I made some pretty stupid mistakes as I stumbled blindly into the world of camping. Some of them were just annoying, while others were actually dangerous.
I’m still here to tell the tale, so I thought I’d let you know about some of my mess-ups so that you don’t have to go through them. Don’t worry; I started camping a lot only a few years ago, so I still remember what it feels like to have no idea what you’re doing!
Now, camping isn’t rocket science, and I don’t want you to feel intimidated.
This article will tell you about ten stupid mistakes that I’ve made while camping, as well as giving you tips for taking care of your tent and having a positive first camping experience. (Try not to judge me too much for my blunders!)
10 Mistakes That Beginners Campers Make
1. Choosing a Tent
The first mistake I made was to ask my parents for the really cute bright yellow tent I saw in the camping store. (It was my 21st birthday and they took me to the outdoor shop to get me a present.)
Bright yellow tents are fine if you’re going to camp only in a registered campground. But if you’re going to be doing any backpacking and wild camping, they aren’t at all what you should be looking for.
Get something subtle like brown or green that blends into your surroundings. You’ll cause less disruption to wildlife, you won’t look like a rookie, and if you’re wild camping somewhere where it’s only ‘tolerated,’ you’re less likely to be asked to move on.
For more help choosing a backpacking tent, check out this article.
2. Pitching Up Near Water
Armed with my ridiculous yellow tent and immaculate boots, I headed out wild camping with ‘all the gear and no idea.’
I found a beautiful lake and pitched right by it. That was my next mistake!
If you pitch right next to still water, you’re going to get eaten alive by mosquitoes. (Yes, my face looked like a pizza.) You’ll also disturb the wildlife that comes down to the lake to drink, so it’s best to set up at a distance and enjoy the water from afar.
For more tips specific to wild camping, check out this article.
3. Keeping Kit in Your Vestibule
My infamous yellow tent was tiny, so I was glad to leave all my kit—including my boots—in the vestibule overnight.
When it started to rain in earnest, I thought my kit was safe out there. Of course, it wasn’t.
The next morning, my shoes were full of water, and the rain had soaked all my kit. Considering that I was camping in the rainy season of Scotland and I had three more months to go in my sopping tent, this was a real bummer.
I had to put my feet in plastic bags and then put on my boots. Let me tell you, that was a pretty sweaty and uncomfortable hike.
So, remember: Vestibules are generally not watertight. You should always bring your hiking boots into the sleeping compartment with you if it’s going to rain.
For more tips about camping in the rain (and actually enjoying yourself), check out this article.
4. Check Your Gas Canister
The next mistake I made was with my gas canister.
(I’m beginning to feel a bit stupid now, but I’d like to point out that I spread out these mistakes over my first three months of wild camping!)
I had just hiked for eight hours through the mountains, and I was so excited to enjoy a nice, hot meal. I got out the new gas canister I bought and… NO. It wasn’t compatible with my camping stove.
So, that night I ate a packet of cookies and cried. Don’t be like me; check that your gas canister is compatible with your stove before heading off!
5. Double Up on Gas
Speaking of gas, I advise that you bring two small canisters instead of one big one if you’re on a longer camping trip.
This is because you’ll know when you’ve used up 50% (when the first canister is dead). You can then pick up another one ASAP, rather than find yourself with half-cooked pasta and cold sauce on a hillside. (Yes, that happened, and I swore very loudly.)
If you want to avoid using gas altogether, here are some ideas for cooking without gas or electricity!
6. Store Your Food Properly
After two long months in my tent, I’d just hiked into town to pick up some food, then loaded up my heavy pack and set back out into the mountains.
I treated myself to a seeded loaf, which I couldn’t wait to fry up with eggs for breakfast. But when I woke up, I found a mouse-sized tunnel from the first slice to the last. Yep, the little guy had eaten his way through my breakfast, instead of taking one piece like a reasonable person would.
The bread was actually in a small nylon bag, but the mouse had fun eating through that, too.
Don’t leave your food in the vestibule! Put it in your backpack and bring it inside your sleeping compartment. If you’re in bear country, you need to be especially careful about strong-smelling foods.
(If you want to know how to keep your food nice and cool while camping, this article should help!)
I think I’ve run out of my stupid mistakes now! Don’t worry, though; I asked my friends about the slip-ups they made when they started camping, and they were happy to chip in!
7. Bring Enough Warm Layers
My husband’s stupid mistake came when he was hitchhiking and wild camping around Europe. He had been wild camping in Spain for a while, so he was used to the climate being nice and warm.
But then he crossed into the desert and underestimated how cold it gets at night.
