Camping For Beginners: The Complete Guide For A Successful First Trip

January 16, 2022

Two people setting up camp in the forest

There is no denying the excitement and allure of a weekend getaway disconnected from society. Camping is a way to detox from the modern world. You're able to give yourself a break from your phone and other gadgets, your responsibilities, and of course, your stresses.

But if you've never camped before, preparing for your very first camping trip can be a bit overwhelming - no doubt. What gear do you need? Where should you go? How do you plan out your trip? How do you cook? There are so many unanswered questions you have. Don't worry, though, we're here to help.

Today, we're going to uncover every little detail you need to enjoy the great outdoors successfully, safely, and affordably. Our guide to camping for beginners is the best resource online if you've never ventured off into the wilderness for an overnight trip before, but are eager to change that.

We'll cover the essential camping gear you need for your first trip, and help you understand how to save money while securing all your necessities. Then, we'll walk you through planning your first trip - because there is a lot that goes into it. We'll even share some quick tips to ensure a fun, safe, comfortable experience.

We've got a lot to cover, so let's start by determining what type of camping you'll be doing.

The Different Types Of Camping

When you say the word "camping", there are a few different things that may come to one's mind. To some, camping means heading out into the wilderness with nothing but a backpack - sleeping under the stars, eating the bare minimum, and drinking water from ponds and streams (using filtration systems, of course).

But to others, camping doesn't have to be quite so rugged. There are those who prefer car camping - or glamping, in particular. Here, you can bring much more resources along with you, and you'll be a bit more comfortable perhaps than if you were to sleep on the ground outside.

Car camping is just one way to use modern advancements to ease into camping. You can also consider RV camping. RV camping isn't going to give you that real camping experience, in our mind, but that doesn't mean it's wrong. You'll get a good night's sleep in an actual bed. And you'll be able to bring along anything you need since space isn't really an issue. However, you'll either have to rent or buy an RV - neither of which is cheap.

For the purpose of this beginner's guide to camping, we're going to talk about tent camping. In our opinion, this is true camping. You can't beat it! Let's talk about what camping equipment you're going to need for your journey.

Essential Camping Gear For Your First Camping Trip

If you've never gone camping before, there are quite a few different camping essentials you'll need. From the camping tent itself to a sleeping pad, sleeping bag, food, lantern, and so much more, here is a quick breakdown of the bare minimum you'll need on that first outing.

The Camping Tent, Sleeping Bags, and Sleeping Pads

First and foremost, secure your camping essentials for sleeping. Your shelter and sleeping bags are the two things you'll need most. They keep you protected - to some degree - from the elements. Your camping tent will come with a rain fly to keep out moisture from fog, or some unexpected rain.

But which tent is right for you? There are summer tents and winter tents, which vary in the level of insulation they provide. You should also consider how large of a tent you need. How many people will be sleeping in it? These are the questions you should ask yourself before investing in a tent.

Your sleeping bag helps you get a good night's sleep, keeping you warm during those frigid nights in the wilderness. Depending on where you go camping, you will need to find a sleeping bag rated for certain conditions. There are some sleeping bags rated for conditions as cold as 20 degrees Fahrenheit, for example, while others are thin and recommended for warmer trips. Carefully consider the conditions you'll be camping in before purchasing your sleeping bag.

And if you really want to give yourself some extra comfort, invest in a sleeping pad. These little foam pads will make a world of difference in your sleep. If you don't mind sleeping on uneven, bumpy, rocky surfaces, though, you may not need one.


When the sun goes down, it'll get dark fast - especially if you're out in the boonies where the closest electricity is miles and miles away. As such, you'll need some form of lighting to help you see around your campsite.

Flashlights are great, but camping lanterns are better due to greater versatility. You can hang your lantern from your tent as you prepare for bed, put it on your campsite table as you eat a late-night meal or play some games, or carry it with you to the restroom. If you want a hands-free option, though, headlamps work great.

Kitchen & Cooking Essentials

Even if you're just going for an overnight trip, chances are you'll want breakfast in the morning before you head home. As such, kitchen and cooking essentials are a must-have for your first time camping. What exactly do you need, though? We recommend the following:

  • A camping stove - these portable stoves feature 1 or 2 burners usually. They typically require propane or some other fuel source to ignite. Try and find the most portable stove possible for your first trip.
  • Camping coolers - camping coolers will keep your spoilable food cold over the course of your trip. You can still enjoy your favorite meats, eggs, dairy products, veggies - you name it.
  • Water purifiers - you can bring a few jugs of water with you if you have the space - but to ensure you have an endless supply of water, we recommend bringing a water purifier with you. You can safely drink stream water using these.
  • Cookware - this category includes your pots and pans, silverware, teapots, stuff needed to actually cook.

Other things that are nice to have, but not entirely necessary include tables and water storage. If you've got space and your budget allows, consider adding them.

The "Nice To Haves"

The products listed above are what we consider to be camping essentials. But if you have some extra money and want to enhance your first outing, there are a few other things you can purchase. Some of the next expenses you'll have after taking care of the essentials are:

  • Camping chairs
  • Solar showers
  • Solar panels
  • Generators
  • Games

You'll notice we haven't talked about clothing or backpacks yet. That's because you may not necessarily need to find a new backpack or upgrade your wardrobe just yet.

If you're driving your car right up to your campsite and plan on staying there - you don't necessarily need a specialized hiking backpack for example. And, if your conditions are relatively mild, there is no need to go out and buy additional layering clothing - your existing closet will be fine.

