Camping 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Roughin’ It

camping 101 a beginners guide to roughing it

Have you been thinking about getting away for a weekend with family or friends for a great camping adventure? Maybe you’re hesitant because you feel unprepared and inexperienced. Well I’m going to show you just how easy it can be to head out camping – even if you’ve never done it before.

Prepare Yourself for Camping

Failing to prepare for a camping trip can quickly turn your dream vacation into a nightmare that you can’t wait to forget. It’s important to familiarize yourself with your equipment, surroundings, and vacation plans before hitting the road.

  • Learn as much as you can about camping. Reading our camping guides is a good place to start (Congratulations, you’re already working on this one!)
  • Spend a night camping out in your back yard. This will get you familiar with sleeping outside in your tent, while you can still run into the house for supplies, a bathroom, food, etc. This is an especially good idea if you have kids. A back-yard camp out isn’t very intimidating, and as long as you have marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers, they’ll love it!
  • Research area campgrounds – You definitely don’t want to be out in the wilderness for your first time camping, so take some time to investigate the campgrounds around the . Some are state-run, some are private. Some are on the lake or river, and some are just in the woods. Find out what works best for you and your family. Tip: Kids love water, so choosing a campground on the lake will make entertaining the kids more manageable.
  • Buy your gear – If you’re not sure what to get, take a peek at our camping check-list. Most of your equipment can be found at a sporting goods store.
  • If you have some borrowed gear, or gear from a few years ago, You should should do a thorough check of the equipment to make sure there are are no rips, tears, or other signs of wear. Borrowed tents and sleeping bags may need some airing out.

Plan Your Trip

Now that you know what campgrounds are available, pick one and make a reservation. It’s a good idea to reserve a campsite, especially during peak season and holiday weekends.

Know how many days you are staying. You should plan the right amount of meals, and prepare what you can ahead of time. We have plenty of camping recipes and easy meal ideas for you to try. This will make your trip much more relaxing, and you won’t be running out of food (or lugging around way too much of it).

What town is your campground in? What nearby attractions can you visit during your stay? You should find these things out before you arrive at your campsite (and we have all the resources you need!). You should also know where you find camp wood for sale, plus ice, bait, and other items that you will need to purchase during your camping trip.

If you need some help choosing activities, check out our things to do page. It’s chalk full of ideas including from boating, hiking, local beaches, shopping, and other great attractions!

What to Pack and How to Pack It

As mentioned before, we have a great camping checklist to guide you as you prepare for your vacation. Start collecting your gear in a vacant corner of your home and add things as you buy them or think of them.

Pack your in a sports bag. They are flexible, easy to carry, and easy to tuck in a corner of your tent.

Pack dry food items and disposable tableware in a large plastic bin.

Setting Up Camp

Setting Up CampWhen you first arrive at the campground, stop at the front desk to sign in. They will either assign you a camp site or you will have a chance to pick what site you want. If you are given a choice, look for a campsite that is level, and close to a water source. It may sound practical to pick a location close to a bathroom, but trust me, it’s a bad idea. If you plan to sleep in, look for a campsite with ample shade in the morning (tree cover in the south-east). If you get up after the sun does, your tent will become an oven, and you’ll be extremely uncomfortable.

So you’ve chosen (or have been assigned) your campsite. First, make sure the site is clear of all sticks, rocks and debris that would make you uncomfortable. Now it’s time to start setting up camp! Decide where your tent is going to go (keep it far away from the fireplace provided). First, lay down a tarp, then spread your tent out over top of it. Put the poles together and guide them through the sleeves on the outside of your tent according to your tent’s instructions. Then start attaching the end of the poles to the corners of the tent. It’s best to have 2 people working on this. After you have your tent set up, stake it down with tent stakes.

Next, I recommend setting up a large tarp over your campsite, especially if there is rain the forecast. Use some pieces of rope to tie the corners of the tarp to trees around your campsite. Be careful that you do not cause any damage to the trees! When you are setting up the tarp, plan where the rain water is going to run off, you definitely don’t want water to pool up in the middle and come crashing down on your head!

Things to Do While Camping on the Great Sacandaga Lake

Once you’ve got everything set up, what’s next? Well, you can sit back and relax for a few hours, or you can find something fun to do! There are plenty of great activities for people of all ages.

Sand, Sun and Surf
Okay, so not a lot of surf, but there are some great public beaches on the lake where you can soak up some rays, build a sandcastle with the kids, and take a dip in the water. Many private campgrounds also have their own beaches. These are great because they’re usually quieter and more secluded. Find out where to go swimming at a public beach on the Great Sacandaga and surrounding lakes!

Kayaking, Water Sports, and Boating
There’s no better way to take advantage of the lake than to head out boating. Whether you want to paddle quietly around the shoreline, or speed around on a jet ski, you have plenty of options! Check out our boating page for more ideas. You can also find places to rent, store, and dock your boat. If you do go boating, please remember to always wear a life-preserver!

Hiking and Biking
Ready for some exercise? By foot or by bike, head out and explore what the Adirondacks have to offer on any of it’s numerous hiking and biking trails. Just remember to stay on the trails and don’t disturb wild animals! Take a map and compass with you in case you get turned around (and know how to use them!).

Breaking Down Camp

Packing up CampsiteAs your vacation draws to a close, start to collect your belongings, which by now are probably scattered throughout your campsite, and pack them away neatly.

As you take down your tent and any other shelter you erected then you arrived, try to shake out as much of the dirt and water as possible. It may be helpful to leave a rope between two trees while you pack, so you can hang tarps, clothing, and even your tent out to dry before folding them up and stashing them in your vehicle.

When everything is packed away and you’re ready to head out, take a final sweep of your campsite to make sure that you haven’t forgotten anything (such as that rope for drying!). It’s also important that you pick up any garbage that you dropped on the ground.

Remember: If you carry it in, carry it out!

Make your last pit-stop at a restroom, and have something to munch on during the trip home!

After You Return Home

It can be tempting to abandon a car full of equipment in favor of a hot shower and a soft mattress, but it’s crucial that you take care of all your camping gear as soon as you get home. Take everything out of your cooler and either store it back in your fridge or throw it away. Rinse the cooler out with a hose and a little mild soap, drain it, and dry thoroughly. Then take care of any other food items that you have left over.

Unfold any tarps, and tents. Clean them up or leave them out to dry, as necessary. Then fold them up neatly and store in a dry place for next time!

Wash out your clothing. Clothes that are damp from being out on the lake will get really gross really quickly, Trust me on this one!

Tell Us About your Trip!

If you’ve had a wonderful experience camping in the southern Adirondacks (or anywhere, for that matter!), Tell us about it in the comments below! You can also send stories and pictures to, and we’ll post them on the site.

If you have your own tips or advice for beginner campers, share them with us as well! We love to hear from our readers 🙂

  • Setting up campsite photo courtesy of flickr user AlishaV
  • Packing for camping photo courtesy of flickr user Mike Burns