Whether you’re first timers or an avid camper, there will always be something new to learn when it comes to camping and the great outdoors. It seems like each camping adventure teaches us something new, but each camping mistake makes us better campers and better outdoorsmen (and women).
Luckily, there are few potential dangers when you are on a camping trip in an established campground, but just a few simple things will make your next camping trip more enjoyable and stress-free. We’re going to break down the most common camping mistakes so you can learn from our experience and avoid doing the same things on your next trip.
1. Not Doing Your Research
Just like you are doing now, research and read about where you are going, what the weather will be like, where you are camping, and what you will be doing there. Planning things out before you are in the stress of the moment will prevent those potentially negative things from even happening.
Checking the weather conditions is a big mistake that we see regularly see working in tourism. There’s a surprisingly large number of people who arrive unprepared for the weather, and they often say ‘well it’s like [insert weather here] back home, so we just assumed.’ Don’t assume you know what it will be like, and thoroughly research climate ahead of time and continue to check the extended weather forecast all the way up to your departure date.
Part of researching is taking the time to pick the perfect campground and campsite, and booking a particular campsite ahead of time. We’ve written a whole guide on how to do this and we recommend taking the time to read through it.
Make sure you also check for fire bans in the area you’re visiting so you don’t show up expecting to have a campfire then not be able to.
2. Not Testing Your Equipment Before You Leave
This can seem excessive in a way, but trust me when I say that getting to your campsite and not knowing how equipment works can be a hugely frustrating experience. When you get your first tent, set it up in a park or yard if you have one. Spend time familiarizing yourself with how it works and what you need to set it up.
The same goes with your cooking equipment and sleep system. Set your stove up, make sure you have the proper fuel canister, attach the fuel canister and fire it up! Take your sleeping pad out and lay it out, inflate it if necessary, and figure out how to adjust it.
Even if you don’t have a new tent or new camping gear, it’s worth testing everything beforehand, especially if it’s been in storage since your last camping trip. Make sure everything is there using our handy camping checklist, and nothing in your first aid kit is expired.
Pro Tip: If you enjoy naps like I do, set up your sleep system and take a nap on it at home before you take it camping. This way you can find out if you actually like it or if it is uncomfortable. That is how I found out very quickly that I prefer a foam pad over an inflatable pad. Better to find those things out at home and get the right equipment before heading out!
3. Relying on a Campfire for Warmth
Relying on a campfire for warmth is inconsistent and basically asking for trouble. There have certainly been times when a freak storms pushes through and we are stuck in a tent for some time, and you just simply can’t have a campfire in the rain or in your tent.
Pack your camping clothes in a way that you can layer depending on the temperature. If a storm front pushes through, you will have a warm puffy jacket and thick socks so you can enjoy listening to the rain while you read your favorite book in the comfort of your tent. Simply packing and planning turned a potentially miserable situation into something that has become one of my favorite things to do – camping in the rain.
While it’s cool to have heated camping gear like a heated blanket, heated camping chair, or other methods to stay warm while camping, make sure you don’t rely on them for warmth. They should supplement what you already have to make you more comfortable, but batteries die and you should always have the right gear for the situation.
4. Not Checking the Rating on your Sleeping Bags
A sleeping bag is a core piece of equipment along with your tent, and can make or break a camping trip. Sleeping bags will have a temperature rating, but this rating is often a survival rating. In other words, it would keep you from getting hypothermic when the temperature drops that low, but it wouldn’t keep you comfortable. Look for a comfort rating before purchasing a sleeping bag, and make sure it’s at least 10 degrees lower than the lowest temperatures you plan on camping in.
If your sleeping bag is slightly under your desired temperature point, you could always add a sleeping bag liner that would increase the bag temperature rating by 15-25 degrees depending on which liner you purchase.
5. Underestimating the Importance of Light
Light in the middle of nowhere is not only a luxury, but a necessity. Simply turning on a light switch obviously doesn’t exist out in the woods. When we go camping, we have a few different light sources that each have a place in our camping equipment all the time.
- A Head Lamp – A head lamp is our most commonly used light source. With the light source being fixed on your head, you can have both hands free and the light will still shine on whatever you’re doing.
