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Ultimate family camping guide for beginners

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Hey there, fellow nature lovers! Are you ready to embark on a camping adventure with your family? Planning your first camping trip can be overwhelming, which is why we have put together this comprehensive guide. With our tips and guidance, you’ll be well-prepared for a fantastic family adventure. This beginner camping guide is designed to help families like yours have a memorable and enjoyable first camping experience.

Before we get into it we wanted to congratulate you on your interest in going camping for the first time. We believe that camping is a wonderful family activity that everyone should try. There is a lot to know if you have never gone camping before. To keep this guide from being too long we will be sticking to the essentials that a beginner needs to know. We could easily write much more on each topic, and in many cases we have. You will find helpful links to more information scattered across the guide. Let’s jump right in.

Family roasting marshmallows over the campfire

Key Takeaways:

Planning Your First Camping Trip

The perfect camping trip begins with careful planning. As a beginner, this probably seems like a daunting task so let’s break it down for you. There are a few things to plan out, and you will want to do them in order. With experience, you will be able to do this in your sleep.

1. Plan For Activities Your Family Enjoys

Have a conversation with the whole family and decide on what everyone would like to do. Don’t over plan, and try to avoid the urge to schedule out each day. Still, having a general idea will determine a lot about the nature of your trip, what you will need to pack, and how you will plan.

2. Picking the Right Destination

Now that you know what activities you want to do, it’s time to pick out the best campground. This choice will set the tone for your entire adventure. Whether you’re drawn to the tranquility of a forest, the serenity of a lakeside, or the challenge of mountainous terrain, it’s important to choose a location that excites you. Consider factors like distance from home, the type of wildlife you might encounter, and the available activities. Remember, the perfect destination resonates with your family’s preferences and ensures a safe and enjoyable experience.

Since this is your first time we encourage you to stick close to home if possible. Getting a few weekend outings under your belt before planning a major adventure is a good idea if possible. Of course, if you are the kind of person who can handle trial by fire go for it.

3. Selecting and Reserving The Best Campsite

This step is going to depend a lot on where you are going camping but you will want to reserve a campsite as early as possible. Popular camping sites can fill up surprisingly quickly so don’t wait. For smaller campgrounds you may not be able to make reservations at all, or only in some spots. Look up the campground online and you should be able to find reservation information easily. Check Recreation.gov for BLM and national parks.

Either while planning, or when you show up, you will eventually need to select a campsite. This choice can significantly impact your comfort and enjoyment. A good campsite is not just about the view; it’s also about practicality and safety. Consider factors like ground flatness, proximity to water sources, and exposure to elements. Remember, a well-chosen campsite is your home base in the wilderness, where you’ll sleep, eat, and relax, so it’s crucial to choose wisely. Beginner campers should try and find a location that is close to amenities and has a fire ring, picnic table, and a platform for the tent.

4. Meal Planning

Food is not just a necessity; it’s one of the great pleasures of camping. Meal planning for a camping trip requires a balance between simplicity, nutrition, and taste. Good meal planning can elevate your camping experience, providing the energy you need for your adventures and the comfort of a delicious meal at the end of the day.

Keep it simple and stick with foods your family enjoys and are comfortable making. Your first camping trip isn’t the best time to try a new recipe unless you’re excited to do it. We also recommend having a backup plan in case your cooked meal doesn’t go as planned. Or better yet, don’t cook at all and stick with sandwiches and pre-made treats.

5. Activities and Entertainment

Take what you learned in step 1 and what you learned about the campground and make a list of fun things to do. Also, list any special gear you will want to bring for each activity. This way when it comes time to buy equipment or pack up you won’t forget anything. You probably won’t have time and space for everything, but it’s a good idea to write it down now.

Getting The Right Car Camping Gear

What to take on a family camping break

I threw a new term at you, car camping is a method of camping where you pack everything in your car and park at your campsite. It’s the best type of camping for beginners and old people like us. When starting out getting all the right gear is a big investment. There are a lot of things you need to bring. It’s a pretty big expense. So to make it easier we are going to focus on the camping essentials. The rest of the gear, like cookware and bedding, you probably already own. We will also cover ways to save money on the gear you do need to buy.

