Camping 101 - 1St time...need All Info!

Updated on March 24, 2010
F.H. asks from Gilbert, AZ
19 answers

Hi Moms, My kids school is having an overnight campout in the playground this Friday. We provide our tent, chairs, etc, they provide a movie on an outside screen, pizza, soda and muffins, juice in the morning. My husband and I have NEVER been camping and the kids (14, 10 and 7) randomly ask us to go. So we did buy a tent (3 rooms, sleeps 10) and if all goes well on Friday (my bday is Thursday and the 7yo says we are going for my "party", not MY idea of fun, but hey, I'm game) we will "try" to go to a "real" campground and see what happens but I would like to be as prepared as possible.

My question is, I have no idea what kind of things we really need to tent camp, what will be a waste to buy, what kind of "cooking" items work best, sleeping items, anything really...just have NO idea!!! And what and how do you pack food, what/how do you cook and what do you DO??? And I have to admit I'm afraid of the kids being stolen and/or getting lost, I know, a little paranoid but I watch too many 20/20's and Datelines!!!

Any and all info would be appreciated...thanks Moms!!!

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So What Happened?

Thanks Moms, this has all been very helpful! I would have never thought of a tarp or keeping the tent zipped or checking for creatures in our sleeping bags! It is raining here today so I'm not sure if Friday will be on or not. Regardless, we will try an overnight trip and see how we do! Thank you all, I'm not as nervous as I was! :o)

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answers from Cleveland on

Hello! Everyone has given you great advice. You are going to have such a good time! The one item that I would recommend bringing that I haven't seen here yet are WET ONES!! They will definately come in handy, especially after eating gooey marshmallows!

Have fun! :)

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answers from New York on

A school campout sounds like a great way to get a feel for camping.

I highly recommend you have a mat or blow up mattress to sleep on. For the kids sleeping bags. Sleeping bags are rated warmth, so be sure to purchase the one appropriate for the night temperature in your area. For you and hubby you can purchase sleeping bags or just bring along some blankets. Don't forget your pillows.

Flashlights are a must.

For campground safety, we stick with the buddy system, no one leaves the campsite without a buddy.

As for food and cooking, it depends on what your family likes to eat, how much time you want to spend preparing meals, and how much money you want to invest in equipment. You'll want to make sure you have a good quality cooler. For breakfast you can just have cereal, fruit, yogurt, etc. or you can bring along a camp stove and make eggs and bacon. For lunch you can just bring along the makings for sandwichs and some chips or a potato salad, etc. For dinner we like to build a campfire and cook over the fire, or you can cook on the campstove.

Long metal skewers are a good investment, we use them for roasting marshmellows and their also good for cooking hotdogs.

Some supplies you'll need are a fanel backed table cloth, paper plates, silver/plastic ware. Don't forget the sunscreen and bug spray.

Have fun.

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answers from Los Angeles on

People either love it or hate it! I love camping myself and if you go fully prepared the first time, you'll likey want to do it again. One thing I always remember to put at the top of my list is lots of extra clothes (you will get dirty) chairs, bug spray, flash lights, toilet paper and lots of paper towels and water. Bring lots of outdoor games too. Check the site you'll be visiting for bike trails (if your family likes to ride) and get a camp site within walking distance from the bathrooms (not too close though) especially if you are a wake up in the middle of the night to go potty kind of person like me!

Look at the checklist on this website. It's a good start!

HAVE FUN!!! Oh and don't forget stuff to make roasted marshmallows!

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answers from Boston on

Be sure to bring a pen and paper to write down all the things you forget the first time so remember what to bring the next time you go.

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answers from Washington DC on

We camp often - took our son for the first time when he was 5 wks old. We have a travel trailer so everything is pretty much already on there and ready to go.

We don't take food with us. We get to the campground, get set-up and then go to a grocery store to buy food.

If you're going to be camping often, invest in one large cast iron skillet. You can use it to cook right over the fire!

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answers from Austin on

I try to make a menu for each day to guide what we will eat. We try to make our main meal dinner. Lunch we try to always eat cold. We love a breakfast cooked over a pit, but it does take some time....

Bags of Charcoal, lighter fluid long lighters.
Paper towels.. you can burn them in the camp fire.
Aluminum foil.

