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A Beginner's Guide to Camping

John is a fervent writer, gamer, and guitar lover. Former automatic-transmission repairer, welder and hobbyist game developer.

The increasing popularity of camping has seen more and more people opt to spend at least some of their vacation time in the great outdoors rather than flying abroad and/or booking expensive hotel rooms. There is something pure about sleeping out in nature, spending quality time with friends and family away from electronic distractions, and generally cleansing your mind of the stresses of regular life.

There are financial advantages also. When you fly to a nice resort, you have to pay for your flights, your room, and a number of other associated costs every time you go. With camping, the vast bulk of the costs involved are in your camping gear, which you only have to purchase once and, will likely last you for many years (with proper care, of course).

Please note that in this article, we're focusing solely on tent-based camping. Camping with RVs or campervans is a whole different ballgame. With that in mind, this article aims to be a beginner’s guide for people who are new to the wonderful experience of camping. So let’s get started.

What are the Different Kinds of Camping?

As the heading suggests, there are a number of different types of camping which you can experience. Most of these are down to personal preference—do you want as much or as little luxury as possible, for example—however some are determined by outside factors. So let’s start with that.

Festival/Event Camping

Most of your camping choices are determined by your preferences. With event camping—such as at a music festival—this is not the case. If you are attending a festival and have decided to camp, you are limited to whatever conditions the event organisers have set up.

For any festivals that are sufficiently large and popular, expect the conditions of the campsite to be crowded. It will often be the case that walking between tents is not possible due to the narrow spaces between pitches. There will also typically be restrictions on how much space you can take up per person, so rolling up to a music festival with an enormous ten-man tent for just two of you may get you shut down.

At events that put on entertainment, don’t expect much peace and quiet; something to plan for if you’re a light sleeper. Music will typically be playing late into the night. This is especially the case where the event grounds are adjacent to the campsite, and the noise from the event itself can bleed into the campsite.

Festival camping can be a much different experience to traditional camping. Expect very crowded campsites and not a lot of peace and quiet.

Festival camping can be a much different experience to traditional camping. Expect very crowded campsites and not a lot of peace and quiet.

You should also be aware of the food situation. The festival itself will almost certainly have a number of options for food and drink, however they will not be cheap due to the “captive audience” nature of such events. If you’re on a tight budget, you may want to bring your meals and the means to cook them.

Glamping

Glamping is relatively modern phenomenon, and could be viewed as a perfect stepping stone for someone looking to dip their toes into the camping experience without diving fully in. Glamping typically involves booking a pre-pitched tent, much like booking a hotel room, however these tents are often larger, more comfortable, and come with a number mod-cons that you won’t typically get from a regular camping experience.

Common glamping tents include yurts and tepees, and will often have things like wood burning stoves, real beds, furniture, and even electricity in some cases.

You may find camping “purists” look down on you a bit for opting to go glamping, but anything that gets people outdoors more should not be frowned upon.

Glamping involves booking a pre-pitched tent that will often have many luxuries a regular camping experience lacks.

Glamping involves booking a pre-pitched tent that will often have many luxuries a regular camping experience lacks.

Regular Campsite Camping

The core camping experience. When most people talk about camping, they’re talking about this. After making sure you have all the equipment you need, you book a pitch on a campsite. The facilities on offer at various campsites vary from nothing more than a small toilet block to a full on entertainment resort. The rules also vary greatly. Some campsites may refuse large groups of people, some may prohibit open fires, and so on.

You should always check what facilities there will be at your campsite. For instance, many will have a shop of some kind, either on-site or nearby. But you don’t want to get to your campsite, only to find out there is no such shop and then have to drive miles away for that one thing you forgot to pack.

It’s also worth taking the surrounding area into account. Mother Nature is great for a day or two, but if you’re taking children, there’s a good chance they’ll get bored spending a week in a field. Choosing a campsite near a beach or some kind of attraction—or the aforementioned resorts—would probably make for a much more enjoyable family camping experience.

Regular campsite camping strikes a nice balance between nature and comfort, and is a great experience for children to have.

Regular campsite camping strikes a nice balance between nature and comfort, and is a great experience for children to have.

Wild Camping

As you may have guessed from the name, wild camping is the act of heading out into the great beyond and pitching your tent in the heart of nature. No mod cons, no civilisation, not so much as a convenience store. Whatever you need, you have to bring with you or find in the wild.

