family campingContributed by Info Guru Lindsay Shugerman

Maybe you missed out on all those Scouting camping trips. Or maybe you grew up in a family like mine where roughing it meant staying in a hotel without room service. Or perhaps you’ve caught the glamping bug and you’re ready to enjoy the great outdoors in style.

But since you’ve never gone camping, you have no idea what to buy or pack to go camping for the first time. And those giant outdoors stores are no help — if you bought everything they suggested you’d be heading out on a six-figure excursion!

Take it from someone who had to learn as she went (and made some mistakes along the way.) The basics you need for a good outdoor experience aren’t complicated. In fact, this list of ten campers’ must-haves will cover most of it.


10. A tent (or some other kind of shelter)

camping tent in field

It might seem obvious that you need a tent to camp, but trust me, it’s not. I’ve met several people who were enamoured with the idea of sleeping under the stars. Until it started to rain. Or leaves and twigs started falling from the trees.

So do procure some kind of tent for this outing. But skip the giant luxury models (you absolutely do NOT need a tent with a porch!) and find something that is 1) easy to set up and 2) big enough for you and your companion(s) to fit into comfortably.

9. Something to sleep on

sleeping core pad

The ground is hard. And it gets harder (and bumpier) as the night wears on. Something to put underneath your body will make sleeping a whole lot more possible…and will reduce your urge to chuck the whole experience about three hours after you turn in. An air mattress, a core sleeping pad or (in a pinch) a big pile of quilts are a must-have whether you’re going camping for the first time or the hundredth time.

8. Something to sleep in

woman in sleeping bag

Unless you are camping in the Florida Keys in August, you’re probably going to want something to crawl into or cover up with. (And if you are planning on camping in the Keys in August…just don’t! Seriously!) A sleeping bag that’s rated for the nighttime temperatures you’re likely to encounter is the best bet. It not only keeps you cozy, it rolls up neatly for travel and packing the car.

7. Something to see by (at night)

camping lantern

Unless you’re staying at a fancy campground with electric lights all around, there is one thing you are sure to notice when the sun goes down. It gets dark. I mean REALLY dark. So even if your campsite has restrooms, you’re not going to be able to find them at 3 a.m. without some kind of camping lantern or good flashlight. And you’ll probably want to be able to see inside your tent while you’re getting ready to settle in for the night, too. Yup, you’ll need a lantern in there as well. Make sure whatever you choose gives off enough light and will stay lit as long as you need it.

6. Something to cook on

camping stove

If you’re planning on eating hot food on your camping trip, you’re going to need something to cook on. That could be a camp stove. Or it could be a camp fire. If you’re thinking the campfire means you don’t need to plan ahead, think again. You’ll need some matches (waterproof is best), some kind of utensils for holding or turning your food and probably some kind of grate to hold those pans or pots.

5. Something to cook in (and something to cook!)

camping cooking pots

It doesn’t have to be fancy…those old pots and pans you have from college will probably work just fine (although I must say I do love my cast iron Dutch oven when I go camping.) But you will need to plan ahead to bring the right number of pots or pans for what you plan to cook.

And while we’re talking about cooking, do remember to plan ahead for every meal. Keep your menu simple, and make a list of every ingredient you’ll need. There’s no reaching into the cabinet for salt or cooking oil when you’re in the wild.

4. Extra clothes

camping clothes

If you’re camping and it’s hot, you’ll want something no-so-sweaty to change into. If it’s cold, you’ll need layers. If it’s raining, you need dry clothing. Pack at least a couple of changes of clothes, a jacket, extra socks, and extra pair of shoes (or camp slippers) and something in case the weather suddenly goes south.

3. Water. Lots of water.

water purifier for camping

Unless you’re going to a campsite with running water, make sure you take enough water for drinking, cooking and washing up. If there is running water, do find in advance if it’s potable. Some campsites have water that’s fine for bathing, but not safe for drinking or cooking. Plan for what you think you need…and then take more! (If you’re hiking in, pack a good water purifier to take care of some of your water needs.)

2. Something for the bugs

mosquito

Bugs can quickly ruin an otherwise great camping experience. Include some kind of personal insect repellent and maybe some mosquito netting for bug-free sleeping. Bundles of dried rosemary tossed into the campfire do a good job of keeping pests away, too.

1. Something to tell you where you are

trail map

Whenever you’re heading out into the wilderness, make sure you know where you’re going, what to expect once you get there, and how to get back. If you’re camping off the grid, or plan on combining your camping trip with some hiking, kayaking or exploring, make sure you have good, detailed and up-to-date maps of your destination. And share all of that information with someone back home before you leave. Cell phone service can be spotty in many areas, so you’ll want someone to know where you are in case you don’t return on schedule.

Camping doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. A few simple supplies and a good map can take you everywhere you need to go.