Even from the most seasoned and savvy camper advice on how, where and why to start camping isn’t as obvious as you might think.
Just ask around.
You’ll be inundated with answers and opinions.
The ‘why’ is probably the easiest to tackle.
We all have our visions and expectations of what it’s going to be like.
Whether it’s first time camping or simply planning the latest trip in a lifelong love affair with the outdoors.
There are so many reasons.
The freedom, the fresh air, the sheer pleasure of being out there. The reasons roll off the tongue.
As for the ‘where’ to start, well, that can be a little less clear cut.
Here’s my take. You want to give yourself the very best chance of making camping a committed, on-going relationship and not just an instantly regretted one-night stand.
It should be a pleasure that draws you back again and again.
If you start off on the wrong foot your passion for camping could be extinguished faster than a campfire in a wet woodland in Wales.
So how to achieve that? Here’s my top tips:
Pick Your Moment
This might not be conventional wisdom. The starting point for most people is buying a tent.
After all, you’ve mentally made the commitment and now you’re itching to go.
But if you buy a tent in deep midwinter, the chances are you won’t be able to resist using it.
As a rookie, that might not be your smartest move.
I’ve camped abroad a fair few times. When you head up north in Western Australia there are really only two seasons – ‘the wet’ and ‘the dry’.
It’s pretty obvious when to get the gear out and head into the bush and when to just stay home.
In Britain it’s not quite so plain sailing.
There are no guarantees when it comes to the weather.
But for your first trip or two give yourself every chance of making life as easy and as enjoyable as possible. If you’re new to camping, pick the warmer, drier months.
Pitching a tent in cold rain when you’re a greenhorn isn’t fast or fun.
Trust me, you’ll have plenty of chances for this later on.
And don’t make your first trip a spur of the moment thing.
There’s definitely a time and place for an off the cuff adventure.
But unchecked enthusiasm and poor planning often go hand in hand.
Take your time, savour the expectations, read and digest some of the five-star advice on The Expert Camper.
Set Your Expectations
What do you want from camping?
A few summer weekends away at excellent campsites with fabulous facilities in coastal Cornwall or the Dales?
Or a fortnight’s trip in early spring to a farmer’s field in the Brecon Beacons?
At this stage you might not know.
However, asking yourself what kind of camper you’re likely to be will put you on the right track and potentially save you lots of money.
Just be honest and realistic with yourself.
Choose Your Tent
Now the fun bit. Picking the right tent. Seasoned campers will have heard, if not actually uttered, the phrase: “All the gear, no idea”.
It can sound a little harsh but it’s rooted in experience (I should actually point out campers on the whole are a really decent bunch and if you’re ever in a pickle help will nearly always be at hand).
Choose wisely when it comes to finding the right tent. Don’t go crazy with the credit card, at least until you’ve done your homework.
Even then spend wisely.
The Expert Camper is full of advice and tips to help you navigate your way through the process. Size matters but so too does shape.
And you’ll be needing to get to grips with hydrostatic heads (crucial if you want to stay dry in poor conditions) and whether you’re likely to be an inflatable, fibreglass or steel kind of camper.
There’s a bit to get your head around.
There’s a mind-boggling array of equipment you could buy.
From sleeping bags to shower cubicles, the camping industry can offer it up.
When you’re a novice, just stick to the basics. Work it out as you go and as your love for camping grows so can your armoury.
Practice Until You’re Pitch Perfect
Many modern tents can be a breeze to put up… but not all.
Whether you’ve bought a tent to sleep one or eight, you should practice putting it up.
Get comfortable with poles and pegs. Understand guy ropes and sliders.
Lay and relay groundsheets. If you’ve bought a stove practice cooking with it. You might be pleasantly surprised what you can manage.
There again, you might be shocked at what you can’t.
The point is if you’ve mastered it all at home you’ll be set fair for the real thing.
Camping is one of the best stress relievers you can find. It can also go the other way if you’re underprepared.
So be kind to yourself and practice your pitch.
Choose Your Spot
There might be a temptation to cast your net far and wide.
Equally, you might have been romanticising an image of wild camping in a remote part of the country.
Resist both urges. For your debut under canvas don’t venture too far.
Give yourself more time camping and less time travelling. It’s another opportunity to take stress out of the equation.
Even if you’ve practiced pitching and striking your tent at home your first experience on location will take longer.
And whatever kind of camper you’re planning to be, I’d suggest you start at official campsites with good facilities.
Life will be easier and more comfortable.
And if you need any help, you’ll be in the warm, welcoming embrace of the camping community. Enjoy.
Arthur Penlington is the former Senior Editor of the BBC TV News Channel. He spent 18 years with the corporation. He covered three wars from the frontlines and stories from five continents.
He’s passionate about travel and the outdoors. After moving to Australia he sold his house and travelled the world for almost eight years. He’s written a top 3 travel humour book – Around The World In Wonder Socks – based on a year backpacking the world with no plan. Destinations were decided by the toss of a coin.
He’s camped in Australia, Asia, Europe and Africa and spent time with a former headhunter tribe, deep in the Borneo Jungle.