Updated: Dec 1, 2020
You’ve decided to go camping for the first time, now you’re faced with the task of planning a trip and deciding what to pack. For your first camping trip, it’s better to keep things simple and stick to the basics. You may be compelled to try to get everything from your local outdoor store, that looks nice or useful, but try to resist. After you go camping a few times, you’ll figure out what you really need and what’s most important to you. Start with the camping essentials, sleeping, eating, relaxing and hygiene and to avoid investing too much money up front, use the tips below to incorporate items from your very own home into your camping experience.
First things first, you must have a tent, as this is your shelter from the elements. Choose something that is durable, easy to setup and large enough for how many people will sleep in it. Tents are advertised with the number of people that can sleep in it…if packed in like sardines. Be mindful of this. A four person tent can sleep two comfortably and still have room for your bags and clothing. You may be compelled to choose a tent, just because it’s aﬀordable, but remember that your tent is not only there for you to sleep in, but also to keep the elements and nature out.
Once you’ve decided on a tent, you need a bed. If you’re like most people, you already own an air mattress, so use this instead of trying to buy a sleeping pad that you may never use again. If you happen to have a sleeping bag, great, but if you don’t, the great thing about using an air mattress is that you can use sheets and a blanket from home. Once you’ve really committed to camping and have the time to research gear, you can upgrade to an oﬃcial sleep system. If you do use an air mattress, remember to place something (yoga mat, rug or blanket) between the air mattress and the tent floor for insulation. Mother earth will be colder than you think, and the coldness will make the air in the air mattress contract and you may end up the ground by morning, if you don’t insulate under the air mattress.
Cooking outside of your kitchen can be a fun yet challenging experience. The easiest way to get accustomed to cooking outside is to do most of your prep work at home. It takes a little more work up front, to chop your veggies or season your meat at home, but for the first time camper, this really pays oﬀ. Preparing food at home will help to minimize the things you’ll need to pack like seasoning, cutting boards and some utensils. Pack everything in ziplock bags and you can then transfer it directly to your cooking source. You can also do things like pre mixed pancake batter or break your eggs into a plastic bottle. Just remember to mark the bottle with preset amounts (1 egg, 2 eggs or 1 cup, 2 cups of mix) so that it easy to pour the right amount out later.
For cooking, you have a couple of options. You can either grill your food on the grill provided by the campsite or get an inexpensive camp grill. Check with the campground before you head out to see if it’s a charcoal grill or one that’s over the fire pit, so you can be prepared and have everything you need. Another beginners tip is to utilize old pots or pans from home in- stead of buying ones specifically for camping. Be forewarned, that pots and pans being used over an open fire will require an oven glove to maneuver and will have soot on the bottom once used. After you’ve cooked, be sure to bring a bucket of some sort to wash dishes.
Relaxing is probably the easiest to prepare for when camping, but it’s good to check with the campsite first to see if picnic tables and benches are available, so you know what you need to pack. A camping chair is essential, even if a bench is available, so you can sit back and relax. If a picnic table is not provided, make sure you bring a small folding table to use for a cooking surface or maybe to setup your favorite card game. In addition, you’ll want to bring a few things to occupy your time like books or games. If you have kids make sure to bring extra items to keep the kiddos busy. Another thing you’ll need to make sure you stay relaxed, is light to help guide you around at night. Battery operated lanterns are great and can be inexpensive, but also think about picking up a headlamp to allow you to move around with your hands free.
The main thing that most new campers are concerned about is showering and using the bath-room. Although this can be a challenge, most campsites, especially state parks, have bath houses with hot water, toilets and showers. If you decide to go this route, pack wash clothes, shower shoes and towels. In addition to using the bath houses, it’s a good idea to make sure you have fresh water at your campsite for hand washing. We like to use the 2.5 gallon from the grocery store. We recommend one 2.5 gallon jug per person for a three day weekend. These are great to not only wash your hands, but a good water source for washing dishes or taking a wash-up. Also make sure you bring bio-degradable soap, like Dr. Bonner’s, for use at the campsite. Items like hand sanitizer and wet wipes are also good to keep on hand for quick cleaning.
Now that you have a few tips and tricks to get you started, use the Beginners Guide to Camping Checklist to make sure you have everything you need to make your first camping trip a success. Check out our suggested gear for specific recommendations.