Camping tips for beginners

A tent at a campground on a sunny day.

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Another typically Canadian summer pastime is camping. Many go to campsites or camp grounds to enjoy the fresh air, discover the natural beauty of the great outdoors, sleep under the stars, maybe even catch a sighting of a bear or a deer, and generally commune with nature.

Camping can be an exciting experience for you and your family this summer. It is a great way to spend quality time with them. And if you’re worried that singing around a campfire may not be fun enough for your kids, you’ll be glad to know that many campsites offer other activities as well. Some have theatres (for movie nights), exhibits, even golf courses if you wish to hit the links.

Types of camping

There are two types of camping in Canada, Frontcountry and Backcountry camping:

  1. Frontcountry camping or “car camping” is when you can bring your vehicle on the site and set up camp right where you park. Campsites usually have amenities such as showers, flush toilets, playgrounds, snack bars and theatres. Some even have swimming pools. There are different kinds of frontcountry campsites:
    • Serviced campsites – this is for recreational vehicles (RVs), trailers, and tent trailers. They have facilities for water, sewer, or electrical hook-ups. These campsites may not be ideal for setting up a tent.
    • Unserviced campsites – these campsites are good for tenting as they offer tent pads and amenities such as flush toilets, showers, and potable water. They are also open to RVs and tent trailers that do not need service hook-ups.
    • Pull-through campsites – or drive-through campsites are designed for vehicles towing larger trailers or RVs.
    • Walk-in campsites – you would have to park your vehicle outside of these campsites and go on foot to enter. These sites are slightly more rough as they have less amenities.
    • Group campsites – these are designed for bigger groups of people who reserve areas for organized activities.
  2. Backcountry camping, meanwhile, is the more rustic type of camping. It is done away from facilities and amenities. You may have to be more skilled when backcountry camping as this is usually done in the wilderness and may require you to hike, ski, canoe or kayak to reach your camp site.

Planning for your first camping trip

  1. Decide which camp to go to and reserve ahead of time – we did say that camping is popular in Canada right? So to avoid the disappointment of seeing the campsite that you want fully-booked, reserve early. Some people choose to camp early in the season (May/June) or late (September) to avoid the crowds. If you are going to a Parks Canada camp site, you can find out about the place as well as site regulations (and reservations) online. Go to Manitoba Parks for more information. These are the things you should be clear about:
    • camp regulations (e.g. what you’re allowed to bring or use)
    • rules on changing or cancelling a reservation
    • facilities (e.g. washrooms, grills, fire pits, etc.)
    • pet regulations
    • activities you can take part in during your stay

    If you have special requirements that are not on the website, you should call and inquire about them before you reserve. Here are some suggested camping parks from Travel Manitoba (some ideal for RVing) and provincial campgrounds.

  2. Make a checklist – preparation becomes easier when you have a checklist to guide you. It also makes it less likely that you will leave stuff behind. Parks Canada has a checklist (available in various languages) you can download. You can just add to or subtract from the list accordingly, based on your needs or family size.

  4. Get the right gear– nowadays, there are various kinds of gear that you can get to make camping more comfortable. For instance, a three-season tent is just right for summer camping, groundsheets are used to protect the bottom of your tent, and there are self-inflating mattress pads you can sleep comfortably on. If acquiring these is too much of an expense, you can also use cheaper alternatives. For instance, you can use thick blankets or sleeping bags instead of a mattress. You can also borrow a tent from a friend or rent equipment from local outdoor outfitters.
    If you do not have the necessary equipment, or do not wish to stay inside a tent, you can opt for roofed or alternative accommodations if you are staying at a national park. This way, you can still enjoy the outdoors without having to pitch a tent.

    Remember that proper gear also includes the right clothes. Dress for comfort, rather than style. Always be prepared for colder weather (check the forecast before you leave). In this case, layering is the safest practice. Layer some shirts, vest and/or jacket when the temperature drops and just shed some layers in the day when it becomes sunny. Hats, extra socks as well as rain gear are always good to have just in case.

  6. Learn how to pitch a tent – learn about basic camping skills, like pitching a tent or cooking at camp. The best way to learn is to do a “dry-run” in your backyard and sleep outdoors overnight. It is also crucial to know safety practices that could protect yourself and your family. For instance, you should know what to do when you see wildlife (don’t approach them or feed them), or know which plants and insects can be harmful to you. Read or download the Camper’s Guide from Manitoba parks to know some basic do’s and dont’s (and see other downloadable guides below).

  8. Be prepared for contingencies – the first thing you should pack is a first aid kit. Also be ready with extra batteries for your flashlight, extra water, or matches and fuel for lamps or stoves. A Swiss army knife is always useful. If you or a family member has allergies (or other health/medical conditions), remember to bring the appropriate medication.

Sources: Parks Canada site; Manitoba Parks and Protected Spaces. Both retrieved May 17, 2018.

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Community Resources

If it’s your first time to go camping in Canada, or if you are new to camping and not used to “roughing it”, it would be wise to start by learning the basics. You can go to Parks Canada’s website and go to Learn how to camp: The basics (with translations to Chinese, Punjabi, Tagalog, and Spanish).

You can download the Seasonal Camper’s Guide for rates and schedules.

The members of the Manitoba Association of Campgrounds and Parks are group of family operated campgrounds. Some campgrounds are open year round while most open in May.

Also read Quick tips for staying outdoors in the summer for safety tips to protect your skin and health.

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