Camping 101: The Essential Guide to Camping for Beginners
Camping is all about getting outside, having fun, and gathering around the campfire with your crew. If it’s your first time camping, it can be daunting, especially when you consider all the gear and planning. We’re here to help. We’ve pulled together the basics to camping 101 to help every camping beginner.
In this guide to camping for beginners, we'll cover all your camping needs, from how to camp and camping hacks to things to do while camping for the best camping experience. We'll also share some beginner camping tips on how to find a campsite, what to wear when you arrive, and how to plan around the camping season to make your trip as fun as possible.
Once you’re set up, we think you’ll find camping is easy and requires just one thing—a desire to get outside having fun.
Camping 101: How to Camp
Camping has all kinds of appealing aspects. There’s disconnecting from technology, enjoying mountain air, and doing something new and fun with family and friends. If it’s your first time camping, you’re bound to have questions: Where do you set up camp? What to bring camping? How to start a campfire? Or what is camping all about in the first place?
Let’s start with the definition of camping: spending one or more nights outside, usually in a tent, car, RV—or even a hammock. Camping can be whatever you want to make it, from roughing it in the wild to camping in a campground. Whichever camping style you choose, here are 6 essential steps for proper planning:
1. Choosing Your Campsite
When searching for where to camp, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to how to find a campsite. First, you'll need to decide if you want a developed campsite with amenities like running water and flushing toilets, or a more rustic camping experience in the wilderness. There are state parks across the nation with campgrounds that you can find online and reserve online or over the phone. Make sure to find a camping spot that will provide access to the activities you want to do during your trip.
2. Getting the Right Camping Gear
Once you've decided where to camp, it's time to start gathering all the camping gear you’ll need. If you don't have any camping gear, don't worry. Coleman has all the outdoor essentials you need to complete your camping supplies list. Some local sporting goods stores also rent camping gear. If you want to stock up on all of the camping must-haves and optional comfort items, check out our ultimate camping checklist or scroll down to our custom camping checklists by camping style below.
3. Setting Up Camp and/or Pitching a Tent
Now that you know what camping gear you’ll need, it's time to think about where to set up camp at the campsite. If you're camping in a campground, there will likely be designated campsites with firepits, picnic tables, and benches where you can set up, which will let you bring less camping furniture. If you're camping in a more remote clearing, you'll need to find a flat, dry spot to make pitching a tent or building your campfire easier, and to keep you and your crew comfortable.
4. Planning Your Camping Meals and Storing Food Properly
Planning enough easy camping meals for the entire duration of your trip is essential. Pack nonperishable food and snacks that you can enjoy between hikes. For perishable camping meal ideas, don’t forget to bring a cooler with ice to keep food fresh until it’s ready to go on the camping stove or camping grill.
One of the most important camping tips for beginners is to store your food properly. If you're camping in an area with bears, for example, you should hang food from a tree to keep it out of reach and keep your cooler in your car if possible.
5. Starting a Campfire Safely
One of the most memorable parts of camping is gathering around a campfire at night, telling stories, playing campfire games, or roasting marshmallows. If you're camping at a campground, you'll likely find a fire ring or pit already set up. You can add a firestarter, kindling, and wood. If you're camping in the wilderness, you should still look around for a potential premade campfire spot. If none are found, according to the National Fire Prevention Association, you should find clear, dry ground that’s free of excess leaves or sticks and is at least 25 feet away from structures.
6. Getting Ready to Enjoy Getting Outside
Now that you know the basics of how to camp, you’re almost ready to get outside solo or with family and friends.
If roughing it isn’t your style, you’ll find there are plenty of ways to stay comfy while camping. Here are a few camping hacks and tips to make your trip a little more comfortable and a lot more fun. Here are 15 first-time camping tips to make your trip as enjoyable as possible:
1. Make sure you know how to put up a tent before you go camping. Practice how to set up a tent in your backyard or at a park so you're prepared when you get to the campsite.
2. Put your food in a cooler to keep it fresh, but don't forget to put the cooler in a shaded spot.
3. If you're camping with bears in the area, hang your food from a tree to keep it out of reach.
4. Use a headlamp to find your way around the campsite at night. Or secure a headlamp around a water jug and use the glow as an additional lantern.
5. Bring along some dryer sheets to keep mosquitoes away. Rub a dryer sheet over your skin to repel mosquitoes if you forget bug spray.
6. Don't want to lug a heavy bag of ice on your camping trip? Freeze water bottles before you leave to place them in the cooler. They'll act as ice packs and keep your food cold.
7. Keep your trip organized by packing everything in plastic camping storage containers.
8. Use a clothesline to dry wet clothes or towels. Hang the clothesline between 2 trees, or use a portable clothesline that you can set up anywhere.
12. Bring along some camping games to keep everyone entertained. Camping favorites include cards, Frisbee, and horseshoes.
14. Tie up a camping hammock for a comfortable place to sleep or relax.
15. Use a camping tarp, pop-up shelter, or canopy to create a shaded area, or for extra protection from the rain.
What Are the Most Common Types of Camping?
There are plenty of ways to get outside and camp, but the main types of camping are tent camping, backpacking, car camping, RV camping, and hammock camping. Learn more about each camping style below to choose the best one for your adventure:
1. Tent Camping
Camping in tents is one of the most popular types of camping, especially for beginners. It's relatively easy to set up a tent, and you can find them in all different sizes. Tent camping for beginners is a great choice, especially if you're looking for an option that's not too difficult or expensive, while still giving you an authentic camping experience.
