It’s easy to forget stuff you use every day
Aluminum foil. Containers for leftovers. Water bottles. Contact solution. Soap. Tweezers. There are a ton of tiny things that you use all the time–and that are easy to forget. A week or so before you leave, carry some paper and a pen around with you (an old envelope or a notebook will do) and write down everything you use. Then bring those things. Then think about stuff you might need in the outdoors, and bring all those things, too. If you’re going camping with a car, it’s much easier to pack too much stuff (toilet paper! Dishtowels! A hammer for staking down the tent!) than too little.
And when you’re the grown-up who’s in charge of everything, or you’ve never gone before, it’s really easy to forget the basics.
The ground is hard (and it’s OK to remedy that)
Ok, this may sound obvious, but the very first time Adam and I went camping, I did what I’d always done: Laid down a few blankets in the tend and called it good. But, because he’d never slept on the actual ground without an air mattress, sleeping pad, or other cushion of some fashion, he found it so extremely uncomfortable that he was basically unable to sleep. The next time–with a little bit of good-natured mocking from yours truly–we found him a sleeping mat at a local sporting goods store. If you’re in the same boat, consider getting something to sleep on.
I, personally, recommend a foam mat. But that’s just because I hate air mattresses because as a particularly small individual, I find them very difficult to share with other people. I usually get bounced off.
Starting a fire can also be hard (but fun)
That roaring blaze you’ve dreamt of? It’s actually kind of tricky to get going. Especially if, say, your dad always started it when you went as a kid. The last time we went camping, both Adam and I wrestled with the fire–but eventually, he figured out the perfect fire-building technique. He is now a pro, and loves making fires.
Don’t feel shy about Googling around for some fire-building tips, or about buying fire-starters (they’re usually sold near matches) or other ways to get your flame flying high and hot.
In addition to a fire-starter, be sure to bring matches, old newspapers (but not glossy magazines–they don’t work, and they’re terrible for the air), tinder (smaller pieces of hot-burning wood), and larger firewood. Or, better yet, buy firewood locally wherever you are. It’s better for the ecosystem. Skip the accelerants (like gas), unless you want a lungful of poison and probably no eyebrows.
Bears are real
We saw one on my last camping trip and it nearly stopped my heart. But it was a good reminder to lock up your stuff in the car, every night. Even the cooler. Even the snacks. Lock. It. Up.