Always wanted to go camping but not sure where to start? This guide to camping for beginners has everything you need to know
There’s not much that can rival a camping experience. Do a little planning before, find a good spot to pitch and take the right camping gear – we’ll bet you’ll be hooked after your first trip!
Like with most outdoor activities however, the right planning and prep are key. You’re out in the elements and potentially a long way from civilisation. It’s real important to know you’ve covered all bases, especially if it’s one of your first camping experiences.
This beginner’s guide to camping has all the tips and hacks you need to make your first trip a success, or help you improve on the last ones.
It’ll save you money, a headache and will help you make the most of your time in your tent!
Jump straight to…
- Different types of camping
- How to find camping sites
- How to find wild camping spots
- How long to camp for
- The best time to go camping
- How to get there and back
- Camping costs and expenses
- Choosing a camping tent
- Making a camping packing list
- Camping for outdoor trips (hiking, backpacking, cycling)
- How to pick the right gear
- The best camping food
- Going for a test run
- Picking a camping spot
- Making camping more comfortable
- Lighting campfires
- Camping safety tips
- Camping etiquette & sustainability Tips
- What to do when you get back
- Camping FAQ
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First off, why go camping?
- Camping can be done in ANY country around the world (and in thousands of awesome camping locations in each country!)
- It can be completely free
- Camping equipment is easy to find
- You don’t need much experience
- It’s varied and you can find camping spots to suit everyone
- Almost anyone can do it – camping with kids, camping with a dog, with a short-tempered partner… no problem!
But, the best thing about camping is the experience it offers
You’re completely surrounded by the natural world, and, if you’re camping as part of backpacking or cycle touring trip, it allows you to get deeper and deeper into the heart of the wild!
Rise and fall with the sun, wake to the sound of birds and crash out to the sound of crickets. Spend the day exploring the great outdoors and then come back, huddle around a fire and get preparing some delicious camping food (hopefully with a beer in hand). You can’t beat it.
It’s something EVERYONE should try at the very least once.
If this guide can help you with your first one, or help make it a regular thing, we’ll consider it a bloomin’ success!
Camping for Beginners Pt. 1: Planning Your Camping Trip
A little planning goes a LONG way. This section has all your first steps on how to plan your trip from scratch.
Oh, but before we jump ahad, there are different types of camping: hammock camping, bivvy bag camping, tarp camping, RV camping etc.
This guide will be focusing on everything and anything tent camping i.e. sleeping in a tent somewhere outdoors.
1.1 The different types of camping (in a tent) – pick the best for you!
Camping in campsites – the most popular type and often the easiest. Campsites can be found across most countries and have a range of amenities, making a first experience straightforward and easier for beginners. Many campsites also offer tents or accommodation options that are pre-assembled and you can rent, though for the full experience we’d recommend taking your own!
On the negative side, they cost, are closer to developed areas (this could also be positive) and can be busy at more popular sites.
Camping in the wild, wild camping, free camping etc. (our favourite type!) – camping in non-designated areas, normally in remote landscapes or national parks. Wild camping allows you to sleep in beautifully wild locations away from crowds BUT you need to be self-sufficient and it requires more outdoor experience. In many countries/areas it is also an illegal or a grey area. More info in section 2!
READ MORE: Camping wild in Scotland is legal on most public lands and should definitely be on a UK outdoor bucket list. Click on the link to check out our guide.
Camping as part of a bigger trip, like a backpacking trip or cycle tour – for this, you might alternate between wild camping and campsites. If you are planning a bigger adventure, this planning guide is a must-read!
Garden camping – if it’s your first time camping, the perfect way to test out your gear is closer to home. Try sleeping in a tent in the garden for a night first – it’s free, has excellent amenities and will give you heaps more confidence for your first time further afield.
1.2 How to find campsites?
The best way of finding campsites is via Google, searching for your destination + campsites.
You can also use Google Maps or other GPS services (though we’ve found Google has the best results) to search for campsites within certain areas. If you’re camping along a longer route, it’s often the quickest way to find places that are located close to your trail/path/route etc.
IMPORTANT: if using Google Maps, make sure the campsite is intended for leisurely visitors and isn’t for travellers/residential. We have made this mistake cycle touring a number of times!
