Skip to main content

Camping for the First Time: Appropriate Clothing

Liz has always loved camping; her dad was an avid outdoorsman who taught her many skills that are also adaptable to disaster preparedness.


What Should You Wear?

In order to pack the right clothing for your comfort and safety, you need to decide about where and when you are going.

If you are going in the middle of summer, then shorts and tank tops are fine; just don't forget the sunscreen. Do, however, bring a pair of long pants and shirt for night times. If you're going in the spring or fall, you'll want warmer things, just as you would at home. This is especially true if you are going to be at higher elevations, where it is always cooler.

Remember this: hypothermia (getting too cold) is no joke. It's life-threatening. So you don't want to be out there freezing. It can get pretty doggoned chilly overnight in the mountains, even in summer. Even if you're going to a seaside campground, wind off the ocean can be quite biting, especially along the Pacific Coast of the USA.

Don't try to bring your entire wardrobe; just bring sensible things that can serve dual duty. One heavy wool shirt will suffice as a jacket in the summer, and a warm extra layer when it's later in the season. Plus, wool will still keep you warmer, even if it gets wet, in a cooler climate. Other fabrics, such as cotton, will help you lose body heat, and you don't want that at night.

Bundle up according to the weather

Bundle up according to the weather

For later in the season, or at higher elevations, you'll want a good jacket with insulation, and maybe extra layers as well. Go by your own sensitivity to heat and cold. I tend to run cold, so I bring layers. It's best, however, to bring lightweight under layers, so you don't end up immobilized, like that kid in the movie, A Christmas Story.

You'll probably want a baseball cap or some other sun-shielding type of hat for daytime, and warm beanie hat for nighttime. There's an old saying: "If your feet are cold, put on a hat." That's because we lose the most heat from the tops of our heads.

Ponchos Keep You Dry

Plastic ponchos keep you dry, and fold up into a small package when not in use

Plastic ponchos keep you dry, and fold up into a small package when not in use

What If It Rains?

If it rains, you do what they do over in Hawaii: let it rain. It need not spoil your trip. If it really opens up into a downpour, you can retreat to the tent, and break out a game of cards or dice. These are small items easily tucked into an odd corner, for just such occasions. Or, you can play verbal games such as, 20 questions; I Spy; or Going on a Trip.

If your research says you may encounter some rain, then a waterproof jacket is advisable. there are many types, from the bright yellow jacket, hood and overall pants favored by construction workers, to expensive Gore-Tex jackets from the outdoor supply store.

You can always get a simple plastic poncho, as well. An advantage to a poncho, is that it drapes down far enough to let you sit down without getting your backside wet; you have a built-in seat cover. Just be sure that you get a standard poncho, and not one of those 'buy it on the fly' types from convenience stores; those are usually see- through, flimsy plastic film, and they will tear very easily. The good kind are usually available at military surplus stores.

Be advised that in some areas, it does occasionally rain in the summer. This includes the New England states, and some areas in the mountains of California. On my solo trip to Calaveras Big Trees, which I mentioned in my article on the basics, it did rain a little.

No worries. I had my poncho, the rain fly on the tent, and the tent itself 'trenched.' I sat at the picnic table and enjoyed the gentle sound of the rain falling through the trees.

A Word to the Ladies:

Camping is not a fashion show! This is no place to try and be all fancied up and Miss Prissy. You don't need high heels, makeup, hair dryers and such things. Leave them at home. You don't need to impress anyone. I mention this as I have seen it so many times! Women clogging up the restroom sink area trying to look like they're going out on the town.

You waste your time doing all this; you will get dirty. The 'floor' is dirt. The kids will get dirty, and somehow manage to transfer that dirt to you! You can wash up easily, and you don't have to worry about smudging makeup. And, try as you might to prevent it, some dirt is going to get into the tent. Just learn to live with it; you can sweep it out when you break camp to head for home.

If your feet are cold, put on a hat.