- A Lantern – A lantern is great to have on the picnic table when you are cooking and it works as a way to light your campsite in the evenings.
- Tent Lighting – Tent lighting is something that we just recently started using and it was a game changer for getting ready for bed or being in the tent after dark. Before we had dedicated lighting for our tent, we used to hang our lantern or a head lamp from the top of the tent using a carabiner. Nowadays, we love these little LED light bulbs with a hook built in. Most tents have some type of fabric loop on the ceiling and these hook right in and they are ready to go. This is the closest thing to turning on a light switch while you are in your tent.
6. Arriving to the Campground After Dark
Arriving after dark works for a lot of things that happen in the city or back home, but it is just asking for a frustrating night when you are camping. Arriving at a campground after dark makes it much more difficult to find your assigned site, and leaves you rudely shining your headlights into other people’s campsites. Plus, setting up a tent, even for practiced outdoorsy folks, is something that’s way more difficult in the dark.
Save yourself the trouble and get to your campsite well before dark. That way you have plenty of time to set up your tent, get a fire going, and familiarize yourself with the surroundings of camp.
Bonus tip from an experienced camper: we also recommend avoiding arriving between 11am and 4pm so you can avoid setting up under the intense sun (unless it’s really cold out and you want to be there during the ‘heat’ of the day).
7. Leaving Food or Garbage Out
One of the worst camping mistakes you could make is leaving garbage, trash, food, and cooking utensils out.
If you are at a campsite that’s in bear country, all food, kitchen utensils, and all cooking essentials need to be stored properly when not in use. This means keeping them in a provided bear safe container or in a locked vehicle if you’re not actively eating or cooking.
Even if you aren’t in an area with bears, leaving food and garbage out can attract animals, especially at night. One of our first times camping, we woke up in the middle of the night to multiple racoons eating our burger buns we left out.
Putting your food and cooking gear into the proper storage at night is a good habit to get into, regardless of the kinds of critters around camp. If you have plastic bags with trash in them, dispose of them properly in the provided trash cans or bins.
This includes cleaning dirty dishes after each use, and generally keeping your campsite clear of trash.
DON’T KEEP FOOD IN YOUR TENT
Did I write that big enough? Don’t keep food in your tent. That is asking for something that wants your food (i.e. wild animals like a bear, mountain lion, racoon, or rats) to forcefully invade your tent and take whatever they want, potentially injuring you in the process.
8. Not Making a Meal Plan
Another common camping mistake is not taking meals seriously. Cooking food on a camping trip takes way more planning and effort than when you’re at home, so it’s essential that you take the time to plan out all your meals and snacks.
Remember, your camp stove won’t have as many burners and is much smaller than your normal stove top. Plus, your cooler won’t keep raw meat from spoiling as long as your fridge at home. The best practice is to plan meals that are simple, quick, and focus on non-perishable items that won’t go bad after the first night. We really love tin foil meals that you just stick on the fire grate and check periodically.
9. Not Packing The Right Clothing
Even if there’s not rain in the weather forecast, always bring rain gear like a rain jacket and/or poncho. Rain will ruin your camping experience quicker than a flash thunderstorm, so make sure you’re prepared.
Part of packing the right clothing is bringing warm clothes, even warmer than you think you’ll need. This is easily one of the biggest mistakes many campers make. Always bring an extra layer on top of what you think you should pack. Even on summer camping trips, we pack a puffy jacket and we almost always end up wearing it the entire evening, especially after the sun goes down and the temperature begins to drop.
Make sure you also bring the appropriate shoes, especially ones that are comfortable and can get dirty. We usually pack our hiking shoes and boots, as well as a pair of Chacos and flip flops for the showers.
10. Buy Once, Cry Once
This is easily the most common camping mistake: buying cheap gear then wondering why you had a sucky time. A lot of beginner campers will experience sleepless nights, issues with their gear, chilly nights, and so many other things that take away from the joy of the experience. A lot of these issues can be taken care of by purchasing high quality camping gear that’s worth the money.
Buy once, cry once. If you have never heard that saying, it means to not buy something that is low quality. If you cut corners on buying gear, it will often fail you and you’ll end up having to spend even more money buying new products. Buy the best quality gear you can afford and you won’t be left up a river without a paddle.