Larger accommodation sites like Booking.com have more popular campsites available, and you can also find a good selection on tourist websites or local campsite databases, like these in the UK:
There are also camping apps that can help you find spots:
- Wiki Camps UK (UK campsites and a worldwide version available) – PAID
- Campermate (for Australia and New Zealand) – FREE
- Park4night (Worldwide) – FREE
- Motorhome Wild and Free Camping (great for camping in Wales, Ireland and England too) – FREE
1.3 Finding wild camping spots
This can be slightly harder but here are some pointers:
- Check whether wild camping is legal/tolerated in your intended area
- Get local advice – Facebook groups like Wild Camping UK, Wild Camping in Ireland or our guide to Scottish Wild Camping which can also be great ways to find local spots and wild camping tips
- Camp far from developed areas
- Set up late and leave early
- Be extremely careful with fires
- Strictly follow Leave no Trace rules (more info lower down)
For a full guide, check out our Wild Camping Guide here
1.4 How long should you go for?
This depends on your wants, desires and experience. If it’s your first time something short and sweet is a good idea. An overnight camping trip or a weekend can be perfect to build confidence and experience.
Longer-term camping is also brilliant, though it’s probably best to get your bearings with some shorter stints first.
1.5 When is the best time to go camping?
This is definitely down to your own personal preferences and the trip you’re hoping to have, but these are a few things to think about…
- Climate and weather – aim for good weather and reliable temperatures to have the most hassle-free trip. Camping in the winter, in snow, rain or storms is still possible (and damn exciting) however you’ll need to make sure you’re gear is suitable and you’re comfortable. That being said, if it’s too hot you can also be uncomfortable in a sweaty tent.
- Wildlife – certain months might see more insects or mosquitoes and breeding season for certain animals (like deers or bears). This might be something you’re trying to avoid or specifically go for.
- Other people – for a quieter camping experience, think about avoiding peak seasons, holidays and weekends. This is particularly important if you’re wild camping and need to find discrete, quiet locations.
- Camping permits – some areas may only allow camping at certain times of year.
Struggling to make room for outdoor trips? Check out these tips on finding more time for adventure!
1.6 Getting there and away
You can’t beat hiking or cycling to a campsite, but most have car parks too if you want to drive.
To make your trip more eco-friendly, you can also consider public transport options. Omio is a good travel-planning tool with local bus and train timetables as well as a handy navigating tool.
When it comes to carrying all of your things, a good quality backpack is ideal or panniers if you’re cycling. If you’re arriving by car or public transport a duffel bag is ace or you can just use sturdy bags for life.
1.6 How much does camping cost? Is it expensive?
The average campsite in the UK will cost between £10-20 a night (generally charged per tent but occasionally is per person). Prices vary slightly for peak seasons, holidays, weekends etc. and if you camp for a number of nights you can often get a discount.
Camping living costs can also be very cheap, so if you’re looking for a good budget trip it’s a very solid option! Looking for free campsites? You should go with wild camping!
1.7 What is glamping?
Glamping = glamorous camping
This is when comfort trumps practicality and you camp with a particularly lavish setup.
Many campsites offer glamping options in things like yurts or teepees, some of which might be as fancy as boutique accommodation. Obviously, this also comes with a bigger price tag and can be found on some of the links above.
You could also put together your own wild glamping trip, just making sure you’re able to carry everything you need. In the next section we’ll run through a basic camping packing list and then you can add in any extra luxury items.
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Camping for Beginners Pt. 2 – What Do You Need for Camping?
Your packing list will be a HUGE factor in having an awesome trip. Your gear doesn’t always need the latest or most expensive, just find the right stuff for you and your needs.
QUICK TIP: run through this section and start piecing together your own camping checklist so you don’t forget any vital gear!
2.1 How to choose a tent?
Out of all your sleeping equipment, this is the thing you should prioritise. Try and get the best camping tent possible for YOUR trip.
You can find 1-person tents, 2-person tents all the way up to 10+, super lightweight tents, winter tents, summer tents, popup tents… you see where I’m going. Think about your requirements and some of these points:
- How many people will you be camping with?
- Is space or weight more of a priority?
- Are you camping in good conditions or do you need a tent that can withstand bad weather?
- Is it going to be hot or cold? Do you need extra ventilation?
- Will you need extra room for panniers or a backpack?
- Do you want a tent porch or a communal living area where you can cook?
- Are you wanting a budget tent or something more expensive
There are thousands of tents suited to every type of camper, your best option is to take a browse and see what works for you best. Expect to pay £20-£50 for a super budget tent, £100-£200 for midrange and £300+ for a high-end option.
2.2 What else should you take?
Your complete packing list will depend on the trip you’re going on. Below are some camping essentials you should consider taking on every trip and you can add additional items.
