The idea of camping can intimidate some people. But the truth is, camping is not only one of the easiest outdoor activities to do, but it’s also one of the most widely-loved. Its simple charms are addictive: crackling fires, fresh air, the exchange of stories with close friends, and all the s’mores your inner-fifth-grader-heart could want. There’s a reason people love camping. It’s surprisingly easy to get started, especially when you go to a KOA campground that’s filled with all the amenities you need. Here are seven things you should know that will help you get started.
When you say “camping,” what exactly does that mean? There’s self-supported backpacking where the camper carries all their gear on their backs for miles on end before setting up camp in the backcountry. There’s dispersed camping, which is basically primitive car-camping in National Forest lands outside of designated campgrounds and there’s traditional campground tent camping where you use your car to carry and store most of your supplies and then set up shop in a designated campground. Then there’s the whole supporting cast of RV camping, yurt camping, hammock camping, cabin camping, motorcycle camping, and more.
For this article, let’s focus on the ol’ tried-and-true campground tent camping, which is the traditional form of camping most first-timers would do. This is arguably the best style of camping for beginners because it’s safe and comfortable with a no-pressure environment for learning how it all works.
The most foreign concept for first-time campers is the gear, so let’s boil it down: The good news is that, because this is car camping, the equipment has far more leniency in terms of what you can bring. Backcountry camping requires lightweight, high-tech gear that’s generally quite expensive. That’s not the case with car camping. In a campground, you can get away with heavier, more spacious items—plus a lot more creature comforts. Here’s what you’ll want:
Even with the safety net of a car, it’s wise to make a few conscientious clothing decisions. It’s best to leave all-cotton clothing at home and opt for synthetic apparel or wool instead. Cotton has a nasty habit of not drying all that quickly, and it’s a terrible insulator. Fleece, down, wool, and other synthetic fibers are better options for staying warm and dry. Think about the possible weather conditions and plan for the worst. Dress in layers so it’s easy to adjust to the temperature. With socks, you can never have too many. They’re warm, comfy, cozy, and great. Bring extras.
Food is a big one. It’s also maybe the most enjoyable one. Because let’s face it: While nature is nice, and getting away from the everyday stresses of the modern world is a worthy motive, the main reason we like camping is because of this universal truth: Everything tastes better in the woods. In the woods, a regular old pepperoni roll somehow tastes as if it came from a Michelin-starred restaurant. With car camping, there are a couple of options. You can bring a small camp stove and keep it simple with staples like noodles, couscous, rolled oats, mashed potatoes, mac n cheese, and so on. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can use your campsite’s fire ring as your very own outdoor oven, using tin foil to wrap up as many vegetables and meats as your heart desires to make campfire “hobo packs.” The options are near-endless. (Here are some easy and tasty recipes to get you started.)
OK, maybe you’re the type of person who wants to go camping because it’s a chance to do positively nothing but stare deeply and silently into a campfire for three days straight—more power to you. But if you like to mix up your fire-staring with a little fun and games, then you’re in luck. That’s one of the best aspects of camping.
This is the woods we’re talking about—a place where you’re free to let loose and get creative. You don’t have the easy entertainment of a TV screen or smartphone (though if you do need WiFi, KOA’s got you covered, don’t worry). If you’re camping with kids, lean into their imaginations. Give them the freedom to come up with the activities. Invent games. Tell stories. Whip out the miniature chess or checkers set or deck of cards. Sometimes, simple fun is the best fun. And if that still doesn’t cut it, lucky for you, many KOA campgrounds feature a whole slew of fun-filled amenities like miniature golf, swimming pools, and more.
If you’re a first-timer, our advice is to plan ahead as much as possible. Obviously, there’s a big asterisk here; weather tends to have a mind of its own and certainly has a weird, twisted hobby of toying with meteorologists. There’s not much that’ll turn first-time campers into only-time campers faster than a cold, pounding rain or subfreezing temperatures. Save these weather experiences for when you’re a more experienced camper. Until then, consider your camping destination’s seasonal weather. If it’s the Mountain West in summer, be prepared for afternoon thunderstorms. If it’s the Southeast, there will be bugs. The shoulder seasons of autumn and spring are generally the most desirable camping conditions, but again, some regions have very different definitions of what months these seasons are.
Lastly, camping is amazing. But camping can very quickly be ruined if there are a few bad apples who fail to follow campground rules and Leave No Trace principles. The good news is that it’s incredibly easy not to be a bad apple. Clean up after yourself, pack out what you bring in, and don’t be too rowdy with your group (especially once the sun goes down). Simple things, but very important ones to preserve campgrounds as the serene nature havens that they are.
Ready to give it a try? You’ll find that people around you are more than happy to help answer any questions you have to help you discover the joys of the experience.
Written by Ry Glover for Matcha in partnership with Kampgrounds of America.