Start Camping Right

The goal of this blog is to help introduce people to the joy of camping. So far, I have been covering a lot of advanced topics, like gear care and navigation; and perhaps I have been neglecting the basics, like how to start camping right.  Recently, a friend of mine expressed interest in getting started. Here’s her question:

Hey Jason! How are you? This is a GREAT PAGE!!! Where is there a nice spot to go camping that’s close [to home]? What would I have to do to camp there? I’ve NEVER been camping before and would like to try it this Summer!!! 🙂

Where to Start Camping

A lot of people might choose to start camping right in their own backyard. That's where I usually try out new ideas for shelters.
Simple backyard camping. Obviously you don’t have to do it in the winter.

Well, it depends on what you want to get out of camping. I think the simplest definition is simply sleeping outside. Most people would probably say to have an authentic camping experience you also need a campfire. I think camping is most enjoyable when surrounded by nature.

The nearest place to try camping is your own backyard. If you’ve never done it before, camping out in your yard gives you a bit of a taste of camping, but you don’t need to buy much equipment and you have access to a nice clean bathroom.  This is a really nice option for getting started because it is safe and doesn’t require a lot of planning.

For those living in Bergen County, NJ that want to try something more adventurous without traveling too far, there are campsites available at Campgaw Mountain County Park. There are several campsites there with lean-to shelters, fire pits, and places to put up a tent.  There is a clean restroom and fresh water available in the summer.  There is also a small network of hiking trails available.   Its only a few minutes away from the towns of Ramsey or Mahwah. Camping at Campgaw does require a permit, which you can find on the Bergen County Web Site.

Start Camping with a Shelter that’s Right for You

Your basic needs when camping are shelter, water, and food. Shelter consists everything you need to stay safe and comfortable in your environment. That may include clothing, a tent, sleeping bag, and possibly a fire for keeping warm.

For a simple starter camp-out, you don’t need any special clothing, but may want to bring a raincoat.  If you plan to go hiking, I highly recommend buying a pair of wool socks.  They don’t need to be thick or expensive, but you’ll be much more comfortable in wool socks than in cotton.  Trust me!

If you’re just getting into camping, don’t go out and buy a tent.  You can probably ask around and borrow one from a friend. Some campgrounds include lean-to shelters that provide basic protection from the elements, but not from bugs.  If the weather is nice and the bugs are few, trying sleeping out under the stars. You can always put up an inexpensive tarp if it starts to rain.

You don’t need a sleeping bag to start off either, just some warm blankets from home.  Be sure not to forget something to sleep on top of.  This can be as simple as a foam pad, but it is important to provide insulation between yourself and the ground.

In order to start camping right, you need to decide on a form of shelter that's right for you.  Lean-to shelters are convenient and free, but often dirty or occupied. Tarps are light and inexpensive, but you might not be comfortable feeling so exposed.  There are a wide variety of tents available for all kinds of camping.
Examples of shelters: Lean-to, Tarp, Tent

Either bring water with you, or know how to treat your own

The average human requires about 3 liters of fresh drinking water every day. Most people don’t realize this, but you actually exhale an entire liter while sleeping at night! You may also need additional water for washing. Some campgrounds provide fresh water that is safe to drink and wash with. When fresh water isn’t available, you may bring some with you or bring along some kind of filter or purification system.

One of the things you need to do to start camping is figure out how to supply yourself with fresh water.
A simple camp water filtration system.

Start Camping Right with Great Food!

One of the best ways to start camping right is to learn a few delicious recipes for camp cooking.
Cooking chicken over an open fire.

Finally, food. For a simple camp-out experience, it is easy to cook hot dogs and baked beans right over your fire. A lot of people also enjoy traditional snack items like s’mores.  If you plan to hike, bring something easy to snack on, like trail mix or fruit.

When camping in your yard, you may just use your backyard grill or cook in your kitchen. When camping out, you may want to buy or borrow a portable propane stove/grill combo.  Many campgrounds also have a small fire ring or charcoal grill.  (If there is no fire ring when you arrive at camp, please don’t build one.)

What advice would you give to someone looking to go on their first camp-out?