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Car Camping Tips for Beginners

By: Adriana Garcia
24 Jun 2021

I’ve been an avid camper and outdoors person since I was a kid. I started out by camping with my brother and our friends in our OG canvas tent in the woods behind my childhood home. Every time it rained, we would end up getting completely soaked, but for some reason that never stopped us from going back. I’m lucky because even now I can make time for a weekend camping trip. Sometimes I go solo and sometimes I bring the entire friend crew with me. Either way, it’s always a good time. The outdoors has provided me with joy and peace in my life, so I want to share that with you.

Planning for your first camping trip can seem like a daunting task, so I’ve put together some easy-to-follow tips for you to use this summer.

Pick a location.
This is the most difficult part of the process, simply because there are so many options out there. My advice is to start by deciding how far you want to travel to the location. Next, figure out what landscape or amenities you want to be around. Do you want to be close to a creek so you can listen to it at night? Or do you want to be close to good hiking trails? Or maybe you want to have that mountain view when you wake up?

I personally have a thing for waterfalls and luckily there are a ton here in the south, so it’s not hard to find a spot close to one. Figure that piece out and start looking for a campground. I recommend staying at a state park or national park. All of these options are easy to reserve online.

I also find myself feeling safer when I stay at one of these options because I have the protection of the park rangers and camp hosts. Feeling safe and comfortable is KEY when camping, so put that above everything! (Note: some campgrounds require a minimum of 2-night stay.)

I recommend reserving before heading out, and it’s even better if you can reserve several weeks in advance. Ever since the pandemic hit, outdoor spaces have been filling up faster than they used to, so it may not be worth it to take a risk – especially if it’s a long drive. Now that we have the location squared away, let’s talk about my favorite subject: GEAR.

Let’s talk gear.
You can be super minimalist and only bring the essentials, or you can be extra like me and bring your entire house with you. I’m joking but not really. On some level of realness, I do keep a list of essentials items in my notes on my phone so I’ll be able to pack up at a moment’s notice and not forget the important things.
Here’s what’s on that list:
• tent
• sleeping bag
• sleeping pad
• pillow
• camp chair
• headlamp
• lantern
• knife
• lighter
• water receptacle
• first aid kit
• cooking stove + fuel
• cooler

Now that you have the essentials down, you can add luxury items as needed. For me, I simply cannot live without my Exped Megamat sleeping pad, my packable camp pillow, or my JBL Bluetooth Waterproof speaker. I also like having the option to cook with a stove rather than just the fire (plus many locations out West often have campfire restrictions), so my Eureka double burner stove comes in handy too.

These few extra items make all the difference when you’re away from the comfort of your home. I tell people all the time that it’s not necessary to have the best of the best gear when just getting out for car camping. It’s great to start building up your gear inventory one item at a time and finding out what brands and prices are right for you.

Once you get started on inventory, I recommend carving out a clean and dry place in your home to store and organize all of that gear. I like to use Tupperware containers and plastic drawer systems to organize my stuff but use whatever works for you. It makes planning and executing a camping trip so much easier when you know exactly where everything is located.

When I talk to folks about going camping for the first time I often get asked how I know what to eat. It always makes people anxious when talking about this because there are so many options out there, and they don’t know the many cooking techniques that can be used in the outdoors. I totally get it. I too get overwhelmed sometimes and just end up grabbing a sub from Publix on the way to the campsite. But I also feel that way at my house sometimes! It’s totally okay to be as minimal as you want and it’s perfectly fine if you want to chef it up.

I usually choose to be extra and chef it up. When my family would go camping at our local state park each year we did not skimp on the food, so now I have to follow that tradition. We had fried biscuits and beef stew and carne asada with guacamole, corn, and poblano peppers. Cooking outside is actually my favorite part of camping.

I love experimenting with new ingredients and cooking methods, so if you’re like me, you might want to use this as an opportunity to try something new.

The best plan of action with food is to plan in advance. Write down what you will be having for each meal, including snacks, and then list all the ingredients that you’ll need. I’ve recently discovered that Pinterest has tons of camping-friendly recipes, so you can use that and other websites like AllReceipes and Backpacker as resources. With many recipes, you can even prep some of the food prior to traveling to the campsite, so half the work is already done.

I personally like to stick to the basics with all meals. For example, dinner is usually one meat, a vegetable(s), and a starch like potatoes or rice. Then I fill in the rest with snacks like chips and dip, fruit, and cheese. You can even get more basic than this and stop at a grocery store on the way for a grab-and-go meal from the deli section. Whichever method you choose, just make sure to have a plan!

If you’re like me and had to spend a lot of time in your home this past year, you’re probably ready to get out and do something new!! I hope that something new will be camping, and that with my suggestions you will feel empowered and have a good time.

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