Tales From a Camping Novice: 5 Tips for a First-Time Camper

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Camping has never sounded like fun to me.

I’m a “fancy hotel in the middle of a big city” kind of girl. I like my clawfoot bathtubs with bubbles up to my chin. I love the hustle and bustle, good food, and people-watching that you can find in a big city.

But I now have two boys who are quickly turning into full-blown kids. And man, are they ready for some adventures in the wilderness.

My boys have never been big into sports. Yeah, we tried soccer and t-ball, but they take after their mama. They don’t like to exert too much energy for too long. We recently joined a local troop of Cub Scouts and when I say they belong, I mean they have truly found their passion: the great outdoors and everything that comes along with it — the fire making, the “survival”, the engineering, and the camping.

And now, we begin the tale of our first camping trip.

Let’s set the scene: We were one week away from our camping trip. We’d planned this trip with our son’s godparents (besties for life), and if anyone knows about camping, it’s them. I’ll be honest, they are master campers. So I knew we were in safe hands.

We made our list of what to bring: tent, sleeping bags, changes of clothes, etc. (I won’t go through the whole list, but you get the point.) We had it all on the list. We started to gather everything into the bedroom, and it turned into this HUGE pile of stuff.

“How are we ever going to fit this all in our car?”

But somehow it did. We loaded the car with all of the items on the list and started heading for the mountains. Adventure time!

Here are my 5 tips for the first-time camper:

1. Arrive at the campsite during daylight hours.

We got to our campsite about 30 minutes before it got dark. We had just enough time to see the site and know where to set up. But once that nightfall hit, it was difficult to see anything. I highly recommend planning to get to your site when you have several hours of daylight. You don’t want to get stuck searching for your flashlight when it’s already dark.

2. Rock your headlamps.

Besides the fact that the kids LOVE to wear them, headlamps are lifesavers. Be sure to keep them close by in the tent for the middle of the night potty breaks. We bought this two-pack that I would highly recommend. You can choose between the white light and a red nighttime light. Be sure to bring extra batteries in case you leave the light on!

3. Bring a change of clothes . . . and another one.

You’re going to get dirty — or wet. And your kids are going to get even dirtier than you. Bring several extra changes of clothes, and if you have room, a change of shoes. Adventures are messy!

4. Bring a canopy tent in addition to your sleeping tent.

If you have the room to bring a canopy, I recommend it! We used ours to put over our tent for extra rain-proofing. But it also came in handy to hang wet clothes from! Additionally, you can put it over your picnic table to provide shade for mealtime.

5. Finally, Be Water.

No, not “bring water” (although that’s important too — bring lots of water). Be flexible and go with the flow. Things aren’t always going to go as planned when you are camping. In fact, things will go wrong. Instead of being rigid with a set plan, be open to changing plans or having things not be perfect.

Our biggest blunder as new campers happened right when we set up our tent. We brought two air mattresses: one for the boys and one fancy mattress for my husband and me. We got to the campsite, put up our tent, and realized our fancy mattress required constant electricity to stay pumped up (we thought we were being smart in buying one that has a pressure gauge attached to it — we were wrong). That was a dud. So we all four slept on a thin full-size air mattress. We got the snuggles in, that’s for sure, but also woke up on the cold, hard ground.

In my experience, camping is about nature and the people you are with. It’s not about being comfortable or eating the yummiest food. It’s about soaking up the time you have with each other — making campfires, playing games, and exploring the world.

Go on. Plan a camping trip. If I can do it, so can you.

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