A friend of mine recently said that she’d like to attend a camping workshop. Noting my surprise (after all, we’d been camping together just the previous week), she replied that it was alright for me, as I was a ‘good camper’.
That got me to thinking about my own first camping experience at the tender age of 15. I was with some school friends, we packed a bizarre assortment of food, had an ancient tent that we didn’t know how to put up, and spent most the night shivering under our flimsy sleeping bags.
I’ve learned a lot since then, thanks in part to a group of mates who were willing to show me the ropes. But if you don’t have an experienced camping buddy to hand, then the prospect of spending a night under canvas can seem a little daunting.
However, please do not let this put you off! Camping is a lot of fun and it’s something the whole family can enjoy – even the pet pooch. You just need get a grasp of the basics, after which it all comes down to one thing: practise.
Camping for beginners – what you need to know
If you consider yourself to be a camping beginner, then there are a few things you absolutely should do to ensure your maiden camping voyage is a success. So, here’s my camping 101 for beginners.
Get the right gear
When you’re in the great outdoors, the line between being comfortable and being miserable often comes down to whether or not you have the right gear. And when it comes to camping, there’s a lot of gear to be had.
Now then, you might not really want to spend a great deal of money on your first camping trip. After all, you don’t even know if camping is for you. This is perfectly understandable. If so, ask a friend if you can borrow their stuff, or find a shop that rents out camping gear.
It’s also important to know that you do not need every single little gadget on offer. At the very least, you will need –
- A good quality tent that doesn’t let in wind or rain
- A good quality sleeping bag that is designed for the temperatures you will be camping in
- A roll mat or blow up bed
- A camping stove and gas/propane
- Pots, pans and cooking utensils, including a knife
- Crockery and cutlery
- A lighter or matches
- Fresh water or a water purification system
- A light, lantern or torch
- Something to use as a bin
- A first aid kit and hand sanitiser
- Toilet paper (just to be safe)
Unless you are planning quite a spartan camping trip, you’ll also probably want to take –
- A pillow
- A cool box with ice packs
- Stuff to wash your dishes with
- Camping chairs
- A camping table (if the campsite does not have them)
- Firewood, if your destination allows campfires
If you are planning on buying some (or even all) of your own camping gear, then it is best to buy right and buy once. In other words, take your time to find a quality product that suits your needs and is in your price range.
If you see a tent that is as cheap as chips, there’s probably a reason for it, but you won’t find out until you’ve experienced your first adverse weather conditions. There’s nothing worse than bunking down for the night in a storm, only to find that wind rips through your tent and leaks mercilessly.
Take a look at online reviews to see what other people are saying, and don’t be afraid to go into specialist camping shop to ask for advice. While it may cost you a little extra to get the quality goods, you’ll be thankful in the long-run.
Practise before you go
Once you’ve equipped yourself with all the camping gear, have a test run!
If you have a garden then it’s a great idea to spend a whole night under the stars. This means you’ll know how to put the tent up, whether or not it’s comfy enough, how your camping stove works, what utensils you need, and how to take the tent down again.
Even if you don’t have your own garden, you can go to a local park and at least practise putting up your tent and packing it away again. This can be invaluable and will save a lot of head-scratching (and even arguing) when you do finally pop your camping cherry.
Plan your trip
Next, plan exactly where you are going to go and when. If this is your first camping trip, it might be wise to choose somewhere with good facilities, such as hot showers, flushing toilets and washing up sinks. That way you can be eased in gently.
You should also think about what kind of experience you’re after. Not all campsites are made equal. Some are family-friendly, others allow dogs, and some have a lake, beach or activity centre. For some these features will be a real plus, while for others they will be a real no-no.
While you’re still getting used to this camping lark, it can be helpful to select somewhere that isn’t too far away from a town or city. Then if you forget something, or you just can’t face cooking in the rain, you can jump in the car and head back to civilisation.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
Once you’ve chosen your campsite, your next task is to prepare, prepare, and then prepare some more. I find that in these situations, lists are your friends. Make a list of everything you need to take, including all your food, clothes and toiletries.
On the subject of food, you should also plan what meals you are going to have and on what nights. If you are going to have a barbecue one night and a chick pea curry another night, then have the barbecue first, so the meat doesn’t go off.
I like to visualise the trip from start to finish, during which I write down what I’m going to need for each scenario. For example, when I arrive, I’m going to want to set up my sleeping quarters. So I need my tent, sleeping bag, pillow and roll mat.
Then I’ll want a cup of tea. So I need a stove, possibly a lighter or matches, a kettle or pot, some water, tea bags, milk and a mug. Soon enough it will be time to cook, so I’ll need a chopping board, knife, pan, oil, salt and pepper…and so it goes on.
This may seem excessive, but it’s incredibly infuriating to arrive at a campsite, only to find you left the tin opener at home. As you get better at camping then the more intuitive your preparation becomes. I even have a pre-packed camping box stashed under my bed.
But while you’re starting out, it’s best to list what you need and tick everything off once you know it’s been packed. That way, you can rest assured that you have thought of everything and nothing has been left at home.
Check the conditions on the day
On the morning of your camping trip, be sure to check the weather and the traffic.
Although it may have been forecast wall-to-wall sunshine at the start of the week, it may now have turned to rain (or vice versa). If so, make sure you are prepared for the conditions by packing wet weather gear, warm clothes, sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat or whatever it might be.
The purpose of checking the traffic is to ensure that you do not arrive at the campsite too late. Putting up a tent in the dark is no mean feat, especially if you’re a camping virgin. Give yourself plenty of time and arrive during daylight!
Lastly, don’t forget that camping is meant to be an enjoyable experience. It’s a time to be in the great outdoors, to convene with nature and to have a little bit of an adventure. Yes, we’ve all made a cuppa before. But isn’t it so much more exciting making tea outside on a stove?
While there might not be any TV, there are plenty of activities to keep you entertained, even if it’s just reading a book, playing cards or going for a walk. It’s the perfect opportunity to wind down and relax, to move at a slower pace and to just enjoy the company of friends and family.
And if the weather is seriously intent on scuppering your plans, don’t be afraid to bail. There is no shame in calling off a camping trip because of incessant rain or howling winds. It’s better to enjoy yourself than to have a negative experience and give up on camping altogether.
Happy camping everyone!