Camping

Camping 101: An Introduction to Camping

Nowadays “camping” can mean any number of things: pop up campers and casual cabins are often considered camping. Though these are good ways to emerge yourself in the wilderness, there is nothing quite as authentic as camping the old fashioned way and hunkering down in a tent and sleeping bag for a night or two. Camping is by far one my favorite ways to enjoy the great outdoors. It is a great way to take a break from your busy schedule and disconnect from the modern world. Often times you will not have access to electricity and wi-fi, which allows you to take a brief technology detox, destress, and connect with nature.

Some of my fondest memories are of my friends, family, and me gathered around a fire, roasting marshmallows, and telling stories to each other as we wasted the night away at a campground nestled somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains. I would stare into the fire, mesmerized by the crackling flames, watching the glowing pieces of ash float upward and disappear in the dark, night sky. There is nothing quite like falling asleep to the sounds of chirping crickets and then waking up to a chorus of bird calls and a fresh morning breeze. For people who have never been camping before, sleeping overnight in a tent in the middle of the wilderness may seem slightly absurd. Yet if you give it a chance, you might find you enjoy it as much as I do.

Better yet, camping is fairly inexpensive once you invest in the proper equipment. Whereas many vacations come with expensive hotel and activity costs, camping only requires a tent, a few sleeping bags, and maybe a small campground fee. If you are planning a family getaway on a budget, camping is an inexpensive option to consider. Growing up, rather than taking extravagant vacations abroad, my parents saved money by taking us on camping trips all over New England. Though it may not seem as exciting as a trip to Disney World, there is much fun to be had in the great outdoors, both for children and adults. It is because of these camping trips that I developed an appreciation and love of nature, something anyone can benefit from.

What to Consider

Of the many outdoor activities to enjoy, camping may seem most complicated because there is much preparation involved. From what gear to pack, to how much food to bring, to where you want to camp, there are many factors to consider before you set out on your trip. Though it requires some planning ahead, the preparation is well worth it.

Let’s take a look at a few factors you’d want to keep in mind while planning a camping trip.

1

Number of People


Camping is a great way to have some good old fashioned fun with friends and family. Though it can offer time to bond with others, if you are looking for some solitude and peace, camping solo can also provide a good outdoors experience. It is very important to consider how many people will be joining you on your camping trip, as it dictates how much food you bring, the size camping site you will need, and how big of a tent you will want to bring with you. The great thing about camping is that it can accommodate any group size; You can find tents that accommodate anywhere from one to over ten people. As long as you keep the count of your group in mind as you prepare, you are bound to have a good time.


2

Where to Camp

Chances are, if you live in close proximity to nature, there are places to camp near you. Whether it be in the mountains, on the beach, or on your own private land, camping can be done in a variety of terrains and topographies. One of the most popular places to camp is on a campground.

Campgrounds have campsites that can be rented: like hotels for the outdoors. They offer many benefits that you would miss out on if you were to backpack or camp on private land. For example, most campsites have fire pits and grills on which you can cook, as well as convenient, flat areas that are perfect for pitching tents. Many campgrounds also have stores where you can stock up on supplies, food, and even firewood. Some are located on lakes, among mountains, or near the ocean, offering you day time exploration. If you are not yet ready to take on the adventure of backpacking, but want to venture into the outdoors for a night, a campground is the perfect place to go. There are thousands of campgrounds located throughout the United States, let alone the world. To find one near you, read guide books and brochures, or simply do some research on the internet.

If you are daring and up for an adventure, backpacking is a cool experience. Backpacking is generally harder and more involved than camping in a campground, for you must carry all your gear and food in a backpack. A common backpacking experience involves a hike, sometimes one that lasts all day, that leads you to your campsite. If you are hiking on a popular backpacking trail, chances are there will be designated spots along the trail to pitch a tent, which may even include a fire pit and an outhouse if you are lucky. Yet if you are hiking along a more remote trail, you may have to use your best judgement to pick your own campsite. However, not all trails allow you to camp overnight, so be sure to do your research to find the best overnight, backpacking trails near you.

If you are lucky enough to own a few acres of land, camping can be as simple as pitching a tent on your own property. If you are new to camping and have such luxury, camping on your own property may be the best introduction to camping. You need not worry about food or transportation. It provides you with the rustic, overnight experience in the outdoors, but has the convenience of having your house only a short walk away.

