How to Go Camping: A Guide for your Next Adventure

Camping is an activity that can be enjoyed by anyone, during any time of the year. Solo trekking can be a great way to escape from the stress of every day life, while car camping can bring families together through outdoor fun. Extremists may enjoy a few nights in the snowy, winter mountains, while more reserved folks will appreciate the creature comforts found in glamping.

No matter who you are, there’s a form of camping that will suit your desires and bring about a new appreciation for nature. Which means there’s only one question left to answer… Where does someone even learn how to go camping?

How to Camp

At the most basic level, camping sounds like a simple activity that requires little thought or planning. Buy a tent and sleeping bag, find a good campsite, make sure you have food and water, and have a good time – how much harder can it be than that?

Without a doubt, there are some cases when that really is all you need to do. But for countless other scenarios, this train of thought could land you in an uncomfortable, if not dangerous, situation. Needless to say, you’ll probably want to increase your survival skills before you head out.

While camping might look differently depending on who you talk to, there are a few principles that everyone should know and follow. From navigation to bear safety, we’ll cover the essentials down below.

Layering

cold weather gloves in snow

There’s no such thing as climate control in the great outdoors, which means you need to dress accordingly. From hypothermia to heat exhaustion, there are a number of factors to consider before stepping onto the trail. Weather can be relentless, and suddenly change when you least expect it.

It’s always a good idea to do some research on the climate you’ll be visiting. Mountains go through significant weather changes on a daily basis, while deserts tend to be predictable: sunny and hot during the day, cold at night. Figure out what you’ll be dealing with on your trip, so you know what to wear to suit your environment.

Bear Safety

face of a bear

Depending on where you end up camping, you might find yourself more at risk of encountering a bear. Though they generally want to avoid you as much as you want to avoid them, people will still unwittingly find themselves crossing paths with the furry giants.

The fundamentals of bear safety don’t begin once you encounter a bear, though that does play a considerable role. Protecting yourself starts well before you ever encounter an animal, especially a predator like a bear. Take proper precautions, be smart, and if all else fails, know what to do if you find yourself staring down the snout of one of these majestic creatures.

Campsite Management

So you’ve got your gear packed and ready to go, and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Top of the line tent, warm sleeping bag, plenty of food, and a full bladder to get you to the next water source…you’ve gone the full 9 yards on this one. But then you roll out your tent at the campsite, and a wave of panic and confusion crashes over you. Where were the poles supposed to go again? Were these extra bits of cord important? I think there was something called a footprint…what is that even supposed to do?

The time to be asking yourself these questions is not when you’re cold, hungry, and tired after a long day outside. To avoid the headache and potential catastrophe this scenario can bring about, let’s go through a few tips that will help you during your camping debut.

Practice at Home

As I just mentioned, the time to be figuring out how your tent works is not when the sun is setting and you’re far away from any other shelter. Don’t be afraid to unroll your tent inside your home or in your yard, and practice piecing everything together a few times. Read the instructions carefully, and double check to make sure you have all of the tent components. Better to find out you’re missing a piece while in the comfort of your own home, instead of stressing out on the trail!

Choosing a Campsite

campsite in the mountains

Now that you’ve got your gear, and know how to put it all together, it’s time to figure out where you’re going to camp. When possible, it’s always better to set up at an established campsite. Not only does this make it easier to follow the Leave No Trace (LNT) procedure, but most campsites have also done the hard work of finding the optimal location to stay in the first place. If you’re not sure how to go about finding a campsite in the area you’d like to visit, the National Park Service has a great tool you can use to find campsite in National Parks. Otherwise, Reserve America will be able to show you most campgrounds in your neck of the woods.

Dealing with Water

Whether you ended up in an established campsite, or you decided to rough it somewhere more remote, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind:

Water can be your best friend and your worst enemy. Obviously you’ll need it to quench your thirst, but at the same time, it’s notorious for soaking through tents and flooding campsites. Especially those that are self made.

Find a place to pitch your tent that’s on higher ground. If you stay in a valley during a rain shower, water will flow down the hills on either side of you, meeting up right where you’re trying to sleep. When possible, finding a few trees to camp under is also a good idea. Not only can they help prevent rain from falling on you through the night, but the space underneath them tends to be warmer.

If you don’t have a footprint, consider making or buying one. A footprint is an extra layer that rests under your tent, usually made out of a tarp or similar material. The idea is that it add more protection between you and the ground, helping to prevent any excess moisture from seeping in through the floor of your tent. They are slightly smaller in size than the actual floor of your tent, so that they don’t accidently act as a rain catcher. If you decide to make your own, keep this sizing in mind so you don’t unintentionally create a puddle underneath you.

Wind Protection

In addition to water, wind can also be a camper’s worst nightmare. Not only can it create quite the headache when you’re setting up camp, but it is also capable of collapsing your tent. Find some natural shelter to guard against the wind, such as a hill or a few trees. Just make sure to stay away from anything that may collapse on top of you if a strong gust suddenly decides to blow through!

