Becoming a happy camper: ultimate camping tips for beginners and first-timers!

Becoming a happy camper: ultimate camping tips for beginners and first-timers!

On top of a rock in Indonesia, where the wind was so strong the tent-cloth touched my face, I camped.
In between a colorful sea of tents with thousands of other festival lovers, I camped.
Surrounded by laughing hyena’s and massive hippos, on the banks of Lake Baringo in Kenya, I camped.

A variety of camping experiences I’d say, but what do they have in common?

1. I never had to set-up my own tent
2. They all only lasted for 1-2 nights.
3. I was always surrounded by experienced camping friends.

So yes, my camping experience is limited. February 15th next year marks the start of BoB’s Epic Adventure, a 6-month backpacking journey to Southern Africa and the Silk Road. During this trip I hope to camp many a night. I even already bought a tent!

To prepare, I decided to ask fellow travel bloggers and backpackers to help me with tips for beginning and first-time campers. Fortunately, they didn’t mind sharing their ‘camping secrets’ and numerous practical advices and tips came in. Of course, I’ll also share them with you!

Here they are, the ultimate camping tips for beginners and first-time campers. If you have another useful camping tip for me, let me know in the comments.

ANIMALS AND INSECTS

Remember the phrase “A fed bear is a dead bear.” This applies more than bears; it applies to ALL animals. If they learn people mean food and it takes them out of their natural behaviors.  They could also become aggressive towards people. – Made all the Difference.

Always check your sleeping bag, boots, or any clothing you leave around as these are natural hiding places for things like spiders. Close your tent flap or you may well find an animal enjoying your company at nighttime. Contented Traveller. 

Cover and stow all food. Animals will eat anything left slightly vulnerable as quickly as possible. Contented Traveller. 

Keep your toiletries and food out of your tent. Anything smelly goes in your bear bin, or in a bear canister or bear bag if you are in an undeveloped campsite. Even out of bear country, a bear bag will keep your food off the ground and away from small animals like mice, who will chew through your tent and pack. Food should be at least 100 feet away and downwind of camp. – Anywhere At Home.

Check the weather beforehand, so you can pack appropriately and make sure to bring the most potent bug spray and sunscreen. – The Atlas Heart.

When store your cooler outside, put a ratchet strap around it to help prevent small animal break-ins. When out of camp, keep your cooler stored in a secure location such as a bear box or locked car. – Made all the Difference.

©Bunch of Backpackers
©Bunch of Backpackers
EQUIPMENT

Most tents have a hook inside at the very top, I like to hang my flashlight or headlamp from there when it’s dark and I want to illuminate the whole tent. It works incredibly well even for a small light! – Be My Travel Muse

Try out your equipment beforehand, whether you’ve bought new or used gear, or borrowed gear from a friend. Assemble your tent, try to start your camp stove, and blow up your sleeping pad to check for leaks. A trial run on your tent is important, you want to make sure all parts are there and nothing is broken. You will also know how to set up your tent quickly in case you are forced to set up camp in bad weather. – Anywhere At Home.

If you’re short on space or have to carry your kit, use your sleeping bag stuff sack as your pillow. Fill it with clothes and jackets and hey presto, one ready made pillow. All set for a comfy night’s sleep. Just watch out for clothes with toggles, you don’t want to wake up with an imprint in your cheek! – Conversant Traveller. 

No matter how young or tough you are, camping for any length of time isn’t the most comfortable of experiences, and you don’t want to end up too tired to enjoy the trip. So invest in an inflatable camping mattress (such as a Thermarest) and enjoy a little comfort! Some of them pack up really small and light so actually take up less room than a standard camping mat. – Conversant Traveller. 

My top tip for anyone planning a foray into the canvasy realms would be, without a doubt, earplugs. It’s wonderful to have romantic notions of waking up to birdsong, but the stark reality is you may just be struggling to fall asleep thanks to Bob-next-door’s snoring. Or worse. Sound travels well at night, even better in wide open spaces, and even better yet when people forget (as they always do) that tents are in no way soundproof. So pack those plugs and escape such unspeakable horrors. – If You Wanna Go, Just Go

Bring a toilet roll. Oh, such a simple product, but with endless uses. There is the obvious, of course, and trust me- after extensive camping trips in the outback where this fate has befallen me more times than I care to admit – you do not want to be caught short. That’s all I’m saying on the matter. Surprise body functions aside, it is also just generally useful for all manner of bizarre things- spilt drinks, cuts, mopping up any rain water, drying, wrapping, cleaning.- If You Wanna Go, Just Go

Practicing Camping! ©Cross That Box.
Practicing Camping! ©Cross That Box.

You can never have enough mini carabiners. They come in useful for all sorts of things whilst camping, such as rigging up torches inside the tent at night, hanging up washing (or drying out soggy socks!), and clipping things onto your rucksack. Not advised for hard core rock-climbing though! – Conversant Traveller. 

