First-time campers and lessons learned and shared

First-time campers want to have fun and adventure. But they like a few creature comforts, too.

Ever been hit square between the eyes with a blacksmith’s hammer?

Me neither, fortunately.

But I imagine it feels something like the breath-stealing punch to the face that is the heat baking much of the country lately.

Really, c’mon. Do so much as open your front door and walk to the car and you’re dripping in sweat.

But cooler weather is coming, and with it some of the best camping of the year.

Autumn is prime time for getting outside. Campground crowds are largely gone, and with them the peak prices for sites. The weather is milder, the bugs are fewer, the fall colors set the landscape ablaze. Hiking is more fun, the fishing often perks up and there’s even the chance to get in on some seasonal activities, from pumpkin carving to apple picking.

All that combined is why fall is such a great time to introduce first-time campers to the joys of sleeping under the stars.

And make no mistake, there are plenty of people out there who want to try camping.

The Outdoor Foundation and Coleman Co. Inc. each year do an “American Camper Report” looking at trends. The 2017 edition – the most recent – looks at camping nationally in 2016.

It reveals two things.

First, lots of people are interested in camping. About 40.5 million Americans camped in 2016, 4.7 million being first-timers.

It didn’t take much to get them out there either.

The Foundation and Coleman surveyed novice campers about their motivations. They asked what influenced them to go.

Love of the outdoors and the potential for fun were the top two answers, individually. But three others centered on camaraderie – to spend time with a spouse or significant other, family and friends – motivated people as much as anything.

So there’s some real, easily tapped interest there, with lots of people willing to camp if just asked.

But their interest is sometimes hard to maintain.

The second thing the report showed is that not all first-time campers become second-time campers. There’s quite a bit of “churn,” with the number of people trying or returning to camping after a hiatus only slightly outnumbering those who leave it behind.

There are all kinds of reasons for that.

But one is tied to gear. First-time campers know to buy or borrow flashlights and coolers and tents and sleeping bags.

But they overlook some things veteran campers pack without a second thought. They’re typically the kind of things that turn an outing from a weekend-long endurance test into relaxation.

Here’s a top 10 look at what newcomers said they wished they’d packed that first time out.

  1. Nothing. Well, some people are easily pleased or highly prepared.
  2. An airbed. The report says most long-term campers get started between the ages of 6 and 12, when it’s still possible to sleep anywhere, anytime. Adults are harder to hook. Creature comforts versus sore backs? It’s no contest.
  3. Rain gear. There’s a reason why “moist” is such a taboo word these days.
  4. Bicycle. Why walk when you can ride, right?
  5. Cot. See airbed and creaky joints above.
  6. A camp stove. Cooking over a campfire sounds romantic, right up until you can’t get it lit.
  7. Portable grill. Again, it’s easy and a good way to keep each other from getting hangry.
  8. Headlamp. Can you find your way to the bathroom, after dark, alone? The nighttime woods, with all of their sounds, can be spooky, you know.
  9. An RV. Hey, if you’re going to ask for something, go big or go home.
  10. Camp furniture. Sitting around the campfire is a lot more fun if you actually have somewhere, you know, to sit.

So if you’re going to take a first timer camping this fall – and you should, to pass along your love for the outdoors – don’t expect them to go full bore hard core right away. Ease them into this whole thing.
They’ll be more likely to come back and you’ll have developed a new partner.

Bob Frye is the Everybody Adventures editor. Reach him at (412) 216-0193 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at