Beginner’s Guide to Tent Camping

Beautiful morning view from my tent.
  • I grew up in Colorado with parents who were avid hikers and relatively frequent campers. I’ve been sleeping in a tent since I was in elementary school. I’ve done a little backpacking and my son’s first tent camping trip was when he was nine months old. For many years, we tent camped and although I now have a pop-up truck camper and a travel trailer, I take several tent trips a year. It takes a lot of self control not to purchase another tent because I love them so much. My belief in blissful adventures in tent camping includes comfort as well as affordability.

Tent camping can be affordable and comfortable.

  • With a little preparation and organization, you can begin your camping adventures and I’m here to help.
  • Tent camping does not require expensive gear and I would recommend you not start out buying anything if you can borrow it or rent it first.

How to get started with tent camping

  • Start by assembling all the gear and try it at home first. I would suggest trying your gear out overnight in your backyard. Knowing how to pitch a tent in ideal conditions will help you know how to manage adverse conditions such as rain and/or rain. I once witnessed folks in an adjacent campsite fail miserably at pitching a tent in a driving rain (it blew away). Also, my cousin realized her air mattress pump would not extend far enough to get to her tent from the parking area and she couldn’t fit the mattress through the tent door once it was inflated.
  • Reserve a site at a campground near home and arrive before dark. If things don’t work out, you can always pack up early and head home.

Common Questions/FAQ About Tent Camping.

  • What equipment should I take?
    • The list of supplies can seem daunting and there’s always the risk of leaving something important behind. I have a large plastic storage tub for kitchen supplies and another for camp supplies. I have checklists that I go through and make sure everything is stocked. In the beginning, you can borrow supplies from your kitchen and over time decide if you want dedicated gear.
  • Is it safe to go alone?
    • I believe it is safe. Staying in established campgrounds where there are plenty of other people helps ease any worries you may have. You might also chose to go with a friend who has some experience and can help guide you.
  • How long should I go for?
    • I would go for two nights. Day one is driving, setting up camp, exploring campground area, relax, dinner, campfire, bed. Day two is a long hike or fishing at the lake, relax, dinner, campfire, bed. Day three is pack up, clean camp and drive home. It’s the right about of time for you to learn what you need to tweak or perhaps, decide that tent camping isn’t your thing.
  • What about kids and dogs?
    • If it’s your absolute first time, I would avoid taking kids. As many parents know, it’s a lot of work. While everything is usually more fun with kids, it’s also more gear to prepare plus more food to bring and prepare. Dogs can be good, especially if you’re alone. Be aware that you will need to bring a tether for camp which will always be underfoot and they have a tendency to bark and anyone walking by. Also, there are state and national parks where dogs are not allowed on trails.
  • How do I stay warm?
    • For me, if my feet are happy then I am happy. Paying attention to you feet, heads, and hand will go a long way in providing the warmth and comfort you need for a successful trip. First, bring warmer clothes than you think you will need and dress in layers. Bring a wind layer and a waterproof layer too. I have a tendency to leave my down coat at home especially in the summer and often regret it at night. Bring several hats including a knit hat. Bring extra socks. Hiking will often cause my feet to sweat and it’s comforting to treat my feet to dry socks once back in camp. Super warm socks overnight will help as well.
  • What food should I take?
    • I would keep it as simple as possible at first. It’s great cooking on an open fire if you have the time and the weather cooperates. In Colorado, we’ve had campfire bans off and on over the last few years. Also, it could be raining or you may be too tired from being out in the sun and wind all day and just want something easy. The more you cook, the more you have to clean up after as well. Prepackaged oatmeal cups require only boiling water and the cup is disposable. Hard-boiled eggs are a good option too. I have a one burner stove and depending on the trip, bring something from home that can be reheated like pasta or a burrito bowl. I like bringing a pre-made deli sandwich for lunch. Cold fried chicken eliminates cooking altogether. Also, I always bring a packet or two of Ramen as a backup.
All packed and ready to go!

