The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Camping

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Camping

Tents, campfires and long hikes come to mind when people think about camping. But there’s so much more to a camping trip than just picking a spot and pitching a tent. You’ll enjoy the experience much more if you read up on where to go, what to take and how to make the most of your camping trip once you’re there.

Most of us live a life that’s wedded to electronics – phones, computers, games, and television. One of the good things about camping is that you have the opportunity to detox from all these demands on your time and attention. Multi-tasking has its good points, but it can also stress you out, and nature is a wonderful antidote.

People get into the habit of feeling they should spend every minute being productive. Downtime is something that gets penciled in among other activities, subject to being postponed. One of the good things about camping is that relaxation is the main point of getting away from it all.

Before we start preparing you for camping, let’s look at some of the reasons to go camping and what’s there to expect.

Nah, it’s alright, just tell me how to camp already!

Why Do People Go Camping?

There are many reasons that people go camping and, and it’s often a mixture of several things. Here’s our list of some of the top reasons that people like to camp. Oh, wait. Before we start tempting you with the reasons to start camping, let us hook you in with a video by Hipcamp for some camping inspirations.

Before bringing your tent out, you might want to test that your tent is still waterproof by wetting it with a garden hose and check if any water leaked inside. You can use a waterproof tent spray to renew the waterproof layer.

Rainy Day Camping Gear

The right camping rain gear is a necessity for when it pours. Rain galoshes with a good tread are a lot more comfortable than soaked sneakers if you’re hiking in the rain. You can find expandable rain ponchos that will cover both your clothing and your pack, and they’re available in adult and children’s sizes.

Make sure to purchase quality rain gear because it will make all the difference in a deluge. Good rain suits and ponchos have openings for ventilation and for reaching into your pockets without getting soaked. A hood should have a brim that will divert water from your face.

Rainy Day Camping Activities

You can still have fun on a camping trip, even if it rains the whole time. As long as there’s no lightening, hiking in the rain can be enjoyable. Just be sure and bring along the hiking sticks in case you encounter slippery slopes. If water activities are included in your plans, they can be just as fun, rain or shine.

During a thunderstorm, you and your fellow campers can still enjoy yourselves inside the tent. Since you’ve taken all the recommended steps regarding padding and ventilation, your tent should be a cozy hideaway while you wait for the storm to abate. This is the time to play games, read or enjoy intimate conversation. Or you could take a long, relaxing nap while listening to the sound of the rain on the tent roof.

Check out our article on the board games you can consider bringing to your next camping trip.

Photo of Kayak with pair of legs on a lake floating

Camp Activities

There are so many fun and relaxing activities to do while camping. They mostly fall under the headings of family time, exploring, physical activity, relaxation, cooking and games. Here’s our collection of the best of them.

Family Time

Families that camp together find they have more quality time to spend with each other than when they’re at home. One reason is that when a family camps, everyone works side-by-side to set up, maintain and break down the campsite. This is a chance to encourage independence in children and an opportunity for everyone to learn new things. It’s also a good recipe for family togetherness.

Backview of a guy doing trekking

Exploring

No matter how many times you go camping, there are new things to observe and experience. Hiking is a chance to explore, and even climbing a tree or wading in a stream turns up unexpected pleasures. Bringing along a couple of pairs of binoculars can turn any hike into a birdwatching trip. Binoculars are also good for seeing things up close that might have been missed.

Physical Activity

Many camp activities involve physical exercise, both on and off the water. Making and breaking camp and setting up a campfire are strenuous and rewarding activities. Swimming, canoeing and kayaking are the types of activities that are so much fun people don’t realize how much energy they’re expending. Camping close to water also opens up the possibility of fishing and even having the catch for dinner.

Photo of Person resting on a hammock

Relaxation

Going on a nature walk close to camp is a way to closely observe a natural setting without carrying a pack or setting a hiking pace. Just sitting still in camp and being observant can also provide quiet entertainment, as the wildlife settles back into a normal routine. The sounds and smells of being in the woods are also worth savoring, and there’s something about the fresh air that makes a nap even more relaxing.

Fun and Games

There are lots of games that are fun to play on a camping trip. A deck of cards or two will add many choices, and playing charades is even more interesting when you’re mimicking what you’ve seen on the trail. Board games are also a good addition, especially if it rains.

At the end of the day, campers gather around the fire for its warmth and light. A lot of the fun of camping takes place around the campfire. Singing songs is a camping tradition, and it’s the perfect place to tell stories.

