Camping 101: First-Timer Mistakes To Avoid

If you’ve been hesitant to get into the wonderful world of camping for any reason – this is the guide that will get you motivated and ready to hit “the great outdoors.”

In this collection of camping tips for beginners, we’ll cover everything you need to be utterly prepared for whatever Mother Nature – and other campers – have to throw at you. After all, it’s our goal to share our passion for the world around us, inspiring you to go out and discover nature, be it across the world or in your own backyard.

The first few step on this journey awaits below…

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10 Reasons Why You Should Camp More

 

Camping is a fantastic activity, providing hours of enjoyment and a great opportunity to connect with others, as well as nature.

You may want to go on a camping trip because you need to get away from the city or are ready for an adventure. Whether you enjoy hiking, fishing, biking or any other outdoor activity, camping offers you a way to completely focus on the present moment. While you may not be able to completely switch-off, a camping trip is a beneficial escape from the routine and can make you feel refreshed.

There are scientific reasons that prove there are several benefits of camping and nature for the mind and body. From physical to mental aids, these benefits ensure there’s even more reason why you should spend a night under the stars.

The following benefits of camping are giving you 10 more reasons to camp more.

10 benefits of camping

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You’ll enjoy significant health benefits from:

1. No Technology

Ok, you may think this will be the end of you but trust me, this is so liberating! Not having access to your voice messages, work emails or Facebook is simply awesome. Ditching your screen can have a significant impact on your wellbeing.

Studies have shown that regular use of cellular devices can affect our memory, ability to think and to sleep. It may also lead to increased feelings of anxiety and depression.

Not having any cell phone service is possibility the best thing you could ask for on a camping trip. If there is no cell phone service, this gives you a chance to reconnect with yourself and others without constantly being distracted by those notifications.

2. Good Night’s Sleep To Reset Your Body Clock

Given you have brought everything you need to sleep comfortably, you will be fast asleep after a day of outdoor activities and fresh air.

Sleep has an effect on all of your body processes and can improve alertness and concentration. It can also strengthen your cardiovascular system and can reduce inflammation.

A research done at the University of Colorado Boulder looked at the effects of a week of camping on sleep and the circadian rhythm.

This is what’s telling our body when it’s time to go to sleep and wake up. The research has revealed that sleeping in the wilderness away from artificial light for one week resets the circadian rhythm. In short, the sun adjusts your body clock making your internal clock and external reality more in sync.

When you are out camping you are more inclined to live by the sun’s schedule. You are more likely to go to bed earlier, wake up earlier, and have more energy.

3. Physical Exercise

This is the most obvious benefit of camping because you’re spending a lot of time doing different physical outdoor activities. Your activity levels will vary, but if you choose to go hiking you will burn anywhere from 400-550 calories per hour. Swimming will make you burn up to 700 calories per hour. While fly fishing in a stream you burn up to 420 calories per hour and mountain biking can make you burn as much as 800 calories per hour. No wonder you work up such an appetite when you’re out camping!

Research also suggests that activity can boost your mental wellbeing and even help with depression.

4. Good Simple Food

Sure, most of us love to pack our favorite snacks, chips and candy for the trip. And it’s hard to go past the marshmallows and chocolate for s’mores!

But most of the time, cooking meals while camping involves real food you can cook over the campfire. Think fresh fish or meat with veggies, baked potatoes in foil, or corn on the cob.

If you want a hot meal, you’re pretty much limited to what you can cook on the fire or the barbeque, and that’s a good thing!

5. Sunshine

When you’re out in direct sunlight, your skin is absorbing a ton of Vitamin D, which allows your body to absorb calcium and phosphorous. Vitamin D is needed for strong bones, muscles and overall health. The sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UV) is the best natural source of vitamin D.

Some of the benefits of vitamin D are:

  • A better night’s sleep
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Enhanced mood
  • Protection from Melanoma

A healthy supply of vitamin D promotes bone growth and prevents illnesses such as breast and colon cancer, inflammation, multiple sclerosis, and depression.

Being physically active outdoors while camping helps your body produce vitamin D, which will benefit your wellbeing.

