Tent Camping Essentials
9 Camping Mistakes

9 First Time Camping Mistakes To Avoid!

Summer is around the corner and COVID is becoming a fleeting memory! You’re ready to embrace nature, and you have a strong desire to set out on your first-time camping trip. You have images of a swag tent set up magnificently, right next to a crisp blue, flowing stream. Birds are chirping in the golden sun, while you sit on your camping rocking chair basking in the day’s warmth and sipping on a fresh brew.

Hold On!!! Before you pen down your life plans next to that majestic stream – did you see that bear rumbling through your belongings or the flash flood sweeping away that swag tent!!  Very unlikely, but theoretically possible!

I don’t want to scare you off from camping, but on the contrary, quite the opposite.  I want to make sure your experience is fun and safe, so you are ready to do it more often and with a lot more confidence. I’ve collected the 9 most common camping mistakes – the best camping advice I received from camping experts after my first disastrous foray into the great outdoors. 

Mistake #1: Pre-planning – No Camping Checklist!  

I was naive and arrogant the first time I came across a camping checklist. I scoffed at the idea of needing a two-page checklist published on some website! I knew how to pack, and I could make my own checklist! My next camping trip was an eye-opening experience. I was quickly humbled after begging for aluminum foil, sunscreen, band-aids, and more from neighboring campers. Yes, I could have bought what I needed at a nearby store. Nevertheless, I was still ashamed of my lack of preparedness.

Nowadays, I reference a camping list like that Eric and I created check it out here before I pack the car up to the gills. I simply rifle through my storage totes while marking off my camping list. Once I figure out what items I still need to get, I make sure to write up a camping shopping list. It’s important to know that your camping checklist may change depending on where or when you go on your adventure. If you expect stormy weather, make sure your checklist is camping in the rain checklist. You don’t want to forget those umbrellas or ponchos when the rain passes over your campsite!

Mistake #2: Not researching your campsite before you arrive

When you think of yourself camping, you might envision yourself surrounded by a grand swath of trees. You might even pack a hammock to nap in while you listen to the wind rustle through the leaves. Imagine your disappointment upon showing up at the campsite to see all the tall trees are among the campers across the road, and your spot is bare as the desert! 

Thankfully, you can avoid disappointment in your campsite if you do your research beforehand. Most campgrounds upload photos and/or descriptions of their campsites to their website. So before you reserve your campsite, just take a scroll through the photos. It’ll feel like a fun shopping experience, and you’ll be able to find that perfect, shady spot for your hammock! 

Another benefit to researching your campsite is being able to see what amenities are offered. Is there a camping electric hook-up? A water faucet? Do you have to walk a mile to the closest bathroom? Basically, you need to know whether your campsite is considered primitive or not.

Examples of primitive campsites can be found here at the Sunnyside Campground at the Willamette National Forest in Oregon. Primitive campsites are much like secret campsites. There is no electric or water provided, and the closest bathrooms are vault toilets (a fancy way of saying outhouses). But don’t be alarmed! It should be easy to find out whether your campsite is primitive or not, and typically, campsites come with electric hook up, a water faucet, and access to a modern bathroom with showers.

Mistake #3: Arriving at the campsite late

Setting up your campsite is definitely a daylight activity. Notice an area with non-stop sunshine? Set up a pop-up canopy like this one from Amazon! Notice a nice, flat area with shade? Park your tent right there! With plenty of daylight, you can also spot that massive rock right before you place your sleeping area over it. In conclusion, make sure you set out on the road early enough to reach the campground before sunset. You don’t want to have to use flashlights to scope out your tent placement.

Mistake #4: Packing gear you have no idea how to use 

I was beyond excited the first time I brought an air mattress on a camping trip. No more tired joints in the morning from sleeping on the ground! But then disaster struck. I discovered the air mattress didn’t come with an air pump, and to top it off, it was impossible to blow up manually. I had to sadly pack the air mattress away for the rest of the camping trip.

The moral of my story is to make sure you know how to use your camping gear before your camping trip. Fortunately, my mishap only involved a harmless air mattress. Some camping gear can be dangerous when not used properly. You don’t want to be the person who singes off their eyebrows when using their new camping grill for the first time (true story!). If you’re interested in a how-to book on camping in general, take a gander at Sleeping Bags to S’mores: Camping Basics.