Photo of sausage roasted on camp fire

Cooking Over a Fire

Making a meal over the campfire deserves its own category. Roasting food on a stick is a fun and out of the ordinary treat for both kids and adults. Weenie roasts are easy and each person can prepare their own, making dinner a shared activity. And who hasn’t heard of s’mores, those gooey chocolate, marshmallow and graham cracker campfire treats?

It’s exciting for many people when they get to cook and eat fish that they’ve caught themselves. And it’s fun to try campfire recipes like vegetables wrapped in foil or campfire macaroni and cheese. You can even make quick bread over a fire, either in a pan or on a stick.

Easy and Useful Knots for Camping Beginners

If there’s one thing that makes a person look and feel super accomplished and ‘Bear Grylls’ when camping, it is the ability to create useful knots. There’s a good reason for this, they’re always super handy! From creating washing lines to creating your own hoist system, knots can turn any line into a fantastic tool, enhancing your camping experience overall.

Simple Knot Anatomy

Simple Definitions of the Anatomy of a Knot

  1. Standing end: The portion of the rope that is not actively worked on, or is free.
  2. Bight: A curve that folds the rope into two parts without the ends crossing each other.
  3. Loop: A circle that is formed when crossing the two ends.
  4. Working end: The portion of the rope that is being worked on, or is used to tie the knot.

Taut Line Hitch

Instructions to tie Taut Line Hitch
Also known as: Adjustable hitch, Rigger’s hitch, Midshipman’s hitch, Tent-line hitch, Tent hitch

Used in camping for:

  • Securing tent lines
  • Any line where tension needs to be adjusted on a line without the knot being untied
  • Hanging a bag
  • Tying a load to your backpack
  • Hanging up a washing line
  • Securing your dogs lead to a post

What makes the Taut Line Hitch great?

The taut line hitch knot is an all-purpose knot that you should really get to know because it is so versatile and so useful in tons of camping applications. You can use the knot to add or remove tension on any fastened line without undoing and redoing the knot so there’s no need to mess around with load bearing lines.

It is definitely a knot to rely on, in fact, it is so reliable for securing lines it was used by astronauts on the Discovery shuttle to help them take out repairs.

Tip

Take a look at the different knot variations and their applications so you can use the best type of knot for your situation.

The Bowline Knot

Instructions to tie Bowline knot
Also known as: Boiling knot, the king of knots

Used in camping for:

  • Hanging a hammock
  • Tying your dogs lead to a post
  • Hanging loads from a tree
  • Securing tarp grommets
  • To tie two different sized ropes together to make an overall longer piece of rope

What makes the Bowline knot great?

The king of knots is very simple and easy to tie and untie when the rope is slack which makes it really accessible and easy to practise before you put it to use.

You should also expect the bowline to be extremely dependable for staying secure when the line is bearing a load.

Tip

This knot is not strong without a load. To make the most of it, use it in applications where the line using the bowline knot will be load bearing.

The Reef Knot

Instructions to tie Reef Knot
Also known as: Square knot, hercules knot, double knot

Used in camping for:

  • Securing bundles of twigs or thin firewood logs
  • Adding security and pressure to a rope tie with more secure knots
  • Organising clothing for easier storage inside a tent

Why makes the Reef knot great?

If you were to make best friends with a knot (hey, camping can get kinda lonely) then this knot would be your ‘flaky friend’.

Admittedly the reef knot is not the most secure knot, or reliable knot, but it is a useful knot for simple applications and is handy for less ‘important’ uses such as tidying up two ends of line.

It’s your once a month ‘beer and football’ buddy from work kinda knot.

Good to know but, not to depend on.

Tip

Only use this type of knot in simple applications, ideally where the knot is pressing up against something.

Timber Hitch

Instructions to tie Timber Hitch
Also known as: Bowyer’s Knot, Lumberman’s Knot, Countryman’s Knot

Used in camping for:

  • Attaching ropes to trees or tree trunks
  • Hoisting cylindrical objects
  • Making a washing line
  • Holding items like food or clothing off the ground
  • Where a strong knot that increases strength with tension is needed

What makes the Timber Hitch great?

If you’re big on forest camping then you’ll love this handy knot because it is designed to fit securely around a cylindrical object.

The knot is trusty and reliable, and particularly useful for campers who love to have an established camping setup connected to the trees and bushes in the area.

Tip

The knot gets stronger the more tension is put on it, so make sure you utilise your load for extra security.