Proper Footwear

You need to wear flat, supportive, comfortable shoes. A decent pair of cross-trainers is a good choice. Leave the high heels at home. They are dangerous in a campground. The ground is usually soft enough that the small area of that spike heel will sink in at least a little bit; this will have you walking lopsided at best, or turning and injuring your ankles at worst. That would ruin your trip.

Better yet, a good, broken-in pair of hiking boots that come above the ankles. This helps to support those ankles if you find yourself scrambling about on rocks with the kids. And what kid doesn't like to climb on rocks?

Scroll to Continue
A good pair of hiking boots will keep your footing solid and your ankles safe

A good pair of hiking boots will keep your footing solid and your ankles safe

Camp is not the place to strut your high-fashion shoes.

What Do I Pack My Stuff Into?

So, get out your suitcase, and ... no, wait, put it away again. For most efficient packing for camp, you're better off with a duffel bag. These are made of various types of cloth, and can be stuff-crammed full, and if not filled tight like a log, can also be crammed and stuffed around things in the car, because they will bend!

A military surplus store is a great place to pick up duffel bags for a reasonable price. I still have the three I used for my daughters and I on all of our trips, way back in the mid 1970s and through the 1980s. They are still intact and fully useable. They are not pretty; they are drab olive green. But that's half the attraction. Dirt won't show up, and if they do get dirty, it doesn't matter, they're meant for knocking around.

When you get home, just dust them off, and you're good to go. They aren't really that washable, but if you do need to wash them, like if something sticky got spilled on the bag, do it on a gentle cycle in cold water, (or by hand), and do NOT put them in the dryer: they will shrink! We used to just take ours out in the yard, shake them out, dust them down with a whisk broom, then turn them inside-out, and give another good shaking. Then, put away for next time.

Typical Smaller Duffel Bag -- Cat Not Included

Duffel bags are great for packing; just be sure to remove the cat, first!  Cats love to try to be stowaways. ;-) I can never pack without removing a cat at least twice!

Duffel bags are great for packing; just be sure to remove the cat, first! Cats love to try to be stowaways. ;-) I can never pack without removing a cat at least twice!

The military surplus type of duffel bags will hold much more than the type pictured above. That way, you can fit not only your clothes and towel(s), but your other personal hygiene items (that's soap, toothpaste and the like, not makeup!), and those odd bits for games mentioned earlier.

The best way to pack your clothes in a duffel, or even in a suitcase, is to roll them up! It minimizes wrinkles, and maximizes how much you can fit into the space.

Summer is coming: go get ready! Yes, Summer is coming--it always is. Even if it has just passed, there is still next Summer!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Liz Elias


Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on June 25, 2017:

Oh my goodness, what a poor example! I'll bet she didn't go far; it was probably just a photo op, or staged photo shoot.

Jill Spencer from United States on June 24, 2017:

I saw a pic of Lady Gaga going hiking in heels the other day. She should have read your article!

Liz Elias (author) from Oakley, CA on March 20, 2017:

Oh, my goodness! Did I forget to say to roll up the clothes? Shame on me! That is exactly how I do pack a duffel--learned from my dad and his days in the Navy. He used to say of his Navy sea-bag, "When it's full, you put the rest of the stuff in." That's what I love about duffel bags! I also didn't think to add about a plastic laundry bag; I have two that I made, from cloth, with a drawstring closure. They live in the travel gear so as not to be forgotten.

Thanks for pointing that out--I'll have to go make those revisions ASAP!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on March 20, 2017:

Liz, when packing clothes in a duffel bag, it's a good idea to roll them up. This creates more room for more stuff and eliminates over-wrinkling at the same time. Also, include a plastic bag to put dirty clothes in to keep them separate from clean ones.

Mary Wickison from USA on February 19, 2017:

I'm so glad you mentioned the dangers of cotton, so many people don't realize how dangerous it can be when it gets wet.

I can't imagine women taking heels and make-up. I guess if they are new to camping they don't understand what it's all about.

Your hub offers very useful advice.

Related Articles