This post is sponsored by REI. All opinions are my own.
When Dan and I got married, I’d never been camping before. It felt too daunting, too risky, too overwhelming. Even armed with a few tips for beginner campers, I thought “camping” meant that we had to be completely off the grid and self-sufficient. I’m so glad I figured out that there’s no one “right” way to experience the outdoors and that it’s totally okay if certain comforts help you enjoy nature. And I love that REI and West Elm recognized that and came together to create some lovely little luxuries to make camping more comfortable.
Since Dan had been camping many times before, I was excited to try it out together. Whether you’re tent camping or RV camping, here are some tips for first time campers that helped put me at ease that I hope help any other first time campers out there, too!
Best Tips for Beginner Campers
1. Be Comfortable as First Time Campers
Don’t be afraid to bring some comforts! There’s no award for roughing it to the max. REI & West Elm made this easy with some portable but comfortable gear that can be used at camp or at home. These sleek camp chairs are comfy and also pretty and make great additions to your beginner camping gear! I love the bright yellow and they make camp feel just a little bit special. And this camp mug is perfect to relax and enjoy some hot chocolate around the campfire (my kids all definitely fight over the bear one – it’s so cute).
2. Decide on First Time Tent Camping or First Time RV Camping
There are so many different styles for first time campers, so consider which might work best for you. We started out first time tent camping in public campgrounds, which is one of the easiest and most straightforward ways to camp. You don’t need a ton of gear, and it’s a wonderful way to enjoy nature without needing a lot of first time camping tips.
In the last couple of years, we’ve focused heavily on beginner RV camping, which we love! Camping in an RV means we can have some more comforts of home with us, and we can more easily move from one spot to the next. Still, it can get more expensive with renting or purchasing an RV, and takes a bit more research and decision making (there are all different kinds of first time RV camping, from a traditional motorhome to a trailer to a campervan to even sleeping in the back of a minivan).
Once you’ve figured out which amenities, size, and style work for you for first time camping, it can be a great way to try first time RV camping.
3. First Time Camping Tips: Figure Out Where You’ll Sleep (and reserve in advance if needed)
One of the best first time camping tips is to learn about the number of different places to camp with either a tent or an RV (or a hammock!). When tent camping, we’ve personally always done car camping, where we can drive up to an official campsite, as opposed to hiking into it. There’s also dispersed camping (or boondocking), RV parks, backcountry camping, backpacking, and more.
Official campsites with facilities often require reservations in advance, especially at national and state parks. One of the most useful beginner camping tips is to be sure to check booking windows and dates well in advance!
4. Try Not To Overpack With First Time Camping Gear
But while you should definitely be comfortable, try not to overpack with your first time camping gear. It gets overwhelming to have tons of bulky gear. Remember that you don’t need to have tons of specialty items to enjoy camping! Have a few easy to pack things that will make you feel comfortable but are also simple to set out and pack up.
When you’re first starting out as beginner campers, consider borrowing some first time camping essentials to test out the waters. REI’s gear rental program is perfect for this, or you can ask a friend. And remember if you’re an REI member, you can also take advantage of their used gear program (it’s only $30 for a lifetime membership and you can sign up here). REI members also get discounts on gear rentals.
Here are a few important things to consider as a first time camper:
- Tent/Sleeping bag/Camping pad when tent camping (we love these inflatable kinds that go inside the sleeping bag so they don’t slide around)
- Camp chair
- Headlamp (we like having a couple of these as first time camping essentials – they’re helpful for going to the bathroom at night!)
- Beginner RV essentials
5. Camping Tips for Beginners: Arrive in the Light
While it’s certainly possible to set up camp in the dark, it’s so much easier when it’s light out, especially as a first time camper. That’ll give you time to get familiar with the gear, find everything without depending on a flashlight, and make sure you’re taking all necessary safety precautions. It’ll also allow you to make sure you’re setting up in a relatively flat spot, which will be more comfortable for sleeping. This is true both for setting up a tent or for an RV!