3

Activities and Entertainment

Though a warm fire, toasted marshmallows, and good company often provide enough entertainment at night, if you plan to embark on a multi day camping trip, you will want to consider activities to occupy your time during the day. This is where location is key; look for campgrounds and camping sites that have attractions nearby. Depending on your location, you may have close access to mountains, hiking and biking trails, and bodies of water to kayak, boat, and fish on. If you are the touristy type, consider visiting local monuments and nearby towns for entertainment. Just as with any other vacation, a camping trip can include some sightseeing and touring; only accommodations in this case are often much less expensive.

4

What to Bring

In addition to camping-specific gear, such as tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads, there are other items that may come in handy on your camping trip. Often times when you camp, you will not have easy access to electricity, so be sure to be prepared for when the sun goes down: bring flashlights and lanterns to provide you with light when it gets dark.

Many campgrounds have outhouses and even showers. Do your research to see what amenities your campsite provides. If you will have access to a shower, be sure to bring towels, sandals, and coins: these days even campground showers cost money. Also, be sure to pack plenty of warm clothes, hats, and gloves. Even if you are camping in the summer when the days are hot, temperature can drop dramatically at night, especially if you are camping in the mountains where the higher altitude makes for a cooler climate.

Another essential item to take on your camping trip is insect repellent. If you are camping in wooded areas, you are sure to encounter some mosquitoes and bugs. Bug spray or wipes will save you from a night of swatting and scratching.

Lastly, you will need to bring the proper materials to build a fire. My favorite part of camping is the fire; not only do they keep you warm and provide light, but they create an enjoyable, comforting atmosphere. There is nothing quite as comforting as gathering around the fire with your loved ones, telling stories, singing songs, and eating delicious s’mores. Though everyone has their own way of building a fire, most people use the same few materials as they construct it: kindling, wood, newspaper, and of course, wood. Depending on where you camp, you may be able to find sticks and kindling around your campsite. Many campgrounds sell these fire necessities, including dried out wood, along with fancy fire starters. However, it never hurts to bring these necessities along with you just in case. There is nothing worse than trying to build a fire out of damp wood and sticks after a rain storm.

If you are backpacking, you will want to be smart and efficient with what you pack, for you have to carry all your gear on your back, including the tent. Pack only the bare necessities to ensure you do not overload your pack.

5

Food and Water

Like you would on any other trip, you want to consider food and water for your camping journey. You may plan to find a restaurant to eat out at on your camping trips, but if you are camping in a more remote location, you will want to bring enough food to last you your entire journey. Food with high nutrition content that provides you with the most energy is the way to go; it will keep you full and powered all day long. Trail mix, pieces of fruit, and granola bars are great to pack for snacks and breakfast. Pre-made sandwiches are great if you desire not to cook. But if you do choose to cook dinner, hot dogs are fun and easy food to cook over a campfire on a stick. If you have a fire pit with a grill, roasting meat or freshly caught fish is a great option. If you want a warm meal, stove-top meal, such as porridge or beans and potatoes, consider bringing a portable gas stove. And of course, you can not forget the dessert; what is camping without s’mores?

Water is another crucial consideration. Most campgrounds have water spigots or sinks where you can get clean water for drinking and washing. However, if you are backpacking, you will want to bring enough water to drink, cook, and wash with. If you are worried about running out of clean, drinkable water, consider packing iodine tablets or drops. There are specific iodine solutions that are made to kill the bacteria in water, allowing you to turn unclean river water into drinkable water.

6

Environment

Environment is an important factor to consider while camping: from nature, to animals, to weather. It is important to respect nature while you camp. This means camp in designated areas and sites and bringing home any trash or waste if there are no disposal bins available. One of the reasons nature is so wonderful is because it is, in a way, untouched. Leaving as little trace of your night of camping ensures that you continue to preserve nature’s beauty.

With the outdoors comes animals, some of which can pose a safety threat if you do not take the proper precautions. Depending on where you camp, bears, coyotes, raccoons, and mountain lions may inhabit the woods around you. Though such animals are unlikely to bother you, they will be attracted by the smell of food. Hence it is important to store your food in your car overnight, or in airtight containers, to ensure you do not attract any unwanted visitors while you sleep.

Another important aspect that will make or break your camping experience is the weather. Make sure to check the weather forecast before you embark on your camping trip. Camping in wet and rainy conditions makes it hard to build a fire and keep dry overnight; enough rain and even the most waterproof tent may spring a leak. Though camping in the rain is doable, getting caught in a storm with only a tent to keep you dry is no fun.

Camping Gear and Equipment

The most expensive part of camping is the equipment. Once you invest in the necessary, quality gear, camping is fairly easy on the wallet. Depending on how intense of a camping journey you plan to take, the climate you camp in, and your own personal preference, the equipment you need will vary.

