So, you’ve decided to go camping for the first time? Congratulations! While you are definitely in for an excellent adventure, you may be a little overwhelmed at first. From gear to food and clothing, it can be tough to know what you’ll need, and what is simply extra cargo.
Camping requires careful planning to go smoothly, especially if you are a beginner. Luckily for you, we’ve put together some tips and lists to help you plan your first camping trip.
Choosing Where to Go
Choosing where to go camping can be challenging. If you’re new to camping, pick a place relatively close to home, in case anything goes wrong. Less than four hours away is ideal.
What Type of Camping?
Before you go, make sure you know what type of camping you’re signing up for and what amenities will be available at the site. The best camping for beginners is car camping. Car camping generally refers to a campsite that you can drive to instead of a backwoods camping trip where you hike to where you will set up camp. Backwoods camping requires considerably more planning and potentially special gear, so we suggest you stick to car camping at first.
Many campsites require you to book in advance; others are on a first-come-first-serve basis. Many camps have toilets, sinks, and even showers. You can even check in prior to leaving, that way you can get settled right when you arrive.
When you’re camping, you’re sharing the outdoors with many different species of wildlife. Be considerate and clean up after yourself. Follow the rules laid out at your campsite for how to dispose of food, and NEVER leave potential snacks laying out. If you are in a bear country, there may be other rules you need to follow. Some campsites have food bins for you to store your food to ensure you don’t attract any unwanted visitors. Use a food bin if one is available, bears have been known to break into vehicles if they smell food.
Packing for camping means packing for the unknown. While it may be hot and sunny where you live, it is more than likely that it could rain or be cold where you are going camping, even in the summer. Pack clothes to be ready for any weather. Also, be prepared for it to be chilly at night sleeping in your tent. Layer up!
Lots and Lots of Water!
Pack more water than you think you will need. Not only will you need it for drinking, but you will need water to rinse off dishes, wet your hands if they get dirty, water your dogs, and completely extinguish a campfire.
How to Pack Food
When you’re packing your food up, layer the food according to weight with ice packs on the bottom, then drinks and other heavy items. Next, place cheeses, meats, and dips. At the top pack eggs, produce, and bread.
If you’re using multiple coolers, pack the perishable items separately. For example, if you’re going camping for more than a day, freeze your meat beforehand and fill it with ice in its own cooler. By the time you’re ready to use it the next day, the meat will be defrosted and still safe to eat. Place other perishable items like cheese, hard-boiled eggs, condiments, and butter in a separate cooler.
There are many blogs, Instagram accounts, and websites to help you gather information, advice, and inspiration. Look for local accounts that give recommendations for your area. You can purchase and gather supplies at Canadian Tire, Mountain Equipment Co-op, the thrift store, and even Facebook Marketplace.
Overnight Camping Checklist
- Tent. You may want to go up one person’s size for comfort as tents often are tiny (i.e., use a 3- or 4-person tent for two people).
- Sleeping bag. Keep in mind that it will likely be quite cold at night.
- Sleeping pad.
- Lighting. A flashlight or headlight works.
- Matches. You will need these to start the campfire and the stove.
- Stove. Start with a kerosene or propane stove to boil water and cook on.
- Fuel. Make sure you bring enough fuel and maybe an extra container to be safe.
- Cooler. You might want to bring a couple.
- Sharp knife.
- Can opener.
- Garbage bags/plastic bags. For quick clean-up before disposing garbage in wildlife-safe garbage bins.
- Bottle opener. If you’re bringing beverages that require one.
- Utensils and cooking ware.
- Camp chairs.
- Campfire wood and an axe. If you’re planning on having a campfire, bring your own wood. It is illegal to gather wood for fires in many parks and campsites.
- Newspaper, scrap paper, or dryer lint. To start the fire.
- Aluminum Foil. For cooking.
- Dishcloth, wipes, and/or paper towel.
- Soap. Pack both dish and hand soap.
- Toilet paper.
- Small towel.
- Hand sanitizer.
- Bug spray.
- First aid-kit.
- Prescription medication.
- Warm Coat.
- Rain Jacket.
- Warm socks.
- Sturdy shoes. Shoes you don’t mind getting dirty and are comfortable walking in.
- Sandals. (optional) Bring some to slip on at the campsite and to get in and out of your tent.
- Clothes you won’t mind getting dirty.
When packing for camping, make a meal plan so that you pack only what you need. Here is a list of potential food items to consider packing and including in your meal plan.
- Oatmeal or Cream of Wheat. For easy breakfasts.
- Eggs. Also a good breakfast choice.
- Pancake mix. If you’re packing a pan and a propane stove.
- Instant Coffee. Unless you have a fancy campfire coffee maker, you’re going to have to make do with instant coffee.
- Hot cocoa mix and tea bags.
Lunch and Dinner:
- Hot dogs. These are the most straightforward food to cook when you’re camping since they require no special equipment. Place them on a stick and roast them on the fire.
- Hamburgers and grilling meats.
- Canned food. Canned beans, chilli, or anything pre-made.
- Hot dog buns, hamburger buns, tortillas, bread.
- Condiments. Ketchup, mustard, mayo, hot sauce: any of the seasonings you can’t live without.
- Salt and pepper.
- Spices. Bring your favourite seasoning spices.
- Sandwiches. Make them in advance for lunch that day.
- Sandwich-making supplies. If you’re planning to eat sandwiches the next day, pack bread, meats, cheese, condiments, or peanut butter and jam.
- Pasta. Easy and fast to prepare. Maybe even pack the KD.
- Instant ramen. Also, an easy dish to make.
Desserts and Snacks:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables. Bananas and berries make a great snack. Greens to make a salad or to add on to burgers may also be a welcome addition.
- Graham crackers. If you’re a s’mores person.
- Snacks. You can’t have too many snacks when you’re camping. Don’t forget to allocate some for the drive too. Trail mix, granola bars, dried fruit, and beef jerky are all great options.
- Water. Lots and lots of water. Check to see if your campsite has an area for filling up empty water containers. Even if it does, pack plenty of your own.
- Beverages. Gatorade, juice, beer, and your drinks of choice.
Hero photo: Cliford Mervil