Alpine Butterfly Knot

Instructions to tie Alpine Butterfly
Also known as: Butterfly Loop, Butterfly Knot, Lineman’s Loop, Lineman’s Rider

Used in camping for:

  • Camping with horses
  • Setting up a highline
  • Camping applications which require a carabiner
  • Setting up a secure tarpaulin
  • Setting up a line which can have clip on suspended apparatus like lights
  • Hoisting or lowering equipment

What makes the Alpine Butterfly knot great?

You will find that the alpine butterfly knot is really useful in camping situations where the ends of your rope can’t be reached.

It essentially makes more use of a rope that is already tethered, creating higher line versatility and practicality in various situations.

Tip

Using your hand to form the knot is easier than laying the rope out on a surface.

Double Fisherman’s Knot

Instructions to tie Double Fisherman
Also known as: Angler’s knot, English knot, Halibut knot, Waterman’s knot

Used in camping for:

  • Tying two pieces of rope together to form a longer rope
  • To create grab handles for cooler boxes, sleeping bags and bundles
  • Lengthening lines, like guylines

What makes the Double Fisherman’s knot great?

You’ll find that the double fisherman’s knot is very easy to tie and has an abundance of use when camping.

It is definitely one to have under your belt as a trusty knot.

If you had knots at your wedding (who doesn’t?!), the double fisherman’s knot would not just be a groomsman but he one who keeps the ring safe.

The knot is extremely safe and reliable, so you can trust it to remain strong, particularly when tension is applied in the direction of the rope or ropes used.

Tip

Use strong 6mm or thicker cord when using this type of knot for grab handles.

Figure Eight Knot

Instructions to tie Figure 8
Also known as: Figure-of-eight knot, Savoy knot, Flemish knot, Double Stopper

Used in camping for:

  • Creating a stopper at the end of a rope to prevent anything falling off the rope
  • Increasing the security of other knots

What makes the Figure Eight knot great?

If you get annoyed by knots that seemingly waste rope because they need to be cut after jamming, you’ll like the figure eight knot.

It is super simple and super easy to tie and is easier to untie after bearing a weight than comparable knots which can need to be cut because of jamming.

It is likely the easiest stopper knot to do and comes in handy in a multitude of situations.

Tip

Use this knot if you want a knot that is easy to visually check for security.

If you don’t want to memorize the steps to tie the knots, we’ve prepared a poster for you as a reference. Print it out, bring it to your trip and feel the power of the knots!
Infographic for Easy to Tie Camping Knots

Common Beginner Camping Mistakes

Infographic on Common Beginner Camper Mistakes

There are a lot of things to remember when going camping, and these are a few of the most common mistakes beginning campers make. We want you to be prepared for your next camping trip, so we’re providing a few examples of what not to do. Taking a good look at these examples will help you enjoy your next outdoor adventure!

Allowing Food and Trash to Attract Animals

One of the top precautions to take when camping is keeping food and trash contained so wild animals like raccoons and bears don’t come sniffing around the campsite. All food should be stored in air-tight containers and never brought into a tent. Even the smell of gum wrappers can draw a bear to your tent, and that would be an inconvenient way to wake up!

Heavy-duty plastic garbage bags are a helpful supply to bring along for storing camp trash. Some people keep the bags in the trunk of the car, but there’s always the possibility of animals scratching the car’s paint trying to get inside. The two best options are keeping garbage in a locked trash storage bin provided by the campsite or in a ‘bear bag’ hung out of reach on a tree branch.

Forgetting to Bring Spare Batteries

It’s a good idea to put new batteries in your flashlights, radios and other small electronics before you leave on a camping trip. And be sure to bring along spares stored in waterproof containers. You’ll need at least one flashlight per camper and at least two battery-operated lanterns to see inside the tent and at the campsite at night.

If you plan to bring cell phones, e-readers or other rechargeable items, be sure they’re fully charged when you leave home. You can buy a fairly inexpensive battery-operated charger to use for electronics, and the high-end models will even accommodate rechargeable batteries and provide light.

Being Unprepared for Hazards

No matter how well-stocked, your first-aid kit isn’t going to do you any good if it’s at home. One way to make sure you’ve got it with you on camping trips is to keep it in the car. That way, you’ll have it if there’s any kind of roadside emergency between camp-outs.

Besides the usual items like bandages, gauze, adhesive tape, alcohol packets, insect repellent, sunscreen and basic medications, a first aid kit should also include a treatment guide.

At least one member of your group should know how to perform CPR. The Red Cross and other community agencies offer first-aid and CPR training year-round at a reasonable cost.

