When planning for your first camping trip, there are many things to consider from picking a campground to planning activities to what equipment to buy to meal planning. Below is my list for planning for your first tent camping trip: 10 tips.
I would recommend picking a campground that is close to you for your first trip. A good place to start is doing a search on Google and Yelp, reading reviews, etc. If you find one that is close to you, I would suggest visiting the campground prior to your camping trip to check out the campground layout, bathrooms, showers (if applicable), campsites, activities, store (if applicable), etc.
Some campgrounds get booked 6 to 12 months in advance, so I would recommend making your reservation as early as you can. Note, some campground websites have online reservations with pictures of campsites, others you have to call and pay over the phone with a credit card. Most campgrounds will require a deposit (usually one day fee) upon making a reservation. You’ll also want to verify the campground’s cancellation policy, pet policy/fees (if you want to bring pets) and parking policy.
Most campsites have a fire pit and picnic table, but you’ll want to verify with campground. If you need electricity and/or potable water at the campsite, then you’ll want to verify availability with the campground. Check out my article about 3 types of campsites.
Be sure you confirm check in and check out times, as well as bring your printed reservation confirmation with you on your trip.
You’ll want to determine what camping equipment you’ll need, what you have and what you need to buy. Check out my article “12 tent camping equipment essentials for new campers.” You’ll want to buy your camping equipment well in advance of your camping trip so you can test your equipment before you go on your trip.
A good resource for campground and local activities is the campground website and staff. Some campgrounds have hiking/horse trails, pools, fishing, boat rentals, basketball/volleyball courts, clubhouse, kids activities, etc. You’ll want to verify what is available, if any additional fees are required and if any special equipment is needed. If specialized equipment is needed, the campground may provide rental equipment.
If you decide to go fishing/crabbing, you may need to buy a fishing permit ahead of time if the campground doesn’t sell them. I typically buy my fishing permit at Big 5 Sporting goods, but I believe you can buy at Walmart or Dick’s Sporting Goods too. Sometimes the campground staff are a good resource about if a permit is needed, catch limits, seasons, what type of fish are present and the best type of bait/lures. But, you can always go straight to the source for this information, the state agency that regulates fishing for your state. For example, in California you would contact the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Of course you’ll want to remember to bring your fishing poles, tackle box, fishing net, etc.
Some campgrounds are located in an area that have local attractions. For example, Santa Cruz, CA has museums, beaches, state parks and other attractions. I typically do a search on Yelp for “kids activities.” For more ideas for cheap activities for your camping trip, check out my article Cheap activities for family camping trips: 10 tips.
I would recommend starting a spreadsheet so you can map out what you plan to eat for each meal and snacks, as well as drinks. Then, you’ll want to use that list create another list of ingredients/condiments (meats, veggies, fruit, cheese, oil, butter, salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, mayo, salad dressing, barbeque sauce, soy sauce, sriracha sauce, etc.) and cooking tools (lighter, pans, pots, knives, cutting boards, bowels, foil, plastic bags, plates, cups, utensils, paper towels, garbage bags, etc.) you’ll need for your trip.
You’ll want to check the weather to determine what type of clothing you’ll need, if it’s going to be hot bring shorts and short sleeve shirts. If it’s going to be cold and/or raining, be sure you pack heavy waterproof jackets, sweat shirts, pants, long sleeve shirts, hats, gloves, boots and thermals (if applicable).
Your activities will also dictate type of clothing you’ll need, for example if you or your kids plan on swimming you’ll need swim trucks, flip flops, sun tan lotion, etc. If you plan on surfing or water sports, you may need a wet suit.
You’ll want to pack all of the typical stuff for traveling overnight, like toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, soap, shampoo, deodorant, bath towels, blow dryer, nail clippers, lip balm, wipes, toilet paper, Kleenex, etc. If you use a cpap machine for sleeping, you’ll want to make sure you bring a battery bank or ensure you have access to electricity.
You can buy a first aid kit or make your own. My family usually brings the standard stuff like neosporin, band aids, gauze, scissors, eye drops, etc. We also bring things like mosquito spray, sun tan lotion, cough medicine, cough drops, allergy medicine, Motrin and EpiPens (2 of our kids are allergic to peanuts). We use a fishing tackle box to accommodate all of the supplies.
We usually bring stuff for the kids to play with, like glove/ball, frisbee, kite and other outdoor toys. I would recommend bringing extra phones or tablets so that your kids can stay occupied in the car when you’re setting up or breaking down camp.
Just in case you don’t get cell reception, you’ll want to print out directions/maps so you don’t have to worry. You’ll also want to be sure you print your reservation and bring it with you.
It’s usually a good idea to check your car and pack your car the night before as much as possible. Be sure you have a full tank of gas (or your car is charged up if you have an electric car) and to check your car’s tire pressure.
Did you know that America’s Tire Company checks tire pressure for free and can check for other issues too? They are usually busy, so be sure you allow time for waiting in line for them to check your car’s tire pressure. Or, you could invest in a good air compressor, see my review of the TEROMAS Tire Inflator Air Compressor.
I would recommend that you arrive at the campground during daylight hours because it’s easier to find the campground, find the office so you can check in and to find your campsite. Daylight will also make setting up your campsite easier, like setting up your tent, cooking area, etc. Be sure to confirm check in and check out times with the campground.
I hope my list for “Planning for your first tent camping trip: 10 tips” was helpful, enjoy the outdoors!
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