Wednesday, June 14, 2017

5 Easy Ways to Try Camping for the First Time

Many of us didn’t grow up camping and it can be very intimidating to get started.  Questions might include:  “Do I have to go out and purchase a whole bunch of gear for just one camping trip?”  “What if a bear tries to get into our tent?”  “What do we do if the kids are still awake at midnight or if one of them wakes up in the middle of the night?”  And the questions go on to form a very long, and overwhelming, list.

Easy Ways to Try Camping for the First Time
Easy Ways to Try Camping for the First Time

I myself didn’t grow up camping but have grown to love this popular summer activity over the past several years.  I can assure you that every trip gets a little bit easier and that you’ll become a pro in no time.  First though, you’ve got to get started.

Easy Ways to Try Camping for the First Time
You'll know you have it made when your campsite looks like this

One:  Try Comfort Camping

Parks Canada has started placing tent style cabins called O’TENTiks in some of their more popular campgrounds.  These small cabins offer sleeping for up to six people with comfortable mattresses and a heater to ensure your first camping experience is a pleasant one.

Two Jack Lakeside in Banff is the closest location to Calgary where you can try comfort camping, and it’s one of the best campgrounds in Banff with lakefront camping, showers, and nearby amenities in the town of Banff.   While you’ll still need to bring sleeping bags and food, you won’t need much else so this is a great way to ease into camping without investing in a lot of equipment.

Easy Ways to Try Camping for the First Time
O'TENTiks on Two Jack Lake, Banff

Many Alberta Parks Campgrounds also offer comfort camping in the form of cozy yurts, wall tents, or even cabins.

There are also many private campgrounds in Alberta offering comfort camping options. Sundance Lodges near Calgary is a great local option with wall tents and tipis for families wanting to ease themselves into the whole camping experience.

To read more about comfort camping, check out this popular story I wrote: Alberta Comfort Camping Destination Guide.  

Easy Ways to Try Camping for the First Time
One of the yurts at Pigeon Lake, Alberta Parks (Photo: Alberta Parks)

Two: Book an “Equipped” campsite

If you want to try traditional tent camping but lack the gear, Parks Canada offers a service called “Equipped Camping.”  Together with Mountain Equipment COOP, Parks Canada has equipped 32 campsites at the Two Jack Main Campground in Banff.  Each site comes included with a 6 person tent fully set up, 6 sleeping pads, a stove with propane, and a lantern.  You’ll also get an orientation session upon checking in. Bring your sleeping bags with food for the weekend and you’re ready to go.

5 Easy Ways to Try Camping for the First Time (photo: © Parks Canada / S. Gignac)
Equipped Camping in Banff National Park (photo: © Parks Canada / S. Gignac)

Three:   Rent Gear for Your First Trip

If you enjoy camping, you will want to slowly invest in the best equipment that you can afford because nothing is worse than a tent or sleeping bags that leave you wet and cold.  First though, you want to make sure you actually like camping!

Mountain Equipment COOP and the University of Calgary Outdoor Centre are both great places to pick up tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads to get you started.  Once you try out a few different brands and sizes of tents, you’ll get a better idea of what you eventually want to buy as well.

To further simplify your first trip consider bringing food with you that doesn’t require cooking for breakfasts and lunches. Eat out at a local restaurant for dinner and you won’t need to bring a camp stove at all.

5 Easy Ways to Try Camping for the First Time
Rent or borrow tents and camping equipment for easy camping

Four: Start Close to Home

There’s comfort in camping close to home in case you need to bail and pack up in the middle of the night.  Many families with young children also recommend camping close to a town such as Banff or Jasper.  If camping doesn’t work out, you can always find a hotel room for a night and salvage the trip.

Finally, if you don’t feel up to cooking all of your meals at camp, you can retreat into town for breakfast or for a pizza at dinner time.   The Tunnel Mountain Village Campground is great for this in Banff as it’s located beside the Banff Hostel and Cougar Pete’s Kitchen.

5 Easy Ways to Try Camping for the First Time
Our hammock town at Tunnel Mountain

Five:  Camp with More Experienced Friends 

We regularly invite newbie campers to come and join us on our group camping trips. It makes us feel good because we get to share a passion and favourite hobby with a new family who hasn’t had this experience before, and it helps the new family out greatly.

Camp with experienced friends and they will send you their packing list, they’ll give you suggestions for what to bring, and can maybe even loan you some gear that you are missing.

Other benefits of camping with friends include communal meals, the option of sharing items like camp stoves, and learning the basic skills of camping without having to pay for a guided trip. Friends will happily teach you the tricks of the trade from starting a fire to setting up the tent that you rented. You can also learn cool things from your friends as you watch and learn in preparation for the first solo trip that you’ll take.

To make new "camping friends" if you don't currently have any experienced friends you could go camping with, try joining an online community. On Facebook I always recommend the Calgary Outdoor Playgroup or the Happy Campers Group, both predominantly based out of Calgary.

5 Easy Ways to Try Camping for the First Time
We like to book group campgrounds with friends - and novice campers are always welcome

Camping doesn’t have to be intimidating or overwhelming. Start small with one planned weekend trip for this year and work your way up to bigger, longer trips. Invest in gear gradually and always bring a friend or two to hang out with by the campfire.

Disclaimer: This story is being re-shared for a fresh camping season. It was originally published in a local magazine, no longer in print.

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