Eight Experts Share Their Top Tips For First Time Campers
12 May 2017
If you have never enjoyed a night under canvas, then you are missing out on a wonderful experience. The freedom of sleeping outdoors is something that simply can’t be beaten, and it’s a great activity for families, friends, or even solo adventurers.
Often the reason people haven’t tried camping yet is that they think they won’t enjoy it. Or they don’t know what to expect, so we’ve reached out to some seasoned campers who know the ins and outs of every aspect, from years of experience.
Read on to find out their top tips for first timers, and you’ll discover that whoever you are, you can tailor your experience to suit you and have a fantastic time!
Not sure what size tent to buy? For two people and their belongings, a two-man tent is actually a major squeeze. Rule of thumb, if you want any space at all, is go double – so a two man for one person, four man for two, etc.
Check your tent before you travel – I once rocked up to a festival, opened my tent bag and realized I’d left my poles in the garden when doing a trial run. Not ideal!
Bin bags and gaffer tape will fix almost anything, from a snapped tent pole to broken wellies – throw some in your backpack for emergencies.
If you’re taking an airbed/inflatable mattress, a silver ‘space blanket’ underneath will help stop some of the cold coming up from the ground.
To save on space, instead of packing a pillow, put clothes in the bag your sleeping bag came in as a substitute.
Three pieces of advice I wish I’d been given before I started camping:
Don’t pitch your tent under a tree
I know that spot looks inviting with the sun coming through the leaves and it’s a bit more private than the rest, but don’t be seduced. Come morning, your tent will be coated in sticky droplets of sap that make packing a nightmare. Let’s not even mention cleaning the flysheet once you get home…
You don’t have to eat noodles
In the first years I went camping, I’d spend the evenings sitting by the tent with a bowl of sloppy, over-salted noodles. Then one day I woke up and thought, I’d never eat this at home so why should I sacrifice good food while camping? It’s easy to throw some rice, couscous or other grain into a freezer bag; add spices, curry paste or even tomato purée, stir in some veg (the less watery the better), seal and go. When you’re ready to eat, just pour the contents of the freezer bag into a pot of water and heat. Satisfying, healthy and cheaper than pre-made camping food.
Don’t skimp on the sleeping bag
If you’re going to splash out on one thing before you go on your first camping trip, make sure it’s a sleeping bag. I started out with a budget bag that was far too big for me and extremely thin, as a result, I had more than a few cold nights. Last year, I invested in a goose down sleeping bag designed for professional use and my camping experience has been transformed. The bag is a smaller size so there’s less air to warm and the generous down filling provides an extra layer of softness between me and the ground. A good night’s sleep can’t be overrated!
So I go camping probably twice a month in the spring and summer and at least three times over the winter. I’ve camped around Europe for three months in Scandinavia, Croatia and Austria and I’ve camped in my friend’s back garden. If I had a choice between a bed and a sleeping bag, I’d probably choose the bag.
I’m generally a lightweight camper, meaning I sleep under a lightweight tarp-style tent with no ground sheet. It’s better for wild camping. This means I’m great at packing light! What you need, whether you’re in a tiny one-man or a huge carpeted palace, is a list. That way, you can make sure you’re not missing anything vital that would make your trip even better.
Aside from obvious wet weather gear and tent stuff, my list usually contains:
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Face wipes
- Ear plugs, to block the sound of nature, which is surprisingly noisy
- Sandwich bags (so useful for keeping everything separate and dry in your rucksack!)
- Charging brick – you need your phone in case of emergencies
- A stove – a small one is great for that morning brew and for boiling your water for drinking later.
- TEA BAGS
- I also have a water filtration fitting for water bottles. I can just fill up straight from rivers, lakes or wherever and drink safely! Not carrying tons of water is such a weight saver
- Packet noodles or couscous. All adventurers eat these. Choose tasty ones
- Bananas and raisins, the ultimate energy food
- Flapjacks or muesli bars, the chunky kind – for breakfast
- Extra socks
- Notebook and pen if you’re that kind of person
- Chocolate, essential
- A bottle of Bluebird Bitter (optional)
If you’re staying in bigger, comfier digs and have the luxury of space for more stuff, may I also suggest the following essential items:
- A proper pillow
Oh, don’t take a roll of toilet paper, it will get squashed and ruined. Get a packet of tissues instead.
