A beginner’s guide to camping: Where to go, what to bring on your first outdoor overnight adventure

woman and a dog inside outdoor tent near body of water

Unsplash photo by Patrick Hendry

It’s the cure for what ails you: ditch the city, pitch a tent, build a fire, stare at the stars.

Even if you’ve never camped before, this may be the summer to try: It’s the perfect socially distant getaway, far from crowds, close to home, fresh air all around.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the idea of roughing it for the first time may have been intimidating for non-campers. Allow us to simplify the process.

Where to start?

Start by picking a place to camp. There are hundreds of options in Ohio and surrounding states, from sites fully loaded with amenities and activities to a simple patch of land to pitch a tent.

Based on the amenities available, make a list of what you need to take with you. Then set out to borrow or buy your supplies.

Pack up the car and go!

Sound overwhelming? We can help. We’ve put together a list of 18 recommended campgrounds within a few hours drive of Cleveland. Some offer just a few amenities, others are more full service and family friendly, with flush toilets, showers, even swimming pools.

Or, for the ultimate in upscale outdoor living, consider renting a recreational vehicle. We’ve included information on that option, too.

Read on for your complete guide to Camping 101:

What to take

Newbies might consider borrowing equipment from a friend or relative, just to make sure the experience is worth the investment. Buying everything new could set you back several hundred dollars or more.

Some public and private campgrounds offer fully equipped sites, which cut down on what you need to bring. You can also rent camping equipment from some retail outlets, including REI in Orange and the Backpackers Shop in Sheffield.

Ethan Sheets, manager at REI, recommends that first-timers set up a tent in their back yard before venturing farther from home. “Especially if you have kids,” he said. “One of the best places to try out camping is in your back yard, if you can do that.”

Buy, borrow or rent, back yard or farther from home — here’s a list of basic equipment you’ll probably need and a few things you might want:

A tent: Tents come in various sizes – for one person, two, three, four, six and up. Gordon Geiger, the owner of Geiger’s stores in Cleveland, Lakewood and Chagrin Falls, recommends sizing up by one. “You want at least the capacity of how many people are going,” he said. “A good rule of thumb is to go up by one person, so there’s a little room to move around.”

Tents typically are made of coated nylon, a breathable, lightweight material. In general, the lighter the material, the more expensive the tent, said Geiger. Although tents are waterproof, you’ll want one with a rainfly (cover) for extra protection from the elements. You’ll also want a footprint (or tarp) to cover the ground under the tent.

Sheets recommends a double-walled tent, with two layers of fabric, which will be more expensive, but also more adaptable to a variety of weather conditions.

Tent prices vary greatly, but expect to spend at least $200 for a basic four-person version.

Sleeping bags: Come in various sizes, weights and thermal ratings. Think about the worst weather you’d consider camping in, and buy a bag that will keep you warm at that temperature. You’ll also likely want a sleeping pad – made of foam, or inflatable. “It’s softer than sleeping directly on the ground,” said Sheets.

You’ll also probably want:

Pillow

Lantern, flashlight or both

Camp chairs

Camp table (if no picnic table)

Optional: tablecloth, firewood (purchased near your campsite), duct tape, multi-tool, mallet or hammer (for hammering tent stakes)

Stove, fuel: If you don’t plan on cooking over a campfire, you’ll want a small stove, which range from simple to elaborate. A simple Coleman, two-burner version runs about $60 and up.

Matches or lighter

Pots and pan

Plates/bowls/silverware

Cooking utensils, sharp knife, can opener

Mugs, cups

Cooler, ice

Camp sink or wash bins

Soap/sponge, dish towels

Trash bags

Optional: camp grill, portable coffee maker, first-aid kit, sunscreen, insect repellent

Rent an RV and take off

There is one sure way to simplify the camping process: Rent a recreational vehicle and hit the road.

Angela Dudziak, general manager at Neff Brothers RV in Lorain, which rents and services recreational vehicles, is looking forward to a strong season, as families rethink their summer plans. She’s heard from several families already, planning road trips due to canceled youth sports and college students home unexpectedly.

Rental vehicles run the gamut, from modest, pull-behind trailers to fully-equipped, 35-foot motor homes.

Dudziak said the first questions she asks a potential client are: Where are you going? How many people will be traveling? Those two questions determine the size of vehicle required and necessary amenities.

The per-night cost of a rental RV runs $100 (for a pull-behind trailer) to $350 for a 35-foot motor home that sleeps 10, with a two-night minimum. Rentals costs include 150 miles per day; longer distances have an extra mileage charge. Insurance may be extra or may be covered by an existing policy.

When camping, there’s no policy on wearing a mask, social distancing or what to wear.  Just do it and have a blast !

©2020 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

Author: Dennis Hickey

There are no limits to success to those who are prepared. I want to help you prepare by sharing what I have learned about life skills, and how I am still learning. Not knowing these skills can effect your personal growth. I hope you enjoy and learn from this information. Feel free to connect with me, to comment or e-mail your question and opinions. Sit back, relax and let the learning begin. Email: dhickey389@msn.com

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