Flip flops to use in the public showers.
A broom to sweep out the tent as needed.
Trash bags to bring back wet clothing, dirty clothing.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boise on

Don't forget sun screen, ADVIL, "medicated" chap stick, 99.9% Aloe vera lotion for burns, and bug spray!!! A wide brimmed hat for each person.
A popup sunscreen canopy, the kind with 4 legs, is always a good idea. Nothing worse than too much sun/heat and no shade. Folding stadium chairs.These are all MUST haves for me.

Fishing gear if near a lake. Inner tubes. KITES are always fun- sometimes you can get a breeze comming up off a lake in the afternoon. If you plan to hike (especially northern CA)and it is a grassy area or there is tall grass around your campsite- watch for ticks. Long pants in light colors(tucked into socks)are best if moving through brush. use a bug/tic spray. Check legs after hiking.

Don't forget marshmallows, and those long handled marshmallow cookers. Radio with batteries.

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answers from Minneapolis on

We camp all the time, at least 2-3 times a month in the summer. our boys are 7 and 4 and both have been camping with us since infancy. our oldest camped for the first time at 7wks old!

We bring two coolers, one filled with ice and all the meat, milk, cooking stuff that needs to stay cool, and the ohter filled with just ice and water bottles. We also purchase 1-3 of the large tip to the side water things that holds 3 gallons. Depending on how long we are going to be out. I make a menu for each day we are gone and pack accordingly... and usually overpack! LOL! We typically make chicken fajita's, hamburgers (buy the premade patties for ease of traveling, storing, and cooking while out camping), hot dogs, stew, chili, hamburger with potato, onion, veggies in tinfoil over the fire to cook, steaks, any fish we catch.... for breakfast we do eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, cereal. For lunch we do sandwiches, grilled cheese, soups, spaghetti.... easy foods.

We always bring clothing for one extra day because it never fails someone falls in the mud, gets wet, etc. Jammies (sweats, t-shirts) sweatshirts, 2 swimsuits each person, 2-3 towels each person, sleeping bag each person, extra blankets, inflatable beds if you choose, pillows.

We bring our bikes too, and our dog. LOL. There is tons to do at an actual campground, swim, bike, hike, explore, go to the beach, the kids will have tons of new friends to play with at each campground. Bring lawn type games, glove and balls/bat. Bring a radio too, but remember to keep it low if you use it soas not ot bug anyone else.

Firewood, fire starting sticks, matches, lighter, paper to help start fire, a grill stand to go over fire for cooking ,pots and pans, plates, silverware, dish soap, paper towels, dish towel, pan for washing dishes, trash bags. Remember to put any food in your vehicle at night so animals dont eat it.

Go for it. Have fun. :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

Camping can be super fun! Check out campgrounds around you to see what is there/isn't there. Where we camp there is an electric box at everysite where you can plug in coffee pot, electric skillet etc. you also need to see if there are grills provided or if u need to bring one. It all depends on how much you want to "ruff it" lol. AIr mattresses are great, or blow up pool rafts to sleep on. Remember bug spray, sunscreen, tylenol, allergy pills if needed. A brush/comb. toothbrushes/paste bottled water. Again depending on what experience you want, you may need to bring more then you'd think. ANd depending on campsite, you can fish, hike, swim, etc. Just be educated and informed before you go. You may be surprised how much fun you have!

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answers from Philadelphia on

i LOVE camping! My friend and i took our kids and my neice last summer by ourselves... no guys. We had a BLAST!!!!!!!!!!!

anyway, we have a 5 day cooler... it's supposed to be able to keep food cold (with ice of course) for 5 days! I get a little skeevy about meat juices, so I pack everything in tupperware, and have lots of plastic baggies to keep things from getting cross contaminated. You'd be surprised at what you can cook while camping... we had hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled chicken, pasta, soup, etc. we made eggs and sausage in the mornings. I usually bring some cereal also, and lunchmeat.

We have different types of cookers. You can cook food over a fire, or you can buy a propane stove. they have the kind that would be like a gas stove at home, you would have to bring some pots and pans for that, but it allows you to cook a lot more variety. we also have one that has a built in griddle.

a lot of campgrounds have electricity at the sites, and running water! I don't find that necessary, but it doesn't hurt either. many family campgrounds have pools, activities throughout the day, even game rooms. I also bring some board games, and playing cards.

