These 5 camping tips for beginners will make you want to camp again
Shortly after graduating from college, I was invited on a short weekend camping trip. I had no outdoor experience or equipment and was completely broke. But I really wanted to take part. I started asking for advice on finding cheap used gear and as luck would have it, someone offered to lend me a tent they were no longer using.
When campout weekend rolled around, I packed up the randomly cobbled together gear and headed to the campsite. I was really excited. Although I’ve never been exposed to outdoor activities, camping always looked like fun to me. When I arrived I set up my gear and spent the evening hanging out and cooking dinner over the fire. I had a great time.
Shortly after the sun went down, the sky grew menacingly dark. Thunder rumbled in the distance and within minutes it was pouring rain. We packed everything up and retreated to our tents. As I lay there listening to the storm, it felt like my back was getting wet. ‘That’s strange’, I thought. I grabbed my flashlight and turned it on to find the entire tent was flooded with rainwater. No wonder the lender stopped using it.
There was no way I could spend the night there. Everything was soaked and I was beyond frustrated. I swore to myself that day that I would never camp again. Who would have thought that 20 years later I would be writing an article with my best camping tips for beginners?
About 10 years after the great flood of tents, I actually camped again. This time, however, I had a different attitude and a better tent. I’ve been at this for many years now and have spent hundreds and hundreds of nights sleeping outside. If I could go back in time and offer advice to my younger self, here’s what I would say.
5 tips for your camping trip for beginners
#1 – It’s easy!
Forget the advanced Superior Hiking Trail Thru-Hikers and Boundary Waters Canoe Trippers you see on Instagram and take it easy. Grab an RV cabin at a state park or in the Superior National Forest. Or rent a quality tent from an outfitter or outdoor gear store and book a drive-in campsite.
Showers, gear rentals, and firewood can be found at Minnesota State Parks along the North Shore and inland beyond Ely. The Fall Lake Campground in Superior National Forest offers similar amenities. If you’re looking for a little quieter lakeside campgrounds, check out one of the Superior National Forest campgrounds. And if you want to travel at the last minute and can’t get a reservation, visit one of the first-come, first-served campsites in the State Forests of Finland or Kabetogama.
Plan a short trip. A night or two if you are just starting out is sufficient. And don’t be ashamed to postpone the appointment if the weather is bad. The whole point is to enjoy yourself so that you want to come back and do it all over again.
Plan simple meals and activities. Slow down and give yourself plenty of time to get there and settle in while it’s still light. Plan your trip so you don’t feel rushed and can enjoy every part of the experience.
#2 – Be prepared.
Do a little research before you go. Visit the campsite website to learn more about the area and know the rules. Learn how to keep a clean camp and watch out for bears. Consider the weather and pack a little extra for unexpected rain and cold. Test all your gear and make sure you know how to set it up before you head out. And don’t forget your first aid kit and basic knowledge of how to use it.
#3 – Less is more.
Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned pro, I believe less is more. If you are just starting out, start with the basics when purchasing or renting equipment. Start with a simple gear checklist like this one from the MN DNR. There is very little you need to have an enjoyable trip. Always think quality over quantity. A good tent that keeps out the elements is worth so much more than all the fancy gizmos and gadgets that stock the big outdoor stores. The less you have to pack, lug around, and keep track of, the less of a hassle your camping trip will be.
#4 – Check your attitude and expectations.
When I started camping again after the big tent flood, I was in a different place than 10 years earlier. I had a different mindset and more developed goals. I have already enjoyed the great outdoors and I was determined to love camping this time.
Not everything goes perfectly when you sleep outside. We got stuck in worrying storms, were attacked by bugs and had to evacuate the Boundary Waters due to wildfires. If you are prepared and know what to expect, you can tackle these adventures as they come. Your attitude can affect the outcome of your trip just as much as quality equipment.
#5 – Enjoy the gift of a beginner’s mind.
Everyone starts as a beginner. And while I’m grateful for the knowledge, skills, and experience I have today, I sometimes miss the feeling that everything is fresh and new. While there are rules and guidelines everyone should follow, like Leave No Trace, there are many different ways to plan a great camping trip. Over the years we’ve figured out what we like and don’t like. A lot of people find our path a bit spartan and that’s okay. There is no right or wrong when it comes to camping. Give yourself permission to learn along the way, and if you don’t know something, look it up or ask.
Camping is an inexpensive and wonderful way to slow down and connect with the people who matter most to you. Spending time outdoors can help reduce stress, boost creativity, and clear your mind. And if you follow these tips, you’ll want to do it again and again.
All photos by Holly Scherer
Holly Scherer is a Minnesota-based author, photographer, outdoorsman, and tour guide. She feels most comfortable in the great outdoors; Camping, hiking, paddling, biking and gardening. When she’s not adventuring, she and her husband live in the Twin Cities, where they like to say, “Home is where we keep our outdoor gear.”