Camping 101: Tips for First-Time Campers

Bugs. Dirt. Rain. BEARS! For some, the thought of spending the day outdoors, then crawling into a flimsy tent and sleeping on the damp ground is a nightmare. However, today’s equipment has come a long way and many of our state parks and forests provide great locations for camping newbies.


Tent. Sleeping bag. Sleeping pad. Tarp. Cooler. Canopy. A camping wannabe might look at the list of gear needed for a comfortable night under the stars and feel overwhelmed, and perhaps give up then and there. But the joys of camping are worth the effort!

As with any new activity, it’s always good to ask around to see what you can borrow first. That way, if you decide camping is not for you, you won’t be stuck storing away your “used only once” equipment. Regardless of whether you’ll be borrowing or buying, certain items are essential for a positive camping experience.

Don't be fooled by tent manufacturers' size designations. Unless you plan to backpack, go for a three-person sized tent, which will provide ample space for one to two people, with room for clothes and personal items. It also will be more manageable to set up than a larger tent, which can present a challenge to first-timers.

Some tents nowadays days come with a waterproof base already built in, but most do not. Therefore, having at least one or two 8 by 8 foot tarps on-hand to lay on under your tent (especially if the ground is damp) is essential. The second tarp will come in handy if it rains.

Pro tip: If you like "sleeping in," pitch your tent in as shady an area as possible to prevent the morning sun from waking you.



When at home, the television might be the focal point of your living area. But, when you're camping, the campfire, which provides heat, light and cooking options (at the very least for marshmallows!), will be the center of activity. Therefore, it's important to bring good campfire supplies.

Obviously, firewood is the key ingredient and can typically be found for sale at the campground store/office or for sale by local residents. To prevent the spread of diseases and harmful insects, it is highly discouraged in New York State to move firewood more than 50 miles from its source.

Another important aspect of building a successful fire is dry kindling. You may think, “Oh…I’ll just gather some leaves and sticks from around the campsite” but many campsites may be very well-groomed and nearby kindling picked over by former campers. Plus, if it's recently rained, you may be hard pressed to find dry twigs. Therefore, a fun activity leading up to your trip could be to make some of your own firestarters.


Cooking your meals over a campfire may sound romantic but the novelty usually wears off pretty quickly. Some state campgrounds have grills that can be placed over the fire pit. Some may even provide a separate, stand-alone charcoal grill (charcoal not provided) You may wish to call ahead to see what is available and plan from there. To be on the safe side, pack meals that don’t require full cooking such as pre-cooked chicken that can be heated up over the fire or easy munchies like hot dogs or sausages that can be cooked on a stick. For real foodies, modern cookstoves allow you to cook up almost any gourmet dish you wish.

Remember: food attracts critters! While it’s not usual for a bear to traipse through your site, especially at a busy campground, it's not unheard of. If a campground has a bear problem, you will usually see signs posted about how to prevent encounters between campers and bears. You’re more likely to encounter raccoons or chipmunks clawing into your bags of chips left on the picnic table. Therefore, either pack everything into a sealed container such as your cooler, or hang a bear bag from a tree for the night.


If you are a first-timer or someone in your party is dubious about sleeping without surrounding walls, perhaps look for a location that is relatively close to your home for a first outing. That way, if someone decides they simply cannot handle camping, you won’t have to drive halfway across the state to get them back home.

You can find general information about camping on the state park website, as well as a complete list of locations detailing the wide variety of accommodations and amenities at each location.


When breaking down your site, remove any sign that you were present. Be aware of "Carry In, Carry Out" rules. Bring garbage bags to carry out your garbage (never burn it!) and do a thorough sweep through your site before departing. The next campers will appreciate your consideration.