25/06/2024
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Camping for beginners: our complete guide

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Part of the beauty of camping is that it’s so accessible – the basic kit you need is relatively cheap and you don’t need to be an expert in bushcraft or outdoor skills to have a great experience

Camping tips for beginners never go amiss, though, and if you’ve never pitched a tent or cooked a meal outdoors, it can seem a little daunting, particularly if you’ve got kids to look after.

With a few basic tips, you’ll be well on your way to a fantastic first camping trip, setting you up with the equipment, skills and confidence to head back out there at the next opportunity. This beginner’s guide to camping includes everything you need to get started!

We’ve featured a full kit list below but make sure you check out the Out & About Shop for all your camping equipment, including tents, stoves and furniture tested and reviewed by our expert editors.

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Words by Jack Hart

 


Different types of camping what's best for you?

Family camping for beginners

Sure, at a basic level all campers are doing the same thing: pitching up a tent in the great outdoors and sleeping under the stars. The experience that you’ll have and the kit that you’ll need to pack will vary pretty wildly depending on how you’re doing that, though!

Here’s a rough guide to different types of camping:

Family camping

Also sometimes referred to as ‘car camping’, this doesn’t necessarily have to be undertaken with your family – you could be going with a group of friends or a partner.

The essence of this type of camping is the same, though: you’ll be packing plenty of camping gear to ensure a comfortable experience, including things like duvets, board games, ball games and camping furniture. It’s classic camping that you probably enjoyed as a kid and will see plenty of families enjoying over the summer!

This is the type of camping that’s most accessible and will be the focus of this guide.

Wild camping

This topic deserves a detailed guide to do it justice but, in brief, wild camping just involves pitching up somewhere in the great outdoors that’s not on a campsite.

Search for wild camping on social media and you’ll discover incredible photos of sunrises over Scottish mountains, with a tent or bivvy bag in the foreground. It is a fantastic experience, giving a greater sense of freedom than regular camping and allows you to explore incredible landscapes.

You’ll end up carrying all of your camping kit, which naturally means wild campers take much less and focus on lightweight materials compared to regular campers.

Backpacking

While this might seem very similar to wild camping, the difference here is that backpacking trips tend to extend beyond a night or two and into days or weeks on end. What that means is that your camping kit needs to be as lightweight and minimalist as possible, helping you to keep moving without weighing you down.

Again, backpackers will focus on ultra-lightweight kit, like this record-breaking one-person tent from Terra Nova, which weighs less than 500g.


Camping essentials for beginners

Camping for beginners essential kit

Your camping equipment can be quite a personal topic and one person’s essential items could seem an irrelevance to someone else. As you head on more and more camping trips, you’ll pick up useful items here and there until you have a set-up that you’re happy with. (More likely, you’ll never stop tweaking your kit list!)

As a basic starting point, though, this is a good camping for beginners checklist:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bags
  • Sleeping mats or airbed
  • Pillows (inflatable ones are available to save space)
  • Camping stove
  • Camping gas
  • Pots and pans
  • Crockery and cutlery
  • Washing-up bowl and supplies
  • Camping chairs
  • Food

Some added extras that may make your experience more comfortable include:

  • Camping table
  • Camping storage cupboard
  • Duvet and pillows from home
  • An eye mask (for the early morning sun!)
  • A folding camping bin
  • A tent carpet
  • An additional tent groundsheet for longer trips

There are plenty of additional items that you may wish to take camping, like a multi-tool or penknife, but this will come down to personal preference. Our general advice for camping for beginners is to err on the side of caution without completing weighing down your car – you’ll have a better experience if you’re more comfortable!

How to buy a tent

A brief guide to buying a tent

Of all the items listed above, your tent will have the biggest impact on your experience and so is the purchase that you need to spend a bit of time researching and considering. We’ve written on this subject many times, reviewed a huge range of tents and have created an ultimate guide to camping tents.

In general, though, these are the considerations that you need to make when buying a tent for the first time.

Capacity

How many people are going to be staying in this tent? You need to consider not just how much sleeping space there is but, crucially, how much living space there is within the tent itself. Many tents have porches and panels that open to create a seamless indoor-outdoor experience, which is fantastic – when it rains, though, you need to be confident that your tent can accommodate everyone and all of your belongings without feeling too cramped.

Poles vs inflatable

Inflatable tents have become hugely popular in the last decade while poled tents are still a favourite for many. Ultimately, both have pros and cons, which means this is a decision based on personal preference.

While inflatable tents are quicker and easier to pitch, particularly when it comes to large family tents, they can be more difficult to repair if they tear or a valve breaks, and often come at a premium.

Design

Rather than colour scheme, what we’re talking about here is the layout of the tent. You’ll generally be picking between the following:

  • Tunnel, which features an entrance at one end leading into the living space and the bedroom beyond
  • Vis-à-vis, in which you access the living space with a bedroom compartment to either side
  • Pod, which are similar to vis-à-vis but feature multiple bedroom compartments branching off from the central living space
  • Dome, which are smaller and generally have one single bedroom compartment with a porch for storing luggage and boots

Price

This is obviously one of the most important considerations when buying a tent! You can buy a large family tent from one brand for much less than a one-person tent from another, so often the price is more reflective of the materials being used than the tent’s capacity.

A very expensive tent will feature high-quality materials that should last you a long time, but we’ve used pretty cheap alternatives that more than hold their own, too.


How to choose a campsite

With the right kit packed, you’re ready to head camping for the first time – all you need to now is find the right campsite!

Your first port of call should be Campsite Finder, our comprehensive list of the best campsites in the UK. It features the sites in Premier Parks, which is the independently verified top 100 sites across the country.