“If I didn’t have my emergency blanket, I could have died.” (His words, not mine, and he isn’t one for making a fuss!)
So, do your research about the climate and make sure you have a suitable tent, sleeping bag, and warm clothing to sleep safely. Always pack an emergency blanket, too. They are super lightweight and cheap, and they could literally save your life.
8. Check the Weather
My friend James is one of the most competent outdoors people I know. So, it was nice to hear that he started out as clueless as the rest of us. (No offense, James.)
He told me:
“I didn’t check the weather before I headed out to Scafell Pike, so I didn’t know that a storm was rolling in. The skies looked clear in the morning!
Anyway, before I knew it, I was being battered with horizontal rain and I could barely see my hand in front of my face. If I’d have tried to get to lower ground, I could have easily fallen off a cliff face.
So, I wrapped myself in a sleeping bag and huddled behind a rock for about five hours. Trust me, it felt like a week. I had to abandon my plans and walk back to the parking lot. Once I got there, my hands and feet were so cold that I couldn’t drive.
I had to call one of my mates to pick me up. Ten years later, he still hasn’t let it go.”
Now, there isn’t any excuse to not check the weather before you head out for a camp. You should also bring an emergency blanket or shelter with you if you are camping on high ground. Plus, have the number of the mountain rescue team on hand in case you do get into trouble.
9. Set Up Your Tent at Home
This next mistake wasn’t mine, but I suffered for it! (Not that I’m bitter or anything.)
My ex-boyfriend decided to take me camping at the Buffalo River. It was a nice gesture, but after we’d driven for a few hours in his truck and chosen a camping place, he realized he’d picked up the wrong tent bag.
This bag wasn’t his good tent; it was a bag of odd bits from old, broken tents that he kept in case he ever needed replacement parts.
And so, on this most romantic of evenings, he made our shelter out of old, ripped tent walls in many different colors, which he hung from strange angles using a mix of broken tent poles. I woke up in the middle of the night and locked eyes with a raccoon that was peering inside to see what the heck was going on. (Not kidding!)
I’m not one to care what people think, but the look on the warden’s face when he saw our Frankenstein creation haunts me to this day. (And, no, it’s not the reason why we broke up, but I can’t say that this evening helped matters!)
So, please, check your tent before you set off. Even if you’ve got only one tent, pitch it at home and make sure you’ve got all your poles and pegs.
10. Take Proper Care of Your Tent
Ok, this next one isn’t embarrassing, but it’s a mistake that the vast majority of new campers make. Don’t assume that your tent is going to look after itself!
You need to take care of your tent, or it’s going to break down quickly.
Here are some ways to make your tent last longer:
Spray Your Tent
Spray your tent with a fresh silicone coating after it has been used in heavy rain. This will help prevent any leaks. Find out more in this article.
Pitch in the Shade
UV radiation (or sun damage) will break down your tent fibers more quickly than if you pitched up in the shade.
Plus, tents can get hot pretty quickly, so you want to do everything you can to keep your sleeping area comfortable. It’s also worth choosing a decent tent for hot conditions. Otherwise, you’re going to have a lousy night’s sleep.
Check for Leaks
Check for leaks by spraying your tent with water from the garden hose before heading off on a camping trip. (You need to leave enough time for it to dry!)
If you find any weak spots, you can fix them with patches.
Use a Tent Footprint
Despite what many beginner campers think, a tent footprint isn’t supposed to make your tent ‘more waterproof.’ It’s supposed to prevent your tent floor from getting scratched on rocks or plants, so that it won’t wear thin as quickly.
If you want your tent to last a decent time, a tent footprint can be helpful. You might not want to bring one if you’re ultralight backpacking, though. You’ll have to (literally) weigh the pros and cons.
Remember, your tent footprint should be smaller—NOT bigger—than your tent.
If your footprint is larger than your tent floor, water will gather between the layers and slowly seep into your sleeping compartment.
Resealing the Seams
There’s a bit of debate about whether resealing the seams on a tent is worth it. I guess it depends on how much time you have and how much you hate to waste things.
I can’t bear to throw things in the bin before they’re hopeless, so I’d be pretty happy to spend a day resealing my tent seams when they begin to deteriorate.
It’s up to you whether it’s worth the effort, though!
More Beginner Camping Tips
There are a few more tips I’d like to give you before I go, as I frequently see people get confused about these. Here goes!
You need to crack open a vent in your tent, even when it’s cold. (In fact, especially when it’s cold!)
If you don’t do this, you’re going to wake up to condensation all over your tent walls. This is from where your breath has touched the cold material.