What You Actually Need for Camping

We have tried to put together a checklist that covers all of the essential items that you will need. No matter what your plans are you will certainly want to bring additional stuff. We will go into those things below. Feel free to personalize the items we included and substitute however works best for you. It’s just important to cover the 10 essentials whenever you go camping.

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The Ultimate Guide to Camping: Complete Gear Checklist & Accessory Guide Learn how to get started as well as everything you need to know about the sport and how to camp like a pro.

Picking the Right Family Tent

Choosing the right tent is vital, especially for family camping. A good family tent should be spacious, durable, and easy to set up. Consider factors like the size of your family, weather conditions, and the type of camping you’ll be doing. Read reviews and look for one that is easy to set up and take down. You can also reference our guide to picking the best family tent to see our recommendations.

Saving Money on Camping Gear

When going tent camping you don’t need to break the bank on expensive gear. There are plenty of options available to borrow or rent gear for your first few trips. Many outdoor stores like REI.com offer rental services, allowing you to try out different equipment and find what works best for your family. If you can’t find supplies locally, websites like Outdoorsgeek.com offer affordable rental packages that they will deliver. By renting gear, you can save money and still have everything you need for a successful camping adventure.

What Clothes to Pack and Wear

For the most part, you can go camping in the clothes your family wears every day. We don’t see any reason to invest in a wardrobe only for camping. The thing to keep in mind is that the weather is unpredictable. Pack for the weather and activities you expect, and then pack extra just in case. Take the same approach for footwear and at least bring one extra pair in case the first pair gets wet or muddy.

Sleeping Gear Options

There are quite a few options for how you sleep so take some time and consider them all. As a first-time camper, we suggest looking at either sleeping bags on pads, air mattresses, or cots. You may have everything you need for one of these options already. Just don’t forget to take the size of your tent into account. If you choose to go with air mattresses you should bring a pad to go beneath them. This will protect them from rocks and stickers, and it will keep the cold from the ground from seeping up as you sleep.

Don’t forget to bring pillows and extra blankets. Even during the summer, it can get colder than you might expect in the middle of the night. We have had good luck with inflatable camping pillows. The trick is to only inflate them until they reach your preferred thickness. Otherwise, they are pretty uncomfortable.

Campsite Furniture

Campsite furniture, while not essential, can greatly enhance your comfort and convenience. From chairs to tables and portable storage, this section will explore the types of furniture you might consider for a more luxurious camping experience.

Packing Tips

Now that you have an idea how much stuff you will be hauling let’s cover a few tips for packing it all in. Remember, camping is about embracing the essentials and letting go of the extra stuff. At least that’s what we say when we have to leave things at home because we overpacked.

We suggest packing the essentials into stackable packing cubes. This keeps everything together, protects the gear from getting damaged, and makes loading and unloading easy. Pack clothes, blankets, pillows, and anything else soft into soft bags that can be shoved into any available space. Everything else should be extra so fit as much as you can, everything else gets left behind. After a few trips, you will learn how much you can fit. Sometimes fitting all the gear requires a Tetris master but you will get better with practice.

Camping Safety for Beginners

When it comes to camping, safety should always be a top priority. Whether you’re venturing into the wilderness for the first time or embarking on a family camping trip, taking precautions can ensure a smooth and secure experience. Here are some essential camping safety tips for beginners:

Camping with dogs

Choose a Safe Campsite

Before setting up your tents and starting a campfire, carefully select a safe and suitable campsite. Look for an area that is clear from any potential hazards such as dead trees, steep slopes, or dry brush that may pose a fire risk. Additionally, ensure that your campsite is not in the path of potential flooding or falling rocks. Consider choosing designated campgrounds with established fire rings and marked trails for added safety.

