First Time Camping Tips
I’m not a natural camper. I do love the outdoors with my family, but I don’t take naturally to sleeping outside. If you're like me, here are some camping tips.
My Boy Scout hubby has taken us on several camping trips, and on every one of them, I’ve enjoyed the fresh air, the time away from WiFi, and the general unstructure of it all.
It takes a decent amount of planning and prep to pull off a good first time camping trip, so here are a 4 quick things to consider about a week before you load up the car and head out.
1. Research Campsites
Depending on where you’re camping (state parks are almost always good), you’ll want to select your campsite carefully, one with plenty of surrounding space that allows distance between campers. (You go first time camping to get away from it all, not crowded into a wooded town of tents and RVs.)
You don’t have to travel far to get far enough into all the wilderness you’re likely to want. Most of our trips are less than an hour’s drive away, and once we get out the maps and get the kids involved, we can choose a destination within a limited area fairly quickly.
You can also choose how hard-core you want to the trip to be, whether in a family friendly park, far out on a lonely trail, or somewhere in between. Almost all our family camping trips have been in state parks where we can park our vehicle next to our tent.
Research the various campsites and amenities. If yours has a playground, consider carefully whether being nearby is a pro (your kids are close to a fun place) or con (noise from OTHER kids will hinder your relaxation).
Similarly, nearby bathrooms can be convenient, but too close can put you too close to constant foot traffic by your camp.
We love camping near water. If you’re able, look for campgrounds and sites near a lake, river or even ocean. And when camping in a state or national park, check their websites for events happening while you’re there.
Finally, make sure to check the park’s permits, rules and regulations (for instance, a camp might be under fire restrictions that prevent fires). Most sites let you bring your pets, but verify before your leave.
2. Reserve your Campsite
Make sure to reserve your campsite at least a week ahead of time.
Pro Tip: Make sure to tell someone when and where you’ll be, and when you expect to return, in case of emergencies.
3. Plan for Weather
Camping in the rain isn’t nearly as fun as under clear skies, and I’ve never camped in snow, but that doesn’t sound fun to this Florida girl. In most areas, Spring and Fall are typically the best times to camp, and knowing the expected weather conditions ahead of your departure will help you figure how much clothing (and UV protective clothing), bedding and rain gear (and maybe fire wood) you’ll need to be comfortable.
The “perfect weather” target depends on what you value. Southerners tend to appreciate cool temps and Northerner like warmth, because they get so much of the other end of the thermometer. Besides such personal tastes, colder temperatures help limit mosquito and insect populations.
Ultimately, being flexible and having contingency plans (such as bringing rain gear even when no rain’s predicted) is the wise approach. Some bad weather is bearable and even fun to cope with, but if things get too stormy, too buggy or too cold, there’s no dishonor in retreating to a hotel, or even heading home early.
There’s no real reason to risk injury or worse, and when the situation calls for it, a trip cut short can be a fulfilling relief for the whole crew.
Pro Tip: Try to stay in the shade between 10 am and 4 pm. Sunburn during a camping trip makes for misery all round Make sure you’re wearing safe sunscreen.
4. Think about Food
Plan food you can prep ahead of time and can be cooked and served in one container. My kids like to cook over an open fire, but we bring the camping stove, too. Dinner in the fire pit and breakfast with the camping stove works well.
As much as possible, we involve the boys in prepping, cooking and cleaning. And remember, the more you prep at home, the easier/quicker/less messy cooking’s going to be. Check out our blog post on Good Camping Food: Easy Camping Meals for Families.
Planning and prep helps pull off a good first time camping trip. But there’s no need to stress, just do your research, start making lists, piling up supplies (like safe sunscreen) and get ready to make some (outdoor) memories with your family.