Ditching the five-star resort for a tent and a sleeping bag this spring and summer? If you’re new to the camping world, here are some helpful tips to get you started.
Where to Camp
If it’s your first camping trip, it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into—ahead of time. Are you the type of camper who wants to “rough it” in the woods with a more primitive campsite? Or would you rather have a warm shower every night and plenty of running water? Before setting up camp, it’s a good idea to research the amenities at certain campgrounds to find one that suits your needs. If you have small children, it’s much easier to choose a campground with full bathhouses and family-friendly activities, such as hiking trails, rivers, or playgrounds. If you’re a low-maintenance camper, an isolated campsite with an outhouse may be all you need to survive in the wild.
When you’re camping with children, accidents and injuries are unavoidable with so many outdoor activities. Scope out a campground within a short distance to a hospital, pharmacy, or a McDonald’s (a Happy Meal always perked me up as a cranky toddler). Since more primitive campsites can be isolated, a campground closer to town is convenient for better cell phone reception in case of an emergency or the compulsive need to check your Instagram account.
What to Pack
Unless you’re traveling to your campsite of choice by plane, when it comes to packing for a camping trip, pack more than you think you will need. Be sure to bring clothes that you aren’t worried about ruining with dirt and campfire smoke, and bring plenty of socks and extra shoes for unexpected rainstorms or muddy conditions. Flashlights and headlamps come in handy for midnight trips to the bathroom, but be sure to pack extra batteries just in case. Many campgrounds have certain requirements for firewood types used on the property to control the potential spread of insects or diseases that could harm the forest nearby. Buy your firewood from the campground and research local fire bans ahead of time.
Insect repellant and citronella candles will be your best friend to ward off mosquitoes, especially if you’re camping near a beach. Additionally, depending on the terrain, some campsites may be lacking trees for shade, which can make for a toasty summer day in July. Consider investing in a canopy tent or an awning for a shady place to relax. It’s also an excellent idea to practice popping your tent in your backyard before leaving for camp to ensure that the tent is in perfect condition, with all of its stakes and poles included. Since few campers are fortunate enough to avoid dealing with rain during their trip, waterproof your tent using water repellents, such as Scotchgard, to seal the seams, along with placing tarps underneath and above your tent to prevent excess rainwater from gathering inside.
Depending on the nature of your campground and how populated or close to other campers your outdoor living quarters may be, noise and privacy may be an issue. Although you’re spending time outside, it is still considerate to use your “inside voice” early in the morning or later in the evening. Pay attention to any quiet-hour policies the campground may have in place, and be sure to pack activities, such as coloring books and board games, to keep small children occupied. If you’re camping with animals, it’s important to remember that not all campers are as comfortable with your Great Dane as you are. Keep all pets on a leash to keep them from wandering into other campsites.
Before zipping yourself into your sleeping bag for the night, double-check your fire pit to ensure that the fire is completely out—you don’t want to be the cause of a devastating forest fire. Additionally, to avoid attracting wildlife, such as bears and raccoons, never leave any food items sitting out overnight. At the end of your trip, although you may be tempted to stay longer, always leave your campsite cleaner than you found it for the next lucky campers to enjoy.