Most of us have camped at one point or another in our lives. If we had to, we would probably be able to pitch a tent and rough it out for a night or two in the woods. However, this doesn’t make us pros. In fact, even casual campers (people camping once or twice every year) make a lot of camping mistakes that could be avoided with a little bit of preparation – or by reading a cool little post on camping tips for beginners like this one!
Most of the tips I share here are common sense. Unfortunately, sometimes common sense is exactly the thing that we’re missing. At least, that’s true in my case. Now, you might be a lot smarter than I am. If that’s the case, simply browse through these 12 camping tips for beginners and see if there’s anything that you’re missing.
1. Prepare a camping checklist
You’re going to forget something, even with a checklist. It can’t be helped. However, there’s a difference between forgetting an extra pair of socks and forgetting a first aid kit. You can manage without socks but you will be really sorry if you cut your finger and you don’t have a Band-Aid. A camping checklist will help you with packing and it can really be a life-saver. If you don’t have the time to prepare your own list, you’re welcome to consult the one that I use – it’s the ultimate 2017 camping checklist.
2. Practice pitching your tent
The best way to avoid problems with tent pitching is to practice in advance of your trip. You don’t have to be a pro at it but to avoid sucking badly pull that tent out in your backyard and give it a go. This will give you an opportunity to inspect the tent to see if there’s anything wrong with it. Also, you will be able to get a rough estimate as to how long pitching in the wild is going to take you. If you own a Quechua instant tent you’ll probably be done in a matter of minutes. On the other hand, pitching a Coleman Montana tent might take you up to an hour – you won’t know until you try it.
3. Consider the wind
Another thing to consider is how and where you’re going to pitch your tent. The wind might be an issue and you don’t want your tent growing wings and flying away. When pitching, find a flat piece of ground and make sure that there’s no danger of anything falling down on it (tree branches, rocks, and stuff like that).
Figure out where the wind is blowing from – sometimes simply looking at how other tents are pitched will give you an idea. If you’re alone it’s a good idea to consult a weather forecast and work on your woodland skills. When you know the direction of prevailing winds simply point the lowest end of your tent that way – that’s going to help dissipate wind energy. If you’re expecting high winds, guy out your tent with cords and secure it to the ground and the trees around you.
4. Research your camping site
There’s nothing worse than driving up somewhere in the middle of nowhere only to find out there are no showers available or that you can’t build a campfire close to your tent. I’m definitely guilty of under-researching some of the beautiful places I go camping at. This can be a big problem, especially if you’re a comfort creature. That’s why it pays off to check stuff online (most campsites have well-maintained web pages). See if there are amenities available that you can’t go without, check the weather, and whether there are any convenience stores around – if there are, you can consider packing lightly, at least when it comes to food.
5. Think about the food
As I mentioned, depending on whether there’s a store or not nearby to where you’re camping, you’re going to approach your food needs differently. If you can get stuff on site, there’s no point in packing too many perishables. On the other hand, if what you pack is likely everything you’re going to eat during your stay, err on the side of over-packing. Your best bet are canned goods that can be prepared without too much fuss.
If you’re going to do some heavy duty cooking then don’t forget your grill, camp stove, and pots and pans. It’s a good idea to do as much preparation as you can at home – slicing, chopping, and even some pre-cooking. Also, include condiments you’re going to need – regardless of how good of a woodsman you are, I highly doubt that you’ll be able to forage for salt and pepper in the woods.
6. Pay attention to food storage
Never ever store food in the tent that you’re sleeping in. Food will attract insects and mice that can damage your tent and gear, not to mention rob you of a good night’s sleep. If you’re camping in bear country, insects won’t be the only thing rummaging around your campsite. If you’re bringing a lot of food then setting up a tent where you will store that food is a good idea. Make sure that it’s at least 20 feet from where you’ll be sleeping. Anything smelly (meat, sweets, and honey perhaps) should go into a bear resistant bag and up on a tree branch- the higher the better!
Packing a lot of perishables means that you’re going to have to store them somewhere. Pack a cooler (or two) and store your food in them so it doesn’t spoil – don’t forget to throw in a lot of ice, otherwise that cooler won’t do you any good!
7. Avoid losing sleep
Depending on where you go camping, even the sunniest days can turn into freezing nights. Make sure you pack the right sleeping bags for the conditions you’re going to face. Every sleeping bag has a temperature rating – Coleman’s North Rim bag will keep you nice and warm up to 15 F. Extra tip: don’t sleep with your clothes on! Sleeping bags filter out the moisture and keep you dry. On the other hand, most of your clothes will trap moisture inside, leaving you wet and shivering. Also, remember to pack earplugs. Nighttime noises in the wild are a lot louder and earplugs can help you deal with that. The downside is that you probably won’t hear that bear approaching but still…
8. Come early at campground
Seriously! Don’t spend hours on last minute packing only to end up arriving at your campground when the sun sets. It’s not the best way to start your trip. Setting up a tent is a feat of itself – doing it at night, especially if you’re no good at it, can be an exercise in futility. Even if you do manage to pitch your tent successfully you still have to prepare food, clear the site, and complete dozens of other little chores before you can turn in. The tensions will definitely run high in this case but it can all be avoided if you pack the day before and get on your way early in the morning.
9. Lighting is important
If you’re packing three handheld lamps and two headlamps, double that. Don’t underestimate the importance of lighting! Pack a large battery-operated lamp that you can hang above your head because – guess what – you can’t cook and hold a torch in your hand! It get’s pitch black at campsites at night and you really can’t rely on the moon. Tripping over stuff (branches, ropes) is a real danger and you don’t want to start your trip on the wrong foot, so to speak!
10. Deal with garbage the right way
There’s nothing worse than coming to a campsite, taking a stroll to soak up all the beauty, and stepping into crap. That’s a real mood killer right there. Before going camping make sure you’re familiarized with the Leave No Trace principle. In essence, you should leave your camping site the same as you (hopefully) found it:
- No rubbish
- Leftover food properly packed and disposed of
- Smoldering camp fires extinguished
- Absolutely no human waste
At the end of the day, pack up all your garbage and leftover food in plastic bags and store them in a secure place – the trunk of your car or a high branch. This will help keep out wildlife. If there are no toilets around you will need to do your business in the woods. Make sure you pick a place far from the beaten paths and dig a deep enough hole so no one stumbles on your little present. For more information about how to keep your campsite clean, take a look at this great post from guys over at Go Camping Australia.
11. Get familiar with wildlife in the area
Do a bit of basic research to find out about common animals that you’ll most likely stumble on while you’re camping. These can include squirrels, raccoons, and other harmless (well, almost harmless) critters but can also include black or grizzly bears. It’s better to know well in advance then get surprised on your first night out there. Also, pay attention to plant life. While most plants are pretty harmless you don’t want to end up eating poisonous berries or getting too close to poison ivy. Make sure you know the dangers that are lurking underfoot before you squat down somewhere to do your business!
12. Have loads of fun
That’s why you’re going on this camping trip in the first place, right? It’s easy to forget to have fun when you have gazillion things to do but still, take a step back every once in awhile to smell the roses. You’re definitely going to make mistakes (I still do) but make a point of learning from them, not fretting about them. Experience the great outdoors, have fun with your family and friends, and then simply rinse and repeat (you’ll get better at it all with experience, I swear)!
There you have them – 12 camping tips for beginners that will make your next camping trip stress-free! Exploring the great outdoors is a nice way to re-energize and get ready for various challenges that await you in the city – especially when you can get all the info that you need online. Stay tuned for our other posts that will make your camping adventures a breeze!