Practice Fire Safety

When it comes to campfires, it’s crucial to follow proper fire safety measures. Clear a safe area around your fire pit by removing any flammable materials like dry grass or leaves. Always keep a bucket of water and a shovel nearby to extinguish the fire completely. Never leave a fire unattended, and make sure it is completely extinguished before leaving the campsite or going to sleep. Teach children about fire safety and establish clear rules to prevent accidents. Below are the basics but we have also written a guide to campfire safety.

Prepare for Emergencies

While we hope for the best, it’s essential to be prepared for emergencies when camping. Pack a well-stocked first aid kit that includes essentials like bandages, antiseptic wipes, and insect repellent. Familiarize yourself with basic first aid techniques and know how to handle common camping injuries like cuts, burns, and sprains. Carry a whistle or other signaling device in case you need to attract attention, and make sure to have a fully charged cell phone or portable charger for emergencies.

Remember, camping is an opportunity to create beautiful memories with your loved ones while enjoying the great outdoors. By following these camping safety tips, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for the whole family.

Keep a Campsite First Aid Kit Handy

These kits are typically full of bandages, gauze, and assorted over-the-counter medicines and creams. Even the good ones aren’t worth much. Typically any injury you can treat with this will get better on its own. Don’t buy one of these. Look at the contents and then buy that. You will save a lot of money this way. We have written guides on putting together your own first aid kit for camping, and also a first aid kit for hiking.

Learn First Aid

It seems like minor cuts, scrapes, stings, and bruises are an unavoidable part of outdoor adventuring. Maybe that is just our family. Knowing how to handle these minor medical issues will provide relief and prevent them from getting worse. Medical experts will need to handle anything more serious than that. Luckily, with some training, you can become that expert. I highly recommend taking a certified first aid and CPR course when you have a chance. Until then you can watch some videos on YouTube to pick up the basics.

At the very least you should know how to treat minor wounds and be able to tell the difference between a cut that needs stitches and one that needs a band-aid. Don’t forget to pack your first aid gear when you go out.

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Camping Rules and Etiquette

Like everything in life, camping has rules. Most campers are patient with newbies and well-intentioned mistakes are usually overlooked. There are still a few things to know. Most critical to follow are the laws and rules for the campground. Being familiar with those, and following them, will keep you out of trouble. You can find those online by searching for the campsite. There are other rules as well, and we will cover the most important ones here.

Camping Etiquette

Campsite Rules and Regulations

Before you book a camping spot look up the campground and read the rules. You will save yourself a lot of trouble by investing a bit of time in this. Make sure that you have all the required permits and reservations in order. Check on the rules for pets, quiet hours, and fires so you can plan. Also read if there are special rules for food storage, trash disposal, or anything else.

Leave No Trace

This is the philosophy that everyone can share the outdoors in a sustainable and considerate way. Like any campers, we are very passionate about this philosophy. Check out the official organization’s website or read our introduction to Leave No Trace to learn more. These 7 principles apply to everything you do outdoors, not just camping. By understanding them you will not only enjoy your time more but so will the next people to come along after you.

  1. Plan ahead & prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of other visitors

Recreate Responsibly

Recreate Responsibly is a movement to improve and preserve our outdoor spaces in an inclusive and respectful way. They promote six primary guidelines that go hand in hand with the Leave No Trace philosophy.

Check the status of the place you want to visit for closures, fire restrictions, and weather

Know Before You Go
Check the status of the place you want to visit for closures, fire restrictions, and weather

Reservations and permits may be required. Make sure you have the gear you need and a back-up plan.

Plan and Prepare
Reservations and permits may be required. Make sure you have the gear you need and a back-up plan.

Be an active part of making the outdoors safe and welcoming for all identities and abilities.

Build An Inclusive Outdoors
Be an active part of making the outdoors safe and welcoming for all identities and abilities.

There is space for everyone and countless outdoor activities. Be kind to all who use the outdoors and nature differently.

Respect Others
There is space for everyone and countless outdoor activities. Be kind to all who use the outdoors and nature differently.

