Skip to main content

Top Ten Camping Hacks for First-time Campers

It’s your first night out camping, you’re settling down under the stars with a well-earned drink in your hand. Behind you, your perfectly pitched camping tent sits proudly, full of all of the worldly possessions you need now that you’re a fully fledged outdoorsman. You’ve done it. You’re a successful camper.

At least, that’s how you always hope it’s going to go. Unfortunately, that picture in your head isn’t always how your first camping trip actually works out. Sometimes, you end up wrestling the tent to life and struggle to get a weak plume of smoke from your pile of damp sticks, before giving it all up and retreating to your tent. Then you find that your sleeping bag is too small, you’ve put your tent on a rock or root, and have been followed in by so many bugs that you wonder if you have a helicopter hovering overhead. Too many first-time camping trips are derailed before they even get going, with gear being hauled back into a car under the light of a flickering headlamp. So here are our top ten camping hacks to ensure that your first camping trip is an all-out success, not a flat-out bust.

Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Gear Up

You’re going to need a few pieces of equipment. Sure, you can borrow the gear from keen friends, but you’re planning to become a camping expert yourself, right? So you’re going to need a camping tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and either synthetic or merino wool layers, as well as an insulated jacket and waterproofs. You will also need a camping stove with pots and pans and a flashlight or headlamp. Most campers will take a fire starter with them and may either take a camping hatchet to collect firewood.

There are other items of gear your might need, including water purifiers, first aid kits, sunscreen, spare hats, hiking boots, and bug nets — the list could be nearly endless. You will find yourself chopping and changing your gear with time and experience. To start with, we recommend putting together a camping checklist so make sure that at the very least you have the essentials. Even the most obvious items can get forgotten once your garage starts to look like an outdoor store is spilling from the trunk of your car.

Test Out Your Equipment

Even the best camping equipment is useless in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use it. Testing your equipment — pitching your tent, unrolling and repacking your sleeping bag, checking batteries in lanterns — reduces the risk that you might have ‘all the gear and no idea.’ If the first time you ever have to put the poles through your tent or attach the inner to the outer is while you’re trying to set it up to sleep, you’re going to wish you’d tried it in the yard first. Testing for size is a bonus, but you can also usually pack your gear into smaller packages than how it comes from the manufacturers, saving you vital space in your pack.

A man wearing a raincoat attempts to set up a tent in the rain.

Check The Weather

Some experienced campers will say that there is no such thing as bad weather. While we agree that the right gear can make camping in any weather worthwhile, we would generally suggest that if you’re going out for the first time, you won’t want anything too wild. Camping in the rain is fine, but freezing conditions and strong winds can be enough to put you off heading out again in the future. Once you know the forecast, organize your gear and pack accordingly.

Don’t Go Too Far From Home

The first time you go camping is the time that you’re most likely to forget items or that things are going to go a little wrong. You’re probably not going to be at a point where you’re ready to rough it out without essentials or fix them up to work well enough for the night. We recommend not going too far from home for your first couple of trips or at least staying within the proximity of a vehicle that can get you back to civilization. That said, a little distance is okay. Camping in your backyard can be tough and you might find it all too easy to just creep back indoors for an extra beer or to watch TV.

A young man sleeping in a tent.

Find Your Comfort

Take the time to pitch your tent right. Find soft ground that isn’t going to flood and doesn’t have any sticks or rocks that you’ll find in your sleep. Roll out your pad, or inflate your sleeping mat early and get your sleeping bag out and ready so that when you climb into bed it’s ready to go. We also suggest a camping chair and whatever warm layers you need to get comfortable under the stars.

Light up Your Life

There’s nothing worse than having to turn in early for the night because you can’t see what you’re doing anymore. Headlamps are great when you’re on the move, or rooting around in your bag for that missing sock. But illuminating your campsite with a camping lantern is a great option for the evening. The wider light of the lantern is perfect for cooking, playing cards, reading, or just chilling out and enjoying the great outdoors.

campfire night sky

Fire It Up

The roar and crackle of a campfire are among the most memorable parts of everyone’s camping experiences. No matter whether you’re toasting s’mores, telling stories, or just listening to the sounds of nature around you, no camp feels complete without a campfire. Learn how to build a campfire and, as with your gear, practice so that it comes easily when you get to camp. It’s important to check with local authorities or campsite owners about whether you’re allowed campfires — certain regions and parks have restrictions and a blanket ban is often enforced in dry seasons — and whether wood collection is allowed or whether you should bring your own logs or buy a bag on site.

