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The Beginner’s Guide to Camping – Everything You Need to Take Camping

With this Beginner’s Guide to Camping, you’ll know everything you need to take with you on your next (or first) nature loving camping trip!

The Beginner's Guide To Camping graphic.

We all have skills and I’m sure you can see from my blog what mine are and what I love to do.

But here’s a skill you probably would never think of me to possess:  I’m an amazing camper.

Camping is really all we did for vacations as a family growing up. Then when I was in my early 20s, my boyfriend was obsessed with hiking in the wild while backpacking and somehow I was convinced to put a 40 lb backpack on my shoulders and hike for 4 hours and camp on weekend trips. We spotted many bears on those trips! I’m so glad I went backpacking because it pushed me out of my comfort zone and pushed myself physically to reach goals I never thought I would accomplish. Like I said, I’m glad I did it but backpacking is not something I want to do now…especially with kids.

Here I am backpacking!

Me hiking with backpack on walking on a trail.
Setting up a tent my the lake with mountains in the distance.

(I’m so tired!)

Car camping, as I like to call it, is when you can take your car or truck right to the campsite rather than backpacking. It’s a bit like glamping but I’m not fancy. This is basic camping but I do like to be comfortable and have what I’m used to.

Everyone thinks camping is a lot of work and don’t get me wrong, it is. But it’s actually fun and enjoyable with lots of preparation. In this day and age with all the technology surrounding us, I think it’s a must. There’s no better way of unplugging when you physically cannot plug into anything. You’ll be amazed how easily your urban kids will find a stick and a pile of dirt and play like we did when we grew up (you know, before iPads were invented).

I usually park in Provincial Parks. There is no electricity but they have bathrooms and showers available. We have some of the best camping here in BC and getting a spot along a calm lake is always the best.

For years I didn’t camp. We took the kids to nice hotels and swam in beautiful hotel pools. But I felt like I was doing them a disservice without at least giving them the outdoor nature experience at least once a year.

I’ll list step by step on what you need to take and at the end of the post I have a handy printable you can download and print off your printer.

So let’s get started on what you should take camping.

Packing up the vehicle with camping supplies.

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What Tent to Buy

First and foremost, you need a good tent. When looking at the size of tent, I generally go for an 8 person tent (like the photo below) as that will fit 4 people nicely.

A thing to note with tents: when it says how many people it sleeps, imagine people lined up sleeping shoulder to shoulder so you always want to double the number that is on the tent box. You’ll want more room than shoulder to shoulder!

White and blue tent set up by lake.

I chose a dome tent as they are the easiest to set up. I can set up this tent all on my own which is essential as a single mom.

A dome tent will usually come with 2-3 poles that insert through the top of the tent and get attached by circles or hooks in the bottom. They criss cross making it a super easy way to set up a tent.

These tents won’t have much headroom but, like I can’t mention enough, are super easy to set up.

Then there’s a fly which is basically like a tarp for the tent. The fly comes with one tent pole to insert and just gets placed over the tent.

If you plan on having a bigger tent where pegs need to be driven into the ground, sometimes this can be challenging as the ground in campgrounds is very compact with gravel. The pegs can bend when hammered in and can be challenging. Just something to keep in mind depending on which campground you choose.

I have a no shoes policy in the tent so I keep a tarp under the tent that acts like a front door mat. I throw a tarp over the tent too if it looks like rain. It just needs to lay over it, doesn’t need to be tied up.

The shoes stay here before you go in the tent and at night I make sure to bring them just inside the tent so no dew and creepy bugs crawl in them at night.

Normally I have a tarp big enough to have a mat area in the front and covers the length of the entire tent.

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Air mattresses & sleeping bags

First and foremost is an air mattress. Having a comfy sleep is important and nothing is worse than sleeping on hard rock. I have an air mattress and a separate pump but you can look for air mattresses with built-in pumps these days.

Be sure to check out my second camping post to see how I blow up my air mattress camping without any electricity!

I have one queen air mattress for Aaron and I and a twin mattress for each kid. It’s a tight fit, but those three mattresses will fit in our 8 person tent. Two tents are what we use now, one for us and one for the kids. Depending on where you camp, most provincial campgrounds won’t allow more than two tents on a site so be sure to know that before you buy!

