5 Mistakes First-Time Campers Make

  • Campers in a tent on a TrekAmerica camping tour

Not sure how to prepare for your all-American camping trip? No worries! Long-time tour leader and camping expert Chad has let us in on the key things to think about before you settle into your tents...

There you sit, reading over the itinerary of your first TrekAmerica itinerary for the umpteenth time.

But what exactly will you need on this trip? What might be useful, and what will just take up space in your luggage? Trek America is a tremendous way to embark on your first camping trip, and we’re here to help you with five mistakes first-time campers always make and how to avoid them.

TrekAmerica tour campsite with tents and van

1. Choosing unsuitable luggage

Before we dive too deeply into the items that should go in it, let’s take a moment to consider the actual bag/case you will be carting around for a few weeks.

Most treks will combine a number of cities and national parks, which means your baggage will be carted into and out of the trailer daily, into a tent, unpacked, repacked, loaded back into the trailer the following day, and then perhaps carted into a hotel for a nice night’s sleep in a bed.

This bag should be accessible, easily zipped (remember, it will never zip as easily while you are camping as when you first left home, leave some extra space), and easily transported keeping in mind you likely will be in the outdoors where there will not be concrete for the wheels on your luggage to roll.

Backpacks are great, however on your first camping trip, it can become frustrating packing and unpacking the bag every day to reach the raincoat you stored at the bottom of the bag. My personal go to has become a duffle-style bag with backpack straps. It is easily packed, easy to see into for a quick change, and can be easily maneuvered in the close quarter of your tent at night.

Backpacker at the Grand Canyon

2. Packing the wrong clothing/footwear

You’ve picked out your luggage, now it’s time to fill the thing! Some research is crucial for this part, things to consider:

Where does your trek go?

For cities, it could be nice to have some going out clothes but is there really a need for three pairs of going out shoes? Outfits should be easily combined to reduce the number of items needed.

In national parks, hiking boots are nice - but are you an avid hiker planning on big hikes to warrant large boots, or would a smaller pair of hiking trainers work that could also double as walking shoes on easy trails and cities?

What is the climate this time of year?

Open google and do a quick search on the places, chances are you will need a variety of items including a rain jacket and perhaps some pants, just because it is summer does not mean it won’t rain, be windy, or cold. The south is notorious for humid weather and afternoon thunderstorms, being prepared with a light weight rain jacket can make a big difference, also know the difference between water-proof and water-resistant.

How long is the trip?

Chances are you’ll have laundry facilities available a considerable amount of times and saving on space and doing an extra load can make packing/unpacking every day that much simpler. A pair of hiking pants can be worn multiple days hiking, instead of packing a pair for each day. Socks can be a lifesaver, so pack extra. Clean socks after a wet day of hiking will brighten your day faster than a cup of hot chocolate (although that helps too!)

3. Buying the first/cheapest sleeping bag they see

Sleeping bags come in different shapes, materials, and temperature rating and you need to look at all three before purchasing one.

Firstly, ask yourself what kind of temperature does your body typically run at night? I personally run warm, often sleeping with just a sheet most nights. Whereas some might bundle up in PJs, five blankets, and a heater. If you are the latter, you will want to consider a bag with a lower temperature rating (meaning you will stay warmer through the night) and perhaps a synthetic sleeping bag, these are meant to reflect body heat and keep you warm.

If you are a warm sleeper like myself, a lightweight sleeping bag perhaps made of cotton may be best for you, at the very least, you can just lay on top of it if you get warm.

Another thing to consider is the climate you will be camping in. Humidity in the South can be brutal and amplify the heat at night making things unbearable if you bought the wrong bag. Look at the extreme temperatures on the trip, what is the coldest place, hottest place, and perhaps most humid.

Bags come in different shapes as well. Many show up with mummy-style bags prepared to hike in the Himalayas, only to find out that at night, zipped up in their bag, they have little room to move and sleeping becomes a claustrophobic nightmare.

Before leaving, make a point to sleep in your sleeping bag a few nights. If you are uncomfortable sleeping in it on top of your comfortable bed, sleeping on the ground in the Grand Canyon won’t make it any more enjoyable!

 Campers in a tent on a TrekAmerica camping tour

4. Not packing a headlamp!

My most reliable tool on the road is by far my head lamp. Don’t rely on your iPhone flashlight at night, trying to dig through your bag one handed in search of the toothbrush that has fallen to the bottom of your bag. Head lamps can be a cheap but resourceful tool while camping considering many of the locations you will go might not have lights at night to guide you to the washrooms. Head lamps often take inexpensive batteries however nicer models can also be recharged using a USB cable. For the purpose of these trips, most can get away with the battery version and a pack of AAA batteries for the length of the trip you are booking however the rechargeable options provide an incentive for those interested in camping more than once.

 TrekAmerica camping tour tent

5. Having a negative outlook

Everything on this list has been about what you’re packing to go on your adventure, but perhaps the most important thing you need to prepare would be your attitude and expectations. Travelling is often faced with logistical challenges and can often present difficult situations regarding planned activities.

Often trips are faced with weather, traffic, and other unforeseen challenges but rest assured, your guide is ready to reroute, alter plans, and come up with new and sometimes better options, the biggest thing that trekkers can bring, is an open attitude to changing up plans in the name of adventure.

In my experience, the highlights and memories my passengers cherish most, are the moments they did not expect to happen. Turn that rain storm into a reason to dance in the rain. No power or Wi-Fi? Time for camp fire stories. The best thing you can bring on your trek is an open mind and thirst for adventure – and we’ll provide the rest!

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