Respect the land, water, wildlife, and Native communities. Follow the seven Leave No Trace principles.

Leave No Trace
Respect the land, water, wildlife, and Native communities. Follow the seven Leave No Trace principles.

We all have a responsibility to sustain the places we love. Volunteer, donate, and advocate for the outdoors.

Make it Better
We all have a responsibility to sustain the places we love. Volunteer, donate, and advocate for the outdoors.

Pack In Pack Out

This is the oldest rule of all, and one of the most important. What it means is that you need to take everything out and leave nothing behind. This includes food scraps and other “biodegradable” items. Bonus karma for picking up trash left behind by earlier, less considerate, campers.

Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

Camping with Kids

When camping with kids, it’s important to involve them in the experience and make it fun for the whole family. Here are some tips to help you create memorable camping adventures:

Family roasting marshmellows over the campfire

Let them be part of the planning process

Include your children in the decision-making process when choosing the camping destination. Ask for their input on what activities they would like to do or what type of campground they prefer. This will make them feel involved and excited about the trip.

Assign them tasks

Give each child a responsibility during the camping trip. It could be setting up the tent, gathering firewood, or preparing a meal. This not only helps them develop valuable skills but also gives them a sense of accomplishment and ownership over the camping experience.

Pack entertainment options

While spending time in nature is the main focus of camping, it’s also essential to have some entertainment options for the kids. Pack board games, outdoor toys, or even a portable DVD player for some evening family movie time. This ensures that even if the weather doesn’t cooperate or there’s downtime, there are still activities to keep the kids engaged.

Embrace nature exploration

Encourage your children to explore and appreciate the natural surroundings. Go for nature hikes, identify different plants and animals, and teach them about conservation and the importance of leaving no trace. This will not only enhance their understanding of the environment but also create lasting memories.

“Camping with kids allows us to disconnect from screens and reconnect as a family. It’s a time where we can bond, explore, and create memories that will last a lifetime.” - Anonymous

By implementing these tips, you can ensure that camping with kids is a positive and enjoyable experience for everyone. Remember to prioritize safety, pack essential items, and embrace the spirit of adventure. Happy camping!

Camping with Babies and Toddlers

Camping with young children can be a wonderful opportunity to introduce them to the great outdoors and create lasting family memories. However, it requires some extra preparation to ensure their safety and comfort during the trip. Here are some tips for camping with babies and toddlers:

Pack Essential Gear

Prioritize Safety

When camping with young children, safety should always be a top priority. Familiarize yourself with the facilities and amenities at the campground, including the location of bathrooms, water sources, and any potential hazards. Ensure that your campsite is set up with safety in mind, keeping sharp objects, chemicals, and other dangerous items out of reach.

Tip: Keep a close eye on your children at all times and establish clear boundaries within the campsite to prevent accidents or wandering off.

Enjoy Age-Appropriate Activities

Camping with babies and toddlers doesn’t mean you have to miss out on fun and engaging activities. Plan age-appropriate activities that your little ones can enjoy, such as short nature walks, scavenger hunts, or playing in the sand or water if available. Bring along some favorite toys, books, or games to keep them entertained during downtimes.

Remember, the key to successful camping with young children is to be flexible and adapt to their needs. With a little extra planning and preparation, camping with babies and toddlers can be a rewarding experience for the whole family.

Camping with Dogs

Are you planning a camping trip and wondering if you can bring your furry friend along? Camping with dogs can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for both you and your pet. However, it’s important to make sure you have the necessary gear and take certain precautions to ensure a safe and comfortable adventure. We have a guide on how to make camping with your dog an unforgettable experience that we recommend for everyone who is thinking of taking their dog camping with them.

When camping with dogs, there are a few essential items you’ll need to pack. These include:

Camping with dogs

Choosing Pet-Friendly Campgrounds

Not all campgrounds allow pets, so it’s essential to choose a pet-friendly campground for your camping adventure. Look for campgrounds that explicitly state they allow dogs and have designated dog-friendly areas. Keep in mind that some campgrounds may have specific rules and regulations regarding dogs, such as leash requirements or restrictions on certain dog breeds.

