Ask a group of seasoned campers why they love the outdoors and the answers will likely run along the same theme – how being in nature opens your mind to a feeling of wonder and you truly do experience a kind of bliss, how being separated from the daily demands of life—emails and cell phones and to-do lists—is invigorating and refreshing, and that in the wilderness you simply breathe easier and deeper and you are more relaxed.

Camping addicts simply believe that all elements of camping are FUN; building a campfire is fun and cooking over a campfire is fun. Hotdogs (or pancakes, or breakfast sausages, or marshmallows, you get the picture) never tasted so good as those cooked over a campfire. Playing card games under the light of a lantern is fun. Singing songs around the campfire is fun. Lying in the tent and listening to the sounds of a nearby river or the soft rustle of the wind in the leaves is fun. Waking up in the morning to the sound of birds and the chatter of squirrels and smelling the fresh air is fun.

If you’ve never camped and you’re feeling like you just want to get out there and try it, we encourage you to make your foray into the world of camping. With the right information and time to prepare, you can have a safe and FUN camping adventure that will be worth repeating.

Preparing

Advance preparation is necessary for a successful camping trip, whether you are a seasoned camper or a beginner. Try to aim for arriving at your destination well before nightfall so that you have lots of time to set up camp and settle in. As a newbie camper, if you’ve rented or purchased a tent, practice setting it up in your backyard or in a nearby park. If there are traffic snarls on the way to your campground and you arrive at your campsite after dark, you’ll be glad you spent time practicing as it’s a little trickier setting up a tent in the dark with only flashlights or headlamps.

You may want to keep your first camping trip short, perhaps even only for one night; however, if you went to all the effort to get your gear, pack up your car, and set up a camping site, it may be more worth your while to stay for at least two nights and really get your feet wet.

Location is important, not only in terms of how far a drive you have ahead of you, but also choosing the location of the actual campsite. Is it flat? Does it have some shade? If it rains, does it have trees to which you can tie ropes if you need to put up a tarp? Is it near a marshy area where mosquitoes thrive? How far is your site from the nearest bathroom or outhouse? Preparation is essential, so take the time to research the climate and the geography of your chosen location.

If you’re taking your dog, keep in mind that not all outdoor lovers are dog lovers. Make sure your dog stays in your campsite, and when you’re out, keep it on a leash and pick up your doggy doo-doo just like you would in the city.

Packing List

On your first camping adventure, you do not need to take a ton of gear nor do you have to buy it. Most towns and cities have camping gear rental options at sporting goods stores. If you’re not sure if you are going to enjoy camping, rent the gear, have your adventure, and then decide.

We advise that you take at least these essential items:

  • Lightweight tent with room for occupants to sleep and a backpack of clothes.
  • Sleeping bag that is right for your weather (you’re not going to want a sub-zero bag in the heat  of summer).
  • Sleeping pad or mountaineering cot that will provide warmth and comfort.
  • Your favorite pillow.
  • Camping stove; a single burner camping stove is fine if you intend to use the campfire (and cast iron skillet) and roasting sticks to supplement your food preparation. A double burner stove that hooks up to a butane bottle is probably more useful.
  • Cast iron skillet for cooking over the fire.
  • Tarp and strong twine for tying.
  • Lawn chairs.
  • Clothes that allow you to dress in layers, and a swimsuit if you’re camping near water.
  • Even in the summer, add a warm hat, gloves, and rain gear.
  • Bring fun things to do like a deck of playing cards, other games, or books to read.
  • Extra garbage bags and ziplock bags.
  • Paper towels, toilet paper, baby wipes, and hand sanitizers.
  • A portable music player (although keep in mind campground etiquette about volume and lateness).
  • Kitchen utensils that are old and won’t be missed if they don’t come home with you; include a plastic table cloth, knives, and a can opener.
  • Cooler with enough food and ice to last the length of your stay, including large marshmallows, graham crackers, and plain milk chocolate bars for making those necessary and essential s’mores over the campfire.

Additional safety precautions.

You’ll want to store your food according to your campsite protocol. You don’t want animals—bears, gophers, squirrels, birds—coming into your campsite to feast on the food you left out on your picnic table. When you’re away from your campsite or while you’re sleeping, keep your edibles in the cooler or the car.

As long as your campsite doesn’t have a fire ban, you can build a campfire in the fire pit. If you feel you need kindling to help start a campfire, collect the lint from the lint screen of your dryer for a few weeks prior to your trip. Under no circumstances would you start a fire with gasoline or lighter fluid. Dryer lint, paper products, and wood only. Also, don’t throw your plastic garbage onto the campfire as it creates ugly black smoke that smells awful.

Homecoming Bliss

And now, your first camping adventure is over. You’ve set up a tent and slept in it, you’ve cooked over a campfire, you’ve played cards at a picnic table, you’ve eaten your first s’mores, you’ve experienced the idyllic feeling of being out in nature for an extended period of time, but now it’s time to pack up and head home. One basic thing to remember before leaving your campsite it to make sure you remove all garbage. And, at this point, we can safely predict that you are looking forward to getting home and stepping into a hot shower because you’ve never before had so much dirt under your nails or on your clothes. No doubt, you’ll have a big load of laundry to do. But this is all part of the fun. Don’t be hard on yourself if things didn’t go as planned. Figuring out how to do it better next time is also part of the fun.

Hopefully, you’ll have caught the camping bug. Next weekend, next month, or next year, you’ll be out there again. As always, we raise a TOASTed marshmallow to all of our outdoor loving aficionados who have caught—and intend to spread—the I-love-camping bug!

What are your best tips for the newbie camper? Leave your comments below or join the discussion on our Facebook page!