I pack mostly everything in large rubbermaid totes... especially clothes, because if it rains, they will stay dry

what you need:
air mattress (optional)
sleeping bags
lots of blankets
metal (not plastic) cooking utensils
propone stove
pots and pans
dish soap
bug spray
tarp (put under tent to keep it from getting wet and/or above tent if it rains)
clothes for all sorts of weather... it may get cool at night, bathingsuit
flashlights and lanterns
paper plates, plastic untesils, paper towels and napkins
towels (for shower)

I'll add more as I think of it! Have fun!!!!!!!

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answers from Austin on

We set our tent up in the backyard to practice before going on our first cub scout camping trip. Also going to parks for a day trip with hiking and fishing.

A campout at the school seems like a great 1st step, almost like a slumber party. I'm assuming that you will be fairly close to home in case you forget anything major? At a minimum, you will need sleeping bags, pillows, and flashlights. (futon mattress is more comfortable). Don't forget toothbrush, medicines, favorite teddy bear, anything else to get ready for bed. Fruit and cereal is easy for breakfast. To keep the kids safe, you can follow the scout guidelines- kids can go into only *their family's* tent, always go with a buddy to the bathroom.

When we did go on the cub scout trip, we brought a cooler with plenty of drinks, bug spray and sunscreen, firewood and charcoal, cast iron skillet, frozen pre-made pancakes and sausage(our friends did scrambled egg tacos instead), sandwich stuff for lunch, fishing pole, map from the park office, and a camera to take pictures of it all. We did everything together as a family- no wandering off, but others didn't. We ended up having to watch some kids playing in the campfire without their parents.

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answers from Atlanta on

Hi F.,

I was an avid camper...then I got married. My husband said he hated it and wouldn't go so that was the end. About 5 years ago he decided he wanted a motor home...did that, now we're down to a tent! He absolutely loves it.

All the advice is great. I'll just add my 2 cents....Make your first trip a short one, one or two days. Don't overwhelm yourself. Campgrounds always have campfire rings so you might want to buy some logs to burn (real wood not the chemical stuff). If you have a mini charcoal grill, that will work too. Some campgrounds wont let you collect firewood...Make it simple the first time. Hotdogs on wire coathangers, with chips and maybe some marshmallows or smores for desert. Take canned meat (tuna?), fresh fruit and snacks. If you love it or you get more proficient, you can buy a cooktop and minifridge and actually "cook." Right now this is about the experience! You need to enjoy this as well as the kids!

Sleeping bags are fine unless you want an air mattress for extra softness. I personally hate them. Sometimes simply a couple of comforters for a little cushion. Always check your sleeping bag before you get in it for little insects or snakes (never found one but will keep looking) and always keep them zipped closed if you're not in them. Also keep the tent zipped closed as well. Lanterns are a must and flashlights for everyone. (There's nothing like a kid that gets scared in the middle of the night and all they need is a little light to see what is making a shadow :)

Don't be paranoid about campgrounds. They are usually the safest place you can be. We have camp hosted in the Florida state park system for four summers and campers are the nicest people you meet. Campers like their neighbors and will chat and are glad to share something if you forget anything. If they know you are first timers, they will help you with anything. Don't be timid in asking either.

Have fun and if anything goes "wrong," laugh about it. This is a time for enjoyment not perfection.

God bless!


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answers from Columbus on

Hi there. We freeze alot of the foods we are going to bring and use the as both ice packs and usually thaw out by Saturday. We ALWAYS make chili before hand and freeze (like if we are camping Fri, Sat, Sun we cook chili Tuesday at home and freeze then take out and put in cooler on Fri) it is perfect for Saturday either lunch or dinner. If you have a fire get a grate to put over the fire and bring a big pot from home to eat up the chili. Also, you can make scrambled or omelletes in the am with the same pot. Put the eggs and whatever extra goodies in a baggie and boil in water and volia... you have a perfect omelet. canned items are pretty easy too.

