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9 First-Time Camping Tips for the New Outdoorsman (and Woman)

August 24, 2020
Camping can be a life-changing experience, but make sure you know how to stay safe while enjoying it. (Source: Pixabay / Ben_Frieden)

Camping can be a life-changing experience, but make sure you know how to stay safe while enjoying it. (Source: Pixabay / Ben_Frieden)

The first camping trip is always a special one – a first-hand introduction to the great outdoors complemented by dazzling stars and remote calm. There are some tricks to getting it right, though, so for those eager to explore the great outdoors, review the following first-time camping tips – they’ll keep you safe, warm, and happy as you soak in the wonder of Mother Nature. (Also, depending on where and when you camp, you may need to take additional precautions due to weather, wildlife, or terrain – check with your local parks department for more information.)

1: Make sure you get a warm, durable sleeping bag.

The most common thing first-time campers regret is buying a budget or low-quality sleeping bag. You never quite know what terrain you’ll be sleeping on – or what the weather will be like – so be sure your sleeping bag is high-quality, warm, and water-proof.

You can get either a down or synthetic bag; down bags are light and durable, but can be damaged if wet, while a synthetic sleeping bag is a bit heavier though quick-drying and non-allergenic. Keep these qualities in mind when picking a sleeping bag, and always be sure the temperature rating is suitable for the nighttime lows wherever you’re headed. (Here’s a good guide on picking the right bag for your needs.)

2: Pack hand sanitizer and a first aid kit.

Chances are, you’ll be mucking with all kinds of dirty business while setting up camp, hiking, and preparing meals. Keep germs at bay by carrying a pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitizer with you. Also, stow a few extra in your luggage in case you run out. For those rare emergencies, be sure you also have a first-aid kit with rubbing alcohol, bandages, burn cream, and aspirin or acetaminophen.


3: Don’t pitch your tent under a tree.

In the excitement of setting up your campsite, it can be easy to forget about the basics. For instance, don’t pitch your tent under a tree – any number of things can fall on it, scaring you and possibly compromising its structural integrity. More likely, however, you’ll end up with a bunch of sap on the canvas that makes packing up a nightmare.

Don't skimp on sleeping bags – good ones will keep you dry, warm, and well-rested. (Source: Pixabay / StockSnap)

Don’t skimp on sleeping bags – good ones will keep you dry, warm, and well-rested. (Source: Pixabay / StockSnap)

4: If you plan on hunting or fishing, have backup meals.

Many who go camping the first time want the full experience – a bit of lowkey hunting or casual fishing that can cover a meal or two. Don’t assume that these adventures will go off without a hitch, however; often, you won’t catch anything and then you’ll be left hungry. Make sure you pack food for every meal and be sure that everyone has enough. It’s recommended that you create a simple checklist to prep for this and keep your meals as simple as possible – a protein (ideally one that doesn’t require heat to prepare), a starch, and a vegetable.

5: Pack earplugs.

While the great outdoors may seem peaceful and calm at a distance, it turns out those idyllic groves and gently chattering brooks actually get quite noisy at times. Add to that occasional gusts of wind; the yips, squeaks, and hollers of wild animals; and your companion’s periodic snoring, and you might find it difficult to fall asleep. Ensure you get a restful night’s sleep by packing a pair or two of earplugs for uninterrupted slumber.


6: Check weather forecasts and pack appropriate clothing.

Another logical must, but in the frenzy of packing and preparation, many first-timers forget this. Know the weather you’ll be facing at your destination and pack accordingly. Also, however, prepare for contingencies; make sure you have waterproof clothes if it rains and add an extra sweater so you don’t get cold at night. Oh, and pack a few extra pairs of socks – they frequently get wet and you’ll want to be able to change into a dry pair.

Inclement weather can hit at any time – be prepared with water-proof clothing. (Source: Pixabay / chulmin1700)

Inclement weather can hit at any time – be prepared with water-proof clothing. (Source: Pixabay / chulmin1700)

7: Bring large garbage bags for picking up trash.

Chances are, your first camping excursion will be to a marked campsite with trash receptacles readily available. To be on the safe side, however, bring a few garbage bags so you can collect any extra trash you create while enjoying the great outdoors. Nobody likes a litterer; as the unspoken rule goes, leave your campsite better than you found it.

Garbage bags also make for nifty rain protection if you happen to forget something waterproof.

8: Don’t leave/arrive at night.

No matter how familiar you are with your campsite area, don’t arrive at night. Not only will the lack of light make setting up your tent a chore, but you’ll likely disturb wildlife. You also won’t be able to scope out the terrain, which is critical to knowing which areas are safe and stable for your tent – especially if the campsite is out in the wild.


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9: Stay clear of areas populated by wild animals to avoid confrontations and food theft.

While this stands to reason, many first-time campers don’t research their chosen campsite ahead of time to be sure the area is largely free from wildlife – especially dangerous animals like bears and wolves. If you encroach on their habitat, they will investigate, perhaps going so far as to steal food you’ve packed for your trip or antagonize you. Avoid the temptation altogether by camping in marked areas that are largely free from wildlife encroachment, or those areas widely documented as safe.

If you want to be extra careful, tie your food up in a bag and hang it from a tree branch several yards away from your tent. This makes it more difficult for animals to snatch and keeps them a safe distance from you and your fellow campers.

For more first-time camping tips, check out magazines like Backpacker on our Books & Magazines page, or see what equipment is in store in our Sports & Outdoors category.