Camping is one of the absolute best ways to escape your daily routine and explore nature. That’s why over 40 million people go camping each year! But spending the night in the wilderness can seem overwhelming if you’re a total beginner. But I’m here to help by sharing a comprehensive list of camping tips for beginners like you!
This guide covers everything beginners need to know about camping. You’ll find tips on how to plan your first camping trip, how to choose camping gear, and camping safety basics. Plus, I’m sharing my favorite tips on camp cooking, getting a good night’s sleep, and staying clean in the outdoors!
The Best Camping Tips for Beginners
By the end of this post, you’ll be ready to conquer your first camping adventure! So without further ado, let’s dive into the 70 insanely useful camping tips for beginners!
Fair warning, this is a 30-minute read made for total camping beginners. If you’ve already got some camping experience, use the table of contents to skip to the section that interests you!
- The Best Camping Tips for Beginners
- How to Plan Your First Camping Trip
- How to Choose the Right Gear: The Tent Camping Essentials
- What to Wear Camping
- Organizing and Packing Tips for Beginner Campers
- How to Practice Setting Up Camp at Home
- Tips on Setting Up Camp for the First Time
- Tips for Beginner Camp Cooking
- Beginner Camping Hygiene Tips
- How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep When Camping
- The Safety Camping Guide for Beginners
- Campground Etiquette: The Rules of Tent Camping for Beginners
- Final Thoughts on the Best Camping Tips for Beginners
Looking to improve more outdoor skills? Check out these hiking guides too!
- Hiking 101: Ultimate Guide to Hiking for Beginners
- 10 Hiking Essentials: The Ultimate Hiking Gear Guide
- What to Wear Hiking: Women’s Apparel Guide
How to Plan Your First Camping Trip
Unlike other types of travel, with camping, you can’t just show up and go. Camping requires a bit more planning! Things like choosing a campground and researching the best time of year to go should be your first steps in planning a camping trip.
1. Choose the right camping style for you
Camping comes in all shapes and sizes. Before you can start planning your first adventure, think about what kind of amenities you want and choose a camping style based on that.
Here’s a few of the most popular types of camping:
- Tent Camping is the most common type of camping, typically at a campground in a state or national park. Most tent campgrounds have restrooms with running water and allow you to drive up to your campsite.
- Car Camping can have a few meanings. Generally, it refers to any type of camping where you can pull your car up to your campsite. Sometimes this means camping in a tent at a campground (like tent camping above). Sometimes it means blowing up an air mattress and camping in the back of your car.
- RV or Trailer Camping includes everything from a small converted van to a full-on RV to a teardrop trailer behind your car.
- Primitive Camping is at an established campground that has few facilities. While there are designated spots to set up a tent, a primitive campground is unlikely to have restrooms or running water.
- Dispersed Camping is also referred to as free camping or boondocking. This is where you find your own free site on public lands and camp for free. Not all parks allow dispersed camping, but it is allowed on Bureau of Land Management and National Forest Service lands.
- Backcountry Camping or backpacking is where you carry all your camping equipment in a backpack to a hike-in camping location. This is the most remote type of camping and provides the best escape from the crowds.
For beginners, I recommend opting for tent camping. It’s low cost, easy to plan, and most campgrounds provide basic amenities.
2. Pick a campground you can drive to
Once you’ve decided what type of camping is best for you, it’s time to start planning your first camping trip!
For your first few trips, I recommend finding campgrounds that are within a 4-hour drive from home, perfect for a 1-2 night camping adventure.
3. Research the best time to visit your chosen campground
How much you enjoy your camping experience will depend on the weather. Before booking a campsite, look into the weather by month at your campground of choice.
- Are there months where it rains a lot?
- What months are colder than others? Does it snow in the winter?
- Is it unbearably hot in the summer?
Be sure to check the weather for the specific campground you’re planning to visit. Elevation can vary within the park and can impact the night time temperatures.
Many campgrounds start accepting reservations 6 months in advance. Research the reservation window for your campground of choice and plan to book at the start of that window.
For beginners, I recommend planning your camping trip in months with overnight temperatures around 50 to 60 degrees.
The best camping weather will depend on where you live. For example, in Yosemite National Park I’d recommend that beginners camp from June to September.
4. Book a campground well in advance
Just like a hotel, you should book campgrounds in advance.
All national park camping reservations are done through Recreation.gov. You can create an account and save your payment preferences, so all you have to do is add a campsite to your cart when the reservation window opens.
For state or local parks, check that park service’s website as the booking process and reservation windows change by location.
5. Pick the best campsite in the campground
Most campgrounds provide maps. When picking a campsite, use the map to:
- Pick a campsite further away from the bathrooms, particularly if you’re a light sleeper. You’re more likely to be kept up a night from the noise of others using the restroom than to need to use the restroom yourself.
- Pick a larger campsite or one that can accommodate a few vehicles if you’re traveling with a group.
- Pick a campsite in the tent-only section of the campground. This may not be an option at every campground, but some have designated tent-only areas away from RVs, sparing you the noise of generators.
As a bonus, look for campsites with a great view or added privacy. I use the website Campsite Photos to check out campsites ahead of time.
