Everything You Need to Know About Camping

Couple Sitting at Campfire

Camping is one of the most enjoyable outdoor hobbies, practiced by people all around the world. There is something exciting about sleeping outdoors, communing with nature, and enjoying a stress-free vacation in the woods or at a campground.

If you haven’t ever been camping and are thinking about going, this article will tell you everything that you need to know about the hobby, including what gear to bring, where to set up camp and what activities to do while you are camping. Learning as much as you can about the activity before you go is important because it will help you avoid common pitfalls and ensure that you have a good time.

What is Camping

Camping has such a wide and varied definition that it can be difficult to pin down exactly what makes an activity “camping.” After all, you can go camping without ever leaving your backyard and it encompasses everything from taking a road trip across the country in an RV to pitching a tent in the woods.

Campfire Burning Next to Tent

Generally, camping is defined as an activity that you undertake for pleasure that usually involves sleeping in a tent or away from home, cooking food over a campfire and taking a vacation from the everyday routine. Camping is an attempt to get back to basics, often living like our ancient ancestors did, and getting in touch with the natural world around you.

First-Time Camping Tips

If you are going camping for the first time, there are some things that you should be aware of, to avoid some of the common mistakes that people make and make your camping trip as pleasant as possible. Here are some tips for first-time campers.

  • Always buy a tent as if you are sleeping two extra people. Outdoor expert Robert Loewendick says that you should get a six man tent if you are sleeping four and a four if you are planning on sleeping two, unless you don’t mind being shoulder to shoulder with each other and only a tiny bit of room to move around. This is especially true if you are using sleeping pads or cots because they take up more room.
Different Tents on Grass
  • Bring tools – you’ll be surprised how often you need them. Whether it is for putting up a stubborn tent or nailing a clothesline between two trees you would be surprised how much a basic set of tools will come in handy on a camping trip. You should have both types of screwdriver, hammer, nails, a saw and an axe or hatchet at the minimum.
  • Tarp both the top and the bottom of your tents. Travel expert Lynnette Walczak recommends that you not only place a tarp over your tent to keep the rain from getting in, but also that you tarp the bottom as well. This will prevent moisture on the ground from leaking into your tent from the bottom and getting sleeping bags or foam pads wet.
  • Take a hat. Camping is not the best environment for grooming, particularly when it comes to styling your hair. Wearing a hat will make you feel less self-conscious and will stop your camp buddies from laughing at your “sleeping bag head.”
  • Take waterless hand cleaner with you. You are going to be cleaning your hands constantly when you are out camping and you don’t want to waste water or take a trip to the creek when you get dirty. Waterless hand cleaner and some paper towels are an essential camp tool.
Pouring Waterless Hand Cleaner on Hand
  • Don’t just take your pillows from home – buy pillows specifically for camping. Camping pillows are coated to keep out the moisture and allow you to be comfortable even when the heat and humidity rise to epic proportions.

Choosing The Best Camping Spots

When it comes to choosing the best camping places, you need to consider a whole list of things. Here are just a few of the factors that go into choosing a camping spot.

  • Money - Are you able to spend money to go to a paid campground or wilderness area that offers some amenities? If so, these are some of the best places to camp.
Stack of Dollars
  • Type of Camping You Want - Would you rather spend your trip out in the wilderness with no else around you or do you want to be close to civilization and see other campers from time to time?
  • Your Vehicle - Not all vehicles are able to access out of the way campsites. You may need a 4-wheel drive to get through the mud or snow (winter camping) to be able to drive close enough to your campsite. It is possible to hike, but it depends upon how close you can get and whether you want to be that far away if an emergency happens.
  • Water Location - You want to make sure that you choose a camping spot at least 200 feet from water because of the insects, but you also want to make sure you have access within easy walking distance so don’t set up your site miles away unless you have an alternative water source.
Friends Camping Beside Lake
  • Shade, Ground, Privacy and Space - Outdoors blogger Kayla Weiser says that these are four very important factors when it comes to camping ideas. You want shade when the weather gets hot, level ground to set up a tent and prevent injuries, privacy so you can commune with nature and enough space for your tent, your campfire and all of your gear.

A Basic Camping Checklist

When it comes to camping stuff, there is nothing more important than your gear. That’s why this list of camping essentials should be your bible when you are going camping for the first time. These essentials for camping will allow you to be prepared and enjoy your trip a lot more.

Camping Life Magazine says that there are only a few essentials when it comes to camping gear, but these vital items mean the difference between your family having a good time and hating your camping trip.

Teens Setting Up Tent

With that said, let’s go over the list of essentials and you can add additional gear if you have the budget and time.

