First tent camping packing list

Packing for a camping trip can be a challenge when someone has never camped or only camped a few times. To face this challenge, about a week prior to the trip, I started making a list of what I thought that we should pack.

Here was my first packing list:

Sleeping needs:

  • Tarp to place under the tent
  • Tent
  • Hammer
  • Air mattress
  • Battery-operated air pump
  • Sheets
  • Blanket
  • Comforter (It was cold enough that weekend to need a blanket and a comforter, but we usually will take only one or just the sheets.)
  • Pillows

Cooking/Eating needs:

  • Cooler
  • Ice
  • Camp forks
  • Plates
  • Cups
  • Silverware
  • Napkins
  • Wet wipes
  • Trash bags
  • Table cloth
  • Aluminum foil
  • Paper towels
  • Pot holders (for pulling things off the fire and/or setting hot items on)
  • Tongs for grabbing our foil packs off the fire
  • Can opener (We were going to get a can of black beans to add to our burritos, but forgot to buy the black beans on our way.)
  • Dish soap
  • Dish rag
  • Food screens to put over plates to keep bugs away.

Hygiene needs:

  • Toiletry items (shampoo, soap, etc.)
  • Towels and wash cloths
  • Small mirror
  • Toilet paper (I wasn’t sure if the campground would have any. They did.)
  • Kleenex
  • First aid kit
  • Tweezers
  • Eyeglasses (I wasn’t sure about messing with contacts while camping)

Other needs:

  • Cash for firewood and ice
  • Bug spray
  • Tick deterrent
  • Camp chairs
  • Lantern
  • Flashlights
  • Sunglasses
  • Hats
  • Swim suits
  • Swim towels
  • Sun block
  • Camera
  • Batteries for air pump and lantern
  • Twine (Heard it was useful to have on camping trips)
  • Scissors (Always seem to come in handy)
  • Binoculars
  • Umbrella (You never know when it is going to rain)
  • Knife (Griff said that we needed it, but I have luckily not yet found out why…)
  • Deck of cards
  • Book (I enjoy reading.)

For basically a first time camping trip, this list turned out to be pretty good. We realized that there are a few things that we would want to acquire over time and a few things that we would not take every time. However, we used basically the same list for the second camping trip and between the two trips we used just about everything. This packing list is a pretty good beginning campers packing list if they cook with aluminum foil or on camp forks.

In a later posts, we will explain different packing lists for different camping trips, how we have become smarter about organizing our camping gear and how we store our supplies in our home.

Camping at Johnson’s Shut-Ins

On a Friday night in August, traffic creeped down the road as people in RVs, trucks towing campers and vehicles filled with tents and camping supplies anxiously awaited check in at the Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park campground. The highway signs pointed the way to the park and signage within the park provided easy navigation to the campground, camp store and activities within the park. The ability to navigate the park eased our fears that we would arrive too late and would find it difficult to locate the campsite and set up camp in the dark.

Setting up camp:
Our camping gear was organized for quick access to set up camp before the sunlight disappeared below the horizon. The only hiccup that we faced with pitching the tent was that the grass sat on top of rocky ground which proved to be difficult to pound the stakes into it. Thunderstorms were predicted for the weekend, therefore it was important to secure the stakes in the ground. We really did not want our tent to blow away.

Rain drops on a tent's rain fly after a mild shower.

Rain drops collect on our tent’s rain fly after a mild shower at Johnson Shut-Ins State Park.

Storms did come through the area while we were camping, but it luckily ended up being mild rain, wind, lightning and thunder. We prepared the car to be able to sleep in it if the storm became severe during the night. However, it did not get to a point that even I, the unadventurous one, felt unsafe in the tent.

Campfire and food:

Aluminum foil breakfast packets cook over the campfire.

Our breakfast in aluminum foil packets cooking over the campfire.

Delicious campfire breakfast!

Delicious campfire breakfast!










It was our first camping trip alone and we discovered that neither of us had ever started a campfire. We used close to a full quart of lighter fluid over the weekend, but we managed to have a fire for all of our meals. We have some ideas of how to better use our resources next time and will write a post about lessons learned on starting and maintaining a fire. The fire ring at this campsite included a grate that was short and not adjustable.