When it comes time to book, you may not have much choice on your campsite if it’s a popular campground. If you’re trying to book a campsite at a competitive location, like Yosemite National Park, I recommend booking the first one you can get your hands on!
6. Make note of the amenities available at your campsite
Standard amenities include fire pits, picnic tables, and food storage lockers.
- If your campsite does not offer fire pits, you’ll need to bring a propane stove to cook.
- If your campsite does not have picnic tables, bring your own lightweight camping tables.
7. Read up on campground regulations before you go
This is particularly important for those that live in states prone to wildfires. During fire season, most campgrounds have a restriction on when and where fires can be set. Be sure to check in with the park’s website beforehand.
Construction or droughts can close amenities like bathrooms or water fountains. Be sure to check the park’s website to know if you need to bring your own water supply (but it’s always a good idea to bring back up water just in case).
How to Choose the Right Gear: The Tent Camping Essentials
After getting your first camping trip on the calendar, it’s time to make sure you have the right gear.
Here is exactly how to find great tent camping gear at the best prices.
8. Look for gear from reliable brands
When choosing camping gear, you want to choose items that will last you for years to come. While it may be a big upfront investment, you’re better off choosing high-quality gear from reliable brands at a slightly higher price.
The most-trusted camping brands include MSR, Big Agnes, Therm-a-Rest, Coleman, and REI. For budget-friendly but reliable gear, look at REI’s store brand or Coleman.
9. Choose the best camping gear for beginners
As a beginner, buying gear can feel overwhelming, particularly when you’re starting from scratch. To make it easier on you, I’m laying out the exact gear you need and the order you should invest in it.
Before diving into choosing camping gear, you need to ask yourself a few questions:
- Do I plan to share a tent with anyone (including pets)?
- Do I plan on growing my camping skills and eventually get into other types of camping like backpacking?
- What’s my budget for camping gear?
A tent is the single most important thing you need when it comes to camping. It’s where you should invest the most. As a beginner, you’ll be fine with a 3 season tent (meaning it’s good for Spring to Fall).
I recommend choosing a larger tent than you need. For example, if 2 people will be sleeping in the tent, opt for a 3 person tent. You’ll enjoy the extra room!
The second most important gear item is your sleeping bag. You want to pick a down-filled sleeping bag to keep you warm in colder temperatures. In warm weather, you can unzip the sleeping bag to use it as a blanket or simply sleep on top of it for an added layer of cushion!
For beginners, I recommend the REI Magma 30 sleeping bag. It comes in both a women’s version and a men’s version and is rated for temperatures down to 30 degrees (more than you will likely need as a beginner).
The next thing you should invest in is a quality sleeping pad. A sleeping pad provides cushion and insulation between you and the ground. Sleeping pads are rated by R-value, a metric that measures the amount of insulation and warmth. As a beginner, you’ll be fine with an R-value around 2 to 2.5.
For tent campers, I recommend choosing an inflating pad with more cushion. Your back will thank me later! I have the Therm-a-Rest Trail Pro. It comes in long and wide sizes to fit your exact need! I have the wide version because I roll around in my sleep, even when camping.
Check Therm-a-Rest Trail Pro Prices at REI
After you have the sleeping essentials, start investing in your camp kitchen. The first kitchen item campers should invest in is a camp stove, the most practical of which are propane stoves.
Coleman is the most popular camp stove manufacturer. The Coleman Triton 2-burner stove is a great budget option for beginner campers. While it doesn’t have as much temperature control as more expensive stoves, it’s good enough for most camp chefs. I also have a Jetboil Flash stove for boiling water lightning-fast (perfect for coffee!) or as a lightweight backpacking stove.
Headlamps and Lanterns
Getting around camp at night requires added light. I recommend going beyond the basic iPhone flashlight and buying a headlamp and a lantern or two for cooking and in your tent.
My favorite headlamp is the Black Diamond Storm 400. The best lanterns for hanging from your tent or illuminating your cook surface are the Black Diamond Moji lanterns. I love that they have hooks to hang from my tent!
Sitting around the campfire is an essential camping experience. And it all starts with a great camping chair (and making sure the park you’re visiting allows fires)! This is another thing you may already have around the house.
The Coleman Camp Quad Chair is a great choice for beginners.
Check Coleman Camp Quad Chair prices on Amazon
The last camping item you should invest in is your kitchen dishware. When I first bought all my own camping gear, I went overboard and ended up with things I don’t really need.
I recommend going camping once and bringing things from home, like paper plates, plastic silverware, and your own pots and pans. While less environmentally friendly, it will help you decide what you actually need.
My camp kitchen gear includes a Lodge cast iron skillet, a set of sporks, basic plastic dishware, and a few mugs. I bring things like spatulas, wooden spoons, pot holders, and dish rags from home. You should bring a reusable water bottle too, like a Nalgene, for drinking water.
10. Find discounted camping gear
Camping gear is expensive. But there’s ways to get it for cheaper, like waiting to buy on sale or by shopping through online outlets.
