Getting ready for your first camping trip? You’ve probably seen some of the lists that are supposed to help you pack. Typically, though, those lists are written for more experienced campers who already know the basics of the bush. What if you’re a newbie? I recently made my camping debut on a two-night trip in Massasauga Provincial Park, near Parry Sound, Ont., and I’ve drawn up my own list of 10 invaluable items that first-timers should consider bringing with them:

  1. Earplugs. When I tuck myself into bed in Toronto, the only sound I hear is the odd police siren. In the bush, I heard trees creaking, frogs croaking, owls hooting, insects chirping and who knows what other kinds of wildlife making an infernal racket. I was certain a wild animal would be in the tent with us when we woke up… so I didn’t sleep. I was pretty much used to it by the second night, but I highly recommend tossing a pair of earplugs into your bag for your first night in the wilds.
  1. Waterproof hiking shoes. The weather was beautiful when we were camping, but sometimes it just wasn’t safe to run around in the flip-flops I usually like to wear, due to the terrain. Had I not been wearing the cute, waterproof hiking shoes my partner bought for me, I can guarantee the following unfortunate experiences would have happened (because they almost did, even with the shoes):
    • Getting my feet wet, leading to a bad attitude
    • Rolling my ankle
    • Falling into animal droppings
    • Slipping off a rock into ice-cold water
  1. Tall socks. On previous trips without me, my partner has tended to collect cuts and scrapes on his ankles and calves. My skin scars quite easily, so whenever we were hiking in the bush I wore tall compression socks to protect my legs. As a result, only one of us returned home looking like he got lost in the jungle.
  1. A mosquito head net. I was fully saturated with mosquito repellent at all times, so I came home with zero bites, but the repellent didn’t stop the mosquitoes (and every other kind of insect) from continually dive-bombing my face and hair. I think they were attracted to either the lingering scent of my shampoo or the lotion I had applied under the repellent. I’ll be thrilled to wear a hat with an attached mesh head net over my face and hair the next time I camp. If you choose anything from this list, this one is a must.
  1. Baby wipes. If you’re camping when it’s still a little cold out, you may not be able to jump in a lake for a quick bath, because you’ll freeze! The best way I found to trick your body into feeling moderately clean is to use baby wipes – it’s sort of like taking a sponge bath.
  1. Dry bags of all sizes. I thought we were overdoing it by packing everything in those colourful dry bags that protect your gear if your boat swamps or tips, but I would have been an absolutely terrible camping-mate if any of the clothes I had packed got wet thanks to my poor paddling skills.
  1. A canoe seat cushion. We drove for 2.5 hours and parked the car. From there, our first campsite was three hours away by canoe. When you’re paddling a canoe, the constant shifting of weight and the strain on your back and shoulder muscles can make you very uncomfortable, even with a breathtaking view to distract you. An unpadded canoe seat just adds to the discomfort. I am fortunate to have more natural padding than my partner, so I was all right; to cushion his seat, we tried a life jacket, folded clothing and camping pillows, but none of them did the trick. We finally did find his canoe seat cushion – when we were packing to go home. He said it was like sitting on a cloud. If you have a sensitive tush, bring a seat cushion!
  1. A few treats. I found that sharing some tasty snacks along the way was a great way to put a little sunshine on my partner’s face – especially when I didn’t think he could bear the canoe seat any longer. Go to the bulk food store and grab a few little treats to put some sunshine on your own face as well! Consider keeping them as a surprise for your camping companion, to be brought out at the right moment. The gesture could go a long way.
  1. Travel insurance. Now that I have all this camping experience, I have my eye on a few Canadian national parks outside the province. Travel insurance is just as important for Canadians camping in a different province as it is for those travelling outside the country, since not all provinces have the same government health insurance coverage.
  1. Someone who has camped before. My partner’s camping experience was invaluable. I’m sure I would’ve had a fire going just by blowing on it — eventually — but darkness waits for nobody! I also could’ve climbed a tree and hoisted up the bags of food to keep them safe from bears, but it was really entertaining to watch him do it instead. Try to go camping with someone who has done it before, who will teach you the tricks of the trade. If nobody on the trip has camping experience, make sure to do your homework before you set off, and don’t try anything too ambitious.

Putting these must-haves on your list will help you enjoy your first camping trip. Once all your packing is done and you get past that first night, you can look forward to smooth paddling from there on!