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Me and my wife have never done camping before and always wanted to do it. This time we are planning to go for a small camping trip but have no idea how to prepare for it. We like to hike and are beginners in that too!

Is there a guide for starters or any other resources we should look into?

  • any idea of the TYPE of camping you are interested in? tent camping, trailer camping, cabin camping, they are all different – mjrider Feb 2 '12 at 22:35
  • tent, one or two nights max. to start with.. – Gaurav Sinha Feb 2 '12 at 22:38
  • Where? Time of year? – Jay Bazuzi Feb 3 '12 at 18:29
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    After posting this question and researching a bit, we went camping in a campground that provided cabins. We rented one for a night and really enjoyed it. This was a good idea since we now know how it is to be in a campground. Next time we are going to try out tent camping in a similar campground. Cabins are good to start with if you are totally unaware of the idea of camping. Thanks – Gaurav Sinha Jul 11 '14 at 0:17
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    I have found i like tent camping significantly more in cooler or cold weather, i would rather bundle up then be naked and sweaty lol – Nate W Apr 27 '18 at 22:32
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Others will tell you exactly what to bring, maybe even recommend brands. I'm going to cover things at a much higher level, with a few specific tips.

The basic requirements of camping match the basics of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs:

  1. Physiological needs (food, clothing and shelter)
  2. Safety needs (hope for the best, plan for the worst)
  3. Self Actualization (you're doing this to have fun, right?)

If you're going camping you're going to need to provide yourself with food, clothing, and shelter.

Food

The three main factors are:

Weight: The lighter the food, the easier (and more) you can carry. Water is the largest source of weight in food (1L of water is 1kg of weight) and often readily available (in lakes, rivers, taps, and faucets), so many campers use dehydrated food when weight is an issue. Tricks to avoid the issue of weight include car camping, using a boat, or having food prepared/delivered by others.

Quantity: It sounds silly, but can you imagine running out of food? You need to make sure you plan enough food for all of your meals. Always err on the side of caution, you're going to be exerting yourself! With practice you can bring less. The longer your trip, the bigger role food plays in your trip, so start with a simple overnight trip and work your way up.

Preparation: How you prepare and eat your food will govern how simple or complicated your camping trip is. The easier it is to prepare your food, the happier you will be. The less waste you have after, the less hassle you'll have. This is why there's a whole industry around ready-made food in pouches. The simplest options require the addition of hot water. This abstracts cooking down to the art of boiling water. Do you have the tools to do this?

Clothing

Staying dry and warm is your main goal. Protect yourself from the elements appropriately. Be aware of the weather around you, realize that conditions can change, that temperatures drop in the evenings, and that altitude impacts temperature. Layers are the key to success: Too cold? put on another layer, Too hot? Take a layer off.

Cotton is the worst material for this as it does not keep you warm when it is wet, and takes forever to dry. Synthetics dry quickly but don't always offer the best warmth. Wool works well in hot and cold weather and takes a while to dry but stays warm when wet. Footwear is just as important.

Open-toe shoes are a bad idea, support and comfort are more important than anything else. Wear wool socks instead of cotton socks and you'll decrease the chances of having miserable feet (I've seen hundreds of army recruits with mangy feet and blisters because they wore sport socks in their army boots, learn from their mistake!)

Shelter: there are many options. If you're providing your own shelter, then start with a tent (for shelter), a sleeping bag (for warmth), and a mattress (for comfort).

If you buy or borrow a tent, take the time to put it together and take it apart at home once so that you understand how to do it under ideal circumstances. When you get to your camp site the first thing you do is put up your tent. Clear the ground of rocks and sticks before you lay your tent. Keep the doors closed to keep out bugs and rain. Keep your tent away from the camp fire. Keep your tent away from the intersection of two glacial rivers (brrr!). If it's raining, avoid touching the walls of your tent, once water goes through, it keeps coming through. Don't forget to dry out your tent at home, or else it will go mouldy.

You can avoid using a tent (and carrying it) by renting a hut or cabin. The advantage here is you may not need to bring certain things (tent, mattress, cooking supplies, utensils, be sure to confirm in advance from the location, not second hand).

Sleeping bags are either synthetic (cheaper, warm but don't pack down as well and wear out over time) or down-filled (more expensive, pack down well, last longer). People will tell you that a wet synthetic bag is warmer than a wet down bag, but a wet sleeping bag sucks so much you won't care what it's made out of. Start cheap and work your way up. Realize they have a temperature rating and that the comfort level is always about 5 degrees off.

Safety

  • Make a plan. I'm going to such and such a place using this trail, cooking dinner, having a camp fire, and coming back the next day in time for lunch.
  • Tell people where you are going, who you are going with, and when you are supposed to get back. Be specific! Give them license plate numbers and car models.
  • Know who the emergency contact numbers are where you are going (guess what, 911 doesn't work everywhere, is there a park warden number? Put it in your phone! Don't assume your phone will work!).
  • Bring a map. If the map is not drawn to scale, get one that is (grumble grumble). Know how to read the map.
  • Know your limits. How far can you walk in an hour? Okay, now do it with hills and 15 kilos on your back.
  • Bring lots of water.
  • Bring a first aid kit. Get familiar with how to use everything in the first aid kit before you leave. Put a lighter and an energy bar in your first aid kit.
  • Find out what the local dangers are: do you need to bring bear spray? Are the octopi poisonous? Is it tick season? Is it leech season (not a threat, but a nuisance)? Should you have started taking malaria pills seven days earlier? Do you need to bring avalanche gear? Do you have to worry about bacteria in the water?
  • Bring a flashlight with new batteries. Headlamps are great because they keep your hands free.
  • If you're using hiking poles, wrap a few meters of duct-tape around each pole, now if ever a boot splits, a binding breaks, a strap fails, a tent leaks, or a leg requires a splint you've always got something to bind it with.