The one thing we recommend you invest in if you want your camping trips to be a bit more comfortable is some good footwear. And, with specialized camping boots or shoes, you won't have to stress about ravaging your favorite pair of shoes. Because let's face it - camping is rugged and dirty!

A caveat here is your camping destination. If you have to hike into your campsite, for example, you'll definitely want a pair of hiking boots.

How To Plan Your First Camping Trip

Now that you know what all you're going to need for your excursion, let's get to the fun part - planning your first time camping. To make this easier, we highly encourage you to seek out a friend or family member who has camped before. Their experience and knowledge will make planning your first camping trip super simple.

If you're unable to find a seasoned veteran, though, here is what you need to know when it comes to planning your trip.

Choosing Your Location

First and foremost, you'll have to find a place to camp! There are so many options - from national parks to the unclaimed wilderness outside your city. We recommend you ask around local outdoor groups online or consult someone you know to find recommendations for camping for beginners.

The last thing you want is to choose a tough location for your first go around. If you have a 3-5 mile hike into your destination and it ends up being a bit more rugged than you like, you'll likely end up with a bad first experience.

Another thing to consider is the importance of being close to home. Don't take a 10-hour drive to some bucket-list destination. If some nasty weather rolls in, or you end up wanting to call it quits early for some other reason, you'll want to be close to home so you can do so.

Finally, consider what you want to get out of your camping trip. Do you want to just sit up by a pond or lake with a book and relax? Or, are you looking for a bit more adventure, such as a hike? Do you want to go fishing or hunting? Your goals and desired activity will affect your location. We'll talk about planning an itinerary shortly.

Packing The Right Clothes

The last thing you want is to head out to your camping trip with cold-weather clothes just to discover it's warmer than you thought. Or, vice versa.

As you can imagine, a crucial component of successful first-time camping for beginners is packing the right clothes. Take a look at the weather and plan accordingly. Continue to check your weather forecast leading into your departure, just in case things change and you want to grab an extra jacket or pair of shorts. When in doubt, pack extra clothes!

Oh, and make sure you aren't bringing your favorite hoodie or pair of shoes. Like we said earlier - camping is dirty and rugged. Stick with old beat-up sweatshirts, sweatpants, hiking boots, etc.

Planning Your Meals

Whether you're going for an overnight camping trip or a week-long excursion, you'll have to carefully plan out your meals. Sit down and write out your meals for each day - breakfast, snacks, and dinner. Then, write out the ingredients you'll need to make these meals.

Once you've got your meals mapped out, and your ingredients & supplies secured, you just have to make sure you keep them cold over the course of your trip. Don't be unprepared - you'll end up hungry, and likely, going home early.

Come Up With An Itinerary

Sometimes you want your camping trip to have no itinerary - you just want to show up and do nothing. There is nothing wrong with decompressing this way by just sitting out in nature and relaxing. But, if you are going with a group of friends or your family, you may want to come up with an itinerary.

This can be various hikes around your location, fishing, games, you name it! You know your group best and can discuss with them things they'd like to do. But, coming up with an itinerary isn't just about what you're going to do once you get to your destination.

You also need to come up with timeframes for departure to and from the campsite - especially if you have a group of people all going together.

Camping For Beginners: Tips To Ensure A Fun, Disaster-Free First Camping Trip

As you can see now, planning your first camping trip isn't as daunting as you may have thought. Once you've secured the right gear, chosen a location, and planned out your clothing, meals, and itinerary, you're done! But, there are a few parting thoughts we want to leave you with to ensure a fun, disaster-free first camping experience.

Your First Time Camping Should Not Be A Solo Excursion

You may be tempted to head out into the wilderness alone. After you get the hang of things, you can certainly try solo trips - but we don't recommend this for your first go around.

The best thing you can do is find a group of people who have experience camping - they'll show you the ropes. Whether it be pitching your tent, starting a fire, preparing your meals, correctly tearing down your camp - there are lots of intricate little details that you still may not know of.

Closely Monitor The Weather Leading Up To Your Weekend Camping Trip

Don't make the mistake of heading out into a weekend trip when the forecast calls for rain - or worse - thunder and lightning. Not only can these conditions create unsafe conditions, but they're just plain miserable.

Sure, it's fun to get caught in a little unexpected rain as a quick storm passes through from time to time. But there is nothing fun about seeking shelter in your tent for 72 hours during rain or hail - trust us. Watch the weather closely, and don't be afraid to reschedule!

Camp Closer To Home If Possible

The closer your first trip is to home, the better. It'll be far less stressful, and you'll always have the option to return home if things get uncomfortable or you're not having a good time.

Remember- camping is supposed to be fun. If at any point that is not the case, you have the option to pack it in and return home. If you're hours away, though, you'll feel more conflicted and might be stuck staying the whole trip.

Final Thoughts On Camping For Beginners

That completes our guide on camping for beginners - by now, you should be well prepared to venture out for your first camping experience! All that is left to do now is secure all your essentials and get to planning that first trip. Start a group chat with your closest friends and get the ball rolling!

And remember - for all your camping and hiking essentials, head to OutdoorPlay. We've got the top brands in the entire industry, and at the lowest prices online with the best service. As lifelong outdoor enthusiasts ourselves, we're here to help you have the best beginners camping experience possible!

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Erika PaciniHead of MarketingErika is a novice adventurer and dedicated member of the Outdoorplay family for over two years. With a passion for hiking, biking, and all things outdoors, she's always on the hunt for new trails, waterfalls, and secluded beaches to explore. Erika's passion for the natural world and mindfulness fuels her desire to inspire others to deepen their connection with themselves and nature through outdoor adventures.