How to Camp

Four Methods:Packing the EssentialsChoosing your TentFollowing ProtocolPlanning Activities

Everyone needs a break from everyday life. Embracing the great outdoors is not only a rewarding experience, it is also a humbling one. Make sure you bring the right accessories to achieve the best camping experience possible. Here are a few tips and ideas on how to camp.

Method 1
Packing the Essentials

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    Pack survival tools. These items will help you better navigate the camping area and may come in handy in an emergency.
    • Bring flashlights or lanterns. For late night hikes or middle-of-the-night bathroom calls, a portable light source is a must. Make sure you take the correct batteries for your light source.
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    • Store matches in a plastic bag or bring a lighter and lighter fluid. Lanterns and flashlights are great for the dark, but you will also need to build fires if your campsite does not have fire rings for cooking. Also remember to bring newspapers to help start your fire.
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    • Bring a map of the area you will be camping in. In case you become lost and do not have a cell phone, you will need to know how to navigate back to your campsite. To better help you navigate, take a compass as well; simply align the compass so that the edge connects your current location to your intended destination. Follow the arrow while it is pointed at your intended destination.
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    • Take a first aid kit. Being able to bandage and disinfect wounds obtained in the wilderness is a top priority. Remember the Boy Scouts motto: "Be prepared!"[1]
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    • Bring a shiny belt to signal helicopters in case you get lost. If traveling with other people, create a yell and Bing a whistle to signal each other in case you get lost.
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    Take necessary personal items. Even if you plan on "roughing it," be sure to bring basic toiletries and hygiene tools.
    • Pack a toothbrush, soap, towels, and toilet paper. Even if your campsite doesn't offer a public restroom and shower, you will need to brush, bathe, and use the bathroom often.
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    • Pack enough clothes. Make sure that you dress according to the area and weather. Boots, sweaters, worn jeans, and t-shirts are better suited than nice jeans, sneakers, and polo shirts. If camping in cold or rainy weather, be sure to wear thick, waterproof clothing.
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    • Remember to bring prescription medications and asthma inhalers. If you have allergies, bring your EpiPen or over the counter allergy medicines. If you are female, make sure to bring essential feminine care products.
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    • Bring a pocket knife.[2] Knives come in handy for small but important tasks like opening food bags or mark trees when hiking. Buy a Swiss army knife as a more reliable and versatile option; Swiss army knives have specialized tools like bottle openers and scissors.[3]
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    • Store items in backpacks and large duffle bags. These are more mobile and easier to carry than luggage.
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    Bring camping gear. If you are camping on public grounds and do not intend to use local lodging, make sure you bring the necessary housing items.
    • Bring your tent along with a mallet for staking tent loops and rain fly loops to the ground. If you plan on camping in rain, take a tarp to waterproof your tent.
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    • Take plenty of blankets. Even though you may be camping during summer, nights can get cold quickly. You can also layer blankets on the floor of your inner tent. This will cushion your tent floor and make it easier to sleep.
    • Pack sleeping bags and pillows. Though both are optional, it's nice being able to keep as warm as possible during the night and rest your head on a soft, cushioned surface.
    • If your campsite doesn't come equipped with picnic benches and tables, bring folding chairs and tables
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    Take food. Be sure to check with grounds officials about how to properly store foods to avoid attracting local wildlife.[4]
    • Water bottles and canteens are ideal, especially when hiking. If you plan on doing a lot of physical activities, you will need to stay hydrated especially during hotter weather. Remember to pack a watercooler to help keep water refrigerated.
    • Lean towards food that is easily cooked over fire. This includes eggs, vegetables, and thin slices of vacuum-packed meat.[5]
    • Don't just take raw foods, take non-perishable foods as well. Chances are you won't be cooking for all meals, and having foods that won't spoil in hot weather is a nice option to have.[6] Make sure you take recipes along with the food you intend to cook.
    • Pack all perishable foods in tightly sealed plastic bags. Keeping moisture out will help them stay edible longer. For fragile foods like eggs, cushion plastic bags with folded paper towels.
    • Remember camping classics. Take marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers to make S'mores! Simply roast marshmallows over an open flame and sandwich them between a bar of chocolate and two graham crackers.
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    Pack the right cooking utensils. Some campsites do not have fire rings or allow camp stoves, so be prepared to cook over an open flame.
    • Knives specifically for cutting food are handy to have. Pocket knives, while useful, are not made for slicing meat or chopping vegetables.
    • Pack pots and pans for cooking over a flame.[7] Camp-friendly pots and pans aren't just more portable than regular kitchenware, they are specifically tailored for open flame cooking (for example, stainless steal pots with heavy duty bottoms for even heat distribution).[8]
    • Bring eating utensils. Cups, plates, forks, and spoons are essential when eating. Also bring grilling tools like tongs and spatulas to help you cook hot foods.
    • Bring a barbecue grill, coal, and some bottled beers if your campsite allows it. Barbecuing during hot weather is great for days when you just want to sit and relax.