If you’re camping as a beginner, you might not realise that campsites can differ pretty wildly, not just in their location but also their facilities, availability of local amenities and types of pitch on offer. While all will provide the same fundamental experience of camping in the great outdoors, the quality of campsite will have a major impact on how enjoyable your camping trip is.

When it comes to camping for beginners, you should focus on campsites with good-quality facilities, which includes not just a high-quality washroom with toilets, showers and washing-up facilities, but also things like an on-site shop, bar or restaurant. If the whole experience of camping is a new one, you want to make life as simple as possible by having facilities that make your life easier.

You also need to place a heavy emphasis on the location of the campsite itself. Great facilities are important but a stunning view across a landscape like the Lake District, Cornish coast or Welsh mountains counts for an awful lot, too. After all, spending time in the great outdoors is why we go camping in the first place!

Consider what local amenities are nearby to the campsite. One of our favourite sites is the adults-only Back of Beyond in Dorset, which has an on-site bar and regular food trucks serving speciality meals, but the campsite also lies close to Ringwood, the New Forest and the south coast, so there’s plenty to explore in the local area if you want to venture off-site.

If you’re unsure where to start, use the interactive map on Campsite Finder to discover a wide range of campsites across the UK!


Setting up and organising your campsite

A tidy campsite

At risk of sounding like an overbearing parent, a tidy campsite is a happy campsite.

We aren't talking about the wider campsite as a whole, with all its facilities – we refer here specifically to your pitch, including your tent, any camping furniture, firepit, gazebo and anything else you may have with you.

Here’s our top tips for keeping your campsite organised:

  • Keep the living area as clutter-free as possible, tidying luggage, kitchen supplies and games away at regular intervals. Camping storage cupboards can be a real asset here and storing bags in the sleeping compartment during the day will stop them getting under people’s feet
  • Invest in a folding camping bin and keep it outside your tent with a secure bin bag – avoid unpleasant smells by regularly emptying it, too
  • Use your car to store worn clothes, dirty boots and other smelly items. It’s very much an “out of sight, out of mind” strategy, but it will help to keep your tent feeling fresh
  • If you do have any camping furniture, and maybe a gazebo to shelter from the rain, don’t be tempted to leave a camping table covered in empty drinks bottles and food packaging overnight. Not only is it bad camping etiquette, you could be attracting bugs and rodents to your pitch
  • A firepit or camping barbecue will clearly need storing and using away from your tent, which is highly flammable
  • A windbreak can be a real asset in protecting your camping stove from the wind and providing a bit of privacy


Our guide to cooking outdoors

Cooking outdoors for beginners

One of the most common concerns with camping for beginners is in cooking outdoors on a camping stove. How easy is it to cook on a stove like that? How reliable is the heat from a camping stove? Am I just going to be eating pot noodles for a week?

In fact, cooking outdoors is one of our favourite aspects of camping and we’re fierce advocates that food cooked outside tastes far better.

You may have seen incredible videos of people making feasts over an open fire and are inspired to try some experimental meals. While we’re as interested as any in a culinary adventure, our advice for beginner campers is to keep things simple at first. If you’re getting to grips with your stove and don’t have all your usual utensils to hand, a simple but tasty meal is the ideal starting point.

Check out this collection of our 10 favourite recipes to cook outdoors and our top tips for campsite cooking – there’s a few below to get you started!

  • You don’t need to buy brand-new utensils and cooking equipment for camping – just grab a few essentials from home to save money
  • Make sure you know how to use your camping stove and attach a new gas canister, to avoid losing heat while cooking
  • As above, make sure you pack spare gas canisters!
  • Clean the stove/barbecue after every use
  • Share the chores of fetching fresh water and washing pots
  • Kitchen roll and antibacterial wipes are your best friends in a camping kitchen!

If you’re in need of supplies, check out the Camping Kitchen collection on the Out & About Shop.


Camping for beginners: FAQs

How do you prepare for a camping trip as a beginner?

Our advice is to do your research thoroughly. As detailed above, you should put time into researching the right campsite for you, which tent you should buy and what you need to pack. The more you have prepared, the more likely you are to have a good experience!

Where should you go camping for beginners?

Use the Campsite Finder tool on our website to find the best campsites across the UK, which you can filter to find dog-friendly, adults-only or coastal campsites, along with many other filters.

If in doubt, a Premier Park is an independently verified campsite with fantastic facilities!

What do I need to know to go camping?

Our advice for camping for beginners is to keep things simple and go to a campsite with good facilities, reducing the skills and experience you might need to have a positive experience. All you really need to know is how to pitch your tent and how to cook a meal on a camping stove, both of which you can learn in our guide to camping skills!

What gear do I need to go camping?

We’ve detailed a camping for beginners checklist above that you might need and you can find everything on the Out & About Shop.

Again, our advice is keep things simple: focus on the basics and get good-quality gear, then grab a few accessories from home to make sure you’re comfortable.

What is the golden rule of camping?

This answer could be contentious as different campers will prioritise different things, but for our money, you need to respect the environment that you’re in.

Camping is all about exploring the great outdoors and immersing yourself in nature, so caring for the campsite and leaving it in as good a state as you found it is incredibly important. That means not leaving scorch marks on the grass, clearing up all litter and generally caring for your pitch and the wider campsite.

In wild camping circles, this is known as “leaving no trace”.


Expert Camping advice!

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Every issue is packed with inspirational travel, the top camping sites to stay on, reviews of the latest tents, camping gear reviews, practical help and much more to help you get the most out of your camping adventures.

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