Camping is a popular, low-cost way to get away from it all, relax, enjoy nature and reconnect with family and friends. But it can be a challenge for beginners, especially for first-time families.
But if you are well prepared and equipped, you don't have to BE experienced to have a great experience.
This guide and the linked articles cover everything you need to know when you are starting out camping as a family. You will find all of our tips and ideas from how to choose a tent through to how to deal with all kinds of weather conditions.
First impressions are important, so don't make your first camping adventure be your last with our camping tips for beginners as well as first-time families.
TOP 10 CAMPING TIPS FOR BEGINNERS
The tips in this article are fairly long and detailed, which suits some first-timers, but not if you are pressed for time. While we certainly encourage you to have a thorough read at a later stage, here are our top 10 tips for beginner campers:
- Plan your camping setup as well as your trips - and involve the kids.
- Start with a good editable packing checklist.
- Camp with friends and share gear, share knowledge and start a tradition.
- Incorporate open-air undercover shelter into your setup for cooking and from the sun and rain.
- Buy well and buy once and, if need be, borrow or buy second hand.
- Test your gear beforehand.
- Plan your meals and your menu with a mix of simple, familiar recipes and local cafes.
- Choose an established campsite close to home with bathroom facilities, power and activities for the kids.
- Avoid bad weather by altering travel times or staying home.
- And last but not least, sign up for our Camping Kickstart Program:
> Reduce the trial and error
> Save time and money
> Reduce frustration
> Go camping like a pro in as little as 28 days
WHAT IS YOUR PREFERRED TYPE OF CAMPING
When you think about camping, your mind automatically pictures a standard tent. And while our core program for beginners, the Camping Kickstart Program, is essentially tent camping trailer free, there are so many other styles and ways in which we can enjoy the great outdoors.
Beginners often start out camping with a tent. And for many people, this is where they will happily stay rather than upgrade to something like a camper trailer, caravan or RV.
You will find a setup to suit your particular style, whether you are a minimalist or a glamper or whether you live in a small apartment or on a large rural property.
For many people, camping is about getting back to the basics, and that means going minimalist style.
Of course, we can't forget smaller hiking tents for the overnight hikers amongst us. These are also useful as a tent for children, especially when space in the car is limited.
Touring from place to place
The great thing about camping is that you can take your accommodation with you, giving you much more flexibility to see those out of the way places without the need to trek back to your place of accommodation.
Long stay camping
Long stay getaways are extremely popular, particularly over the summer months when relaxing in the one place is the order of the holiday. The larger the tent, the more suited it is to longer stays and long weekends. They are not so suited to touring due to the time they typically take to pitch. There are numerous different styles that have multiple rooms and offer plenty of space to suit larger families.
Rooftop tent camping
Another style for those who enjoy touring from place to place is the rooftop tent. While these are great for keeping you off the ground, they are definitely more suited to touring from place to place.
Glamping is becoming more popular for those who are unsure about DIY camping and are happy to have a ready-made setup for which they typically pay a premium price.
If this sounds like you, then go for it, or alternatively, if you want to do it yourself but you don't know where to start, check out our Camping Kickstart Program.
Other types of camping
Then, of course, you have other options other than the tent, some of which include:
The camper trailer
The camper trailer is the first step up from the tent - giving more comfortable sleeping arrangements off the ground, a fitted out kitchen and the ability to take more gear.
They are generally quicker to set up than a typical tent site, although from what I have observed, some still take quite some time.
Caravans are a much more expensive option compared to camper trailers, but they are much quicker to set up and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes to suit anyone. They also provide better weather protection and can allow for more modern comforts, such as air-conditioning and electrical devices.
A campervan is typically a van fitted with cooking facilities and sleeping arrangements.
Some of the larger ones have a built-in table and chair setting as well as bathroom facilities. They are popular to hire.
The Motor Home
Essentially a larger version of the campervan, the motorhome is the ultimate in camping luxury. They can accommodate a medium-size family and avoid the risks associated with towing a large caravan of the same size.
CAMPING TIPS FROM START TO FINISH
And now for the detail. Our tips are ordered chronologically, starting with first things first.
1: Plan first before you buy anything
Don't just go out and buy a tent or anything else before thinking about why you want to go, what you think you might want to do while out there as well as where you want to be in, say, 3-5 years.
What is your style - minimalist, glamper or somewhere in between? Are you planning on starting or growing the family in the future? Do you think you might get into 4-wheel driving? Is touring around the country something that appeals to you? Is an upgrade to a camper trailer or caravan on the cards sooner, later, or never?
These are all questions you should be asking yourself before you start investing your hard-earned money on gear.