Campground Etiquette

When camping with dogs, it’s important to follow proper campground etiquette to ensure a positive experience for everyone. Be mindful of your dog’s behavior and keep them under control at all times. Clean up after your dog and dispose of waste properly. Respect quiet hours and be considerate of your neighbors. By following these guidelines, you can help create a harmonious camping environment for both humans and dogs alike.

Our Advice for Beginner Campers

Camping Gear

Plan Ahead (for fun)

I’m going to assume that you have read the rules above and have done your research on the campground. So, what are you planning to do while camping? Are you looking to relax in the hammock with a good book, or are you looking for adventure?

Whatever you’re looking for, you will have more success if you have a plan in advance. You are going to be faced with many fun distractions and if you don’t plan in advance you may find that your time is up and you never got to do the thing you set out to do.

Tip: Limit your plans to only a couple of items and leave time to explore. Chasing those fun distractions will lead you on some of your greatest adventures.

Practice setting up the tent at home

It might sound silly to set up a tent at home until you try to set up a brand new tent in the wind. So, to spare yourself that experience, practice putting up the tent once at home. Most modern tents are pretty easy to pitch after you have done it once or twice.

Tip: Take a couple of pictures as you unpack. This will make repacking easier.

Once the tent is set up, this is a good opportunity to make sure your gear and bedding will fit. Get inside and get a feel for how much room you will have. As a bonus, this is a lot of fun for the kids.

After everyone has had fun playing in the tent, take it down again. Check the directions but most tents come down the same way they are set up, in reverse. Repack everything, checking your pictures if necessary. Don’t forget to repack the tent stakes.

Make the first camping trip short, close to home, and at an established campground

The urge to hit the wilderness for a grand camping adventure is real but resist it. Beginner campers should stick with established campgrounds near home at first. Your family is going to be dealing with a lot of new stuff, sleeping and cooking outside for example. Taking it slow is the way to go. As you get more comfortable slowly extend the camping trips. Before you know it you will be a seasoned camper, ready to tackle any challenge.

Inspect all your gear before leaving home

Before packing everything and loading the vehicle take a moment to check it over. Make sure everything works, has all the parts and is in good condition. You don’t want to find out that some piece of critical gear is broken or missing when you are at the campsite.

Avoid scented items

Many people don’t realize this but scented items such as perfume, body spray, and lotions tend to attract wildlife and bugs. So if you don’t want to be swarmed by bears and mosquitos stick with the unscented stuff while outdoors.

Camping Activities for Beginners

When embarking on your first camping trip, it’s important to strike a balance between relaxation and adventure. While it may be tempting to fill every moment with activities, it’s equally important to take time to appreciate the tranquility of nature. Here are some camping activities for beginners that will help you make the most of your outdoor experience.

Activity Description
Hiking and Exploring Take leisurely hikes, explore nature, and appreciate the beauty around you.
Campfire Fun Gather around the campfire, sing songs, tell stories, and enjoy s'mores.
Stargazing Lay back and admire the night sky, identify constellations, and learn about the stars.
Indoor Activities Have board games, playing cards, books, or deep conversations ready for indoor downtime.

Hiking and Exploring

One of the best ways to connect with nature is by taking leisurely hikes through the campsite or nearby trails. Explore the surrounding areas, discover hidden gems, and enjoy the diverse flora and fauna. Remember to bring a map, water, and appropriate footwear. Capture the breathtaking views and create lasting memories.

Campfire Fun

Gather around the campfire and indulge in simple yet enjoyable activities. Sing campfire songs, share stories, and roast marshmallows for s’mores. Embrace the sense of togetherness and create an atmosphere of warmth and laughter. Don’t forget to follow safety guidelines and ensure the fire is fully extinguished before leaving.

Stargazing

Take advantage of the clear night skies and go stargazing. Lay back on a blanket or set up a comfortable spot and gaze up at the stars. Use a star chart or a stargazing app to identify constellations and learn about the wonders of the universe. It’s a peaceful and mesmerizing activity that will leave you in awe.