6. Tips for Beginner Campers: Keep Meals Simple
Another one of the tips for first time campers that helps me is to remember to keep meals simple. You don’t need to eat all just-add-water backpacking meals or anything, but try to keep things relatively straightforward. That way, you can spend your time enjoying camp instead of doing tons of camping meal prep. We love doing foil packet burritos, chili, or frozen veggie burgers when tent camping and they’re all great and easy meals for beginner campers.
We also like to prep other foods in advance, like chopping veggies and fruit in advance and storing in a cooler. Just be sure to check any camp rules in advance – if there’s a drought or fire risk, campfires sometimes won’t be allowed, so make sure you have alternate plans for cooking.
Here are a few basic camp cooking supplies to add to your beginner camping gear list that will allow you to cook either on a portable camp stove or over the campfire:
- Dutch oven
- Aluminum foil
- Cast iron pan
- Oven mitts
- Knife & cutting board
- Can opener
- Paper towels
- Trash bags
- Cleaning supplies
RV camping gives you a bit more flexibility with food as you might have a refrigerator and small kitchenette inside the RV. But it’s still a good idea to stick to simple meals in a small space and so you can focus on enjoying your time there.
7. Tips for Beginner Campers: Tidy Your Area and Remain Bear Aware
One of the most important beginner camper tips is to keep your camping area clean and tidy. This is especially important when in bear country, but it’s good practice anytime. Make sure any food and scented items are safely stored away anytime you step away from camp (this includes going to the bathroom or visiting a friend a few sites down!), and safely dispose of any trash. NEVER keep any food or anything scented inside your tent, and change out of the clothes you cooked in (and store them away from your tent.
Always keep bear spray accessible with your beginner camper gear list. Be sure to use bear-safe canisters/bear boxes – this canister is great to have on hand and doubles as a camp stool. And make sure that when in bear country, you don’t leave any food or scented items in your car, either (a hard-sided RV is generally fine).
Related to keeping your area tidy and critter-free, always be sure to zip up your tent at all times. You don’t want something crawling in while you’re not paying attention!! It’s also a good idea to shake off any equipment beforehand, in case something is clinging to the outside.
8. Pack versatile clothing & shoes
To minimize the amount of stuff for camping, we love clothing with multiple uses for our first time camper packing list. Wool is great because it’s naturally odor-resistant and can easily be worn a couple times without washing (you may want to air out). These are our favorite wool socks (also available here). Merino wool base layers are great as pajamas or under layers if it’s cold while hiking. I love this layer to throw
One of the best tips for beginner campers is that shoes are a great place to invest in high quality beginner camping gear. They make such a difference in comfort and get heavy use. We love these hiking boots for kids and these hiking sandals for kids (for warmer weather/water use). And I love these awesome and sturdy women’s hiking boots (here’s the men’s version), or here’s a fantastic pair just over $100. We like these hiking sandals for adults.
9. Practice at Home With Your Beginner Camping Gear List
Camping can feel a bit overwhelming at first, so one of our favorite tips for beginner campers is to consider doing a trial run at home. This will help you feel comfortable and confident, as well as streamline your beginner camping gear list. Practice setting up a tent or hooking up the water in your RV, and go through the motions of cooking, cleaning, and getting everything ready.
Practice wildlife safety and fire safety and test out any gear from your beginner camping list. It’s a great way to feel more comfortable while having the comforts of home just steps away, and you’ll be reminded of anything you need that you may have forgotten from your first time campers checklist.
10. Enjoy Being First Time Campers!
Finally, make time to enjoy camp as first time campers. Part of camping is actually enjoying the site itself and just relaxing in nature! I’m often tempted to go and do all the things, and then we don’t end up actually enjoying the site or the quiet together. It’s nice to have a balance!
Plan a couple activities, but also leave plenty of time open to just sit around the campfire making s’mores, sharing stories, playing games, or whatever is fun and connective for you. There’s no need to pack the schedule when considering all the tips for beginner campers – you might be surprised at how much fun it is to just hang out in nature with people you love.