A good planning process can really help you to save money knowing you are buying to a plan rather than based on ad-hoc decisions because the items looked good on the shelf.
2: Choose the right tent
One of our most important camping tips for beginners is to choose the type of tent you buy wisely. There are a number of things to consider when buying your tent, and a lot of things can go wrong if you don't choose wisely - poor quality tent, too heavy to carry, too small, too big, too hard to transport, too long to set up, too hard to dry when you get home, or in our case when we bought our first family tent - no useful outdoor shelter. And the list goes on.
3: Properly equip yourself for camping
It sounds obvious, but the better equipped you are for anything, the easier and more rewarding it will be, whether you are snow skiing, cooking, or in our case, learning how to camp in the great outdoors.
That doesn't mean, though, that you need a complicated or high-end setup - just a functional one that serves your requirements.
Certainly, kids won't care if you've got the latest lighting or gas stove or not, as long as they can see at night and eat a simple but delicious meal.
The problem is, beginners typically accumulate their equipment over time and in a random fashion and don't necessarily start out with everything they need.
4: Our top 3 camping items you should avoid
Firstly, as important as it is to find the right outdoor gear, equally important it is to steer clear of items that are notoriously unreliable or you are likely to regret.
Usually, but not always, the main issue will be the size and bulk of the item itself in terms of packing the car. As this list below will not include everything, check out our space saving ideas for camping article for more information.
i) Inflatable air-beds
While inflatable air-beds are popular, and maybe comfortable for the short time they are intact, they are notorious leakers. There are some more expensive and reliable products on the market, but those that we all grew up with should be avoided if you want to avoid the inconvenience of a deflated air-bed and a grumpy and tired sleeper.
Not only that, they take some time to inflate, require a separate pump, and in cold weather, they need to be insulated from the cold air circulating within, which means you also need to be equipped with an insulating layer such as a yoga mat.
Larger lanterns are also very popular and quite functional, to be honest. But there are two aspects to them that exclude them from being on our buy list.
Firstly, they are extremely bulky, which when you have limited space limits what else you can take.
You can source similar rechargeable batteries, but nevertheless, they are bulky for transportation which along is a good enough reason to avoid them.
iii) Large Camping Chairs
If you are tight for space as we are, chairs can take up a lot of space, especially the flat-folding ones. When choosing your chair, go for quality over quantity, and make sure that the chair you choose isn't too bulky for transportation.
5: Stick to the basics
Camping for beginners shouldn't be so complicated to the point where you are not only acclimatizing yourself to the basics and the joys of taking the kids camping but also dealing with the complexities of high-tech gear.
As long as your setup is well equipped with the right camping essentials to fulfil the basic functions, you don't need all of the bells and whistles and to spend a whole lot of money.
6: Buy Well And Buy Once
All too often, the temptation is to go for the cheap option that you might find at lower-priced department stores. especially sleeping and tent related gear.
The reality is, buying durable and long-lasting gear will not only serve you better at the campsite and improve your camping experience, it will save you money in the long run.
The item might look good when you first open it, but they are all too often the cause of grief when they fail you.
And, they really could put those off camping altogether who might have otherwise really enjoyed it.
If money is an issue, try to borrow gear from someone until your finances permit, or buy second-hand rather than settling for something cheaper and less reliable. For more cost-saving ideas, check out our article on ways to reduce your camping costs.
7: Make Sure You Have Adequate Open Air Shelter
You never know what the sun and rain will throw at you, and especially on hot and humid days, having everyone crammed inside a tent for shelter isn't my idea of fun.
Make sure you have an adequate amount of open-air shelter. That could be by way of a shady tree nearby, any shelter provided by the campground, or a marquee or large tarpaulin or tent awning.
8: Be health and safety conscious
For safety, make sure you have a well-equipped first aid kit and use an easily identifiable first aid kit bag. Familiarise yourself in advance with the typical outdoor safety tips that would come in handy for your planned activities.
You should also know how to seek help, especially if you are in remote areas, and familiarise yourself with the required equipment and contact details. Check out our article on how to call for emergency help in Australia. If you are based elsewhere, use this article to research your own local emergency information.
Planning your camping trip
9. Choose established campgrounds
Beginner skiers don't start out on the black runs, and unless it is your personal preference, nor should beginner campers embark on expeditions to remote areas that require a high level of self-sufficiency. Specifically:
- Stay in camping locations with amenities: Your first outdoor adventure can really be improved by staying at established parks with amenities such as showers, toilets, a kitchen, picnic tables, a kiosk or general store, access to ice, and other entertainment activities and facilities to occupy the kids. You can then focus on the basics, knowing you have backup cooking facilities, access to supplies, and you won't need to worry about how to DIY a shower and toilet.
