10 Essential Tips for Your First Time Camping

10 Ways to Make Sure your First Camping Experience will be Unforgettable

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Your first time camping with your family is a great way to have an exciting vacation to remember on a budget vacation price.  Camping allows you to spend time getting back to nature with family, or exploring the great outdoors on a backpacking trip.  Just going camping for the first time is an exciting experience in itself.  Getting away from the stresses of modern living can help to ground you.  Camping is a great way for families and friends to spend quality time away from distractions.  But, it does take a little planning and forethought to make the most of the experience.  We’ll tell you everything you need to know to be prepared for your first time camping!

How to Plan Your First Time Camping List

What are the most important things to take camping?

The first time camping experience can sometimes be daunting.  You want to make sure you have all the supplies you need without over packing.  To allow you to have an amazing first time camping, it’s important to consider the other questions and essential supplies discussed in the rest of our guide.

What type of camping trip are you planning?

Do you want to explore and move camp frequently?  Or do you want to set up a base camp for your whole trip?  When you are planning your first time camping, think about how often you intend to move camp.  The more you need to move your camp, the quicker to set up and pack away your camp will need to be.  You will also need to be aware of how much equipment and supplies you are carrying.

What is the weather typically like, and the facilities like where you are planning to camp?

Knowing what the weather is like at your intended destination is critical for planning.  Likewise, having a sense of the facilities and amenities in the area on your first time camping allows you to bring the appropriate clothing and other supplies.  It will help you to decide if you need more t-shirts or more warm gear.  Researching the area for your first time camping allows you to also choose what fun things to bring camping with you.  For example, is there a swimming lake or do they allow fires for s’mores?  Some camp sites have different rules for fires etc.  Camping areas even have grills or fire pits to use at the sites.  Know before you go, and you’ll have a better sense of what to bring.

Who are you camping with?

Are you camping with your family or friends?  Different camp areas are better for different groups.  Checking out the area for family-friendly spots is a great camping tip for families.  We also have many other camping tips for families sprinkled throughout this guide!

How much space will you have for supplies?

Understanding what space you will have for supplies helps you to plan what is essential for your trip.  This could be space in your car for a first time camping trip, or space in your backpack for a 3 day backpacking trip.  Space saving is an essential on a first time camping or backpacking trip.  Knowing what you shouldn’t take backpacking, and what you should bring on a backpacking trip helps you to keep the weight down and manage your space well.

What access to emergency services is there or who do you contact in an emergency?

Knowing how to contact emergency services and where you can contact them is very important for your first time camping.  Some camp sites have ranger stations or other ways to contact emergency services.  Some may have cell service, while others may not.  So it’s important to read the campground’s information in advance, as well as carrying your own mini first aid kit and any medications you may need.

The 10 Essentials for First Time Camping

Now that some of the basic questions about your first time camping are out of the way, let’s get to our list.  Below, we’ve compiled a top ten list for essentials that you need for your first time camping.  We’ve even included a first time camping checklist to help you plan.  And, if you’re wondering, “What should I bring on a backpacking trip?” instead of your first time camping, don’t worry!  We have some tips later on for first time backpacking trips, too!

1.  Shelter

Having a reliable shelter is your number one priority.  For your first time camping, you need a shelter which is appropriate for the weather and your situation.  You need a shelter which will protect you and your supplies from the elements.

For your first time camping you need to think about:

  • Is this shelter waterproof?
  • Will this shelter keep you warm during the night and cold weather?
  • Can this shelter give you shade and keep you cool during a hot summer?
  • Is this shelter big enough for your use?

If you’re camping with your family, one of our camping tips for families is to think about investing in a large family tent.  They are larger than tents for one or two people.  Also, having one larger tent is easier to transport than multiple small tents.  Some of the modern inflatable large family tents are often lighter and smaller than older tents – even older tents only meant for one or two people!  Large family tents often also have an area to cook in or for socializing.  These are often between the sleeping compartments.  This gives you an area to remove muddy shoes, which is ideal for first time camping for families with children.

Some Shelter Options

We recommend the Vango 6 Person Odyssey Air 600 Tent if you have a family of 3 or 4.  If you have a larger family or want extra room, the Vango Odyssey Air 800 Tent is a great tent with 4 compartments.  You could even use one of the compartments as a walk-in wardrobe or a place to store your supplies.

If you’re camping alone or even backpacking, you would ideally want a tent which is small and quick to set up.  Pop-up tents are an amazing idea for an almost instant set up.  Pop up tents such as the Portable Cabana Beach Tent are very simple to set up and very lightweight. However they often fold away into a hoop shape which can be harder to pack in your backpack.

