How to Prepare for Your First Camping Trip

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So you want to go camping, huh? It’s easy to prepare for your first camping trip if you take a little time to do it right. Trust me when I say you will be thankful you did! There’s nothing worse than getting to the campsite and realizing you didn’t make a reservation and they’re already booked, or getting to the river and realizing you forgot your bathing suit!

Young couple and their cute little son with backpacks standing on green grass in front of camera while man unrolling rug to have some rest


Do a little bit of thinking and maybe even take some notes.

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Decide what you need to bring, what you want to bring, and then choose some items that you can do without. Less is more when it comes to packing for camping, but you won’t want to forget anything important either. Use a packing checklist to keep yourself in order.

Look up the campground you’re planning to visit before you finalize your plans. It’s a good idea to look at the weather as well so you know what to plan for. If you’re travelling to a place you’ve never been to before, look at the weather history for the time of year you’ll be going.

You’ll want to keep your plans very fluid and loose, as when you’re camping, there are a number of factors that can pop up and change your plans. Don’t set anything in stone. Be flexible and try to go with the flow.

Once you know what campground you want to stay at, call and make a reservation. While some places will and can accept “walk-ins”, don’t count on that. It’s always best to have a reservation. Campgrounds in popular areas and on popular weekends can book up rather quickly, so try to plan as far ahead as you can.

Do a trial run at home. Plan for the type of camping you’ll be doing. If you’re tent camping, you’ll want to be sure that you can set up your tent without too much hassle. If you bought a used tent, you definitely want to set it up to be sure it doesn’t need repairs or cleaning, or that it’s not missing any parts. You don’t want to find these things out the hard way when you’re trying to set up camp.

Just in case, look up a few nearby hotels. If the weather gets really bad, you may need a plan B. Nobody wants to suffer through a thunderstorm in a tent!

Know Before You Go: Check local firewood regulations. Many spots won’t let you bring outside firewood. This is generally an effort to keep destructive insect populations from traveling. In some areas there will be “no burn” days as well when you aren’t allowed to have campfires due to the dry weather. You’ll want to know this before you try to start a fire and end up speaking to the park rangers.

a golden retriever dog poking his head into a yellow tent


Make a list (or grab this handy packing list pad) of everything you need to bring.

Use Bins. Go to the dollar store or your favorite big box store and pick up some plastic bins. They are easy to organize, stack, and transport. Organize them however you like, but as an example, one bin could be used for tools, one for shoes, one for cooking supplies (like plates, silverware, and pans), and another for first aid and toiletries. If you’re camping with kids, make sure there is a bin for toys and things to keep them busy as well.

Think about Comfort. Pack some foam padding or buy a sleeping mat to sleep on. Most tent sites will be on grass, but won’t necessarily be even or soft. You may even have rocks under you that can poke! Some padding will offer a cushion between you and the ground.

Pack for Activities. If you plan on swimming, hiking, fishing, or any other activities, be sure to pack everything you and your family will need to complete those activities. If you’re not into activities, pack a hammock or two and spend some time laying under the stars.

Carefully Load the Car. Load the car in reverse order so that the things you need first go in last and the things you’ll need last will go in first. This makes it way easier to unpack and set up camp quickly. For example, the last things I pack in the back of the car are the tent, and a cooler of drinks. We’ll want both of those things when we get where we’re going.

Happy family on a camping trip relaxing in the autumn forest. Camper trailer. Fall season outdoors trip.


Aside from planning and packing, there are other things that you can do to make your camping trip maximally enjoyable.

Assign each person a job (or two). On person might be in charge of unpacking while a few others are in charge of putting up the tent. You can give someone the task of scouting out the area and finding the nearest bathroom, trail, and way to the water. Giving everyone a job makes them feel important and included, and keeps things from getting to chaotic.

Make sure everyone understands the camping rule of “leave no trace”. This means that everything you bring camping with you needs to also leave with you, including trash. It also means that you don’t take anything with you that isn’t yours. The rocks and plants in the forest need to stay there! You should leave the campground and the surrounding area in as good as, or better, condition than it was when you arrived.

Leave Electronics Behind. I know this might be hard, but aside from your cell phones, which can be super useful for mapping and communication, leave your tablets and computers at home. Try not to use your cell phone for unnecessary things. After all, you’re camping because you want to enjoy the outdoors, so keep those phones stored in a safe place until they’re needed, and spend the time fishing or making a fire instead.

Camping isn’t as scary as it may seem, but it’s important to make a good plan (and a back up plan) just in case things don’t go as smoothly as you expect. Be flexible, remember that nothing is set in stone, and just have as much fun as you can! Make memories, learn new skills, or just relax. Get what you need from nature.

 a dog poking his nose into a yellow tent

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