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answers from Albuquerque on

You've gotten great advice, but I wanted to add my 2cents, too. I see you're in AZ... please remember to pack extra blankets (or plan to have all the kids snuggled up with you & dad)! Our nights get COLD (even in the summer time). I grew up camping (lived all over the country) and have always loved it. I've camped through rain, Mississippi summers, hail storms, and even had a little snow one time. The school "campout" will be an excellent opportunity to learn how to set up your tent. If you find that it's not what you expected (too big, too small, too awkward, too many parts), don't be afraid to return it! Last summer we went through 3 tents before we found one we liked (had to replace our "oldie but goodie" that was finally falling apart after 8 years of camping trips)! We took our girl camping for the first time when she was only 5 months old. It got pretty cold at night, but she was cozy and warm snuggled between me & dad.
Do some research on campgrounds (state & national parks are great, also KOA is an excellent commercial campground with all amenities) in your area. Your decision will be based on many things--especially how your children behave. Do you feel safe with them playing near water? What if there's a busy road nearby? Etc.
One trick I use for my cooler is to buy a big pack of bottled waters and freeze a lot of them to use as ICE in my cooler! That way, you're not wasting space and money on bags of ice--and you'll have cold water to drink during the whole trip (might have to take a few out to thaw). For the first camping trip, I wouldn't invest in cooking equipment. Just do sandwiches, snacks, and hotdogs over the fire. Or, if you want to try out some equipment, try your local thrift stores, Goodwill, or Craigslist. This is where research plays a role, too... One of my favorite places to camp (within a 2 hour drive) has this cute mom & pop restaurant about 2 miles away from the campground. We go there for breakfast and sometimes dinner (when we just want an easy camping trip). Saves room (don't have to pack as much food, dishes, stoves, etc), time, and energy!
I think your kids are plenty old enough to go camping and it's a great way to get them to spend some good quality family time (and be in the "great outdoors")! Just think, there's no hiding out in the bedroom, zoning out in front of the tv, earphones to the ipod, or phone calls from friends!
Bring some activities (deck of cards, board games, dice, radio) and just relax! Oh, and the advice about WetOnes--right on! Baby wipes work, too! That's probably my least favorite thing about camping--having dirty hands! :) Good luck!


answers from Milwaukee on

Sounds like you got a great tent... if possible set up the tent in your backyard (if room and no rain is in the forecast) just to air it out since it is new. Plus this gives you a run on how to set it up, get the whole family involved is setting it up. If you don't have time for a trail run remain calm when setting it up and don't be afraid to ask a parent or two you know for help setting it up on Friday, they will understand if it is your first time.

Here is what I bring when camping:
*** Sleeping bag (one per person) we have nice ones (med priced) because we go camping a lot and wanted ones that were water proof (as much as they can be) and also keeps you warm due to the fabric they use since it gets cooler at night.
*** If you and hubby want get an queen size air bed to sleep on top.
*** For the kids just mats on the ground for extra padding to sleep on.
*** For advance cooking you could do a portable gas stove/grill.
*** If you do not do a portable gas stove/grill go into the camping section at your store of choice and look for cooking sticks, a metal cage thing that you can use for hamburgers, and sandwich makers that look like two iron pieces on long handles (opens up, bread goes inside with cheese or whatever your choice for a hot sandwich). Those are some good starts for cooking while camping.
*** bring perishable items can be tricky, doable but need to stay on top of it. Have a good cooler, and frozen bottles/buckets of water last longer then ice cubes or crushed ice.
*** food that is easy to bring/cook over a fire: hot dogs, hamburgers, bread & cheese, smores fixings (chocolate, grand crackers, marshmellows)... other foods: sandwich fixings, cereal, milk, juice, various other snacky items
*** Above all keep all food locked in the car when you are not around your camp site that way no animals will get into it :)
*** I always pack clothes in a rubbermaid container, just to keep them dry. Pack what you will wear to bed, clothes for the next day and an extra pair of clothes just in case.
*** If doing a weekend or longer camping trip I always bring easilable portable games/things for everyone to do (books, board games, cards, maybe some lawn/yard game that is compact)

The kids will be just find.... at night you will hear the nightlife around you and others walking around, so no need to worry about the night time you will hear if something is going on (as well as everyone else around). During the event tell the kids to check in with you ever so often just so you know where they are/going.



answers from Flagstaff on

We go camping quite often and it's alot of fun being away from electronics. You'll probably be 'car camping' which means the car will be in the campsite. Make sure you practice pitching the tent at home before you get to the campsite and get the kids involved in helping with the set up, or have them collect sticks for firewood or anything to do to keep them entertained as you set up the tent.
Camping pads are inexpensive and slide under your sleeping bag for comfort. Flashlights are important for getting up to go to the bathroom. Usually when you 'car camp' there are bathrooms, sometimes even showers. For staying for just a weekend, I suggest roughing it and skipping showers so you don't need to bring towels and soaps etc.
As far as food goes, find out if there's a grill at your camp site. If so, you can bring hotdogs/burgers/steaks, whatever will last in your cooler.
For breakfast we usually bring bagels, or dry cereal with small rice/soy milk boxes so they don't need to stay cold. Also heat up some water and enjoy instant packs of oatmeal.
Lunches are usually simple, peanut butter and jelly/honey, tunafish (made on the spot), soups that can be easily heated.
Pasta and red sauce from a jar are really easy.
Make sure to remember a sponge, some soap, drying towels to clean up the kitchen. We pack kitchen and food supplies in large plastic totes with lids that can be placed in the shade during the day while we're hiking and in the car at night so animals aren't attracted. Campfires, smores are a definite for camping, board games, books, kites, balls are also great to have. sunscreen and lots of water.
have a great time, don't sweat the challenges.