Of course, if you’re in a country like the UK, there isn’t really any “wild” to camp in anymore. Regardless of where you intend to go, be sure to obtain any necessary permissions before you camp anywhere.

One of the core rules of wild camping is that you should leave your campsite in such a state that no one could realistically tell you’d been there. That probably rules out any fires as it is very difficult to have a fire without leaving signs of it behind. And it should go without saying that any mess, such as litter, should be picked up.

Camping wild is the purest form of camping you can undertake. But with so few "wild" places left in the world, make sure you have permission to camp wherever you decide to pitch up.

Camping wild is the purest form of camping you can undertake. But with so few "wild" places left in the world, make sure you have permission to camp wherever you decide to pitch up.

What Equipment do I Need?

There are a number of essentials you should own (or borrow) before ever embarking on your first camping trip. Let’s start with the tent.

Tent

The type of tent you need will be greatly affected by who you’re going with and what kind of trip you’re planning… not to mention your budget. For activity-based camping trips, such as hiking, efficiency is typically key. You’ll want to take only the bare essentials, and have everything pack up into as small a space as possible. This will limit your choices to small one or two man tents.

For a more laid back camping trip, you may want to opt for something a little bigger, especially if you have children with you. Camping is about giving up the luxuries of regular living for a time, but one luxury that you’ll greatly appreciate on any camping trip a bit of standing room, sheltered and private. It sounds obvious but if you’re camping for more than a couple of days, being able to do things like change your clothes standing up in the privacy of your tent can make a real difference.

Tents with standing room, however, are a big step up in price from smaller tents. You may struggle to find a standing room tent that sleeps less than four people.

9 Best Camping and Family Camping Tents

Another thing to consider is the way the tent is constructed. As a rough guide, consider the difficulty of pitching a tent as a direct correlation with how expensive it is. That is, if the tent is harder to put up, it will cost less.

Traditionally, tents are pitched using poles that need to be assembled. There are also “pop up” tents, which are removed from their bag and literally thrown on the floor to pop into shape on their own. Depending on the size of the pop up tent, there may be additional steps, and putting a tent like that away can take a bit of practice, but these are much easier to pitch than traditional tents.

Another option is “Air” tents. These tents replace poles all together with inflatable beams that are protected inside the tent material itself. To pitch the tent, you simply unroll it and inflate the beams with a pump (usually supplied with the tent). These are both easier to pitch and, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, sturdier than traditional tents.

Gear

Once again, the equipment you’ll need will vary depending on the type of trip you’re taking. For example, if you’re staying at a holiday resort with a number of amenities and options for ordering food on-site, you don’t need to worry so much about cooking. If you’re staying at a more traditional campsite, however, and especially if you’re camping wild or something close to it, you will need to bring the appropriate equipment for anything you intend to cook. Do you need a cup of coffee before you can start your day? You’ll need some means of boiling water. Planning to have a nice barbecue out in nature? Don’t forget your grill.

But let’s go over the absolute essentials that should be taken on just about any camping trip.

Firstly, sleeping bags. It sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many first time campers forget this crucial item. Be sure to get a sleeping bag that’s right for you and your situation, don’t just grab one off of the shelf. You’ll need to make sure you have the right size; too small will be very uncomfortable, and too large may not keep you adequately warm. And on the subject of warmth, sleeping bags have different ratings for the temperatures they are suitable for, so be sure to check that against the climate of where you’re camping.

How to Choose Backpacking Sleeping Bags

Next up, cooking equipment. If you plan to do a lot of camping, the importance of quality gear and looking after that gear, can’t be overstated. You can buy something really cheap that might last you a few camping trips⁠—maybe only one if you don’t look after them⁠—but decent equipment, properly looked after, can last for years of regular use.

Another thing to consider with your cooking gear is portability. Pots and pans that can be packed into a small bag are ideal; you don’t want to be lugging around a huge frying pan on your back! The same can be said for the means to actually cook⁠⁠—that is, your stove. Now, if you’re camping somewhere where the car will be nearby, a larger stove won’t be a problem. However if your trip involves you packing up your gear and hauling it somewhere on your back, smaller is better.

And while you’re looking at pots and pans, don’t forget cutlery!

Some other items that should be considered essential for a camping trip include some kind of First Aid kit, Sun block, a climate-appropriate coat, decent footwear for walking in, and a torch/headlamp/some means of lighting your way in the dark.

So that’s my beginner’s guide to camping. Is there anything you’d add to this list? Leave a comment below and let me know!

© 2019 John Bullock