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12 Essential Camping Skills for Outdoor Survival

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Whether you are an experienced camper or if you’re heading out on your first camping trip, it never hurts to make sure your camping basics are up-to-date.

Spending time outdoors is a great way to relax and connect with nature, but it can also be miserable if you are unprepared. Let’s face it, anybody can go camping and be miserable.

However, a miserable camping experience is typically the last camping experience. It can get even worse with kids. By providing you with the basic skills, we hope that your first camping experience is memorable and amazing!

Camping Skills Every Camper Should Know

By learning the necessary camping skills for beginners, you can focus more on nature and your surroundings and less on the distraction and misery of not knowing the basic camping skills.

I highly recommend going camping for the first time with an experienced camper. But even then, there are a few essential skills that you need to be knowledgeable about before planning your first camping trip.

1. How to Plan a Camping Trip

camping trip plan

Failure to plan is a plan to fail! Lack of planning is the primary cause of most failed camping trips.

Effective planning depends on the answers to these five basic questions:

  • Where are you going?
  • How long are you staying?
  • What is the weather forecast?
  • What gear do you need?
  • And when you arrive, what do you do?

Once you answer the basic five questions, you can start gathering your gear. You’ll also need to understand where to get water. Is it readily available, or do you need to bring a couple of 5-gallon jugs?

Don’t forget to make campsite reservations if necessary. Make an equipment list for each trip you take to serve as a reference. After each outing, update your lists, improve on them, and save for future trips.

Finally, plan for Murphy (Murphy’s Law) to show up. In other words, have a plan for when things go wrong.

2. What Should You Bring

gear for great outdoors

Many new campers are guilty of bringing too much stuff. You don’t want to forget anything ‘just in case’, right?

When packing for a camping trip, it’s essential to strike a balance between preparedness and overpacking. Start by considering the duration of your trip, the weather conditions, and the activities you plan to engage in.

Prioritize items that serve multiple purposes, such as a Swiss Army knife or a sarong that can double as a towel, picnic blanket, or privacy screen. Pack your gear in layers, with less frequently used items at the bottom and essentials within easy reach.

Compression sacks can be a lifesaver for bulky items like sleeping bags and jackets, while resealable bags help keep electronics and personal items dry. To ensure you have what you need without feeling weighed down, remember to pack smart, not heavy.

Buying gear can be expensive. Borrow or rent gear for your first few trips to get a sense of what you actually need.

3. Learn Basic First Aid/CPR

using first aid kit

It’s good to always carry a basic first-aid kit.

But if you don’t know how to use what’s in your kit, your first aid kit isn’t very helpful.

You don’t need a full-blown crash bag, just an assortment of bandages, ointments, and basic medications such as Benadryl and a pain reliever.

Planning your outing wisely greatly reduces the likelihood of encountering a true medical emergency.

However, it’s always better to have the tools and training just in case.

4. Wear Appropriate Clothing

camping with appropriate clothes

The number one way to be uncomfortable in the outdoors is to wear the wrong clothing.

Remember to bring multiple layers that are comfortable, breathable, and warm. Look for non-cotton layers that you don’t mind getting dirty.

Start with a base layer (a t-shirt), then add a mid-layer such as a sweatshirt or light fleece. Add or remove a warm layer to complete the look.

A big down puffer coat is essential and will prevent you from becoming chilled when the sun goes down.

If you get warm, you can always remove layers until you are comfortable. Don’t forget the hat and gloves.

Even summer camping can get chilly, and you never know when you might need a little extra warmth.

5. Pick The Right Spot

finding good camping spot

Finding the perfect spot to set up camp can be daunting for beginners. Follow these simple rules, and you will feel like a master campsite designer:

Once you arrive at your campsite, your first task is to pick the spot where you’ll pitch your tent.

Then, survey the surroundings to ensure the area has sufficient space between other elements of your campsite, such as the fire pit and picnic table.

Remember, if you are not in an established camping area and are picking a spot from scratch, you will have many factors to consider, such as finding a level area for your tent, proximity to a vehicle, distance to a campfire, available water, and protection from wind and sun.

The ideal spot has a flat, level surface of soft soil or groundcover. Avoid rocky sites. Also, set up your tent far enough away from the cooking area and fire pit to avoid odors from food or smoke from the campfire. 

Every time you set up a campsite, you will get better at picking an ideal location.

6. Pitch a Tent Correctly

pitching a tent

We love everything about the outdoors, but we want to keep it out of my tent. Before pitching your tent, find a flat, even surface with plenty of room to move around.

Make sure there are no dips, rocks, sharp objects, or any other debris that would make sleeping in the tent uncomfortable.

Depending on the tent you choose, you might have to learn how to stake down the corners, configure the poles, attach the floor, and put on the rainfly.

Most tents come with instructions, so read and understand them before you are at the campsite.