Method 2
Choosing your Tent

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    Know the weather conditions beforehand. Knowing if you'll be facing rain, sunshine, or harsh winds is vital when picking the right tent.
    • If you'll be camping in rainy conditions, pick a tent with a rain fly (specialized tarp) or use tarp to waterproof your tent. Use a tent porch to store wet items that you don't want inside your tent.
    • Consider the size of your camping group. If you'll be camping alone in harsh weather, pick a tent that is easily pitched by a single person.
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    Pay attention to the material of your tent. Some materials are better suited for certain conditions.
    • Canvas, while durable, is also very heavy and not ideal against rain. Nylon is lighter but is intended for calmer conditions. Polyester is best for sunny and hot weather as it is designed to withstand long exposures to sunlight.
    • Closely inspect the sturdiness of your tent. If you'll be facing strong winds, make sure to bring a tent with strong poles, high quality pegs, and secured fastenings. For maximum durability, choose a tent with double-sewn seams.[9]
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    Pitch a large dome tent. If you're camping with relatives, you'll often share a tent with a wife, brother, or sister.
    • Large dome tents, or "workhorse" tents, have broad roofs and rounded frames, making them very spacious. They might just fit your entire family.[10]
    • Dome tents are stable, easy to set up, and made for harsher conditions like snow.
    • These tents are usually free-standing, meaning they can be moved around once they have been erected. This is ideal if the weather worsens or if the wind direction changes.
    • Some dome tents afford the luxury of having separate rooms or porches to store gear and equipment.
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    Set up an A-frame tent. These tents are typical if you are camping or sleeping alone.
    • A-frame tents are the easiest to pitch but are not as sturdy against strong winds. They consist of two parallel, vertical poles supporting a center pole across the roof.[11] When erected, their structure resembles the letter "A."
    • This style of tent is lightweight but does not offer much room due to the steep, sloping sides.
    • Bring a tarp to waterproof your tent. Standard A-frame tents do not come with rain flies.
    • For a roomier alternative, opt for a modified A-frame tent. This tent uses curved rather than straight poles, offering greater stability, more space, and rain fly protection.
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    Put up a hoop tent. Hoop tents have 3 arched frames with curved poles at all ends to help retain shape and stability.
    • If using a hoop tent, guy ropes need to be tied and staked for stable pitching. Fabrics that are not staked down properly will flap in the wind.[12]
    • This design is best for rain or snow as both will slide off upon contact.
    • Hoop tents are the lightest and most compact tents.
    • Standard hoop tents typically service two people.
    • If camping alone, choose a single hoop tent. This uses a single curved pole and is lighter and more compact. Single hoop tents are not as sturdy against strong winds but offer a more mobile alternative, ideal when cycling or backpacking.[13]
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    Pitch a pop-up tent. These collapsible tents come pre-assembled and simply need to be unpacked and staked to the ground.
    • Pop-up tents involve built-in flexible hoops that spring into shape immediately after being unpacked.[14]
    • These tents are typically small and designed for children or smaller adults.
    • Although flexible and easy to assemble, pop-up tents are usually single skinned and unsuitable for rainy or windy conditions.