Wet wipes have been really useful during the Inca Trail, when I did not have access to a real shower. Every day, before getting dressed in my tent, I would wipe my whole body. I did the same at night, to wipe away some sweat and dirt. Sure, it is not like showering but it is better than nothing. Some pharmacies even sell cleaning gloves: they are bigger and thicker and are great for a dry shower. – My Adventures Across The World.

Bring hand gel! There are times I spend an entire day without access to water when camping. I don’t like wasting bottled water, I prefer to use it for drinking. So I find that hand gel is great as it cleans and refreshes my hands and sanitizes them too. – My Adventures Across The World.

When I ended up having to pitch a tent on the beach in San Blas, Panama, in the middle of the night, I was really glad to have a flashlight that would help me see as it was pitch black! Not to mention, it is handy in case I have to look for a toilet in the middle of the night and even if I need to search my tent for anything at all. – My Adventures Across The World.

This is the type of thing your mother always tells you to pack, with good reason– bin bags / black sacks. Obviously, they make the most glamorous of emergency rain poncho’s. In a similar vein, they also make great backpack covers and can help you to keep precious things (like, lunch!) dry and protected. No one needs a soggy sambo. No one needs a soggy anything, actually, and you will be surprised at the uses for such a versatile item. Not least as a means to separate muddy shoes, soggy socks and pre-loved panties from your rapidly diminishing  ‘clean’ clothes.- If You Wanna Go, Just Go

Don’t take too many clothes. Bring one sweatshirt and one waterproof jacket that you can use if needed, and only one pair of supportive shoes. This will allow more space to bring the important items. – Postcards to Seattle. 

Invest in an iron skillet. Many meals can be made on this and it will go a long way. – Postcards to Seattle.

Bring tinfoil as an easy way to grill veggies, meat, etc. over the fire by wrapping them in it. – Postcards to Seattle. 

Lastly, use bar detergent and break off pieces. That way, if you can’t find a wash basin and only have a faucet to work with, you can still clean your clothes. – Be My Travel Muse

Camping for beginners©Bunch of Backpackers
©Bunch of Backpackers
CAMP SITE

Pitch your tent wisely and find a good spot for your temporary home. Finding the perfect spot for building your temporary home could seem an overwhelming task the first time if you realize how many factors are involved and, therefore, how many things you should consider in order to do it the best you can. There’s not perfect spot and good luck – specially with the weather forecast – plays a big role but it only takes a couple of minutes to think about it and you could be saving yourself a lot of trouble. – A World To Travel.

Points to consider when finding a good spot: You want to be safe from the elements, mind water currents, find the flattest terrain you can as well as shelter and avoid strong winds, be near a shade if possible and mind things like how far are you from the loo (or spot that can be used as that) and if there are wild animals you should protect yourself from. – A World To Travel. 

Always keep the principles of leave no trace in mind. If there’s no toilet, know how and where to dig a cathole (6-8 inches deep, 200 feet from water, camp, or trails). Don’t wash dishes or use soap in streams or lakes. Instead, carry it away and scatter the gray water across the ground. Broadcast (spray instead or spit) your toothpaste. Leave no trash in your campsite, throwing it away in the bins at the campsite or packing everything out. – Anywhere At Home.

There is nothing like a roaring big fire when you camp. Check that there is no fire restrictions on and that you are actually able to light a fire in the open. There is nothing better than watching the flames as you have a big open sky above you. – The Contented Traveller. 

SECURITY & SAFETY

You must invest in a padlock with a number code on it, this way you couldn’t possibly loose the key. Use this to lock your tent from the outside when you are not nearby. Keep the side flaps closed when you’re not in your tent- out of sight, out of mind. – Cross That Box. 

Hide your valuables in undesirable places such as a dirty laundry bag or somewhere else that might be a bit stinky. We don’t want to reveal all of our ideas to any potential bad guys so use your imagination! – Cross That Box. 

Separate valuables into different bags or different areas of your bag. Such as your laptop and hard drive. If you have one stolen at least you still have a backup of everything. Same goes for cash and other valuables. Don’t hide it all in the one place! – Cross That Box. 