answers from Tucson on

Hi there,
I love camping and so I'm VERY excited for you and your family! What an amazing family opportunity and a great "gift"!
The great thing with "car"camping is that you can really take anything you want (including the kitchen sink) if it fits in (or on) the car. AND you can also get away with a lot less than you think. Just be prepared for EVERYTHING to get "dirty". And with 3 kids I'm sure that it will. So instead of worrying over something you'd like to keep clean, take your non-favorite or older items so you can cut loose and have FUN.
Things you want to remember: lighter and matches; toilet paper (I put a roll in a zip lock baggie). Do take a pillow--it's nice to have that luxury item for sleeping.
Have FUN!!!!



answers from New York on

im glad you asked this, hubby and i used to go camping all the time, we consider ourself pros, but we havent yet done it with the kids, i think that this will be the year. lots of good ideas here, just my 2 cents, we did it for years with comforters and sleeping bags, then we got an air mattress......ahhhhhhhhh! we were just mad we had wasted all that time! plus if it rains, you end up with piles of wet blankets and comforters, very messy and heavy. bring lots of paper towels. bring a tarp and rope. do a practice run or 2 setting up the tent before you go. a little lightweight lantern that you can hang from the ceiling of the tent is really nice to have, i think we attached ours with a binder clip. played scrabble in there for hours :) ... bring those long lighters like for the bbq. and for me, a deal breaker was whether or not the bathroom is gross. lots of them are. if it matters for you and/or your family, its worth checking out. bring flip flops for the shower and your own tp just in case. baby wipes. comfy folding chairs. a mat for outside the door of the tent for shoes is great for keeping things clean inside. i also remember using bandaids when we got little holes in the tent, lots of bugs can come in through one little hole, especially if you have a light on in there. keep the tent zipped all the time if you dont want bugs in there. and have fun :)



answers from Phoenix on

Depending on when and where you camp, especially in the summer, there may be fire restrictions and therefore would not be allowed to use a campfire or maybe even the provided grills either. With fire restrictions, you are usually allowed to use propane camp stoves though.
We took our kids camping for the first time last year and they loved it. We went camping with some friends who are experienced campers ( I had camped as a kid, but never in AZ), and they had supplies that we didn't. And we brought things they didn't have which worked well. So, consider going with friends.
We plan each meal. We cook mostly over a cookstove/grill. We have pots/pans that all nestle into each other for storage(from REI store). Bring a trash bag! Oatmeal is good or even eggs for breakfast. We crack and scramble them and freeze them in an empty, clean gatorade container (wide mouth) and freeze it. You can even make omlettes if you bring chopped up ingredients in zip bags. Lunch is usually sandwiches. Dinner you can get as elaborate or simple as you want. Hot dogs are simple. Teriyaki chicken is even easy. put chicken breasts in a zip bag with marinade and freeze. We even bring canned pineapple rings to grill. Even rice is easy or steamed veggies. Salad is good too. Just measure everything out ahead of time. Bring a can opener if you bring cans.
-cooking utensils
-You also need some sort of water jug (for cooking, washing dishes, washing faces & hands at night, etc). They have collapsable ones that don't take up too much room.
-Some old towels are good if you have dishes to dry and faces to wash
- rope to tie to trees to hang towels on (clothes pins)
-if you go up north have a DOWN sleeping bag. We froze up north in June with bags rated for 30 degrees.
-bring your wood firewood unless you call ahead to verify they have some to buy
A lantern is good to set on a table while you're playing cards, game or cleaning up when it's dark.
We keep everything in plastic tubs.
Our kids even brought scooters since the campground had a paved road to zip around on. Frisbees,nerf balls or jump ropes are good too for when it's light out.
Most importantly, bring a camera and have fun!

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