Camping 101: How to Get Started

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Camping has a reputation for being unpleasant, some saying it’s “like pretending to be homeless”, but it doesn’t have to be. Camping is something that everyone should try at least once, however, most people just don’t really know where to start. Beginners are sometimes unsure as to where to go, when to go, what to buy, whether or not they will ever use the gear again, and what to do when they are there. The best way to overcome this is to have a friend introduce you to camping, someone to take you on trips, teach you stuff, and lend you gear, but if you don’t have one of those, you have me, Natural Highways’ resident camping expert, I have come to assist.


Location and Time

For any camping trip, two of the most important factors are location and time. For beginners, you would probably want a family campground, somewhere with a water pump, real bathrooms, and a pavilion. These are all facilities that make camping more like, well… living at home. They allow you to enjoy the outdoors while also retaining some of the comforts of civilization. The site you pick should also be near an activity you would want to enjoy. If you want to go biking, there are dozens of free, public campsites along the C&O

Canal, and some family campgrounds you have to pay for. There’s good canoeing and kayaking all along the Potomac River, and excellent rafting in OhioPyle. Hiking is literally everywhere. For beginners, it’s also best to take the trip in the warmer months. Spring, summer, and fall are all great times to go camping. Winter has its own benefits, but if you are inexperienced, the cold could be dangerous, or even life threatening. So, choose wisely when picking when, and where to camp.



Gear

One of the most daunting things a new camper can face is the plethora of gear choices, and the sometimes sky high costs that go along with them. I own at least a thousand dollars of camping gear, but I am not a casual car camper. Not everyone needs a two-hundred-fifty dollar, lightweight backpacking tent. For a beginner, borrowing gear from a friend would probably be the best option, since you could have access to high quality gear without having to spend a load of money, but a thirty dollar Walmart tent with an air mattress and some blankets would also work well enough until you decide whether or not you enjoy camping. Below is a list of the bare essentials,

  • Tent

  • Sleeping bag/blankets

  • Sleeping pad (I’ll write an article about this soon)

  • Portable light source. (Bring extra batteries)

  • Proper clothing. (One set set of clothing for sleep, one for the day. If you don’t change, microorganisms will start to grow in your clothes. If you are camping for an extended period of time, don’t bother bringing more than three total sets. If everyone smells terrible, nobody smells terrible.)

  • Lighter fluid. (Build a log cabin with medium and large sticks, put some dry twigs in the middle, douse it in lighter fluid, and toss a match before the lighter fluid evaporates.)

  • Matches

  • Food. (Hot dogs and canned beans are good beginner food. You can cook them over an open fire, you don’t need to buy a stove.)

  • Saw and knife. (For cutting wood for a fire.)

Camping can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be, and hopefully, Camping 101 can help you know how to get started.



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