(This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy for more information.)
People are escaping to the outdoors for getaways now more than ever. The idea of sleeping in the woods can be daunting, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. This guide to tent camping for beginners shows you just what you need to confidently get out on your first camping trip.
While we wrote this beginner’s guide to camping with tent camping in mind, many of these tips apply to different types of camping. Whether you are camping in an RV, camper, or even cabins, read on for some great tips in this beginner’s guide to camping.
How to Plan a Camping Trip
We simplify the process into just 3 steps when we start planning a camping trip. First, we find a campground and choose a campsite. When our reservation is made, then we determine what gear we’ll need. Then the fun part – we make our camping menu.
1. Find A Place to Go Camping
The first of all camping tips for beginners (and seasoned campers) is to start with finding a place to camp. There are lots of options, so think about the type of experience you’re looking for, the type of camping you’re doing, and the amenities you want.
Where to Find a Campground
- Use reserveamerica.com and recreation.gov to find campgrounds in State Parks, National Parks, and other public lands. These generally have fewer amenities but are more immersed in nature.
- Use Google maps to search “campgrounds state” or, more specifically, “private campgrounds state.” Private campgrounds can often give that same outdoor experience, but can also have more concrete than grass or sit next to a highway.
- The Dyrt is a campground finder and review site, and has recommendations for RV and tent camping for beginners and as well as more experienced campers.
- AllStays Camp & Tent is a paid app to locate tent sites, with a separate app for all types of campsites (tents and RVs). We have not used either app, but the reviews look promising.
What to Look for in a Campground
Campground Amenities & Features
Finding the perfect campground can be overwhelming. If certain amenities are important for your camping experience, narrow the options down by what the campgrounds offer.
The most basic amenities typically include firewood for sale and bathrooms at the campground. Some campgrounds have resort features like pools, restaurants, and organized activities.
Look for things like camp stores where you can restock on firewood and ice, showers, and lakes or pools for swimming.
Camping resorts often have everything you’ll need at the campground. Camp stores, pools, mini golf, laundry, hot showers, and sometimes even a restaurant on site. Chains like KOA and Jellystone Park have so many amenities, you won’t feel like you’re roughing it at all. Keep in mind that many of these types of campgrounds tend to have more RVs and campers than tents, which may take away from the outdoor, wilderness camping experience.
Types of Campsites
Campsites are often described as RV, tent, or primitive sites. Look for campgrounds with the type of site that gives you the camping experience you’re looking for.
RV sites will have hookups for water, electric, and/or sewer. Tents are sometimes allowed on sites with RV hookups, but it’s best to check with the campground. Even if they do, a tent surrounded with RVs and campers isn’t always the best experience. However, if you need access to electricity, RV sites may be a good solution.
Tent sites may have an electric hook up, but it’s not terribly common, especially in public campgrounds. This type of site often has parking available right at the campsite with easy access to your car.
Primitive campsites will most certainly not have electricity available at the site, and may have parking a short walk from the site.
While it’s unlikely you’ll come across backcountry sites in your search, it might be good to know that these are hike-in campsites, usually with no more than something to mark the site.
Choosing a Campsite
Once you’ve landed on a campground or two, it’s worth taking a little time to research the campsites before choosing one.
How to Research Campsites
The amount of information provided can vary between campgrounds, but it will give you an idea of what to expect.
- The campground map will show the site proximity to restrooms, RV sites (tent campers usually avoid being surrounded by RVs and campers), the campground host, and an idea of the distance between campsites.
- For tent sites, check to see if the site is a walk-to (usually no more than a few hundred feet) or drive up sites.
- Check review websites like the Google maps (the satellite view can be useful too!), The Dyrt, and CampsitePhotos.com for site recommendations from other campers. There are also some great books with campground details for site recommendations.
Check out the availability of a few campgrounds and if it looks like it could be tough to get a spot, find when the reservation window opens. Many are 6 months to a year in advance.
Campgrounds may also have first come-first serve sites available (FCFS). Be sure to get there early to snag one of these sites, but be prepared with a backup plan in case those are already taken.
2. Get Your Camping Gear
What Do You Need for a Beginner Camping Trip?
There are just a few things you’ll need for tent camping for beginners. Most of the packing list is gear for sleeping, eating, and relaxing. You’ll also want to have a few emergency/repair items and something to find your way around after dark. Get more recommendations on building a camping checklist here.
Some gear can be from things you have at home. Over time, you can build up your collection of gear, focusing on space saving camping gear that will make packing for your trips faster and easier.
A Tent and Bedding
This is the biggest camping investment you’ll make and may be the hardest decision. There are many options for all budgets, but you’ll want to do some research so you choose the right tent for you.
How do you choose? After buying our 5th tent, we finally found the best way to narrow down the options. Click here to learn the best way to find a camping tent.
Find a sleep system that works for you. This can be any combination of a sleeping bag, air mattress, sleeping pad, cot, pillows, and blankets.
If you’re up for a little more adventure, skip the tent and opt for sleeping right under the stars in a hammock!
