Camping for Beginners: An Essential Guide

Don't know what to bring or what to wear when going camping with your beloved family? Here's a super short introduction to camping and what you absolutely need to bring!

car with suv tent on top

The perks of camping are many, and you’re likely looking forward to the idea of fresh air and a chance to learn new skills in the wild.

However, before enjoying the benefits, there’s a great deal that goes into planning for a successful camping trip, particularly for beginners. This can be overwhelming and might even dissuade you from camping altogether unless you opt for glamping for a more comfortable experience. Since you’re here looking for information, it means your enthusiasm for camping is still high, and we applaud you.

We hope everyone can have as much fun as we’ve had camping (even with its challenges), so we’ve developed an essential beginner’s guide for first-timers. We’ll cover what you need to buy and pack for your camping trip, from equipment to clothes; we’ve got you covered.

List of what you should bring

camping gear spread out on a table

Knowing what to carry for your first camping experience is essential since it saves you from overspending, bearing more weight than is necessary, or lacking the essentials when needed. This list covers the gear you need as a first-time camper.

1. Emergency bag

Camping carries a certain amount of risk. Therefore, before you take your first camping trip, you must be prepared for any eventuality. Since it’s hard to know if there’s going to be an earthquake or a significant weather change, prepare an emergency bag for that “break the glass” moment. Your emergency bag should hold an all-purpose first aid kit, a map, a tech survival kit, a multi-tool, a compass, duct tape, a battery-powered radio, a flashlight, and backup batteries.

2. Toiletries

Bring your toiletries, even if the campground has bathrooms and showers. You never know when their toiletries could run out, and having yours on hand could save you the embarrassment. Aside from the basics (toothpaste, toothbrush, and toilet paper), include towels, sunscreen, bug repellant, bio-degradable soap, deodorant, a brush, and a comb.

3. Tent

You’ll need a tent for most types of camping, so having one is part of the basics. Of course, there are different types of tents, try to match one to your needs. If you don’t know what’s safe to buy, then consider the 3-Season or 4-Season tents as the basic model. You will also need a sizeable footprint, stakes, and a mallet for pitching the tent.

4. Sleeping bag and sleeping pad

Experienced campers choose sleeping bags based on their temperature rating, but that is too much work for a beginner like yourself. Instead, make the safe bet and go for a 3-Season or 4-Season sleeping bag. The sleeping pad is your mattress for camping, but while you should go for comfort, your most important consideration should be its insulation capability. An insulation value (R) of 2 – 2.5 is best for your sleeping pad. Don’t forget to bring a pillow.

5. Utensils

Carry everything you will need for meal prep and serving; pots, plates, cups, knives, scrubbers, basically a small kitchen. Keep it simple. Don’t bring fine china on your camping trip, when plastic utensils can do the job just fine. Keep everything in a plastic bin, preferably two, which could double as a washtub for cleaning your dirty utensils.

6. Stove and cooler

S’mores are only good as a snack and you need proper meals to replenish your energy, especially for your first time camping. Therefore, you need to carry a stove. Nothing too fancy or cumbersome. A 2-burner propane stove is sufficient for your cooking needs. Similarly, you need a cooler with enough ice to keep your ingredients fresh and your drinks cool. Carry lots of bottled water, especially in summer, to keep hydrated.

7. Lighting

Relying on the campfire for lighting is not optimal, especially when you consider getting up for bathroom breaks late in the night. The best option is to use a headlamp since it frees up your hands for other activities. Alternatively, you can use a flashlight.

8. Camp chairs

Chairs are not entirely a necessity, especially since most campgrounds have picnic tables, but take it as a Pro Tip and bring some anyway. They are great for relaxation.

What to wear on your camping trip

four people laughing wearing hiking gear

Your choice of clothing for camping is very important as it could either make or break your entire camping experience. We won’t get into what brands to choose and the specifics of each clothing section, as that could take forever. Instead, we’ll focus on shoes (because they are that important) and clothing based on the season.

1. Shoes

Always wear comfortable, sturdy, closed shoes with well-defined, slip-resistant soles. Keep in mind that camp trails are uneven, dirty, and sometimes wet and muddy. Therefore, your shoes should be waterproofed.

Carry flip-flops for showers, but they are not the best fit for walking around the campground. Use sandals instead. Most importantly, carry multiple pairs of shoes just in case one pair gets wet.

2. Summer clothing

Lightweight and breathable are the best words to describe what you want for your summer camping clothes to reduce heat and moisture retention. Keep away from dark clothes, but pay attention not to pick too bright colors, especially white clothes, since camping is a messy affair. While avoiding too much heat is the theme of summer clothing, stay away from shorts if you don’t want to deal with the poisonous plants and insects. We also highly recommend using headgear and eyewear.

During the nighttime, strive to keep warm. If your heavier summer clothing doesn’t keep you warm enough then layering is an excellent option.

3. Winter clothing

The challenge with winter clothing is how to keep warm without getting wet. Therefore, you need clothes that allow moisture to leave your body without affecting the insulation. Additionally, you need a rain set for winter camping. Thick socks and a close-fitting hat are also recommended.

Learn the different types of camping

Although there are more than 10 different types of camping, we will only focus on those that are friendly to beginners. Don’t assume that you can manage survival camping or wild camping just because you read a few guides, practical experience is far more important for these. Challenging yourself should be done within reason and safety is your foremost priority. Your choice of camping gear and clothing is influenced largely by where you decide to camp, so you need to make an informed decision. For beginners, we recommend the following types of camping:

1. Garden/Home camping

This is the most basic type of camping and involves laying a tent out in your garden or backyard. It is an excellent way to get used to camping and allows you to make as many mistakes as possible without any significant repercussions. We recommend trying out garden camping before heading out on a camping trip.

2. Tent camping

Tent camping is a general category and involves many different types of camping, including garden, beach, campsite, and wild camping, among others. You need a place to pitch a tent and spend a few nights, and you’re a qualified camper. However, the requirements change depending on location. For instance, you can’t use normal dirt stakes instead of sand stakes at the beach.

3. Backpacking

Backpacking involves carrying gear and trekking through nature before pitching a tent or setting up a hammock to rest and sleep. Such camping trips take time and require a lot of planning and survival knowledge to guarantee self-sufficiency, especially for long trips. For instance, you need to know how much a backpacking tent weighs to pack according to your carrying capacity.

4. RV Camping and car camping

RV or van camping is for those who still want to enjoy a little luxury while getting close to nature. You can set up wherever you park and don’t need many necessities other campers have to buy, which is its own kind of victory.

On the other hand, car camping is for those who want to try out camping on a low budget or when low on time. All you need for sleeping space is folding down your car seats. The most significant advantage is that you can drive up to your chosen site for your camping experience. Similar to RV camping, you don’t get to enjoy the “true nature” experience.

5. Glamorous camping

Glamping is for those who want to camp in luxury and don’t have budget concerns. There are a variety of glamorous camping accommodations, including villas, tree houses, lodges, and cabins, among others.

Final thoughts

Remember to pay attention to the considerations to make and rules to know as a first-time camper. For instance, make your reservations in advance because campgrounds are almost always fully booked.

In summary, a lot of behind-the-scenes work needs to be done before you can take that interesting Pinterest shot of your campsite. However, if the planning goes well, you are in for one of the best moments of your life.