On this trip, we made tin foil breakfasts, brats and macaroni and cheese. I found this great recipe on Pinterest for Campfire Mac ‘n’ Cheese, but the first night we accidentally dropped it in the fire (whoops!) and the second night we did not get it evenly heated. We will have to try it again sometime.

Mac 'n cheese in campfire

Whoops! We accidentally dropped our mac ‘n cheese in the campfire.

Shower and restroom facilities:
The shower houses had three private, unisex restrooms with a toilet, sink, trash can, changing table, hand dryer and electrical outlet in each. It also had three private, unisex shower rooms with a shower that had a short curtain to separate the changing area and a bench in each area. There was a family bathroom that I did not check out, but heard other campers state that it included the shower and toilet in one private room. The shower house had free hot water, but it appeared that it was not cleaned often and there were several bugs in them even with doors that closed completely to each individual room. The hand dryers were placed just inches above the handicap rail and the air pointed toward the wall which made them difficult to use. However, it was nice to have private rooms with locking doors.

The campground:
The campground was divided by type of campsite. Each site was divided by walls of trees on three sides for privacy and nice scenery. There was a large concrete parking area at each site which would easily park two cars. The picnic table was on the concrete parking slab that allowed for ease of moving the cooler in and out of the car.

Tent camping at Johnson Shut-Ins State Park

Our tent at Johnson Shut-Ins State Park in Missouri.

The campground was located within Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, which we will post about later this week. We participated in some of the park activities, but hope to make it back to enjoy more of the hiking trails and ranger-led interpretive programs. The only hiking that we did was on the trail that led through the walk-in campsites. While I told Griff that I am not adventurous enough to want to do backpacking trips, I may consider the walk-in sites at Johnson’s Shut-Ins because they offer hand carts to get your gear through the trail and provide cute decks as a platform for the tents.

The camp store was extremely nice. It was well-organized, clean and had a wide selection of goods. The store offered the standard fire wood bundles and ice as well as a variety of camping supplies, packaged food, food prepared at the store, postcards, souvenirs, books and much more.

It was our first camping trip alone and we learned a lot. It was a wet weekend with the rain, but Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park and its campground is an interesting place. We would definitely recommend this place for the recreation at the Shut-Ins, the privacy in the restrooms and for each campsite and the division of campground types.


One of our first campfire attempts.


Lookin’ at Stars

Milky Way over Haleakala

Milky Way over Haleakala

Have you ever seen stars like this in person? If you live in or near a city and don’t get out of it much, then there is a good chance you haven’t. With an increasing percentage of people moving to cities every year, fewer and fewer have seen in person what I consider to be one of the most beautiful and amazing sights in the world — a night sky filled by the Milky Way.

As I grew up in the suburbs, I was probably legally an adult before I realized that pictures of the Milky Way were not just illustrations or photos taken from fancy telescopes. When I looked up at the night sky as a kid, all I saw was the Big Dipper, the north star, and a few other points of light. It wasn’t until my dad and older brother relayed stories of their trip through the empty American West that I realized older people weren’t lying about being able to see the Milky Way from the country when they were young.

Now one of my favorite things to do any time I am out in the middle of nowhere is to sit outside late at night with my binoculars, my camera and tripod, or just my low-tech eyeballs and admire the vast clouds of stars, planets, and galaxies littering my entire field of view. Camping happens to be a great way for me to indulge in this activity. We are usually decently far away from the light pollution of cities with no reason to be indoors at night. I can stay up late and capture the Milky Way high above the horizon or get an up close view of the gorgeous blue Pleiades.

The trick is finding a good location for this is combining a dark sky area with a good campsite. I used the following site for a map of light pollution:

Then I cross-reference the parks visible in the darker areas of the map with a list of parks with camping such as this site for Missouri:

For example, Sam Baker State Park in south-eastern Missouri sits far enough from any source of light pollution to be a good place to camp and see a lot of stars.

Milky Way over Sam Baker State Park

Milky Way over Sam Baker State Park

Lake Wappapello State Park is further south and offers a great view of the sky but the light from nearby Poplar Bluff is quite visible on the horizon.

Milky Way over Lake Wappapello campsite

Milky Way over Lake Wappapello campsite

And if you are lucky enough to get out to Haleakalā National Park on Maui, you have the privilege of viewing from one of the top dark sky sites in the entire world.