Camping with Kids

camping with kids in a tent

Family camping trips are a great way to have fun and bond with your children, if you have any. It’s a good chance to teach them about nature, as well as how to interact with the wilderness in a safe and respectful way.

However, many people are intimated by the thought of taking their kids camping, especially if they’re very young. If you’re a concerned parent, try sticking close to home during your first time out. Backyard camping or setting up at a local campground can still be a fun experience, and a nice way to ease into more extreme and remote forms of this activity. Preparation and organization are your best friends when you attempt to go on this kind of trip, and when done properly, it can be a fun experience for the whole family.

Campfire

campfire at night

One of the 10 essentials, as well as a fun nighttime activity with friends and family, knowing how to properly build a campfire is a great skill to have in your back pocket. Not only is it a requirement for making smores, but it also adds warmth and vibrancy to an otherwise cold and dark atmosphere.

As enjoyable as a roaring fire can be, it’s also nothing to play around with. Countless forest fires have been started by campers who didn’t take proper safety precautions, leading to countless miles of damage and even death. Take a few minutes to learn how to build a proper campfire (as well as how to put it out!), so that you can relax when the time comes to warm yourself while you sing songs and share stories.

Camping Gear

tent setup at a camping site

Obviously knowledge isn’t the only thing you need in order to have a successful camping trip. None of that means anything if you don’t have the right gear to back you up. From tents to sleeping bags and other accessories, we’ve laid out some of our top picks so you can have a successful and enjoyable time out in nature.

Tents by Capacity

First things first, it’s important to know how many people you’re going to be camping with. Is it a solo trip or are you going with some friends? Sleeping together all in one tent, or splitting up into multiple? 6 person tents work well for large families or friends who don’t mind sharing the same space. I like 3 person tents as an option for couples (since tents do run quite small), and a 2 person tent just for me, unless I’m trying to save on weight.

Tents by Type

group of canvas tents

There’s a lot more tent variety than most people originally think. From shape to the material used, sometimes it can be hard to know what the best option is, so the typical nylon tent is what’s most commonly used. Canvas tents are amazing if you want something durable and well insulated, but they can be a bit of a pain to take care of and lug around. If you need something with more usable space on the inside, cabin tents are generally the way to go, especially for larger groups of people. They’re not only bigger, but can usually be segmented off into different rooms, allowing for more privacy than what you’d normally get in a regular dome tent.

Perhaps the idea of sleeping on the ground doesn’t appeal to you at all. Lots of people feel this way, and might believe that they’ll never be able to camp because sleeping on a bed of rocks or roots just isn’t appealing. Tent cots solve this problem by raising your shelter several inches off the ground, letting you stay protected from the earth beneath you as well as any water that might be passing through. For those of you who have trucks and like the idea of camping off the ground, getting yourself a nice truck tent might be the way to go.

Finally, not everyone enjoys the process of setting up a tent, especially the larger ones which can sometimes take more than one person a good half hour to accomplish. Convenience and ease of setup is valued by many, which is why instant tents were created. Most of these can be set up in under 2 minutes, and usually doesn’t require too much effort. If instant tents aren’t quite your thing, then pop up tents will give you fast results as well.

Tents by Weather Condition

person next to a tent shining a light in bad weather

Unfortunately, sunny skies aren’t a given when you’re out camping. Depending on where you are and what time of year you’re going, you might not see the blue sky at all! For rainy weather, it’s good to have a tent that you know will be able to withstand even the heaviest downpour without leaking on you. There are a good number of waterproof tents that will be able to check this box for you, and are worth looking into even if you don’t plan on spending much time in bad weather.

Looking to go camping in the desert? In that case, having the right tent stakes to secure your shelter is vital. Whether it’s for sand, hard ground, or snow, there’s a specially designed stake for the task at hand. But deserts also have a tendency to get chilly at night, so being prepared for sudden changes in temperature is also a must. Cold weather tents (also known as 4 season tents) really make a different when you’re up in the cold mountains, desert, or winter destination. With extra insulation, they are a bit heavier, but are worth it when it comes to trapping heat and keeping you warm.

Sleeping Bags and Cots

two people sleeping in their car out in nature

Once you’ve got your shelter nailed down, the next step is to find yourself a sleeping bag to keep you warm and cozy. Rectangular sleeping bags are popular among car campers because they offer more room to spread out and can be more comfortable than a mummy bag. However, they are a bit more bulky and take up more room in the tent, which is why I say they’re mostly popular among car campers who generally aren’t as worried about space and weight. If you’re on a budget, there are plenty of cheaper sleeping bag options for you to choose from too.

If you want to take your sleeping experience to the next level, I highly recommend looking into sleeping bag liners. I primarily camp in the mountains where the nights get chilly, and sleeping bag liners are a great tool to keep in your arsenal if you like to stay warm. Pair that with a nice camping pillow, and you’ll come pretty close to feeling like you’re sleeping in your own bed back home.

For that extra bit of comfort and insulation, you’ll definitely want a good sleeping pad to put under your sleeping bag. This adds a nice layer of padding to lay on, instead of resting directly on the ground, and also blocks some of the cold that radiates from the earth. If you want to avoid this problem altogether, though, a camping cot will do the trick. They are heavier and more difficult to carry around, making them a bad choice for backpackers, but car campers will appreciate it more than using the ground as a bed.