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sleeping bags

I don’t like sleeping in sleeping bags so I usually lay the sleeping bags flat over the air mattresses and bring an old comfy comforter. I also bring an old set of sheets that are fitted to the air mattresses.

Whatever you decide, sleeping bags are great to use (zipped up or not). There are so many sleeping bag types on the market. We have extra thick sleeping bags as we lay them flat over the air mattress. Depending on how warm or cool it gets at night where you are camping will determine the type of sleeping to get. I find the super lightweight sleeping bags are too lightweight and not cozy or warm enough for sleeping. Those sleeping bags are usually for backpacking.

shop sleeping bags

blanket underneath air mattresses

Make sure to bring a blanket to put underneath the air mattresses to prevent the air mattresses from moving when you turn over in the middle of the night. Just any kind of thick blanket will do. I sometimes use a hotel blanket.

Bed in tent with flashlights on sleeping bag.

camping bins

I like everything to be ready to go when I go camping each camping season. I don’t want to take anything out of my kitchen at home because that’s when you’ll forget something.

If something needs to be replaced for the next season and I haven’t replaced it, I’ll leave myself a note in one of the bins. This is such a HUGE timesaver for me! Just pop open the lid to a bin and voila! there’s a note to myself.

Rubber bin with camping supplies in it.

A picnic table cover is always good to have as you never know the condition the picnic table will be in. The clips that go along with it never seem to fit any picnic table I’ve used so don’t bother buying them. Picnic table weights are good or just some rocks on each corner will do.

I like to use a thick vinyl table cover so it can be easily wiped down. Don’t get anything too expensive.

A canopy for over the picnic table is great for shade or to protect from light rain.

Plates and rope in blue bin.

My camping gear fits into 3 big plastic bins. I’ll pack 2 of the bins in the car and the other stuff from the third bin can fit around everything else.

I have a bin for the air mattresses and blanket that I talked about above.

Blanket and air mattress in blue bin.

You’ll want to make sure you have a camp stove that’s in good working order and some small propane tanks.  Two or three propane tanks is usually all you need for a weekend.

And don’t worry, they are so easy to use. You screw the propane tank to the regulator and then the regulator into the stove itself, turn one of the burners to low and light a match under the burner.

I’ve had this Coleman camp stove for years and years and it still works great. It helps that it has its own carrying case for protection over the years.

Propane for the stove on a Coleman bag.

I usually bring an assortment of lanterns: flashlights for each kid, an LED lantern and a large propane lantern. Small flashlights are good to keep on hand for the tent and walking to the bathroom. Each person should have one.

If you can manage the camp stove, you’ll be able to handle the propane gas lantern no problem too.

Of course, bungee cords are good to keep on hand as well as rope (I mention more rope below in the post too).

A lantern, yellow rope, flashlights, shock cords and a waterproof container.

If you have LED lanterns, a propane lantern isn’t necessary but we already have one.

The great thing about a propane lantern is that you can dim and brighten the light as needed. Great for playing cards at night but LED lanterns are also fine.

You should also keep some extra mantles in your camping gear too.

Lanterns and propane laid out for packing.

A cooler is a must! One with a bottle opener on the outside is also a bonus. If you have room for another one, two coolers is a good idea. One just for drinks and the other for food.

It doesn’t need to be stainless steel but I upgraded to this one last year.

Steel cooler beside blue bin in campsite.

Another must are folding camping chairs. The picnic table will be used as a food prep table most of the time so having somewhere else to sit is nice.

Make sure you have one chair for each person. There are so many cool chairs for kids.

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Camping chairs for the kids beside lake.

Washing dishes can be a chore camping so I make sure I have enough supplies to make it enjoyable. When it’s sunny and the kids are playing, it can be fun to wash dishes outside.

I have a small bin with all the dish washing supplies in it. I can use the bin as a sink which is perfect to bring it altogether.

Actually I have three sinks and I either bring all of them or just two of them depending on how long the trip is.

Round plastic bin (like bottom right corner of the photo) is the best for a sink but it’s a bit bulky to pack. I have two of these from the dollar store and they work great. I’ve tried many foldable sinks as well but they all seem to eventually leak.