6. Socializing

Camping provides time away from daily stresses and allows you to spend quality time with others. When you camp with family and friends, you enjoy a memorable experience together which will help you keep a happy relationship. According to research, socializing can extend your lifespan and delay memory loss. Apart from the medical benefits, close relationships make life more fun so invite a few friends on your next camping trip.

7. Fresh Air

I’m sure we can all agree that we generally feel happier when the sun is shining and we spend the day outside. When you spend time surrounded by trees, you take in more oxygen. When you take a big breath of fresh air, your brain produces serotonin which brings that feeling of happiness. More oxygen also brings greater clarity to the brain and improves your concentration.

According to research, time spent outdoors gives your immune system an extra boost. It can also improve your blood pressure and your digestion. Spending a few days outside can help you de-stress and improve your physical and mental well being. Plus, you get some serious health benefits from all the extra oxygen and low levels of pollutants.

8. Reduced Stress

Camping can also reduce your levels of stress. Stress can negatively affect your general health in various ways. Some relaxing time in the wilderness allows you to put the brakes on stress and bring your mind and body back on track.

Research suggests that being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear and stress . I also reduces blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, but it also contributes to your physical wellbeing.

Camping is where you don’t have to worry about a thing. It’s the perfect opportunity to really switch-off and enjoy the present moment.

9. Peace of Mind

In addition to reducing stress levels, you can achieve peace of mind when you spend time in the outdoors because it allows you to escape the daily grind. This provides you with a meditative experience. You can clear your mind and focus on what you’re experiencing in the present moment. This brings you back to a place of clarity and calmness, making you sleep better at night.

10. New Challenges

No two camping trips are the same and every experience is different. Research shows that new experiences and learning new skills can help to keep your brain healthy.

You can learn new things and develop new skills while camping. You may learn how to set up a tent, tie a knot, purify water, start a fire and more. New challenges, skills and activities that are both physically and mentally stimulating have the greatest effect on brain health. This makes camping one of the best activities to keep your body and brain active.

backcountry camping

What Are The Different Types of Camping?

Camping can mean a lot of different things to different people. To some rugged individuals, it isn’t camping unless the food is raw, the floor is dirt, and the tent is a pile of branches. Others, yet, prefer the comfy life, pulling their RV from campsite to campsite to mingle with like minded individuals.

The point is: there’s no wrong way to camp. But there might be a right way for you to camp.

Deciding what type of camping is right for you means understanding the differences between the basic approaches. Depending on your desired comfort level, budget, and mobility, any one of these could – quite literally – float your boat.

Campsite Camping

Campsites vary greatly in amenities, views, and locations. Campsite camping is still the overwhelmingly popular choice for both first-timers and camping veterans. All you have to do is pay the fee to the site owner, and you get a spot to pitch your tent, park your RV, or toss your sleeping bag.

Most people enjoy this type of camping because it is extremely social. There can be dozens or even hundreds of people sharing a campground. There are often on-site facilities like bathrooms, showers and camp kitchens as well. Depending on the campsite, this can be a great option for families, singles, or any other group of people.

Backcountry Camping

Backcountry Camping is considered one of the best ways to commune with the natural environment. It is appreciated by survivalists and veteran campers alike for its unique challenges. In many cases, backcountry campers take minimal supplies with them into the woods, sometimes living off of what they can hunt, fish, or catch.

That being said, Backcountry Camping requires a lot of research and practice in order to do it safely. You need to know the area you plan to explore like the back of your hand. You need to be resourceful, adaptable, and innovative. In many cases, classes in water purification, navigation with a map and compass, and emergency sheltering are recommended.

Check out the National Park Service’s guide here.

Canoe/Kayak Camping

Canoes and kayaks offer campers an opportunity to do a lot of exploring in a given area by using the river or lake to travel instead of the land. Like backpacking, you normally arrive at a new site every night. Thanks to the extra storage capacity of the boats, you can usually take much more provisions with you, stay out longer, and cover more ground (or water).

