Camping for the first time can be an intimidating experience. There are some key things you need to get right before diving into nature without the benefits of a proper roof over your head and a fully-kitted kitchen. What should you look out for, what should you pack? Our novice camper, Lizaan Snyman, put a few tips together to get you started.
Camping is the ideal getaway because you can tailor your trip to fit your needs, wants and level of experience. The best way to learn to camp is to jump right in and try. Like with most things, not everything goes according to plan. Even experienced campers with all the kit have to deal with harsh weather, forgotten items and locations that don’t quite match what appeared on the website. However, as long as you know the camping basics, the rest will become memories and experiences.
Tip 1: Choosing a camping location
Picking the perfect camping location is not always easy. Is it going to be close by or a long drive, basic or luxury, and what do you hope to see and do on your trip? These are some things to consider when planning:
- Your camping goals, such as what you want to do or see on this trip.
- The season you are planning to camp. Be sure to check out the likely temperatures and weather conditions during your time away. Camping in a Force 9 gale is not much fun.
- Will all the people you want to camp with be on board with regards to skill levels if you plan a serious mountain hike, for example? Will they all have the right gear? Check first.
- Note that campsites closer to home will be best when starting out. It’s easier to head back home if the weather turns bad.
- Closer sites require less planning and travel arrangements can be simpler. Plus it’s a bonus to have a great local escape that does not take a lot of time and money to get to.
Tip 2: Plan what you need to pack
Once you have decided, be sure to visit the venue’s website to check out the booking regulations, rules and amenities. This will help with planning.
Knowing what to bring comes with experience. Some things are essential (like a tent, mat and sleeping bag). Others are just nice to have. What you decide to add to your checklist will depend on the facilities – does it have electricity so you can bring along electrical goods and plug-in lights, or will you need to bring lamps and torches? Do the showers have hot water, or must you fire up a donkey boiler? Be prepared.
Make up that checklist that covers sleeping gear, cooking gear and food – both hard goods and items that need to be kept cold. Be sure you have a good tent, a groundsheet and the tools necessary to make setting up easy. Will you need camping chairs and tables, or will you get back to basics and use what you find? Get the gear out before you go, and make sure you have all the vitals, from clothes suitable for cold and warm conditions to that roll of paper you don’t want to leave behind.
If you are unsure of what should be on a camping packing list, Lekker Kampplekke has a generic list for you to work from: https://www.lekkerkampplekke.co.za/kamp-paklys/
*Some good advice before buying all the camping gear rather borrow or rent. Then you can slowly add to your own kit, always trying to buy the best gear and equipment you can afford. It’s an investment in a great lifestyle.
Tip 3: Knowing your gear
Besides remembering to pack all the necessary camping gear and other essentials, it is important that you know how to use each item you are taking with you on your trip.
Whether you are a beginner or an experienced camper, you should always test new gear at home first. Assemble your gear and equipment, such as your tent in your yard for practice, and to ensure everything is included and works correctly. The practice will also make it easier to assemble when you get to the campsite.
Make sure your sleeping bag is comfortable and that all flashlights, headlamps, and lanterns work, too. Pack extra batteries, just in case. If you plan to use a portable cooking stove or grill, give it a test run. Also, ensure all hiking backpacks or day packs fit securely on your back and make adjustments before you head out into nature.
Tip 4: Setting up camping
Once arriving at the location, it is important to find the ideal spot to pitch your tent or set up camp. This can be hard during summertime when popular camping sites are buzzing, so arrive early or go during weekdays.
When setting up camp, keep the following in mind:
- You need to set up camp upwind from neighbouring campers so that their campfire smoke doesn’t blow directly into your camp. You will also want to pitch your tent upwind from your own fire to avoid the smoke.
- Ideally, you will want to be out of the sun as much as possible during the day – so try and find a shady spot that still has a good view of the sunset.
- If you’re planning on camping without a camping mat, mattress or stretcher, look for a grassy area – otherwise, you’ll struggle to sleep comfortably through the night. However, it is also important to keep in mind that bushy or swampy areas also breed spiders, mosquitos, and other creatures.
Always practice good camping etiquette. If the campsite is busy and you need to camp near others, make sure to leave enough space between yourself and the next camper’s set-up. It also means not being too loud, or playing music at any volume. Switch electronic sounds off off and listen to the night sounds rather, and keep a lid on things in the early morning. Remember not to shine flashlights toward other people’s campsites. You should also practice the Leave No Trace principles by cleaning up after yourself and leaving your campsite better than you found it.
Tip 5: Enjoy the experience
Now all that is left to do is enjoy your time in the outdoors! If you have forgotten something, don’t let it spoil your trip – rather, try and improvise or live without it. Embrace what the wilderness has to offer. It’s a chance to gaze into the fire, look up at the stars and wind down from your busy life. Get active during the day, go exploring, take a hike or a bike. Swim in the nearest river. This is nature calling.