These tips for first-time campers include ideas for what to take camping and tactics for respecting and savoring nature once you’ve ventured out.
Nature provides for us in a variety of ways, whether we recognize these gifts or not. But nature isn’t just there for us to exploit. By following these tips for first-time campers, anyone can engage with nature in a more grateful way. There’s nothing to it but to do it!
These days, it’s a high priority for some people to simply get out and get in touch with nature. It can be therapeutic to spend time away from technology and in the company of the relaxing sounds and fresh scents of the outdoors, if you’re willing to lace up tight and venture out into the splendor.
Nurtured by Nature
If you can accept nature as it is, it can work in your favor. If gravity is on your side, you’ll have to do much less “work.” Dry fallen limbs, trees, or driftwood can help you stay warm. You can also sit on wood or place wood underneath your equipment so nothing gets damp.
After putting out fires, simply dump leftover ashes on the coals to make sure the fire is out; this is especially effective when the ashes are still damp from morning dew.
If you’re near moving water, you can choose from a variety of methods to stay hydrated, as well as wash dishes and do laundry, without having to bring all your water with you. Some people boil water for half an hour and let it cool; others use water-filtration systems or iodine. Plus, if you’re near a body of water, you can go swimming. This is a great way to start your day.
Whether you’re camping near a body of water or not, there’s plenty you can do outdoors during different times of the year, such as hiking; looking for mushrooms; gathering firewood, sticks, and dry leaves for campfires; bird-watching; and simply walking, possibly with a walking stick. You can gather trash and leave the area better than you found it; some areas have trash cans nearby, or you can take the trash with you when you leave.
Be Prepared: What to Take Camping
While the saying “always be prepared” is a noble enough guideline for activities like hiking and camping, sometimes, less is more. But depending on the area where you’re staying, the weather can be unpredictable, and one small hole in your tent can leave you a sleepless mess. Having a simple repair kit and a first-aid kit may save you from minor headaches and injuries, as will doing your homework when planning where to go and what to take camping.
Bring well-cushioned, durable, comfortable boots, whether camping or hiking. A backpack with a bladder and straps may come in handy, as well as a cot. Set up a place where you can stay comfortably but still pack up and leave relatively simply.
Many times, you’ll get what you pay for, though knowing where you can cut costs (as well as weight) is useful. I’ve found relatively inexpensive but quality zip-up hammocks with pockets and mosquito-proof netting. Some are even built for couples to sleep in! If you have a sturdy knife, make sure it’s sharp.
If you’re hiking, be sure to bring plenty of clean water along, as well as foods with iodine, sodium, and magnesium to keep you going. For coffee, cheap instant coffee packets can lessen the mess. Research rocket stoves for cooking. You may also be able to use running water or river stones to keep items cooler longer (or simply use a thermos).
For hygiene, pack some sanitizing hand wipes. You may also want to bring baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice for basic cleaning. Natural and biodegradable products are ideal, such as pine tar oil or goat-milk soap. I like to use a charcoal-based toothpaste with coconut oil and peppermint for oral hygiene. You can use running river water for many non-drinking purposes; just remember to be cautious. And position yourself carefully in relation to the river; if it rains, you may have to relocate or wait it out on higher ground in your tent or below a tarp.
If you’ve planned what to take camping to your chosen location, you’re well-prepared with durable equipment, and someone knows where you are and when you’ll be back (so they can notify 911 just in case), then you’ll be set up for a pleasant outdoor experience.
Do Your Research
Become familiar with different trees and what they offer. Some trees provide wood that’s good for whittling and making walking sticks and canes. Some wood is good for starting fires, while other wood is good for keeping them going. Other trees may provide nuts and fruits, such as pecans, mulberries, and persimmons. You can use pine needles in tea or rub them on your skin if you’re trying to be stealthy while hunting deer. If you spot elm trees near a creek or river, you may be able to find the famous morel mushroom nearby — just make sure you can positively identify the mushroom or are with someone who can!
I hope my tips for first-time campers help you savor the great outdoors. Whether you’re hiking, fishing, wading, fossil-hunting, swimming, foraging, or cooking by a warm fire, none of it is boring by any means. I live roughly 2 miles from beautiful Current River, which is fed by cold springs some 40 miles upstream. You can fish for trout in the river or fish for smallmouth bass where the water gets warmer, near small tourist town Doniphan, Missouri. The river stays cool pretty much year-round and is refreshing in summer. It also stays relatively cool on the bank, especially in the shade of oak, hickory, and elm trees, among others.
Wherever you live, there are plenty of free areas you can visit. Some places charge a small fee to park or camp or they require conservation fees to keep the area clean. Depending on where you live, you may want to invest in a metal detector or a boat for a bit of additional fun. You can also purchase a fishing license, which helps keep areas clean and lakes and rivers stocked with fish.
I don’t like to hunt or party; I enjoy simply sitting on a sand bar at dawn, watching the mist rise from the water. I see and hear all kinds of wildlife, such as deer, owls, bats, birds, squirrels, and beavers. I listen for the beavers making splashes at night with their wide, flat tails. I hear coyotes howling at night too. I’ve seen cottonmouth snakes and even panther tracks! I love the serenity and the small thrills, the kinds of experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.
Joseph Neel is a seasoned writer who grew up traveling around the world and now lives in Missouri. He loves nature and the outdoors.
Feature Image by Flickr/Granger Meador (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Photo by Flickr/Michael Cline (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Originally published as “Nature Provides” in the April/May 2023 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS and regularly vetted for accuracy.