That being said, we understand that if you are reading this article you are probably a beginner camper and might not want to spend the money on new gear before you know if it’s for you or not. We have a few options for you as well:
- For the more budget minded camper we have done a full round up of tents under $100 and $200.
Best Tents Under $100 for the Ultra-Budget Camper
Best Tents under $200: Quality Meets Affordability
- If you have time on your side, you can plan on buying a tent at the right time of year. But when is that? Check out our comprehensive post on the best time to buy a tent.
- The other option is renting camping gear. We obviously don’t recommend doing this over and over again, but it a great way to save money, use quality gear, and even test some great equipment while you are shopping around. REI has a great gear rental program.
- One of my favorite things to recommend to new campers is Tentrr. You can think of Tentrr as essentially an Airbnb for camping! You can have a private, secluded site that is stocked with all the basic camping equipment you need. All you need to bring is food and a few other things and you are ready to go. Check out some of this information about Tentrr here.
11. Not Paying Attention to Plants
Before you go camping, or spend any time outdoors, you should be able to identify poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and any other poisonous plants that may be native to that area. If there’s a bulletin board at your campground, it should list the potentially dangerous plants and animals in the area so you know what to look out for.
Not only should you know how to identify these plants, but you should also educate the kids on what to look for. One of the easiest camping mistakes is to just let your kids run wild without educating them first, leaving them at risk for running through some poisonous plants.
12. Forgetting the Small Things
A first aid kit is one of the most important camping essentials that’s easily left behind, but it could make a big difference in your weekend away in the great outdoors. Whether it’s your first time camping or your 50th, you should always bring along a nice first aid kit.
Bug spray is something you should lay on thick and frequently. Make sure you’re getting something with Deet, especially if you’re in tick country. Don’t forget to apply the bug spray around your ankles to prevent ground bugs.
Paper products like toilet paper and paper towels can be a lifesaver at your campsite, especially if the bathrooms don’t have toilet paper. We’ve run into several situations where the bathroom didn’t have any TP, but luckily we always keep a roll in our vehicle.
13. Buying Firewood Too Far Away
Did you know that you’re supposed to purchase firewood within 10 miles of the place you intend on burning it? This is easily one of the lesser known camping mistakes we’ve encountered over the years, and even avid campers may not realize this. Look near your campsite for a gas station or sporting goods store that would have local wood so you can decrease the chance of spreading invasive forest pests.
Speaking of fire wood, don’t plan on collecting fire wood at the campsite. Most campgrounds don’t allow fire wood collection, plus most of it will be wet wood that’s too hard to burn anyway (depending on your location and the recent weather, that is).
14. Not Packing Water
One of the more common camping mistakes is to focus too much on food without realizing that water is just as important. While some campgrounds do have potable water on site, not all do. This is something that should be thoroughly researched beforehand.
We prefer to bring along a 5-7 gallon jug of water we collect at our own home so we know that it’s purified and clean. For any water after that, we still filter it before drinking, even if it’s supposed to be potable. Or you can also purchase gallons of water from the grocery store for an affordable price.
15. Forgetting That Camping is Supposed to be Fun
Camping is a fun and relaxing experience! Everyone has times that they get stressed or frustrated trying to figure out a new hobby, and that is exactly what camping could be for you. Take everything we said into account, do your preparation work and research, and get out there. If something is getting the best of you, take a deep breath of all the fresh air and listen to nature for a minute.
What should you not do while camping?
1. not doing your research,
2. not testing your equipment before you leave,
3. relying on a campfire for warmth,
4. not checking the rating on your sleeping bags,
5. underestimating the importance of light,
6. arriving to the campground after dark,
7. leaving garbage and food out,
8. not making a meal plan,
9. not packing the right clothing,
10. buy once, cry once,
11. not paying attention to plants,
12. forgetting the small things,
13. buying firewood too far away,
14. not packing water, and
15. forgetting that camping is supposed to be fun!
What’s the number one rule of camping?
Avoiding these common camping mistakes can help your first camping trip be more enjoyable, and will hopefully encourage you to continue camping and getting outside. After all, there’s plenty of benefits that come from camping, so get out there and enjoy all that it has to offer!