A Beginner’s Guide to Camping for the First Time

Essential tips for first-time campers.

So you’re ready for your first camping adventure into the great outdoors.

Though you may be feeling a bit intimidated, we are here to rid of those newbie jitters.

Camping is not only simple, but a ton of fun.

Read on to learn all you need to know about camping for the first time.

Top Things Every First-Time Camper Should Know

Choose the Right Gear

For your first time camping, there is no need to go all-out and get gear that is typically only used by highly experienced campers.

Stick to the basics, most important of which is your tent.

You do not need a fancy tent, but rather one that will be simple and easy for you to set up.

When choosing a tent for your first camping trip, size does matter. Being as comfortable as possible during your first camping trip will increase the chances that this first time won’t be your last time.

So, get a tent that is a bit larger than what you think you’ll need to allow yourself extra space and comfort.

Get Familiar With Your Gear At Home

Waiting until you’re out in the wild camping to try out your gear is a rookie mistake.

Few things can feel more frustrating than buying the tent that guaranteed a 10-minute set-up, and finding yourself still fighting with getting it put up after 2 hours of attempts.

Instead, practice and get comfortable not only with setting up your tent, but also with your other gear.

Give your sleeping bag a test run at home and make sure you think it’s comfortable enough for the wild, and that the temperature is where you’ll want it to be when you’re sleeping outdoors.

Also check your lanterns to ensure you know how to properly work them. Being stuck in the dark while camping is not a situation you want to put yourself in as a first-timer. This includes headlamps as well. Those little things will come in handy more than you know while you’re camping.

Your camp stove is another piece of gear that, if you have one, you’ll want to test out ahead of time. Try cooking yourself a meal at home using the stove to see how it goes.

You’ll get an idea of how long it takes to put a meal together, and you’ll also see whether it’s possible to create a meal that is edible.

Plan Meals Ahead of Time

Food is one of the areas that first-time campers typically overlook.

Not in the sense that they overlook bringing food, but they overlook making camping meals as simple as possible.

The best way to simplify your camping meals is to plan what you’re going to eat ahead of time.


  • How many meals you will eat
  • How many people you need to have food for
  • How much you can bring with you

Then, hop over to KOA’s recipe page where you can find everything from appetizers to dessert, and everything between. Here is where you will undoubtedly find your new favorite camping eats.

To make things even more simple for yourself, it’s a great idea to select recipes that you can make ahead of time, and simply warm up once you’re at the campground.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to the recipes and meals you want to make, next comes making the list of what ingredients you need. Then you’re ready to head to the store to pick them up.

And, a bit of advice: aim for mostly healthy meals.

Though camping isn’t camping without a whole ‘lotta s’mores and some fabulous snacks, you don’t want your first camping experience to be nothing but chips and candy.

Rather, opt for healthy, hearty meals just like you’d have at home, but in the great outdoors instead.

Make Checklists Your New BFF

Since it’s your first time camping, you may not know what to bring with you. Sure, you’ll know some of the stuff, but chances are slim you know off of your head everything you’ll need.

Worry not, there are checklists galore out there to help you pack everything you’ll ever need for your inaugural trip.

From toilet paper to matches, spare batteries to sunscreen, there are a lot of little things to remember that you will be seriously sorry if you forget.

You don’t want to arrive to the campground only to find that you forgot the stakes for your tent. That’s a terrible way to start your first camping experience.

Take some time to put together a list that fits your camping wants and needs, and use it not only on your first camping trip, but on the ones thereafter.

Eventually you’ll get to a point where you won’t need a list, but don’t feel embarrassed about using one for now.

Pack the Right Clothes

For your first camping trip, bring more clothes than you think you’ll need.

It’s hard to know how hot or cold you will be while camping, and it is always better to have too many layers than not enough.

Also, pack according to the weather. If the weather shows it may rain while you’re out, bring a rain jacket and a few extra changes of clothes. No one wants to sit around in wet clothes.

Pay Attention to Weather Forecasts

Though we can’t count on the weather predictions to be entirely accurate, they do give us a good idea of what to expect for an upcoming camping trip.

And, if the weather shows that a storm is likely to hit, do not risk it. Move your trip to another weekend.

Trust us, camping in a storm may sound like fun, but it is not. Especially if it is your first time.

If you are already camping and a big storm hits that is looking like it’s not going to let up, your best option is to pack up and head home.

To try and wait out a storm is guaranteeing a miserable experience.

Don’t Be Late

You will feel much more comfortable your first time camping if you arrive to the campground early enough to get your bearings.

Avoid showing up at night if at all possible, and instead show up with plenty of sunlight for you to explore the area.

Because KOA campgrounds offer a number of amenities, you’ll want to have time to check out all that your specific site offers. It would be a travesty to learn on your way home that the campground had a swimming pool!

Take some time to get to know where you are, and learn what offerings exist.

Also, it’s good camping etiquette to arrive early and be mindful of setting up your site during normal hours. Rolling in in the middle of the night and fumbling around in the dark to set up your tent is a quick way to make enemies.

Stay Close to Home

You will have plenty of time to venture far away on your camping adventures.

So, for your first time out in the wild, it is a good idea to stick close to home.

It may take just one sleepless night of tossing and turning in your tent to make you realize that camping is just not your thing.

Or, you may realize two days into your camping trip that you don’t have enough food and are going to run out.

Worse yet, something bad could happen and you may find you need to get back to town as soon as possible.

Whatever the reason, it’s best to play it safe and pick for your first campground visit a place that is close to home.

You can easily discover the perfect campground with our Find A KOA feature. Simply search by city and state, and within moments you will find a spot that is perfectly convenient to home.

Play By the Rules

Though you may feel like the great outdoors is a place where you can be wild and free, when you are camping at a campground, you must be mindful of the other people there.

All campgrounds have their own set of rules, so make sure you read through your KOA’s rules beforehand.

Here is a snapshot of some basic camping rules:

  1. Quiet time means just that — quiet during posted hours
  2. Respect your neighbors’ space
  3. Don’t bring your own wood
  4. Don’t leave your food out
  5. If you have to arrive late, be considerate
  6. Clean up after yourself everywhere — including the restroom
  7. Pay attention to speed limits within the grounds — there are kids and pets around
  8. If you’re a smoker, be mindful of your butts
  9. Keep control of your kids
  10. Leave the campsite better than you found it
  11. And many more

As long as you play well with others, respect nature, and respect the campground, then you will have no issues.

Have Fun

Don’t let the stresses of the rules, remembering the right gear, and bringing enough food keep you from having fun.

The whole point of going camping is to step away from the stresses of your daily life, let loose, and have fun in the beautiful outdoors.

So no matter, what, be sure you do just that!

Leslie K Hughes

Leslie, a.k.a. Copy Girl, is a copywriter who gets butterflies from telling stories through words.

Her voice comes from a place filled with passion, dreams, and lots of sugar. “Cake over steak” is her go-to motto.

With over 10 years of experience in crafting words, and years of embarking on travels that have taken this Montana girl to some incredible places, Leslie love the adventures of both body and mind her writing takes her on.

Everywhere she goes, she takes this advice with her:

“Hold on to your divine blush, your innate rosy magic, or end up brown.” – Tom Robbins, Jitterbug Perfume

To see what Leslie’s up to in the writing world, visit her website here.

A Beginner's Guide to Camping