Tips for the Camping Newbie

Tips for the Camping Newbie

By: Jody Halsted,

So you’re ready to do it. Really jump in and do it right. You’re ready to take your family camping!

Congratulations! Camping is an incredible family activity filled with fresh air, exciting explorations, outdoor cooking, and (kids’ favorites) dirt, sticks & rocks! It’s an adventure designed to bring your family closer together and leave you planning your next outing.

Now, first things first : where will you sleep? If your answer is a tent, be sure to do your research before purchasing. Consider a visit to Kramer Ace Hardware in Clear Lake where the camping experts can help you choose the perfect tent for your family.

Maybe you would prefer to ‘glamp’? Book a camping cabin or rent a camper or RV for the weekend. Tip: Try for locally, privately owned RV rentals at affordable prices.

Now that you know where you’re sleeping, it’s time to get ready!

How to pack for camping:

Forget suitcases – use Rubbermaid-type containers. The reasons are simple:

1) They hold a lot.

2) They are waterproof so you can leave the crates with utensils, plates, etc., outside.

3) Most woodland creatures can’t get into them.

4) They stack nicely.

5) You really don’t want to drag your luggage around in the dirt.

Sleeping at your campsite:

Kids will love ‘roughing it’ on the ground, but a word of advice for adults: that’s only fun if you’re under 13. Invest in an inflatable mattress. And make sure it has an air pump- either battery powered or electric- you don’t want to try to blow one up!

Bring more blankets than you think you’ll need (use Space Bags to fit them into one of the plastic containers). Bring one for under the kids’ sleeping bags, just for a bit more cushion from sticks and rocks on the ground. For the air mattress you’ll want 3 blankets: one protect it from stick and rocks on the ground, another to go on top of the mattress (below the sheet) and plastic gets cold at night, and the third to cover yourself with. It can get cold at night!

If you have napping toddlers spend more for an electrical campsite and bring a fan. Tents can get hot and muggy in the afternoon and the bit of breeze even a small fan creates can mean the difference between naptime and a cranky child.

Glamping? Be sure to ask if bedding is provided. Usually you will be supplying your own. Let the kids use sleeping bags – it’s just easy!

What to wear camping:

Bring two pair clothes per day per kid. If you don’t use them, great. But kids play in dirt, sand, and water when camping and it’s nice to be able to get them clean-ish.

Pack each outfit in its own Ziploc-type baggie to keep everything together, organized, and create space in your packing containers.

Bring warm pajamas and socks- it can get chilly at night!

If you plan to hike bring jeans, long sleeve shirts, and hats to protect yourself from scratches, ticks, and other woodland creepy crawlies.

Don’t forget a First Aid kit of any cuts and scrapes, and an inexpensive camping clothesline could come in handy for drying wet clothes.

What to eat when you go camping:

Follow the KISS rule: Keep It Simple Sweetie. Don’t feel like you have to cook a gourmet meal. Many campsites offer a heavy grill or fire pit, so keep to easy to grill foods: hot dogs, brats, and burgers.

To cook chicken and veggies, cut them into small pieces and wrap in foil with some spices and a few drops of water. Cook over flames or in hot embers. You can even make a baked potato or corn on the cob this way.

If you plan to cook over fire – maybe a breakfast of eggs or pancakes- invest in a solid cast iron skillet. Just don’t forget to bring oil for cooking! The beauty of cast iron is that it doesn’t need washed. Just scrape it out, maybe add water to cook out anything that is stuck, oil it, and it’s ready to use again.

And don’t forget the fixin’s for Smores or Smacos! You’re not camping until you’ve had at least one gooey, fire-toasted dessert!

Don’t forget dish soap and a rag – you may have a few things to wash. Use one of the plastic containers as a wash tub.

What to do when you go camping:

Sure, you can plan a few things. Maybe stories around the campfire at night or a bit of touring the local area. But the true beauty of camping is the freedom to just enjoy where you are and explore what surrounds you. Let the kids draw in the dirt with sticks or build fairy houses at the base of trees with leaves, bark, and wild flowers. Fill a couple water bottle and pack a few snacks before setting out on a hike through wooded trails. Splash through creeks or go fishing. Let nature be your guide.

There is a reason for the phrase ‘Happy Camper’. Camping is a family vacation like no other. It will bring your family closer than you imagined, and create memories that will be shared around future campfires far into the future.

Happy camping!

Jody Halsted is an Iowa native and avid camper. Jody and her husband Doug have experienced all aspects of camping: from hiking in minimalism before they had kids and car camping with tents & sleeping bags to small camper and finally luxury RV camping. An authority on family travel, Jody publishes, a website dedicated to living life...Upgraded.  She is also a regular contributor to MiniTime Trip Tips and The Scenic Route at 


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