Camping for the clueless: my 5 top tips for beginners.

camper van
The vision of camping.

My husband has been promising our firstborn a camping trip for several years. Last summer, in a bid to lend credibility to his promises we bought a tent, but busy lives, disappointing weather – and perhaps a faint undercurrent of reluctance – meant it has lain dormant. Until this last gloriously sunny Bank holiday weekend…

Great excitement greeted the news that the holiday accommodation would at last see daylight and some ambitious plans were mooted, but killjoy that I am, I insisted on a dry run in the back garden. Of course, I spent many childhood hols in a carefree camping cocoon, but had little involvement in the practicalities at that time, my attentions being focused more closely on playgrounds and swimming facilities than butane gas and guy ropes. It has been some time since we were last under canvas, and I was unsure our mid-20s festival experience would be entirely transferable to a successful family break.

The reality of camping.

On the Saturday morning, I returned, with the girls from the hottest swimming lesson in history, to find my beloved amongst improbably angled poles and oddly shaped nylon confections strewn over the lawn, with an expression that seemed to be progressing from perplexed, through exasperated, towards enraged. As the premier flat pack furniture assembler in our homestead, I confidently took up the instructions, ready to demonstrate my superior skills to their utmost.

Instruction manual

In fact, this was not proven be the case, the instructions being as cryptic as they were scant and it took me very little time to ascertain that success was going to be hard to come by following this path.

YouTube came to our aid with a video that proved to be of slightly more use as we huddled over an iPhone in glaring sunlight, my ageing eyes trying to fathom what was afoot on the tiny screen. Ultimately though, the photo on the front of the box proved to be the most potent weapon in our armoury and, eventually, we managed to replicate something that looked approximately similar and seemed stable enough to last a night in the prevailing windless conditions.


The inside, we were surprised to learn (having done absolutely no research before buying the tent) consisted of an attached ground sheet to the centre only, and then two bedroom sections which clipped in at either end. Along with our sub-prime assembly, this meant that gaps between the walls and the floor abounded and the very thought of a little mouse creeping through them from the dense hedgerow but a metre away was enough to make me faint.

I wasn’t sure that abandoning the children to the garden at night was the recommended course, so we all went to bed at the same time. 9:30 is VERY late when you’re 5, but VERY early when you’re not. It was always going to be a long night. There wasn’t much in the way of entertainment in a cold tent, so I felt this could be an opportunity for me to manage a proper night’s sleep. I rarely get more than 6 or 7 hours a night and thought that going to bed at 9:30, I ought to be good for at least nine hours, until being woken by the rosy glow of a gentle sun on my face.

I was keen to keep the cat in the tent, to deter any other local wildlife, but apparently this would be ‘VERY WEIRD’, so we locked her in the house as we dossed down in the garden. Even she could see the irony of it, I’m pretty sure.

I abhor the cold and had us wrapped up with onesies and blankets and sleeping bags and hot water bottles to the extent that we were sweating and gasping for rehydration. We duly stripped off a few outer layers and settled down for the night.

Before hypothermia was a threat.

If you’ve read ‘Peace At Last’ by Jill Murphy, you’ll know that Mr Bear found the garden to be aggravatingly noisy at night and thus it was. To be fair to the revellers going past, it was only actually about 10:05 at the time I was about ready to call the police to deal with nocturnal breaches of the peace, but like those toddler days when we ate lunch at 10am because we’d been awake so long, our whole sense of time was skewed.

Each of us nodded off fairly swiftly, but by midnight I was awake and chilled to the bone. I was too cold to lift the covers and replace the dressing gown I had recklessly tossed aside earlier in the evening and so lay dithering and regretful, snatching brief moments of sleep (lack of consciousness?) before waking in a rodent-focused panic.

snow tent 1
Awoke fully expecting the outside scene to be like this.

By 6am we were all awake and frozen. In full agreement that the camping experiment had gone on quite long enough, we hotfooted it to the house where warmth and sanitation awaited.

As we packed the tent away later that day, I was left puzzling over what sort of vacances would suit it best. For one night, it seems an awful lot of trouble, but I am not convinced I would find a lengthy stay to be the relaxing holiday of dreams. It’s a quandary. The jury is quite definitely still out.

My 5 top camping tips:

  1. Research the tent you want. Maybe don’t just choose one because it’s an Aldi Special Buy and will mean you don’t have to travel more than 0.2 miles to become a tent owner. This isn’t always a guarantee of satisfaction. Some people who actually know about camping have recommended some here.
  2. Surprisingly (?) there is quite the selection of once-used camping equipment available to buy cheaply on eBay. If you then sold it on as ‘twice-used’, you’d have lost little. There is a comprehensive list of the essentials you’ll need here.
  3. A trial run in the garden is a good idea. Camping may be more – OR INDEED LESS – fun than you anticipated. Having a kitchen and bathroom on hand will help if it’s the latter.
  4. Tents are surprisingly cold at night. Pack a hot water bottle and as many fleecy jimjams as you have at your disposal.
  5. Don’t take your cat. Apparently, it’s weird. (PLEA: If you DO take your cat camping, or perhaps know of someone – ANYONE – who does, please get in touch, so I can prove my husband wrong.)

If a love of camping really takes hold, I will update with further insights… for now I will leave it here.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Heather says:

    Ha! Don’t take your cat…love it! Totally agree about the tent. We visited a mega showroom place about five times before choosing ours! x


    1. Yes, I think this is a better way to go!


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