Leave a detailed itinerary for your friends and family in case of an emergency. so if they don’t hear from you by a certain time, they know to contact the authorities. Also, check in with the local rangers to get a permit and make them aware of your presence. – The Atlas Heart.
Camping beginners
©Bunch of Backpackers
WATERPROOFING 

Don’t underestimate the rain or condensation from humidity when camping. The best thing you can do is waterproof your valuables and electronics. If you don’t have a dry bag then you need one. I carry my camera everywhere in one of these and we also keep our smaller electronics in one. Garbage bags are great for lining your backpack or smaller shopping bags to separate your clothing. – Cross That Box

If you’re about to head somewhere that might be a bit wet, invest in an extra or better rain cover, trust me! I learned the hard way after camping in Eastern Africa for 35 days during the rainy season that tents don’t always come with a great rain covers. – Be My Travel Muse

WEIGHT SAVERS

Set up your tent before your trip and trim your ground cloth to fit exactly under your tent. The extra plastic doesn’t do you any good; in fact, it can channel rainwater under your tent in a storm. – Lisa Kramer Vintage. 

Take a seam ripper and remove any of those plastic lashing patches from your backpack that you don’t use. I knew I would never be carrying an ice ax or skis and didn’t need lashing points designed for them. – Lisa Kramer Vintage. 

Small zip-lock bags are your friend. They can be used for medications, spices, first aid supplies, and other small items, and are much lighter than little plastic containers.  Use a Sharpy to label medications and spices.  My favorite size is 3″x5″ jewelry zip-lock bags that can be bought at bead stores or online.  This size bag is just big enough to hold q-tips and business cards, making them versatile for all kinds of travel. – Lisa Kramer Vintage. 

FOOD

Keep your meals simple! It’s possible to cook elaborate meals by campfire, but after a long day, the best meals are the quickest to prepare and clean up. My favorite is “just add water”: a packet of ramen noodles, bagged chicken, and dehydrated veggies. It’s about $2/serving and all you need is boiling water! – The Girl and Globe. 

The fire is a great place to cook a camp stew, which stands for, throw anything in the pot and let it cook over the fire. No matter what you put in, this will be the best meal you have ever eaten. – Contented Traveller. 

Use a little portable camping stove to assure that you’ll have a hot breakfast and dinner. Whether you just finished a long hike, or you’re coming back to your campsite after a long day, there’s nothing better than having a warm meal to fill you up before you fall asleep, or to start your day. When I was doing my 3-day hike through Abel Tasman in New Zealand, that’s what kept us going and motivated throughout our whole time on the trail. – The Atlas Heart.

Camping for beginners ©Bunch of Backpackers.
©Bunch of Backpackers.
THANK YOU!

I’d like to thank all contributors to this extensive article! As a camping rookie I feel much more comfortable with these tips and tricks. If you loved this post, take a look at their websites. They have traveled and camped around the world. If you have any questions on camping, feel free to contact them as they are always happy to help!

Angel & Michelle – Anywhere at Home

Inma – A World To Travel

Kristin – Be My Travel Muse

Heather – Conversant Traveller

Michael & Carly – Cross That Box

Gordon & Paula – Contented Traveller

Mel – If You Wanna Go, Just Go

Lisa – Lisa Kramer Vintage

Jennifer – Made all the Difference

Claudia – My Adventures Across The World

Marissa – Postcards to Seattle

Mimi – The Atlas Heart

Becky – The Girl and Globe

If you have another useful camping tip for me (and other readers), please let me know in the comments! Cheers and thanks, Manouk

Meet 'travel mastermind' Manouk: a 29-year-old sassy girl from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. With BoB she inspires you to explore the world, meet the unexpected and follow your dreams. Happy travels!

12 COMMENTS

  1. Wauw wat een uitgebreid artikel! Ik kampeer niet zo heel vaak, enerzijds omdat ik geen eigen spullen heb en anderzijds omdat ik dus echt bang voor beren ben. Ik zie het zo niet zitten om te kamperen in berenland. Jammer, maar daardoor slaap ik vaak in shabby motels, terwijl ik stiekem heel graag zou willen kamperen haha!

    • Spullen kan je natuurlijk zo kopen! Het berenprobleem kan ik je helaas geen advies voor geven ;) Ik heb ook zeer beperkte kampeerervaring, dus ben benieuwd hoe het op reis zal gaan. Ik hoop ‘s nachts in ieder geval geen slangen tegen te komen!

  2. Great article. Certainly will use these tips and tricks. Just like you I was surrounded my many experienced camping friends as well. Setting up a tent is like a Ikea-closet for me. And I always miss the right tools to set up one, like a decent hammer… So frustrating sometimes.

  3. I really have got to get a handle on making my own fire. I’ve always been with somebody who can make it happen. But if I want to do any solo-get-away-from-it-all trips, that is a MUST. Can’t wait to hear all about your trip. You’ve compiled some awesome tips here!

  4. Thanks Manouk!
    The article looks awesome and I am so happy I could contribute with my little knowledge to it :)
    Fun and safe travels!

  5. Wat een boel tips! Ik heb niet bijzonder veel ervaring met kamperen, maar vind het wel erg tof om te doen. Ik heb een paar keer tijdens mijn backpackreis gekampeerd in de jungle en in het bos. Erg tof!

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