Tents

The most important and iconic piece of equipment you need while camping is a tent. Though in some weather and locations you can get away with sleeping under the stars in nothing but a sleeping bag, most camping journeys will require a tent to shelter you from the elements and protect you from outdoor critters and pests.

Tents vary in size, design, and durability. The type of tent that will best fit your needs will depend on the number of people you wish to share a tent with, the design you prefer, and the natural elements you will face in the climate you will camp in. Here is a brief breakdown of the different types of tents available. Be sure to check out our more in depth reviews and tent buying guides to learn more about tents for camping.

Different Types of Tents

Below are the different types of categories/types of tents:

Tents Based on Number of People

From one person tents to twenty person tents, you can find a tent that will accommodate your party’s size. If you are transporting a tent by car, the size tent may not matter. However, if you are backpacking, you want to make sure you buy a tent that is light enough for one person to carry. Hence, if you are backpacking with a large group of people, you may want to consider multiple smaller backpacking tents that hold fewer people.

Different Tent Designs

When you think of a classic tent, you picture a small, triangular a-frame tent. However, nowadays tents come in a variety of shapes and designs. Some designs are purely aesthetic while other design features serve a purpose. For example, most tents are wide at the base, have slanted sides, and a tapered or slanting roof. Just like a slanted roof of a house, this structure serves to divert rain and moisture and prevents water from pooling on the roof of the tent. This prevents leaks and keeps you dry throughout the night.

Dome tents, tunnel tents, cabin tents, and safari tents are other common tent designs.

Dome tents, as their name suggests, are domed shaped with extra rodding for additional support. Dome tents hold up well in windy conditions and rough weather.

Tunnel tents, as you guessed it, are tunnel shaped: long and thin with rounded roofs. This design has been around for decades and is popular in Europe. Despite their unique design, tunnel tents are not the best choice for windy climates.

Cabin tents have almost vertical walls that provide maximum height and space. Because of the large amount of space it offers, a cabin tent design is great for large families.

Backpacking Tent

If you are interested in backpacking, you want to make sure you invest in a tent that is lightweight, easy to carry, and takes up as little space as possible. Hoop tents and hammock tents are great options for backpacking because they are easily consolidated and take up less space in your pack than other types of tents.

Hoop tents are designed to stand with minimal poles, which cuts down on storage space and weight. If you are backpacking in more mild climates, a simple tarp shelter or rain fly that keeps rain off you as you sleep, may provide enough coverage. However, it offers little protection from wind, dew, and frost.

Three Season Tents vs Four Season Tents

Most campers choose to limit their camping trips to three main seasons because weather and temperature conditions are most mild: fall, summer, and spring. Hence, the most popular tent is a three season tent. Three season tents are lightweight and have mesh panels that allow for airflow and breathability. Though three season tents can hold their own in rain storms and windy conditions, they are not designed to withstand heavy snow, fierce winds, nor long term exposure to harsh conditions.

Four season tents, often called mountaineering tents, are designed to protect you from harsh, cold, and snowy conditions. They are built with more poles, thicker fabric, and heavier material to provide the support and durability needed to camp during the winter. To keep the tent as insulated and warm as possible, four season tents have limited mesh panels; in mild, warm climates, this can cause the tent to be stuffy and hot, but in cold, harsh weather it provides a cozy and safe shelter. Four season tents are often dome shaped because the sloped design diverts snow and prevents it from collecting on the top of the tent.

Hammock Tents

A hammock tent consists of a hammock that hangs between two trees and a suspended tent-like cover. Hammock tents are more intricate than your run of the mill, casual hammock. Often times the hammock piece of this contraption is made with high quality material and insulation to keep you protected from the cold and the wind.

Hammock tents offer many advantages that most normal, on ground tents can not provide. Not only are you protected from rain and moisture from above, but you need not worry about water pools, dew, or frost on the ground: you stay dry from all areas.

Hammock tents are ideal for rocky, sloped, and uneven terrain that would not comfortably accommodate an on ground tent. Rather, all you need to have a comfortable set up are two sturdy trees and you can camp anywhere. Because of this useful feature, hammock tents are great for backpacking for they allow you to easily set up camp on any part of the trail. Best of all, they are straightforward and simple to assemble, making setting up and taking down camp easy. Hammock tents are a great option for anyone embarking on a long backpacking trip.


Multi-Room Tents

Sometimes tents come with cloth dividers, allowing you to divide the tent into multiple sections, or “rooms”. This feature is great for families or large groups of people because it allows you to have your privacy without having to bring an additional tent.