  • Your Tent - This should be a tent a little larger than the recommended “person” size, especially if you are stowing your gear inside. For example, if you are sleeping two then choose a three or a four person tent. You also need stakes, a ground cloth, a tarp for the bottom and top and a hammer to pound in your stakes.
  • Sleeping Gear - You need a sleeping bag that is rated for the temperatures you will be experiencing, a camping pillow and possibly a blanket.
  • Sleeping Pad, Cot or Air Mattress - These are not required but one of them will make your camping trip more comfortable.
  • Fire Materials - You should bring firewood unless you expect to be able to cut some without getting into trouble. You also need matches or a lighter, some newspaper and kindling (dryer lint works really well).
  • Coolers - You need at least one cooler and possibly two or three depending upon how long you plan to stay and how much food you need to bring.
Camping Cooler
  • Seasonal Clothing - Dress for the weather but bring at least one outfit in case the weather doesn’t turn out as expected. For example, pack your summer gear but also include long pants and a jacket or sweater in case the weather turns cold.
  • Water - Unless you have access to fresh water, you need to bring your own drinking water. Bottles work best as they can stay in the cooler, chilled, until you are ready to drink them.
  • Camp Stove - Unless you plan on cooking everything over the fire (which can sometimes be a pain) you need to bring a camp stove and fuel for it.
  • Cooking Supplies - Bring whatever you need to cook the food that you brought – pots, pans, skillets, skewers, large spoons and barbeque tools.
  • Camp Mess Kit - You are going to need something to eat with, unless you are only cooking finger food. Plastic utensils work best as do paper plates. Just make sure to clean up after yourself!
  • Cleanup Kit - The mark of a professional camper is that their campsite looks better than when they arrived on the day they pack up. Bring a tub, soap, paper towels, trash bags, scrub pads and a sponge.
  • Basic First Aid Kit - Any first aid kit on the market should work for a few days out in the wilderness. However, you might also want to include a bee sting kit and a snake bite kit.
Basic First Aid Kit on Shelf
  • Sunscreen & Insectoscreen - Bring lots of insect repellent or you might spend your entire trip getting eaten up. Also, bring SPF 15 sunscreen or higher.
  • Camp Chairs - Camping involves a lot of sitting, reading and enjoying nature. You might as well be comfortable while you do it. You may also want to bring along a hammock.

Ideas For Camping Activities

There are lots of things to do while camping that will allow you and your family to have a great time. Bringing along board games that can be played on a little table around your camp chairs will allow you to have family time while still being out in nature and many people bring along battery operated devices like phones, tablets or Kindles so that they can read or watch movies while at camp.

Here is a list of things that you can do (some of them will require bringing along supplies for the activity) so that your family doesn’t get bored on your first camping trip.

Family Playing Cardboard Games
  • Hiking
  • Board games
  • Birdwatching, animal or insect cataloguing
  • Fun food activities like making s’mores or roasting hot dogs or marshmallows
  • Telling ghost stories
  • Diving or snorkeling
  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Shooting guns for sport
  • ​Exploring
  • ​Leaf collecting
  • ​Berry picking
  • Hunting for Bigfoot
  • Going on a safari (photo safari)
  • Playing horseshoes
  • Movies, iPod, radios or books
  • Telling stories
  • Crafts or other hobby activities
  • Learning about history and Native American culture
  • Building sand castles (a beach is generally required)
  • Tubing, canoeing or boating
  • Spelunking or rock climbing
  • Playing pretend, tag, hide-and-seek or other kid’s games
  • Stargazing
  • Swimming
  • Musical instruments (around the campfire of course)
  • Drinking alcohol (adults only of course)
  • Learning about science and nature
  • Skipping rocks
  • Water fights (balloons or squirt guns are required
  • Frisbee Golf
  • Barefoot Bowls (UK) a.k.a. lawn bowling
  • Bicycling
  • ​UFO watching
  • Ghost hunting
  • Wood carving
  • Anything you can think of

Wilderness Camping

One of the styles of camping that is extremely popular is wilderness camping. This is actually what you might call “normal” or “average” camping. You take a tent and some supplies (as listed above) and spend a few days out in the wilderness.

Man on Wilderness Camping

Wilderness camping allows you to go out and enjoy some time in nature. It is often done in wooded areas where camping is permitted, but there are actually campgrounds set up for this purpose that mimic the same environment, although often with amenities like restrooms and showers included.

If you like the idea of “roughing it” to a certain extent, wilderness camping might be the style for you. It does expose you to the elements and the insect population, but it is generally safe and fun as long as you camp in an area where people often go and not out in the wilds where you might encounter bears and other wild animals.

Wilderness camping can be done by a novice camper but you should have the basic supplies listed above.

