The Outdoor Foundation reports that roughly 40 million Americans go camping in a given year. Typical campers go on five camping trips per year, traveling an average of 191 miles from their home to the campground. Campers include friends on their trips 70 percent of the time, and hiking is the most popular camping trip activity.
Camping is a popular activity, but many curious would-be campers do not know where to get started. It can be tempting to purchase all of the gear needed and trek out in the woods to give it a try. But if camping is not all you expected it to be, you have just made a costly investment in a lot of equipment you are unlikely to use again.
Instead of jumping right in, first try to learn as much about camping as possible. Do your homework, learning about various camping styles and which ones you prefer. Does the idea of renting a recreational vehicle sound more inviting than sleeping in a tent? Would you prefer a campground with showers, toilets and other amenities or is roughing it in the great outdoors more appealing? Once prospective campers are able to find their camping path, they can explore all of the possibilities and give it a trial run.
Test the waters
There's bound to be a camping enthusiast in your midst. Find a friend or family member who enjoys camping out and find out if you can join him or her on his or her next trip. Take advantage of this person's supplies (you may need to purchase nominal equipment, such as a backpack and sleeping bag) and expertise. Such trips can provide some firsthand experience, and friends can offer advice on the keys to successful camping. It is generally easier to learn the ropes from someone who has experience choosing campsites and pitching tents, and this person also can offer suggestions about gear.
How rugged are you?
The definition of camping varies from camper to camper. For some, camping must include sleeping on a bedroll strewn out under the stars, while others may appreciate a few more luxuries on their camping excursions, like the running water or equipment offered at a campsite or park. Still, others do not want to leave the perks of home at home, preferring the comfortable living of a recreational vehicle. Nothing can end a camping excursion more quickly than discomfort and not enjoying the experience. It is better to figure out in advance just how rough you want things to be.
Rent before buying
Rent camping equipment to test out the gear you have in mind. This will give you an idea of everything from the sizes of tents to the type of cookware you may need. Renting is a less expensive approach for those who plan to camp sparingly.
If your first trip inspires a genuine love of camping, then you can purchase equipment. You can always begin with the basics and then expand as you find new gear that will enhance your camping experiences, asking camping enthusiasts and experts for recommendations on everything from gear to campsites and more.
Pointers for beginners
The first time you go camping on your own you will likely be a bit nervous. When looking for a campsite, find a level ground that is high up. You do not want to be rolling down a slope or find that the tide has come in and you're now floating inside your tent. But choose a spot with a nearby water supply as well. You will need it for cooking and cleaning up. Water is heavy to carry, so you do not want to have to transport it too far.
Never light a fire inside of your tent. Keep the fire for cooking and warmth away from sleeping quarters for safety's sake. Carbon monoxide can build up quickly, even inside a ventilated tent. Never leave a campfire burning unattended.
A campsite with a mix of sun and shade will help you feel most comfortable. Spending several hours in the blazing sun can compromise your energy levels and put you at risk for dehydration. It is a good idea to have a way to get out of the hot sun. Overhanging tree limbs also may buffer the tent from rain.
Food storage is another factor to consider when camping. You will be outdoors where wild animals reside, and a campsite can attract anything from small rodents to larger predators. Food should always be stored in insulated coolers that are not easily opened. Keep the food away from the tent so that animals will not rummage through sleeping quarters for snacks. Store garbage off the ground and out of reach of many animals. Dispose of garbage properly, ideally in covered trash receptacles. Animals accustomed to campsite food may be more daring than you would otherwise expect, so do not feed wildlife and keep food and trash out of reach.
Camping is a popular pastime and an activity tailor-made for warmer weather. But beginners should learn the ropes and test their equipment before investing too much time and money.