Camping for Beginners – Everything You Need to Know

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I always get so excited when the cold, dreary winter season is over, and it starts to become warmer out. That only means one thing – it’s time to go camping! However, when I first started going I wish I had tips for camping for beginners, as I had no idea what I was doing.

I go on annual camping trips with my friends every spring and summer in Washington and have gotten better at packing, cooking, and the whole experience, in general, each time I go.

Camping is also on many people’s Washington bucket list, so I encourage you to plan your first trip if you haven’t already. Here are my best camping tips for beginners to make your trip easier.

General Camping for Beginners Tips

Here are some tips for beginner campers that are helpful for anyone.

Look at the forecast first

I go east of the mountains every June to go camping, but I never assume the weather will always be sunny and warm. While it’s nice when you can just bring shorts, tank tops, and a bathing suit, you don’t want to be stuck freezing all weekend.

It’s always good to bring a warm sweatshirt for when the sun goes down and a waterproof rain jacket on the occasion there’s a downpour.

Bring tarps for your eating area

On the same note, another tip on my beginner’s guide to camping is you want to make sure your tent and food area are covered with a tarp in case it rains. There’s nothing worse than soaked food and freezing in your tent wet all night.

One year, a thunder and lightning storm came out of seemingly nowhere. Luckily, we had our tents already ready and were able to move the food and supplies quickly under the tarp covering the picnic table. Always keep this in mind when you’re tent camping for beginners.

Keep all food covered and away from your campsite

If you’re camping in a national park or a known area for animals, cover your food and hang it high and away from the campsite (especially in bear territory). Even if you’re not dealing with dangerous animals like bears, annoying ones like raccoons love to come in the middle of the night for a midnight snack.

Save yourself a headache and cover all food in a large Tupperware container or even put it in your car before you go to bed each night. This is especially true if you’re camping or backpacking overnight somewhere that has larger animals, like hiking in the North Cascades (you’ll likely want/need a bear can as well).

Bring wet wipes

Wet wipes are so helpful to have on hand during camping, which is camping 101 for beginners. Use them to “take a shower” (I know those of you who aren’t campers are probably grossed out right now), clean wounds, and even clean the dishes.

Camping should be about having fun and getting dirty, but it does feel good to be a little refreshed each day.

Don’t bring your entire closet

Bring one sweatshirt and one waterproof jacket that you can use if needed, and only one pair of supportive shoes. This will allow more space to bring important items, like a bathing suit for swimming in the lake.

Not overpacking is one of those vital camping tips for beginners many people don’t think about.

Dress smartly

One of the best camping basics for beginners – dress comfortably. Camping isn’t the time to be fashionable, as much as the movies say otherwise. Skip the dresses and sandals, and bring clothes that are made for camping.

You’ll have to adjust your wardrobe based on the weather of where you’re going (if it’s cold out, check out my winter clothing gear suggestions). Most likely you’re camping when it’s warmer out, so bring a mix of wool clothing to wear at night and keep you warm and lightweight clothes for the day.

Cooking Camping Tips for Beginners

campfire camping for beginners

Invest in an iron skillet

Many meals can be made on an iron skillet, so it will go a long way. You can use it to make everything from scrambled eggs for breakfast to heating up a can of chili for dinner later. This is also pretty sturdy so you don’t have to worry about it tipping over on accident.

Use tinfoil

While the rare campgrounds have BBQs, most will just have an open campfire. Use tinfoil as an easy way to grill veggies, meat, etc. over the fire by wrapping them in it and putting it over the fire. Just make sure to keep an eye on it so a grease fire doesn’t occur.

Buy cheap plates and utensils

beginner camping tips

Go to the store and pick up a cheap set of plates, cups, and utensils. You don’t have to worry about them breaking or getting lost, and they’re easy to clean.

You can buy these used at a thrift store if you really want to save money. Amazon also sells cheap plastic bowls, plates, and utensils that are collapsible and clean easily.

Prep food ahead of time

One of the easiest tips for camping for beginners is to save time by getting food ready at home. I always crack my eggs into a shaker container so I don’t have to deal with cracking eggs on the campground. You can also cut up fruits and vegetables so they’re ready to go for your meal.

Some campgrounds are pretty dusty, so it’s a pain to try to get your food ready as dust or dirt swirls around you.

Wash your dishes

Buy environment-friendly soap up at the store before you leave along with a scrubbing brush. Depending on where your campsite is, you can wash your dishes in the river or with some distilled water after each meal.

This way you only need to bring along a few items for cooking and eating to save room. Washing them immediately will make it much easier to clean them at the end of the trip.

Tent camping for beginners


Try out your tent before you go

Your tent is probably the most essential item you’ll need when you’re camping, so always set it up at home first. You want to make sure you know how it works if it’s new, and check that you’re not missing any vital pieces.

I’ve always loved Coleman tents, and personally use the Coleman Sundome 4-Person Tent, as it’s easy to set up and fits my little family of four (two dogs included) perfectly. These tents are perfect for camping for beginners since they’re not complex to set up.