Gear for Your Outdoor Kitchen
Bring everything you’ll need to prep, cook, serve, eat, and clean with at the campground. Making meals too elaborate is time consuming (but so delicious in the outdoors!) so you may want to plan some meals that use less gear.
Camping Chairs for Chilling
Relaxing by the campfire is one of the best parts of camping, and a good, comfy camping chair makes it even better.
Chairs are not all created equal though. Extra comfy chairs, like a gravity chair, are bulky and can be difficult to transport. Ultra portable chairs pack well, but are not always good options for curling up by the campfire.
Other Camp Gear
Without all of the light pollution coming in from the city, a campground can get really dark at night. Have some reliable ways to make your way around the campsite and for middle-of-the-night trips to the restroom.
- Lanterns are best to light up larger areas, like the picnic table or the inside of the tent.
- Have a flashlight to light up the path ahead of you. These are great for a middle of the night run to the restroom.
- Headlamps are a hands-free version of a flashlight, useful when cooking or starting the campfire. Choose one that has a red light setting, because these are dark sky friendly.
Whichever you choose, make sure you’re prepared to keep the light going. You may need extra batteries or fuel, or to remember to charge solar powered lights in advance.
Gear to Build a Campfire
To build an epic campfire, we carry a lighter and/or matches (at least 2 so we have a back up), a fire starter, a hatchet to create kindling from the firewood, and a fireproof glove to handle hot logs.
Preparing for Small Emergencies
Be prepared for emergencies and gear repair by packing just a few smaller items:
- duct tape
- tent repair kit to repair tears or holes
- extra tent stakes in case of high winds or broken stake
- small tarp to protect from unexpected rain or to provide additional shade
- first aid kit to treat minor injuries or illnesses
- bungee cords and/or paracord to hang items like tarps or strap things down
3. Plan a Camping Menu
What is the Best Food to Take Camping?
Follow what you like to cook and eat at home. You can make almost anything at a campground that you can make at home. Go gourmet if that’s your style, or stop for pizza on your way to the campground if that’s more your thing.
Outdoor meals are one of the best things about camping. Everything tastes better when cooked outdoors, especially after a day of playing and exploring around the campground.
- Choose a menu that works with your activities. If you plan to be out adventuring all day, then don’t plan to cook chili from scratch.
- Shelf-stable (ramen, mac-n-cheese, tuna) are good back up meals in case the ice isn’t holding up in the cooler for some reason.
- Make ahead meals are great for arrival and departure days so you can focus on set up and breaking down camp.
Meal Ideas for Your Tent Camping for Beginners Menu
New campers shouldn’t miss out on the traditional camping meals like cooking hot dogs, foil packs, mountain pies, or s’mores cooked over the campfire. These outdoor versions of some favorite meals cooked at home.
Plan some no cook meals for rainy or hot weather, or when there’s just not enough time to get that fire ready.
The best meals are cooked right over the campfire. Go simple with hot dogs, or gourmet with cast iron or dutch oven cooking.
We also like to have a meal or two that has ingredients that don’t need refrigeration, just in case. But we’ll always have food and drinks that require a cooler. These tips found here will ensure your food stays cold throughout your camping trip.
Arriving at the Campground
Some campgrounds have an office for check in, others have a gated entry or just a kiosk with information. Signs on the way in will have information on the check in process. If available, get a campground map from the office or a ranger.
Setting Up Camp
When you arrive, scope out the campsite to find a flat area for pitching the tent. Make sure the area is free of rocks, pinecones, and sticks that could poke holes in your tent or lead to restless sleep.
Plan on about 30-45 minutes to set up. The more hands helping, the faster this goes, so don’t be afraid to assign jobs to everyone!
- pitch the tent
- set up inside the tent
- put camp chairs out around the fire pit
- get your camp kitchen organized
- prepare for dark by getting flashlights and lanterns out
- start a campfire (if not heading off to explore right away)
Exploring the Area
Once your campsite is set up, then take a walk around the campground. Find the bathrooms, trailheads, camp store, and other campground amenities, so you can take advantage of everything the campground has to offer.
Once you have the lay of the land, set the older kids off to explore on their own.
Tent Camping for Beginners: Things to Do While Camping
Take the time to embrace the outdoors and nature. Hiking, fishing, and geocaching are all usually available at campgrounds.
Things to Do at the Campsite
- Read a book
- Play outdoor lawn games, like cornhole or washers
- Cook a gourmet meal, because outdoor meals are one of the best parts of camping!
- Take an afternoon nap
Camping Activities for Kids
- Camping themed scavenger hunt
- Play card or board games
- Make hiking snack necklaces
- Find new bugs, leaves, and rocks
More on Camping Activities: Keep the Fun Going at the Campground After the Sun Goes Down and Camping Activities for Rainy Days
Basic Safety and Etiquette Tips For New Campers
How to Stay Safe While Camping
Bear Safety for New Campers
Many of the best places for camping is where bears also live, but that also means extra safety precautions for bear country. When camping in these areas, be sure to follow the advice of the campground and rangers.
