Camping can be a great escape from the ordinary. A chance to see things from a different perspective, like the night sky without the interference of the lights of civilization or the smell of the wind as it blows through the trees. Camping with friends and family is a way to connect and deepen bonds with each other and with our place in the natural world. If you are thinking about taking your first camping trip, a little planning will ensure that this first trip is the start of a lifetime of many more camping adventures.
Where to go
It is a great big world out there, so where do you start when it comes to choosing where you’ll camp? Here are different resources to gather ideas on where to camp:
- Your state park websites
- Recreation.gov is a good resource on finding federal parks
- Ask your local outdoor store associates or friends where they like to camp
- Camping reservation websites, such as ReserveAmerica.com and Hipcamp.com, which include user reviews, amenities and other specifics about the area you’re considering
More and more campsites require a reservation, so check first when planning your location. When you’re new to camping, it’s a good idea to pick a place closer to home. Backyard camping is also a great way to try camping out for the first time. No reservation required!
Some additional things to think about while planning your location are the driving route, the weather forecast and the amenities available. Decide beforehand the route and distance you’re comfortable driving. And the weather in the area will help you determine what to pack. Finally, think about the amenities that will make your trip fun and easy. Do you have fantasies of roasting marshmallows over an open flame? Check to see if fires are allowed. Does the idea of taking care of your hygiene needs more closely resemble rugged conditions? Then a shovel for a cat hole may be all you require. Otherwise, look for bathrooms as an option at your campsite. Some planning and research on where to camp sets the tone for your entire first experience and is time spent that is well worth it.
What to pack
With your destination settled, it’s time to gather and organize what to bring. When it comes to gear, for your first camping trip, it may be better to borrow as much as you can from friends and family. Until you decide what you want and need at your campsite, this will help you in deciding what to purchase down the road. Some items you’ll want to have are:
- Tent (smaller or larger)
- Single, double or kids’ sleeping bags or hammocks
- Pack ‘N’ play (if you need)
- Food and storage items
- Water and coffee (if you need)
- First aid kit
- Hygiene supplies
- Cooking equipment/supplies
- Eating utensils
- Clothing (layers are key!)
- Flashlights or headlamps
- Tool kit – shovel, utility knife, extra batteries, duct tape, cord/rope, mallet, trash bags
- Books and toys like plastic shovels, bubbles, glow-in-the-dark necklaces
- Warm blankets for snuggles around the campfire
- Canvas folding chairs
Tip: the Leave No Trace principles are not only good to review before any outdoor activity, they are a good place to work from to create your gear list. The idea is to minimize or eliminate human evidence in the outdoors. These principles will help you make sure you have what you need to do just that.
What to do
You have a great destination, reservations made (if needed) and your gear list is complete. Now you are ready to enjoy yourselves. What do you want to do while there? Before your trip, do some online research about the surrounding areas, or check on the bulletin boards and local business once you are near your campsite. There are usually some great events going on and points-of-interest around the area.
Maybe exploring the outdoors is number one on your list. Hiking and fishing apps are a great source for ideas on where to go for these activities. Or ask your kids what activities they’d like to do. One idea is to make a game out of identifying plants and wildlife – a fun way for all ages to learn more about nature. (A little research on what plants and animals to expect in the area will also help you know if any precautions are needed.) Check out some more ideas here about camping with kids. The memories you make are some of the best parts of the entire experience.
The camping community is made up of many different yet like-minded people when it comes to knowing the joys of spending time in the outdoors. Your campsite neighbors and the park staff and rangers you meet all share a love of the outdoors and the special connection that comes with understanding and caring for the outdoors. You are about to become part of a pretty special group of people. Welcome to camping!
- The ultimate guide to camping with kids
- Love the layer you’re in: cold-weather camping
- The new era of the family camping tents
Additional camping resources:
Photos by Michelle Gee and Jessica Human.
Lisa Boness lives in the mountains of Colorado where she indulges her love of the outdoors with as much hiking as possible. Her other interests include writing, home improvement projects and spending time with family (including her husband, Eric, and her favorite “trail critter,” Ridley – a Maltese).