So you have decided that camping isn’t for you. Maybe you’ve had a bad experience before, or you just haven’t got around to trying it because you just don’t understand why people want to sleep outside when they are within easy distance of a hotel. But now, your old school friends are planning a camping reunion and you don’t want to miss out, or your kids are desperate to go and you don’t want to miss out on sharing the experience with them.
What can you do? If you are a reluctant camper, here are some tips to help you make the best of your next camping trip.
Bring the Right Gear
How you can improve your camping experience depends a lot on why you don’t like camping. But one thing that can make or break any camping trip is having the right stuff with you, or more accurately, discovering that you are missing something crucial. There is nothing worse than reaching your destination and realising you have forgotten something important, like your sleeping bag or torch. Who wouldn’t be frustrated by having to spend the night with cold toes while wearing all the clothes that they have packed for the trip, or having to pitch their tent when they can barely see their fingers in front of their face.
To avoid the pitfalls and frustrations of discovering you have forgotten something important, make a list and check it twice! What exactly should be on your list depends on where you will be camping (will it be hot, cold, wet?), what kind of camping you will be doing (on the trail or at a campsite, in a tent or an RV), and how long you will be away.
If one of the reasons you aren’t a fan of camping is the discomfort of not having everything you need at your fingertips, perhaps take the more is better option and if you are unsure whether you will need something, take it. But also remember that you need to transport everything you need with you, so no problem packing on the heavy side if you’ll be driving up to your campsite and can load everything into the trunk. But if you will be hiking, or setting up camp a significant distance from your vehicle, remember that you will need to carry everything, and weigh up your need for an item against your desire to have to carry it.
Also, don’t scrimp when it comes to buying the equipment that you need. That cheap sleeping mat that doesn’t inflate properly and hardly provides any cushioning between you and the ground may seem like a bargain in the store, but you’ll regret that purchase when you can’t get a good night’s sleep because of lumpy ground and losing heat.
The four most important things for me when I am putting together my camping gear are:
My tent. While I like to travel light, if you are caught in bad weather and have to spend an extended amount of time in the tent, there is nothing worse than cramming everyone into a space that is too small. When planning for two, I like this Camel tent as it is big enough for two people to be comfortable, but is compact and lightweight so it is easy to carry.
Editor's Note: You might like to read our guide to The Different Types of Camping Tents
My clothes. I feel my best when I look my best, and just because I am out on the trail doesn’t mean I need to feel dowdy. While I generally don’t bring a lot of clothes with me, I make sure the clothes that I do bring are high quality, that they are comfortable, look good, and will hold up well if I have to wear them for a few days in a row.
Toiletries. While I can live without washing my hair for a week (especially if I have a stylish beanie with me), I can’t live with that funny taste you get in your mouth when you need to brush your teeth, or with knowing I have a strong body odour. Toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant go in my day pack so I am never caught without them.
Sleeping pad. While this may seem like a luxury, it isn’t. It can be almost impossible to sleep if the ground is too hard or too lumpy, and sleeping directly on the ground is also the fastest way to sap your body’s heat, even if you have the warmest of sleeping bags. I know I don’t function well without a good night’s sleep, so I always invest in a good quality sleeping pad. I’m currently using the Outdoorsman Lab Ultralight Sleeping Pad. It is affordable, comfortable and easy to carry.
Food & Drink
We all know that we can get a little grumpy when we are hungry or dehydrated (and some of us more than a little) and that everyone is generally happier with a full belly. So in order to ensure the happiest camping trip for you, and everyone in your party, make sure you think about food.
If you are travelling or hiking, the thing to think about is avoiding hunger, so bring things that are high in calories that will give everyone the energy they need to power through, such as energy bars, trail mix or jerky. While it is possible to get these things on the cheap, putting it a little bit of effort to bring something you enjoy eating may bring a little bit of extra sparkle into the day.
Also make sure you plan for at least one proper satisfying meal per day, since as they say, man can’t live on bread alone! Cooking a good, fresh, nutritional meal is actually quite easy while camping if you prepare properly. Think about things that are best cooked on a camp stove and don’t require too much in terms of a million different herbs and spices. Also pre-prepare as much as you can at home before heading out. If you do want to cook chicken with our favourite herb mix, pre-mix the herbs at home and bring the right amount in a zip bag.
Editor's Note: We also have a detailed guide to Clever Camping Food Ideas Needing No Refrigeration.
Dehydration can be just as detrimental as hunger to our mood, so make sure you bring enough drinkable water, and a portable water filter should you need more (the LifeStraw personal water filter is a good choice). But if water isn’t your only need and something like coffee is also part of your daily liquid stream, don’t plan to go without, it will just cause you stress. There is so much lightweight, easy to use camping coffee equipment on the market, there is no reason to go without.
Plan What To Do
I have friends who don’t like camping, and the reason they often give me is that it is boring. They are worried that they will have nothing to do, and that they won’t be able to do the things that they like doing - for example the mobile signal won’t be good enough for them to stream their current Netflix show.
While I generally find that good company and interesting surroundings mean that camping is never boring, planning things to do will ensure against this, and help prevent you from worrying about being bored. Plan to go camping near things to do, such as hikes and swimming, and also bring some fun with you, such as a frisbee or football. Also prepare for the night when you need to stay close to camp, or the possibility of bad weather, and bring a book or card games to pass the time if you do need to stay cooped up in your tent.
Also avoid fixating on what you can’t do. For many people camping is about getting back to nature and taking a break from the constant sound, noise and activity of daily life. This is an opportunity not to spend four hours on the sofa watching the television, and not to check our social media accounts several times during the day. Think about this as an opportunity to unplug and enjoy that opportunity! Also, remind yourself that all those things you like doing in day to day life will still be there when you get back, and you might even enjoy them a bit more after a little time off. It’s all about mindset...
As with most things in life, how something is for you all depends on your perspective, on your mindset. From experience, we all know that if you go into a task thinking that it is going to be boring and horrible, it generally is, but if we start with an open mind and the thought that it might be a bit fun, we generally have a better time. To start enjoying camping, we need to do the same. Stop thinking about camping as something uncomfortable and dirty, and start thinking about the positive elements. A chance to get back to nature and pass quality, undistracted time with people who are important to you. A chance to unplug, but also perhaps make some fabulous new photos for your Instagram profile.