The Best Camping Gear for Beginner Campers: 8 Top Picks

A view from the hiking trails of Inks Lake State Park

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As longtime MM readers may remember, I’ve now (somewhat shockingly) got multiple successful camping trips under my belt! I’m frequently asked how the hubby convinced me to “like” camping. To me, the key to this success owes a lot to the gear we bring with us for each trip, so here are my recommendations for the best camping gear for beginner campers.

A bottle of champagne with a camfire in the background

  1. Alcohol. 

Ha, you thought my first thing was going to be a tent or something, didn’t you?! But no. The most important element to make camping fun your first time out? A little of the sauce. You’re going to be working hard putting up your tent, hiking, fishing, cooking over a temperamental campfire. Trust me, you’re gonna want a few cold ones at the end of a nice long day in the great outdoors. A few brewskis in and everyone’s campfire stories start to get a little funnier as well. Take plenty of beer.

  1. A bigger tent than you “technically” need.

Ok, ok, now I’ll get to the tent. The first thing you need to know about camping tents is they’re woefully mislabeled. A tent marked for 1 person? It’s possibly for a child. One marked for two people? Also still for a child. If it’s marked for 3 people, you can probably fit one person comfortably. If you’re trying to fit you and your significant other in there, make sure you choose one marked for 4 people or more, and if you’re bringing the family, just go ahead and get the biggest tent you can find.

We use a Coleman 8-Person Red Canyon Tent, that we ordered off Amazon. Some nice features of our tent is that the poles are color-coded, making set-up really quick. It also comes with a rainfly, which is handy when a surprise shower pops up (we’ve actually been through a hail storm in ours). And, at its tallest point, I can stand up straight in the tent instead of having to constantly be bent over while trying to get dressed or do chores. It’s a winner!

  1. Tailgating Chairs (with a cupholder)

A lot of campsites will provide you with a picnic table, but there’s often not a great place to sit around your campfire ring after you’re done with your meal. And given that you probably aren’t going to feel like going to bed as soon as the sun goes down, that means you’ll need some extra chairs if you’re going to be comfortable. (And don’t forget the built-in cupholder for all those beverages you’re bringing in step one.)

We have a pair of tailgating chairs with our favorite team on them, that fold down into a small carrying cases. It’s also nice to have our “team” prominently displayed on our chairs, as it’s a nice campground icebreaker, and we’ve often enjoyed meeting other campers who’ve commented on our chairs.

Multicolored Mystic Campfire

  1. Mystic Fire

Alright, this one is just stupid fun.  They’re little packets that you throw in your campfire to turn your fire various colors – green, blue, pink, purple, red, etc. Each packet lasts about 30-40 minutes, and provide a lot of fun for kids or adults. It gives you something fun to enjoy after dark other than just gorging yourself on s’mores (no judgement!)

  1. A Well-Seasoned Cast Iron Skillet

It seems the gear beginner campers are probably most concerned about are cooking-related items. They think they’re going to need all kinds of camp stoves, water filters, collapsible utensils, etc. And all those things can be nice and useful, if you’re going off-trail backpack camping. But if you’re just a beginner car camper, you’ll cover 90% of your camp cooking needs with one single item: a cast iron skillet.

With a good, well seasoned skillet, you can make pizza, stir-fry, pancakes, pasta, eggs…basically anything you like. The key, though, is knowing how to work with cast-iron. Here’s a great video from Tasty on how to clean & season cast iron:

  1. A battery-powered radio

But, wait, you say! Aren’t I supposed to be soaking up the sounds of nature? Well, yeah. You should. But if you’re headed to a state or national park? You’re probably not going to be even close to alone. Which means that you’re going to be hearing a lot of your neighbors.

If you don’t want to be subject to their taste in music, or the delightful sounds of Boy Scouts shrieking while on their first snipe hunt, or perhaps your frisky neighbors’ lovemaking, then a radio can come in pretty handy. Even better, get a combo AM/FM/Weather radio, and you’ll be well-prepared in case some bad weather heads your way, too.

Fishing gear for beginners should always make your camping gear list

  1. Fishing Gear

I never thought I would say this but fishing is…fun? Yeah. It is. It’s kind of like gambling. How long are you going to have to wait until you hook the big one? And the really nice part about fishing gear is you can actually get started for cheap. We got the cheapest rods & tackle box we could find on Amazon…paired with a $5 bucket of worms from any bait shop, and the result is almost always at least a few fish!

Even better, at least in Texas, fishing from the shore of any Texas State Park is FREE – you don’t need a fishing license to catch there. So it’s a great place for beginners to learn.

