If you’ve never been camping before then you are in for a treat! There are so many amazing benefits of camping, aside from it just being plain good old-fashioned fun, and there’s a load to learn to make sure you are comfortable and safe. But camping for beginners can be a fine line between survival and having the best time ever – if you don’t quite know what you are doing then things can easily turn pear-shaped and you might never want to go camping again. The worst possible outcome!
In order to help your first camping experience be one to remember for the rest of your life (for the right reasons!), this ultimate guide to camping for beginners has just about everything covered. And hopefully you’ll come away wanting to go camping as much as possible.
A beginner’s guide to camping
To get the full picture of everything you need to know before you go camping for the first time, you should read this article from top to bottom. We’ve also linked to some of our more in-depth articles if you want to do some extra reading. And if you want to skip to specific areas then you can go straight there by clicking on any of the following camping for beginners categories:
- Planning your first camping trip
- Clothing for camping
- Food for camping
- Cooking at camp
- What you need for a good night’s sleep
- Things to do at camp
- Stay safe when camping
- Other important tips
Planning your first camping trip
Before you even think about writing a camping essentials list, you need to do a little bit of research and planning. Get the boring bit out of the way and it’ll only get more fun from here. Promise!
1Camp in the summer
If you’ve never camped before, then make sure your first time sleeping in a tent is in the summer. That way you won’t need to invest in a load of expensive gear just to keep warm, and you’ll have longer evenings to enjoy being outside.
2Camp close to home
It’s a good idea to camp close to home for your first time camping. If the weather turns, or you end up hating it, you can always bail.
3Don’t camp in the mountains
Choose a campsite that is close to sea level. The temperature will be significantly colder at night if you are in a higher altitude campsite. So stay low. Once you get used to camping you can start venturing to higher places.
4Choose a campground with some facilities
Having a shop on the campground will be essential for your first time camping. No matter how well prepared you think you are, there will always be something that you forget to bring. Like matches! A play area for the kids is always good to have, and if it’s got a pool then even better!
5Book a campground
Make a booking a few months before you go. In peak season the spots sell out quickly, especially at popular campgrounds. And book a campground that has things to do close by – hiking, beaches, lakes, water park etc.
6Keep it short
For your very first time camping it’s a good idea to just camp for a night or two. You have no idea whether you are going to like it or not, so don’t tie yourself into a whole week stuck in a cramped tent before you’ve tested the waters.
7Consider doing a trial run
Camping in the back yard can actually be a really fun way to see if you’re going to like camping or not and is an especially good idea if you are camping with kids. It’s also a good way to just camp more!
Extra reading: Camping with kids: how to survive and love it
Clothing for camping
Having the right clothes to wear when camping can be a game-changer – especially if the weather turns bad. But there’s no need to buy a load of new gear until you really get into camping. You just need to be smart about which clothes to bring and which to leave at home.
8Bring a good waterproof jacket
If there’s one piece of clothing that is worth spending some money on, then it’s a good waterproof jacket. Not water resistant or showerproof. Waterproof. A jacket with a Gore-tex lining or equivalent. If the weather turns on you then this will make everything much easier and more pleasant.
It doesn’t really matter if they are not made out of technical fabrics, but if you do have some merino base layers and fleece sweaters to add into the mix then all the better! So long as you have a few different layering combinations to suit the changing temperatures, then you’ll be just fine.
Extra reading: What makes merino wool so awesome
10Avoid smart clothing
You can still look nice whilst camping, but don’t expect to always be clean! If you’re not getting dirty kneeling or sitting on the ground, then your clothes will be smelling of the campfire in no time. One way or another camping takes its toll on your clothing, so leave your smarts at home and embrace the casual ‘outdoor’ look.
11Choose comfortable clothing
Wearing restrictive clothing when camping is just plain annoying. You’ll be bending and crouching much more than usual, so wear pants that won’t split each time you get in and out of your tent, for everyone’s sake!
12Wear sensible shoes
You will be on your feet a lot when camping. So wear your most comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting grubby. Old sneakers will do just fine, but if you want something even more practical then go for hiking boots or camp shoes.
Extra reading: 15 camp shoes to pair up with this summer, The 5 best hiking boots for women of the wild, Vegan hiking boots: the top 10 best boots in 2017
13Bring a wooly hat
Even in the middle of the summer the temperature at night can drop without warning, and a cosy hat will make all the difference to help you stay warm. Make sure it’s comfortable enough to wear in bed too.
Extra reading: How to stay warm when camping, How to wear a buff in 14 simple styles
14Bring a sun hat
You will be outside all day, so help your sunscreen out and cover up with a hat. Having a hat is also a good way to deal with washing your hair less regularly than you might be used to!
Extra reading: Dry shampoo for camping: feel wonderful in the wild
It may be tempting to bring your least expensive pair of shades camping, but if you’re spending the whole day in the sun then your eyes need UV protection that cheap sunnies just don’t provide. Store them in a hard case if you are worried about breaking them.