This type of camping requires a lot of planning, as you’ll want to plan your route along the water to match your skill level and amount of equipment. You’ll want to bring along maps, a GPS, and dry bags to protect sensitive equipment. Lastly, it’s important to remember that this type of camping can be a work out, so your physical condition should be top notch.

Hammock Camping

Camping with a hammock instead of a tent has become increasingly popular in the last 20 or so years, and with good reason. Not only does a hammock cause less damage to the ground cover, the trees, and the local ecosystem, it is much more comfortable, as you no longer have to worry about a rock or misplaced root under your back while you sleep.

Hammocks can also be packed up quite small, saving room for more food, supplies, etc. in your bag. And don’t worry, new hammocks designed just for this purpose have rain flys, mosquito netting, and privacy screens as well.

Check out this resource from REI to learn more about hammock camping.

Beach Camping

Everyone loves the beach, so it’s only natural to combine long days by the lake or ocean with nights full of campfires and soothing waves. Of course, being on the beach can require some extra consideration. For instance, you’ll want to know where the tides max out before you pitch your tent to keep you from waking up floating.

Oftentimes, beach camping requires a permit, and may even require you to go to a specific spot away from non-campers. If you need to drive, you’ll likely need a 4×4 vehicle with some air let out of the tires or you risk getting stuck. Of course, as sand gets literally everywhere, a dustpan and brush are must-haves.

Winter Camping

Nature isn’t just beautiful in the spring and summer. In fact, camping in the winter can offer some of the best opportunities to see the world in pristine condition. Of course, this type of experience requires special preparation, unique supplies, and a few additional considerations.

For instance, for your first time out, you might not want to go too far away from civilization, just in case something goes wrong. You’ll also want to take layers of clothing with you, a warm sleeping bag, wind protection, and other cold-weather provisions.

Check out REI’s guide to winter camping here. 

Planning Your Perfect Camping Trip

There are a million pages spouting various camping tips out there, but the one tip that all beginners need to heed is the familiar, Boy Scout motto “be prepared.” Indeed, spending even a few hours in the wilderness should be preceded by a little planning, and long trips can take hours of research do plan well. Below is a list of things you’ll want to consider.

Where You’re Going

Arguably the most obvious planning step. You’d be surprised how many people start their camping experience by simply pulling over and walking into the woods. This is not only unsafe, but it could be illegal. To plan the right trip, you need to know where you want to go, what you want to do, and – generally – what sort of experience you want to have. You’ll also want to map out the area you’ll be camping in, ensuring that you know the landmarks, terrain, and exit points just in case.

Useful Resources:

Camping in the USA & Canada

Camping in the UK

Camping in Australia & New Zealand

Seasonal Conditions

Very few places in the North America are completely immune to seasonal changes. It’s important to plan your trip for a time of year that matches your abilities and equipment. You’ll also want to monitor the weather forecast for a few days to a week before hitting the woods. This will allow you to better predict what Mother Nature has in store for you.

The Route

Even if you’re just parking your RV at a campsite, you’ll want to have maps on hand to ensure you don’t get lost. This goes double for anyone who plans on hiking, kayaking, or taking an ATV to their campsite. It’s easier to get turned around and lost in the woods than you think, especially if you’re a beginner. Plan the route to a “T,” and pack navigation equipment like compasses and maps.

NOTE: While Google Maps is great for getting around a city, don’t expect it to help much in the deep woods. Bring a paper map, preferably with data on the terrain.

Playing it Safe

Another aspect of planning that people often forget is researching how to remain safe in a particular area. Each part of the world poses its own challenges and knowing what wildlife, flora, and terrain you need to deal with should be common sense. Are there dangerous animals? If so, how do you avoid them? Are there poisonous plants? Is the area prone to avalanches or floods?

Keep it Legal

The long arm of the law doesn’t stop at the treeline. You’ll want to make sure you know all the rules and regulations of the area your camping, or you risk hefty fines or even jail time. The same goes for respecting private property, game laws, and fishing laws. Research all the licenses you’ll need to camp in a given area before you go. You can start by visiting the ACA’s website  for more information.