- Tent – a good camping tent will be simple to pitch, relatively lightweight, give good weather protection and have enough room.
- Sleeping pad (camping mat) – a lightweight sleeping pad should be comfortable and durable. We have the Mountain Equipment Helium which is a good all-rounder.
- Sleeping bag – take a sleeping bag fit for the temperatures you’ll be in. Our sleeping bag buyer’s guide has a lot more detail and recommendations.
- Lighting – for safety and practicality you need some form of lighting for your tent. We find fairy lights to be smaller, lighter and have better battery life than a traditional lantern but also give your tent a warming glow!
- Headtorch – the Black Diamond Storm is our choice because it’s waterproof, 400 lumens and good value.
- Water storage – a water bladder is really useful to take water storage if there aren’t nearby water sources.
- Camping cooking gear – for outdoor cooking you’ll need a camping stove, gas, cutlery, plates and pans.
- A pillow – you can buy inflatable camping pillows or we just use our clothes in a dry bag!
- Camping clothing – taking comfortable outdoor clothing that’s fitting to your climate. A good insulated jacket is one of the first things on our list.
- Phone for communication and a form of navigation
- Survival and medical items – the important things are a first aid kit, a penknife and a lighter.
IMPORTANT: It’s good to be well-prepared but taking too much equipment will be heavy, take a long time to set up and can be a headache. Pack your backpack carefully!
For more info and a full checklist that can easily be carried in a backpack, check out our Camping Gear Guide!
2.3 Camping whilst hiking, backpacking, cycle touring or other outdoor trips
For different types of outdoor trips, you’ll likely need different camping items.
For hiking or backpacking trips, generally, weight is going to be a very high priority and so you should think about buying smaller, lightweight gear. As you’ll potentially be in more exposed areas, it’s good to look at better quality tents that can withstand worse weather.
A cycle touring packing list will likely have more equipment but it’s also easier to carry. You could consider buying a slightly larger tent with more living space to fit in your pannier bags.
2.4 Pick your camping gear wisely!
With lots of camping equipment you could potentially need for your trip, it’s a good idea to prioritise the essentials listed above and save on other items.
It doesn’t have to cost a bomb. Just go with something that will last, is from a reliable company and has a good returns policy. You could even buy better quality second-hand products rather than cheaper new ones?
Buying eco-friendly camping products will also help you protect the environments you’re enjoying. Our Guide to Sustainable Outdoor Gear has lots more info on this.
2.5 What food to take camping?
Food is a big factor as it will keep you filled with energy throughout your trip. You should also decide whether you’ll take all the food with you or if you’ll restock during the trip. Remember, it’s always nice to have lots of food but make sure it’s feasible to carry it all!
The best camping food will be:
- Easily stored and relatively durable
- Won’t need to be kept cool (unless you bring a cooler)
- Relatively simple and quick to make
- Tasty and nutritious
- If you’re going to be carrying all of the food yourself, lightweight is helpful
- Options for all meals (breakfast, lunch & dinner) as well as easy to eat camping snacks
For a complete rundown of vegan camping food, make sure to check out this post!
2.6 Going for a test run
This is a really important piece of camping advice, particularly if you’re camping for the first time and will be using lots of new gear – GO FOR A TEST RUN!
Before your actual camping trip, pick somewhere close to home OR even in your home/garden. You can practice pitching your tent, check everything works and that you know how to use it.
It’s much better to realise you’re missing a tent pole in your garden than in the wilderness!
Camping for Beginners Pt. 3 – Camping Tips for Beginners
Now you’ve got all the planning done and packed all of your camping equipment, these are some tips on enjoying your time there.
Want a good night’s sleep? Make sure you pick the best camping spot!
- Take your time finding the right place – particularly if you’re planning on staying there for more than a few days
- Pick somewhere on an even floor – avoid roots, rocks or anything sharp underneath (this will also stop punctured sleeping pads!)
- Shade can be good – BUT camping under trees can be dangerous in windy conditions and you could end up with bird poop on your tent
- If it’s warm, find a breeze – pitch your tent so the door/opening is facing the breeze for the best ventilation
- Think about your tent doorway/opening – it’s always nice to see mountains from your tent, not a wall or your van. BUT, at a busy campsite, you might appreciate some privacy.
- Consider the physical geography – open clearings can leave you exposed to strong winds whilst camping near streams or water sources can be boggy and risk flooding with heavy rain
- Take your time pitching – it’s worth taking the time to pitch the tent securely and fasten any guide ropes
- How close you want to be to campground amenities? Closer can be more convenient but it’ll likely be noisier.