1. Pack away litter
Take a bin bag with you so you can pack away any litter. It’s best to pack stuff away before you go to bed so you don’t attract foxes or any other creatures. When you pack up your tent you should leave with no rubbish lying around and in as good condition as possible for future campers and teach children about looking after the environment.
If you’re taking the kids on a camping trip there’ll be loads of time to play fun games. If it’s rainy outside you can sit in the tent playing cards or a board game. Take a ball of a frisbee for a game of catch if the weather’s nice.
3. Practice putting the tent up
You’ve bought your fancy new tent and you can’t wait to go on your trip and sleep in it. But before you take it with you, you should practice pitching it in your garden. This is especially important for first time campers who don’t have experience in pitching tents. This will save you time when you go to the campsite as you’ll already know how to put it up. You can also check for any tears in the tent or missing parts.
Joey, Cool of the Wild
A very easy mistake to make when you first go camping is not testing your gear first. Although it should be safe to assume that all the components of your brand new tent are present and in working order, this isn’t always the case. So be sure to try your new gear out in your back garden before you venture further afield. And since you’ve taken the time to put up your tent, why not try it out for size too – get all your sleeping stuff tested and spend the night in there. That way, if your air mattress springs a leak, or you find yourself shivering in a sleeping bag that is made for the tropics, you’ve always got the comfort of your own bed to retreat to. Spending one night in your tent will help you figure out what you need to alter to make your first camping trip away from home as comfortable and easy as possible.
Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem
Make sure you buy good quality, lightweight camping gear. It might cost a bit more to start with, but having equipment that lasts and is suitable for all weather conditions (while not breaking your back to carry it) is not something you should go cheap on. We recommend MSR tents.
1. Don’t take a tiny tent
While small pop-up tents are cheap and convenient, they aren’t particularly comfortable and a single skin tent isn’t up to coping with seriously bad weather either. It might be worth investing a little more into a decent tent with more space to move around in (standing height tents are best) and better waterproofing, or if you don’t fancy investing, why not borrow a bigger tent from a friend? A tiny tent makes getting dressed difficult, and don’t even think of trying to cram two adults into that so-called two-man pop-up as they really aren’t big enough.
2. Night time and evenings outdoors are usually cold in the UK
As soon as the sun goes down, even the most glorious July day can turn bitterly cold. Even in summer it’s a good idea to take warm layers with you for the evening, extra blankets for your bed and it’s well worth investing in a decent three or four season sleeping bag to keep you snug and warm overnight.
3. Think about food in advance and plan meals
If you cook from scratch at home, you’ll want to eat well when you’re under canvas too and with a little bit of planning it’s not difficult to eat wholesome, nutritious food while camping. Some simple meals we favour are omlettes, salads, stir-fries, pasta or rice with pan fried chicken and veggies… there’s really no need to resort to cans or packets if you don’t want to. A camp stove will set you back about £15 and is well worth the investment and a good cool box will keep food that you take with you fresh if it can’t be purchased locally.
4. Create a DIY glamping feel
While they certainly aren’t essentials, a bit of camping bling never hurt anyone! Solar powered fairy lights, cushions, throws and bunting will all help you to make your tent look more cosy and homely.
Shannon “Snuffy” Cunningham
My family has been camping since I was just a child and I have many fond memories. Some of those memories are even from when things went wrong! I have learned quite a bit over the years and want to share these tips with you so you will have a wonderful time on your own camping trip.
A successful camping experience starts before you leave home. First, store your camping supplies in clear plastic storage bins organized for use. Have a separate bin for food preparation, tableware, cleaning, etc. Save plastic spice jars and other small containers to transport just what you need for your trip, instead of the whole bottle of oil, salt, etc. Things like condiments and utensils from takeaways are perfect for going camping. Keep old kitchen utensils and dish towels for camping instead of giving/throwing away when you upgrade. Think about what you plan to prepare and make sure you have the right pan or utensil. Having things designated for your outdoor adventures means you don’t get to your destination and realize you forgot to pack something.
Try out any gear in your backyard before leaving on your trip, to make sure it is in good condition and you know how to use it. Do you have fuel canisters, matches and kindling? Extra batteries?
A few days before your trip, begin to make ice and store it in plastic bags. Fill used plastic jugs or jars with water and freeze for ice in coolers. That way, you will have a mix of block and cubed ice for your coolers. Freezing some of your food at home means it will last longer in your cooler for trips of more than a few days.
