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5 Easy Steps to Enjoy Your First Campout

First of all, never go camping without knowing the 5 ways to make your campout a success.  Follow these steps and you will enjoy camping every time you go.

The 5 “Ps” of Camping are: Proper-Planning-Prevents-Poor-Performance.  Not just in camping, but also in everything in life, you must have a plan.  To make it even easier the Planning part has 5 “Ws” – where, when, who, why and what.  So, let’s start at the beginning.

Step #1 - Where do you want to go?

Every part of the United States and other countries around the world have exciting and fun places to camp.  Most of the great camping areas are on public lands administered by land management agencies.  There are local, state and federal land management agencies that can assist you in your area or country.  In the U.S., they include the Bureau of Land Management, the USDA Forest Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Also camping equipment stores in your area will have local guidebooks.  And don’t forget to search the Internet for campgrounds in your area.  Similar agencies and government departments exist in all countries, worldwide for campers.  Here are a few that I have found are useful in the U.S., along with links and descriptions.

National Park Service
There are hundreds of parks, recreation areas, and other facilities within the National Park Service.  Within these facilities are over one hundred campgrounds open to the public. Campsites are usually available on a first-come, first-serve basis.  A few of the campgrounds offer on-line reservations. These campgrounds aren't expensive and usually cost $35-45 a night, with a maximum stay of 14 days.  The campgrounds have toilets, showers, picnic tables and fire pits, all the essentials for a great campout!  But remember, the national parks are very popular and tend to get very busy on holidays and during the summer months.

USDA Forest Service
This is the “mother lode” for campers with tens of thousands of campsites at over 1,700 locations managed by the USDA Forest Service, Army Corps of Engineers, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation.

Information on individual campgrounds is available on-line from ReserveUSA, a service provided by the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS).  

Finding a campground at is easy.  Click on the link and it will take you to their web site, click on the map of the U.S. or choose from the list of states. This will take you to the state map with all the campsites displayed and a linked list of all the campsites.  Click on a campsite from the list or click the map for a smaller map and campsite list.  Each campground page will tell you about the area and show a detailed map of that campground's layout.  You get directions, local sites of interest and you can reserve your site on-line.  Definitely worth checking out!

Step #2 – When are you leaving and how long will you be away?

This is a somewhat obvious step, but you’d be surprised how many people miss this.  You should plan the length of your camping trip so you know how much food, clothing, fuel and other gear you will need to be successful and happy!  There is basically short-term and long-term camping.

Short-term camping is typically an over-night campout on a weekend.  Perhaps arrive Friday after work and stay overnight through Saturday, and home in time for dinner.  Or arrive Saturday morning, enjoy the day and night and leave Sunday morning. 

Either way, this is short campout and is the best type to try on your first adventure in camping.  This will allow you and your family to try it out, see if they like it and above all will be useful for you to work out any “bugs” in your planning.

Long-term camping is typically five, six or seven days on a campout that we like to do around a lake, along side a river or somewhere where there are lots of activities to keep the kids busy.  One place we like to go to is a beach campout, which has hiking trails, bicycle paths, and horseback riding all within minutes of the Park.  These types of trips usually happen during longer school breaks around holidays or during the summer. 

This is the type of campout you will want to try once you’ve tried a couple of successful short-term campouts and are ready to experience more!

Step #3 – Who is going with you?

If just the immediate members of your family are going you are probably meeting the size limitation at most camps.  Assuming you don’t have a family of 12! ☺

What I’m really trying to point out is, in many areas a big group of campers comprised of a couple of families can be hard on the land by trampling vegetation and requiring a large area for tents and cooking.   The noise and impact of a large group on fellow campers that want to get away from the crowds can be disturbing.  We noticed this especially when we camped with 35-40 Boy Scouts and have to pick remote locations, or group camp areas that will support our needs.  Although you may not have that many people in your campout you should be aware of the group size guidelines established at the campground you are planning to attend.  Following area guidelines on group size will make for a happy and enjoyable campout, with no hassles from the neighboring campers.

Step #4 – Why are you going?

To have fun, or course!  But also, to learn about the outdoors, to be with friends, see new sites and explore all that nature has to offer!  Can there be any other reason? 

Remember: if there are hiking trails or bike trails, don’t forget the necessary equipment to make this fun!

Step #5 – What should you take with you?

I’ve left this step for last on purpose.  You can’t start here because if you don’t know where you are going, how long you will stay and who’s going, you won’t know what to bring….right? 

In fact, it is so important to have the correct gear to make your campout enjoyable, that I’ve included a whole chapter on it.  You can quick link to that chapter by clicking on: Essential Camping Gear for Beginner Campers


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