Maybe you’ve been hearing funny stories from friends and coworkers about the good times they’ve had on their camping trips. In fact, they make it sound appealing enough that you might like to give it a try, but you have no idea where to start.
The good news is that getting into car camping—think of it as a happy compromise between RVing, where you can take everything plus the kitchen sink, and backpacking, where you’re limited to what you can carry—is a lot easier than you might think.
With that in mind, here are 10 tips to make your first car camping adventure a success:
Choose your destination carefully. Search out a campground with the modern comforts you normally take for granted, such as flush toilets and hot showers. It’s also wise to pick a spot that’s close enough to home that it’ll be easy to bail out if the kvetching becomes unbearable.
There’s no sense shelling out big bucks for a tent, sleeping bags, and the like if you’re not sure this camping thing is really for you. Better to borrow gear from friends, or rent it from outdoor retailers or online rental operations, many of which can set you up with everything you need in one convenient package.
Odds are you’re going to forget something, but you can improve your chances of remembering the important stuff with a checklist like the one you’ll find here. It’s also a smart idea to pack all the kitchen stuff, food, and other miscellaneous gear separately for easier access (inexpensive plastic tubs work great for this).
Don’t just throw things in the back of the car; let there be a method to your packing madness. Here’s the key to successful loading: First out, last in. In other words, the things you’ll need as soon as you arrive—tent, sleeping bags, etc.—should be the last things that go into the cargo hold.
While this may seem silly, anyone who’s ever tried to erect a tent in the dark will understand why it’s good to get comfortable setting it up in your living room or backyard before your trip. Know how every part of the tent, including the footprint and rainfly, goes together.
Nothing can ruin a good time faster than being cold, so be sure to pack more warm clothes than you think you could possibly need. Tossing in a few extra blankets never hurts, either.
When it comes to campfire fodder, remember the phrase “Buy it where you burn it.” In other words, purchase your firewood at your campground to avoid transporting bugs or diseases that can devastate the forest at your destination.
Sure, there’s a certain romance to cooking out over a campfire, but bring a portable propane stove for those times when you want hot food and drinks pronto.
While the virtues of campgrounds with hot showers are obvious, pack a roll of quarters just in case you discover that the showers are the coin-operated variety. A pair of cheap flip-flops also makes a great way to deal with the inevitable muddy floors.
To avoid attracting furry visitors, be sure to clean up your cooking area thoroughly after meals, and stash your food in either the bear-proof lockers provided or out of sight (and scent) in your car.
While you can still expect things to go wrong (that’s the source of all those funny stories), following these simple tips should leave you with just the question of when to go again.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of AAA World