Self Actualization

Why are you camping? To enjoy the wilderness? To sit around a fire? To see a sunrise or sunset? To get away from others? To get closer to others? To challenge yourself? Figure out why you want to go camping, and make sure you set everything up so that you can accomplish that goal.

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    great answer, I like the bit about wet sleeping bags - who cares what it's made of if you're wet? :) – Ryley Feb 2 '12 at 23:22
  • yeah, I agree, a great answer. – Gaurav Sinha Feb 3 '12 at 0:08
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    I like the part about putting your tent together before the trip. That way you won't end up like I did when I borrowed a tent from a friend, lugged it to the top of a mountain, only to discover that he gave me a wrong set of poles. Luckily I had enough rope to string the tent between two trees. – Jan Hlavacek Feb 3 '12 at 1:50
  • I third the bit about testing your gear (especially your tent!) before you leave. The last place you want to discover that something is wrong is when you're in the middle of nowhere! – Ernie Jun 5 '15 at 23:33
  • You should add something about bringing a first aid guidebook. They're worth their weight in first aid guidebooks. ;) – Ernie Jun 5 '15 at 23:40
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Ask specific questions here, or browse the other questions and answers!

For your first time, try and make sure you have fun. The following may help:

  • Check the weather forecast, avoid cold, wet, windy or whatever weather will make you miserable.
  • Practice pitching your tent before you go, perhaps in your garden or local park. Pitching an unfamiliar tent can be stressful.
  • Are there likely to be biting insects where you are going? Take insect repellent.
  • If you aren't hiking too far with your kit, or it isn't too heavy, set aside some room for your favourite foods so you can have a treat.
  • Make sure you will be comfortable - use a sleeping mat to insulate you from the ground and make sure your sleeping bag is right for the conditions (most will have a temperature rating to guide you).
  • Have a plan for retreating in case you do get into difficulty and carry a basic first aid kit.
  • Stay safe and follow any local laws and regulations regarding where you can camp, whether you can light fires, etc.

If you're not having fun, figure out why and fix it for next time. As you gain experience things will become easier and you'll have more fun.

  • my question was too general as I don't know what to ask :) but you have covered some of the things I should be careful with. The last line about experience has the gist of it I guess. I should do it and learn as I go. Thank you – Gaurav Sinha Feb 2 '12 at 22:11
  • @Gaurav people have written whole books to answer your question :-) I'm sure if you have more specific questions people here will help you. – Graham Feb 2 '12 at 22:20
  • Commentary on the format or quality of the question itself belong in chat, meta, or comments, but not in the an answer. – Russell Steen Feb 3 '12 at 1:48
  • @Russell ordinarily I would agree with your, however, the OP asks "Is there ... any other resources we should look into". Asking specific questions here is a valid answer to that. – Graham Feb 3 '12 at 6:38
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You always learn how to do things better by doing them. But take baby steps:

Start by spending a night in your back yard. See if you can do dinner, sleep, breakfast without going back in the house. Take note of what things you use and what things you don't.

There are campgrounds you can drive to. So drive to one & spend the night. If things don't go well, you can always hop in the car & drive home.

Find a friend that likes to go camping, and ask to go with them.

  • +1 for being able to drive home. Our first camping trip together was with our two year old son. He fell off a picnic table and hit his head several ways. Worried about a concussion, we were able to take him to the ER in under an hour. Learning the symptoms of concussion (and bringing a first aid guidebook with us) would have been an even better plan however. :) – Ernie Jun 5 '15 at 23:38
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After six years of asking this question, now I am answering my own question purely based on my experience and how I introduced myself and my family to camping. I see this is a very common question and people who have never camped before get confused how to start doing it. I remember my state and thus I feel it might help sharing my experience here.

I took baby steps and happy I did it that way. We had our 4 month old daughter the first time we went camping. After some research, we booked one night in a cabin, in a campground that offered almost all the amenities that you can think of. It had a proper (but shared) kitchen, our cabin had heater and beds etc. In this first trip, we got to see the campground, other people and how they camp and also realized what we needed for future trips. Right next to our cabin, we saw a couple with a one year old come and stay in their tent. Looking at them, we decided to camp in a tent next time.

Next time I went for a night in a similar campground, with all amenities but I booked a tent site. Putting a tent together is easy, it may seem complex but if you can easily do it in like 20 minutes or so. I should have tried it at home before but I just learnt it at the site. Tent was up in about an hour or so but it was almost about to fly - went to the extremely helpful campground office folks - they told me to buy the real stakes (not the ones you get with the tent itself) and lent me a hammer. They were so helpful, the in-fact came to our site and helped me do it right. I want to mention this incident here because there will be things that you learn, but there will be help available or options on the campground. This again is a slightly luxurious campground, which I intentionally chose being new to camping.

Next time I went with a larger group of friends, this time I was the only one who had camped ever and this time it was super comfortable. On this occasion, we booked a campsite which didn't have the luxuries but we did fine.

I would say that now I am an experienced camper and I enjoy it a lot. Also, every time I go I forget something ;)

In the end, I would say if you are camping with the kids for the first time, maybe you can do one night in a campground close to your home. I am planning for the same with my second kid, who is just one year old, in a campground which is 15 minutes drive from my home. If things don't go well, I can always drive home anytime.

Camping has been a great experience and I would suggest either go with someone who has experience in it or else take baby steps, slowly ease into it.

  • 3
    Thanks for taking the time to self answer and share your experiences. (+1) – Willeke Apr 27 '18 at 8:45

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