Here’s our best advice for planning your adventure, from how to book a campsite to what to pack.
For first-timers, keep it simple
If you’ve never camped before, start with the basics: Pick a campsite based on your needs, borrow some gear and test setting up your tent before you leave. You’ll probably want to start with car camping, which is most approachable. You simply drive to your site, pitch your tent and let nature do the rest. Even though it’s easier to get there, you’ll still reap the benefits of sleeping outdoors.
Find a campsite that fits your needs
There are many ways to find a place to camp — from the government-managed sites on Recreation.gov to sharing-economy options like Hipcamp and Tentrr, which connect campers with landowners and hosts across the country.
For popular destinations or places with limited campsites, you may want to sign up for Campnab, a service that alerts users when a spot in sold-out campsites becomes available.
Figure out what to buy, rent and pack
Once you’ve picked a campsite, you’ll pack according to your adventure. Packing for car camping, for example, looks very different from packing for bike camping where every ounce matters, as Washington Post homepage editor Chris George detailed for us in 2019.
There are also some surprising essentials you might not realize you need until you need them, like scissors or a clothing line. If you’re not sure you want to camp again or are worried about the cost of buying everything you need, consider renting some or all of your gear from companies like Kit Lender or finding used gear on platforms like Facebook Marketplace or Poshmark.
Skip dehydrated meals
If you’re going on a hardcore trek through the backcountry, you may have to stick with survival basics for food. But if you have the luxury of packing a little more, you can have some amazing meals. Really. All you need is an open fire, maybe a skillet and a game plan.
The key to gourmet success is to plan every meal ahead of your camping trip and, for your sanity, stick to a menu that calls for no more than 10 ingredients or 30 minutes to cook. As you plan those meals (and maybe even cocktails), think of ways you can prep them in advance for easier campsite execution.
Consider an RV
The pandemic brought a surge in RV rentals and purchases. But if you buy one, be warned: You can’t just hop inside and enjoy the ride. In 2020, reporter Andrea Sachs found out just how challenging driving one for the first time can be. Here’s a guide to planning your first trip.
Try camping beyond summer
Many seasoned campers prefer getting their trips in during the fall versus the busier, hotter summer months. But as temperatures begin to drop, sleeping outside can require different rules and gear.
Kevin Long, CEO of the camping app the Dyrt, says fall camping brings the opportunity to appreciate fall foliage up close, and recommends trips in the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevadas, Northeast, Great Lakes region, and New York and Washington states in early October; the Pacific Northwest and Mid-Atlantic in mid-to-late October; and the South and Southwest in late October, early November.
Take extra safety steps for solo camping
As with any kind of solo travel, camping alone comes with its own risks and challenges. If you’re considering, take these precautions from security experts — and words of encouragement.
The first step is to pick a campsite where you’ll feel safe; you might not want to go somewhere remote where you won’t have cell service, for example.
Before you take off, make sure to tell at least two loved ones where you’re going and your estimated departure and arrival times. Don’t, however, post your plans on social media with your exact whereabouts.
Get in touch with the (super)natural world
Fall is the season for haunted houses, ghost tours and Ouija boards. But for the brave outdoorsy types, it can also be the season for haunted camping. A campsite puts you right out in the elements with the rest of the natural (or supernatural) world, like I did in 2021 when I camped at the filming site of “The Blair Witch Project.”
If the idea of being terrified in the woods sounds right up your alley, check out these eight terrifying campsites.
If you don’t want to rough it, glamp
Sleeping on the ground in the woods isn’t for everyone. Glamping takes a lot of the rough out of roughing it while still giving you the experience of being outdoors. You can find glamping pods and yurts, luxurious canvas tents inspired by African safari camps or more budget-friendly options by searching on Glamping.com, Hipcamp and Campspot. Here are more tips on glamping vs. camping.
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Road trips: How to find a rental car | Snacks | National park tips | Rental car disasters | Try Kevin Costner’s road trip app | Trying a fancy bus from NY to DC | How to save on road trips as gas prices soar | What it’s like to rent from Turo
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Camping: Finding a campsite | Plan your meals | Solo camping | First-time tips | Watch out for wildlife | 6 surprising camping essentials
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