Camping For Beginners: Your Guide to Good Times In the Woods

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Enjoying the outdoors shouldn’t be complicated. Our guide to camping for beginners covers everything you need to get out there and have a great time!
Camping For Beginners - Introduction
Camping with friends is a great way relax, unwind, and disconnect from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind.

So you’ve decided it’s time to get into camping. Good for you: You’ve just made one of the most potentially rewarding decisions of your life. 

There’s no better way to get out and connect with nature than spending a few nights sleeping under the roof of the million star hotel. Just you, a few good friends, a tent, and a roaring campfire. No phone calls, no emails, no social media… Just getting back to basics, getting grounded, and having a relaxing experience you’ll find nowhere else. 

We know that getting ready for your first foray in the forest can seem a bit intimidating at a glance: How do I choose a tent? What gear do I need to bring? What do I eat and how should I cook it? It may seem like a major undertaking, but have no fear: A great weekend of camping is all about simplicity.

To that end, we’ve put together this quick and easy guide to outline everything you’ll need to know to get out there and get in touch with your wild side. In the article below we’ll cover everything you need to get started, how to plan your first trip, and what to do once you get out there!

Ready to go? Here is our guide to camping for beginners!

Preparation: Where To Go, What To Bring

Regardless of whether you’re going for a week or just a weekend, every good camping trip starts with a little planning. If you’re just getting started, that means figuring out where you want to go, and then putting together a basic gear checklist to ensure you’ve everything you need to get the most out of your first trip. 

What you’ll need to bring largely depends on where you’re going and how long you’ll be there, so let’s start with how to choose a spot. 

Where To Go

Camping For Beginners - Where To Go
It’s all about location. A campsite with a good view will pay dividends throughout your trip.

If you’re a beginner just getting into camping, we recommend you keep this part as simple as possible. Figure out the dates you want to go, then do a quick search to figure out where your nearby campgrounds are located. For your first trip, look for campgrounds with dedicated, reservable camp spots, as “first come first serve” locations can be hit or miss, and backcountry or “dispersed” campsites are never guaranteed and typically require more advanced planning and camping gear to enjoy. 

Once you’ve got a list of possible locations, we recommend narrowing it down by figuring out what amenities you’ll want while you’re camping. If you’re looking to get your first taste, but don’t want to be entirely “off the grid” chances are you’ll be best suited staying in a campground with public restrooms, showers, or maybe even electricity wired into the individual campsites. If you’re looking for more of a “roughing it” experience, you’ll need little more than a parking spot, a campsite, and a fire ring to get started. 

We also recommend considering the “natural” amenities offered by your campground candidates of choice depending on what you might want to do during the day. Hiking and biking trails, fishable lakes and streams, rock climbing, and even beach access are common features of campgrounds depending on where you’re located, so choose wisely!

What To Bring

Once you’ve got your dates and location figured out, it’s time to get your camping gear together. BEWARE: Collecting outdoors gear can quickly grow into a lifetime obsession, so in the interest of keeping things simple, here’s what we recommend:

Camping For Beginners - What To Bring
Shelter, sleeping arrangements, food, and anything else you’ll need to be comfortable around camp should be part of your gear checklist.
  • The Tent: When shopping for your first camping tent (aka a car camping tent), you’ll want to be mindful of two main things: Size and weather protection. As far as the size piece goes, we recommend buying a camping tent that’s rated for two more people than you actually plan on having in the tent. This will give you plenty of room to sleep comfortably while also stashing any extra gear you might want inside the tent. As for the weather protection piece, we recommend buying your first tent from a reputable brand, and selecting a model that’s already got ample reviews attesting to its wet weather performance. (Not sure where to get started? Check out our roundup of the best camping tents on any budget.)
  • The Sleeping Situation: Sleeping in camp requires two specific pieces of gear: A sleeping pad and a sleeping bag. Sleeping pads can be inflatable, foam filled, or even a combination of the two. Look for a pad that’s (a) large enough for your body, (b) has a good track record for comfort and durability, and ( c) fits into your budget. As for the sleeping bag, the main thing to focus on here is the bag’s temperature rating. To keep things simple, look for a bag with synthetic insulation (rather than natural down feathers) that is rated as “comfortable” in whatever temperatures you’ll be sleeping in. 
  • Food/Drink: Camp food can be as simple or complex as you want, but for your first trip, we recommend keeping things as easy as possible. Most campsites include a fire ring with a cooking grill, and some even include a separate charcoal grill just for cooking. For your first time out, we recommend planning your meals around simple foods that are either shelf-stable (chips, jerky, trail mix, etc.) or can easily be kept fresh in an ice chest (hotdogs, hamburgers, eggs, bacon, etc.). Make sure you pack enough for three square meals each day, plus snacks and maybe a treat or two for after dark (s’mores are a perennial favorite). As for drinks, bring whatever you want that fits in the cooler, as well as enough drinking water for everyone in your party, plus any extra water needed for cooking and cleaning. Many campgrounds include access to drinking water in the amenities, so at minimum, bring a sizable container to keep any water you might need around camp. 
  • Everything else: If you’ve got the basics above, you’ll survive, but you’ll want a few additional basics for the most enjoyable weekend possible. At minimum, we recommend bringing plenty of firewood (or buying wood at your location), a few camp chairs for hanging around the fire, and any recreational goodies you might want to use once you get there (more on that below). For a more comprehensive list, check out our dedicated camping gear checklist

