Guide: Tent Camping for Beginners

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One of the most economic ways to explore nature is to go tent camping. The best advice you can heed is to stay organized and get familiar with your gear before you go.

There is definitely a learning curve with camping, but making mistakes and creating crazy camping story memories along the way is just part of the fun.

tents camping outdoors hiking

This beginner’s guide to tent camping will help get you through your first camping trip. 

Get Organized With a Tent Camping Checklist

From tents, sleeping pads, and sleeping bags to other necessities like cooking supplies, camp chairs, lanterns, and maps, camping requires an overwhelming amount of gear. If you’re just getting into camping, you don’t necessarily need to purchase all the gear right away. You can rent or borrow the priciest items like tents and sleeping pads and find many other items around your house like flashlights, lawn chairs and cooking supplies.

You can find plenty of camping checklists online and they can be helpful in determining what gear you need in the first place. You can also add or remove items on the list as you gain experience.

Even the most seasoned campers use checklists since there are so many items to remember and its not fun getting to camp and realizing you forgot something important like tent stakes or fuel for the camp stove. 

Store All Your Camping Gear in Clear Plastic Bins 

Pack all your kitchen supplies in a clear plastic bin with a lid. Use another bin for food and others for items like headlamps, lanterns, a first aid kit, sunscreen, outdoor sporting supplies and games. That way you can see what’s inside with a quick glance and keep your items protected from blowing dust and camp critters. This is also a great way to store your gear at home and everything will be packed and ready to go for your next camping trip. 

Test Out Your Gear Before You Go

Once you know what gear you’ll need, it’s wise to do a test run in the backyard or even your living room. Large capacity tents can be complicated to set up, especially with the wind blowing and fellow campers watching, the campsite may not be your preferred spot for setting up a tent for the first time. 

Pitching your tent at home will give you the confidence to set it up at camp and ensure you have all the pieces you need. It’s also a good idea to test out your camp stove, headlamp and sleeping pads to make sure they’re all in working order.    

tents camping campsite gear

Make Sure Your Tent Will Fit Everyone

Stated tent capacity can be very deceptive. Just because a tent says it can sleep four people doesn’t necessarily mean four people will fit comfortably into the tent. Sleeping capacity of a tent pretty much refers to the number of people that can sleep elbow to elbow with no room for anything else be it your dog or gear.

A tent’s sleeping capacity is only accurate for backpacking since backpackers are used to cramming in a tent and don’t want to carry any unnecessary weight. 

READ MORE: 8 Camping Tips and Tricks

For car camping, subtraction two from the tent’s stated sleeping capacity will give you a more comfortable space. A standard 4-person tent will be more suitable for two adults with gear than it would be for four adults. If you’re camping with small children, you can probably get away with upsizing tent capacity by one person.

Of course, there are no real standards for sizing so make sure to consider the square footage of the tent. Better yet, choose one from an outdoor gear store showroom so you can evaluate actual sleeping capacity before you buy.  

Do Your Campground Research 

Deciding where to camp is probably the biggest decision you’ll have. For your first camping trip, consider staying close to home. That way if the weather changes or you have any unanticipated problems, you’re not very far from home. 

If you haven’t spent much time in nature, you may want to choose a campground stocked with amenities and activities to ease into camp life before attempting a weeklong immersion into the wilderness.

Campgrounds vary tremendously in the services they offer from more luxurious spots with flushing toilets, showers, swimming pools, and restaurants to more remote options with vault toilets, fire pits and not much else.  

Know what amenities are going to be available at your campsite so you can be prepared. Not all campgrounds have drinking water, especially if you’re camping in the southwest desert. It is also good to know if firewood is available or if you have to bring your own. Always bring an extra roll of toilet paper, there’s no guarantee the bathrooms in public recreation areas have been stocked recently. 

Find the Perfect Place to Pitch Go Tent Camping

Look for a flat spot in the highest spot of your campsite. Avoid anything with a slope or you might end up with water running into your tent if it rains. Make sure to clear the area of any rocks or sticks so you don’t damage the floor of your tent let alone pop a hole in your air sleeping pad. During the summer, you may want to position your tent so you don’t get baked in the sun first thing in the morning. During the cooler months, you may want to opt for a sunny spot or you may never want to get out of your sleeping bag. 

Tips For Pitching Your Tent

Stake the tent footprint down first so you can position the tent exactly where you want it. Next, stake the back of the tent down, even before you put any poles in, to prevent it from blowing away in the wind. You can also stake down opposite corners first in very windy conditions to reduce the possibility of floor creases. Then connect the tent poles and lay them out across the flat tent so you’re sure you’ve got all the poles in the right places. Then insert the poles and raise the tent.

Most tents come with a waterproof rainfly that goes over the top of your tent. Tents are typically not rainproof so they rely on the rainfly to keep dry. If it’s not going to rain, there is no reason for putting on the rain fly other than it can help seal in warmth and stay a bit darker in the morning. Many tents come with rainfly that can be rolled up so that you can still get plenty of airflow yet can quickly unroll and be covered if it starts to rain. 

Tent Camping for Beginners