Gear, plan, and pee outside: Seattle’s outdoor experts give their tips for new campers

Imagine spending a night sleeping on dirt, repelling insects, and making friends with the local wildlife.

Washingtonians love to hike and camp, but if you’ve never spent the night in the woods, the idea of ​​camping can be intimidating or even silly. Sleeping outdoors definitely requires some adjustments to your bedtime routine, but with practice, camping will start to feel comfortable and fun for even the greenest of beginners.

Gear and preparation is key, as is learning to feel good about being separated. Expert Theresa Haggerty, founder and guide of Cascade Mountain Adventures, a Seattle-based adventure company that specializes in women-only outdoor activities, and Ben “Bucky” Bukowitz, sales coordinator at Ascent Outdoors, an outdoor gear store in Ballard, shared their tips for first-time campers looking forward to Go out in the fresh air.

Get the right gear

Hagerty and Bukowitz emphasized the importance of buying or renting the highest quality “big three” you can afford: tent, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag.

“There are fewer things worse than a wet, cold, or horrible night’s sleep,” Haggerty said. “We recommend tents with room for one person more than expected, sleeping pads with an R value of 3.5 or higher and a sleeping bag 30 degrees or warmer.”

Rentals are available from major Seattle retailers such as REI as well as a large number of smaller organizations ranging from The Mountaineers to Ascent and Gearhouse among others. When in doubt, seek help from an expert.

With all the gear options available on the market, finding the right setup can be overwhelming. provides honest reviews of any piece of outdoor gear you can imagine. Once you have an idea of ​​what you want, head to your local outdoor store to test out the equipment. Most outfitters allow guests to test products in store before purchasing.

“Have someone work with you to get it all together,” Bukovitz said. “This way you can feel and see how the parts are connected. Ask questions to the staff. They will have all the answers.”

Finding the right gear can take some time. If you want to test something a few times before buying, rent a device or ask a friend if you can borrow the equipment. Camping with a more experienced companion is the perfect way to learn the ropes.

Quality camping gear is not cheap (several hundred dollars). If buying the Big Three at once isn’t in the budget, look into buying second-hand equipment. In Seattle, Ascent, Wonderland Gear Exchange, REI and others sell used equipment that has been evaluated by employees for reliability and quality.

“There is a lot of good equipment for all kinds of outdoor recreation,” Bukovitz said. “It’s easy to find used camping gear and gear in stores and online.”

In addition to the Big Three, always bring 10 Essentials, layers for cool nights and mornings, rain gear (even in summer!) and comfortable shoes for lounging at camp. Once you have your camping gear, head over to to search for camp site reservations (ideally well in advance).

Feeling comfortable with discomfort

Some are turned off by the idea of ​​camping due to lack of bathroom facilities, insects or dirt, but there are different levels of camping, which can help new campers relax at the idea of ​​leaving the luxury of home for a few days.

“It’s liberating to break away and let go of some of those norms for the outdoors,” Haggerty said.

Camping with cars at an existing campground is an ideal starting point. Many campgrounds include showers (usually for a small fee) and shared bathrooms.

When your car is there, it allows you to bring even more amenities: your own pillow, larger cooking equipment, and extra food. Over time, you’ll get to know what you’re actually using, which will prepare you for more challenging adventures.

Haggerty also suggested including some fun elements for the first time.

“Throw away some playing cards, twinkling lights, a flying disc, or your favorite stuffed animal after covering the essentials,” she said.

Camping hygiene, a life without a toilet

As far as hygiene goes during camping trips with no toilets or showers, it takes some getting used to. Baby wipes are used for temporary bathing, or you can bring a small bottle of biodegradable soap and a towel if you’re staying near a water source.

Washington-based Kula Cloth makes reusable twisted urine, which makes peeing outdoors downright fun. When it’s time to take second place, it won’t be as scary as it sounds, plus you’ll likely have a nice view. Find a spot off the driveway and away from the water source, dig a hole 6-8 inches deep and 4-6 inches wide, bury your faeces and stuff the toilet paper.

“If you get nervous one day, just take a deep breath,” Bukovitz said. “Chances are if you happen to run into another camp, you can at least feel fine knowing they might not have showered either.”

Your first camping trip

Once you have the equipment and mindset, it’s time to plan that camping trip!

If you have friends who are experienced campers, ask them if they would join you on your first outing. They will probably be happy to show you the ropes. If you don’t know anyone camping or new to the Pacific Northwest, Facebook groups can be great places to meet camping buddies.

“We have a wealth of outdoor communities like The Mountaineers and social media groups including PNW Outdoor Women, Women Who Hike Washington and many more,” said Hagerty. “They welcome beginners and a great place to find community.”

People of color looking for a community in the Great Outdoors can check out groups like Outdoor Afro, Latino Outdoors, and Outdoor Asian, while QPOC and OUTVentures serve the LGBTQ+ community.

Before leaving the house, check the weather and do your research around the area. The Washington Trails Association is a great resource for trail conditions, as well as other relevant information about bears, other wildlife, and fire prevention. Always share your trip details with a trusted friend or family member.

“A solid foundation, built on basic skills and environmental awareness, is the key to a life of successful outdoor adventures,” said Haggerty. “Camping should be a safe and fun experience with room for childlike wonder.”

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