Urban Camping

Urban camping is a completely different style of camping and is especially for the novice camper that hasn’t been out in the elements before. Urban camping is generally done at established campgrounds that have amenities like restrooms, showers, snack machines and possibly even restaurants or gift shops.

Camping Tent in City

Urban camping might involve sleeping in a tent, although there is usually electricity available, and many people instead choose to rent cabins or lodges for this purpose. Urban camping is intended to give you the joy of camping without the negatives that can sometimes turn campers off from the sport, such as insects, wild animals, cold weather and being exposed to wind, rain or extremely hot or humid weather.

Winter Camping

Winter camping is another sport entirely but it could be either urban or wilderness camping. Winter camping is simply when you decide to go camping in the winter and it should probably only be done by experienced campers, unless you are renting a cabin with heat.

Winter campers have to worry about a lot more than a few insects or the hot sun. In winter, in many parts of the country, camping outdoors can lead to serious injury like frostbite or even death in some extreme cases.

Man on Winter Camping

If you have never been camping and winter camping appeals to you, many experts recommend that you try out urban or wilderness camping in the summer first. CantonRep lifestyle reporter George Little warns about the dangers of winter camping for the novice and says that it is important to keep in mind that everything takes longer when you camp in the winter – tent setup, cooking food and even getting around.

He recommends that you plan carefully before you head out to the snow.

Treehouse Camping

Another style of camping that can be very fun – especially for kids – is treehouse camping. If you have a treehouse, consider letting your kids sleep outside in sleeping bags when the weather is warm enough. In fact, you can sleep out there with them if you want to make it a family affair.

Victorian Treehouse in Backyard

There are certain camping restrictions that come with sleeping in a treehouse and using it to camp out. For one thing, it’s probably not a good idea to build a fire to roast weenies or marshmallows on. You also need to make sure that there is no danger of falling out the tree while asleep. However, treehouse camping can be a fun activity to do during the summer months and millions of kids have a great time with it.

Backyard Camping

Closely related to treehouse camping is your standard backyard camping. Most people are familiar with backyard camping and a majority have even done it once or twice. Backyard camping can be done with or without a tent, as long as you are in a safe neighborhood and the weather cooperates.

Family Camping in Backyard

This is a fun activity for kids, allowing them to sleep out under the stars or stay up and tell ghost stories during the summer months. Of course, it may not be practical to build a fire on your lawn but if you have an indoor fireplace you can roast marshmallows there and take them outside to eat.

Backyard camping is a great way to start if you have never camped before. It is also a great way to get used to using your camping gear as you collect it and prepare for an actual outing in the wilderness.

Camping Cabins

Cabins were previously mentioned as a way to do urban camping, but this is actually a popular vacation activity all by itself. Technically, this may not be considered camping by some purists, but a lot of fun can be had renting a cabin and spending a week away from home.

Three Camping Cabins

You can bring board games or other activities if you want to spend some time away from the rigors and fast pace of urban civilization. Many families find that they connect with each other when they spend a week together in a cabin. Of course, if you spend too long there, you might develop cabin fever – quite literally. The best way to avoid this is to have fun activities planned out throughout the day.

Survival Camping

Camping survival is a form of camping that should never be attempted by a novice camper. Also called minimalist camping, this style is intended to test your wits, your knowledge and experience against the elements. It should only be attempted by expert campers and then only with some sort of a backup plan in case something goes wrong.

Improvised Tent For Survival Camping

Survival campers often take nothing but a pack out to the wilderness and try to survive for a week or even longer. Many of them kill and eat their food, build a shelter to get out of the weather and they may even have to find fresh water when their canteens run dry.

Survival camping is dangerous and more than a few people who thought they were ready ended up becoming seriously injured or dead because they ran into problems and didn’t have a backup plan in place.

Trailer & RV Camping

Camping outfits like recreational vehicles and trailers are also great ways to camp. The disadvantage of these is that you aren’t able to really get out into the wilderness because they won’t make it up the roads that lead to the faraway camp sites.

Family on Trailer Camping

However, RV camping does have its place and it is a sport enjoyed by millions – including families on vacation and retired couples who are seeing the country from their RV. Camp trailers and RVs usually have beds, tables, bathrooms and sometimes even full kitchens and entertaining centers so you get all the comforts of home while camping.

Other Camping Tricks

There are a few other camping tricks that you should be aware of. First of all, there are several camping apps that you might make use of. Camping apps can tell you everything from where the nearest camp site is to what to do if you get a snake bite.

Group of Campers at Campfire

Some other ideas include bringing spices in tic-tac containers to make your food taste better, using rubber kindergarden puzzle tiles to make your tent floor much softer and bringing a two person hammock so that you can relax and read in the sun. Try a few of these tricks on your next (or first) camping trip and you will indeed be a happy camper!

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