You’ve decided that a night under the stars is on the cards. A night under canvas/flysheet/fabric. In the fresh air. However, it’s your first time camping, and you’re worried your car isn’t big enough.
What do you really need to take? What are the essentials? What do you really need?
Your beginner camping list can be broken down into 4 sections: Something to sleep on, something to sleep in, something to sleep under, and something to eat. At a minimum, that will be a sleeping mat or bed, a sleeping bag or quilt, a tent or tarp, and some food.
Back to basics: The essentials for camping
Looking at a lot of websites, there’s a lot of conflicting information as to what exactly you need for your first time camping. We’re busy putting together an ultimate beginner’s guide to help you out. Until then, this little list should do you well.
1. Something to sleep on: your sleeping comfort
If you’ve never been camping before and you’re not sure if you’ll enjoy it, you may be tempted to go for one of those cheap foam roll mats. Don’t do this. It will only ensure that you’ll hate camping for good!
For your first time camping, we’d recommend going in the summer and taking a simple air bed. If you enjoy it and you think you’ll be going again throughout the year, it might be a good idea to upgrade to a better bed, but standard airbeds will be fine for your first trip. The bonus is you can pick one up in every camping shop year-round as well as most bigger supermarkets and homewares shops during the summer.
2. Something to sleep in: stay warm, sleep well
Really, depending on how you’re getting to your site, sleep stuff can be really complex, or really simple. If you’re doing what most first time campers do and setting up the tent in the back garden, then take the duvet and pillows off the bed and use those. Add a blanket and you’re set!
If you’re going to a site elsewhere, you’ll need something a little easier to carry. Grab a 2 season sleeping bag and a blanket. You can get inflatable pillows, but we prefer to stuff stuff-sacks with our laundry and rest our heads on those.
3. Something to sleep under: a tent to keep off rain/dew
For your first time camping, you don’t need an expensive tent. There are some great mini tents that don’t cost a lot. Alternatively, ask around your friends/family and see if you can borrow one. Don’t forget a torch or lantern for when it gets dark!
We’d recommend going for a double skin tent, whatever the weather. Single skin tents tend to have a problem with condensation and they leak in the rain. Decathlon do some really good (and fairly cheap) double skin pop-up tents that take away with you for the first time. Pop-up tents remove the need to argue with the poles!
Tarp camping is another alternative, but if it’s your first time camping we’d suggest going for an easy to pitch and cheap tent. It saves a lot of hassle and is generally a lot more comfortable for first-time campers.
4. Something to eat: food and drink
Again, this is very much dependent on when and where you’re camping. If you’re doing back-garden camping as your first experience, no one would blame you for ordering in a pizza!
If you’d like something a bit more ‘authentic’ then get a portable gas stove and a frying pan and make yourself sausage and egg sandwiches in the morning. Nice and easy, not a lot of effort, and older kids can even help out (with supervision).
Your first time camping packing list
Now we’ve got the basics out of the way, here are a few bits that we think are pretty essential to making sure your trip goes off without a hitch.
Clothes – what to wear
You’ll need separate sleeping clothes. If you’re in the back garden, run and grab your PJs. We prefer a onesie – it’s all in one and stops draughts. Just make sure that your sleeping clothes are only used for sleeping (and the late-night trip to the loo). Don’t wear your day clothes to sleep in, or your nightclothes during the day.
While you’re at it, go and grab some socks as well! Your feet might feel a bit chilly, so grab a good pair of socks to put on. If you’re particularly cold (looking at you, Niki), then a beanie hat, gloves and nose warmer are also good things to bring.
If you’ll be away for a few days, make sure you pack a waterproof jacket. It’s Britain, it’s better to pack the jacket and not need it than to not pack it an inevitably need it! Good waterproof shoes or boots are also a good idea. just don’t put your sleeping socks in them. they stay in the tent at all times!
Torch/Lamp – Let there be light
There’s nothing more annoying than not having light. Searching for that lost sock, your phone charger, or finding your way to the loo. Take a torch.
It doesn’t have to be anything special or expensive, any torch will do for your first time camping. We prefer head torches – like a torch on a headband – because they allow for hands-free bag rummaging, but any torch will do you.
Tip: even if your phone has a torch function (most do) don’t rely on this. It’s a great way to drain your battery fast!
Shoes – avoid the rocks!
It doesn’t matter where/when you camp, the grass will be damp in the morning, possibly a bit muddy, and guaranteed to have a thistle/rock right in the place you want to step.
We like crocs or similar – the slip-on and have a good grip on wet grass. If you’re on a site with a shower as opposed to your own bathroom, then wear the shoes in the shower as well – protect your feet from any nasties lurking in the corner.
If you’ll be doing a lot of walking or hiking during your trip, make sure you pack a decent pair of waterproof walking shoes, boots, or trainers. Wellies are great for the rain but very sweaty if you spend a lot of time walking in them.
Toiletries – keep clean.
Just because you’re roughing it in the garden, it doesn’t mean that your hygiene can slide. Take your toothbrush, toothpaste and washing stuff. You can still smell clean even if you don’t look like it!
Here, we’d like to mention the good old baby wipes. There’s nothing better than a good rub down with something slightly damp and sweet-smelling after a day/night in the great outdoors.
Bonus tip: if you’re away for a few days and need to take soap, shampoo, and conditioner, consider getting the solid versions. These are usually lighter than packing bottles, they won’t leak all over your bag, and you’re saving a bit of single-use plastic waste!
Cooking – food glorious food
You’ll want to eat. Probably dinner and then breakfast the next day.
For dinner during your first time camping, go for something simple; a one-pot meal. We like to take pre-cooked rice and something in a tin that we can heat up. Chuck it all in the pot and heat.
If you’re in your own garden, there’s always the oven/kettle/microwave indoors. Or pizza delivery. We won’t tell anyone!
If you’re not in your back garden, have a look at our camping stove article to see what stoves are available and have a look to see which one would suit you.
Wherever you’re camping, make sure that you’ve got tea, coffee, sugar and milk. Treat yourself to some powdered hot chocolate while you’re at it. It’s beautifully comforting to have a hot mug of chocolate under the stars, wrapped in a blanket. It’s also a good thing to have that morning coffee.
Bonus tip: if you go for powdered milk it doesn’t need to be kept cold, it won’t go off very quickly and it won’t leak all over your bag. Pop a little bit of powdered milk into a spare cup or bowl with a dash of warm water to dissolve it, add cold water to thin it out to how you like it before adding it to your tea/coffee/hot chocolate.
Teddy bear – your faithful friend
What? Doesn’t everyone take their teddy to cuddle?!
We hope you’re feeling a bit more confident about taking your first trip out under the stars, even if it’s just to your back garden!
Worried you’ll forget something? Pop your email address in below and we’ll send you a printable version of our camping basics checklist absolutely free, so you can tick it off as you pack!