What images pop up in your mind when you think about camping?

Scenario #1:

Green grass, friendly squirrels eating out of your hand, birds chirping, sleeping under a lovely sheet of midnight stars, communing with nature Scenario #2:

Sleeping on mud, evil squirrels biting your hand, birds crapping all over your stuff, sleeping with large bugs in the rain, cursing out nature

The real answer probably lies somewhere between the two. Yes, camping is great outdoorsy fun, but you also can't forget that along with the outdoors comes unpredictability. If you don't plan your trip correctly, then you might accidentally end up with rain, huge bugs, or those evil squirrels. Fortunately, we're here to help you out with the basics of spending the night in the great outdoors - what to expect, what to bring, and how to keep those pesky bears from stealing your picnic basket.


There are various levels of camping. Basically, it can be broken down three ways: 1) wilderness, 2) luxury, and 3) what we call "camping lite." Your choice will affect the type of equipment you use, what you need to pack, and whether it's safe to rent The Blair Witch Project the night before.

Wilderness camping

This is intense stuff-when we say "wilderness," we mean "wilderness." No ranger checking up on you, no cabin, no Quik-E Mart down the road. During wilderness camping, you pitch a tent in the middle of the woods and completely fend for yourself. In other words, it's caveman camping: sleep outside, get your own food, pee in the woods, and connect with nature. It is extremely important that you read our safety precautions in step 5 very carefully if you want to have a safe wilderness camping trip.

If you've never gone camping in your life, then you really shouldn't try wilderness camping on your first foray unless you're with people who have done it before. You don't want to get out there after hiking all day only to realize that you can't fall asleep without Jay Leno or that relieving yourself in the woods is not your cup of tea. Or, even worse, you could fall down a hole or get lost. Instead, start off easy with some "camping lite," and work your way into wilderness camping as you gain experience.

For a list of recommended camping sites, check out Trails.com's camping directory.

"Camping lite"

It might sound like "wuss" camping, but it's safe, especially for families. "Camping lite" basically works like this: you pay a fee, pull into your assigned campsite, and the rest is up to you. You pitch your tent, start your campfire, and do whatever else you need. Showers and rest rooms are provided nearby (and sometimes there will be other amenities: a pool, game room, laundry facilities, or a convenience store). Think of it like practice camping. Lite sites are where to go to get away from it all without sacrificing all of comforts of home. And though it sounds pretty easy, believe us, you're still roughing it plenty.

Kampgrounds of America (KOA) has over 75,000 camping locations around North America. Some of their pricier options border on luxury camping, but if you go with the barebones basics (paying about $25 for a camping site), it can still be campy.

Luxury camping

This may as well not be called camping at all. It can come in handy when you are on the road and want to feel rustic but not get dirty. Camping is reduced to sleeping in cabins, footsteps away from the pool and tennis courts. Room service is available, your bed is made for you and you are generally treated like royalty. Sure, it might be relaxing to be near nature, but it's barely camping.

If you're looking for a luxury camping site, try The Point in the Adirondacks. Originally built as a location for the Rockefellers to enjoy, it has linens in every room, breakfast in bed, and plenty of activities to keep you busy.