This collapsible sink looks awesome, I haven’t tried it but looks like the perfect sink.

Blue bin filled with toiletries and towels.

You’ll definitely want to get Campsuds. It’s an environmentally friendly soap and you can use it for washing yourself in the lake too.

My kids go swimming in the lake the whole time we’re camping so right before dinner I’ll wash them up with this soap in the lake and that’s their bath!

Campsuds in blue bin.

 I bring a plastic scrubby thing and an SOS pad for extra cleaning.

I also buy a bunch of tea towels and dish cloths from the dollar store and add them to my camping bins.

Brillo pads for washing dishes in blue bin.

Here is everything I need for cooking. Depending on what you’re cooking, I like a couple of pans and pots. This enamelware camp set I’ve had for years. They are durable and easy to clean.

I always bring paper plates and use those the majority of the time. It’s easy just to use them and dispose of them. But if you’re cooking things like steak and corn on the cob, I always prefer my enamelware plates so just something to keep in mind.

Shop Enamelware Sets

Pots and pans laid out on floor for packing.
Pots and pans in blue bin.

Here is everything I bring for utensils. I like using these thick plastic knives, forks and spoons as they are much sturdier to use than disposable plastic cutlery and not as heavy or expensive as regular flatware.

Kitchen utensils laid out for packing.

Because I’ll forget to bring my hammer from home, I always leave this plastic mallet and broom set in the camping bins along with lots of twine and rope, clothespins, mirror with stand (trust me, it will come in handy), mesh utility bags, small broom and dustpan for inside tent.

Rope, clothespins and a sweeper ready for packing.

You’ll definitely want to hang towels and tea towels to dry on a clothesline. Bring rope to tie around two trees.

I also have specific towels I take camping. I’ve had to mop up picnic tables and such from rain so I always make sure to bring a bunch of older or cheap towels.

Towels hanging on the clothesline.

More kitchen supplies are a small cutting board, cheese grater, plastic butter dish, egg container, multi-spice jar, salt & pepper, camp stove toaster and extra storage containers for leftover food.

Grater and a Coleman toaster ready to be packed.

A fire log is a great way to start a camp fire. I don’t always use one but if it’s been raining it’s a great thing to keep on hand.

You’ll also need an axe and hatchet.

I have a plastic sealed bag with matches and waterproof matches and quick lighter.

But with all our fire bans in the last few years, we’ve bought a propane fire bowl. It’s great for turning on any time of the day.

I keep garbage bags, large and small plastic storage bags for leftover food and 100 other reasons and aluminum foil for BBQ over the campfire.

Make sure to buy these for your camping bins so you don’t have to take them from your kitchen.

A variety of bags laid out for packing.

Most important: toilet paper! Also be sure to have paper towels, a pump for your air mattresses (I have one that hooks up to your car cigarette lighter for easy blow up), mesh food cover, cards and games.

Card games and toilet paper ready to be packed.

I always keep these foldable zipped bags from the dollar store in my camping bins to transport the food in.

Blue and white checkered shopping bags.

Some things I didn’t take a photo of is an ax, a hatchet, newspaper for starting a fire, telescopic forks/sticks for roasting marshmallows and hot dogs and a roasting cage. This is perfect for BBQ chicken or steak over the open fire.

You’ll also want to bring lifejackets, floatable toys and possibly water shoes if you are camping near a lake.

And one of the most important thing not to forget is bug repellent!

See below for the post on how to set up camp and what food to bring.

Check out my short video on camping!


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Free list of what to bring camping.
Free printable list of what to bring camping.

Click in Case You Missed:

How to Set Up Camp & What Food To Bring

How to Set Up Camp & What Food to Bring - So Much Better With Age

RV Camping – Dry Camping & Partial Hook-Up Tips

RV Camping - Dry Camping & Partial Hook-Up Tips


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  1. This is a great way to present camping advice, Jamie. I’m looking forward to the next installment on this topic.

