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  • El Rancho Manana Campground & Riding Stable

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Camping

There’s nothing quite like spending the night in the great outdoors. Whether you’re camping in a tent or an RV or something in between, you can get the most out of your novice camping experiences with a little knowledge and planning.

Most beginner campers start out with a tent, so this article will be largely aimed towards tent camping. Tent camping is enjoyable and relaxing if you’re prepared.

What to bring

When you’re getting ready for a camping trip, it can be hard to know what to bring and what to leave. You’re working with limited space in which to pack the necessities, such as camping gear, clothing, and personal items. It can be helpful to categorize items in a way that makes sense for you. There are lists available on the internet in various places, such as Pinterest, so an exhaustive list won’t be posted here, but these are some basic ideas.

Here’s a sample list:


o Tent

o Tarp

o Camp chairs

o Sleeping bags

o Sleeping mats


o Scissors

o Rope

o Pocket knife

Camp kitchen:

o Dish soap

o Paper towels

o Grill

o Propane


o S’mores kit

o Hamburger

o Hot dogs

o Various buns

o Condiments

o Salt/pepper/spices

o Cereal

o Milk

o Bread

o Peanut butter

o Coffee


o First aid kit

o Nail clippers

o Tweezers


o T-shirts

o Sweatshirts

o Shorts

o Jeans/long pants

o Sandals

o Hiking boots

When to go

When to go can be almost as important as where to go. It’s best to check the weather for the area you’ll be visiting. You can camp in any weather, provided you’re properly prepared, but you’ll need to know how to prepare. In Minnesota, most people camp during the summer months. If you’d like to avoid crowds, don’t go on a holiday weekend like Memorial Day. However, it can be fun to chat with other campers and make new friends. Fall camping can be beautiful and not as crowded but it can get chilly. Winter camping is an option, even in a tent, but it requires special gear and preparation.

How long to go

Seasoned campers often stay for a week or longer but if you’re just starting out, it might be best to aim for a night or two. This way you can “get your feet wet” without a long-term commitment. A weekend camping trip is fun and easy without the hassle of having to pack too many supplies. It’s also helpful to stay closer to home at first, rather than having to drive long distances to your destination. That way you can relax and enjoy your trip rather than spending a lot of time in the car. Once you’re more comfortable with camping, you can go farther and spend more time at your campsite.

What to wear

The right choice of clothing is very important when camping. It’s best to dress in layers because it can be chilly in the morning when you wake up. You want to have the flexibility to take off layers as the day warms up. Your clothing choices also depend on what your activities are for the day. If you’re going to be hiking or doing other strenuous activities, you’ll want to be able to take layers off. If you’re going horseback riding, like you can do at El Rancho, you’ll want long pants and close-toed shoes. Having options will keep you comfortable.

What to eat

Aside from the obvious choices of s’mores and hot dogs, there are a variety of recipes you can make over a campfire or propane camp stove. If you can bring a cooler, you can make almost anything you’d make at home. A dutch oven is a smart investment for camp cooking. Foil is also a camper’s friend when cooking over a campfire or camp stove. Just make sure you dispose of it properly.

If you’re into fishing, you can always grill fish for a meal. Bring along any spices you care to use. You can also make hamburgers, mountain man breakfast, cold sandwiches, bacon and eggs, bagels and cream cheese, or any number of make-ahead meals that you cook over a fire.

Check this blog over the winter for recipes and meal ideas.

Starting and caring for a fire

Fire is necessary for warmth and for cooking but it’s also comforting and cheery. In order to start a fire, you’ll need to gather supplies. Make sure you’ve got a lighter or matches, as well as dry paper or other light material, called tinder. Next, you’ll need kindling. Kindling is any small twigs or pieces of wood that will start on fire easily. You’ll also need small and large pieces of wood. You’ll want to make sure all of this is dry.

There are many different types of structures for building a fire and you’ll have to find your favorite. There is the tipi-style that most people are familiar with, where the tinder and kindling are piled in the center and the fuel (bigger wood) is stacked in a tipi shape over the top. There is also the lean-to, which is nice for windy or rainy weather, in which you pile the tinder, then lay the fuel with one end on the ground and one end facing up, then lay the kindling against the fuel and tinder like a tent. There are a couple of other ways of building a fire, such as the platform and the log cabin.

It's important to check the area you’ll be camping in for burning bans. You can ask the campground staff or check with the county.

Another important thing to remember is that you can’t bring in firewood to most areas. Check with your campground to see what their requirements are. El Rancho sells firewood on-site. Many campgrounds require firewood that’s brought in to be DNR certified.

Camping etiquette

When you’re camping, you want to relax and have a good time. Your fellow campers want the same thing. It’s important to follow basic camping etiquette. Here are some guidelines to follow when enjoying the great outdoors.

· Leave no trace: bring out what you took in. For example, if your grill stops working, don’t leave it at the campsite. If your inflatable lake toys pop, take them with you or put them in the trash.

· Keep the campsite clean: the last thing you should do before you leave your campsite is clean up. You should always leave it cleaner than you found it.

· Respect quiet hours: most campgrounds have quiet hours, often from 10pm to 6am or something similar. Find out what those hours are and keep your outside music and conversations low during those hours.

· Respect others’ campsites: don’t cut through other sites. Follow roads and paths to get where you’re going.

· Keep your pets contained and clean up after them: pets should be leashed or kenneled. Pet waste should be picked up and bagged and those bags should go in your garbage, not left on the side of the road.

· Be aware of your fire: always put your fire out completely before you go to bed. Your ashes should be cool or cold before you’re done for the night or before you leave.

· Be respectful of your fellow campers: in general, watch out for others. Be aware of your speed when driving through a campground. Keep it at 5mph or whatever the posted speed limit is. Mind your headlights. Be aware of your light sources, i.e. flashlights and lanterns.

· In general, check the rules and policies of the campground where you’ll be staying and follow them.

What to do while you’re camping

You’ve got your tent set up, your food ready to be prepared, and plenty of dry, DNR-approved firewood. What do you do now? Don’t worry, there are plenty of activities to choose from, depending on the amount of money you want to invest. Fishing can be an affordable and enjoyable option. Just make sure you have a license and you know how many and what size fish you can catch. Pan fish are fun to catch and make a great meal. Another affordable option is hiking. Swimming, biking, and birdwatching are all fun and cheap ways to spend time in the outdoors while camping. There are free, printable scavenger hunts on many different websites that you can use to entertain your family or group of friends. If you care to spend some money, invest in a kayak or learn how to rock climb. Remember, your map app on your phone is your best friend. You can search for nearby places to do all of these things, if they’re not available at your campground.

Now you have some basic knowledge to plan your first (or next) camping trip. The 2023 camping season is over at El Rancho but you can call to make your reservation for next year. We hope to see you at the ranch!

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