Getting Ready for Your First Camping Trip

When starting out, you're not going to need the best of everything, and you can scrounge around for the items that can be called into duty.

Your decision on where to go hinges primarily on the amount of time you have and your proximity to “campable” wilderness areas. If you're just starting out, ask friends about places where they've gone, and how far, and how long it takes to get there. If you can team up with someone who's done it before, that's. You can team up and benefit from another's experience—and you can use their camping equipment. Seldom will you need two portable stoves, and you may be able to share a tent at night if it's big enough. You'll need some stuff, but if you're going on a short weekend camping trip to a destination a couple of hours away you can minimize expenditures on items that the other person or people have.

When starting out, you're not going to need the best of everything, and you can scrounge around for the items that can be called into duty: Old pots and pans work just as well as the specialized nested ones that seasoned campers and backpackers use, though they may not be as light and compact. Borrow camping gear that you can't put your hands on from other hikers. They'll be more willing to part with some of their stuff if you explain that you're going on a short trip—they're thinking about potential wear and tear on their equipment, and a light weekend jaunt is less foreboding in this respect than a trek in Nepal. Assure your lenders that you'll make good on any damage done.

If you can't find people to lend you camping gear you'll need to get your hands on several, basic pieces of equipment, namely a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad, and, depending on whether you're car camping or hiking to a destination, a backpack. All told, the combination of these items can add up to $800 or more. Luckily, outfitters specializing in equipment rental are numerous and cater to those who only go camping once in a blue moon or are newcomers to the activity. Ask at your local camping store for the names and numbers of these outfitters, or when you're phoning around to check out destinations. For a nominal fee, outfitters can rent all types of camping equipment—from backpacks, tents, and sleeping bags to canoes, flashlights, and stoves. For a group, this may be the way to go, since outfitters can put together all the necessary equipment for a weekend or week-long excursion. They can throw together a menu and food for a trip of almost any length. The only drawback to this approach is that it costs money, but it may be money well spent if you're getting to test different kinds of equipment before committing to a purchase. The other advantage of course, is that it cuts down on the planning needed for a trip.

Outfitters are also good sources for information on the area where you're camping, and sell maps and other publications.

Now you need to decide where to go camping:

  • Pick a departure date and time; decide on the length of the camping trip.
  • Someone should be in charge of transportation, whether it's renting a minivan or getting the group to the campsite or trailhead.
  • Decide who is going to be the “group leader.” This person should have some outdoor experience, or be the person who decided on the destination. Often different group members can be in charge of different things. For example, someone who has camped before can give advice on choosing campsites. If part of your trip will be undertaken in a canoe, someone in the group should have paddling skills and be able to show others what to do.