Traditional one man or two man hiking tents like the ALPS Mountaineering Zephyr 1-Person Tent are also a lot easier to pack in a backpack. They do take a little longer to set up than a pop up tent, but provide a lot better shelter.

2. Sleeping Bags

Its importing when you’re selecting a sleeping bag for your first time camping to choose one which is warm enough for the climate and is waterproof.  You also need to choose a sleeping bag which is comfortable for your sleeping habits.

Mummy sleeping bags are space saving, extremely warm, and some are compatible with hammocks like the Hyke & Byke Crestone Hammock Compatible WR Down Sleeping Bag.  Mummy sleeping bags are very popular with backpackers, due to how compact they are.  Some first time campers can find them to be claustrophobic or simply not big enough.

Traditional style sleeping bags such as the Coleman Sunridge 40-60 Degree Sleeping Bag allow for extra room to move.  Some traditional sleeping bags come in double or even queen sizes, such as the Chillbo Double Sleeping Bag.  Double sleeping bags are ideal for romantic first time camping for couples.

Some first time campers find that an airbed or even a self inflating bedroll can help them sleep better.  Some like X-Lounger Ultralight Sleeping Pad are very compact and even have a built in pillow.

3. Food and Water

Having a supply of food and clean, safe water is essential. It’s best to check what facilities are available for cooking and fresh water.  Having a water carrier is ideal for storing water safely during your first time camping.

If you are camping with a family, a large collapsible water container with spigot is ideal.  The spigot makes it a lot easier for kids to pour water without spilling.  And, it also works as hand washing station.

For backpackers, a water bladder such as the Baen Sendi Hydration Bladder is ideal.  They have mouthpieces and hose connectors for easy access to water while hiking and fit well inside backpacks.

What food should I bring for camping?

When choosing what to bring camping, it’s best to choose foods you enjoy eating.  Also make sure they are easy and quick to prepare and ideally foods which do not need refrigerating.  You can use a cooler and ice packs to keep meat or cheeses cool.  However, ice packs might only last a day or two depending on the weather.  You can also store smaller amounts of salt, pepper, or herbs inside smaller containers.  You can buy small camping spice sets such as this 4 Spice Keychain to help keep spices at hand, too.

Camping Food Checklist


Meal Ingredients:

  • Pasta
  • Cous Cous
  • Rice
  • Packets of Instant Noodles or Ramen
  • Canned Food (Soups, Beans, etc.)
  • Dehydrated Foods
  • Powdered Eggs
  • Bread


  • Fruit
  • Trail Mix
  • Cereal Bars
  • Chips/Crackers
  • S’mores (Graham Crackers, Marshmallows, Chocolate Bars)

Other Items:

  • Salt, Pepper, and Other Herbs and Spices
  • Instant Coffee
  • Instant Iced Tea or Powdered Drink Mixes
  • Dehydrated Milk or Non-Dairy Coffee Creamer


This should be eaten within the first day or two and needs to be stored in a cool box.

  • Meats
  • Salad
  • Cheeses
  • Fresh Juice
  • Butter

4.  Backpacks and Camping Storage

For backpackers, having a comfortable hiking backpack is a must.  Hiking backpacks have padding and extra pockets for easy access to the essentials.  Backpacks like this seenlast 50L Hiking Backpack also have adjustable straps to give you extra support while hiking.

For families, holdalls can be a great alternative to backpacks or for storing larger items.  The Homdox 80L Duffle Bag holds a large amount and can fold down to a small size when not in use.

Whichever storage option is best for your first time camping, it’s essential to make sure it’s waterproof and has enough room for all the supplies you need.

5.  First Aid

One of our best first time camping tips is to make sure you are carrying a first aid kit, sunscreen, and any medication you need.  Blister plasters for your feet essential if you intend to do a lot of hiking.

You can get first aid kits designed for backpacks which are really a great way to save on space.  Larger first aid kits for families are a must for camping with multiple people.

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6. Clothing

One of the important things to remember when camping is to have plenty of warm, waterproof clothing.  Check what is recommended for the weather where you are staying.  A warm waterproof coat is always important even during the summer.  Don’t forget, camping during the summer the nights can get very cold.  So make sure you have plenty of dry clothing appropriate to the elements.

For backpackers, having a good pair of waterproof walking or hiking boots is essential.  Make sure before your first time camping or backpacking that you wear in your boots at home.  That way, you can be sure they are comfortable before you hit the trail.

