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Camping Tips for Beginners: 20 Mistakes to Avoid

These tips are the ones that may seem obvious to someone who has been camping before but they were all brand new to me! I honestly wish that I knew them before my first camping trip which involved the wrong sleeping bag, animals attacking our tent, and lumpy campgrounds! These camping tips for beginners will help you be more prepared than I was. So here are 20 camping mistakes that you should definitely avoid…

1. Buy the Right Sleeping Bag

Each sleeping bag will tell you the lowest temperature that you can use it in. PAY ATTENTION to that! We bought the cheapest one without really looking and had to sleep in multiple jackets to stay warm.

2. Don’t Forget Sleeping Pads

I honestly thought sleeping pads were optional, but they really aren’t. I could barely sleep on my side with one, let alone without one.

boy hiking with camping gear & sleeping pad
Can you spot the sleeping pad?

Pro Tip: Fold it over so that it’s double padded on your hip, your legs and feet don’t really need the extra padding!

3. Research the Animals that Live Near Your Campsite

Rookie Mistake #1: Assuming that you already know what animals live in the area. Make sure you familiarize yourself with each type of animal and what you should do in case of an encounter.

picture of a wolf in a camping area
Like when we accidentally camped inside a Wolf Reserve in France… camping mistake #1

We encountered wolves, foxes, and wild boars while camping in France with little knowledge on how to handle the situation which could have been very dangerous.

4. Don’t Cook Your Food Close to Your Tent

Seems obvious, but when you’re exhausted from hiking all day this one is a bit hard to follow! You definitely don’t want to sleep near a place that smells like delicious food or where you most likely spilled a little while you were ravenously eating your dinner.

5. Don’t Eat in Your Tent

Not only will this keep your tent clean, but it will also help your tent not smell like food! After a wild fox came biting at my toes in France (that’s not figurative) I really regretted eating peanuts in my sleeping bag lol.

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tent with bite marks camping mistake
Bite marks on our tent from a fox trying to get in our tent! Don’t make this beginner camping mistake!

6. Hang Your Food / Use Bear Bags

Don’t keep your food in your tent. Hang it in trees a good distance away and high enough up that animals can’t get to it. There are also things called “bear bags” that can mask the scent of food.

7. Set Your Tent on Level Ground

Make sure you are setting your tent down on level ground (meaning your feet and head should be at the same level).

8. Don’t Set Up Your Tent on a Game Trail/ Near Water

A game trail is a trail created by animals walking on it over and over. You don’t want to be sleeping right where animals walk each night looking for food.

Also, don’t sleep too close to a stream or water source since animals usually stop there for water at night and may stop at your tent as well.

fly on a tent camping for beginners

9. Don’t Forget to Put the Fly On Your Tent

Another obvious mistake that I’ve never made since then… if you plan to leave your tent during the day, put the fly on! Even if it doesn’t look like it might rain, the weather can change quickly and if your sleeping bag and extra clothes are all soaking wet you won’t be able to sleep that night (whoops!).

beginner camping with a car
This is where we left the fly off all day while visiting Mt. Rushmore in the USA and had to sleep in our car instead lol

10. Test Your Gas Stove BEFORE Your Trip Starts

Ever seen the movie “Wild”? Well if you don’t want to be eating raw oatmeal with water every morning, make sure you test out your stove BEFORE you leave. You may have the wrong lid or type of gas and you’ll be eating raw food.

11. Bring Food that Can Be Cooked Quickly

Top Ramen, rice, noodles, oatmeal, instant soups, all types of things that take only a few minutes to cook using a gas stove. The faster your food cooks, the longer your gas stove will last.

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food to pack on a beginner camping trip
All the food we packed for our first camping trip in France

12. Less is More: Don’t Pack More than You Need

Get rid of any extra weight that you can and ONLY bring the bare minimum. This means unpacking your food and leaving behind any extra boxes, maybe only bringing the clothes that are on your back and a pair to sleep in, only bringing snacks that can be shoved into crevices and not take up a lot of room. Get creative!

To get an idea of how much we packed for a 6-day trek in France, you can get our packing list here:

Get a FREE Packing List for the GR52!
Includes all items & meals you’ll need!

    13. Make Sure to Pack Enough Gas for Your Stove

    If you’re using a gas stove, make sure that you have an idea of how long one can of gas will last and how often you plan to use it.

    14. Know the Rules of The Camping Area

    Unless you want to face some fines, you’re going to want to do a little research in advance to find out whether you can have a fire and where you’re actually allowed to camp.

    tent in front of a river, camping for beginners
    Camping in Pai, Thailand!

    15. Pack Out Your Trash

    Bring a ziploc back and make sure to keep all your trash with you until there is a place to throw it away.

    16. After You Go to the Bathroom, Cover the Area

    When you do eventually have to go to the bathroom, make sure it’s far away from the main trail or camping ground and either bury it or cover it with rocks.

    17. Never Spit/Brush Your Teeth/Go to the Bathroom in a Stream or River

    Streams, rivers and lakes are where people are getting their drinking water or even bathing themselves, so make sure you aren’t polluting the water with toothpaste or anything else.

    girl sitting in front of lake on a camping trip

    18. Bring Enough Water

    Don’t skimp on water! It will most likely be the heaviest thing you have to carry, but there is nothing worse than hiking dehydrated!

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    Also, make sure you factor in the water you will be using to cook or brush your teeth if you won’t be camping near a water source.

    19. Know Where the Water Sources Are BEFORE You Start

    In order to find where the water sources are on your hike, you can use the app Maps.me. Type in “Drinking Water” in the area that you plan to hike in, and it will show all of the places where you can get water.

    However, just in case some of these are dried up or may not be there anymore, always make sure to bring extra water and water purifying tablets!

    map showing water sources for a camping trip

    20. Have an Offline Map Ready

    You most likely won’t have great wifi on your camping trip or trek and getting lost is not fun for anyone (we went over 6 miles off-track on our last hike) make sure that you have the trail or area for camping downloaded using an app like Maps.me, Wikiloc, or All Trails.

    If you plan to use Google Maps, I would still recommend having a backup map ready since Google Maps isn’t always accurate on trails.

    21. Have a Backup Plan/Escape Route for Emergencies

    Especially if you are trekking and camping, make sure you know the closest cities that you could get to if you needed to get home or to a hospital in an emergency.

    22. Know the Laws Before Having a Campfire

    Like I mentioned before, in order to avoid getting a fine (or causing damage to the area that you’re in) make sure you know the laws on having a campfire. Certain areas may be going through a dry season and may temporarily not be allowing fires and others may never allow them. Just be aware!

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