Thanks to the travel restrictions of the pandemic, camping is enjoying a new surge in popularity. According to the fall update to the Kampgrounds of America’s (KOA) 2020 North American Camping Report, 25 percent of North American campers reported that they had their first camping experience during the pandemic.
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If you are new to camping, you may be wondering what gear and camping supplies you’ll need for a successful trip. Whether you’re craving a weekend getaway or a longer escape to nature, here is a list of 15 camping essentials for beginners. (Please note that our list is intended for camping at a drive-in campsite.)
Even if you like the idea of sleeping under the stars, it’s wise to bring a tent as a shelter from an unexpected storm, heavy dew, or insects. When choosing a tent, the two main factors to consider are the weather and how many people will need it for shelter.
Some tents come with ground protection (called a footprint) to help to keep the interior dry. Another option is to use a tarp on the floor of your tent. No matter what the packaging claims, you should always practice setting up a new tent at home. Check the stakes for strength and pack a rubber mallet to secure the tent at the campsite.
2. Sleeping Gear
Temperatures can drop significantly at nightfall, and a sleeping bag is essential for keeping you warm and comfortable. Choose a sleeping bag that has a comfort rating for the weather conditions. And since you’re not backpacking, many beginners enjoy the added insulation of an air mattress or a sleeping pad under their bag.
Find out in advance if your campground offers access to water. Even if it does, it’s still a good idea to bring along at least a day’s supply of water to drink, cook, and wash dishes. You can purchase a cooler, like this one from Coleman, which has a spigot for water at the bottom.
A portable stove is convenient and practical for beginning campers to prepare their meals. (Also, fire restrictions may prevent campfires in some areas prone to wildfires.) This Coleman stove has two adjustable burners, panels to block the wind, and it runs for up to one hour on high on a 16.4-ounce propane cylinder.
5. Camp Chairs and Table
Some campgrounds have picnic tables for your use, but you may want to sit around the campfire, under a shady tree, or beside a nearby stream for your meals. Here is a lightweight, portable table and chair set designed for camping.
There’s nothing like sitting around a campfire to make a camping trip seem “official.” Take along waterproof matches, a cigarette lighter, and some dry bark or newspaper strips packed in a waterproof container.
7. First Aid Kit
Sunburn, blisters, cuts, scrapes, and insect bites can make a camping trip go downhill quickly for a newbie. Be sure to pack a basic first-aid kit to care for any of these minor problems before they get worse.
8. Dishes, Cutlery, and Tubs for Washing Them
Plan your meals ahead of time, keeping in mind that the less prep needed, the better for cooking and cleaning up at the campsite. Here’s a handy utensil and cutlery set designed for camping. And here’s a clever, collapsible cookware set.
9. Pocket Knife or Multitool
A quality pocket knife can be a life-saver on a camping trip. You can use it to cut a rope or a fishing line, slice food, open a package, sharpen a stick, cut away vines, or tighten a screw.
10. Map and Compass
If you plan to hike as part of your camping trip, make sure you have a detailed printed map and a compass. Do not rely solely on your phone since cell reception can fail and battery power can run out.
Flashlights are good to have on hand, but many experienced campers prefer headlamps so they can keep their hands free as they navigate in the dark. Rechargeable lanterns are handy for the table or inside the tent.
12. Clothing and Rain Gear
The weather will influence your clothing choices, but experienced campers pack light and rely on layers of lightweight fabrics. Be sure to pack a waterproof hooded jacket and some wool socks, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants for chilly nights.
13. Hygiene Items
14. Insect Repellent and Sunblock
15. No-Tech Entertainment
No sitting around the campfire on your phone is allowed. Instead, bring along playing cards, travel-sized board games, bikes, fishing gear, rafts, or kayaking gear (and life vests), as well as all the ingredients for s’mores.
With a little planning and foresight, beginners can have a successful first trip that leads to many more camping adventures. Keeping things simple for your first trip will help build your confidence in camping in more remote locations.
Before you leave for your first trip, consider spending a night “camping out” in your back yard. You can use this experience as a way to practice setting up your tent and using your portable stove.
After your trial run, make a checklist of all the items you’ll need for your “real” trip and then check a current weather forecast for your destination.
One more thing – all the increased interest in camping has led to many popular campsites being fully booked six months or even a year in advance. Visit the campsite’s website or call ahead before setting out. You may need to choose an alternative place.
Then, find out all you can about the site, including water availability and any restrictions that might be in place, to avoid any unnecessary disappointment. If you do all these things, you’re certain to have a great camping experience.
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