Here’s a few ways to save money on camping gear:
- Become an REI member. REI is one of the biggest outdoor retailers in the United States. As an REI member, you automatically get 10% back as a dividend each year. Plus, you get access to member-only sales and discounts on gear rental. It’s only $20 for a lifetime membership to REI (hint: that means you only have to spend $200 in your life to make the money back!). >> Become an REI member.
- Buy from REI during their big sales. Wait to buy gear from REI until their big sales, which happen throughout the year. Here are some of their biggest sales:
- Winter Clearance in February
- Anniversary Sale in May
- Summer Clearance in June/July
- Labor Day Sale in August/September
- Pre-Holiday Sale in November
- Holiday Clearance in December
- Shop for Discounted Gear at REI Outlet or Steep and Cheap (Backcountry.com’s outlet site). Both sites are great for finding discounts on top brands but have limited selections. Once you have a specific piece of gear in mind, watch these sites, and wait for a good price. Steep and Cheap even lets you set price alerts! >> Shop REI Outlet. >> Shop Steep and Cheap.
- Buy pre-owned gear from REI. Some of the best deals I’ve found are on used gear from REI. You can read about the condition of the product, ranked from Well Worn to Excellent Condition. Most of the gear is in excellent condition, sometimes only used once, and often you can get more than 50% off. >>Shop REI Used Gear.
- Rent gear from REI. If you’re interested in trying out camping but aren’t willing to buy your own gear yet, consider renting gear from REI. They have everything you’ll need for a weekend camping trip and REI members get 30% off all rental equipment! >> Rent Gear from REI.
Read More: The Ultimate Hiking Gear Guide
What to Wear Camping
Wearing the right types of clothing is incredibly important for camping. You want comfortable and durable apparel that stands the test of time.
Here’s a few tips to help you pick the best clothing for camping.
11. Wear durable, quick-drying materials
When you’re camping, you won’t be washing clothes or changing outer layers every day, so it’s important to wear the right materials. You want to wear odor-resistant, quick-drying clothing made from merino wool or polyester blends.
Always avoid heavy, moisture-absorbing materials like cotton and denim.
For long-lasting, durable outdoor clothing, I recommend brands like Patagonia, North Face, Arc’teryx, and REI.
12. Choose the best camping apparel for beginners
Over the years, I’ve perfected my camping wardrobe. Here’s some of the best clothing for beginner campers.
- Patagonia Capilene T-Shirts are perfect for camping. They have built-in sun protection and come in both long sleeve and short sleeve. These are great alternatives to cotton t-shirts which hold odors and moisture. >> Get the Women’s Patagonia Capilene Tee or Men’s Patagonia Capilene Tee.
- REI Merino Midweight Half-Zip is perfect for an extra layer in the evenings when temperatures are around 50 to 60 degrees. Merino wool is odor-resistant and lightweight, making it perfect for multi-day wear. >> Get the Women’s REI Merino Half-Zip or Men’s REI Merino Half-Zip.
- Patagonia Better Sweater is great for colder evenings and is stylish enough for your daily wardrobe! I wear mine to work, at home, out to dinner, and while hiking and camping! >> Get the Women’s Patagonia Better Sweater or Men’s Patagonia Better Sweater.
- REI XeroDry GTX Rain Jacket is the best budget-friendly rain jacket. The REI XeroDry is made with Gore-Tex, a waterproofing material, for a full water repellent seal. >> Get the Women’s REI XeroDry Rain Jacket or Men’s REI XeroDry Rain Jacket.
- Exofficio Underwear is perfect for camping. Unlike most underwear, they are quick-drying and odor-resistant. When you’re skipping showers while camping, you’ll be thankful for odor-resistant underwear. >> Get the Women’s Exofficio Underwear or Men’s Exofficio Boxer Briefs.
- Smartwool 150 Base Layers are perfect for sleeping. The layers are made from merino wool, making them quick-drying and odor-resistant, perfect for wearing a few nights in a row. Smartwool makes both tops and bottom for men and women. >> Find your perfect Smartwool base layer.
Read More: What to Wear Hiking for Women
13. Choose the best shoes to wear camping
Plan for your shoes to get dirty while camping. If you’ll be hiking, I recommend investing in a good pair of hiking boots, like the Columbia Newton Ridge boots.
Columbia makes the Newton Ridge boot for men and women. They are incredibly durable and are the best boots under $100! I just replaced my pair after 3 years and hundreds of miles with the exact same pair.
For quick bathroom runs or casual nights around camp, slip-on shoes like Chacos work best. There’s nothing worse than worrying about lacing up shoes in the dark for a midnight bathroom run!
Organizing and Packing Tips for Beginner Campers
Once you have all your gear, you need to get it organized and ready for your first camping trip. Here’s a few organization tips to help you conserve space and prepare for camping.
14. Organize your gear into clear bins
The best way to store gear is in clear plastic bins. This allows you to quickly see what is in each bin without having to unpack it. I keep all my camping gear in 2 Sterilite 70-quart bins. They are inexpensive and sturdy enough to hold the heavyweight of my camping stove, tent, and more.
I recommend keeping your camp kitchen gear in one bin, including your camp stove, plates, cutting boards, and propane tanks. Keep your tent and sleeping gear in a separate bin with your lanterns and other accessories.
