Camping is one of those activities that, when everything goes right, can be one of the most authentic and fulfilling experiences. It brings us much closer to nature and allows us a way to unplug from the stresses of the modern world.
But when it goes wrong?
You’re desperately trying to keep the tent from blowing away or filling with water!
Most people have good and bad camping stories — the difference comes down to planning. Sure, you can’t plan for every eventuality, but you can anticipate most.
Follow these six simple steps and give yourself the best possible chance of having a wonderful camping trip.
Step 1: Decide on Location, Season, and Timing
Before you even start to plan meals, activities, and who’s in charge of which campsite chores, you need to decide where you’re going to go camping and when.
We tend to lump various forms of travel and accommodation under the umbrella term ‘camping.’ But in reality, camping can be incredibly varied. Do you want a campsite with some home amenities — like toilets, showers, and electricity?
Or are you looking to go full wilderness and camp in the middle of nowhere, where the nearest shop is miles away?
It’s essential to be clear about which camping style you want, as choosing the wrong one can lead to a disastrous experience.
While we might all love to picture ourselves as some Thoreau-style adventurer, living in the wilderness with nothing else around isn’t for everybody.
Once you’ve chosen the place, the next decision is when you want to go. Check the average temperature where you’re planning to go and research what kind of weather you might experience there.
While it’s impossible to predict how things will work out entirely, you can certainly make an educated guess by first deciding on location and season. These factors will affect how and what you pack.
Step 2: Write Down the Guest List
With the where and when out of the way, let’s turn our attention to the who. Again, this will undoubtedly influence what you bring along and the style of camping you can expect. Are you bringing small children or teenagers, or will this be an exclusively adult trip?
You’ll need to prepare appropriately for a camping trip with children. Any parent who has had to take enough bags, toys, food, and diapers for a simple visit to a park for the afternoon will know how this goes. The quantity of “stuff” needed tends to increase when children are involved, and you’ll need to consider what they might require to keep them occupied for long periods.
Step 3: Write a Camping Checklist
Some people make lists, and others simply throw items into the back of the car and hope for the best. You can probably guess which method tends to work out better.
Creating a camping checklist is the best way to ensure that nothing gets left behind but also that you’ve thought of everything you need for the activities you want to do. To do this, you’ll need to visualize your activities and create a mental checklist of the required items.
You can do the same with your general camping setup, and it’s worth going over this several times to double and then triple-check that you haven’t forgotten anything. There’s nothing worse than realizing something as essential as cutlery was inexplicably left behind.
Step 4: Power Up
Camping has evolved quite dramatically in the last couple of decades. Twenty years ago, having a portable power source for camping in the back of beyond would have been simply ridiculous.
But not anymore.
Today, we never need to be without power, no matter how isolated. And thanks to advancements in technology, portable power stations allow you to keep charged, no matter where you are.
You never know when you’ll need backup power. Whether it’s to keep your phone charged for emergency communication, your GPS juiced up for navigating remote terrains, or your electric grill running for hot dogs and burgers, reliable backup power isn’t just a luxury—it’s a necessity.
Step 5: Test & Count Your Gear
Test everything you can before loading everything into the car. You might have everything lined up in a nice tidy row, ready to tick off on your checklist, but a visual inventory isn’t enough. Testing ensures there isn’t any missing or malfunctioning equipment.
Tent pegs are always going missing, and just because you think the gas stove is working well because it worked well last summer doesn’t mean it will now. Realizing these issues after you arrive can make for a hugely frustrating experience.
Put your tent up in the garden, set up your cooking apparatus, and ensure that your portable power system works as it should.
Step 6: Set Up and Enjoy
Your campsite set-up can make or break the trip. Set it up in the wrong spot, in an area that is either too noisy or uncomfortable, and it can badly affect your experience. Meanwhile, the perfect location helps everything else fall into place.
Setting up camp the moment you arrive might be tempting, but haste can lead to a poor choice. Take your time and scope out the area before you start assembling anything and emptying the car.
When choosing the right spot, consider the location, terrain, noise, size, and privacy. Think about where you want your tent and what you want nearby. If you’re staying in a regulated campsite with amenities, you’ll need to decide whether you’d prefer to be close to the bathrooms and showers for convenience but risk having more noise or vice versa.
Privacy is another concern. Some enjoy having plenty of other campers around as it adds a sense of community, while others prefer to be more isolated, where they can pick and choose when they want to socialize.
The terrain is a hugely important point to consider as you’ll never forget that night in the tent with the enormous lump in the ground sticking into your back. Test out your area carefully before putting down your tent, and bear in mind that any small bumps that might seem insignificant as you’re setting up will probably feel significant once you decide to lay down for the night.
Also, avoid lower ground and any areas where the earth has sunken in, as these spots can become waterlogged when it rains, and don’t forget to place the area where your head will be on the uphill side.
Camping can be a glorious experience — when you get it right. While preparing for every eventuality is impossible, most negative camping stories result from poor planning. Proper preparation gives you the best possible chance to have a truly memorable camping trip.