Extra reading: Eco-friendly sunglasses
Food for camping
To make sure you and your group don’t resort to eating cheap cans of stew each meal, you’ll need to make a meal plan for your camping trip and be as organised as possible.
16Plan easy meals
When it comes to camp cooking, everything is a little more difficult than at home if you’re not used to it. So keep your meals as simple as possible. You can still cook with fresh and healthy ingredients, just in a simple way!
Extra reading: One pot camping meals to make in a jiffy
17Bring more food than you usually eat
Just being outside all day will mean you will burn more calories than normal, not to mention all the extra exertion that comes with camping. So make sure the portion sizes of your meals are generous, with lots of snacks to nibble on outside of mealtimes.
18Plan a menu
Writing a menu for your camping trip may seem like overkill, but it will make life so much simpler when you’re at camp. Include a cooked breakfast, a packed lunch, on the go snacks and a good evening meal (with dessert!) to finish the day.
Extra reading: Camping food: the ultimate guide
19Store your fresh food in a cooler
Try to minimise the amount of perishable food that you bring camping by including some vegetarian meals on your menu, and using cured meats that will last a little longer. Otherwise your cooler will fill up in no time.
Extra reading: The best camping coolers
20Pre-cook your first meal at home!
After setting up your tent and getting settled in, a pre-cooked meal will be very welcome and make your first camp cooking experience much more manageable. You’ll still need to heat it up on the stove, but that’s the easy bit.
With so much fun stuff going on at camp it can be easy to forget to keep drinking water. The campground will have drinking water, so have a reusable bottle with you for personal drinking. It’s also a good idea to have a large water container at your campsite for cooking and convenient refills.
Extra reading: Best thermoses and insulated bottles
Cooking at camp
Don’t expect cooking at camp to be as easy as at home. And do expect things to go wrong! It’s all part of the fun (honest!). But once you get into the swing of it, cooking camp meals can be as satisfying as eating them.
You can get away with cooking one pot meals on a single burner camping stove. But a double burner will be much easier if you are cooking for more than two people. Set your stove up on a stable surface, away from your tent and out of the wind.
Extra reading: The best backpacking stoves for lightweight hiking, The best camping stoves for car camping
23Fuel for the stove
Don’t forget that you will need to stock up on fuel for your stove. If you are unsure about how much gas you will need, then bring more than you think. Make sure you turn the gas off at the bottle after each use, and don’t store it in your tent.
24Have a go at cooking on the campfire
It’s not a good idea to rely on your campfire as your primary way of cooking your camping meals. But if you do get a fire going then try cooking a couple of extras or a dessert.
Extra reading: 13 delicious campfire dessert recipes, Bannock bread, Halloumi and pepper camping stew
25Camp cooking equipment
You don’t need to buy any camp specific cooking equipment for your first time camping. Just bring what you have in your kitchen at home. Maybe choose your oldest pans if you plan on cooking over a fire! Plastic or metal bowls, plates and mugs are a good idea too, instead of bringing your best crockery.
Extra reading: Camp cooking: 20 ways to make a meal of it
26Doing the dishes
Don’t forget the clean up! Some campgrounds have washing facilities so check before you go. Otherwise you’ll need to bring your own washing bowl and cloths etc.
Extra reading: Camping checklist
What you need for a good night’s sleep
Now here comes the really important stuff. A bad night’s sleep can ruin your camping trip very easily. Some people opt for sleeping in a hammock instead of a tent. If you think this might be for you then read our guide to hammock camping first. Otherwise, get yourself well set up to make sure you make your first few nights sleeping in a tent as comfortable as possible.
27Choose a decent tent
Your tent will be the most expensive thing you will invest in for camping, and it’s really not worth buying the cheapest option out there. If the weather turns and your tent collapses or floods in the night, you’ll wish you’d spent the extra! There are a load of different types of tents out there, from super small and lightweight to huge 10 person family tents. If at all possible, borrow a tent from a friend for your first time. Then once you’re ready to buy, make sure it’s a good one.
Extra reading: Best family camping tents, Best backpacking tents, Inflatable tents are on the rise, Multi-room tents for group camping luxury
28Practise pitching your tent
It may sound silly, but putting up a tent that you’ve never used before can take hours! Yes hours! It really is worth doing a dry run in your backyard to figure it all out, and to make sure all the components are there.
Extra reading: How to set up a tent with simple tips on where to put it
29Don’t pitch your tent just anywhere
This is your home away from home for a few days, so you want to make sure you put your tent up in the nicest and most sensible place possible. Take your time to position it well and to choose the best spot at the campground.
30Have something cosy to sleep under
You’ll need something warm to sleep in or under. A good sleeping bag is ideal, but if you are not ready to invest yet, then your home duvet will do the job too – you just need to make sure you have room in the car to pack it! Before you go, check the nighttime temperatures and throw in a couple of extra blankets if it’s looking chilly.