- Check out the local activities: Especially during peak holiday times, established campgrounds will often provide fun activities for kids, such as nature walks, jumping pillows, and games. This will take the pressure off you having to be chief entertainer yourself while you familiarise yourself with the whole camping thing.
- Book a powered site: Many established camping locations also offer mains electricity on powered sites, which negates the need to equip yourself with your own power source. If you do choose a powered site, we definitely recommend using it only to power your refrigeration to keep your food cold (if you have a fridge rather than an icebox), USB-charged lights, electronic devices, and smaller power banks. Bulky electric kettles and toasters etc., should be left at home in favoUr of your gas stove.
10. Avoid bad weather
There's no shame in deferring or calling off a trip or altering your departure date due to a bad weather forecast. In fact, you will find those with a lot of outdoor experience aren't too proud to alter their plans at the sign of inclement weather.
The kids might not seem to notice the heavy rain or cold weather, but it's not everyone's cup of tea. Neither is setting up and packing up in the pouring rain or drying out soaking wet gear at home. These really are the types of issues that can put someone off camping for life.
You can check out our camping and the weather articles for all you need to know about what the weather can throw at you in the great outdoors and the rain gear you should include when packing for camping.
11. Travel with more experienced campers
Travelling with an adult, or child for that matter, with much more experience can provide you with support to deal with some of the trickier aspects of camping. Even if there is that extra pair of experienced hands, etiquette would always suggest that you try to resolve your issues yourself before you take the easy way out by seeking help.
The more you can do yourself, the less reliance you will have on others, and the sooner you can camp independently, and in no time you will be providing tips to YOUR beginner friends.
12. Test Beforehand
Camping for beginners can really be improved if you practice and test at home.
It's not much fun when you realize on the morning of departure day that your gear doesn't fit in your car or that newly purchased gas stove is missing a key fitting just as you are about to start cooking dinner.
To avoid surprises:
- Do a practice pitch of your gear at home before you leave to familiarise yourself with how it is set up and used and to make sure you have all of the pieces and required tools.
- Pack your car for camping in advance of your trip to ensure that everything and, more importantly, everyone can travel safely to and from your destination. Establishing a car packing plan so that you know exactly where everything goes will save lots of time on your trip. This includes how to transport gear on the roof of your car if need be.
- Have an overnight trial run nearby, or even in the backyard where you can also run through the campsite set up as well as the pack up processes.
Get everyone involved, including the kids, in the practice run as well so that they are familiar with what will happen. Allocate specific tasks to help spread the workload and ensure that everyone is on the same page and there are no surprises (or excuses).
Finally, take notes and photos of your car packing progress to act as a reminder for the next time.
13. Stay close to home
First-time campers could test the waters with their setup by staying close to home. If you forget something, you can easily pop back to get it. At the end of the day, if it's a complete disaster, you don't have very far to retreat home.
If that is the case, rather than give up altogether, think about how you could learn from your mistakes to avoid a repeat next time.
14. Create a camping checklist
Once you have decided to test the waters, the first thing to start for any first-time camper is a camping essentials checklist so that you won't forget anything important.
In particular, your checklist should include the following broad categories, which you can read more about in our camping setup for families article:
- Tents and accessories
- Camp refrigeration
- Camp stove
- Power and fuel
- Camp lighting
- The camp kitchen
- First aid and safety
- Bathroom and laundry
- Chairs, dining table, and other furniture
- Outdoor and camping clothes
Packing and getting organised for a camping trip
15: Pack appropriate clothing
When packing your clothing for camping, ensure that you have enough to be able to stay warm and dry. Include lightweight rain gear (raincoat or rain poncho) for each person, a good pair of hiking boots or walking shoes, and lightweight thermal underwear, even if not apparently necessary according to the forecast.
The weather conditions can be unpredictable, and being cold and wet can really turn people off camping. At the end of the day, it's better to be safe than sorry. Make sure everyone has a set of dry clothes, even if it means they wear dirty clothes from time to time.
16: Prioritise sleeping arrangements
Sleep well by packing comfortable and good quality sleeping bags, sleeping pads and other bedding (or for fussy sleepers, as comfortable as possible) as well as extra blankets for added warmth in the cool of the evening and while in bed.
When considering sleeping mats and pads, check the comfort rating before you buy and avoid the cheap air mattresses/lilo's. While they are inexpensive to buy and are popular, they need to be insulated from the cold air within, and (in our opinion) they are notorious leakers!