Check Sterilite 70 Quart Clear Bins price on Amazon
15. Bring sealable bins for food
Cooking outdoors tends to attract bugs and other critters. While food storage lockers provided at most campsites will keep out animals, small bugs can still get in. The best way to protect your food from pests is by storing it in sealable plastic bins instead of grocery bags.
A small bin, like the Sterilite 18 quart clear bin, will fit in most campsite food storage lockers and hold a few days worth of dry food.
Check Sterilite 18 Quart Clear Bins price on Amazon
16. Bring a backpack or small overnight bag for clothes
While suitcases with wheels are great for plane travel, they aren’t good for camping. Suitcases take up too much precious space in both your car and tent.
Instead, opt for a small overnight duffel bag or a backpack that holds a change of clothes, something to sleep in, and your toiletries.
17. Transfer your sleeping bag to its stuff sack before your trip
Most sleeping bags come with a large storage bag and a stuff sack. A stuff sack is the small bag that compresses your sleeping bag for transport.
To preserve the down filling in your sleeping bag, you should always store it in the loose, mesh bag. Better yet, you can store it under your bed completely unfolded.
But transporting your sleeping bag unrolled and uncompressed takes up too much space! The night before your trip, transfer your sleeping bag to its small stuff sack.
To put your sleeping bag into its stuff sack, start with the foot section of the bag and stuff it into the bag. Randomly stuffing the sleeping bag is better for the down filling than rolling or folding it. Finish stuffing the sack with the opening at the top, allowing any air to escape before using the drawstring to close the stuff sack.
18. Pack only the essentials. Don’t overpack!
For your first few camping trips, don’t stress about having everything! Most likely, you’ll only be gone for one to two nights. You’ll be able to survive as long as you have a place to sleep (tent, sleeping bag) and a way to eat (take out and snacks count too).
If you’re concerned about overpacking or underpacking, use this checklist to pack for your first camping trip!
How to Practice Setting Up Camp at Home
As a planner with anxiety, I’m a big fan of dry runs. Once I’ve practiced at home, I feel a lot more confident that I can handle whatever comes my way when camping.
Making sure you know how to use your gear before your first trip can help you avoid unneeded stress and anxiety. Here’s a few tips on practicing at home before your first camping trip.
19. Practice setting up your tent
A trial run can help you figure out how to put together your tent, particularly if you’ll be setting it up alone.
If you have a yard, set up your tent there. If you don’t, find a place in your apartment or house with plenty of room (at least 6’x6’).
Most tents come with set up instructions, but I find Youtube to be the most informative for tent setups. Search for your tent model + ‘setup’ on Youtube to find a tutorial if you need one.
If you want to be extra prepared, stage an at home campout, either in your apartment or in your backyard. Treat it like the real thing and sleep outside the entire night – no going inside to use the bathroom!
If you are practicing on hardwood floors, make sure the poles aren’t scratching your floors.
20. Check your headlamp and lantern batteries at home
There’s nothing worse than pulling out your headlamp only to realize it’s barely emitting light. To avoid this, test your batteries ahead of time.
You won’t be able to see the true brightness during the way, so test all your devices at night. Wait until it’s dark, turn off all lights, and then turn on each headlamp and lantern to check the brightness.
If any are dim, change out the batteries with new ones. Most headlamps and lanterns take AA or AAA batteries.
21. Practice using your camp stove
If you’re new to using a portable propane stove, it’s especially important to practice cooking on it ahead of time. This will give you a better feel for hooking up the propane tank and how quickly the stove cooks food.
Youtube is another great place for tutorials on your camp stove. Look for your camp stove model + ‘setup’ or ‘review’ on Youtube to find a custom tutorial.
Pro Tip: Camp stoves do not come with propane tanks and most states do not allow propane to be shipped. Instead, head to your local outdoor store or Walmart’s camping section and pick up fuel.
The green Coleman 1lb propane cylinder is great for beginners and works with most propane camp stoves.
Check Coleman 1lb Propane Cylinder price at REI
Tips on Setting Up Camp for the First Time
Setting up camp for the first time can be intimidating. But I’m here to make this less intimidating for you! With these tips, you’ll be ready to conquer your first time setting up camp!
22. Arrive in the daylight to set up camp
The biggest tip I can give beginners is to arrive while the sun is up. Trying to set up camp in the dark makes it 10x harder!
Most campgrounds allow you to check in the early afternoon, so plan to arrive early to mid-afternoon. Check your campground reservation to confirm the check-in time.
Plan to spend about 30 minutes getting camp set up exactly how you want it. An added bonus of arriving early is cooking dinner before it gets dark!
23. Find a flat spot to pitch your tent
In most campsites, there’s a flat spot with matted down grass or dirt. This is a sign that it’s been home to many tents. Pitch your tent in this flat area.
If there isn’t a flat spot, pitch your tent perpendicular to the hill. Avoid pitching your tent in line with the hill, as you’ll be sliding downhill all night.
24. Set up your tent away from the cooking area
If you’re camping in an area with lots of space, try to put 100 yards between the area where you cook and where you sleep. This is because cooking odors attract animals like raccoons.
This isn’t always possible, particularly in popular campgrounds. Instead of 100 yards, ensure all your food is stored properly inside of a food storage locker. This includes your camp stove.