    My husband and I camped quite a bit when we lived in Idaho, and learned a lot about what worked best for us. Our prep list aligned with yours, and we had pre-packed plastic lockers (from Walmart) that work beautifully. We had them organized by cooking paraphernalia, food, bedding, and tent/supplies. We could stack the lockers to serve as prep stations or use them individually as tables.

    Cheers, Ardith

    1. Those are awesome tips, Ardith! I love that you use them as prep stations and tables too. Thanks so much! I’m working on my next post right now for early next week 😉
      Hugs, Jamie

    2. Oh, I forgot to mention that the lockers have wheels on one end, which makes moving them around easier. I highly recommend them. We now use two of them to store Christmas decorations, while the other two still hold camping gear for emergency purposes. Cheers, Ardith

  2. hey girl- love the post! The ladies and I from church went camping last year in June! It was a lot of fun. We went in Arkansas to Lake Greeson. We live in Oklahoma. It was about 5 hrs away. Our campsite was pretty close to the water. Thanks for all the tips!

  3. Great Tips ! My husband and I enjoyed camping in our younger years. Great memories.
    It is so wonderful to have children in nature and for them to explore and learn about the beauty of our world.

    Happy Memorial Weekend to you and yours !

  4. We use to camp often, but now that our son involved in sports, we do not have time to camp at this time. However, we love these wonderful tips/ideas.

    1. Hi Ivory,
      Yes, I can see how sports would take over! My kids are getting a bit older now and my son loves soccer. Thank you for your comment!
      Hugs, Jamie

  5. Great tips. We camped a lot with our kids and now are taking the grandkids. Please don’t put nails in trees though. That can eventually kill the tree. Just wrap the rope around the tree and tie a good knot.

    1. Thanks for sharing Beverly! I’m updating my post now and I just updated the printable leaving out the nails 😉
      Hugs, Jamie

  6. The metal thing you screw the propane bottle to on your stove is called the regulator.

    PLEASE PLEASE do not tell people to bring nails to hammer in trees! This is a terrible thing to do to a tree, and it’s totally unnecessary. If you’re hanging a clothesline you can just TIE it around the tree. Please don’t leave it there however because the line will end up embedded in the tree as it grows. It is not responsible to go around nailing into trees.

    1. Hi Karen,
      Thanks for your comment! In the second post I wrote, I added regulator to it but forgot to change it in this post. Also, I changed my printable and took out the nails as another reader mentioned the same thing. I just updated my post to reflect these changes. Thanks so much for the camper input!
      Hugs, Jamie

  7. I always LOVED camping as a kid! We would go for vacation and any weekends my Dad had off [firefighters schedule is strange]. One thing tho: you don’t need an electric pump for the air mattresses. If the kids blow them up it will: exercise their lungs and keep them out of the way while you are setting things up. We had a 12’x14′ canvas wall tent for the 6 of us and you are right about the shoulder to shoulder. And then there is the suitcases with everyone’s clothes in them. We brought a 9’x9′ umbrella tent for the suitcases. Dad was the only one strong enough to move the canvas tent but we could hold the poles, but I really liked your idea of a free-standing tent: no pegs or guy ropes to trip over.

    One thing you might add to your lighting supplies is solar lights, they can charge during the day and used at night and no batteries or fuel to carry. I’d bring some of each type in case it’s cloudy.

    Totally enjoyed reading the article and look forward to more. And super-congrats for being a single Mom and going camping: I never had enough money to take vacations, but I was able to send my son to camp and he loved it as much as I did.

  8. Thank you so much for this post, Jamie. I went camping as a child with my family and cousins and remember it being a lot of fun. Next week, we’re going camping for the first time with our own children with my cousins, who also have their own children. We’re really hoping our children will have as much fun as we did when we were kids. But, goodness! Being on the adult side of planning things is cetainly a change! I appreciate what my mother, uncle, and aunt did for us so much more now.

    This post was so helpful and I am actually excited now for this trip! I really love the idea of using tubs to organize the camping gear and also having separate supplies just for camping. If this goes well, we might try camping again during Thanksgiving break! I’ll go download the printable now. Thank you again.