Outdoor Gear

Equipment You'll Need

Camping demands supplies (See what I did there?). If you’re thinking about going into the woods for any extended length of time, you’re going to want to have the basics. However, if you’re a first-time camper, you may not know precisely what “the basics” are.

Backpack

If you don’t have a vehicle with you, you’re going to need to lug your gear in a backpack in order to keep your hands as free as possible. Most any pack will do, but one that is easy on your back and keeps the weight dispersed evenly will be your best bet.

Shelter

If you’re going to be sleeping outdoors and not in a cabin, you’re going to need some sort of shelter. Be it a hammock or tent or improvised lean-to, protecting yourself from the elements and local wildlife is a basic essential.

Bedding

Regardless of the current season, you should pack bedding for both cold and hot weather. Things can change quickly in the outdoors, and you don’t want to be miles away from help when you find out you can’t keep warm.

Cooking Equipment

You don’t have to be a gourmet cook to camp, but should be able to fix enough meals to sustain yourself. A propane burner, some pots and pans, and cutlery are a great place to start if you want some “like home” comfort – though an open fire and a fresh fish are all some people need. Nevertheless, don’t forage unless you know what you’re doing. Bring some GORP (good ‘ol raisins and peanuts) and trail mix to fill out your meals.

Clothing

You want to dress in layers when camping, as weather can change dramatically in just a short amount of time. You also want to make sure as many things as possible are waterproof and pack a rain jacket and tarp. Once things get wet in the woods, they tend to stay that way. Also, if wetness is combined with cold, big problems can arise.

Personal Hygiene

Some people think of camping as a great opportunity to “let their hair down” and back off the personal hygiene. This is fine, to a point, so long as it doesn’t annoy or disgust your fellow campers or lead to the growth of mold or bacteria. Shaving kits, toothpaste, and shower kits are all easy to come by, inexpensive, and simple to pack.

First Aid Kit

A well-stocked first aid kit has more than band-aids. You’ll want tweezers, gauze, antibiotic ointment, medicine, and burn cream, plus a myriad of other first aid products. You don’t want to be out in the woods when you find out you don’t have what you need to treat an injury.

Water

There is no more critical camping component than fresh, drinkable water. Carry more than you can, or be sure you know how to make fresh water drinkable because it only takes 72 hours without water to cause death.

Tools and Devices

As I’ve mentioned, no one – especially not beginners – should be taking a step into the woods without a compass and a map. A GPS, flashlight, and solar panels are great things to take with you as well.

See our complete camping checklist for the full list of items to bring.

camping food ideas

Planning Meals and Packing Food

Meal planning is an essential part of planning a camping trip. You don’t want to run out of food while you’re miles away from civilization. You also don’t want to weigh yourself down by bringing the entire contents of your pantry.

Breakfast

What you plan for each meal will depend significantly on whether or not you have a cooler, and how big that cooler is. In most cases, dry cereals, GORP, and trail mixes are a great “wake up and start the day” meal if refrigeration isn’t a possibility.

Lunch

Sandwiches and non-perishables paired with canned soups and veggies are a great source of mid-day energy.

Snacks

For snacks, trail mixes, energy bars, and fruit like apples and pears should do a great job of fending off the munchies.

Dinner

The biggest meal of the day could be chili, canned soups, or pre-prepared, non-perishable packaged meals. Of course, if you have access to a refrigerator, you can make virtually anything, but you’ll need to keep a close eye on food and drink to avoid consuming something spoiled.

How to Be Prepared for Anything

As I mentioned, of all the camping tips for beginners we’ve mentioned, the most important is “be prepared.” Below, I’m going to go into a bit more detail on just how to do that.

Navigation skills

So you have your map and compass, but do you know how to use them? Learning navigation skills may seem intimidating, but it’s actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it.

Here’s a great video that can help.

Sleep well

Drowsiness is your enemy when you’re in the woods, especially if you’re hiking between campsites. Go to bed early, go easy on the booze, and be sure you get a big breakfast so you don’t become overly tired between campsites.

