Planning Your First Camping Trip to the Outer Banks

The Outer Banks, a string of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. With its pristine beaches, diverse wildlife, and numerous campgrounds, the Outer Banks is an ideal place for a first-time camping trip.

Whether you’re a seasoned camper or new to the experience, this comprehensive guide will help you plan your perfect Outer Banks camping adventure.

Choosing Your Campground
The first step in planning your camping trip is selecting the right campground. The Outer Banks offers a variety of campgrounds to suit different preferences and budgets.

National Park Service Campgrounds:

  • Cape Hatteras National Seashore: Offers four campgrounds (Oregon Inlet, Cape Point, Frisco, and Ocracoke) along the seashore, with amenities like restrooms, showers, and potable water.
  • Wright Brothers National Memorial: Features a small campground near the memorial, with basic amenities like restrooms and water.

Private Outer Banks Campgrounds:

  • Camp Hatteras RV Resort & Campground: Offers RV sites, tent sites, and cabin rentals, with amenities like pools, a playground, and a camp store.
  • Cape Woods Campground: Features RV and tent sites in a wooded setting, with amenities like restrooms, showers, and a pool.

When choosing your campground, consider factors like location, amenities, and price, as well as your personal camping style and preferences.

Essential Camping Gear for the Outer Banks

When camping in the Outer Banks, it’s crucial to have the right gear to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience, especially given the unique challenges of beach camping and the area’s constant winds.


  • Choose a tent with a high wind rating and sturdy poles to withstand the Outer Banks’ strong winds.
  • Consider a tent with a full-coverage rainfly for added protection against wind and rain.
  • Look for a tent with ample ventilation to help regulate temperature and reduce condensation.
  • Opt for a tent with a spacious vestibule or porch area to store sandy gear and provide extra living space.

Stakes and Guy Lines:

  • Invest in high-quality, heavy-duty stakes designed for sandy soil and high winds.
  • Consider using sand anchors or deadman anchors for added stability in loose sand.
  • Bring extra guy lines and stakes to secure your tent from multiple angles.
  • Use reflective or brightly colored guy lines to prevent tripping hazards at night.

Other Essential Gear:

  • Sleeping bags rated for the appropriate temperature range, and consider using a sleeping bag liner for added warmth and easy cleaning.
  • Sleeping pads or air mattresses to provide insulation and comfort on the sand.
  • Tarps or shade shelters to create additional outdoor living space and protection from the sun and wind.
  • Sand-free beach mats or blankets for lounging and picnicking.
  • Portable camp chairs and tables for outdoor dining and relaxation.

Power Solutions for Beach Camping

Many National Park Service campgrounds in the Outer Banks don’t offer electricity, so it’s important to bring your own power solutions for charging devices, lighting, and other needs.

Power Banks and Solar Chargers:

  • Bring high-capacity power banks to charge smartphones, tablets, and other small devices.
  • Consider a portable solar charger or solar panel to recharge power banks and devices during the day.

Lanterns and Lighting:

  • Pack battery-powered or rechargeable lanterns for ambient lighting in your tent and campsite.
  • Bring headlamps or flashlights for individual use and navigating the campground at night.

Coolers and Ice:

  • Invest in a high-quality, well-insulated cooler to keep food and drinks cold for extended periods.
  • Consider a portable electric cooler or fridge if you have access to a power source or generator.
  • Bring plenty of ice or frozen gel packs to replenish your cooler throughout your trip.

Planning Your Camping Meals

Food is an important part of any camping trip, and the Outer Banks offers plenty of options for campsite and beach cooking.

Beach Cooking Tips:

  • Use a portable grill or camp stove to cook meals on the beach, and always follow local regulations regarding fires and cooking.
  • Bring plenty of water for cooking and cleaning, as well as a large pot or container for washing dishes.
  • Use airtight containers and coolers to keep food fresh and prevent sand from getting into your ingredients.
  • Consider pre-chopping ingredients and pre-cooking meals at your campsite to make beach cooking easier and faster.
  • Bring a large beach umbrella or shade shelter to provide a comfortable cooking and dining area out of the sun.