Method 3
Following Protocol

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    Plan your activities and meals ahead of time. Think about how many days you want to camp and whether you want access to bathroom or cooking facilities.
    • Spread out the activities in your itinerary. If you go hiking one day, plan on swimming or barbecuing the next day.
    • Look up easy camping recipes.[15] Not only will this help you decide what food to bring, it will tell you what cooking tools are necessary.
    • Pack your items in advance. Start with essential items like first aid kits and flashlights and end with optional gear like skewers and marshmallows.
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    Research area camp grounds. Make sure the environment and scenery are to your liking.
    • For first time campers, pick a campground that is not so deep in the wilderness. National Parks like Yosemite or Yellowstone are great first time camp spots.
    • If you don't want to "rough it" but still want to enjoy the outdoors, National Parks and National Forests are ideal. They usually provide restrooms, showers, picnic tables, fire rings, and sometimes laundry facilities.[16]
    • Keep in mind the season and weather. If camping during the summer, pick a spot next to a lake or river. For colder seasons, camp near the woods.[17]
    • Find out if there are any local attractions that you can visit during your stay. For example, if you're camping in Yellowstone, you might want to check out the Old Faithful Geyser.
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    Make a reservation. Camp grounds are either on public or privately owned land. In either case, you are often required to notify the grounds ahead of time before setting up camp.
    • Call or book your reservation online. You will need to supply vital information like your name, address, and billing information.
    • You will need to notify the grounds of your arrival time and length of stay. Grounds management may also ask if you require a wheelchair accessible campsite or if you are bringing any pets.[18] After providing the necessary information, the grounds will notify you if they have available reservations.
    • Be sure to make your reservation long in advance. This will give you enough time to pick the right campsite and plan your trip accordingly.
    • National Parks and other public grounds sometimes allow you to camp without a reservation. You will be informed of which areas you are allowed to camp in and what living quarters you are allowed to bring (whether RVs are allowed and what size).[19]
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    Check in at your campground. Before setting up camp, you must notify management that you have arrived for safety and tracking reasons.
    • You will be assigned a certain site within the grounds or you may have the option of picking a site.
    • If you're camping in hot weather, choose a place close to a water supply and under some shade. Tents can become oven-like in the summer, so be sure to pick the coolest spot possible.[20]
    • If your campsite offers facilities, choose an area that is a reasonable distance from a bathroom or shower. If you become injured in some sort of way, having access to running water is better than using water from a lake or river.
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    Tell your camp members your plans beforehand. Before going on a hike or exploring the wilderness, be sure to disclose your plan in full detail.
    • Provide details of where you're going, when you plan on returning, and directions and alternate routes that can be taken. Supply your cell phone number if you brought a cell phone.[21]
    • If camping on public grounds, know how to contact the park or forest rangers. If camping on private land, keep a cell phone with local authority numbers already programmed into the phone (for example, state police or sheriff's department).[22]
    • If camping alone, keep your compass or cell phone with you at all times. In case of an emergency, you will need to know how to contact park rangers or navigate to secure areas.
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    Follow the rules. Every campground has a set of safety and courtesy regulations that every camper must follow.
    • Get clearance and required permits for planned activities. Some places have rules and restrictions regarding fishing and hiking. Inquire about these at the ranger station or check online.
    • Make sure you are using environment safe equipment. Ask campground personnel about seasonal fire or campstove restrictions ahead of time.[23]
    • Check with local park or forest agents about how to properly store your food. The last thing you want to wake up to is a hungry bear rummaging through your watercooler.
    • Be safe. Only camp and congregate in authorized areas. Areas that have been declared "off-limits" are in place to protect you from animals or other environmental dangers, or to protect the local vegetation and wildlife.[24]
    • Respect the wildlife. Don't litter and don't feed any local animals. Remember that you are a guest in this natural habitat.
    • Be courteous. When camping on public grounds, chances are you will be near fellow campers who are also trying to enjoy the outdoors. Try not to be too loud or too imposing when pursuing activities.
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    Set up camp. Begin unpacking your items and pitching tents.
    • Try to set up camp while the sun is up. Organizing food and pitching tents is much more difficult in campfire or lantern light.
    • Position your items in a practical manner. Place tents away from fire sources and close to water sources, store food in easily accessible but safe areas, and keep safety materials like flashlights and first aid kits in every tent.
    • When done with a campfire, douse it with plenty of water. Remember the classic words of Smokey the Bear: "Only you can prevent wildfires."[25]
    • Be sure that you take all your items with you when you break camp. Any garbage should be picked up and thrown away. Use a broom to brush away residual food particles so that you do not attract wildlife.