    1. Thanks for your sweet message, Jennifer! It is sooo much work but I find when I’m really organized, it’s not that bad. I agree, camping creates the best childhood memories. Glad this printable will help you. Make sure you check out the second post I have on camping with how to set up the campsite and what food items to bring.
      Hugs, Jamie

  9. I have camped a lot when I was younger and married. Now I am a single mom and my daughter is a freshman in college about 500 miles from home. I want to visit her often and take her dog to see her. I have pulled out all of the stuff from my previous life and your post helped familiarize myself with what I needed and why. It has been about 10 years since we last went camping. I have also made a platform in the back of my SUV so that the first night I can sleep in the car. I won’t be arriving until around 10:00 and will set up camp the next morning. There is an awesome state park near her college and I will be staying there. It has water, electricity, showers, and restrooms. I bought a year pass and it includes discounted stays. Thanks again for your post!

  10. Thanks for the great advice, my wife and I are planning to take our kids on a number of camping trips this summer, so it is nice to know what to have. We’re especially going to have to take your advice about bringing a blanket to put under the air mattress. After all, no one likes waking up to find that their air mattress has moved around because of them tossing and turning in their sleep.

  11. Jamie this is a fantastic post! I am so glad you included bug repellent! I was an avid camper for years, from childhood through my early 30’s. My son and I both contracted Lyme disease several years ago and it has been a horrific experience that turned our lives upside down. Repellent is definitely a camping necessity!

    You have given some amazing tips here. Makes me miss it so much!
    Enjoy camping this summer!

  12. ThaNk. YoU. for the camping list…
    I did cross off THE tent. AND added trailer😊
    We eat our meals outside on the picnic table.
    No hookups… works for us. ‘Occasionally’ we do use the oven in the Tri.
    FUN !!! ⛺️happy camping. ~linda

  13. I think this is fabulous! And for anyone who likes to camp, especially with kids, your ideas and lists will really help.
    The only thing I noticed and am not sure it’s the back of your SUV actually packed for a trip, is that it’s way too full. Assume this was for taking a picture only, as you cannot see the rear view mirror, which means the driver can’t see what’s directly in back of him of even to the side. Realize that some of the sat/nav stuff has that ability, but a driver must have that ability on his own as well. A ton of accidents happen during the summer because people can’t see out their back and in most states that’s a ticketed offense.
    We’ve run off your list of things and will get going when our weather gets a tad better. The entire family of 4 wants to go and that is unusual.

  14. Hi Jamie:
    I camped for years, first with my parents, then as a Girl Guide leader, then with my family. Your tips are great, and while it seems like a long list of supplies you’ll need every one of them. It’s so worth it to have separate bins to keep camping supplies in. As someone else already mentioned, camping with your kids will create wonderful memories they will have forever. I hope your ‘Beginner’s Guide’ will inspire non-campers to give it a try! Thanks for all your great ideas.

  15. This is a great resource for camping novices like me 🙂 I’m kind of a glamping gal…lol. We’ve done the backyard camping and the overnight school camping, but never really a long away from home camping trip. When we do, I’ll be using your list.

    1. Thanks Erlene! We rented an RV trailer this year and we had a great time. It might be a good alternative for your family!
      Hugs, Jamie

  16. Hi,
    Just one thought…we found a blanket under air mattress to be a great way to block the cold from the ground from seeping into the air mattress and making for a miserable nights sleep. Love all the good info…very fun to read!

  17. What a wonderfully extensive guide! This is the ultimate camping article that every beginner should read. You shared very essential info and tips to make the camping experience as much enjoyable as possible. Thanks for your helpful tips. I absolutely love reading your blog and draw plenty of inspiration from it.

  18. Jamie, this was a great list. When I was younger, I loved camping too! I didnt see bug guard or sunscreen on the extensive list, but those were always at the top of my list!! Not a huge fan of bug bites or burns…lol!! Thanks for your list. Happy Camping!! Amy

    1. Hi Amy,
      I had bug repellent on the list but it was in the middle. I’ve moved it to the bottom of the list now and added sunblock too. Thanks for mentioning it!
      Hugs, Jamie

  19. What a great post! I camped once in my life in Europe. I always wanted to do it with my kids but never knew where to begin. This post comes at the perfect time for me and my family. Thank you so much for all details and reviews of different products. It definitely takes guesses out of the game.

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