Beginner Camping Mistakes
Don't worry if you're a total camping noob--it's not as hard as it looks! All you have to do is avoid the following rookie mistakes and you'll be fine:
Mistake 1: Not testing your gear. ALWAYS test your camping gear before you head out on a trip. Set it up in your backyard for an impromptu overnight camping session to ensure the tent, sleeping bags, lanterns, and other gear is working right. If necessary, replace anything broken, ripped, or improperly functioning.
Mistake 2: Not knowing your destination. Research the campground or trail where you will be spending the night. Spend a few minutes searching Google and Yelp reviews to find out if there's electricity, water, and dedicated camping locations available, or if there are parts of the park to be avoided. Knowledge is power and safety!
Mistake 3: Budget buys. While it's always nice to find a good deal, camping gear isn’t the place to skimp. Make sure to get reliable, high quality gear that you know how to operate and can rely on. The last thing you want is a tent that leaks or a sleeping bag that fails to keep out the cold!
Mistake 4: Not bringing a grill. It's fun to sit around a campfire and grill your own food, but that will get old after a few days of struggling to set up a proper cookfire. It's much simpler just to bring your own portable grill, either charcoal or gas. Even just having the shell and grill will be enough to streamline the cooking process.
Mistake 5: Over-buying gear. Do you really need that professional-grade tent or mountain climber sleeping bag? If you're doing some weekend camping, the answer is probably not. Don't buy the best, highest quality items in the shop. Stick with practical, utilitarian gear that gets the job done.
Mistake 6: Packing too much. Whether too much food, too many changes of clothing, or too much gear, over-packing can turn a camping trip into a constant hunt for "that one more thing". It can also overload your pack and make cleaning up after yourself a nightmare. Our checklist (see the next section) will tell you everything you need to bring to help you avoid over-packing.
Mistake 7: Being cold. You can't control the temperature, but you can certainly control your response to cold weather! With a good sleeping bag, mattress/pad, and a nice tent, you have nothing to fear from the elements. If you're cold, it means you didn't buy the right gear!
Mistake 8: Forgetting lighting. The light of a campfire will only cover so much ground, and you'll have to go into the woods in the dark to use the bathroom, gather more firewood, or walk to your tent at some point. So always make sure to have two or three more sources of light (flashlights, lanterns, even cell phones).
Mistake 9: Arriving late at night. Unless otherwise avoidable, always try to arrive early in the day. Pitching camp in the dark is very difficult, so do it first thing in the morning when the sun is high and visibility is at 100%. If you're traveling to a popular camping space, you may arrive late in the day to find there are no spots left for you to camp.
Mistake 10: Leaving out food and rubbish. Make sure to hang any food and garbage high in a tree where bears, foxes, and other scavengers can't get at it. It will save you a lot of cleaning up and will help you to keep your campsite as clean as possible.
Camping Gear Checklist
Want to know what to bring to your camping trip? Before you break the bank and stock up on every item of gear sold in your local camping store, stop and think about what you'll REALLY need. You may just find the list of camping gear isn’t as long as you'd think.
Shelter and Warmth – ALWAYS think about your shelter and warmth first! Your overnight camping trip may become absolutely miserable if you spend the night shivering.
You will need:
- A tent (sized to the number of people camping with you)
- Sleeping bags (one per person)
- Sleeping pads/mattresses (one per person/pair)
Make sure to check over the tent and be certain all the various elements (tent poles, rain flaps, stakes, etc.) are present before you head out on your trip.
Water – Without water, you're in serious trouble! You may not always be camping in locations where there is running water available, so you may have to gather your own. To ensure you never run out of water, make sure to bring:
- Bottled water (at least 1 liter per person per day)
- Water purification tablets
- A camping kettle/pot to boil water
- A Lifestraw (for hiking trips)
- Water canteens
With these items, you'll always have potable water to drink while on your camping trip.
Food – ALWAYS think about what you're going to eat on your camping trip! If you're not prepared, you could spend hours every day foraging for barely enough to stay alive. By bringing an ample supply of foodstuffs, you'll be able to eat well and enjoy your camping trip.
You will need:
- A grill (gas or charcoal will do) or camping stove
- Fire-starter fluid, matches, and fuel
- Cooking utensils (cutting board, knife, tongs, spatula)
- Pot or cast iron frying pan (to make cooking easier)
- Airtight cooler for perishable food items
- Long-lasting foodstuffs: eggs, pasta, canned foods, smoked sausages, bread, fruits and veggies, hard cheese, dried or pre-cooked meats.
- A special bag for garbage you can hang high in a tree to keep out of reach of scavengers
- Bowls, cups, and utensils to eat with
- Items for cleaning: scrub brush, washcloth, trash bags
Bringing all your own food-prep gear will make it much easier for you to have good meals while camping, freeing up more time to focus on your hiking, relaxing, and recreation.