At the least, try to keep at least 15 feet between the food storage locker and your tent.
25. Keep headlamps or lanterns in your tent and in your cooking area
Keeping a lantern or headlamp with your cooking gear ensures you can still cook and clean after dark.
Having a lantern in the tent simplifies changing clothes, reading before bed. Headlamps are excellent for late-night bathroom runs. I like the Black Diamond Moji lantern because it has a hook to hang from the ceiling of the tent. The Black Diamond Storm 400 is a reliable and bright headlamp that will last for years.
26. Don’t leave food or toiletries in the car in bear country
If you’re camping in the mountains, you’re probably in bear country. Encounters with bears can be scary, but there’s little to fear if you follow general safety guidelines.
Bears have sensitive noses and are able to smell even tiny crumbs. Bears have been known to tear doors off cars for food or toiletries left inside.
All scented items, including food, deodorant, bug spray, and toothpaste, should be stored in a food storage locker. These lockers are designed specifically to keep bears out. Never leave these items in your tent or your car.
When camping in bear country, I store everything that isn’t clothes in the storage locker.
For more on wildlife safety, see Tip #53.
Tips for Beginner Camp Cooking
Cooking in the outdoors isn’t much different from cooking at home, as long as you’re well prepared and bring along the right kitchen gear.
Here are my top tips for learning to cook while camping!
27. Cook simple meals
While it’s easy to go down a Pinterest rabbit hole of elaborate camping meals, it’s best to start easy. Some of the best easy camping meals are things like hamburgers and one-pan skillet meals.
Try to stick with meals that have few ingredients and that you have tried before. Don’t try cooking a brand new meal your first time camping!
28. Plan your meals ahead of time
Planning your meals ahead of time helps you make a detailed grocery list and avoid overpacking food. I know when I show up to a grocery store without a shopping list, I buy way too much.
You can use Pinterest to get camping meal inspiration. Once you have some inspiration, build out a meal plan, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.
29. Prep ingredients for your meals ahead of time
Preparing parts of your meal ahead of time can save lots of time when camping. Here’s some ways you can prep your ingredients for camp meals at home:
- Measure out spice blends ahead of time and keep in small snack size Ziploc bags
- Pre-grind your coffee beans and store in a mason jar
- Chop veggies and store in reusable silicone bags like these from Stasher to keep them fresh
- Marinate your meat the day before and keep it in a gallon-size Ziploc bag. For best flavor, suck the air out of the bag before sealing.
30. Decide how you’ll cook your food before arriving
You have a few options for cooking your meals when camping. The option you go with will depend on your campsite’s amenities and what you pack.
- Campfires are great for all-in-one foil meals or roasting hot dogs on sticks.
- Charcoal grills are best for cooking meats and vegetables, like a grill at home. If you’re cooking vegetables, bring along skewer sticks!
- Propane camp stoves are perfect for meals cooked in skillets or pots. While this can also be done on a campfire or charcoal grill, it’s way easier on a stove.
- Dehydrated meals are often used by backpackers. These just-add-water meals are great for campers who don’t want to deal with the hassle of cooking and cleaning. Don’t forget to bring a Jetboil Flash for ultra-fast boiled water!
31. Bring the right camp kitchen gear
I touched on the absolute essentials for cooking while camping in Tip #9. But you’ll need a bit more to make full meals while camping. Don’t stress, you already have a lot of this at home!
Here’s what I bring on every camping trip:
- Camp stove and propane fuel
- Long lighter
- Cast-iron skillet or nonstick skillet
- Small pot and lid
- Plastic mixing bowl
- Set measuring cups and spoons
- Wooden spoon
- Chef’s knife with a sheath
- Cutting board
- Aeropress Go coffee maker
- 1 plastic plate per person
- Plastic or aluminum mugs
- Sporks or utensils
- Paper towels
- Aluminum foil
- Cooler with ice
- Trash bags
- Clear plastic bin for food
- Clear plastic bin for storing camp kitchen gear
- 2 camp sinks (more on this in Tip #37)
- 1 sponge or brush for cleaning dishes
- Biodegradable soap
- 2 dish towels
If you’ll have a campfire, remember to buy local firewood once you arrive (more on this in Tip #35) and pack rods for roasting marshmallows!
32. Bring a cooler
A cooler is the only way to keep your food cold when camping, so it’s important to have a good one. You can opt for either a soft-sided cooler or a hard-sided cooler.
A soft-sided cooler is best for those with limited space because it collapses to take up less room when not in use. The downside is that a soft-sided cooler is less insulated and doesn’t keep food cold for as long. But a soft-sided cooler will be fine for most 1-2 night camping trips.
If you’ll be camping for longer than 2 nights, invest in a hard-sided cooler. On the budget end, you can choose a Coleman cooler.
33. Bring a large container to store drinking water
While most campgrounds have drinking water, it’s always a good idea to bring your own water source as a backup.
You have two options here:
- Buy a reusable water container and pre-fill it at home
- Buy 5-gallon water jugs at the grocery store before your trip
If you plan on camping more than a few times, it’s most cost-efficient to buy a reusable container. It’s also great for road trips or sporting events!
