10 Things All First-time Campers Must Know — What I Failed to Tell my Siblings

February. Midnight. I woke up from a dream, trying to pinpoint where I was. Had my sister and I fallen asleep while watching a movie? But then, why was she pressed up against my back and shivering? Come to think of it, why was my nose a block of ice?

I blinked a couple times and my scattered thoughts arranged themselves. My sister and I were squeezed into a singular sleeping bag; I could hear my brother rustling in the nearby tent.

I had taken my siblings camping, and I hadn’t prepared them well at all. So, as a way to balance the karma scales, let me tell you, random internet reader, the Top 10 Things All First-time Campers Must Know

1. It Gets Cold at Night


So, I’m a light packer. Some might say an overly light packer. Let me give you an example: Say, I’m considering whether or not to bring an extra blanket on a camping trip. These are the two scenarios I envision:

  • Scenario A. I bring the blanket and have to lug it when we get to the campsite, when we switch campsites, on the way back from the campsite, etc.
  • Scenario B. I sleep a total of two hours because I’m freezing cold.

Scenario B is much preferable to me. With full knowledge, I do not bring extra blankets. Sure, I suffer at nighttime, but it’s worth it to me. Unfortunately for my siblings, in copying me they also didn’t bring extra blankets or jackets. And I failed to mention that the tradeoff was a semi-miserable night.

And that’s how I wound up waking up several times to my sister pressing her whole shivering body against me in the one sleeping bag we had brought. Oops.

2. It Might Still be Cold in the Morning

If you’re a southern American comfortably in the middle class, the concept of waking up without feeling in your nose might be foreign to you. It definitely was to me before my first camping experience! Not only does it rarely fall below 40 degrees, but central heating keeps our homes nice and warm. At least it’s warm enough that we can dart to the bathroom without worrying about frostbite.

But outdoor winter mornings are cold. Even in the south. When you wake up, leaving your sleeping bag means stepping into thirty degree weather.

At this point, I’ve been camping so many times that it doesn’t surprise me. But again, I failed to warn my siblings. They were so unprepared that they forced me to forgo the morning hike and we headed home right away.

3. You Might Hear Wildlife

Have you ever watched a movie like the Little Mermaid or Lion King and wished that real-life animals could break into song too? I definitely did. But the more I have immersed myself in nature, the more I’ve realized that actual nature is filled with symphonies.

The first time I experienced such music, I was more inclined to call it omens of death. Rustling might be a venomous snake. A cracked twig might be a hungry bear. But after years of working as an ecologist, I know the rustling is far likelier to be a thrush and the cracked twig a deer. And even when the sound is clearly a predator, I rest easy knowing that humans are not their first choice of prey.

But perhaps I should have explained to my siblings that the howling coyotes were not even remotely interested in us.

4. You Won’t Have an Overflowing Pantry

My brother is a teenage boy. Food disappears from his system in seconds. It doesn’t help that he exercises constantly. Exhibit A: tree pull-ups as soon as we arrived on-site.

So…maybe I should have brought more than one Cliff Bar per person per day on the trip…In my defense, when working as an ecological technician, one is so busy that there isn’t much time for snack breaks. I forgot that leisure trips didn’t come with the same time crunch. And the one other snack I did bring–Jiffy Lube popcorn–was a flop. I forgot to rip off the cardboard and the popcorn burnt.

First time campers, be warned! If you’re going to be hungry, bring many snacks!

5. You Should Bring a Pillow

My exaggeratedly light packing rears its head once more on this point. If the choice is between carrying a pillow around or sleeping on my arm, then I always choose the latter. Usually, it’s warm enough that I can use my hoodie as a pillow anyway. This camping trip it was not warm enough.

Though I knew what I had signed up for, my siblings once more paid the price. So, if you would like a comfy sleeping situation, then don’t forget your pillow! They even have foldable camping pillows that take up little room (I still prefer no pillow though).

6. You Won’t Have Cell Reception

No cell reception. That is my favorite thing about camping. Truthfully, this isn’t always the case. There’s usually a cell tower somewhere nearby. But, even if there is reception, I encourage you to pretend there is none! Spending long periods of time without access to my phone has been one of the best parts of my career. Exhibit A–tree climbing and staring at the sky. And, in my case, failing to do tree pull-ups.

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Even though we did get cell reception on this camping trip, phones were off limits. My siblings are adults, but I still claim eldest child privileges every now and then.

7. There is no Dishwasher

Modern amenities have made life extremely convenient. A couple minutes and a press of a button is all it takes to clean dishes. While camping, it’s a little more complicated than that. Not only do you need to transport your own water, but the soap and sponge. And if it’s cold, washing the dishes is that much more unpleasant.

But here’s the trick! While camping, I assign everyone a bowl and spork. Everyone is responsible for cleaning their own dishes. That means, if you’re okay with licking the peanut butter off your spoon and calling it good, then I’m not going to stop you. And no one better stop me.

8. Our Planet is a Treasure

I’ve given a lot of warnings thus far, but let me tell you about the magic of camping.

People walked out of the movie theatre after both Avatar 1 and 2 wishing they lived on Pandora. We forget that Pandora was inspired by our earth. We are the ones with the beautiful planet. And there’s no better demonstration of this than…well, anything in nature.

Camping is an encounter with the beauty and treasure that is our planet. From the intricate bird song’s to the microscopic decomposers to the dancing fireflies. Even in the scraggy Texas Hill Country, beauty surrounds us (read more about my love of Texas here).

9. The Moon is Bright

Growing up, I was a voracious reader. I especially loved fantasy. So often, nighttime scenes were ethereally described. His eyes gleamed in the moonlight. Or The ocean was bathed in the white light of the moon. Honestly, I thought it was just poetic nonsense. The moon wasn’t bright. Otherwise, I would be able to see at night, right?

The first time I went camping, I was proved wrong. Without street lights or phone screens, our eyes naturally adjust to the darkness. Turns out, the moon really is bright! Bright enough to see the widening of my sister’s eyes as she discovered it for the first time.

10. Don’t be Afraid to Ask Questions

Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Camping for the first time is a big thing! I was worried that it was too late for me to learn the ropes. Most of my camping friends had years of experience under their belt. Yearly family camping trips, boy/girl scouts…Could one learn to camp as an adult!


Camping was out of my comfort zone, but choosing to try it has been one of the best decisions of my life. The more experienced campers in the group were more than happy to show me the ropes. And now, I’m the one that shows the ropes to others. So, if you’re a first time camper, don’t be afraid! Take the plunge!

Are you a seasoned camper? Leave a comment for the first-time campers!

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