Camping 101 Guide for Non-Campers

by , posted on July 29th, 2013 in Adventuring, Traveling With Kids

Deborah’s kicking off our vacation week with a camping primer. I grew up going camping with my family. In fact, little story, when I was baby, my mom and I were homeless for a bit while she was waiting for base housing to come through (my dad was in the Navy). Anyway, she pitched a tent and turned what could have been a disaster into a camping adventure. I’ve always been so impressed by that story. She’s a tough cookie, eh?

Now for all you uninitiated campers, Deborah’s going to get you up to speed. Her tips are excellent! Enjoy! -Jen

camping 101 - tips and tricks for non-campers

Little known secret. Ok, it’s not a secret whatsoever. I didn’t grow up camping. Actually I never camped a day in my life until after I was married and had kids. Our first camping adventure didn’t go so well. It was dusty, it wasn’t a very pretty setting, I was unprepared!

In an effort to change my next camping experience I had a few requirements I was going to adhere to: 1. Flush toilets 2. Hot showers 3. Not crowded 4. Pretty setting

To meet these requirements that I made for myself, it took some research. We scoured sites like Trip Advisor and blogs on campsites. Reserve America gave great info as far as services and amenities.

Once we decided on a campground and campsite we decided to get our camping group together. For someone who didn’t have a lot of camping experience it also meant we didn’t have a lot of camping gear. So travelling with a group meant we could pool all our equipment. Not only for gear, but camping in a group means their expertise will come in handy too.

Various questions that I didn’t know the answers to:
-where do we put our food at night?
-where does the trash go?
-what does poison oak look like?

Once we had our campsite reserved and our group coordinated it was just a matter of planning. And I was bound and determined to have a good camping experience for our family. Here are my top 10 tips for families camping in a group:

camp 101 tip - divide up meals

1. Divide up the meals! If you are camping for only 2 days and have 4 meals to account for, give each family a meal to be responsible for. It’s much easier to cook one big meal for 20 than 4 individual meals just for your family. And the quality will be good because each family is only focusing on one meal. I use Google Drive to create a spreadsheet and make sure everyone in the group can edit the spreadsheet. There you can sign up for the meal you want to cook for the group.

camping means getting dirty - camping 101

2. Don’t sweat the dirt. Just accept the fact that your kids will be dirty. Don’t stress about them having to go to bed freshly showered. It’ll alleviate your anxiety to know that no kid has ever been harmed going to sleep in a tent with dirty limbs. We shower the day we leave for camping and the day we get home. The days in between are purely optional. Especially since we camp near a creek where the kids cool off, I really don’t care that their hair isn’t washed. Bring wipes instead to wipe their hands and feet down before bed each night. 

3. Extra socks! Socks are something that we go through a lot of while camping. You can re-wear jeans easily, but something about clean socks makes you feel good. 


4. Bring a few fun, quiet activities for the kids. Markers and paper. Playdoh. Figurines. Nothing too big or too messy. But in the afternoons when some will want to nap or rest, it’s good to have some quiet activities the kids can do on their own. For the most part my kids just want to play with rocks and sticks and explore. But a few organized activities are always welcomed. Last year we brought compass canvas bracelets and fabric markers for all the kids to decorate and it was a fun camping themed activity to do. 

camping tips from the field

5. Rainboots. We bring rainboots every year. And we always end up wearing them multiple times. Rainboots are great for tucking your pants into and slipping on and off when getting into your tent. Whenever we get ready for bed and the kids’ pajamas are on, we slip rainboots on and it helps keep their pants from dragging in the dirt, fire, mud, etc.

camping tips for non campers

6. Pack glowsticks! Glowsticks are a super fun thing to pack for the kids. When the sun sets and we are finished roasting s’mores for the night we pull out glowsticks and the kids have a blast. You can’t imagine how much the $0.99 pack of glowsticks from the party store will be loved.

camping 101

7. Don’t forget bathing suits. Whether you are camping near a creek, river, or lake or no water at all, bring bathing suits. You’ll never know when it’s going to be hot and the kids will need to splash around in a big tub or basin of water. It does wonders for littler kids’ temperaments to just play in cool water. 

8. First aid kits are a necessity. Tweezers for splinters are a must. Bandaids and neosporin and some type of cleansing wash are crucial. 

9. Bring a few washcloths. When you go to wash your face in the morning and evening you won’t want to lug your big towel with you, especially since there really won’t be anywhere for you to hang the towel. So throw some washcloths in your travel bag and use those when you wash your face or brush your teeth. 

camping 101 for non campers

10. Safety talks with your kids are essential. When you check in at the ranger station ask the rangers the types of wildlife in the area and have them go over with your kids the best way to avoid bad situations. It always comes with more authority to have someone else give your kids rules. When we camp we have a no child alone rule, mountain lions and bobcats are in the area and little kids alone can be in danger. So kids can never walk off alone or wander off by themselves. Safety in numbers! Also, have candid and open talks with your children about fire safety. There will be fire pits all over and kids need to have a healthy respect for fire. Not dread or fear where they avoid it at all times, but an understanding of what can happen if they don’t respect what fire can do to people and things. So if kids put sticks in the fire, the stick must stay in the fire. If they were to pull the stick out, the end could burn someone even if it doesn’t look like it’s hot. 

These tips have been invaluable for our family and have made camping very enjoyable and safe for us all. I hope they help you too on your next (or maybe first!) camping adventure.

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4 Responses to “Camping 101 Guide for Non-Campers”

  1. Caroline Says:

    July 30th, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    Deborah, first of all–you blow me away with your photography! Also, I loved your tips. we camped a ton as kids but Gil and I haven’t taken our crew camping yet. I can’t believe it! This will get me all set because I’d like to plan a camping trip before they are grown! :))

  2. Deborah Says:

    July 30th, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    Thanks Caroline! I bet your family would love it, especially if you grew up camping! I feel like I was discovering it right along with my kids. But despite my sleepless camping nights of sleeping on the ground, it’s all worth it to see the smiles on their faces.

  3. Camping 101 Guide for Non-Campers Says:

    August 18th, 2013 at 8:04 am

    [...] let your first (or next) camping trip turn out to be a disaster. Use these tips, from Deborah Harju, to avoid “first-time-camper” [...]

  4. Find a Day Camp Says:

    September 6th, 2013 at 6:39 am

    Good post about some camping tips. I wonder how many people think to take glow sticks along for their kids.

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