Do you love the idea of camping but have no idea where to begin? You’ve probably seen people post pictures online of the most incredible remote locations and dreamed about going there yourself.
But when you’ve never been camping before, where do you start? How do you know what gear you’ll need? How do you find the best locations?
If you love the idea of camping, this post will give you everything you need to know. From buying the must-have camping gear and choosing the best locations to camping etiquette and everything in between – we’ve got you covered.
There are a few different types of camping you need to know about. Each will work best for different environments and campers.
When you think about camping, you probably picture a tent in the woods with a campfire. This is the most basic and popular type – tent camping.
You can tent camp in a dedicated campsite or you can go off into the woods, on a beach, or anywhere else (as long as you follow local rules).
Van or RV camping allows you to get out and enjoy nature without losing the amenities of a small hotel. Some choose to camp in a basic van with a bed in the back, others have a house on wheels with everything from a kitchen to a toilet.
Most campsites have RV points with power so you can use appliances or recharge your battery, but you still have the option of roughing it in the wilderness on your own.
If you want to go on an extended camping trip, backpacking is another option. You’ll carry all your gear and equipment on your back and trek through nature.
Most backpackers sleep in a tent or a hammock, and these trips can last a few nights or months, depending on the trip.
This is the Bear Grylls style of camping and is only suited to skilled campers with survival training. The aim is to become self-sufficient by living off the land with minimal equipment and resources.
Also known as backcountry camping, primitive camping involves choosing remote areas away from campsites and reservations to set up camp. You won’t have amenities like bathrooms or running water, but the secluded nature of primitive camping means you get to experience the real wilderness and get some peaceful time in nature. This is also usually the best way to get the best views, wherever you may be.
If you love the idea of camping but struggle to go without home comforts, glamping is the last option. There are thousands of glamping sites across the world that let you experience nature while sleeping in a yurt or canopy. You’ll have a real bed, running water, electricity, all while being able to enjoy the panoramic views of wherever you’re staying.
If you’re brand-new to camping, there are some general rules that campers should always follow. This helps to protect the natural surroundings and makes sure camping is a pleasant experience for everyone.
- DO abide by leash laws if you’re taking pets and dispose of waste appropriately.
- DON’T burn a campfire if there is a fire ban. If you are allowed campfires or stoves, make sure you have any necessary fire permits.
- DO set your tent up in established places. If you’re going primitive camping, be careful not to disturb the local wildlife.
- DON’T set up too close to water. You should always be 200 feet away from streams, rivers, and lakes.
- DO dispose of trash and recyclables in bins provided. If there are none, carry it home with you and dispose of it there. Never leave trash where you camp.
- DON’T make too much noise. Enjoy a sing-along with your friends around the campfire, but be mindful of noise levels if you’re camping near others.
- DO observe wildlife from afar. It’s great to take photos but don’t feed or touch wild animals.
Planning a Camping Trip
To make the most of your camping trip, it’s important to plan ahead. Here’s what you need to plan in advance.
Choosing a destination
Different destinations are suited to different styles of camping, so you should figure out what kind of camping you want to do before looking at destinations.
If you want to go backpacking and camp in the wilderness, there are outstanding hiking trails all over the US. But if you want to pack up your neatly wrapped RV, you need to find a campsite.
Once you know what type of camping you want to do, it’s much easier to look for destinations that suit your needs.
Finding camping sites
There are thousands of camping sites across the US, a simple Google search of the area you’re looking to visit will bring up all your options.
A campsite is a great option for beginners because you’ll have amenities like running water, toilets, and even showers. This will help ease you into the camping lifestyle and give you a taste of what primitive camping could be like.
If you’re planning a trip to a popular destination like a National Park, you’ll need to book well in advance. Spaces in campsites fill up very quickly.
For something more remote, look up the local rules on wild camping – it’s not always permitted.
Best time to go camping
No matter what time of year you go camping, you can’t control the weather. Having said that, you’re much more likely to have some nice sunshine in the summer months.
Bear in mind that the summer is also the most popular time for camping, so campsites fill up quickly and hiking trails are much busier.
If you want to avoid crowds, the autumn and winter months are much quieter. But you will probably have harsher weather to contend with.
For some of the best views, spring can be a fantastic time of year to go camping. Flowers are in bloom and you’ll catch a glimpse of young wildlife.
Preparing a route card
Whether you’re brand-new to camping or are a seasoned pro, a route card is always a handy tool to have.
It’s just a piece of paper that breaks down your camping route into smaller sections. If you’re planning a multi-day trip, you’ll have to refer to a map to keep on track.
