You’re planning to take the plunge – your first camping trip! Everyone says it’s SO GREAT, but secretly you think a weekend at the Marriott would be way more fun.
Will you burn down the tent? Give everyone food poisoning? And what about the rain? WHAT ABOUT THE RAIN?
Don’t worry, camping is easy if you follow a few simple tips and don’t stress the small stuff! You’ll unplug, hang out and make s’mores. You’ll sing songs by the fire that you forgot you knew, and rediscover the joy of reading by flashlight. You may even be the first one up in the morning, boiling water for coffee and savoring the quiet before everybody else gets up.
|Packing - use a checklist!|
Here are our tips for first-timers, and remember, everybody was a beginner once!
1. The first time, go car camping within 30 miles of your home. Take your car (or rent one), throw your stuff in the back and go for it! That way if there’s a disaster (hurricane) or everyone just plain hates it (it happens) you can drive home, take a hot shower and order a pizza.
2. Choose your campsite as carefully as possible. Look at the campsite maps and think it through. You want to be close enough to the bathrooms for a run at night, but not so close you hear your fellow campers there. You want to be a little secluded, but the first time out you want to be able to park your car right at the camp site (not carry your stuff in).
3. Put your tent up at home before you go camping, so you know how to do it. Do it twice, if you need to! Get a big tent, if you’re a family. Everyone should be able to sit up in it and read or play cards, and smaller people should be able to stand up, change clothes, etc. (When you go hiking and are carrying your tent on your back is when you bring a tiny tent.)
4. Meal plan. Plan what you’re going to eat, and don’t bring too much! Breakfast and lunch should be simple, and dinner can be a bit more elaborate, sitting around the fire affair. Plan for some fun camp food traditions, like paper bag eggs or spider dogs. Tips on how to pack the coolers here. And don’t forget the s’mores .
|Paper Bag Eggs|
5. Pack simply, but thoughtfully. We freeze 6-8 tall water bottles to keep our cooler nice and cold for a couple of days and then become cool drinking water. Bring a fully charged phone charger, but know that not all camp sites have wifi. Bring mosquito spray. Bring warm clothes – even in the summer (it can get cold at night). Bring a lighter to light your fire and stove. Bring flashlights and extra batteries. Our packing list is here.
6. Plan to arrive at the campsite in the late morning or early afternoon. You want to have time to set up your tent and get your things in order before dusk. You don’t want to set up your tent in the dark – and I say this from experience. Fighting off the mosquitos and keeping the kids calm while setting up a big tent is no fun!
7. Bring a small camping stove and test it before you go. Most stoves need a small propane tank that can be bought separately at the store or on line. They’re easy to use, but most have to be started with a match or lighter, FYI.
|At a scruffy campground somewhere in New Jersey|
8. Bring games, books, cards, crafts, whatever might be fun on a rainy day.
9. Know the campground rules. The most important ones are: 1) Pack all your food away in your car at night or when you’re out hiking (to keep bears away), and 2) Don’t bring in your own firewood (this is to control pervasive insects). But each campground has its own rules. Observe them, or you might get a ticket! (Again, speaking from experience.)
And remember, it’s all about being together on an adventure. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I remember once when we took our three kids camping when they were all under five years old to a scruffy campground with a dirty brown pond, and on the last night it stormed so hard we packed up the tent and all our stuff in the pouring rain and hightailed it out of there. The kids thought it was hilarious, and frankly, so did we. So go for it, and enjoy it!
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Need more recipes? Check out our popular Camping Cookbook!