysheets which are a kind of outer covering that goes on top of the inner tent. Poles are provided to keep the inner tent and flysheets from touching each other. This provides an extra layer of protection against rain and snow.
Groundsheet/footprint is a material that is cut exactly the size of the tent bottom. It is placed under the tent and it protects the tent bottom from wear and tear due to rough terrain.
Poles and stakes: Poles help in supporting the structure of the tent. Poles can be made from steel, fiber glass or aluminum.
Stakes or pegs are driven to the ground. They are either used to secure the bottom of the tent or to tie ropes (which are also called guy lines) to the tent. This provides stability to the tent and keeps it from blowing away in case of high winds or rough weather.
Now, that we know the basic structure of the tent let us explore the various tent options available in the market and how they suit each requirement.
Weather protection – How to choose tents for camping in all weathers
Generally, tents come in two varieties to give optimum weather protection:
Tents that do not protect from snow
Three-season tents are suitable for rainy, sunny and windy weather. They do not provide protection against snowfall. Since, most of the camping is done in fair weather conditions this tent is good enough for your car camping family vacation kind of trips.
There are one season and two season tents also on offer but they might spoil your whole vacation in case it starts to rain suddenly.
Tents that protect from snow
Four season tents provide protection against snowfall. If you are planning for camping trips in cold regions or where the probability of snowfall is high, then buying/renting these tents will be the right choice. According to Camping and caravanning club geodesic shaped tents are better for rough weather as they provide better stability due to their crisscrossed poles.
Light weight versions of both three season and four season tents are available for backpacking or backcountry camping trips.
Size of the tent – Floor Space
The manufacturers of tent rate the tent size according to number of sleeping bags that they can arrange side by side on the floor of the tent. According to Campetent, this method is suitable in case of backcountry camping where the campers spend the day hiking and use the tent just for sleeping in the night.
In case of car camping where most of the time is spent at the campsite, the tent becomes a second home. Hence, comfort takes a priority here and the roomier the tent the better the camping experience. Choose the size that will provide sufficient toss and turn sleeping space. Also ensure that there is enough room to keep some of your camping gear inside the tent.
A general rule of the thumb will be to go for a three-man tent for two adults. Better to take a four-man tent in case there are kids and pets too.
An important point to note before you decide on the tent size is that some campgrounds have size restrictions too. For example the camp sites at Lake Perris Campground in California, can hold only two 4 person tent or four 2 person tent. Hence, if you buy a very large tent, then your campsite options might become limited due to size restrictions.
Size of the tent – Head space
Tents that peak at the middle like pyramid tents or ridge tents provide sufficient head space in the middle only. The same applies to tunnel shaped tents. Other tents like dome shaped or geodesic tents provide better overall head space. Cabin like tents are best when you want to walk around the tent. They provide nearly equal head space all over the tent, whether it is in the center or at the sides of the tent.
Before buying a tent or taking it on rent it will be better to stand inside it and see if you are comfortable doing so.
Head space becomes important in car camping as you spend a lot of time inside the tent. You will definitely not like to have neck cramps or shoulder cramps by the end of your camping trip. Hence, choose a tent that provides sufficient head space and make your camping experience comfortable.
Material and weight – How to choose a tent for backpacking or camping
These days’ manufacturers make tents from any of the two materials – nylon or polyester. Both fabrics have their pros and cons and your choice will depend upon tent usability. Hence, before we explain the use of each fabric let us first understand denier and thread count.
Denier (symbol-d) defines the thickness of the fabric. A 10d fabric is less thick and hence lighter than a 50d fabric.
Nylon has achieved better denier ratings than polyester. According to the Tent Lab, the lightest polyester is 20d whereas nylon has achieved 7d denier rating. This will mean that nylon is lighter than polyester hence suitable for backpackers.
But when it comes to water absorbing feature, nylon absorbs much more water than polyester and tends to sag after rainfall. Hence, if you are camping at places with high rainfall then choosing a polyester tent will be better.
Thread count (symbol-T) is equal to the total number of threads per square inch of the fabric. But, a higher thread count does not mean a stronger fabric. According to the tent manufacturers MSR, nylon has a higher thread count than polyester but is less strong.
When weight is the issue (like when backpacking) using a nylon tent is a better option. In case where durability matters (like family vacations) then polyester is a wiser choice.
Set up ease
Another thing to consider while choosing a tent will be its ease of set up. Some tents take some setting up like laying the tarp, putting the poles in the flaps, erecting the tent, securing it with stakes and guy lines and so on. People who have to set up the tent alone or are exhausted after a full day of hiking find it tedious and overwhelming to set up such tents.
The market now has durable popup tents and click tents that will barely take a few minutes for setting up. The disadvantages of these tents are that they are expensive, not ideal for groups and unsuitable in harsh weather.
How to choose a tent for backpacking that is easy to setup
Backpacking means you will have to carry your tent over long distances and set them up alone. Since you will be hiking most of the day, it might become dark before you start to set up your tent. Hence, you will require a light weight tent that you can set up easily and quickly.
Pop up tents have their poles embedded in them which can make them huge and a bit awkward to carry. They are not suitable for backpacking. Similarly, there are free standing tents which are quite convenient to set up as they do not need pegs to secure them. But the downside is that they are heavy and not ideal for windy weather.
Hence, ideal back packing tents are usually dome shape that require a traditional set up. But you can use clips to attach the poles to the fabric instead of putting poles inside the fabric. This makes it easy to set them up even in the dark.
How to choose tents for camping that are easy to setup
For car camping you have many options. If you are camping on a rocky terrain then free standing tent is a good choice. You will not have to look for ways to dig pegs inside the rocks. Another option is to use a pop up tent as its size will not matter since you will not have to carry them. The only drawback with these two types is that they do not offer much inner space.
Poles and zipper quality
Poles give structure to the tent. They usually come in three materials; steel, fiber glass and aluminum.
- Steel poles provide strength and rigidity to the structure. They do not bend during windy weather. The downside is that they are heavy to carry and might corrode if not maintained properly.
- Fiber glass poles are light weight and affordable. The downside of using them is that they might break in cold weather.
- Aluminum poles are light weight and strong. They are the most preferred option for all season camping.
According to McKinley, the outdoor products maker, fiber glass poles can be used for car camping trips which are generally done in fair weather conditions. For backpackers they recommend using aluminum poles since here performance is more important than cost.
Next item on our list is tent zippers. Zippers are as important part of the tent as the poles. They keep the tent secure and safe from rain, snow and bugs. Generally, zippers used on canvas items come in two varieties, according to SBS zippers. First one is the coil or spiral zipper that is suitable for zipping on curved things. The second one is the tooth zipper or vislon zipper. Tooth zipper copes better with dirt and sand. Choose the one that fits your camping requirements.
Manufacturers offer various accessories to make your camping experience more comfortable and enjoyable. You can buy them depending upon your requirements.
Awnings/garages/canopies: They are shelters which you can add to your tent. They provide extra space to sit out or put some of your camping gear. People who have brought their bikes along can place their bikes in the shed provided by these garages like shelters.
Shelves/organizers/pockets: There are loops provided on the inside of the tent to put extra shelves or mesh pockets which can hold some items like caps, books, watch, mobiles and so on.
Hopefully, this bit of information will provide you the answers on how to choose a tent for backpacking and how to choose tents for camping in general.
Tents are one of the most important parts of your camping trip and the success or failure of your camping will depend upon them. Make sure to explore various options and choose the right tent that fits most of your requirements. If you have any more doubts on how to choose a tent for backpacking or car camping let us know and we will be happy to provide the answers to you.