Many first-time campers assume that they only need basic supplies and a general knowledge of their surroundings to set up an enjoyable camping trip. Even if you’ve camped out hundreds of times, you’ll need to prepare carefully for each new campsite in order to avoid serious frustration and potential safety issues.Here are ten of the most common first-time camping mistakes along with some tips for keeping your trip fun and organized.
1. Picking the Wrong Tent
Tents vary in quality, features, style and ease of setup. You’ll need to find the perfect tent for your trip in order to stay comfortable at night.
Size is an especially important factor if you’re camping with other people. You should count on at least 30 square feet per camper. Make sure that your tent will stand up to harsh weather conditions and check the zippers, poles and fabric before you leave for the campsite. The last thing that you want is to drive a few hours only to arrive with a broken tent.
2. Poor Food Preparation
Many campers bring food that can spoil, trusting a simple cooler to keep steaks, burgers and other meats cool for four to five days at a time. This is obviously a mistake–you’ll need non-perishable foods in order to stave off hunger, especially if you’re planning any rigorous camping activities like hiking and mountain biking.
There’s nothing wrong with adding a few packs of hot dogs to your cooler, but bring along some trail mix, peanut butter, bread and other easy foods. Think about nutrition and actually plan out your daily meals. Remember to bring a few bags for your trash.
3. Not Paying Attention to Plants
If you can’t identify poison oak, poison sumac, poisonous mushrooms and other common plants, you could run into serious trouble on your camping trip. At certain times of the year, even an incidental brush against a poison sumac plant could leave you with serious rashes all over your body.
You can get a cheap plant identification guide online and use it to look around your campsite for potential dangers. Most parks and campsites will also send you a list of poisonous plants known to inhabit the campgrounds if you call ahead and ask.
4. Counting on Building a Fire
Everyone loves a roaring campfire, but if you’re really set on a fire, bring a few logs along with you. Otherwise, rainy weather or a sparse campsite could ruin your trip.
Many rookie campers also assume that they’ll cook all of their food over an open fire. This was fine for early American settlers, but be aware that many foods can take hours to cook to a safe temperature without propane or charcoals. If you want to cook steaks or other thick meats, pack them safely (we’ll discuss wildlife below) and either bring your own portable grill or call your campsite to see if they have stationary grills.
5. Not Creating a List
Camping requires a lot of preparation, and many first-timers don’t understand that there’s more to it than a good knife, a tent and a well-built campfire. If you try to pack without creating a list, you’ll inevitably miss a few important items.
When you make your list, organize it into a few sections. Separate the must-have items from the helpful gadgets and keep all of your emergency items in a safe, easily accessible location. Check off each item as you pack and remember to make another checklist when you’re getting ready to leave.
6. Arriving Too Late
If you’ve only got a few days for a camping trip, you’ll want to get started as quickly as possible. However, you’re going to have to fight the temptation to drive out to your campsite at 5:30 PM on a Friday.
If you burn too much daylight, you’ll have to set up your tent and cook your food in the dark. This is a frustrating experience to say the least, and you’re much more likely to make mistakes if you can’t see your hand in front of your face.
Make sure you’ve got at least three to four hours of daylight at your campsite before your first night’s sleep.
7. Bringing Too Much Stuff
Space is a serious commodity on a camping trip. Don’t waste too much room with unnecessary gadgets, clothes and gear.
If you’re traveling with your family, make a rule: everyone can bring one bag, and it has to fit comfortably in their corner of the tent.
8. Ignoring Wildlife
The Great Outdoors are a double-edged sword; no camper minds the occasional deer or raccoon, but if you don’t exercise some care, your new animal neighbors might cause some trouble.
Pack your food carefully in plastic bags that minimize smells to keep pests away from your campsite. Dispose of your trash safely and always keep your tent fly closed when you’re not in it. If you’re camping in bear country or near any potentially dangerous wildlife, stay alert and know what to do if you should have an encounter with a wild animal.
9. Wearing the Wrong Clothes
Bring sneakers on your camping trip and maybe a pair of sandals, but leave the fancy shoes at the house. Wear layers and always be prepared to get a little dirty. You don’t need too many clothes, but you need the right type of clothing–something that will keep your warm and dry. Pay attention to the weather and pack your clothing accordingly.
10. No Planning and No Practicing
All of these tips boil down to the one basic principle of good camping: prepare yourself. Think about everything that could possibly happen and make sure that you’re ready for potential disasters.
Practice beforehand by building a few campfires, setting up and tearing down your tent, testing your equipment and learning some basic first aid. The more you practice before you leave your house, the better your camping experience. Seasoned campers know that this is an involved hobby, and while anyone can camp, it’s much easier to have a good, safe time if you prepare as much as possible before heading out.