Not researching your campsite

Mistake #5: Forgetting camping essentials

It takes time and practice to figure out what essential items to bring camping. I have a friend who is a red-headed mother of three children. It took her a couple of camping trips to realize that her family could not survive without sunscreen, bug spray, and a first-aid kit. I can only imagine the sun-burnt, screaming child inferno she would have on her hands without her family camping essentials! This is one of the reasons we’ve dedicated an entire page to camping essentials.

Even if you don’t have children, there will always be tent camping essentials to keep on hand when camping in a tent. Of course, you’ll need a hammer for staking the tent down. But you also might need a sleeping mat to cushion the ground, a flashlight for nighttime bathroom visits, and a small broom for keeping the tent clean. Practice makes perfect. It takes time to learn what essential items you need for your own camping adventures. Once you figure out what camping essentials you can’t do without, don’t forget to add them to your camping checklist (see Mistake #1)!

Mistake #6: Packing Too Much Stuff

Some people follow the mantra “Better safe than sorry,” and they feel inclined to pack too much stuff for camping. However, camping is an exercise in minimalism! One of the missions in camping is to experience nature without the clutter and trappings of modern-day life. So before you pack that electric sleeping bag or those tiki torches, think to yourself “do I really need this.” Truthfully, camping gear can be whittled down to the 5 most important things to bring camping:

  • Shelter (i.e., tent)
  • Bedding (i.e., sleeping bag, pillow)
  • Cookware (i.e., camping grill, pot, pan, utensils)
  • Drinkware (i.e., water bottle, water filter)
  • Emergency kit

Mistake #7: Depending on a campfire as your source of cooking and warmth 

One year my husband became obsessed with the idea of making morning biscuits by cooking over campfire. He bought a Dutch oven, packed the ingredients, and woke up early for his culinary escapade. Little did he know that it would take two hours before he could present us with his biscuits. Getting a campfire primed and ready for cooking is a time-consuming task. Personally, we only use the campfire for making our campfire coffee, hotdogs, apple pies, and s’mores. If you’re dedicated to cooking more food than that over a fire, consider a reliable and portable propane camping fire pit like the one found here. And if you don’t like messing with fire wood or charcoal, you can easily use a propane camping grill instead.

Another misconception about campfires is that they’ll keep you warm and toasty at night. While they certainly give out enough heat for a nice atmosphere, they won’t eliminate the chill on cold nights. It’s always best practice to pack a pair of pants and jacket for the cooler evenings. Not only will the added clothes keep you warm, but they’ll also protect your arms and legs from the onslaught of mosquitos. 

Mistake #8: Not planning water supply carefully 

In most modern campgrounds, a water faucet can be found at every campsite or at a communal spot between campsites. When you research the campground (see Mistake #2), you can find out exactly where the camping water is located. Once you pinpoint where the water supply is, rejoice! Your job is halfway done! Your next step is to pack all the drinkware that you need.

No camper wants to trudge back and forth, back and forth between their campsite and the water faucet. Talk about monotonous! Instead, make sure to pack a portable water container for camping. The best camping water container is Igloo’s classic, 2-gallon water cooler. Pair that with a camping water bottle like the one found here, and you have yourself a perfect hydration station

Mistake #9:  Not having an emergency kit

Emergency kits tend to slip one’s mind when packing up the car for camping. It makes sense. No one actually plans on getting hurt or having an emergency while enjoying nature! However, it’s vital that you be prepared in case of an injury or emergency. Kids can fall and scrape their knees, campfires can lead to burns, knives can cause nasty cuts, and tools can become lost.

On most camping checklists, there’s usually a section devoted to a camping emergency kit list. On the list, you’ll find first-aid items such as bandages, band-aids, alcohol, and burn ointment. You’ll also find essential tools like a fire starter, multi-tool, and flashlight. If you don’t want to buy each item individually, you can always buy a pre-prepared emergency kit from online. The best camping emergency kit that I’ve found is the Aokiwo 126pcs emergency survival kit from Amazon.

Now let’s go camping!

Now that you’ve acquainted yourself with 9 common camping mistakes, pat yourself on the back! You’re truly on your way to becoming a camping expert! Your next step is to research a spectacular campground to visit, and if you already have that part nailed down, find a camping checklist. It’s time to get started on all those camping essentials!