You might mistake this condensation for ‘morning dew’ or ‘leaking,’ but I’m afraid it really is your breath. And it’s going to drip all over you if you don’t let enough air through your tent in the night. (Gross, I know.)
You need to dry your tent out completely before you put it into storage. If you have to pack it in your backpack wet for a day, then so be it. (You can’t just wait on a hillside for a week until the weather changes!)
But when you get home, let your tent air dry outside or in the house. This is a good time to give it a quick silicone spray, too.
If you put your tent in the bag before it’s completely dry, you’re going to find mold all over it when you come back to it. Not only does that stink, but it’s hard to get out and can be bad for your health.
Do you know those little ropes on the outside of your tent? They’re called guy lines, and they aren’t there to look pretty!
If you stake them out, you’ll help protect your tent from leaking. This is because the wind can make your outer tent flap and touch your inner tent, which transfers moisture into your sleeping compartment.
So, even if your tent seems secure without the ropes, you’ll have fewer problems with moisture if you go ahead and stake them out.
Tent manufacturers like to write ‘16 person tent!’ on something that would be more suitable for a family of three. (Ok, maybe I’m embellishing a bit, but you get the drift.)
I don’t know why they do it, but you’ll be in for a shock if you buy a 6 person tent and actually plan to use it for six people.
Just remember that the number of people a tent company says can fit in a tent is the number of people who can sleep inside it side by side like sardines in a tin, in sleeping bags rather than on a mattress.
Of course, if you’re thru-hiking, you’re going to have to accept that you’ll be squished up against your tent buddy, or get a solo tent. I’d share a 2 person camping tent only with someone I’d be equally happy sharing a bed with!
Tent Walls Are Not Soundproof!
You might feel like you’re in your own little world in your cozy tent, but don’t forget that tents are not at all soundproof.
If you’re on a camping trip with difficult extended family members, maybe hold back on any complaints until you get home. The other campers are going to hear everything you’re saying, straight through the tent walls!
Also, if things are getting romantic between you and your camping buddy, bear in mind that anyone in a 10-foot radius is going to hear everything going on in your tent. (Just a fair warning!)
The majority of wildfires are accidentally caused by people, many of whom thought a cozy campfire in the woods was a good idea.
To avoid a massive fine and destroying your favorite national park, you need to know how to set a fire safely and only in the right conditions.
I don’t want to overwhelm you with information, so just head to this article to learn more about campfire safety.
I saw a guy write a furious review to Decathlon because his air tent didn’t come with any poles and his ‘family camping trip was totally ruined.’
That poor guy didn’t realize that air tents don’t come with poles… you just pump them up!
I didn’t have the heart to comment back and tell him because I’m pretty sure his family would never let him live it down. But if you do get an air tent, remember: It’s supposed to be poleless!
Here’s my final tip before I leave you to fend for yourself!
Don’t use floral perfume or deodorant before you go camping. You’re going to turn yourself into an enormous bug magnet.
You’d be better off wearing unscented deodorant or going au-natural (you’re in the great outdoors, after all). I’m not being over the top! The potent smells of our chemical products will reach far and wide, and you’ll become a mosquito's dream snack.
This article has given you a lot to digest, so thanks for sticking with me!
To quickly recap, here are the mistakes that you want to avoid making:
1. Don’t choose a flashy tent for wild camping.
2. Don’t pitch up too close to the water.
3. Avoid keeping your shoes in the vestibule, especially if rain is in the forecast.
4. Make sure you’ve got the suitable gas canister for your stove (and bring two little ones, so you know when you’re running out).
5. Store your food correctly, where it won’t attract unwanted visitors.
6. Bring enough warm layers (and an emergency blanket).
7. Check the weather before heading into any altitude.
8. Set up your tent at home, so you know that everything’s in order.
9. Take proper care of your tent so that it can take care of you!
- Spray it with a silicone coating after use in heavy rain.
- Consider using a tent footprint.
- Pitch up in the shade.
- Check for leaks (and patch them up).
10. Crack a vent so that you don’t get condensation.
11. Let your tent dry out properly to avoid mold.
12. Set out your guy lines to keep your sleeping area dry.
13. Remember, tents aren’t soundproof.
14. Don’t light a campfire unless you know what you’re doing.
15. Don’t wear floral perfume unless you want to get eaten alive.
I hope you found this article helpful, and please don’t hesitate to comment with any embarrassing mistakes that you made when you started camping. (It will make me feel better about sharing all my mess-ups with you!)
Rachel is a freelance adventure writer and founder of Highly Sensitive Nomad. When she isn’t writing, she can be found wild camping in the mountains and swimming in the lakes of Europe.