As the weather warms up, it’s time to start planning some fun activities for the summer. I absolutely adore taking my family on camping vacations. The great thing about camping is that you can hang out at the lake or in a national park for a weekend, and it’s super inexpensive. Camping is a fantastic family activity, but it can seem like a daunting experience if you’ve never done it before. We’ve got some tips so that camping for beginners is not as daunting as you might expect.
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Camping for Beginners: 15 Tips for Your Best Getaway
1. Avoid popular holiday weekends if you can.
Many families have a tradition of camping over long summer holiday weekends. This leads to crowded campgrounds and late, noisy evenings. It kind of defeats the purpose of having a camping getaway if you are up until the wee hours of the morning because you have active campers on all sides of your tent.
If you can’t avoid a holiday weekend, seek out unique campgrounds that may not be as well known. Otherwise, aim for non-holiday weekends – or even better yet, a mid-week trip. Mid-week is by far the quietest time at the camp site, and if you’re taking your first camping trip in order to satisfy your need for a little R&R, it’s a perfect time to go.
2. Arrive on time – and have a back up plan.
If you’re not booking a camp site ahead of time, be sure to give yourself a little wiggle room to arrive early enough. Many sites only have a limited number of designated camp spots, and if you get there too late during a busy weekend – you might find they’re all full. Arrive early enough so that a) it reduces the chance of a full house already, and b) even if it is full, you can pull out a backup plan with another local camp site to check out.
3. Cook on site.
You will save time and money if you pack your food in and cook at your campsite. Depending on the fire weather conditions in your area, you may be limited to using a propane camp stove. You don’t need to spend a ton of money to get a good camp stove. We love this Coleman Classic Camp Stove. The two burners mean we aren’t limited to one pot dishes.
Of course, you’ll also need a cooler. Most modern coolers can hold ice for about three days. We use this one, also from Coleman, for weekend trips. It has wheels, which really come in handy if you need to walk a bit to your campground. If you decide that you love camping and want to go on longer camping trips, you may want to upgrade to something like this MILEE that holds ice for up to six days.
You may also want to invest in a lightweight camping cook set.
4. Get a comfortable tent.
From experience, I can tell you that you should get a tent big enough for all of your family members, plus one or two. This helps to keep people from stepping on toes or elbowing their neighbor in their sleep. Multi-room tents are great if you have teens that want a little privacy or if you need to keep a younger kiddo contained.
Spend a little extra and get a waterproof tent. While you can check out all the weather predictions, they are only predictions. It’s no fun to wake up cold and wet because the tent wasn’t waterproof. We love tents where you can stand up like this one from Coleman.
5. Test your gear ahead of time.
One of the reasons camping for beginners can be intimating is the thought of dealing with tasks you may have never done before, like putting up a tent or lighting your camping stove. Get rid of that first-time fear by practicing these things at home ahead of time! Put up the tent in the backyard; light your stove and try cooking something on it; make sure you know how to use any other key gear you’re planning to bring.
6. Wear good shoes.
If you’re hanging out at a camp site, odds are you might be doing some exploring in nature – whether it’s a leisurely walk with the kiddos or a more intense hike. Be sure you’ve got a good pair of sturdy shoes that can handle the outdoors.
7. Bring a first aid kit.
I know, it’s a mom thing to say. But it’s so true! If you’re traveling with your children, there’s bound to be a few cuts and scrapes during a rough-and-tumble weekend in the woods. Be prepared with a first aid kit and you can quickly clean up any wounds and patch ’em up with some band-aids or gauze.
8. Don’t over plan.
Part of the reason for getting away on the weekends is to actually get away. If you are spending all of your time hitting every museum and tourist attraction for 100 miles, you won’t have any time left to sit around, tell stories, laugh, and connect with your family. The thing that makes camping so great is that you’re hanging out with friends and family rather than focusing on things to do. Spending time together becomes the experience.
9. Research where you plan to go.
So you know not to over plan – but at the same time, some level of planning is key, simply as far as logistics go. For example, are there any facilities (toilets, showers) on site? Is the campsite more family oriented with summertime activities, or is it more secluded and quiet? These considerations may be a big deal for some members of the family.
Along the same lines, what are the average weather conditions like? If you’re hiking in the backcountry to set up camp somewhere, you may be surprised to find that weather conditions can shift rapidly, especially if you’re changing elevations. Find out from camp/park websites and/or experienced campers what to expect, and be sure you prepare for it. Layers are often really helpful for those types of camping trips.
10. Prepare for animal encounters.
Know what kinds of animals you might run into. This helps for several reasons. First, you may need to take special precautions, such as a bear canister, to protect your food. Next, if you know that deer move through an adjacent meadow every evening, you can plan to find a hidden spot to watch them move through. If you’re camping in a national or state park, you can call a park ranger to see what animal life is like near your camping spot.
11. Plan to pack out your trash.
First-time campers often forget that there will be a lot of trash to carry out. Food scraps should be taken to the nearest predator-proof dumpster, and the rest of your trash needs to be secured in bags so that it doesn’t blow away. Each year, more than 100 million pounds of trash is left behind in national parks including Denali, Yosemite, and Grand Teton. Packing out your trash helps to preserve our national parks for other visitors. Bring several smaller trash bags with you.
12. Cots, or not?
For most families, this goes back to how far you have to hike from your car to the camping spot. If you’re doing backcountry camping, packing cots in is just extra weight. If you’re camping at a local lake and your car is three minutes away, carrying cots is not a huge deal. They can make your camping weekend a little more comfortable.
If you have young kids, this camping bunk bed really comes in handy to get them off the ground and save space. Another idea is a lightweight camping pad. You can use this on the ground or on top of a cot.
13. Don’t forget about lighting!
Let’s say you wake up in the middle of the night and you have to use the bathroom – it’s pitch black outside and it happens to be cloudy, so you’ve got no moon light to guide you either. You’ll want to make sure you’re well prepared with lighting, including flashlights, handheld lights, and head lights. Aside from when nature calls at midnight, these tools are also just helpful in general for lounging at evening time with the family and when you’re cooking.
14. Try to go somewhere new.
While taking a weekend excursion, you probably want to stay near home. But whenever possible, try to find a new campsite to check out. This gives you new hikes, an unexplored region to check out, and the chance to meet new friends. You can check out our list of the best places to camp in New England for some inspiration!
While you should take a cell phone along in case of emergency, make your camping weekend a chance to stay away from social media. There was a fascinating article about unplugging from your phone in the NY Times recently, and the difference it can make on your stress, anxiety, and creativity. It’s definitely something that many of us have become addicted to, and camping is a perfect time to break free from that.
Take great pictures of your camping experience, but wait until you’re home to upload them to Facebook. Trust me, they can wait.
Camping is a great way to have inexpensive fun with your family. In most places, you can hit a campsite often, so take advantage of those warm summer months to plan some fun family adventures!