Take your own paper towels, toilet paper, wash up soap and hand soap and a bin for washing up in (you can use the bin you store them in!). You can’t count on the campground always having them and you are more likely to use them if they are in camp. It’s not okay to dump used water into streams or lakes, so find a designated spot away from these water sources.
Pack a mix of food that needs to and doesn’t need to be cooked. Premade banana bread or sandwiches with cut up vegetables and fruit with dips can come in handy when your day outdoors gets busy. Bagged salad mixes are another easy way to eat well. For your warm cooked meals, precook anything you can at home like ground meat. Break open eggs at home and carry in a jar or Ziploc bag you can just pour into the pan, the same with pancake mix. Taking food you only need to add hot water to means less cooking time and cleaning up. Instant rice, oatmeal or polenta are some examples.
Take a supply of used carrier bags and paper sacks. They come in handy for storing things that get wet, sacks for storing garbage around camp and for fire starters. A table cloth for the picnic table helps keep the eating surface clean.
Take two ways to cook. Sitting around the open fire is a romantic vision when camping but if it rains or you get busy, a stove means meals in a jiffy.
These are not food-related but just happiness in general related: earplugs. Trust me, take earplugs for everyone.
Plan for all kinds of weather and what you will eat (and wear) in those conditions. Dry campers are happy campers. Take plenty of extra clothing. Think about where you will eat if it’s raining. A tarp or canopy can save the day.
Have a least one thing you can cook over the fire on sticks. Things like marshmallows or hotdogs are a sure hit. No sticks? Wrap potatoes or cored apples in two layers of heavy duty foil and cook to the side of the coals of your fire. When soft, top with your favorite toppings (butter, cinnamon and raisins work great for the apples!).
Make sure your food is always attended. Always. Campgrounds are infamous for animals that have learned food is available when humans are present. Keep food in the car or in a cooler or bin that can’t be tipped over or opened when you are away from the table or camp.
I hope some of these tips help make your next camping excursion your best one yet!
So much that determines the enjoyment of camping in the great outdoors happens well before you ever leave home. If more people beginning to spend time amongst nature thought about this, there would be far less regrettable incidents and far more fabulous memories.
Great preparation generally equals a great time. The better you are at planning, or rather the more time you dedicate to it, generally the better off your experience will be.
A great planning and safety tool
Let’s start with the basics: safety. We all know that there are so many things that might eventuate that are unpredictable and completely beyond our control. Being out in the wilderness, there are any number of things that have the potential to cause a significant amount of harm. With limited resources, who knows how able you will be to cope in certain situations or even if you would be able to call for help.
It’s true that the odds are good that you will be just fine. But in the event that tragedy does strike, there is something that you can do to massively increase your chances of help getting to you. It’s called the P.I.N. or Planned Itinerary Notification. It’s a tool that helps you plan your whole trip, large or small and becomes your trip’s official plan that you give (by email or in person) to people you trust, local authorities or venues. These people then have a full picture of your trip in case you don’t call in when expected. It’s a really easy thing to do and you can get one right here.
What should you take on a trip?
Having planned where you are headed, where you will stay and the types of things you want to do, the next question is usually what to pack. Stuff that you shouldn’t forget in order to make things go smoothly. How many thousands of people before you have simply not thought of everything that they might practically need and once away on their trip really wished they had?
Well the good news is that there is no need for you to reinvent the wheel. Simply look at one of many checklists that are available free online. These can be marvellous to jog your memory and provide ideas for what will work best to maximise your enjoyment outdoors. You can access some (just published) checklists that may help here.
Just a piece of advice to go with this tip: Be practical according to the duration of your trip. Don’t go overboard packing absolutely everything on the basis of ‘just in case’. Common sense should prevail.
Build a network of like-minded friends
Get involved in the broader camping and outdoor community. The sheer number of people embracing the benefits of being in the outdoors grows significantly each year. The more you increase your network of people that share your enjoyment, the more you will learn new things, grow and be a happier person.
The same is true about the growth of available resources and reading both online and offline. It’s all about maximising our relatively brief time we have to explore and embrace the natural beauty of this place called earth.
We think these tips are absolutely brilliant, even if you have been camping before! If you’ve been inspired to book your next camping holiday, why not check out our range of camping and glamping holiday options? Find out more here.
Thank you to Shell from www.campingwithstyle.co.uk who provided the images used in this post