How to Plan Your First Camping Trip

It’s official. Our vintage camper has been retired. We ended getting a newer one a couple of weeks ago. We are excited. It will definitely make camping a little more comfortable as well as give us the option for traveling with it if we want.

As we are getting it set up and loaded with our equipment I pulled out my camping lists for reference. I first compiled my lists years ago when we were still camping with a tent. In looking them over I decided to put together a mini-series on camping for this first week of summer.

I didn’t grow up in a camping family. We mostly lived out in the country so I guess my parents didn’t feel a need to “get back to nature” or whatever it is that compels people to go camping.

Lyle’s parents, on the other hand, were campers. His favorite childhood memories have to do with camping, so it’s been important for him to pass that tradition along to our kids.

My first camping trip was soon after we were married. Lyle’s family planned a camping reunion in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in honor of his parents’ 40th anniversary. We had no camping equipment at all at that time.

For our first outing, we borrowed a small tent. Lyle’s parents brought a couple of old sleeping bags for us to use and keep. I don’t remember what else we managed to scrounge up for that trip, but it wasn’t much. Tomorrow I’ll share our detailed packing list, but today I wanted to share a list of basic equipment to consider as you are planning your first camping trip.

Basic Camping Equipment


While I have occasionally seen campers sleeping on the ground under the stars with no shelter, typically I think you would want some kind of shelter. At different times we have slept in a tent, in our vehicle, in a primitive cabin, and in a camper trailer. All of those options have worked out fine, but knowing what to pack will depend on what kind of shelter you are planning.


If you’ll be sleeping on the ground or in your vehicle you’ll want a bedroll of some kind and probably a sleeping bag. If it’s going to be cold at night I highly recommend a sleeping bag rated for below-freezing temperatures. An air mattress is a good option for a tent. In the trailer I like to make up the bed just as I would at home with sheets and quilts, but sometimes we have slept in sleeping bags on the bed as well. If you’ll be renting a cabin you’ll likely need to take your own bedding and for that a sleeping bag is optimal. Lyle and I like to zip our sleeping bags together to make a “double” bag that we can both sleep in. I always want my pillow but sometimes I forget to grab it if it’s not on the list.


How will you be cooking? When we go camping we love to cook over an open fire. Some things (hot dogs, for example) are easier than others to cook over a fire. Other options include a grill (charcoal or propane) or a camp stove. When we first started we bought a single burner attachment that can be fastened to a small bottle of propane on the table. This worked great for heating water or coffee.

Of course, if you don’t want to be bothered with cooking, cold picnic foods are definitely an option.

Cooking Equipment

Again, this will depend on how you will be cooking. For cooking your hot dog over the fire you could whittle your own stick… or unbend a wire hanger… but we have found that it was worth investing in nice hot dog sticks. We use these every time we go camping, and not just for hot dogs. For basic cooking, I recommend an iron skillet and a pot for heating water.

Wood for the Campfire

What would a camping trip be without a campfire? Not as much fun, that’s what. (We’ve had years where there was a burn ban on in the late summer so we weren’t allowed to have a fire.) I recommend taking your own firewood. The camp host sometimes has firewood for sale or you can usually buy it in small bundles at gas station convenience stores but it’s expensive that way. Since we like to go camping several times a year we usually buy a load of firewood to stack at home and then we’ll just take along however much we think we’ll need for a weekend. It’s a lot cheaper that way.

From Little Golden Book: Smokey Bear and the Campers, circa 1961

For Your First Outing

As we were camping this past weekend I asked Lyle to help me come up with a list of what to take for someone who had no equipment and had never been camping before. Most campsites at developed campgrounds have at least a fire ring and a picnic table. Assuming you could go somewhere like that and sleep relatively comfortably in your vehicle, here’s what else you would need for one night:

  • bedding (sleeping bags and pillows)
  • firewood (usually available for sale by the bundle from the campground host or nearby convenience stores)
  • hot dogs sticks
  • hot dogs and fixings for a picnic style meal (don’t forget the makings for s’mores!)
  • granola bars and fruit (or whatever “cold” food you like) for breakfast
  • paper plates and paper towels
  • a cooler for your food and drinks
  • lawn chairs (or you can just plan to sit at the picnic table)

Granted, sleeping in your vehicle is usually not the most comfortable bed you’ll ever have, but if you end up enjoying the experience in general, you’ll want to add to your equipment. I’ll be sharing more about that tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Other Posts in This Series

What to Pack for Camping

Camping Menu Plan

Camp Cooking

Camping with Kids

How to Build a Campfire

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