The Outdoors,  Travel Guides

A Beginner’s Guide to Going Camping

These days, going camping seems to be a polarizing activity. You either love it or hate it. However, I believe there may be another camp (pun intended)…those who are intimidated by it. Yes, preparing for a camping trip can be overwhelming. That’s why I created this beginner’s guide to going camping for the new and fearful camper. I include the best type of camping to ease yourself in, what to pack, and what the hell to do out there. Hopefully, these beginner camping tips and tricks can help reduce anxiety and convince first-timers to keep things simple. 

Type of Camping:

I think tent and/or car camping at designated campsites is the best way to start. This type of camping gives you the real deal while offering some “luxuries” that will keep you feeling comfortable as a camping beginner.

  • Reservable: Many designated sites are reservable. This allows you to choose your spot in advance and know exactly where to go, no getting lost here!
    • Check these sites for reservations & places to go camping across the country! recreation.gov & Hipcamp
    • Quick note: if you plan for summer camping in Colorado or other popular spots like National Parks, you often have to reserve weeks or months in advance!
  • Bathrooms: Some are more luxurious than others, but this provides privacy and hygiene as some of you may not be ready to go number two in a hole in the ground…
  • Grills: Whether they are charcoal equipped or just a rack above the fire, this helps to keep meal planning simple.
  • Drive-up: Often, designated campgrounds offer “drive-up” sites which basically means you can park at your site. This way you can leave a lot in your car and it eliminates some unpacking/setup. 
  • Food storage bins: Not really necessary unless you’re in bear country, but this eliminates having to prepare appropriate food storage techniques. 
  • Safety: At a designated campsite, you’re usually surrounded by other campers which makes it a nice option if you plan to camp solo.
  • As a solo female camper, car camping allows you to lock your door as well for extra precautions. 

Pack Your Bags:

Here I am just going to list some essentials to bring with you on your debut camping trip. I am NOT an expert in camping gear, but I can recommend the affordable and versatile gear that has worked for me. By versatile, I mean that the gear can hold its own in the rain, wind, and 40-degree temperatures. 

Tent for Beginner Camping:

  • How much room will I need? 
  • What type of weather do I plan to encounter? 
  • How much am I willing to spend? 
  • What type of camping do I plan to do? 

Be sure to answer these questions prior to searching. The camping group included me, my partner, and his dog, which meant we would need a 3-person tent. We planned for mostly summer camping in Colorado, which typically means mild-hot temperatures and some afternoon rain showers, so we bought a 3-season tent. Our budget was around $100 because we were unsure how much the tent would be used. Finally, we planned to do primarily drive-ups at designated campsites, so we didn’t specifically look for anything lightweight. As a result, we purchased the ALPS Mountaineering Zephyr 3-person tent on Amazon

Sleeping Gear for Beginner Camping:

When thinking about sleeping gear, it’s important to consider the temperature at night, weight, and storage. Just like tents, there are specific sleeping bags for specific types of camping. Again, if you’re planning to keep things pretty simple (i.e. going camping in summer-fall and drive-up sites) then a 30-40 degree sleeping bag is a fine option. I have the REI Co-op Trailbreak 30 which is for temperatures of 30+ degrees and weighs 3lbs. 3oz.

If you’re old like me, without a doubt, you will want a sleeping pad. I also think a sleeping pad allows for more flexibility in where you can set up your tent. My boyfriend uses the Alps Mountaineering Lightweight Series Air Pad because it is cheap, self-inflating, and super comfy. If you plan to sleep in your car, make sure to look for sleeping pads that will specifically fit the length of your car. There are several different types to choose from including self-inflating, air pads, and closed-cell foam pads. For more information, here’s a guide to sleeping pads from REI. 

One last tip, I like to bring 1-2 extra blankets to cover the tent floor. This step is more preference and not necessary, but it makes the tent/car feel more clean and cozy. 

Food for Beginner Camping:

My best camping tips and tricks for you in this arena are to keep food simple. Also, you do not need to make a fire. Fires are intimidating, so if you’re not feeling fire-savvy you can try no-cook camping meals or, I recommend using a portable propane stove or grill. Oh, and bring foil. 