  1. Some friends

Along with alcohol, you want to know another sure-fire way to make your camping experience more fun? Bring some friends. You can set up races to see who can set their tent up the fastest, take turns making meals, and share stories around the campfire after the sun sets. Plus, the more friends you take, the more folks you can convert to the camping lifestyle.

Beautiful sunsets over Inks Lake State Park like this one are possible with the right camping gear for beginner campers

And that’s it. Really, you don’t need a lot of “stuff” to get started having fun camping. Just take an open mind, the right camping gear for beginner campers listed above (and perhaps a little bug spray!) and you might just find you’re a natural-born camper after all. Or…at least enough of a camper to happily accompany your husband on camping trips a few times a year, like me.

Are you going camping this summer? Share where you’re headed in the comments!

Whitney

  • Nikki Kelly

    I have got camping on my ‘To Do’ list and this list is great! When the first picture was a bottle of Moët, I immediately thought, this is the kind of camping I could do!!

    • I’d never been until I married my husband. As long as you take it in short trips (no more than 2-3 days at a time, is my preference), and of course pack plenty of that Moet, then it’s really not bad at all! 😉

  • Made Adayasa

    I never do camping but seems like very interesting and fun . All your tip is such interesting things to follow . Especially the first one with Moet pictures , that’s would be a lots of fun .

  • Sona Sethi

    We have a beautiful camping area by the beach in Singapore and my husband has been badly wanting to invest in a camping gear. I am sure he would love to get some ideas from here.

    • Wow! Camping on the beach in Singapore sounds way more glamorous than camping on a lake in Texas…you should totally do it!

  • Camping is something that I have wanted to try a long time ago. I should find time to do it. Agree with you on the tent. A friend once said that you should always allot an allowance when buying tents.

    • Agreed. I don’t know who they’re measuring when they set the # of person designations for tents, but they’re clearly a whole lot tinier than I am!

  • Laura Dove

    Hahah I love that alcohol is at the top of the list! To be fair it would be at the top of mine with my four children! Camping is something we haven’t attempted yet!

    • Oh, definitely. We see lots of families when we go camping, but I think mom & dad have definitely earned some Baileys for their morning coffee if they take 4 kids along for the ride!

  • Hahah love the bottle of champagne. I’ve never been camping and it’s not something i’m interested in doing but this was a fun post

  • Growing up, our family went camping all of the time. Those days are some of my best memories. You’re so right about having a big tent .. it’s an absolute must (especially when you have to bunk with your annoying little brother!) x

    • Ha! I never went camping as a child, but those sound like delightful memories. Why not plan a trip with that (now-grown, I’m assuming) little brother and relive some memories? 🙂

  • kathryn Maher

    I love your optimistic approach to camping. You sound like great fun. I love your tips on making a camping trip as successful as possible. Your tip on tent sizing is a very apt one and one to consider for future camping trips.

    • Absolutely. Another tip on tents: make sure you find one with good air vents. All that hiking and sporting can lead to a lot of interesting smells, haha.

  • Amalia

    Hi, this is going to chance my camping, was never a fan but your tips make it look so easy!

    • It’s really not so bad. Honestly, I’d still prefer a nice 5-star-hotel, but I do enjoy the hiking elements, and I like to treat the campfire cooking as my own personal “Top Chef” style challenge 🙂

  • Haha I have to admit the minute I saw alcohol I immediately went from seeing camping as ‘NO’ to I’ll give it a crack. LOL good ol’ alcohol

  • Thanks for these tips, Whitney 🙂 We’ve decided to go camping in the Cote d’azure, France later on this year and we will DEFINITELY be buying some of those mystical fire sachets! The kids will love em!
    Totally agree with the oversize tent and Alcohol to numb the pain also!

    • Absolutely – and in France, you should be able to get the best of the best champagne for your trip as well! Thanks for stopping by, Mike!

  • That setting looks amazing. I always imagine camping in the woods with creepy bugs around. You make it sound like such fun! 🙂

    • Well…if I’m being honest, there were definitely a fair share of bugs as well. But again, that’s why you want a good NEW tent – so that you can make sure there are no entry points for creepy crawlies! And, as I learned from experience – always keep the tent fully zipped, even when you’re not in it!

  • Nice stuff you mentioned, I’m glad I’ve come here. Actually I’m just about to start my camping journey, so this is helpful.

  • David Elliott

    This all looks like so much fun. I haven’t brought alcohol camping and as long as you are in a safe place it sounds like fun. And a bigger tent than you need is actually essential I think.

  • Pam

    This is awesome, thank you for sharing! I have never been camping before, but my husband keeps telling me how much fun it can be, Definitely going camping this summer though 🙂

  • Ana Ojha

    These are awesome tips! I liked the last one as company of good friends are more important to make your camping memorable!