What To Do

Ok, so we’ve got the gear basics down, but what will you do once you get to your destination? The choice is completely up to you, but here are a few popular ways to pass the time around camp. 

Daytime Activities: 

Camping For Beginners - What To Do
A good day of camping starts with a good meal, and the view comes free of charge.
  • Setting up camp: Before the fun can begin, you’ll need to set up your home base for the day. Pick a flat spot to pitch your tent that’s not too close to your fire ring, setup any canopies you might want to use (pitching one around your camp table is always a smart move), break out those camp chairs you’ll be needing, and stage your firewood either around the fire ring or somewhere dry if you’re expecting rain. 
  • Cooking breakfast for your crew: Rise with the sun, get a good stretch in, and then get cooking. Heat up some water for the coffee drinkers in your group, throw some oil in that cooking pot, and start whipping up that early morning feast. You’re going to need energy for the day ahead!
  • Go on a hike: One of the most common features of a good campground is hiking trails scattered throughout the property. We recommend looking over a map of your campground before going to identify any good hikes that match your fitness level and that of your mates. Tackling a different hike each day is a great way to immerse yourself in nature and explore the wild area surrounding your campground.
  • Swimming: If your campground includes a body of water (and it’s warm enough outside), why not go for a dip? Lakes, rivers, and even streams make for a fun way to cool off in the hottest part of the day, and you’ll often find them sprinkled around your nearby hiking trails. 
  • Go fish!: Many campgrounds also include plenty of shore access for fishing, so if you fancy a little catch-and-release fun, this can be a great way to spend the day. Make sure to check your local rules and regulations, as many wildlife authorities require either a day pass or a yearly fishing license, the fee for which helps support the outdoor areas we all enjoy. 
  • Biking: Riding a bicycle around the campground is a popular way to pass the time and circulate, especially if you’ve got younger campers in your group. Many campgrounds include both paved and dirt trails that you can explore on two wheels, so keep that in mind as you pack for your trip. 

Nighttime Activities:

Camping For Beginners - Nighttime activities
The best nights in camp revolve around a toasty fire and good conversation.
  • Cooking dinner: After a long day of fun in the sun, appetites run high. Whether you’re roasting weenies around the campfire or making something a little more complex on the burner of a campstove, dinner is always a great way to gather and recap the day’s events. 
  • Playing games: A deck of cards is worth its weight in gold around the campground, but pretty much any game everyone knows how to play will do the trick here. Just grab a camp table, a couple chairs, and a lantern/headlamp, and enjoy a little friendly competition to close out the evening. 
  • Hanging around the fire: One of the simplest pleasures of a camping trip is gathering around the fire with good company. Swap stories. Tell jokes. Play word games. Enjoy a few tasty beverages. Now would also be a great time to break out those s’mores if you brought them along. 

Heading Home

Once you’ve gotten your fill of nature and it’s time to head home, there are a few things you’ll need to do to break camp the right way. Our goal here is to (a) leave no trace and (b) make sure our gear is properly taken care of. 

Cleanup

Camping For Beginners - Cleanup
It’s always a good idea to let your tent dry out in the sun before packing it back in it’s carry bag.
  • Pick up/pack out your trash: As the old adage goes, anytime we go camping, our goal should be to leave the wilderness better than we found it. That means you should pick up any trash around camp, including both yours and that of any inconsiderate campers who left theirs behind. Pack everything into a trash bag and take it with you when you leave. Most campgrounds have dumpsters you can use on your way out of camp, but if they don’t, be prepared to haul it back home for trash day. 
  • Taking down your tent:  Packing up a tent is usually a bit of a chore, but make sure to take your time and do it right. If your tent is wet from rain or condensation, consider hanging it up to dry on your vehicle or camp table while you break down the rest of camp. If you’re forced to pack up a wet tent, make sure to hang it out to dry in the sun as soon as you get home to prevent any mold or mildew from forming. 
  • Double check your fire: If you started a campfire for the morning breakfast, again, you need to make sure it is completely extinguished. Use plenty of water to ensure your campfire is completely burned out. Leaving a smoking fire behind is a serious faux pas as it could rekindle and start a forest fire in the surrounding area. 

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