Easy Camping Breakfasts

  • First, I really like to have some sustenance in the morning, especially if I plan to hike. I’m not interested in preparing a complex meal so, my favorite camping breakfast is breakfast burritos. There are several ways to accomplish this, such as prepping the burritos ahead of time. However, I’m lazy and busy, so my preference is to buy microwaveable burritos, wrap them in foil, and heat them up over the fire. Other lazy alternatives are your favorite granola or protein bar, fruit salad, yogurt, cereal, & bagels. Finally, you can bring a cast iron skillet, and that makes cooking eggs/bacon over the fire a breeze. 

Easy Camping Lunches

  • Second, it’s time for lunch. If there is a town nearby, use lunch to stop in and explore it. If not, PB&Js or turkey sandwiches are my go-tos. I like to toss in my favorite snack at lunchtime too. You can prepare sandwiches beforehand or pack all the ingredients and prep them when you arrive. 

Easy Camping Dinners

  • Lastly, we have different variations of the exact same dinner every time we camp. Naturally, we stick to the classics like hot dogs, sometimes fancy sausages, and hamburgers. Vegan and vegetarian varieties of these items will cook just as well over a fire. We also like to bring vegetables as a side. Peppers, onions, zucchini, and corn have all worked well for us. 
  • Here’s how to cook ‘em: 
    • If you have time cut the veggies before you leave
    • Store them in a ziplock bag or Tupperware and toss them in the cooler
    • Bring olive oil, salt, and pepper. Put these ingredients on the veggies in the bag/Tupperware and shake it up.
    • Wrap in foil and place veggies on the grill

Clothing for Beginner Camping:

Obviously, the clothing you bring depends on the region, expected weather, length of stay, and type of camping. In my experience going camping in the midwest summers, you can pack pretty light as the temperature doesn’t drop much. Whereas in the mountains, you are more susceptible to variable weather including rain, wind, and cold nights. Some of my nonnegotiable attire include waterproof shoes/sandals (my preference is Teva sandals), hiking boots/tennis shoes, a water-resistant jacket (that’s also warm), plenty of socks, a bathing suit, a winter hat, baseball hat, and in general I think LAYERS. And then, pack your clothing starting with the bottom layer for each day: a tank, t-shirt, long-sleeves, sweater, or jacket. When you pack this way it saves room as your layers can repeat and ensures that you are prepared. 

Miscellaneous Essentials for Beginner Camping:

  1. Cooler
  2. Garbage bags
  3. Plates
  4. Bowls
  5. Cutlery 
  6. Cups
  7. Pots/Pans (if you’re using a stove)
  8. Toilet Paper
  9. Paper Towels 
  10. Sunscreen
  11. Towels
  12. Camping Chairs
  13. S’mores 
  14. Flashlights
  15. Lighter
  16. Firewood (Make sure to check regulations at the campsite. Usually found at your local grocer or hardware store in season or for purchase at the campsites themselves)
  17. Small Propane Tank (if you have a gas grill/stove) 
  18. Hammock 
  19. Face Wipes 
  20. Feminine Hygiene Wipes 
  21. Hand Sanitizer 
  22. Bug spray 

What to do as a Camping Beginner:

Finally, maybe the most intimidating part of going camping is the lack of service & streaming, but that’s kinda the point, right? This happens to be one of my favorite parts of the activity. So here are some recommendations for what you can do while you camp. 

  1. Hike
  2. Read
  3. Photography 
  4. Play Cards (solitaire for solo trips)
  5. Journal 
  6. Go swimming 
  7. Explore nearby towns  
  8. Nap 
  9. Paddle Board or Kayak Rentals
  10. Find a spot to watch the sunset (or rise) 
  11. Take a scenic drive
  12. Stargaze

Camping has become my favorite way to travel and unwind. I’ve done it enough that packing and planning are just part of the process. To check out that process in action, check out my guides for camping in Gunnison or Leadville, Colorado. I understand that I am lucky enough to be so close to the mountains where you’re guaranteed beautiful & peaceful views. But if you’re not in Colorado, I encourage you to see what is nearby. It can’t hurt to throw “camping near me” in the search bar. Anyway, I hope this mini guide of camping tips and tricks helps to take the fear out of going camping. Maybe it inspired you to go it alone in a safe and responsible way. If you have any questions or your own suggestions/experiences, comment below!

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