Tents are easy to set up
Tents are more affordable than RVs
You can find tents in all different sizes
You might have to deal with insects if you're camping in an area with them
You might become hot during the summer months if the tent doesn’t have a fan or ventilation
2. Car Camping
Camping in your car is another popular camping type, and it refers to either driving up to the campsite and setting up your tent within walking distance of your vehicle, or literally sleeping in your car outside. This is a great option if you don't want to carry all your gear on your back, but you'll need to make sure your car can fit everything you need. Remember that if you’ll be sleeping in your car, search for places where you can legally park all night, otherwise known as dispersed camping.
You don't have to carry all your gear on your back
There are often more camping spots available since you're not limited to hiking distance
You'll need a larger vehicle to fit all your gear and yourself, which can add extra costs if you have to rent one
You might still have to pay camping fees if you're camping in a developed campground
Backpacking is a type of camping where you carry all your camping gear in a backpack. If you're not used to it, backpacking can be difficult since you’ll be physically carrying all of your necessities, so it's best to start with shorter trips and work your way up to longer treks.
You can hike to unique camping spots that are inaccessible by car
You can take longer treks that make a good workout
You have to carry all your camping gear on your back, which can be heavy if you pack many things
4. RV Camping
Deciding to camp in an RV is another popular option, especially if you have a large family or group of friends. RVs can be rented or you can bring your own, and they come in all different sizes. RV camping is often easier because it gives you a lot of the comforts of home while still being in nature.
You’ll have a lot of the comforts of home, like a bed and a kitchen
- You can bring along more people and gear
RVs can be expensive to rent or buy
RVs are also difficult to drive if you're not used to it
5. Hammock Camping
Hammock camping is another fun option, especially in the summer or warm spring months. You can easily sleep between the pines by hanging your hammock from 2 trees or tying it to 2 poles, for a peaceful way to relax.
Hammocks are easy to set up
Hammocks are portable and can be taken with you on hikes
Hammocks are comfortable and a great way to relax
You may have difficulty getting in and out of a hammock if you're not used to them
You might not be able to find a spot to set up your hammock if there aren't any trees
No matter what type of camping you choose from our beginner's camping guide, make sure you're prepared with the proper camping gear and ready for the unexpected with camping essentials.
What Season is Camping Season?
If you are prepared for the weather conditions, camping season can last all year. But the most popular time for seasonal camping is between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which is when most Americans typically take their camping trips.
What to Wear Camping
Gear up for the camping season with camping clothing to fit the season and possible weather conditions. The key to camping in comfort is adjusting to weather and whatever the woods throw at you. Bring outdoor clothing for layering and footwear like boots or closed-toe shoes for all kinds of terrain.
In some places temperatures can drop at night and rise during the day, so it's important to have camp clothing that can be easily layered. If you're camping during the summer months, remember to pack sunscreen and a hat.
If you're thinking about camping in fall, make sure to pack an outdoor jacket, long pants, and closed-toe shoes to stay comfortable during the crisp weather months. The temperature can drop significantly at night, so an extra blanket or sleeping bag can also be a good idea.
If you're camping in winter, you’ll need to prepare with special gear. It’s best to start your camping adventures in warmer months when you won’t need to pack a down jacket, a warm hat, long underwear, heavy socks, boots, snow pants, coats, hats, and winter gloves—or a pair of snowshoes.
Spring Camping or Rainy Days
If you're camping in the spring, or just during rainy weather, make sure you have a raincoat, rain pants, and waterproof boots. A rainfly if you’re backpacking and tent camping can also be helpful to keep your shelter—and yourself—nice and dry.
What Are the Dos and Don'ts of Camping?
For camping beginners, there are several factors to consider before your adventure. Here are the do’s and don’ts of camping to help make your first trip a success:
Do bring enough food and water. It's always better to have too much than not enough.
Do pack clothing for all weather conditions. The weather can change unexpectedly, so it's best to be prepared.
Do bring a first-aid kit. You never know when you might need it.
Do pack insect repellent and sunscreen. Insects can be pesky and no one wants to get sunburned on their camping trip.
Do build a campfire responsibly. Make sure the fire is extinguished before you leave.
Do have fun!
Don't leave food out. This can attract animals to your campsite.
Don't drink untreated water. Water from lakes, rivers, and streams can contain harmful bacteria.
Don't forget to pack important items like your ID, camping permit (if required), and map of the area.
Don't hike alone. It's always best to go with a friend or group.
Don't litter. Please help keep the camping area clean for everyone by disposing of your trash properly.
First-Time Campers Checklist by Camping Style
Just as no camping style is one size fits all, different types of camping require different camping checklists. We've put together a basic camping list for each of the camping styles discussed above, so you can stick to the basics and not forget any camping supplies.
Tent Camping Essentials for Beginners:
Backpacking Camping Essentials for Beginners:
Car Camping Essentials for Beginners:
RV Camping Essentials for Beginners:
Hammock Camping Essentials for Beginners:
Whichever camping style is right for you, your adventure is sure to be a great way into this camping season.
You’ve Passed Camping 101 for Beginners!
Now that you’re armed with some camping basics from this beginner’s camping guide, you're ready to plan your adventure. Keep all of our beginner camping tips in mind when packing for your trip, like layering your clothing, bringing enough food and water, and having a first-aid kit on hand. And most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. The Outside is Calling. Let’s answer.