Camping at Lake Wappapello

A few signs on US67- South pointed toward Lake Wappapello but the GPS knew which sign was correct and lead the car in the appropriate direction. The campground was on the main road of Lake Wappapello State Park in Williamsville, MO. After locating the campsite, we parked our car on the gravel drive and set up the tent on the grassy area approximately 75 yards from the lake. It was getting dark, so we were happy that we had a tent pitching trial in our backyard earlier that week.

Tent campsite at Lake Wappapello

Griff ‘n Fox tent campsite at Lake Wappapello

Cooking over a campfire:
Griff’s parents had arrived the day before and had started a fire before we arrived, so with camp set up, we used their fire to cook our burritos.  Without having much experience cooking over campfires, we had precooked the meat, assembled dinner and breakfast burritos and wrapped the food in heavy-duty aluminum foil the night before we went camping. Griff’s mom and sister-in-law seemed interested in this no-cleanup way of cooking over the campfire so I felt successful in at least one aspect of camping.

The campground:
Our impression of the campground was favorable. The fire rings were taller than expected and had adjustable height grates. The campsites were well-maintained. The shower house was kept clean, had free hot water in the showers and sinks and had a nice private changing area separated by floor-length shower curtains between the shower and the rest of the shower house. The downside was that signs to navigate the park were not consistent and we had some difficulty finding the camp store. The other negative was that the camp store cooler did not seem to be working properly while we were there because the ice seemed on the verge of melting when we purchased it and we had to go back several times to get ice because it quickly melted.

Fishing on Lake Wappapello

Two men fish early in the morning on Lake Wappapello

Our activities:
Our two campsites were located next to the lake, which provided us with easy access to the water and a view. In our camp chairs we watched boats and jet skis on the water, the forest on the opposite shore and geese traveling on the water and on land near our camp.

At least one person in our group went swimming, canoeing, fishing and/or hiking at the park. The trailhead at Asher Creek Campground had signs that lacked explanation and reminded us of video game strategies.  The trails had natural paths that led us by the lake and up the hill through the wooded area where we encountered a chipmunk and a deer.

Close-up of chipmunk along the trail at Lake Wappapello State Park

Chipmunk along the trail at Lake Wappapello State Park.

We liked this campground and would recommend it to anyone who is seeking a weekend on the lake. The food was good, the family time was nice and our camping adventures officially began that weekend.

Video game strategy or hiking trail sign at Lake Wappapello State Park?

Video game strategy or hiking trail sign at Lake Wappapello State Park?

The beginning of our camping adventures

stars above campsite, Lake Wappapello

Night at Lake Wappapello

The lizard stood facing the door as if it were waiting to be let out like a house-trained puppy. Fox pushed on the wooden slat and watched the green creature scurry over the path and duck into a crack between the shower house and the sidewalk. As she walked down the hill, she reflected on the weekend. Camping with Griff’s family at Lake Wappapello State Park had been fun and now it was time to go home…

We are Griff and Fox, a couple who got married in May and went on our first camping trip together in July 2014. That camping trip to Lake Wappapello was the start of discussions about future camping trips including the when, where, who, what and how of it.

The weather was unusually cool for July creating the perfect conditions for enjoying campfire discussions. Several discussions centered on how each of the four households prepared for camp.

Household 1: The parents brought a kayak, a screened canopy for the picnic table, a dutch oven, a tea kettle, a cast iron pan and so much more.

Household 2: The brother brought water toys, a tent that may have been a little too small for his growing family, a table cloth and entertainment for their daughter.

Household 3: The sister brought a sleeping pad and a cooler.

Household 4: We brought prepared meals in aluminum foil, camp forks, a picnic basket and Griff’s camera (He rarely leaves home without the ability to photograph something.).

The fascination with how different people prepare and react to camping was what led to our decision to begin this blog. Fox, having only been camping twice during college and did not do any of the work for it, did not really know how to camp. She sought advice from Pinterest and blogs about tent camping, but discovered that she could not find information for “normal people.” So, the blog came to fruition with the idea that other people may also want to learn the basics of tent camping, hiking and simple outdoor recreation.

Follow us as we explore the outdoors. We hope our blog will inspire others to get outside and experience nature in an easy, comfortable and fun way!