Do bring an emergency blanket because there’s a chance the temperature will drop so low that your body cannot handle it.

Be sure and check the weather forecast, and find out if there are any known hazards in the area. A park ranger can tell you about the terrain and whether there are biting insects to look out for.

Not Bringing Enough of the Right Foods

Taking along plenty of food for a camping trip is a high priority. Remember that everyone will be more physically active when camping and need to consume more calories.

A good rule of thumb is to pack 1.5 to 2.5 pounds of food for each person per day, depending on the amount of activity and the level of cold weather you’ll experience. In cold weather, people need more calories to stay warm, and in hot weather, each person will drink up to a gallon or more of water each day.

It’s important that enough of the foods you bring contain protein for energy, so lean toward trail mix, beef jerky and protein bars as snacks. Sugary snacks will give you a temporary energy boost, but then there’s an energy drop that leaves you feeling tired.

If you’re going to make camping a regular activity, it’s helpful to have a list of all the types of foods you bring that you can check off when shopping and packing for a trip.

Being Unable to Light a Fire

First of all, be sure and bring matches to your campout. Store them in the ubiquitous watertight container like so many other camping staples.

Bring the Sunday newspaper, since tightly balled newsprint will help get a fire going well. And it wouldn’t hurt to bring a supply of small, dry sticks as kindling.

Most people have a picture in mind of roaming the campsite, looking for the perfect branches to make a campfire. That usually works out well, but not always.

There might have been a recent heavy rain that soaked all the available downed branches. Or you might just have bad luck and not find any firewood. To be sure about that roaring fire, your best bet is to bring your own wood.

Bringing Inadequate Clothing

Rain gear is a camping basic when it comes to clothing, so don’t leave it out of your packing. You’ll need a rain poncho with a hood that fits over everything else and boots or galoshes to keep your feet dry.

If it rains while you’re camping, you’ll be thankful to have these items along. Be sure and bring more socks than you think you’ll need since they’re likely to get wet. And don’t forget to bring several thick towels for drying off.

Besides socks, one of the top items to bring is a pair of hiking boots or waterproof sneakers that will be comfortable the whole time. This is not the time to break in new ones, so make sure they’ve been worn several times first.

You’ll also want an extra pair of shoes and clothing that’s suited to the weather. Moisture-wicking clothes are a must whether it’s warm or cold since you don’t want to be cold and clammy in the winter any more than you want to be hot and sweaty in the summer.

Not Having a Rainy-Day Plan

You probably have a plan in mind of what you and your fellow campers will do while you’re there. It could include hiking, roasting marshmallows, playing outdoor games, etc. However, a heavy rain will eliminate all those choices.

Make sure you bring some food that’s suitable for a main meal without having to be cooked. Set up a tarp when you make camp as shade from the sun, and it can do double duty if it rains as a place to prepare food and eat without getting wet.

To make your extended tent time more enjoyable, think about what to do while you’re waiting for the rain to let up. Board games can pass the time as long as you remember the lantern and extra batteries.

A cooler will work as a short table in the middle of the tent for your game board. Reading material and music will also help pass the time, along with small electronics. And this could be the perfect opportunity to tell ghost stories!

Being Prepared is the Key to Happy Camping

Rain, biting insects, and trail hazards won’t keep you from having a wonderful time in the woods as long as you prepare ahead of time. Even if you have to spend a lot of time in the tent because of rain, that’s a chance to enjoy the company of your friends or family.

And you’ll get some down time that you don’t experience at home. If you cover all the bases, it will give you the peace of mind to be able to relax and enjoy the outdoors in all its glory.

Photo of A tent behind a magnificent mountain

Your Own Camping Trip

Now that you’ve gotten some information and tips for camping, it’s time to put them into practice for your own camping trip. There are so many good things about camping to enjoy.

Once you take a look at the types of campgrounds nearby, buy your camping gear, pick out clothes for camping and make a list of foods to take, you’re ready for the adventure! We hope this beginner’s guide to camping will contribute to a rewarding camping experience for you and your family.

Oh, remember to clean up your campsite when you are done too!

So… are you ready to start camping?

3 Comments

  1. Have a look at my post about camping, too!
    http://wp.me/p5HYzX-9e

    • Interesting blog you have there John! Lots of creatively written fictions there so I’m surprised to see an article on family camping.

      • Thanks, Paul!
        I mainly write Fiction, but the prompt that week just got my depleted memory cells pumping and I had to pen that.
        I appreciate you looking at my site and reading some of my stories. Feel free to share them on your Social Media if you wish. πŸ™‚

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