34. Cook before sundown
As someone who has cooked dinner at a campsite after dark, let me say that this is not fun, especially if you’re new to cooking outdoors. It’s easier to cook when you can easily see what you’re doing. Plus, bugs are more active at night and are attracted to light (and food).
Just save yourself the trouble and plan to start cooking dinner at least an hour before sunset. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to cook and wash dishes before it gets dark!
35. Buy local firewood
If you’re planning on having a campfire, make sure you buy local firewood. You should also check local fire regulations first.
Firewood can host invasive insects and diseases that aren’t harmful to humans but can be harmful to plant life. By buying local wood, you’re reducing the risk of introducing a non-native insect or disease to the surrounding vegetation.
Local firewood is also typically less expensive!
36. Make next-level coffee while camping
If you’re like me, coffee is an integral part of your morning routine. So why not step up your coffee game when camping?
After trying many different methods, I’ve perfected camp coffee routine!
What you need:
- Aeropress Go coffee maker
- Aeropress Go filters (included when you buy the Aeropress Go)
- Method for boiling water (I prefer the Jetboil Flash)
- Drinkable water
- Pre-ground coffee beans (either grind at home or grind at the store)
For a video tutorial of the exact coffee making process I follow, check out this video from Blue Bottle Coffee.
37. Perfect your dishwashing routine
This was one of the biggest question marks for me when I started out camping. Dishwashing is something that’s very different from home because you don’t have a drain!
To wash dishes outside you’ll need at least two camp sinks (collapsible, leakproof containers). If you want to sanitize your dishes (recommended for longer camping trips), you should bring a third container and a small amount of bleach.
When I camp, I choose to only bring the two camp sinks and then run my camp dishware through the dishwasher when I get home.
- Fill both containers with a small amount of water.
- In the first sink, put add biodegradable dish soap.
- Wash and scrub dishes in the first sink.
- Rinse dishes in the second sink.
- Use a quick-drying hand towel to dry dishes and put away.
For more on washing dishes while camping, check out Fresh Off The Grid’s detailed guide.
Beginner Camping Hygiene Tips
Staying clean while camping is important. You’ll feel better, smell better, and everyone around you will appreciate it!
Here are my top tips for staying clean while camping (hint: baby wipes aren’t just for babies).
38. Pack the essential toiletries for camping
For short camping trips, the toiletries you truly need are limited. As long as you have the basics, you’ll be able to make it through a night or two outdoors.
Here are the basics that I bring on every camping trip:
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Face wipes with makeup remover
- Baby wipes
- Face moisturizer
- Toilet paper
- Essential medications
- Baby powder or dry shampoo
- Contacts or glasses
- Hand sanitizer
- Ziploc bag for storing used wipes, disposable contact cases, toilet paper, etc.
At the end of this post, you can download my free camping packing checklist to help you prepare for your upcoming camping trip!
39. Learn to go to the bathroom outside
One of the more intimidating parts of camping is going to the bathroom outdoors. But you may not have to deal with it at all!
Many campgrounds have bathrooms with plumbing. At the very least, they have pit toilets. You’ll really only have to go outdoors while hiking, primitive camping, or backpacking.
But if you do find yourself needing to go #2 outdoors, just follow these simple steps:
- Dig a small ‘cathole’ with a trowel (small shovel). Try to dig this hole about 6 inches deep.
- Do your business in the hole and bury it by covering it up with the dirt you just dugout.
- Pack out your toilet paper or wipes using a sealable Ziploc bag with a small amount of baking soda inside. This will reduce odors and make sure you’re following the Leave No Trace principles. Never leave your toilet paper in the wilderness.
When peeing outdoors, don’t worry about digging a cathole. As a woman, I typically just use the ‘shake dry’ method. If you choose to use toilet paper, be sure to keep a Ziploc bag with you to pack it out and dispose of it in a trash bin.
40. Learn how to handle your period outdoors
Don’t cancel your camping trip just because it coincides with your period! Periods while camping aren’t much different than at home, especially if you’re at a campground with bathrooms.
If you’re camping at a more primitive site or will be doing long hikes, keep extra tampons or pads in your backpack. You should also carry a Ziploc bag with a small amount of baking soda for disposal. The baking soda helps keep odors down.
If you don’t want to use a clear bag for disposal, duct tape the outside of the bag to hide the contents!
Just remember to bring enough tampons or pads for your entire trip. A menstrual cup is also a popular eco-friendly option.
41. Take a baby wipe shower
Most often, you won’t be showering at the campground. But that doesn’t mean you have to stay dirty! Baby wipes aren’t just for babies. They are also the perfect way to scrub off dirt, sweat, sunscreen, and bug spray after a long day!
Bring a pack of baby wipes along to wipe off your body and sweaty areas. I do this twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. It’s most important to get the bug spray and sunscreen off at the end of the day.
Wipe down with baby wipes in my tent for privacy right before changing clothes for the day or night.
I recommend using a separate type of wipe for your face, particularly if you have sensitive skin like the Neutrogena face wipes.
42. Practice eco-friendly toothbrushing
This is another part of camping hygiene that will be similar to home if you are camping at a place with a proper bathroom.