Campsite Cooking Tips:

  • Plan your meals in advance and bring versatile ingredients that can be used in multiple dishes.
  • Use a camping stove with multiple burners to cook several dishes at once, and consider bringing a griddle or grill plate for added versatility.
  • Bring cast iron cookware for durability and even heat distribution, and consider a Dutch oven for one-pot meals and baking.
  • Use a cooler with separate compartments or multiple coolers to keep raw meats, dairy, and other perishables separate and well-chilled.
  • Keep a clean and organized camp kitchen, with designated areas for food preparation, cooking, and washing dishes.

Meal Ideas:

  • Breakfast: Pancakes, breakfast burritos, eggs and bacon, oatmeal with fresh fruit
  • Lunch: Sandwiches, wraps, salads, cold pasta dishes
  • Dinner: Grilled meats and vegetables, foil packet meals, one-pot stews and chilis, campfire pizza
  • Snacks: Trail mix, fresh fruit, veggie sticks and dip, energy bars, s’mores

Camping with Dogs in the Outer Banks
Many Outer Banks campgrounds and beaches allow dogs, but it’s important to come prepared and follow local regulations to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for both you and your furry friend.

Gear and Supplies:

  • Bring plenty of fresh water and a collapsible bowl for your dog to stay hydrated.
  • Pack dog food in airtight containers to avoid attracting wildlife.
  • Bring waste bags and always clean up after your dog to keep the campground and beach clean.
  • Consider a portable fan or cooling mat to help your dog stay comfortable in hot weather.
  • Use a sturdy leash and collar with identification tags, and consider a reflective or light-up collar for nighttime visibility.

Beach and Campground Etiquette:

  • Always keep your dog on a leash and under control, both in the campground and on the beach.
  • Respect other campers and beachgoers by keeping your dog from barking excessively or disturbing others.
  • Be aware of local leash laws and any restrictions on dogs in certain areas of the beach or campground.
  • Monitor your dog for signs of heat exhaustion or distress, and provide plenty of shade and rest breaks.

Exploring the Outer Banks
One of the best parts of camping in the Outer Banks is the opportunity to explore the region’s natural beauty and outdoor activities.

Beach Activities:

  • Swimming and sunbathing: Enjoy the Outer Banks’ pristine beaches and warm ocean waters.
  • Surfing and paddleboarding: Rent gear or take a lesson to try your hand at these popular water sports.
  • Shelling and beachcombing: Search for unique shells and other treasures along the shoreline.

Hiking and Nature Walks:

Other Activities:

  • Fishing: Cast a line in the surf or join a chartered fishing trip for a chance to catch your own fresh seafood.
  • Kayaking and canoeing: Explore the Outer Banks’ waterways and marshes by kayak or canoe.
  • Visiting historic sites: Learn about the Outer Banks’ rich history at sites like the Wright Brothers National Memorial and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.

When planning your activities, be sure to check local regulations and guidelines, and always practice Leave No Trace principles to help preserve the Outer Banks’ natural beauty for future generations.

Staying Safe and Comfortable
Camping in the Outer Banks can be a wonderful experience, but it’s important to take steps to stay safe and comfortable during your trip.

Weather and Climate:

  • Summer: Expect warm to hot temperatures, high humidity, and the possibility of afternoon thunderstorms.
  • Fall and Spring: Enjoy mild temperatures and lower humidity, but be prepared for cooler evenings and the possibility of storms.
  • Winter: Expect cooler temperatures, strong winds, and the possibility of freezing temperatures at night.

Safety Tips:

  • Check weather forecasts and local advisories before and during your trip.
  • Bring appropriate clothing and gear for the season and weather conditions.
  • Use caution when swimming in the ocean, and be aware of rip currents and other hazards.
  • Protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen, hats, and protective clothing.
  • Stay hydrated and bring plenty of water, especially during hot weather.
  • Keep a clean campsite and store food and trash securely to avoid attracting wildlife.

By following these safety tips and being prepared for the Outer Banks’ weather and climate, you can ensure a safe and comfortable camping experience.

Planning your first camping trip to the Outer Banks may seem daunting, but with careful preparation and a sense of adventure, it can be an unforgettable experience. By choosing the right campground, gathering essential gear, planning your meals and activities, and taking steps to stay safe and comfortable, you can make the most of your Outer Banks camping trip.

Remember to bring appropriate power solutions, follow best practices when camping with dogs, and take advantage of the many opportunities for beach and campsite cooking. So pack your bags, hit the road, and get ready to discover the natural beauty and outdoor wonders of this unique coastal destination.