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10 Tips for First-Time Campers

We’ve all had our fair share of unpleasant camping experiences and lived to tell the tale, but if you’re a first-time camper a bad experience the first time out may spell the end of camping for you and your family. What can be done to make the first few trips more pleasant?

Below is a list of 10 tips for first-time campers that may help make their first few trips out a lot more enjoyable and help to foster a lifelong love for camping in the process.

Tip #1 – Drive out to the campground for the afternoon.

If a first-time camper is a bit intimidated by the prospect of going camping they may like to take a drive out to a campground near their hometown, park their car and walk around.

I like the idea of first-timers going out to a campground, registering a campsite (usually about $25 here in Alberta) and spending the afternoon within the campsite picnicking, sitting around the campfire and seeing for themselves how much fun it is.

Visit with the campground attendants and campers and see some of the sights and sounds they would experience if they were camping there.

Tip #2 – Choose a first-come, first-served campground during a period of good weather the first few times out.

The weather doesn’t always cooperate and often first-time campers might be ill prepared for bad weather.  By choosing a first-come, first-served campground campers can decide with short notice to go or not to go depending on the weather conditions.  The better the weather the better the camping experience will be.

Tip #3 – Choose a campground that is close to home just in case things go wrong.

Every camper knows that at some point you have to pull up stakes and leave your campsite prematurely. Whether your campsite is flooded with water by a freak thunderstorm or you’re on the receiving end of a revolt by the children, being close to home allows you to quickly retreat to safe ground and re-group.


Another good reason for camping close to home is the dreaded forgotten item.  Generally, this isn’t an issue but first-time campers may leave an essential item at home and a quick trip back to the house can save the day.

Tip #4 – Choose a campground that is close to a grocery store, ice cream shop or restaurant, just in case you or your family needs a pick me up or an essential item.

Sometimes even experienced campers need a “pick me up”.  The kids may not be in the best of moods after a long hike or when one them is bitten by a bee. By choosing a campground that is close to a grocery store, ice cream shop or restaurant a pick me up is only a short drive away.

Tip #5 – Follow the rules set out by the campground operator – safety first!

Most campgrounds have the rules clearly posted.  They know everyone will have a more enjoyable time if some rules are followed.

The number one safety tip is to animal-proof your campsite.  Garbage should be disposed of promptly, food and personal care products should be stored in your vehicle and all warning signs should be read, understood and obeyed.

Most campgrounds have dangerous situations that must be understood by all in your party. The road leading to your campsite can be the most dangerous. Drivers often drive too quickly through the campgrounds and small children must avoid running into the roadway just like they would at home.

The area surrounding your campsite is full of dangerous situations; fast flowing or deep bodies of water with slippery or muddy banks, uneven walkways and trails and insect nests hidden within the brush just to name just a few.


Tip #6 – Pack lighter than you think.

Even as seasoned campers we often bring far too much stuff.  The least enjoyable part of our camping trips is loading and unloading the vehicle.  By limiting the items you bring the first few times out you limit the time and effort it takes to load and unload the vehicle and make the experience that much more enjoyable.

Tip #7 – Don’t go Out and buy a lot of stuff!

Every year I see ads where outfitting stores recommend this or that “necessary” item for campers. For a first-time camper, who doesn’t even know if they like camping or not, purchasing unnecessary items is a mistake.

Of course you’ll need the basics, a tent, cooler for food and beverages, water for drinking, bedding, a small ax, flashlight, a pot and frying pan but again, and I can’t stress it enough, pack lighter than you think you should. After a few trips you’ll have a better idea of what you “need”.

Tip #8 – Bring your own firewood. (sorry campground guys!)

All too often campground wood is damp and causes the fire to be difficult to light and smoky. Smoky fires aren’t enjoyable and you want your first trip out to be enjoyable.

Take some time prior to going out for your first camping trip to collect some firewood (buy it or use scraps from a construction site) and dry it out.  I know this adds to the things you need to bring with you but this is an important tip.

We generally don’t buy wood from the campground attendants but when we do we get the fire going with nice dry wood and only once its going nicely we add a little of the “campground wood” then a little of our dry wood.  We find this reduced the smoke tremendously.

Enjoying the Campfire

Tip #9 – Bring your own bedding.

Duh! You may be thinking.  But I mean bring bedding similar to that you would use at home.

My wife and I prefer to bring bedding from home rather than a sleeping bag. We find sleeping together under sheets and blankets keeps us warmer and with them, sleeping in our tent feels like sleeping at home.

Don’t forget to bring few extra blankets to place beneath you in order to soften the ground a bit and to add some insulation. Even if you use an air mattress blankets beneath you will keep you much warmer.

Tip #10 – Have fun!

Make it enjoyable for everyone. Bring a few of the kids favourite toys, keeping in mind the limited space in the vehicle.

Spend time wandering the campground.  Visit with other campers and the campground attendants.

Explore the wilderness surrounding the campground.

If you are parents, give your partner a break and watch the kids while he/she wanders off on his/her own to explore.

I hope you find those 10 tips useful.  I wish I had a similar list when we first started to camp with 3 preteens and two large dogs in tow.

Now get out there and enjoy our Alberta’s Campgrounds!