If you’re camping at a site without running water and sinks, you’ll need to follow one easy rule for outdoor-friendly teeth brushing.
Use drinkable water from your water bottle to wet your toothbrush and brush your teeth as you normally would.
When you’re ready to spit, simply keep your mouth closed and spray the toothpaste instead of spitting it in one pile. This mind reminds me of a classic sitcom spit take when someone hears something shocking. This prevents the toothpaste from pooling and affecting animals or plant life.
How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep When Camping
Your camping experience will be miserable if you can’t get a quality night’s sleep. As a light sleeper who can only function with good sleep, I’m sharing my top tips from personal experience for getting quality shut-eye when camping.
43. Buy a larger tent
When a tent is marketed as a 2-person tent that means 2-people and nothing else! As someone who regularly camps with my significant other, I can tell you that you’ll want a 3-person tent.
I recommend sizing up when choosing a tent. When driving to your campsite, you don’t need to worry as much about the added weight. Although, my 3-person Big Agnes Copper Spur tent weighs less than 4 pounds.
A larger tent will ensure you have space for people, pets, and your bags. Just remember that food should never be stored in your tent!
44. Use your rain fly the right way
Most tents come with a rain fly, the piece of material that goes over your tent to waterproof it and protect you from rain.
But here’s the pro tip: you can strategically use your rainfly to regulate the temperature inside your tent.
In hot, dry weather, leave the rain fly off! You can sleep under the stars and get extra airflow. Just be sure to check the weather forecast for rain!
In cold weather, you can cover your tent with the rain fly and zip it up entirely, trapping in your body heat and reducing airflow.
If you’re in between, or expecting light rain, you can put your rain fly on but stake it out to let in some airflow.
45. Sleep in merino wool layers
As you know by now, merino wool is one of the best clothing materials for camping. It’s lightweight, odor-resistant, and breathable while still providing warmth and insulation.
I recommend sleeping in a lightweight merino wool base layer, like the Smartwool 150 base layers. Even in cold weather, I only sleep in a light merino base layer. This allows your down sleeping bag to use your radiating body heat to insulate you.
Merino wool layers are light enough to wear in hot weather too. In the summer, I’ll simply wear a short sleeve base layer and lightweight Smartwool pants.
46. Invest in a thick sleeping pad
A sleeping pad has the biggest impact on your sleep quality when camping. If you’re a sensitive sleeper and like a soft mattress at home, I recommend investing in a quality sleeping pad.
For beginners, I recommend picking an inflatable sleeping pad. It saves room when storing and is lighter weight. Sleeping pads are rated on the amount of insulation they provide, called the R-value. You should look for a sleeping pad with a 2 to 2.5 R-value.
Therm-a-Rest is one of the most popular sleeping pad providers out there. I use the Therm-a-Rest Trail Pro sleeping pad. It has been a game-changer for me when it comes to getting quality sleep while camping. It’s silent when I roll around at night and provides plenty of cushion with both an inflatable body and memory foam.
Check Therm-a-Rest Trail Pro Sleeping Pad price at REI
47. Bring a real pillow
When I first started camping, I tried going with a cheap, compact camping pillow. Some campers even go without! But a real pillow has become a non-negotiable for me when I go camping.
I get an exponentially better sleep when I take a pillow from home. It even fits inside my sleeping bag!
Remove the pillowcase before leaving home and place your pillow in a trash bag to keep it from getting dirty. Pack your pillowcase and put it on once your tent is set up.
48. Bring earplugs
If you’re a light sleeper like me, earplugs will be a game-changer. Campgrounds can be noisy, particularly if you have disrespectful neighbors (see Tip #58 for more on campground etiquette).
A basic pair of earplugs can block out noise from nearby campsites and rustles in the night. Whether it’s the wind blowing around leaves or a raccoon snooping near my tent, I sleep better when I don’t hear it or know it’s out there!
The Safety Camping Guide for Beginners
Safety is no joke. Just like with other outdoor activities, camping can be dangerous and pose threats. It’s incredibly important to brush up on your camping safety before heading out for your first camping trip.
Keep reading for important safety tips you should know as part of Camping 101.
49. Practice proper fire safety
Wildfires are becoming more common, so it’s more important than ever to follow fire safety guidelines to protect people and nature.
A few general rules of thumb are:
- Only start a campfire in proper areas, like grills or fire pits at campsites
- Extinguish all campfires completely and pour water on the embers
- Don’t smoke or leave cigarette butts at campgrounds
- Disconnect propane tanks from grills after use
It’s always a good idea to check the website of the park service where you’re camping for fire restrictions, particularly in summer and fall. Many campgrounds will limit where, when, and the types of fires that are allowed during fire season.
50. Know how to purify water
While most campgrounds provide filtered water that is drinkable without purification, it’s still a good idea to know how to purify water in case of emergency.
A water purification device is one of the 10 essentials of hiking and it’s essential for campers too.
For beginners, I recommend something simple since you’ll only be using it in an emergency, like if you get lost or injured on a hike away from camp.
The Aquamira Treatment Drops are great for beginners. All you have to do is squeeze a few drops into your container. The drops filter out 99.9% of bacteria and viruses and are compact and portable.