Extra reading: Best sleeping bags for backpacking
31Invest in a good sleeping pad
Having something warm and comfortable to lie on is often overlooked by beginner campers. Aside from the comfort that a sleeping pad provides, it will also protect you from the cold of the ground beneath you. If you are going to buy either a new sleeping bag or a new sleeping pad, then go for the pad, you won’t regret it.
Extra reading: Best sleeping pads for camping and backpacking, Best air mattress for camping
32Bring a pillow
Again, if you have room in the car, then pack the pillow from your bed for some extra luxury. Otherwise, it’s worth getting a good camping pillow that will pack down much smaller and is almost as comfortable.
Extra reading: The best camping pillows for wilderness sleeps
33Block out the light and sound
If you’re a light sleeper then it’s worth wearing some ear plugs – especially if there are late night drinkers or early rising kids on your campsite. Wearing an eye mask is also a good way to not get woken up at dawn (unless you want to get up to watch the sunrise?!).
34Make sure you have enough lighting
Attempting to do things in the dark when camping can soon get very trying. A headlamp is an invaluable piece of gear for every camper and a must on the camping essentials list. It’s also useful to have some lights or lanterns around your campsite.
Extra reading: Best camping lanterns to light your way, Best headlamps for camping and adventure
Things to do at camp
Once you’re through with all the camp stuff, you’ll need some entertainment! Of course just chilling with a book is a lovely way to kill some spare time, but it’s good to come with a few activities up your sleeves too.
35Try your hand at some whittling
There’s nothing more therapeutic than sitting around the fire chipping away at a stick. If making something useful is proving too taxing, then sticks for marshmallow roasting are always in short supply! You need a very sharp pocket knife or whittling knife to do this, so be careful.
Extra reading: Whittling for beginners: the ultimate guide
36Get some games going
Camping is the perfect opportunity to goof around like a kid again, and even better if you’ve got kids! There are a load of great games you can play whilst camping, from cards around the fire, to team sports, treasure hunts or hide and seek in the woods.
Extra reading: Camping games, Cool scavenger hunt ideas your kids will love
37Go for a hike
Since you’re already outside and getting adventurous, you might as well make the most of it and get out hiking. Plan a hike to somewhere a bit different – a waterfall, a beautiful view, along a river or to a monument. Make sure you take supplies and plenty of water.
Extra reading: How to measure distance on a map
38Sing some campfire songs
Having a good old campfire sing-song is the perfect way to round off a great day of camping, and no campfire would be complete without at least one out of tune ‘song’. Once you get going you’ll love it. Just make sure you know when to stop before your camping neighbours start complaining!
Extra reading: 40 campfire songs that will warm your heart
Stay safe when camping
Of course there are always hazards and dangers in the outdoors. Some will be unexpected, but if you are prepared and take as many precautions as possible, the risks will be minimised greatly.
39Pack a first aid kit
Hopefully you won’t need it for anything serious, but it’s pretty likely that someone in your group will suffer a minor cut, scrape or splinter. Check before you go that your first aid kit is properly stocked with everything you need.
40Put the fire out properly
If you have a campfire, then make sure it is fully out before you go to bed. The last thing you want to do is start a forest fire on your first camping trip. Cover the embers in dirt and douse with water.
41Keep bears and critters away
If you are camping in bear country then make sure your food is locked in a bear canister. If the campground you choose doesn’t have one, then you’ll need to suspended the food in the trees away from your campsite. Garbage should also be disposed of properly or stored with your food. This will keep less harmful critters away and prevent them from breaking into your food for a midnight snack.
Extra reading: Bear awareness
Other important tips to make camping for beginners awesome
Who knew there was so much to think about for your first time camping? And that’s just the beginning. The more camping you do, the more you’ll learn. And the more you learn, the more camping you’ll want to do! However, there are a couple more things that are important to make camping for beginners as awesome as possible.
42Don’t arrive late
Putting your tent up in the dark isn’t easy for even the most experienced campers. And you’ll want to make sure you don’t end up with the worst camping spot there is. So if at all possible, arrive early, bag a great spot and settle in for the evening whilst you smugly watch all the latecomers struggle with their poles and stakes.
43Keep the noise down
Modern tents might be awesome at providing shelter, but when it comes to being soundproof, they leave a lot to be desired! Try to remember this when you settle down for the night. Equally, if you are staying out around the fire until late, keep the volume down and the chat as clean as possible.
44Leave no trace
And finally, if you only take in one point from this camping for beginners article, then make sure it is this one. Leave your campsite in the same state that you found it in. And if you found it with a few bits of trash on the ground, then leave it in an even better state. The great outdoors is only great if we work hard to keep it that way, so make sure you do your bit too.
Extra reading: Take our Leave No Trace Principles quiz!
And don’t forget, that camping should be fun! So make sure you take the time to enjoy it as much as possible. Making mistakes is all part of the fun and you’ll learn everything much quicker too.
For more information, tips, advice and gear recommendations head to our camping section.
Happy camping, happy beginner campers!