Do you have any other tips for finding camping spots? Tell us in the comments below!
3. 2 Making camping more comfortable
Going camping doesn’t have to be any less comfortable than sleeping in your bed. Do these things and you’ll have a much better night’s sleep in your tent:
- Bring the right gear that’s suited to your trip, with a comfortable sleeping mat, something to use for a pillow and a sleeping bag suited to the temperature
- Bring warm/cool enough clothes
- Go to the toilet before bed
- Have a headtorch and a water bottle close by
- If you’re a light sleeper, think about taking earplugs and even an eye mask
Find our full tips for camping comfortably here!
3.3 Lighting campfires
Everyone loves a campfire but you need to be extremely careful. If you’re at a campsite, make sure you follow their rules on fires – even if they’re allowed, you should still be cautious.
Keep the fire small with a pit or boundaries to make sure it doesn’t spread. Be careful of embers or overhanging foliage and check it’s 100% extinguished before you leave.
If you’re camping in the wild and you don’t have much outdoor experience, it’s probably safer to avoid fire completely – wildfires can be devastating.
3.4 Simple camping safety tips
Whether it’s your first camping experience, you’re a seasoned pro, you’re in the wild or a campsite, there are a few safety tips to think about:
- Make sure you take a good first aid kit and know how to use it
- Pick a safe camping spot and use reliable camping gear
- Stay up to date with the weather
- Consider going with someone more experienced for your first time
- Keep hydrated and safe in the sun
- Be cautious of wild animals
- If you’re cooking in your tent, make sure it’s well ventilated
- Make sure someone knows where you are and keep a backup form of communication
3.5 Camping etiquette & camping sustainably
Campgrounds are very friendly and relaxed environments but there are a few bits of etiquette you should try to stick to:
- Respect the rules of the land or the campsite
- Keep the noise low, especially when the sun is down
- Respect other peoples’ space and privacy
- Keep campground facilities tidy
It’s also really important to make your camping trip nice and eco-friendly, especially as you might be in fragile natural areas.
The biggest and most important principle is Leave no Trace i.e. respect the environment, don’t litter and bring back everything you take with you. Plus, our guide to peeing and pooping in the outdoors will help you poop with pride, whilst protecting the surrounding environment.
You can also think about travelling to and from the campsite sensibly, using sustainable outdoor gear, being responsible with your waste and having some extra considerations when planning.
Find our full Eco Camping Tips here!
3.6 And when you get back from your camping trip?
Once you’ve got back from your time in the wild a simple step which will save you time, money and make your time more environmentally-friendly is maintaining your gear!
- Leave your tent to air and pack it away dry.
- Clean out all of your camping cooking gear.
- Wash out your clothes and clean your boots.
- Think about re-waterproofing some of your items too
It’s all pretty simple stuff but it’ll help give your outdoor gear an extra long life. Then, you can easily get it packed back up and ready to leave quickly for your next camping trip!
For more tips on how to repair and maintain your outdoor gear, this guide has it all.
Common camping questions answered
Yes, as long as you take the right precautions then it is safe. Though it is probably best to start at a campground first to gain some experience before you try wild or backcountry camping.
Yes, camping on your own can be awesome. Again, for beginner campers it might be best to start at a campsite or go with someone more experienced for the first few times.
For first-timers, it’s best to go with reliable and mild weather, like late spring/early summer or late summer/early autumn. Winter camping can be amazing but is better to wait until you have more experience and equipment suited to the cold weather.
Practice, practice, practice. Make sure to go for a garden trial run before you go camping in the wild and work as a team with the people you’re pitching a tent with.
This depends on your trip. If you’re backpacking or want to carry little and move fast, opting for a smaller, lighter tent is better. If you’re wanting more comfort, living space or need to store more gear, like when cycle touring, you might want to opt for a bigger one. For example, two people could pick a 3-man tent or three people could go for a 4-man tent. You can always share out the different tent parts to share the weight.
Any extra information you’d like to know? Tell us in the comments at the bottom!
The Complete Guide to Camping for Beginners – Camping 101
Spending the night under the stars in your tent is an opportunity you shouldn’t pass up. Yes, there are a few different bits and bobs to think about for your first time but that’s why we put together this post!
If you’re still unsure what you need for camping, how to plan different aspects of the trip or what to expect, just leave us a comment and we can share some extra tips.