Motorcycle and Bike Touring Tents

If you are taking a motorcycle or bike touring trip, then you will want to look for compact, lightweight tents that can easily be strapped onto the back of your bike or motorcycle. To minimize storage and transportation space, most motorcycle and bike touring tents are either single or double person. Some motorcyle and bike tents have an added “room” or cover attached to the main compartment of the tent designed to store your motorcycle or bike, keeping it dry and protected from the elements.

Sleeping Bags and Sleeping Pads

In addition to a tent, sleeping bags and sleeping pads are the first pieces of camping gear any beginner camper will need to buy. Sleeping bags provide insulation that traps in your body heat, keeping you warm. Regardless of the season you choose to go camping in, temperatures drop significantly at night, so it is important to have a good quality sleeping bag to keep you warm. Sleeping bags come in a variety of sizes, allowing you to pick one that fits your own height. If you have small children, you will even be able to find a smaller sleeping bag that suits them comfortably.

All sleeping bags have some sort of insulation, but if you plan to camp in the winter seasons, you will want to invest in a sleeping bag with thick, advanced engineering insulation. Though some sleeping bags are bulky, requiring much car space to transport, other sleeping bags can be easily condensed into a small package that is perfect for backpacking, bikes, and motorcycles. You can also find sleeping bag covers that give an extra layer of waterproof protection if you would like to be brave and sleep underneath the stars in the open air.

Though you can survive a night without a sleeping pad, you will not have a comfortable rest. Sleeping pads are made in a range of materials; from foam to inflatable materials, so you will have many options to choose from. They provide you with an extra layer of padding to make sleeping on the hard ground more comfortable. However, sleeping pads can be quite bulky, so if you are backpacking and have limited storage space, you may have to go without.

Tarps and Ropes

Though most tents come with a rain cover of sorts, it is always wise to pack a plastic, reusable tarp or two and some rope. Tent material is often waterproof, but even the best quality tents can experience leaking in heavy rain and snow storms. With a rope and a tarp, you can create an additional layer of protection by hanging the tarp over your tent off nearby trees, or even the roof of your car if needed. Make sure when you hang the tarp it is slightly slanted to allow any water or snow to run off and away from your tent.

Another smart idea to avoid moisture in your tent is to assemble your tent on top of a tarp. This provides an extra barrier between you and the moist ground, ensuring that any rain, snow, dew, or frost does not seep into your dry, warm tent.

Other Possible Camping Gear

A tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and tarps are the basic pieces of gear to bring on all camping trips. Yet depending on your climate and own personal preference, you may want to consider bringing some additional equipment. Here are some more gear options to consider packing:

Tent Heater

For those of you planning a winter or mountain top camping trip, you will want to be prepared for a cold and harsh night. Though many good quality sleeping bags and tents will keep you warm and insulated from the cold, sometimes it will be necessary, let alone more comfortable, to have some extra heat from a tent heater. There are a variety of compact, safe tent heaters on the market: some are powered by propane while others are powered by batteries. If you are looking for a less expensive way to provide you with extra warmth, consider packing a single use, disposable warmer packet that will keep the inside of your sleeping bag toasty as you sleep.

Air Mattress

For those of you who have bad backs and need some extra support and comfort as you sleep, there is nothing wrong with putting an inflatable air mattress in your tent. Though there are more durable air mattresses made specifically for camping and the outdoors, you can probably get away with using a run of the mill, indoor air mattress on your casual camping trips.

Tent Fan

Though night temperatures can drop, if you have a tent stuffed with many people, the cumulative body heat may actually make your tent too warm. Hence, if you have the extra storage space in your car, a tent fan is good to have on hand.

Cooler

A portable cooler provides insulation that will keep any perishable food, such as vegetables, meat, and dairy products, cold. If you want to cook your own meals, but do not want to be limited to dry, nonperishable foods, a cooler is a great piece of gear to invest in. Not only are coolers great for long camping trips, but you can use them on any day trips to keep your meals cool and fresh.

Although camping takes a bit more thought and preparation than other daytime outdoor activities, the overnight outdoors experience is well worth it. Not only is camping a great way to escape and connect with nature, but it is a budget friendly option when it comes to overnight accommodations. The initial investment in tents, sleeping bags, and other gear may make some space in your wallet. But once you put in the money, in the long run, you are bound to save money on accommodations as you travel.

Now that you know more about the different types of camping and the proper gear to pack, you are ready to plan and prepare for a camping trip of your own. So do your research to find a camping spot near you and embark on an outdoor journey of your own. And if you need more inspiration, explore our site more to find camping buying guides and reviews of our favorite camping gear. Happy camping!