So, you’ve been toying with the idea of going camping, but you’re not sure it’s for you. My suggestion is that you definitely give it a go, and to help you, I’ve compiled a list of 10 absolute essentials for your very first time camping.
Check it out. You might be surprised. Learn from our mistakes and experiences.
1. A friend who camps
This seems like an odd one but absolutely number one on the list for your first camping outing is to go with a friend who has been camping. No matter how jacked you are, no matter what you pack, if you’ve never gone camping in your life, you should seriously rope in a friend who has camped or camps regularly. Chances are, if they love camping, they’ll be keen. Use this opportunity to ask them where they suggest you book, and what they recommend you bring. Also, they will very likely have all the basics with them so whatever you didn’t think of will be covered.
Yes, beer. Yes, gin & tonic. But more importantly, stuff that will actually keep you hydrated. Whether you’re a water person, or need your juice (add gin later?), or you prefer your hydration in the form of fruit, make sure you pack loads of this. Keep in mind that you’re never more “out in the elements” than when you’re camping, so dehydration and sunstroke is even more likely to get to you than on the usual outings and roadtrips. As a minimum, we have boxes of Rehidrat always available somewhere (in the car, in the hiking bag, in the travel bag, in the snack bag, in the camera bag…). My serious recommendation is that you always take your own supply of water (a 5 litre bottle for every 2 days) as not all campsites are created equal, and not all water will be something you can stomach (literally).
3. The Weather Report
Oh, you planned so much and you’re so excited but there’s a massive thunderstorm warning looming, and it’s predicted for right on top of your campsite. Cancel. Postpone. It’s a bummer, but trust me on this one. Even seasoned campers might pull the plug in certain circumstances. The last thing you need, as a complete newbie, is to be unable to escape thunder and lightning, or find yourself sitting in rain all weekend. Lying down in a tent during a lightning storm is also not recommended, so hiding in the tent is not even a safe option. Check the weather, and make a call if you need to.
Google sure is great, but Google can take you on the most hectic off-road route to your campsite, and you’ll find your Hyundai i10 is not quite up to the 4×4 challenge. Phone the venue, or check their website, for the recommended route. I cannot tell you how many campsites/locations we’ve driven to where the warning is “don’t follow Google Maps“. Having it on as back-up is a good idea, and if there’s signal, it’ll adjust to your new route as you go. Do not rely solely on that. Also print directions beforehand, as some of the best campsites are in the middle of nowhere and have no signal.
5. Booking Confirmation
Oh, the joy of arriving at your campsite after hours and hours of driving, only to find nobody knows about you or your booking. Yes, it’s happened to us more times than I care to admit. Make sure you have a solid, written confirmation directly from the venue. Print it. Keep it. This is especially important when booking through third-party sites e.g. SafariNow or TravelGround. Yes, the booking was paid for and you got that confirmation email from the agent, but did you ever hear from the venue? If not, send them a message or direct email ensuring your booking is known, and has been finalised on their side. Don’t rely on Gmail either. Gmail will not open your (even previously loaded) email in the middle of nowhere with no signal. Print. It. It may not be the best for the environment but neither is driving 10 hours and 800 km for nothing.
6. Offline Time
Don’t be afraid. It is totally possible, and totally okay, to be offline for a weekend. There are very many campsites where signal is not available, and wifi is just not a thing. If your friends and family are prone to panic, send them a message beforehand to say “I might be offline”. Even if there is signal, do try and use the opportunity to disconnect, and enjoy the outdoors. That’s (probably) why you’re there.
Read all that you can into that one. Yes, you might need all of those things you thought of first. But also, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, a raincoat or umbrella, a hat, sunglasses. Basically, protection from the elements. And, if you’re going into a malaria zone (I don’t recommend this for your virgin camping trip), just get the damn malaria meds. Don’t take the “it probably won’t happen to me” approach. If you have doubts about whether this is necessary, I recommend you go read accounts of people who have lived through contracting malaria, and then come and @ me. You might reconsider.
Snacks are a category on their own and should be considered completely separate from food. Whether your camping trip is super laid back or hectically active, snacks are essential. For the road, for the chill, for the poolside vibe, for the bird-watching, for the hiking, for the sunbathing, for between meals … all of it. Snacks.
Snacks are a completely personal thing so what you pack is up to you. I don’t do sugar (it turns me into a crazy person) so I snack healthy(ish) e.g. home-made popcorn, biltong, coconut, yoghurt, cheese, veggies, etc. Travel Gigolo, my partner-in-crime, is a fruit-aholic so his dream snack box consists entirely of fruit.
Whatever you do, overcompensate. People will snack on your snacks, and you will find more reasons to snack than ever before, so always pack way too much. Except for fruit & veg, most things can also be kept for the next trip if, for some bizarre reason, you didn’t finish all your snacks.
9. Your Best Chill
Camping is not this ungainly, uncomfortable, sticks and stones, dirt and bugs, experience that gets thrown around a lot. That’s just the case if you’re not prepared. I mean … yeah, bugs, okay. Spray your tent with insecticide an hour before going to bed to take care of that, and keep it zipped up all the time. Camping should be about being comfortable, warm, happy, and totally relaxed, all in an outdoor setting. So pack what makes you comfortable. Chair? Is it comfy? Win. Mattress? Is it soft, like you like it, or super firm, like you prefer? Yasss. Bring all your blankets and duvets and pillows from home. It’s still a bed and it should be nice and warm and comfy. You wouldn’t expect anything less from any other accommodation. And the ideal camping chair is one you can easily fall asleep in, while sitting in a big tree’s shade on a hot day, without spilling your beer.
10. Good Timing
A great camping weekend has a lot to do with good timing. Making sure you reach your camping destination before they lock the gates, for one (always check times); being on a camping weekend in the right season, for another. Camping in winter is definitely *not recommended* for your very first time. Also, in the middle of the rainy season can ruin a good first time. Remembering to take out the frozen steak you intend to chuck on the braai once you’ve set up camp is yet another. And making sure you get out of the city before the mad Friday traffic rush gets chaotic is critical. Here Google Maps will help you. But the most important aspect of this last essential aspect is YOU. Personal good timing is all about arriving at your destination relaxed, enthused, and happy to be there. Pack the night before, do your shopping in advance, get yourself out of the office soon as your half day leave kicks in (tell your boss it’s all about self-care), and head out on the road in a relaxed fashion, so you don’t have to rush like your life depends on it.
A camping pro? What do you think should be on the list for a first-time camper?
First-time camper? What questions remain unanswered?
For a more tongue-in-cheek rundown of camping essentials, check out Travel Gigolo‘s episode: