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Camp Set Up For First Time Campers

Ok, you’ve purchased or rented the gear, packed the car, got everyone to the campsite, checked in and now you’re camping for the first time! Now what? How do you actually set up all this camping gear?

Camp Site Set Up:

Step 1: Snack

It’s important to fuel up, so have a snack. The next steps take some teamwork, and no one wants to work with a hangry team. Eat an apple sauce pouch, cheese and crackers or a protein bar, something quick so you can get the campsite set up and start enjoying the fun part of camping with your family.

Crackers with spray cheese on a camping picnic table

Step 2: Tent Placement

First part of setting up your campsite is pitching the tent. Don’t grab it and throw it just anywhere. LOOK at the site and all it offers. Where is the sun going to shine when it rises? Where are the other campers likely to pitch their tents? Where is the campfire pit and where will the smoke likely blow? Where are the trees that might drop acorns or large branches on your tent?

Tent set up near a picnic table, camp stove and camp chairs near the picnic table

And last and most important, where is the largest spot of flat land without rocks and tree roots? You’re likely going to have to ignore everything else and pitch the tent there. 

If there is not flat land, pitch your tent such that your feet will be going downhill, you don’t want to roll down during the night and you for sure don’t want to sleep with your head lower than your feet.

Step 3: Unpack the car

Don’t unpack the whole car. You don’t need everything out right away and you don’t want your stuff spread out all over to get dirty and be tripped over. Unpack the essentials first. Make a note of what you want easy access to right away and pack those items last next time you go camping. For us, we usually want the cooler either inside the car or one of the first things unpacked.

Truck packed with camping gear. Blue and green tote bins, camo duffel bag, camping chairs, propane cannister, drinks, cooler, air mattress in box and stuffed animals

Once the tent is up, put the sleeping stuff in it. Blow up air mattresses and set up sleeping arrangements right away. No one wants to do it at bedtime and if you need to use a loud air pump, your fellow campers won’t like the noise past quiet time either. Most air mattresses need a slight refill right before bedtime anyway as they relax and work the creases out. You’ll also realize if one of the sleeping mats isn’t in good working condition and figure out a way to fix it BEFORE it’s bed time and everyone is super tired. 

The kitchen box and campfire accessories are the next things you’ll need. Set up shelter and food, everything else is optional.

Step 4: Start a campfire

Starting a fire always takes longer than you think and you want to have a nice fire going before it’s dark. You also may want a good bed of coals for cooking over and that takes even more time, so it’s best to get the fire going right way. Also, one of my main goals when camping is to sit near a fire and do nothing, so it’s best to start early. 

Campfire log cabin style

If you have more than one capable person, the sleeping items can be set up and the fire can be started at the same time. Then set up your camp chairs so you’re all set to relax!

Step 5: Figure out the next meal

Our first camping meal is often dinner. Get things prepped, get tinfoil dinners wrapped, get water boiling if that’s what’s needed. It’s very easy to start relaxing and having fun and before you know it, it’s dark and the whole family is hangry again. Get water from the closest spigot or start filtering it from a nearby lake or stream. Always get more water than you need. Have an easy meal ready for the first night, as complicated cooking is the last thing you want to do after setting up camp.

Dehydrated camping meal pack, biscuits and gravy

Dehydrated meals are always easy to make and a lot of them are very tasty! Our favorite is Biscuits and Gravy, it’s not just for breakfast!

Step 6: Set up creature comforts

Set up your screen tent, your tent or awning lights, your hammock, clothes line, camp games and blow up chairs. Get the rugs out to prevent dirt from sneaking into your tent while you’re setting everything up.

Step 7: Enjoy camping with your family!

Sit by the fire. Play some camp games. Nap in the hammock. Eat dinner or have a snack like Jiffy Pop popcorn.

Woman sitting in a red camp chair cooking popcorn over a campfire

If you’ve forgotten something, either figure out the closest store, ask a fellow camper if you can borrow something from them or figure out how to do without it. This is camping, occasionally part of the fun is having camper pie filling on pancakes because you forgot the syrup!

Write down what you need to pack next time in a notebook, and update your packing list accordingly.

That’s all there is to it. Now you know how to get out there and scurry around!

Happy Camping!

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