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Tent Camping 101: Tips For Beginners

So, you’ve bought yourself a tent and some camping gear and you’re ready to set out into the great outdoors and sleep under the stars. Well, slow your roll there a bit outdoorsman-wannabe.

You can’t just buy a tent and think that you’re ready to go camping for the very first time. There’s things you need that you might not have thought about, and there’s definitely some things you should know before setting out on this little adventure.

Whether you’re planning a family camping trip or a trip with friends, sleeping in a tent isn’t for everyone. But, we’ve got some tips to help you make the most of your camping trip – and you might even discover that you love it.

Check Your Expectations

orange tent in woods

If you ask someone about tenting camping who has never done it before, then you’re probably going to hear about sleeping on the hard ground and getting eaten alive by mosquitos. And make no mistake, those two things can be 100% true, but they don’t have to be.

So, as you plan this trip and get ready to pack up your gear, think about what you expect it to be like. This way, you can take some pre-emptive steps to make it the most enjoyable trip ever.

Are you concerned about the ground being too hard and lumpy for sleeping? Then get yourself a sleeping paid, air mattress, cot or hammock.

Afraid you’re going to be too cold in the tent at night? Then learn how we lose heat when camping and prepare in advance.

Basically, think about every possible thing that can go wrong or that can make your camping experience miserable, and then see what you can do to prevent those things from happening before you even get that tent setup.

Tent Camping Checklist – The Basics

When you’re new to camping, you don’t have the experience of knowing what the essentials are for a successful trip. But, there is no shortage of checklists out there for you to download.

But here’s the thing – a lot of those checklists overdo it. You don’t need to take a ton of stuff with you to the campsite.

In all honesty, it’s only important that you get the basics. With that in mind, we’ve made a list below of what we think are the essentials for tent camping.

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bags (or other bedding)
  • Camping mattress/sleeping pad
  • Camp pillows
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlights/headlamps
  • Camp kitchen (stove, cookware, utensils, spices)
  • A fire starter
  • Camp chairs
  • Multi-tool (never know what you’ll need)
  • Small axe (if you want to cut firewood)
  • Bathroom supplies (TP, portable toilet)
  • Insect repellant and sunscreen

Some of those things you might not need to take if you’re not camping in the wilderness. For instance, you may be at a campsite that has toilet facilities and grills that you can use.

So, depending on where you’re doing your tent camping, you may need to add or subtract things from that list.

tent in woods

Your First Tent

As someone new to tent camping, you’re likely going to have zero idea what type of tent it best for you. Heck, you may not even end up enjoying camping at all, so you don’t want to go all out and buy the best, most expensive tent  you can find.

The ideal solution for a new camper is to see if you can borrow a tent from a friend or family member. This lets you experience camping without having to spend the money on a tent of your own just yet.

Some outdoor retailers even let you rent gear from them.

But, if you do decide to buy a tent from the start, then it’s important that you’re getting something quality. The last thing you want is a crappy tent that fails you at 2am in a storm.

If you’re going to be driving to your campsite, then you don’t really need to worry about getting a small, lightweight tent because the weight won’t really matter. But if you are going to be hiking into the woods to camp, then you’ll want to opt for something that is lightweight and won’t weigh down your pack.

For the most comfort, choose a tent that is big. You’ll notice that tents are sized based on the number of people they can accommodate for sleeping – but you should always round up.

For instance, if there are two of you camping, then round up and look for a 3-person tent for more room and comfort. You can even go bigger than that for more room!

The most important thing is that you get a tent that’s waterproof so you don’t end up soaking wet if it rains on you out there. And if it’s going to be warm at night, then make sure you’ve got a tent with vents.

And, you’ll want to take a trial run setting up the tent at home before you go on the camping trip to make sure that you know how to do it and that it works as it should.

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Your First Night Sleeping In A Tent

camping sleeping bags

That first night of camping in a tent can be a doozy – you’re hearing all sort of different noises, you’re not in your bed, and you cannot control the temperature. Fortunately, you can get a good night’s sleep in a tent, if you know how to do so.

Definitely do not just put your sleeping bag on the ground. At a minimum you need a sleeping pad or camping mattress to help cushion things for more comfort.

