When planning your first camping trip, there are so many things that you don’t know you don’t know. I’ve put together these camping tips for beginner campers so you can hopefully avoid some of the mistakes that we made on our first solo camping trip.
The first time we went camping as a family on our own (not as part of a scout campout) was a total disaster. We had a great time in the end, but along the way it felt like pretty much everything that could go wrong, did. And while it was brutal going through it, we learned a lot about the things we needed to be more prepared with and the things we had done a good job preparing for.
So in good Berenstain Bears fashion, I’m going to show you what we did, how it went disastrously wrong, and how you can (and we will) prevent that from happening in the future.
Camping Tips for Beginners #1: Research Your Campsite Before You Book
Our campsite research process went something like this: We want to camp on Memorial Day Weekend, what’s available? Nothing? Darn – oh wait, look there’s one site in the entire state of Texas available! It’s 6 hours away, but who cares, we can go camping! Woohoo! Booked it!
The result? We showed up and had a hell of a time fitting our tent into the designated space. The space was obviously not designed for a tent of our size (10×14 – go big or go home, right?). The site was bordered by trees and an overly large cactus, and the ground in some places was too hard and rocky to stake our tent down. We ended up spending an hour shifting and maneuvering our tent until we finally found a spot that fit.
How to research your campsite?
Read all the info on the page
Make sure the distance to the bathroom is ok for you, that it has all the amenities you need (electricity and/or water if you need those), and that the level of shade is acceptable. If you have multiple vehicles, make sure the site can accommodate more than one.
Call the Park
Depending on the park, the rangers and staff are typically very friendly and helpful. If you call and give them your tent dimensions or any other restrictions you might have, they can point you in the right direction.
Search Facebook Groups
There are Facebook groups for just about anything, and campsite review groups are just one of the many helpful groups you can find. In these groups, people post about their sites so you can see all the information and pictures they post, and potentially even ask them questions about the site.
Camping Tips for Beginners #2: Always Bring Water
Our campsite had potable water, so we thought, great, one less thing to pack! Our car was stuffed as it was, so we were more than happy to leave the water behind.
We had bought a cool insulated water jug we planned to fill up with ice from the camp store and then with water from the spigot at our site. It was a good plan, in theory.
Then at about 7 pm on the day we got there, after we’d finished setting up all our gear, I took a minute to use the restroom. And there, taped to the door, was a notice that the park was currently under a boil water notice. At this point, the park store was already closed for the evening and we were stuck. With no water.
Luckily, I was able to ‘borrow’ some water from the neighboring campsite, but it underscored the need to be prepared. Always bring water, no matter what the site says.
Camping Tips for Beginners #3: Do Not Leave Any Trash Out Overnight
This was just plain dumb but for whatever reason, we decided that leaving our trash hanging from the ceiling of our screen room was an acceptable alternative to placing it in the dumpster at night. We thought that having it hang off the ground meant it would be high enough to evade any critters who might want to eat it. Plus, I rationalized, we hadn’t had meat so it should be fine.
Spoiler alert, it wasn’t. We awoke at 2 am to the sound of animal scuffles and peaked out of our tent to see our trash bag waving around as whatever was under it ate its fill. In the morning, there was one hell of a mess to clean up.
Moral of the story, always toss your trash in the dumpster or store it in your car overnight.
Camping Tips for Beginners #4: Don’t Rely on a Campfire for Meals
As I mentioned previously, our car gets pretty packed up when we go on trips. We have two kids and a compact SUV, so space is at a premium. We decided to plan to cook all our meals over a campfire. Big mistake.
The firewood we got from the park store just refused to catch fire and it took forever to get a fire going that was big and hot enough to cook food over. Some of our meals just required a simple water boil, and the amount of effort it required was monumental. So, camp stove-converts we have become.
Camping Tips for Beginners #5: Always Pack Rain Gear
This is one area we actually were prepared for. We woke up on the last day of our camping trip to a full-on thunderstorm, and the area outside our tent was muddy enough to please a pig. Luckily, we were prepared with the following gear:
- Raincoats or Ponchos. We like these disposable ponchos because they’re super lightweight and compact, and travel easily.
- Extra trash bags (for storing wet items when packing up)
Camping Tips for Beginners #6: Do NOT Forget Bug Spray
Living in Southeast Texas, we’re used to mosquitos being a pretty much constant presence. When we got to our campsite up north, we were pleasantly surprised to find no mosquitos around. Guess that renders the bug spray unnecessary, we thought. Until the next morning when we woke up scratching furiously at what we later discovered were none other than chigger bites.
This city girl from up north had barely even heard of chiggers before, but I sure found out about them. They’re little spider/mite type things that apparently jump off tall grass, lay their larvae on you and then that larvae feeds off you, preferring to live in tight, damp places so sweaty underwear bands and bra bands are a favorite. Folds are fun for them too – armpits, knee pits, elbows…
Those things itch like the dickens and are no fun! Next time, you can be sure we’ll be spraying up the second we get out of the car!
So there you have it, our best camping tips for beginners won through hard, unpleasant experience. But as they say, you live, you learn, and boy did we learn. Hopefully these camping tips will spare you some of the same awful experiences we had.
Do you have any camping tips to share? Leave them in the comments!