Method 4
Planning Activities

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    Gather around the campfire. Camping is all about enjoying nature and the company of others. Leave the high-tech activities at home.
    • Wait until night or until it gets really dark out. Take turns telling spooky ghost stories around a flickering fire. Watch in amusement as you scare each other with suspenseful stories.
    • Bring a guitar or other musical instruments. Singing songs and playing instruments is a great way to bring everyone together in a lighthearted way. The best campfire songs are interactive and involve call and response, like "Sarasponda."[26]
    • Roast marshmallows or make S'mores. Cooking campfire favorites is a great way to enjoy each other's presence, especially for kids.
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    Go fishing. Many public camp grounds, like Yellowstone National Park, offer fly fishing.[27]
    • Clean and gut fish that you have caught from the lake. Throw it on a barbecue grill or skewer it and roast it over an open flame.
    • Take plenty of photos with fish you have caught. Fish don't just make great entrees, they make awesome trophies too!
    • Public camp grounds sometimes require you to have a state fishing license.[28]
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    Swim at a local lake. Throw on your bathing suits and cool off during hot summer days.
    • Make sure swimming is allowed. Some places may have dangerous or sensitive wildlife that can become agitated by swimmers.
    • Make sure you know how deep a lake is before jumping in and swimming. Too deep a lake may not be best for young children, while too shallow a lake won't be as enjoyable for adults.
    • Be careful when swimming or diving into a lake. Treat the lake with the same level of caution as you would a swimming pool.
    • It's always best to swim with people who know CPR. In case of an emergency, you will need someone who can swim well and resuscitate someone who has swallowed water, if necessary.
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    Take a hike. Hiking is both a steady workout and a great way to appreciate nature.
    • Bring maps, compasses, and other items for navigating through the wilderness. Carve a symbol on trees you have passed to help you find your way back to camp.
    • Drink lots of water and remember to take breaks. Hiking can be a physically tasking activity, especially in very steep or hilly areas.
    • Use binoculars to observe the wildlife. Some spots are known for the specific animals they have to offer. Try Owl watching, butterfly watching, or observing bats at sunset based on where you're located.[29]
    • Schedule a guided tour. If you're a first time camper trying to get the most out of your stay at a national park, guided tours will help you experience a wide variety of activities. Yellowstone National Park, for example, offers a photography safari and swims in thermally heated rivers.[30]
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    Play games. Doing something fun and interactive with family, friends, and kids is the surest way to have a memorable camping experience.
    • Do an alphabet nature hunt. This is a great activity for young children. Have kids try to spot as many things as they can for every letter of the alphabet (like "leaf" or "dirt"). This not only gets kids active and interested, it helps them expand their knowledge of nature.[31]
    • Have a water fight on hot days. Balloon tosses and squirt gun wars are enjoyable for all ages. For a better experience, throw in some swimming and barbecuing in the background.
    • Play tug-of-war. Use a shovel to dig a shallow hole in the ground and fill it with water. Position people on either ends of a rope and have them try to pull the other team into the water hole.
    • Play different types of sports. Bring a Frisbee, football, or a baseball bat and baseball. Sports can be especially unique when played on a campsite. Have a low hanging branch be your volleyball net or use trees as bases. Don't be afraid to get creative when playing sports.

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Categories: Camping