June 19, 2020

Beginners Guide to Camping

Beginners Guide to Camping

You've been stuck inside the house due to the corona virus pandemic.  It's now summer and the family vacation you had planned is no longer looking like a safe way to spend your time.  Camping is an incredible alternative!  But here's the rub - you've never been camping before.

The thought of finding the right gear to bring and a campground that's actually open is completely overwhelming.  We believe you and your family shouldn't miss out on your summer vacation.  Life is too short to give up on the 2020 family vacation!  You and your kids shouldn't miss out on everything this year because of this virus.  This is why we've created a simple beginners guide to camping for you.

Here's the plan: 

  1. Buy a tent (and a few other essential gear items)
  2. Practice in your backyard or living room
  3. Find a campground close to home and stay for a few nights

Follow this step-by-step guide so you can stop missing out on the adventure and instead have a family vacation you will always remember.

The Tent-Purchase

There are so many tents to choose from out there.  Where should you even begin?  I'll give it to you straight.   Core Equipment tents are the simplest for beginners.  Heck! They're the simplest for advanced campers too!

Disclaimer: We are not affiliated with Core Equipment in any way.

Our family has gone through many tents.  And all of these tents took at least an hour to set up.  It takes way too much time to connect the poles and string them through those tiny holes.    

This new east-up concept is a serious game changer.  Here's our personal testimonial:  last weekend we camped with our Core tent for the first time.  It set up in 1 min, 45 seconds and weathered a 4-hour hail storm on the first night.  You can't beat that!

Click here for Core's main website and here for the link to our Amazon affiliate site.

I suggest getting a tent that fits at least 2 more people than are going on the camping trip.  This way you'll have a little bit of walking room inside of the tent space.  Also, we have a 5-person family and bought a 10-person tent.  No shame.  We like the overhead lights but they are not necessary if you want to save some money.

Putting some kind of ground cover or tarp under your tent will help protect your tent.  Make sure to purchase a tarp that is the exact size of the tents' footprint.  If you have a larger tarp, just tuck the sides under the tent.

Other Essential Gear List

Sleeping bags - don't over-think this if you are a beginner.  A 30-70 degree down or synthetic sleeping bag is perfect.  The Kelty Galactic 30-degree is my favorite.  This bag even comes in different lengths! 

Pillows - bring your own

Flashlight - please tell me you have one

Lantern -  this is our favorite lantern  

Sleeping pad or air mattress - Sleeping pads set up quicker but you might find an air mattress is more comfortable.  Here are links to my favorites in each category.

  Klymit for best sleeping pad (get extra wide)

 Aerobed - quick and easy inflation and deflation  

Campfire chairs - we go local Sacramento for our camping chairs.  But get anything that works!

 The Directors chair makes getting up and down for kid responsibilities easy.

 This is Ryan's top pick.

Firemaking Gear - long lighter, wood (purchase t the campground or in the area of the campground), firestarters, 5-gallon bucket (use your toilet bucket)

Outdoor toilet -  This totally depends on where you go.  Most campgrounds for beginners are going to have toilets.  This being said, bathrooms are a highly contagious area for virus's and ick in general. 

We own a luggable loo and use plastic bag liners and kitty litter.  This isn't going to work for everyone though.  On a recent camping trip, my friend brought a Cleanwaste Portable Toilet System.  This was a game changer for my kids.  They were much more comfortable with the privacy of the Cleanwaste set up.

 Luggable Loo

  Cleanwaste Portable Toilet System

Quick rant - DO NOT LEAVE YOUR WASTE (including toilet paper) laying around the camp.  Take care of your business in the bag, tie it up and throw it out in a trash can.  Disrespecting the land is the quickest way we can all lose our freedom to get outdoors and camp.  Leave no trace.

The Trial Run - Camping at Home

To build your confidence with camp set-up, it's gonna be important to set your tent up at home before you go.  I recommend spending a night in your back yard to make sure you and everyone else is totally comfortable.  Last minute bailout is way easier to handle when you're a few feet away from your comfy bed.

Try to keep the overnight trip as real as possible too!  Bring your fabulous new toilet into the backyard with you.  If you have a fire ring outside, use it to roast up some marshmallows.

If you want to really build your confidence, pack up a cooler and make dinner outside.  The more you experience on the trial run, the more you're going to understand what to expect when the real trip happens.

Finding the Perfect Campsite for your Camping Trip

It's not easy to figure out what campgrounds are actually open and with availability for camping right now.  I recommend finding a campground about 2 hours or less from your home.   If you need to go further out than that because of what's available right now, make sure you have the phone number of the local hotel.  You're not gonna need it but it'll feel good to have.

You'll notice that this list doesn't include coastal camping.  There are certainly many campgrounds on the coast that Ryan and I would both quickly recommend.  Most are run by state or county parks and book up in December when the reservations open.  If you are a first-time camper, try camping in the foothills or Sierra first.  Then plan for coast camping in December of 2020 for your 2021 camping trip.

You are able to view 360-degree photos and campground maps of each of the listed campgrounds on the Campgrounds360 website.  The resources available to you at Campgrounds 360 is intended to increase your confidence.  Especially as a new camper, it really helps to see where you are headed before you go.  

Sacramento Area

  • Peninsula Campground (Folsom Lake SRA)
  • China Flat
  • Union Valley Reservoir (Wolf Creek, Yellow Jacket and West Point Campgrounds...)
  • Rollins Lake
  • Pinecrest

Tahoe Area

  • Fallen Leaf
  • Donner Memorial
  • Boca Reservoir
  • Proser Lake
  • Indian Springs

Arnold Area

  • Big Meadow
  • WaKaLu Hep-Yo

Yosemite Area

  • Moccasin Point

Bakersfield Area

  • Goldledge Campground
  • Limestone Campground
  • Wishon
  • Spring Cove
  • Quaking Aspen


  • Dorabell
  • Dinkey Creek

Please reach out to us personally if you have difficulty finding a campground that fits your needs.  It's going to be difficult to find a location last minute but it's not impossible.  

Finally, something is going to go wrong.  Something always goes wrong or unplanned.  Laugh a lot at yourself and bring a lot of grace for yourself.  As long as you get outdoors, it'll be a win!

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