7. Cooking

Always check the rules for cooking and fires before head out camping.  Depending on weather conditions like drought, the state you are in, and related considerations, fires may not be allowed at all.  Some camp sites have different rules, and others have BBQ grills on-site for you to use.  Gas cookers are quicker to heat but require a gas can, whereas fuel stoves can often use different fuels such as logs or twigs from the campgrounds.

For backpackers, a mini gas cooker such as the Jetboil Flash Camping Stove Cooking System allows for quick and compact cooking.  Stoves such as the TOMSHOO Camping Stove allow you use multiple types of fuels.

For families or campers who need bigger cookers, gas stoves such as the Coleman Classic Propane Stove allow more space for cooking.  There are also portable charcoal grills which fold down, such as the Outdoor4less Stainless Steel Portable BBQ.

8. Lights

It’s important while camping to have lanterns to illuminate a larger area, as well as flashlights or headlights to illuminate your path during the night.  Headlights are a great choice for hands-free light when your hands are otherwise full of supplies, fire fuel, or anything else.  To save space, you can get two-in-one lanterns and flash lights.  In all cases, be sure to check them before you leave, and make sure they are in good working order.  And don’t forget the batteries!

9. Tools

Having simple tools with you can help a lot during your first time camping.  Duct tape is always handy to make any quick repairs around camp.  A knife or multi-tool comes in handy all the time.  And a mallet and tent pegs are ideal, too.  You can also get folding military shovels such as the Trekoo Folding Shovel, which can make digging a latrine pit or fire pit, burying fish bones, and similar much easier.  Another handy tool to have with you is a miniature dustpan and brush to remove dirt and leaves from in your tent.

10. Fun and Entertainment

It’s important to remember to bring entertainment with you on your trip.  Some fun things to bring camping are travel painting kits, books, s’mores kits, portable music players, and board games.  A fun camping tip for families is to print a camping scavenger hunt for your kids to get them having fun in nature.  Things you might put on to find include a feather, pine cone, smooth rock…the possibilities are endless, really.  Check out this book full of fun camping activities for families Camping Activity Book for Families.

For couples or adults these fun glow in the dark silicone wine glasses are perfect for drinks around the fire.

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What About Backpacking Trips?

All of our top tens are essential for both backpacking and camping near transport.  But it’s important to know what you can carry when camping or backpacking away from a vehicle or home base.  If you’re going to be camping where you can park near the camp site, your space and supply choices aren’t as limited as on a backpacking trip in a more remote location.

What should you bring on a backpacking trip?

It’s important to have your essentials that we’ve listed, such as appropriate clothing, a tent, cooking supplies, food, etc.  However it’s best to choose more space-saving items wherever possible.  This includes the aforementioned folding grill instead of a full grill just as an example.  It also includes items with multiple purposes, such as the lantern/flashlight combo discussed earlier.

What should you not take backpacking?

Larger, bulkier tents are not ideal for backpacking.  You want a tent which can be quickly set up that folds down to small size your backpack.  Also, it’s not a good idea to bring lots of cups, plates, and cutlery.  Items such as mess tins and other camping kits are designed to save space.  They can be used for both cooking and eating.  Folding cutlery is also an amazing way to save space as well.

What should I pack for a 3-day backpacking trip?

It’s important to get as much information about the facilities available where you are camping.  If there is easy access to water nearby or any bathroom facilities, you won’t need to bring nearly as much stuff with you.  It’s always important to plan where you’re going to access fresh water.  Also, it’s very important to determine how you’re going to get help in an emergency.  So planning is always important, even for a 3-day backpacking trip.  If you’re only going for 3 days, you might want to bring simple ready-to-eat food to save space and allow you more time to enjoy your trip, without spending time cooking.  Military MREs (meals ready to eat) and those designed for camping or backpacking are readily available online and at most camping or outdoor stores.

Additional Resources

In the US, you can find information about public campgrounds on the National Parks Service website at https://www.nps.gov/subjects/camping/index.htm.  They also have lots of other handy first time camping tips.  There is a find a campgrounds page as well to help you find campgrounds in your area.  They also let you know what facilities each camp ground has to offer.

Most other countries have similar resources available on equivalent government sites.

For more tips and tricks for your first time camping, check out this book Coghlan’s First Time Camping Guide or for backpackers The Backpacker’s Handbook.

Do your research, be well prepared, and you’ll have a great first time camping experience!

We hope you enjoyed this article!  Please feel free to comment with suggestions for new content and follow us so you’ll never miss another post.

ALSO READ: 10 Best Family Vacation Spots in the US

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