Share your Itinerary

It’s a good idea to make sure one or more people that aren’t coming into the woods with you know your trip itinerary. If something goes wrong, this will make sure help is sent to the correct place.

Plan for Emergencies

It’s better to have emergency equipment and not need it than to need it and not have it. Flares, extra food, GPS systems – all of these items help round out a well-prepared pack.

Know Your Gear

Don’t just buy the best equipment and pack it away. Take it into your backyard and learn how to use it. Emergency situations are not the time and place to be reading instruction manuals.

Check the Weather

As I mentioned, you’ll want to monitor the weather before you head into the woods. However, learning to spot basic weather patterns from the ground isn’t a bad idea either.

Camping Tips for Basic Safety

 

Camp Fire Safety

Forest fires are often caused by careless campers. Never build a fire under low trees, never leave one unattended, and always make sure flames are completely extinguished.

Sun Protection

Sunburn can lead to dehydration and a myriad of other problems. Be sure to use sunscreen and bring proper first aid to heal any burns quickly.

Animal Safety

You should never approach a wild animal, but if you do come in contact with one, you should know what to do to keep yourself safe. Research local species and ask questions before heading out.

Keep Your Site Clean

Keeping a clean campsite isn’t just about being responsible and not littering, it’s about safety as well. Food scraps and other garbage can attract animals – sometimes big ones – and can also lead to big fines if rangers catch you.

Here are some great tips on Animal Proofing Your Campsite.

Stay Hydrated

Again, water is the most important thing to have when you’re away from civilization. Bring more than you could need, or know how and where to get it.

Watch Out for Poisonous Plants

Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac can turn a fun camping trip into a bad time pretty quickly. Be sure you know how to identify these dangerous plants and how to treat them. Also, never eat anything you find in the woods, even if you think you know what it is.

Bring a Map

It bears repeating that a map can save your life in an emergency situation. Get on for every trip you take. No exception.

7 First-Timer Mistakes to Avoid

 

Nobody’s perfect, least of all first-timers. When we started camping we had some memorable moments but also some epic fails too so don’t be like us, avoid the following mistakes . Read the camping tips below to see what NOT to do when taking your first trip into the great outdoors.

1. Arriving At The Hottest Time Of The Day

If the first thing that you want to do in your tent is collapse in a puddle of sweat, 11 am – 3 pm is a great time to set up. If you’d rather not set up during the hottest time of the day, aim for late afternoon or early morning when it’s much cooler.

2. Setting Up After Dark

Fumbling, Frustration. Flashlights. These three words best describe attempting to set up a campsite after dark. Get to your camp with daylight to burn or expect your family members to hear some colorful new words.

3. Overpacking

This is common for many first-timers. The solution is planning. Treat it like grocery shopping: start with the basics, add a few niceties, then stop yourself.

4. Not Packing Warm Clothes

If the weather takes a turn for the worse, you’ll be glad to have that sweater and jacket. Always leave room in your pack for adequate warm clothing.

5. Not Sharing Your Itinerary

If the worst should happen, would anyone know where to look? Be sure to make a day-to-day itinerary and share it with at least one person before you go.

6. Leaving Food Out

This is a big one, and can attract some big, unwanted guests as well. If you don’t clean up your mess and learn to store food properly, you may end up with a much bigger mess in the morning and no food left for the rest of your trip.

7. Picking a Low Site

Flash floods are no joke, so be sure to stake your claim on high ground to avoid losing thousands of dollars of gear to a few minutes’ worth of rain.

Top Camping Tips: A Summary

 

Exploring the world around you is fun, but that doesn’t mean you can skip out on your responsibilities as a camper, parent, and citizen. Take care to follow these camping tips for beginners, and you’re sure to have a great time on your first trip, and every trip afterward.

If you have any questions or other camping tips to add, feel free to contact us! Happy camping!

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1 thought on “Camping 101: First-Timer Mistakes To Avoid”

  1. Great tips here. I had a bit of a giggle at mistake #2. We set up in the dark once. It took over an hour just to put up the tent. We dropped half the stakes on the ground and didn’t find some until the next day. Not recommend lol

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