And if you’re driving to your campsite, then just bring a regular air mattress and bedding – or put your sleeping bags on top of the air mattress. Just remember a hand pump for inflating it!

And it often gets overlooked, but do not forget a pillow for your head! They make these fantastic little inflatable camping pillows that get the job done.

Tent Camping Safety Tips

Since you’ll likely be bringing food with you to the campsite, it’s important that you adhere to proper food safety storage. So, anything cold goes in the cooler and you gotta keep that cooler stocked with ice.

If there’s no ice at the campsite, then you cannot keep perishables past a few hours – otherwise you’ll get sick, and no one wants to get sick on a camping trip.

You also need to be mindful of storing food at the campsite so that it doesn’t attract animals. If you’re camping where there are bears, then this is extra important.

And never, ever, ever have food in your tent. You might think you can eat in there and be careful, but you’ll drop some crumbs that you don’t notice and then you’ll have bugs and other critters in the tent.

Ideally, you should keep all of your food sealed up in the car, if you are parked by the campsite. Otherwise, is should be hanging from a tree in a bear-safe container.

It’s also important to remember to keep your hands clean. If you don’t have access to running water at the campsite, and you don’t have extra water with you, then make sure you bring wet wipes with you.

They are the perfect way to keep clean at the campsite.

Finally, never go camping without a stocked first aid kit. You never know what can happen out there, so it’s best to be prepared.

Your First Camp Kitchen

people making camp food

Preparing for your camping meals is probably one of the hardest parts about camping, in my opinion. You’ve got to make sure that everyone has enough food and that you have everything that you need to make it – without anyone getting sick.

And, if you’re not at a campsite with the car nearby, then you’ve got to worry about the weight of all the camp kitchen stuff – including the food itself.

First things first, do yourself a favor and just buy a camp kitchen set that comes with bowls, plates, etc. to make your life easier. If you don’t have a camp stove yet, then you can get an all-in-one kit like the MSR PocketRocket Stove Kit.

MSR PocketRocket Stove Kit

This is a good set of camp kitchen essentials, though there’s only enough stuff to serve up a meal for two people. So, if you’re taking the family camping, then you’ll need some additional plates, bowls, etc.

If you don’t need the stove and just want the cookware and dining set, then I’m a big fan of the GSI Outdoors Halulite Microdualist II Cookset. It’s a nice set, though it also only works for two people.

GSI Outdoors Halulite Microdualist II Cookset

The good news is that you can buy either of the camp cookware sets above and pair them with a larger camp dinnerware set and have everything you need. And I find this all to be relatively inexpensive.

For camp dinnerware for more than two people, such as a family camping trip, I suggest the GSI Outdoors Infinity 4-Person Compact Table Set. It’s a quality set that’s perfect for a family camping trip.

GSI Outdoors Infinity 4-Person Compact Table Set

The only thing left for you to add to the camp kitchenware set now is some eating utensils. For me, I think nothing beats the humangear GoBites Uno Spork.

humangear GoBites Uno Spork

In fact, I own several of these and carry them with me even when I’m not camping. I even leave one in the glovebox of my car!

Now that you know what you need to bring for the camp kitchen, it’s time to decide what meals you’re going to be making at the campsite. It’s best to stick to things that are simple to make and that don’t require a lot of ingredients.

Here are some ideas for quick and easy camping meals:

  • Pancakes
  • eggs
  • oatmeal
  • soup
  • sandwiches
  • Mac & cheese
  • roasted veggies
  • Foil dinners (fish, chicken, etc)
  • Salads

And for snacks, it’s best to bring things that don’t need refrigerated:

  • hard cheeses
  • fruits
  • nuts
  • bags of potato chips
  • crackers

As you pack the food for your camping trip, remember to include some spices and oil so that your food isn’t completely flavorless. There’s no reason to not eat like a foodie when camping, right? Right!

Final Thoughts

With the tips above, you should be well on your way to having an awesome first experience tent camping. So, relax, make the most of the experience and have a good time.

You just might discover a new love of camping and the outdoors, and then you’ll be ready to upgrade that tent and camping gear for top of the line stuff.

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