And if you are a light sleeper, make sure you bring along some luxury items from your home to help you relax. If noise bothers you, maybe bring along ear-plugs, and if your tent is particularly light in the morning, face-masks.
17. Allow plenty of time
There are lots of things you can do when you want to organise a last-minute camping getaway at short notice, but when you are learning how to camp, allow plenty of time.
A so-called "15-minute meal" never takes 15 minutes to cook on the first go (in my experience anyway), and nor will a beginner work through the various processes as quickly as someone more experienced and practised.
Setting up your site in the daylight, from start to finish, and at a leisurely pace to minimize frustrations, is important. Everything will invariably take longer than you think, and so in scheduling your time in those early days, allow for the following:
- Packing and loading your car - 1 to 2 hours.
- Travelling to the destination, including rest stops and time for contingencies - as required.
- Arriving at the campground, checking in, locating the site, and deciding on how it will be configured - at least 30 minutes. Aim to arrive as close to check-in time as possible.
- Setting up - 1 to 2 hours.
Likewise, on departure day, packing up can take as long, if not longer, than the set up. A 10 am checkout time might seem generous, but not when you need to shower, eat your breakfast, pack up all of your gear and then pack and load your car.
If you have limited time, start the packing process early, even the night before, make sure everyone knows how they will contribute to the pack up (including the kids), skip a morning shower and either pre-pack a simple breakfast or eat on the road.
18. Plan your camp meals
Even though a well-equipped camp kitchen can be put together quite easily, don't launch into a complicated menu of culinary delights in those early days:
- Establish a simple meal plan of familiar dishes that everyone will enjoy and look forward to, and make sure you can either bring the ingredients with you or easily source them at your location.
- Prepare a frozen meal at home for dinner on the first or second night - spaghetti bolognese is our personal default family meal.
- Check out the local restaurants and takeaway cafes to reduce the amount of grocery shopping and the extra food you need to take with you and to take the pressure off the kitchen.
- Consider whether you want to be cooking over a fire. If you are experienced, then enjoy! But if not, consider skipping campfire cooking in those early days.
- Make use of any kitchens available for your cooking and have plenty of fresh drinking water on hand.
setting up and managing your campsite
19. Plan your campsite configuration
The difference between a good and bad experience for newbie campers can be as simple as how you choose your campsite and configure it, whether you've pitched your tent in the wrong spot and whether you have easy access to the local amenities.
You might not need to relocate it if you have simply incorrectly oriented the tent in relation to the sun and shade, but not if you stand back to admire your work and discover a dangerously loose hanging tree limb hovering above your tent.
Before you start pitching your tent, think about how you could best configure the site to take full advantage of its features as well as to avoid any inherent hazards.
Think also about your proximity to a water source and any inherent safety issues, such as your proximity to water or the fire pit if you have young children.
20. A place for everything
Something that could benefit not just beginners but everyone is keeping your site organized. Identify a place for everything and returning it when it is not in use.
Being trailer free we don't have a lot of "stuff", and we don't have many places to put it. But that doesn't mean things won't frustratingly go missing just when we need them.
Bring along a couple of spare stackable storage bins or containers to help organize your site and keep similar items together, such as the kid's toys.
21. Manage expectations
In this guide to camping for beginners, we haven't tried to hide the fact that it isn't always fun - heck, it can also test the more experienced amongst us.
You will naturally go through teething problems as you enter an unfamiliar environment, learn new procedures, use new products and respond to new challenges.
Don't expect miracles in those early days, especially with children, and try to stay calm if something doesn't go your way.
If you are not finding it an enjoyable experience, think about how much fun it was for the kids, how cost-effective it was for you and how wonderful it is to be in the great outdoors.
Focus on the positives, and in time you will look back and think how far you have come and have a bit of a laugh about what went wrong.
OTHER USEFUL RESOURCES
One of the most prominent things on any camper's mind is what the weather has in store for us. If you are inexperienced and are not properly prepared or equipped for the conditions, the weather gods can definitely make camping a very unpleasant experience.
For plenty of weather-related advice and tips for beginner campers, check out the following articles:
- Camping in cold weather
- Camping in the rain
- Camping in windy conditions
- Camping in hot weather
- Camping in autumn/fall
Eco-Friendly Camping Tips
Just because you are a beginner camper doesn't mean you can't also focus on the less immediately pressing things around you - the environment. The environment around you might not yell and scream at you when you do the wrong thing by it, but that doesn't mean it's OK to ignore it.
And the good thing is, armed with the tips and advice in this article, you will be better prepared and therefore less likely to abandon your environmental responsibilities in the name of safety and comfort.
For plenty of tips, check out our eco-friendly camping guide, or you can go directly to the main articles here: