20 packing essentials, tips, meals, and mistakes
Camping is a fun family adventure that is sure to bring relaxation, dirt, excitement, and memories. If you have never camped before, but it’s been on your mind to try, don’t get discouraged! Planning, packing, cooking, and managing insects may be reasons this venture has remained a dream. The great outdoors can be a fun experience with the right tools and a (simplistic) plan.
One of the best options for a new camper is to make use of the beautiful parks each state offers. By supporting the state parks, you will find clean and accessible camping sites, security, garbage removal, bathroom and shower facilities, and sometimes the opportunity to take part in park programs from the local rangers.
Basic packing list
To ensure the best experience, look at the basic packing list below of 20 essentials. Every item deserves consideration.
- Tent to accommodate all campers
- Sleeping bag/blankets
- Air mattress/pump
- Camp chairs
- Tarp/utility cord
- Wood or charcoal
- Personal grill
- Bug repellent/sun screen/hat
- Ice chest
- Fishing rods/tackle box
- Tennis shoes/sandals/long socks
- Toiletry kit/first aid kit
- Flash light/candle/lantern
- Extension cord
- Outdoor rug
- Pocket knife/lighter or flint
- Food and snacks
- Hand sanitizer
Finding your first (or next) destination is easy. No matter which state you are looking to explore, Reserve America is a great resource for all things camping. Use the tool to filter state, accessibility, on-site facilities, and overall goal of the trip. Perhaps you are looking for a site near a body of water, hiking, bird watching, or biking. Determine the camp site availability and the type of camping that’s allowed with a few clicks. Some camp sites categorize as RV/tent, tent only, equestrian, or primitive. Almost all sites on Reserve America have photographs of each site.
Tip — Depending on the time of arrival, be sure to unpack and set up any items that will be difficult during the dark hours.
Setting up a tent with a flashlight is not fun. This practice will allow for a relaxing first night.
Food and snacks
Before heading out, have a plan for your meals, snacks, and bring plenty of water. Some food items to consider are marshmallows, granola bars, and fresh fruit. Always remember that you are now in wildlife territory. Minimize your risk of uninvited guests by having a secure place for your food items and trash.
Tip — Tie your trash bag away from your campsite and above the ground.
Keep fresh food secure in an ice chest or in your vehicle and away from your sleeping area. To make your food preparation easier on site, try prepping your meals ahead of time and wrap these in manageable packaging; tin foil, plastic wrap, or zip-lock bags. For instance, if your family will enjoy burgers on one of your camping days, have the burger meat mixed and patties ready to go before leaving the house.
Camping recipes and plan
Looking for meal ideas and a plan to put in place for a one or two-night trip? Find easy and creative meal ideas online or start with a couple favorite sites — Taste of Home and Country Living. Below are a few meal ideas and how to incorporate or prep this into each day.
- Friday arrival: Turkey burgers, potato salad, and watermelon.
- Before leaving home — prep turkey burgers, flatten and wrap in tinfoil. Prepackaged potato salad. Cut watermelon and place in large zip lock bag.
- Saturday breakfast: Individual Sausage, Egg, Potato boats (add extras like peppers or mushrooms for flavor).
- Before leaving home — mix precooked sausage and potato into individual tin foil boats that are sprayed generously with oil. Add one or two raw eggs to the top of sausage/potato mixture. Fold top of tin foil and refrigerate.
- Cooking — remove boats and leave in tinfoil. Place on top of the fire grate or grill for easy cooking inside the tinfoil. Minimizes waste.
- Saturday lunch: Sandwiches, potato chips, fresh fruit.
- Before leaving home — make sandwiches and place in ziplock bags or plastic wrap.
- Saturday dinner: Grilled chicken breast and coleslaw.
- Before leaving home — score chicken breast with sharp knife, marinate, and place in large zip-lock bags.
Tip — Freeze water bottles ahead of trip for use in an ice chest. These take longer to thaw than loose ice.
Camping for the first time will usually bring along some lessons learned. Below are a few mistakes to keep in mind and avoid.
- Fire pit/grill dangers to children. Always practice safety when around fire. Be sure to talk to the little ones about the dangers and what they should not do around fire. A burn would devastate and is a sure way to ruin a camping trip for everyone.
- A little dew or rain can go a long way. During the night, temperatures can drop and humidity or rain may soak items left uncovered. This is especially important with fire wood. Delaying a warm fire or a meal dependent on a fire could make camping stressful. Cover your unused firewood or place under your vehicle for protection from the elements.
- Flip shoes upside down and/or cover when not in use. Little critters will find their way into your shoe. Always shake and check your shoes before putting them on.
- Never venture alone. Always use a buddy system and stick to the trails.
Campfire stories and geocaching are a couple of ideas for family entertainment outside of the natural resources available on site.
Also, consider camping as an opportunity to detox the family from electronics. Sometimes, even a good book and a hammock between two trees is all you need. Bring the family together, get a little dirty, and create a lasting memory!