Set up as soon as you get there

The last thing you need is to try to set your tent up when it’s pitch dark out and you only have a flashlight or find something in one of your bags when you have no light. When tent camping, set up your tent first, put your sleeping bags and pillows out.

You can then set items you’ll use later such as toiletries and pajamas to the side in the front of your tent so they’re easy to grab when you need them. Lastly, close the zippers completely in the tent as you leave so no bugs or animals get in.

Protect your tent

Before you set it up, pick a spot that’s completely level and free of rocks or other debris. Next, put a tarp underneath it to protect your tent from the dirt and any moisture on the ground. Always make sure you have a rain fly on top of your tent.

It gives you some privacy but also protects against a sudden rainstorm (believe me, they do happen even when the 10-day forecast says sunny and dry). This is one of the most helpful tent camping tips for beginners, as many don’t think about this.

Tips for Camping With Dogs and Kids

camping with dogs

Camping with dogs or your kids? Here are some helpful tips.

Bring toys and games

While some children will be more than satisfied with exploring the outdoors, others won’t. Bring plenty of interactive games the whole family can play to keep them entertained. Let them help with packing to feel more involved and excited about the trip, which is one of the most helpful things to know when camping for beginners.

Buy a first aid kit

Camping should mainly be about swimming in the lake and eating s’mores, but accidents happen. Bring a first aid kit to make sure you have bandages for cuts and scrapes, ointments for injuries, and even special ones like snake-bite kits depending on what area you’re camping in.

Buy collapsible food and water bowls

Your dogs will get hot staying outside all day along with any activity like hiking, so make sure they stay hydrated. I love these Travel Pet Bowl 2 Pack for Food & Water bowls when camping with dogs, as they’re easy to store in between uses. I make sure they have water all day long as well as have areas of shade they can retreat to.

Also, make sure you bring their regular dog food. New dog food and especially human food isn’t what you want to be feeding them for their health, and camping isn’t the time to see how their body reacts to a new food.

This is one of those camping tips for beginners that people don’t think about after they have a few drinks and see their cute dogs begging for a hot dog.

Use a long leash


Depending on how crowded the campsite is or how well-behaved (or not) your dog is, you might not feel comfortable letting them roam free. Buy a long leash at the pet store to tie around a tree trunk so they’re secure, but still have plenty of room to roam.

This is one of the easiest camping tips for beginners when camping with dogs so you don’t lose your dog or annoy other campers.

Have doggie bags

When you go camping, you need to make sure you pack everything out with you to leave the campsite how it was when you got there. That includes anything your dog leaves, so always make sure to check a few times a day to see if you need to clean up after them with doggie bags.

This isn’t only considerate to the people coming to your campsite after you, but also to any other campers around you. You don’t want to be responsible for them stepping in your dog’s mess when they’re walking around.

Camping Tips for Beginners Packing List

Your basic camping packing list should include clothes and toiletries, but here are a few items you may not have thought of.

Wear comfortable undergarments

I don’t normally advertise this kind of thing, but ExOfficio’s underwear is amazing. They’re lightweight, breathable, and easy to wash. The last thing you have time for when you’re camping or traveling is to wait days for your clothes to dry.

I can personally attest that you can wash these easily in the sink (or river), hang them up, and within a few hours, they’re dry. More time to play is always a plus!

Bring earplugs and a sleeping mask

This is one of my favorite camping tips for beginners. You never know how loud your fellow campmates will be around you. While there is typically a curfew, it’s not always enforced, as the rangers are usually gone by then.

sleeping mask is helpful because it gets very bright very early when you’re camping outdoors, and this allows you to get a few more hours of sleep.

Buy bug spray

Most people remember sunscreen, but bug spray is also important. You’ll be miserable for the rest of the trip if you’re bitten all over your body by the first day. Take a few extra minutes each day to diligently apply it so you won’t be swatting bugs all day.

On that note, if you’re going somewhere that you know is bug-heavy, it might be worth it to bring ointment just in case you do get bit. That way you won’t be itching like crazy the entire weekend.

Use a blow-up mattress

I always thought people who brought blow-up mattresses were “glamping” until I switched from sleeping on the rock-hard ground to this. I’m telling you, getting a good night’s sleep is priceless.

It’s hard enough when it gets light out early, so any precious moments of deep sleep you can get is worth it. I really like this air mattress because it has a built-in pump.

I’ve had friends who have gotten to our campsite, gotten ready to plug in their electric pump, and then…oh right, nothing happened because there are no electrical outlets in the great outdoors.

It’s so comfy that my two dogs always try to climb up on it too (they’re spoiled). As I get older, I find that getting a solid’s night sleep is important for me feeling awake and ready to take on the next day.

Bring your own toilet paper

That is, bring your own toilet paper. You will thank me for this one! Never, ever rely on the campground to have it stocked. This on top of not having soap is not the situation you want to be stuck in. This is one of the most important camping tips for beginners to remember.

Those are my tips for camping for beginners, but I’d love to hear if you have more to add! Leave me a comment below.

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