CAMPING for BEGINNERS - Family Style! // Tips for Camping with Little Kids

Indoor Activities

In case of bad weather, it’s always a good idea to have some indoor activities prepared. Bring along board games, playing cards, or books to keep everyone entertained. You can also use this time to relax, have deep conversations, or simply enjoy each other’s company. Remember that even in unfavorable weather, camping can still be a wonderful experience.

In Conclusion

Camping is a fun and rewarding activity for families. With proper planning, gear, and a positive mindset, you can create unforgettable memories in the great outdoors. Use this guide to get started and enjoy the adventure of family camping. We know that this was a long guide, so thank you for taking the time. We want this to be the best free beginner’s camping guide anywhere online. If you still have any questions please let us know so that we can answer them and improve this guide.

FAQ

Q: How do I choose the right destination for my first camping trip?

A: Choose a car camping site with amenities like bathrooms, fire rings, and picnic tables. Full-service campgrounds are ideal for beginners. Make a reservation two to six months in advance.

Q: Where can I borrow or rent camping gear?

A: Many outdoor stores offer rental options. If you can't find supplies locally, websites like Outdoorsgeek.com offer affordable rental packages. Refer to a family camping checklist to ensure you have everything you need.

Q: How can I get my kids involved in the camping experience?

A: Let each child plan and prepare one meal during the trip. They can also create a trail mix for snacking. Engaging the children in the process will make them feel involved and excited about camping.

Q: What should I do if the weather is bad during my camping trip?

A: Don't over-schedule your trip. Take leisurely hikes, encourage daydreaming, and enjoy simple campfire activities like singing campfire songs. Be prepared with rain or indoor activities in case of bad weather.

Q: How can I ensure I leave no trace while camping?

A: Teach your children to respect the outdoors by minimizing your impact. Stay on marked trails, observe wildlife from a distance, keep noise down, and pack out everything you bring in. Involve the kids in the final inspection of the campsite to ensure cleanliness.

Q: How can I practice for my first camping trip?

A: Participate in the National Wildlife Federation's Great American Backyard Campout. Register for the event held on June 27th to experience camping in your own yard.

Q: What should I pack for my camping trip?

A: Research your campground to see what amenities are available. Create a packing checklist that includes essentials like a tent, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, and outdoor gear. Consider borrowing or renting gear to save money.

Q: How can I save money on camping gear?

A: Check local buy/sell groups or yard sale sites for used gear. Look for camping gear rental services near you. Buy during off-season or sales. Borrow from friends or ask for gear as gifts.

Q: What additional gear and precautions are needed for camping with young children?

A: Bring a pack and play or similar safe play area, an outdoor gate, a high chair, a kid carrier, a sound machine, a stroller, and comfort items. Always prioritize safety and familiarize yourself with campground facilities.

Q: What should I pack for my dog when camping?

A: Don't forget their bed, leash, collar, dog food, water bowl, outdoor dog pen, and any comfort items they may need. Consider staying at pet-friendly campgrounds and be mindful of campground etiquette.

Q: What are the essential items I need for a camping trip?

A: Focus on the basics, including a tent, tarp or footprint, sleeping bags, camping chairs, cooking equipment, and lighting. Pack appropriate clothing and personal items as well.

Q: How do I choose the right tent for my family?

A: Choose a tent that fits your family's size and needs. Consider a tent with a rainfly for protection. Use a tarp or footprint underneath your tent for added durability. Research campsites to find one that suits your preferences and has the amenities you desire.

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By Summer and Bill

Photo of Summer and Bill

Summer and Bill are the dynamic duo behind Adventureite.com, a blog dedicated to inspiring others to explore the great outdoors. With a combined lifetime of experience traveling and adventuring across America, they have a wealth of knowledge to share. From hiking to camping, kayaking to travel, Summer and Bill are passionate about helping others discover the beauty of the natural world.

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