The Last Thing You Need to Know about Tent Camping

  • Tent camping can be relaxing and fun. A little planning and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone may lead to a new and fulfilling pastime.

What RV is Right for Me?

We were tent camping at a family reunion near Lake Willard in Utah. The weather was beautiful and the kids were having a great time playing in the Lake. After tucking them into their sleeping bags, we settled down too after a long day in the sun and all the family reunioning we were exhausted. Several hours later a huge storm rolled in and tore our tent to shreds. We scrambled the kids into the van and tried to salvage what we could from the tatters of the tent. It was too long after that, we started seriously considering a different way to camp.

There are numerous factors to consider when choosing an RV. My family and I have owned tents for car camping, then we’ve had a pop-up tent trailer, a pop-up truck camper, a hard-sided truck camper, a Class C motorhome, and a travel trailer. Today, we own a twenty-seven foot travel trailer and a pop-up truck camper. I occasionally tent camp with girlfriends.

Below are some questions to ask to help clarify which features are important for you and your travel buddies.

Will this be used for weekends or longer periods of time?

The longer the trip, the more amenities you may want. I like the pop-up truck camper for one or two night trips close to home (we live near the foothills of Denver). We typically use it to get closer to trailheads, spend the night then hike the next day and head home. We take the trailer when we go fishing or take longer trips. Since my husband is self-employed, he sometimes needs to work. We set up an awesome work space in our trailer. See my other article about setting up an office space in a trailer.

How much money are you willing to spend?

I’m not a fan of buying new for several reasons. First, I couldn’t always afford it and I believe there are really good deals to be had in the used market. I can always change the color of the curtains or replace flooring for a lot cheaper than going new. We got a great deal on our Lance trailer (4-season). It was only two years old when we got it. We were able to pull out the jack knife couch and replace it with some foldable tables from Ikea and make a great workspace for longer trips.

Will your RV require a vehicle to pull it or carry it?

Trailers are great because you don’t necessarily need another vehicle than the one you already have, depending of course on what you want to pull. Pop-up tent trailers are lightweight and have their advantages. I could probably pull a small one with my Subaru. The disadvantage would be if you’re wanting to move camp frequently or want to sleep in it on a long road trip. The tent fabric does make it lightweight but it does not act as a good sound barrier. Whatever your neighbor is doing or however late they are doing it, you will know about it unless you opt for earplugs!

Motorhomes are great when you’re on the road. You can make lunch and snack easily, use the bathroom, and sleep overnight at rest stops with relative sound protection. Ours had a built in generator and was convenient to use in these situations. We drove from the Denver area to Seattle to buy a sailboat, trailered it down to San Diego and did some racing all while staying in the motorhome. The disadvantage was the maintenance and insurance. It’s one more engine that needs oil changes and the tire replacement can get expensive.

Camper vans (class B) are a bit out of my experience. My dad had a Chevy van in the 70s that he built in a bed and it had the quintessential shag carpet on the walls as well as the floors. I always slept out in a tent. For me, I want something I can stand up in and use an indoor toilet unless I’m in a tent. They are becoming very popular and did consider getting one before I got my pop-up truck camper but I didn’t want another engine to maintain and I already own my 2016 Chevy truck and can use it for other things.

How long do you want your rig to be?

Depending on where you want to go, the total length of your vehicle may prohibit you from certain campsites or roads. Going-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park has a total length limit of 21 feet, width of 8 feet and a height of 10 feet. We camped on the east side and had to leave our trailer at camp and come back over. To camp on the west side, we had to drive around the south of the park. Even if we had been less than 21 feet, many places would have been difficult to pull off and enjoy the scenery. There’s always a trade-off.

Final Thoughts

Although it seems expensive, renting the type of unit you think you want is advisable. You will be able to determine which features you really like/need and which you don’t. You may think that teardrop trailer is perfect and then find out you’re terrible at backing up short trailers or that you’d really like to stand up.

At this point, we have two RVs which I realize is an extra luxury! I view camping equipment like some people view shoes – one does not fit all purposes and therefore, having the ability to choose is has increased our ability to have adventures.