Clothing – The clothing you wear on your camping trip will be different from hiking outfits, but there are a few items of clothing you'll need for both:
- Sturdy hiking boots
- Durable pants (preferably cargo pants with extra pockets)
- Warm sweaters and jackets in case the weather turns cold
- Undershirts (added layers increase warmth)
- Long-sleeved shirts (to ward off bugs)
- Hats and gloves in case of heavy chill
With these clothing items, you'll be prepared to face even the chilliest weather.
Note: For hot weather, pack lighter, thinner clothing.
Other Equipment – There are a few other items that you MUST have with you, but which don't fall under any of the truly "essential" categories. These items will, however, keep you safe and make camping much more enjoyable:
- Lighting, not just headlamps and flashlights, but at least one or two powerful portable lanterns;
- First aid kit, just in case of injuries or medical emergencies - DEFINITELY include activated charcoal tablets and ipecac in case of poison ingestion;
- Paper maps, in case you decide to go hiking and your phone/GPS devices run out of battery;
- Sunscreen to protect you from sunburn;
- Bug spray, to keep away those pesky mosquitoes and other bugs;
- Duct tape, for any emergency repairs to the tent or other equipment
- Comfort items: pillow, solar charger, generator, camping chairs; and
- Hatchet for chopping firewood.
Recreation – Of course, don't forget all the gear you'll need for your recreational activities, including:
- Fishing poles, bait, and tackle
- Canoe or inflatable boat
- Hiking gear
- Binoculars for bird-watching
- Toys and bicycles
- Pet food and supplies
If you're planning on enjoying the great outdoors, be certain to bring the required gear.
So now you know what NOT to do, you've packed up all the gear, and it's time to camp! Here are a few basic tips that will turn even the greenest newbie into a seasoned camper:
Be prepared. We can't stress this one enough! The last thing you want is to run out of food or water, be caught in the rain with a leaking tent, or shiver through a cold night. Spend time planning and preparing for your camping trip, using the checklist above to ensure you have at least the bare essentials. Unless you're hiking, you can afford to bring more camping gear so you're ready for anything.
Be organized. Know where all your camping gear is, and make sure to put everything back in its proper bag, pack, or container. It's incredibly easy to lose smaller items (tent stakes included) when packing up in a disorderly fashion. Know how many of everything you brought and count it as you're tearing down camp.
Know the rules. Just because it looks like someone has camped there, that doesn't make the campsite legal. Before you go anywhere, make sure to get the proper permits and be 100% certain you're legally allowed to camp at your chosen spot.
Know your sources of water and fuel. If you're camping at a site with water and electricity, no problem. But if you have to chop firewood and collect water, be certain to scope out the sources of these vital elements before you start to relax.
Enjoy nature. Don't spend your camping trip stuck behind a screen or fiddling with your equipment. Make sure to get out and enjoy nature around you. That's why you're camping, after all!
Always have a sleeping pad or mattress. Sleeping bags are designed for warmth, not comfort. A sleeping pad or mattress will provide some cushioning between you and the rocky, hard ground. Just a few inches of foam or air cushion can make all the difference between a good night's sleep and a sleepless night.
Bring flavorful foods. Forget the canned black beans or the tins of bland tuna. Look for flavorful foods like Sardines in Louisiana Sauce, Canned Asian curry, or Spaghetti-Os. Your canned meals don't have to be boring!
Consider cooking with wood. Having a gas grill is always nice for streamlining the cooking process, but don't only cook with gas. Wood fires lend a delicious flavor to your food, particularly to your meats. It doesn't get any better than a delicious steak cooked on a wood fire!
Bring something to drink. Nothing beats a fresh cup of coffee first thing in the morning, and it's always wonderful to kick back at the end of the day with something a bit stronger (vodka, whiskey, rum, etc.). A drink or two can make the camping experience a whole lot more enjoyable!
Cook, freeze, and bring your food. Don't rely only on canned and dried foods while camping. For the first meal of your camping trip, prepare a delicious meal at home, freeze it overnight, then let it defrost on your way to the campsite. Pop it into a cookpot or pan to heat up and you'll have a wonderful way to start the trip.
Camp for a purpose. Don't just go camping for the sake of pitching a tent and sitting around your campsite. Plan your trip around a specific activity: hiking to a mountaintop, enjoying a river or lake, or engaging in outdoor sports. Use the daylight hours to enjoy yourself, and it will make those relaxing evening hours much more pleasant.
Don't hesitate to bring a few extras. A pillow can help you sleep much better. Camping chairs will make your campsite so much more comfortable. A good book (physical or on Kindle) can help you pass a few quiet hours. They're not essentials, but they can definitely make your camping trip a lot more enjoyable.
You can never bring too much light. Headlamps and lanterns are great for portable light sources, but consider bringing a few powerful lamps to illuminate your campsite. It's definitely easier to enjoy your evenings when you can see where you're going and what you're doing. Plus, it makes those late-night bathroom trips a whole lot less stressful!