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Essential Camping Tips for First-Time Campers: A Beginner's Guide to a Great Outdoor Adventure

Updated: Jan 24

Going camping for the very first time can be daunting! With so much on your mind like what to pack and where to go, a camping vacation can seem like more trouble than it's worth. I'm here to tell you, "it'll be okay, you’ve got this", so here's essential camping tips for first timers campers.

Balsam Lake is not too far from Toronto, making it an easy decision for families with impatient car travellers. This lake offers multiple campsites so when deciding on which campsite to visit, you will need to decide what you are interested in doing on your trip. Some campgrounds are better known for certain activities such as mountain biking, backcountry camping (which means no amenities) swimming, canoeing, portaging, etc. Deep breath! It's not as scary as it sounds, keep reading!

As you begin your camping for first timers packing journey, you have to choose where in the campground you want to stay. Most campgrounds you must book ahead of time especially on busy long weekends. The booking sites can be quite confusing, so here is a list of suggestions and things to note to help you chose a campground and campsite:

  • Are you someone who needs constant bathroom runs or gets up in the middle of the night? Look for a campsite close to bathrooms (or a few doors down so you don't get the smell) as it can be a long jaunt if you don't take that into account.

  • If you require a power outlet to connect your RV, charge your phones or blow up the air mattress, make sure in your reservation options you select electrical service.

  • Some campsites within a camp ground are called “No Radio” sites; this means that you can NOT play music from any kind of electronic or speaker. If you want to hear music at these sites, you will have to grab the guitar and have a sing along!

  • If you are at a location with multiple campsite locations around a lake, choose a campsite on the East side of the lake, this way you will get a good view of the sunset over the water. Unless of course you are a sunrise person, in which case you will want a campsite on the West side of the lake. East = Sunset, West = Sunrise, got it? Good!

  • Some campsites are closer together than others. At Balsam Lake we stayed at the Maple campsite and it had some privacy between campsites by using trees. Some campsites that require an electrical plug are closer together and have less privacy.

  • Campsites can be more family friendly and have fire pits and noise limits by certain times of the night. Checking on the campsite website should hold this information.

Balsam Lake Canoe Ontario Provincial Park Windy Rose Photography Canadian Kelsey

Preparing for your camping trip can be a fairly daunting task if you have never gone before; not to worry, below is a list of supplies for first time campers (or to remind all of you camping veterans)! If you are an inexperienced camper, try to make sure you are bringing at least one person who knows how to build a campfire, most other things come with easy instructions.

Camping Supplies List:

  • Axe (be careful and please read up on Axe handling safety if you have not used one before)

  • Wood (some campsites have wood you can purchase from the camp store, so make sure you arrive when the store is still open, otherwise, bring your own!)

  • Long Lighter (such as a BBQ lighter) or Matches (and fire starter such and laundry lint or newspaper)

  • Skewers

  • Knife

  • Paper plates and cutlery

  • Cups or Mugs

  • Garbage bags

  • Camping Chairs

  • Tent

  • Flashlights or Headlamp (recommended one per person)

  • Tarp x2 & Bungee Cord and Rope (one tarp for over the tent and one for under the tent if you are travelling during a rainy season or are expecting rain)

  • Extension Cord (for electrical connection campsites)

  • Cooler

  • Ice

  • Air Mattress & Electric Pump (or bicycle pump with nozzle adjustments)

  • Sleeping bag & pillows

  • Eye mask & Ear plugs

  • Dish soap and rags

  • Citronella Candles or Bug Spray

  • Sunscreen

  • Towels

  • Swimsuit x2

  • Clothing: Hat, sweater, track pants or sweatpants, shorts x2, shirts x2, bras, socks, underwear, pjs

  • Toiletries: hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, soap

  • Flip flops

  • Runners

  • Phone charger & battery pack

  • Speaker or Guitar (optional)

  • Bikes (optional)

  • Water equipment such as kayak, paddles and life jackets

  • Pot or kettle to boil water, coffee

  • Cards and/or board games

  • Food: Water (Bring about 2L/person/day, especially during hot summer months), hot dogs/sausages & buns, marshmallows, fruits & vegetables, condiments (ketchup, relish, mustard…), snacks (trail mix, granola bars), coleslaw, sandwiches, salad, ice, etc.

  • Bear proof containers (as needed)

Balsam Lake Canoe Ontario Provincial Park Windy Rose Photography Canadian Kelsey

At Balsam Lake, things to do include: hiking and biking trails, you can rent a canoe, paddle board or kayak or floating mats, there is a beach to sun tan or go swimming and picnic tables to have a BBQ at. The friendly staff at Balsam Lake are there to help you find your campsite and decide which activity to do first! Head to the beach to rent a canoe, kayak or paddle board, break for lunch and then head to your campsite for around 2 pm to set up your tent! You can always go back to the beach, but setting up a tent in the dark can be difficult if you have never done it before.

Balsam Lake Canoe Ontario Provincial Park Windy Rose Photography Canadian Kelsey

A couple other campgrounds around Toronto and the GTA areEmily Provincial Park, Petroglyphs Provincial Park and Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park. Emily Provincial Park is another great one if you are new to the camping experience as it is close to a small town and other amenities. The Petroglyphs are great for a day out hiking as there are a number of trails and you get to experience some Canadian History. Kawartha Highlands is best if you want to do some portaging and canoeing as there are several islands and trails that are off grid or not accessible by other means of transportation, if you choose to do this, make sure you know where you are going and take an emergency kit, satellite radio and other important safety equipment with you as cell service will be very minimal if at all.

I hope these Camping Tips for First Timers has helped you out, if I missed something, please leave a comment and I will be sure to add it.

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