Bug Off

It’s a toss-up between heavy rain or incessant insects for what is more likely to make you run for the safety of your tent faster, but both are sure going to. Keep your campsite bug-free with insect repellent, or permethrin-treated clothes. Alternatively, you can get burnable insect-repelling coils or bug nets. The locals usually have a good idea of what keeps the bugs away and we recommend asking for some friendly local advice for dealing with bugs.

BioLite's BaseCamp

Don’t Scrimp on the Food

You need to keep yourself fuelled while you’re out camping but that doesn’t mean you need to eat army rations the entire time. There are loads of quick camping meals that can be cooked on a stove or a fire, or you can go all-out and fire up the camping grill. Whatever you do, remember to keep food in a cooler and hang a bear bag if you need to keep your food out of reach.

Don’t forget the importance of hydration either. Drink plenty of water while you’re camping and take water treatment if you’re wild camping. As important as water is, we also recommend a camping coffee maker for your morning cup of joe, as well as a drop of your favorite liquor or a few tins of your chosen brew to enjoy around your campfire.

Don’t Panic

We can’t stress this enough: It might not all go to plan. In fact, it probably won’t. But after all, the whole point of an adventure is to step into the unknown. Whatever happens on your maiden voyage into the world of camping, try to take it in your stride and with a smile. If you forget a piece of gear, try to do without it. If a piece of gear breaks, try to fix it or do without it. Remember what works and what doesn’t and use that to plan for your next camping trip — there will be many more!

Editors' Recommendations

Tom Kilpatrick
A London-born outdoor enthusiast, Tom took the first ticket out of suburban life. What followed was a twelve-year career as…
A Beginner’s Guide to Kayaking in the Spring of 2022
A Beginner's Guide to Kayaking

Is there a better time than now to start thinking about spring plans? Spending long hazy days down by the water, lounging on the beach. What about dipping your toe into the water and learning how to kayak? We might be in winter mode and the lake might just be starting to show signs of defrosting, but right now is the time to plan spring adventures to ensure the warm weather doesn't pass you by. This beginner's guide to kayaking is the perfect read to rekindle our favorite outdoor pastime.

Few things are more relaxing than a day on the water, whether it’s upright on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) or from inside a canoe or kayak. If you’ve been dying to take up the latter, here’s the low-down on getting started with kayaking.
Prepping for the Water
Gear Up
Whether you’re getting into freediving, snowboarding, or hiking, any new sport requires essential gear to get started. But, first-time kayakers don’t need to -- and probably shouldn’t -- buy the best, most expensive boats, paddles, and accessories. Figure out your budget and start small with affordable gear. As with all of the sports above, there are plenty of entry-level and mid-range brands that are perfect for beginners. It’s best to talk with a professional, even if you ultimately intend to buy online. At a minimum, you’ll need:

Read more
The Best Hiking Snacks To Fuel Your Time on the Trail
best hiking snacks the preparation for tomorrow is doing your today

Warmer weather is on the horizon and it's finally time to dust off the hiking gear that’s been hibernating in the back of your closet all winter, and make some hiking snacks that will get you ready to hit the trails. From getting fresh air and exercise to enjoying scenic vistas, hiking is one of the best ways to get outdoors and enjoy nature. But, whether you're taking on one of the most physically challenging hikes in the United States or embarking on a short and simple day hike, it's important to be prepared with the right equipment -- and that includes the best hiking snacks. 

If you're keeping your hike relatively short, there's no need to reach for the dehydrated meals. What you do want are snacks that won’t spoil, don’t take up a ton of space in your backpack, and help you stay energized and feeling good all day long. That means you'll want a mix of carbohydrates and protein, both of which your body needs to perform at its best during the hike and recover properly once you're done. So, stuff your pack with these nutritious, tasty snacks (plus plenty of water, of course) and you'll be ready to hit the trail. Just remember to pack out any wrappers or other trash you brought with you! 

Read more
The Best Camping Grills for Outdoor Cooking
best camping grills on amazon

Roasting s’mores and hot dogs over an open fire -- this is what we envision when thinking of camp cooking. As tasty as these traditional treats are, it’s easy to get fed up with hot dogs and pre-packaged chow on extended camping trips. And although portable backpacking stoves have been a staple camping kit for decades, nothing beats the taste of grilled veggies and meat. Cue the camping grill, which ensures you’re never without the best steaks, burgers, or bratwurst, even when you’re miles from civilization.

These travel-friendly cookers come in a variety of designs, sizes, and shapes. So, whether you’re planning a backyard camping night, a family car camping adventure, or a dispersed camping trip this spring, read on. These are our picks for the best camping grills, from lightweight models to larger (but still portable) alternatives that can cook up dinner for the whole crew.

Read more