You should practice setting up your tent in the backyard a few times to get proficient and feel more confident when away from home.

Remember, the goal is to sleep like a baby, wake up well rested, and, of course, dry.

7. How to Build a Fire

starting a campfire

We view a fire as an essential part of the camping experience. Knowing how to build, start, and maintain a campfire is a valuable skill that takes practice.

A campfire is not only for cooking but also provides heat and comfort. Three main points to remember:

  1. Appropriate wood; 
  2. Good airflow; 
  3. A consistent temperature.

Before building a campfire, start by clearing the area of flammable debris, gathering tinder (e.g., dry grass, leaves, and pine needles), some kindling (e.g., small twigs), and wood.

Getting a fire started seems like a no-brainer, but it can be challenging for beginners. Begin by placing a small amount of tinder in the middle of your pit. Leave enough space to light the tinder and allow airflow to aid in the starting process.

Light the tinder from the bottom and gradually add kindling, slowly increasing the material’s diameter as you go. Once the fire is consistently burning, you can gradually add larger pieces of firewood until you reach a useful size. 

Once you establish the fire, feel free to use moist wood. When building your first campfire, err on the side of caution; you don’t need a bonfire to cook or stay warm.

All campers need to follow these safety precautions when building a fire:

  • Never leave an open fire unattended.
  • Only burn tinder, kindling, and wood.
  • Always extinguish the fire completely.

Campfires are not always allowed. Before you head out, make sure you are fully aware of campfire rules, regulations, and restrictions for your camping destination.

8. Learn Basic Knots

Figure Eight Knot for camping

Tying a knot may not seem important, but it can be a valuable skill on a camping trip.

If you are tying down a tent, hanging your bear bag, or securing your equipment for transport, ropes and knots are essential tools.

There are many knots, but you will only remember the ones you use consistently. A bowline and a clove-hitch are a couple basic ones to learn.

These are the most useful for camping beginners.

There are lots of online resources that teach knot tying; just check YouTube or find a pocket guide at your local bookstore.

9. Use a Knife Safely

using a knife on a wood

Many new campers don’t wish to carry a knife, but having one is convenient for many tasks, from cutting rope or a steak to opening food containers and spreading peanut butter.

Always keep the blade sharp; a dull knife can be more dangerous, as it requires more force to cut and can slip more easily.

When handling a knife, maintain a firm grip on the handle and cut away from your body to minimize the risk of injury. Be mindful of your surroundings and ensure there’s a clear area around you to avoid accidents.

When not in use, always sheath the knife to protect both the blade and those around you. Remember, respect and caution are the keys to safe knife use in the wilderness.

The best knife is the one you feel most comfortable using. Choose one you like and learn to properly care for it, so it is ready when and if you need it.

10. Cook Over an Open Fire

cook over a open fire

You can’t bring your kitchen with you to the campsite. So, you’re going to need to learn how to cook simple recipes either over an open fire with a grate, or on a camp stove.

An easy no hassle dinner is a must for the first night. When you arrive set out some snacks to enjoy while setting up your site.

We usually bring cheese, sausage, crackers, hummus, veggie sticks and pita already prepared to eat. Then for dinner, we will heat up a chili or stew we prepared at home on a grate over hot embers.

Make sure you wear an oven mitt or gloves when handling hot pots and pans. Some campers simply bring canned goods and camping stove, and that’s great, too.

Practice using stoves and burners at home, so you’ll know what exactly to do when you’re out there with hungry mouths to feed. And, if you’re like me and crave coffee each morning, a durable French press is indispensable.

Just heat up some water, scoop your favorite roast into the press and enjoy hot coffee in minutes. Be sure to always store food safely at night in animal proof containers or hang food in a tree if you’re in bear country.

11. How to Leave a Campsite

leave no trace after camping

If you follow the rule of Leave No Trace,” your campsite will be in better condition when you leave than when you arrived.

After packing all your equipment, thoroughly inspect and clean the site.

Pick up all trash, food scraps, and debris (even trash left by others), then double check just before leaving.

Pack out all of your trash and place it in appropriate containers.

Most importantly, make absolutely sure you’ve completely extinguished your fire before hitting the road.

12. Learn to Tell One Great Campfire Story

camping stories around fire

Nothing beats gathering around a roaring fire and sharing epic sagas or spooky tales.

When you’re cozy up by a warm fire, a great storyteller can transport you into the adventure.

It doesn’t hurt to have a few ideas in your head before you hit the road.


How many of these skills do you already have? How much do you need to improve?

Camping is an adventure that requires some basic know-how and some essential pieces of gear. And these basic skills are important to share with your whole family, too.

Once you’ve learned and practiced the basic camping skills, you will quickly discover that no matter the place, the weather, or the length, camping is an awesome adventure.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.