Bears will stay away if there is nothing to attract them to your site. If a bear locker is provided at or near your campsite, then use it to store all food, toiletries, and other scented items. Otherwise, these items can be stored in your car.
Campfire safety not only protects you, but protects the land from wildfires.
Keep kids away from the fire and the fire rings and grates, which get as hot as the fire.
Make sure your campfire is completely out before leaving the campsite or going to bed by drenching it in water. Keep watch for a few minutes to make sure it is completely out.
Leave No Trace
Picking flowers, feeding animals, and leaving trash negatively impacts our land so, as tempting as it may be, remember the basic principle of Leave No Trace: “Take only memories, leave only footprints.”
The campground rules will provide information on disposing of trash, collection of wood for campfires, and other ways you can help leave no trace.
Be a Good Camping Neighbor
It’s most likely you won’t be the only one at the campground, so we’re including a few camping etiquette tips in this beginner’s guide to camping. Following these few simple guidelines will make everyone’s camping experience better.
🌲 respect quiet hours
🌲 move the picnic table back where you found it
🌲 keep pets on a leash
🌲 walk through other’s campsites
🌲 move fire rings without permission
🌲 keep lights too bright at night
You May Also Like: 19 Common Camping Mistakes We All Make (and How to Avoid Them)
More Camping Tips For Beginners
Keeping Bugs and Critters Away
Yes, there will be bugs and critters at your campsite. It’s part of the fun and connecting with nature. We still want to keep our distance, though, both for our protection and theirs.
- Don’t leave food or trash out. Keep food secured in containers, and preferably in the car when not using them. Never keep food in your tent.
- Zip up the tent doors, with zipper pulls at the top of the door, so unwanted guests don’t make their way into the tent.
- Mosquitoes can make a camping trip miserable. Have bug spray and anti-itch cream on hand.
- Don’t feed any animals that come to your site because they’ll just keep coming back for more!
Tips for Making the Best Campfire
Camping just isn’t the same without a campfire. And if you’re relying on a campfire to cook meals, it’s important to know how to get a campfire started.
- Firewood dry wood bought at the campground or nearby. Plan on buying at least one bundle per day. You may use more if the wood is very dry or you make multiple fires each day.
- Bring back up lighters or matches (in case matches get wet or lighter fluid runs out) and a fire starter to help get things going.
- Start the fire with kindling (very small pieces of wood, twigs, or dry grass), then lay on larger logs as the fire takes hold.
- Cooking over glowing logs rather than flames allows food to cook through without burning on the outside.
Preparing for Any Weather
Sweltering hot days, nights that reach bone-chilling low temps, or miserable rainy weather can make or break a camping trip.
Always check the weather before you leave for your camping trip so you can plan accordingly. Check both the highs and night time low temps, and the chance of rain during your trip. Add just a few items to your gear, so that you will be prepared for any weather.
- a canopy for protection from rain or to provide shade on hot days
- small cooling towels are easy to pack and work really well
- hand and foot warmers provide some heat at night
Frequently Asked Questions
What do I need for a beginner camping trip?
Keep beginner camping trips simple. Bring a tent, sleeping bag, lighting, food & water, and firewood. In addition, you’ll need matches or a lighter to start the fire and any kitchen items for making and eating your outdoor meals.
How do I prepare for my first camping trip?
Camping is all about learning what you enjoy in a camping trip and discovering new ideas and gear to make it even better.
Whether it’s your first trip or 100th trip, use these 3 tips to prepare for your next camping trip:
1. Research the campground. Learn about the campground rules and amenities so you can plan accordingly.
2. Have a good camping checklist. Check – and then double-check – to make sure you don’t forget anything.
3. Check the weather. If there is a chance of rain or cold nights in high elevations, make sure you’re prepared with the proper gear.
What to bring camping for the first time?
Make your first time camping easy by planning a one night camping trip close to home (or even in your backyard). Use only the basic camping necessities: a tent, something to sleep on, firewood + fire starter, flashlight, a camp chair, and food / water, so you can get an idea for what you’ll want to have at the campground.
From there, you can make notes on what else you’d like to have to make your trips more enjoyable.
How can I improve my camping experience?
The best way for new campers to improve the experience is to think about why you want to camp.
If you want to challenge yourself or truly immerse yourself in nature, consider backcountry camping to improve the camping experience. Others seek more comforts of home while enjoying nature, where the best camping experience includes a good bed, satellite TV, and air conditioning in a camper or RV.
What do I need for camping with a family?
Camping with kids is one of the best experiences! The wilderness, and oftentimes the campground, provides a lot of entertainment for the family. From simple hikes, exploring around the campsite, and playing on the edge of the water to swimming pools, mini golf, and bingo nights, there are many activities that don’t require special equipment or gear.
Final Thoughts on Tent Camping for Beginners
Tent camping may seem complicated, but it isn’t. Start simple with just the essential gear and build from there.
Take your first camping trips close to home in case anything doesn’t go as planned. You can always run back home for any additional gear.
Are you a beginner camper? Ask us your tent camping for beginners questions in the comments section!
Pin this guide to tent camping for beginners for later!