Summer is nearing its end, but with more and more people having staycations rather than going abroad, camping is naturally very high on peoples radar. It’s one of the best and cheapest ways to enjoy your time away from work whilst feeling in touch with the outdoors. I was fortunate in having a childhood full of summer memories playing in campsites, making new buddies and scoffing bacon butties. From these past experiences and taking tips and tricks from people over the years I have created my list of the basic equipment and advice for someone who may be trying out camping for the first time.
First time in a tent?
Depending on the price and where you decide to go amenities in campsites can differ greatly. I’ve been in campsites with beautifully heated tiled showers, but I’ve also been to some with only basic toilets and cold showers. So my first bit of advice is this: if you want a pleasant family camping experience then there is some planning needed before hand, especially in amenities that you feel comfortable using.
Make sure to choose an area that you think your family or camping buddies will have fun in. If it is your absolute first time then maybe consider somewhere closer to home, just incase things don’t go so well.
Camping is generally quite cheap but prices can vary by both time of year and location, so be wary of this when looking around.
In most campsites there is also the added bonus of electric hookups so if you want to charge phones, have an electric light or plug into the cool box it’s a good way to go. However I do suggest going electric free as it can bump up the price. It’s also quite liberating spending more time with your family and friends and less time looking at your phone.
A decent tent
The most important part! Tents come in all shapes and sizes so whether you are wanting a small 2 person tent or a much larger family size tent, try before you buy. From experience I have always gone with one person size larger then I needed, so a 3 person for 2 people for example. It gives you that extra bit of space, which sometimes needed if you have a lot of stuff. If you’re going away with a family, tents can come with various compartments, which is a great way to separate the inner tent area, (where the ‘living room’ and bedrooms are) for your special belongings and the outer tent area is a good place to store food.
Tents I would recommend include Vango and Outwell. There are some great deals online but I suggest heading to a tent showroom, whether it be Ellis Brigham or Go Outdoors where you can test them out before you buy. If this is your first camping experience and you are unsure, why not ask a friend to borrow theirs.
If you can’t hack a sleeping mat grab a camp bed. They are portable, easy to put up and it will make you feel more at home. No more backaches in the morning.
This is one of the more important items as you need to keep warm. In the UK it doesn’t generally get into freezing temperatures on a normal campsite so you don’t need anything too technical, but it can still get quite cold at night. Vango do some great sleeping bags in funky colours. You can read about a couple we tested here.I would advise each person getting a singular sleeping bag rather than a double as it’s more comfortable and much easier to move around. If you are worried about warmth, take an extra blanket or two as this is also great for outside by the campfire. I also take a pillow from home for that extra bit of comfort.
Camping stove and utensils
There are so many options out there now and I love the 5 in one or many utensils in 1 as it saves space. Just remember to bring gas and a small cooker. You will also need cutlery and cups for tea and coffee. Get tin or metal materials rather than plastic or paper so you are doing you bit for the planet.
To store your milk and other items. Trust me the next morning when you want that cup of tea and a full english it’s worth it!
Always a must as sitting on the ground can get a little cold and sore. They give you that extra bit of comfort and most of them hold your drink too! Bonus!
Added extras – for the more luxurious
Blow up beds
You might think this is a bit too much but I have done it and it is pure luxury. The only downside is it can deflate a little in the night so you will have to top up with air every day – make sure you have the right air pump and adapter/batteries!
These types of appliances nowadays always pack down small so if you have the space inside the middle of the tent, take a camping table. You will be happy when the heavens open and you are all sat inside with electricity and something to all gather around.
Taking the kids?
Taking the kids for the first time. Why not try out your tent in the garden beforehand and do an overnight camp with the kids. Hopefully they will find this exciting and will be looking forward to the next camping trip!
Wild camping is on the other side of the scale. For the more adventurous who want to be away from it all, then this style of camping is definitely for you. This will feel a lot more basic as you can only take as much as you can carry but for some, that in itself is luxury.
Wild camping in England and Wales isn’t actually legal (albeit in some national parks) but Scotland seems the way to go. They are still pretty relaxed about this.
If you are thinking about being a fire starter to get some gooey marshmallow goodness, or maybe just to keep warm, make sure you know how to safely control a small fire and know the rules on campfires.
Pros and Cons
Camping on a site
- It’s there ready for you and some may even have entertainment such as a park for the children to release some energy in.
- There are toilets, showers and washing up areas.
- You can if you want have an electric hookup for added comfort.
- It can get really busy in the summer months at peak prices. Great for families but if you don’t have kids you might not want all the noise and all the extra amenity use.
- Some campsites might not take pets (dogs)
- It is truly wild and nice and quiet and private
- Its free!
- No toilets, no shower, you might feel gross
- Wild camping is illegal in many parts of England and Wales so head up to Scotland where it’s more chilled out. You could also ask a farmer to use his field. If you are unsure there are many links online
My useful tips (from experience!)
- Always take loo roll, a spare towel and maybe even some hand sanitiser.
- Take a solar light/torch/headtorch (for when you need to pop out to the loo at night!)
- A pack of playing cards – to entertain
- A pocket knife – for many bits and pieces. To open cans of food, open a bottle of beer, but mainly to whittle a stick when you are having smores/marshmallows around a toasty campfire!
- First aid kit/medications
- Sun cream – so you don’t burn
- Insect repellent or citronella candles – as they can be bitey!
- A road map – this might feel quite old school but if all the GPS/phone signal fails you still have a way of navigating.
- Prepare for all weathers. We live in the UK, we all know what it’s like so remember to take clothing for the sun, the wind, the rain and the cold!
If you have never tried out camping before go for it. There is something for everyone, whether you want to camp in a controlled area, go fully wild or even have that added glamping luxury. Camping really does make you feel more in touch with the outside world and nature and it is a great way to socialise with friends and discover what the UK has to offer. Just make sure to plan in advance, know the rules and most importantly enjoy yourself!
Many of the big outdoor companies have their own checklists and tips – check them out below!