This isn’t the most cost-effective filtration approach for backpackers who need to filter large amounts of water. But it’s perfectly fine for emergency use by beginner campers.
51. Make sure you can navigate without cell service
Since most of us use our phones for navigation these days, it’s important to make sure you can navigate without cell service.
The easiest way to do this is to use the Google Maps app to make a custom map available offline. Google Maps allows you to make a custom map of any area in the world. You can then navigate within that area without cell service, like to your campsite, grocery stores, or even hospitals.
To download a custom Google Map, go to your Google Maps app, click your profile icon, and select Offline Maps from the menu. You can then click Select Your Own Map and drag the box to select any area. I recommend selecting an area that encompasses the entire area you will be passing through.
52. Check the weather forecast before you go
Always check the weather forecast before you leave for your camping trip. If you see thunderstorms or high winds in the forecast, it might make sense to reschedule your camping trip.
If you see rain in the forecast, I don’t recommend canceling. Instead just ensure you have your rain fly, a tent footprint, and a waterproof rain jacket packed to keep you dry.
53. Know best practices for wildlife safety
Wildlife encounters can be one of the most intimidating parts of camping for beginners. But if you follow these simple tips, you can try to avoid wildlife encounters and know how to react if you do have one.
- The first thing to know is that all animals are more scared of you than you are of them. Most often, animals are aggressive when they are surprised. To avoid surprising an animal, make plenty of noise when hiking or walking through the brush near your campsite.
- Animals will occasionally enter campgrounds attracted to the scent of food. To avoid attracting animals, store all food in the provided food storage lockers. You should also dispose of all trash in the campground’s dumpsters after cooking and before bed.
- If you do see an animal, remain calm and slowly back away. You should always keep at least 25 yards away from less aggressive wildlife. For more aggressive animals like bears and mountain lions keep at least 100 yards away. For more on how to react in wildlife encounters, check out my fellow outdoor blogger Renee Roaming’s guide on bear safety.
- Store all scented items in the provided food storage locker. Never store scented items like food and toiletries (including deodorant, toothpaste, and hand sanitizer) in your car. Bears have been known to break into and destroy vehicles after detecting scented items.
54. Pack extra food and water
You never know when you may get stuck due to weather, road closures, or injury. To prepare for the unexpected when camping, always pack extra food and water.
- If you’re camping close to home in warmer months, pack one extra day of food and an extra gallon of water per person.
- If you’re camping in a more remote destination or in colder months, pack at least 2-3 days of extra food and an extra 2-3 gallons of water per person.
55. Have a car safety kit
Since you’ll be driving to your campsite, it’s important to bring along a few road trip essentials.
Any time you’re heading out into a remote area, you should make sure you have a proper roadside kit. At the least, this should include everything you need to jumpstart your car or change a tire.
If you’re looking for an out-of-the-box solution, I recommend AAA’s roadside assistance kit.
56. Have a first aid kit
Injuries are a natural part of spending time outdoors. Every camper should carry a basic first aid kit with the materials to treat minor cuts and patch up wounds until you can seek medical help.
For any outdoor activity, I recommend the Adventure Medical Kit. It’s made specifically for the outdoors and has supplies to treat common hiking wounds. It also has what you need to treat burns, allergic reactions, bug bites, and stings. The kit is lightweight, compact, and fits easily inside of a hiking backpack or overnight bag.
They also make a medical kit for dogs, which is super important if you choose to bring your furry friend along!
Campground Etiquette: The Rules of Tent Camping for Beginners
There’s nothing worse than rude neighbors at a campsite – so don’t be that person! Here are a few tips on campground etiquette for beginners.
57. Follow the Leave No Trace principles
The most important part of spending time outdoors is following the 7 Leave No Trace principles. These are a set of guidelines that help protect nature from human impact and preserve the outdoors for generations to come.
When camping, there’s a few essential things you can do to follow the Leave No Trace Principles:
- Camp on previously camped on surfaces. This means camping at your designated campsite and reducing your impact on other areas.
- Dispose of all trash. You may have heard the phrase ‘pack it in, pack it out’. This means that every time you leave your campsite and before you go to bed, you should pack up all trash and put it in the campground’s dumpsters.
- Leave wildlife alone. If you happen to see wildlife on your camping trip, be sure to leave plenty of space between you and the animal. Never feed animals, including birds, squirrels, and racoons. Be sure to store your camp stove and dispose of any crumbs after cooking to avoid attracting animals to your campsite.
Read more about Leave No Trace in my Hiking for Beginners guide.
58. Respect other campers
Most campgrounds have set quiet hours when campers are expected to put out campfires and lights and keep noise levels down. This also regulates the hours that RVs can run generators. Check with your campground for their quiet hours.
Other ways you can respect fellow campers include:
- Only setting up camp in your area
- Avoiding walking through the middle of other campsites
- Limit playing music
Final Thoughts on the Best Camping Tips for Beginners
If you’ve made it this far, you should be feeling confident and prepared to take on your first camping trip! But just remember, you won’t become an expert overnight – practice makes perfect!
Want to keep learning? Check out some more of my favorite resources for beginners to the outdoors below!