Having a guidebook handy is cumbersome and a nightmare in bad weather. A route card is small and has simple instructions so you can stay on route.
It’s also a good idea to give a family member or friend a copy of your route card just in case the worst should happen – they should be able to find you.
Camping Costs and Expenses
Camping isn’t a cheap hobby and you’ll have to invest in gear to get started. If you’re wondering how much it’ll cost to go on a camping trip, here is a breakdown of the costs.
One of the biggest investments will be a tent. Although you can buy cheap tents for under $100, you’ll want to invest in a good quality one to keep you warm and dry overnight.
A decent four-berth tent will cost anywhere from $300 to $500. But this can jump up to up to $800 for a roomier six-berth option.
Sleeping bags are another investment you’ll want to make sure you get right. Cheap ones are thin and won’t keep you warm. You’ll want quality bags that offer good insulation; remember, temperatures drop at night even in the summer months.
Expect to pay around $40 per sleeping bag.
Some campers are happy sleeping on the floor in a sleeping bag, but an airbed can make your trip much more comfortable. If you invest in a self-inflating mat you won’t have to worry about carrying around an electric pump either.
Airbeds are fairly cheap to buy so you can expect to pay around $25.
A single burner stove is all you need to make a cup of tea and heat up simple meals. You can pick these up for $10 to $20 online. For something a little fancier, you can get two-burner stoves with a grill and wind guard to give you more variety in your meals.
You’ll also need a foldable kitchen unit to place it on and disposable gas cylinders to run it.
All in all, you can expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $200, depending on the stove model and the amount of gas you need.
Camping shops sell kettles, nests of cooking pots, melamine crockery, and everything else you need to cook basic meals.
Although you can just take your normal kitchen utensils, camping gear is specially designed to be lightweight and take up far less space.
For everything you need, you’ll spend around $80 in total.
Fridge or coolbox
For short weekend breaks, you’ll definitely need a coolbox or fridge to store your perishables like milk, butter, and eggs, not to mention your beer and wine!
For short trips, a cheap coolbox is all you need ($10). If you’re taking an RV, you might want to invest in a gas fridge you can hook up when you park ($100).
If you’re going to a dedicated campsite, you will need to pay pitch fees. These vary hugely depending on where you go and the time of year. Small farm sites might only charge a couple of bucks per night, whereas a large facility in peak season could charge around $40 a night.
Make sure you do your homework to get the best deal. Most tourist destinations have different campsites in the region, so research pitch fees when you’re planning your visit.
Camping Gear Essentials
There is so much choice when it comes to camping gear, it can be hard to know what to buy. Here are some tips for choosing the right camping gear for your trip.
Choosing a camping tent
There are a few factors to consider when choosing the right tent. Here’s what you need to know.
The most important factor when choosing a tent is the capacity. There is no industry standard for defining how much room a person needs in a tent, so look at the specs to make sure you’re happy with the sleeping space.
Also bear in mind you’ll need room for all of your gear as well as enough space to comfortably sleep with your family or friends.
We suggest upping the capacity by an extra person to make sure there’s plenty of room for everyone and all the gear.
You’ll have the option for either 3-season tents or 4-season tents. 3-season tents are the most popular because they’re lightweight and designed for the spring, summer, and fall (when most people go camping).
They’re usually equipped with mesh panels to give good airflow and provide decent shelter from the elements.
A 4-season tent is also built for winter. They’re heavier to carry and require more gear to set up, but give good insulation and cover during snow or storms. If you’re planning a winter trip, you’ll need a 4-season tent.
Having an emergency supply of safety gear is crucial when camping, especially if you’re away from facilities. Here’s a list of what you need to pack:
- All-purpose first aid kit: Even a minor cut can easily get infected out in the woods. An all-purpose first aid kit will have everything you need to treat minor injuries, including bandages, bandaids, alcohol wipes, and more.
- Extinguisher: Mini extinguishers are a must if you’re going to be lighting a campfire on your trip. You never know when a fire could get out of hand, so this is an important bit of safety gear to have on you.
- Bear spray: If you’re camping in bear country, bear spray is a must. Although bear attacks aren’t common, you’ll be glad you have a deterrent if you come face to face with one.
- Safety whistle: If you get injured or lost, a whistle is the best way to get the attention of others and can help pinpoint your location. Make sure everyone is carrying a safety whistle, especially kids who can easily wander off.
- Headlamp: Stumbling around in the dark looking for a place to go to the toilet is never fun and can quickly cause injuries. A headlamp is a must for navigating your campsite at night.
- Water filter: In an emergency, you need access to safe drinking water. A water filter means you won’t get dehydrated if you get lost and run out of your normal drinking water – all you need is a natural water source.