Furniture and Accessories

tent and hammock in the wild

While not recommended for serious trekkers, bringing furniture on a family camping trip can be a great addition. After all, have a decent camping table to eat at or play games on can enhance the entire experience. Of course, you’ll want a good camping chair to go along with the table, and there are plenty of options for those of you who want a little more support or have bad backs. If you’re looking for something on the lighter and more portable side of the spectrum, I highly recommend the Portal trail stool, as it’s a product I’ve used in the past and enjoy.

For the little things that make a big difference, consider looking into tent fans for when the weather is hot or you just want to circulate the air a little better. And in the mornings, it can be hard to get up and at it without a good cup of coffee, but Keurigs don’t work so well out in the wild… Don’t worry, we’ve discovered several other methods that the gung-ho coffee drinker can use, as well as other portable coffee makers you can bring with you on the trail.

Using a Compass

compass in mountains by lake

Navigation is key when you’re out exploring. The GPS on your phone will let you scrape by if you happen to get lost, but that’s only if you remembered to download an offline version of the map. At the end of the day, a compass will always be the more reliable and accurate navigation tool in your arsenal.

Compasses come with a variety of features depending on what you get, but at the end of the day, they all point in the same direction. Knowing the difference between magnetic and true north, and how to account for declination, are only a few skills you’ll need to learn before you can accurately find your way through nature.

Toiletries

stacked toilet paper

Perhaps a little embarrassing to talk about, going to the bathroom is something we all do on a regular basis. Obviously, this holds true at the campsite too. While some locations have outhouses on site, it’s more common to have nothing more than a few tress and bushes for privacy while you do your business.

Toilet paper and other hygiene essentials are must haves, no matter your bathroom setup. Bringing a small shovel along is great for digging a hole to fill with solid waste, covering it back up with dirt when you’re done. If you’re a guy, relieving your bladder is a fairly simple matter, but ladies will want to bring along some toilet paper or these handy cloths.

As always, don’t forget to bring along any medication that you take. I strongly recommend carrying a first aid kit as well, since anything can happen in the wilderness and professional medical attention isn’t always immediately available.

10 Essentials

knife on a tree

The ultimate camping checklist, as long as you’ve got these things with you, there are very few circumstances that will put you in danger. From navigation to nutrition, the wilderness is known for throwing curveballs at the unprepared outdoorsman.

While forgetting a pair of sunglasses might be nothing more than an inconvenience for most, failing to bring essential survival gear (like a knife or a water purification device) can be catastrophic. Before setting off on your journey, make a checklist of all the items that you’ll need to ensure a safe and smooth experience. Not sure what to bring? Check out the article below on the 10 most important things you should carry as you go on your next adventure.

Dispersed Camping

single tent for camping alone in nature

Life is stressful, and sometimes you just need to go camping to get away from it all. So you make a reservation for your local campground, pack your gear, and arrive over the weekend just to find out that everyone else apparently had the same thought as you.

If you’re tired of sleeping next to strangers with nothing more than a few thin sheets of nylon between you, dispersed camping might be what you’re looking for. Find out where you can and can’t set up camp, how long you can stay, and best practices to staying safe and minimizing your impact on nature. Oh, and the best part?

It’s free.

Meal Prep

meal planning while camping

An important part of any trip, meal planning will make sure everyone stays a happy camper. This will look different depending on where you’re going and how long you plan on staying, but the verdict is the same: meal prep is a must.

Consider what type of cooking facilities you’ll have access to as you camp. For some of you, this will be nothing more than a single propane burner to heat up your ramen. For others, you may have a more luxurious setup that will allow you to make something a little more complex. Whatever situation you find yourself in, I recommend that you try to keep it as simple as possible. While large, gourmet meals are a treat, transporting all of the necessary food items and equipment just isn’t ideal in a camping environment. Save yourself the stress and headache by making meals that require as little effort as possible.

Don’t forget that you’re not the only one looking for good food to eat. You’ll find that lots of animals are eager to dig into your stash when you’re not looking. Store everything securely when you aren’t using it, preferably in your car or a food locker, and try not to leave it unattended when it’s outside these areas. Check local regulations that relate to bear activity and proper food management, as well.

Glamping

glamping yurt

Who said camping had to be uncomfortable? Glamping is a growing trend, and it’s easy to see why. Comfortable living quarters, unique views, and luxurious accommodations have taken the camping world by storm and allowed a wider variety of people the ability to access the outdoors.

Whether you’re looking for the classic tent experience (but nicer!) or want to try something a little more unique, like staying in a treehouse, glamping has an option for you. Depending on where in the world you are, and the types of accommodations you’d like to have, this activity can get pricey. However, there are still plenty of options for those of you who would like to stay on a tight budget as well.

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Spencer Yeomans

Spencer Yeomans

A lover of the outdoors, and especially the mountains, Spencer has always enjoyed pushing people to step outside their comfort zones. His mission is to help others get out of their homes to have fun and stay active in nature.

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