- Motion alarm: This one is optional but a motion alarm will warn you if anything is approaching your tent. Whether you’re camping alone and are concerned about strangers or you’re in the wilderness and wild animals are around, this is a great bit of safety gear.
As well as a tent, you might decide to take additional shelter gear with you to give additional space to sit out of the sun or rain.
All you need is a tarp, some cord, and a way to hang up the tarp (nearby trees usually do the job).
You can get ultra-light, UV-resistant tarps for ease and better protection, but really any type will work.
Although you’re not completely protected from the elements, it’s nice having a sheltered area to sit and enjoy the outdoors.
There are some must-haves you’ll want to get to make cooking meals much easier:
- Camping stove: Whether you go for a single or double burner, you’ll need this for boiling water and heating up food.
- Fuel: Alcohol, butane, gasoline, kerosene and propane-fired stoves are popular.
- Camping lighters: A much better alternative to matches that are more reliable in bad weather.
- Dinnerware: Forks, knives, spoons, plates, bowls, towels – opt for reusable to avoid waste.
- Cookware: A cast-iron skillet is a useful tool when camping, as well as a stainless steel pot for heating up food.
- Water container: A collapsible water container is great for saving space and filling up when it’s time to start cooking.
- Kettle: Whether you want to make a cup of tea or boil water for cooking, a kettle is a great tool to have in the wilderness.
Here are a few other essentials not many people think about but come in very handy:
- Cheese grater
- Bottle opener
- A good Shovel
- Tin opener
When it comes to food, it’s best to stick with non-perishables that don’t need to be kept chilled. These are easier to carry and usually require less prep work to eat.
- Cereal and cereal bars
- Powdered milk
- Tinned vegetables
- Tinned fruit
Camping with Your Dog
It’s a great adventure to go camping with your four-legged friend, but there are some rules you need to follow if you plan on taking them along.
The first thing to remember is not all campsites allow dogs. And even if they do, many tourist attractions like beaches are closed to dogs in the summer months.
Make sure you find a dog-friendly location that has a campground and trails you’ll be allowed to use.
Don’t forget to check on-leash rules, too. Some campsites require dogs to be on a leash at all times, whereas others allow dogs to run free.
Camping with Your Kids
Getting your little ones into camping early is a great family activity and can teach them valuable life skills along the way. Here are our top tips for camping with children:
- Start with RV camping or pick a campsite with kid-friendly facilities to start with. Camping is tough enough for adults; it’s even harder for kids, so ease them into it.
- Do a test run by camping in the backyard first. The last thing you want to do is discover your child can’t sleep in a tent when you’ve driven for hours to reach your campsite.
- Don’t overpack. It’s easy to want to take all your kid’s things to keep them happy, but you really don’t need loads of clothes and “just-in-case” items when you’re camping.
- Rent your gear if you’re getting started. If your family really loves camping, you can invest on your own after a couple of trips.
- Involve your kids in chores like gathering, kindling or setting up the tent. It’s important they feel engaged in the experience.
- Stick to your normal routine as much as possible regarding meals and bedtime to make sure your kids get a good night’s sleep.
Top places to camp in the US
If you’re unsure where to go for your first camping trip, here are some of the most popular camping destinations in the US.
1. Marin Headlands, California: Kirby Cove Campground
Just 10 miles northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge, Kirby Cove has four campsites famous for overlooking the waterfront and city. There’s a beach within walking distance with a rope swing as well as a picnic area.
2. Assateague Island, Maryland: State Park Camping
This island has beach camping, swimming, surfing, kayaking, even crabbing. You’ll also get to see the wild horses that roam the land.
There are 37 miles of coastline with plenty of camping spots. If you want a campground with showers and other amenities, you can book a spot at the State Park Campground.
3. Kapaʻa, Hawaii: Kalalau Beach
Kalalau Beach is located right at the end of an 11-mile hike across Na Pali Coast State Park. If you’re looking for fantastic views, you truly can’t beat the waterfall and beach, and when you pitch up on the cliffs, the panoramic views are spectacular.
4. Grand Canyon, Arizona: North Rim
This one is a bucket list item for many campers. The north rim is the best spot to camp in within the national park. It’s less crowded than the south rim since it’s less developed, but still offers some incredible views of the canyon.
Camping is a fantastic way to explore the world. With the stress of daily life, nothing quite beats packing your gear and heading out into nature.
There are so many incredible places to see in the US alone, and once you’ve started camping, you’ll never go back to hotels.
The best way to start on the right foot is with planning and quality camping gear. Everything else you can learn as you go.
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