Camping Equipment & Gear Guide | Tips, Ideas & Advice

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Getting back to nature through camping can be a great way to spend time with family and friends and help to revitalize your spirit. Below are the best tips, advice and recommendations for your next camping trip!

Essentials for a camping trip

Tent 

Backpack or gear bag

Sleeping bag

Sleeping pad

Adequate clothing and footwear

Water or the ability to properly disinfect water

Food, camping kitchenware and a stove and fuel, if needed

Matches, fire starter or a lighter

First aid kit

A multi-purpose tool

Lantern, headlamp or at least a flashlight

Bathroom supplies with shovel or trowel if needed

Map, GPS or compass

Insect repellent for mosquitoes, ticks, etc.

Communication in the form of 2-way radio or cell phone

Garbage bags

Luxury items for a camping trip 

Camera

Books, notepad and pen

Hand sanitizer

Sunscreen, sunglasses, hat and lip balm

Extra set of shoes that are comfortable

Binoculars

Toiletries

Lightweight folding chair

Coffee, tea or hot chocolate

Fishing gear with license

Games such as cards or board games

Portable radio

Poncho or umbrella (if needed)

Packs

A large duffle or gear bag can be sufficient to pack most supplies for an overnight or few day trip.

For those who are hiking to get to their campsite, we would recommend either an external-frame pack or internal-frame pack.  Both are typically recommended for an overnight trip or multiple day trip depending on the size.

External frame packs are less popular but do offer advantages.  Air tends to circulate better between your back and the frame which can keep some people cooler.  They tend to have a slightly higher center of gravity making it easier to carry the weight on your waist. Also they tend to be cheaper.

Internal Frame packs tend to be closer to your back and allow you to carry the weight lower and offer a more “fitted” feel.  They are usually more stable and balanced than external packs when traversing rough terrain.

Size: Most frame packs start at about 2,500 cubic inches in capacity and get bigger from there.  Typically, about 3,500 cubic inches capacity is enough for a couple day trip if you pack efficiently.

There are water-resistant or water-proof packs available.  Although they are typically heavier, it may be recommended to get one if you regularly find yourself in climates where rain is frequent and can be heavy.  Another alternative is to get a pack weather or rain cover that will cover the pack in the event of wet weather.  These are certainly better than nothing but be aware that they may not keep 100% of the water out depending on the conditions.

Tents

Shelter and protection from the outdoor elements such as cold, wind, rain, insects and other pests is basically your ‘home away from home’ when you are camping so it is of immense importance.  Selecting the right tent is paramount and you do that by first understanding your needs and then matching that information with the characteristics of the tents that you research.

Questions to consider when buying a tent:

How many people will be utilizing the tent?

Will you need additional room for gear inside?

Will you need mosquito netting on the doors and windows?

How important are gear storage pockets and interior hanging loops to you?

Does the tent come with a rain fly for an extra layer of protection during wet weather?

What material do you want it to be made out of?

Does the weight of the tent and poles play a factor for your needs?

Will you need the tent for one season such as summer or will it be a three or even four season tent?

Types of tents

Freestanding Dome Tent

This is probably the most popular style of tent and is available in numerous variations of the dome shape.  This type of tent design provides adequate floor space as well as a generally good ceiling height.

Non-Freestanding Dome Tent

They describe it as non-freestanding because it does not have poles that cross one another.  It can be a little trickier to get up than other types of tents but once it is up, it offers good space and protects you from the elements well.

A-Frame Tent

This is the classic tent that is known for its efficiency and relative ease of set-up. It sheds water well due to the steeper pitch of the walls.  Although there are benefits to the steeper walls, you will lose some ceiling space as a result and sometimes winds are more noticeable.

Tarp

This is the most basic of all shelters and usually involves a lightweight tarp strung up between trees or tied to poles that are placed in the ground.  This type of tent is an option if elements such as wind, cold, insects or other things aren’t much of a problem.  A tarp can also be used as a secondary shelter and serve as the roof for a kitchen or a space to get together to meet with other people.

Hammock-Tent System

For a convenience and lightweight solution, this is pretty smart.  It works like a traditional hammock but has an integrated tarp for weather protection. There are other lesser known tent styles available like the hammock-tent style.  So if you look around, you may find a style that may suit your needs better than some of the other more popular versions.

Sleeping Bags

There are a variety of options and characteristics that different sleeping bags offer.  Again, coming to the conclusion of how you will be using it is the ultimate determining factor in what type you need.  You may even need more than one depending on the varying temperatures, climates and seasons that you will be camping in.

Rectangular Style Bag

This is the classic sleeping bag that is rectangular in shape and is often very roomy as a result.  They are often the cheapest option and are sufficient for mild weather trips that last only a night or two.  They are not recommended for cold weather generally due to the fact that they do not close at the top so the upper portion of your body will not be insulated as well.  Keep in mind that if you are backpacking, this is usually the heaviest option when it comes to sleeping bags.

Mummy Style Bag

This unique shape are the most popular sleeping bag style and basically mimic the contour of a person’s body to allow for a snug fit.  This in turn will help to retain maximum body heat but do not allow as much room for movement.  Due to their design they are lighter weight but also more expensive because of these features.

Semi-Rectangular Style Bag

This shape reflects the joining of a rectangular bag and a mummy bag.  Due to their shape they hold body heat well and are good for slightly cooler nights.

Two-person bags

This option is available as a result of basically having two sleeping bags that zip together or they can be used individually is desired.

Sleeping Pads

Open-cell foam pad

These are the cheapest cost-wise of all sleeping pads and due to being less dense than other pads, they offer less protection from bumps in the ground, sticks, rocks, etc.  Also they tend to rip more easily and do not compress as well as other pads.  They must be kept dry because due to their design, they are prone to soaking up water.

Closed-cell foam pad

These are relatively mid-ranged price as far as pads go.  They are generally pretty durable and protect you from the ground better than a open-cell pad but not the best option either. They can be packed up tightly for transport and will not take on moisture.  Many people feel that this type offers you the best value due to its excellent insulation value for minimal money.

Self-Inflating pad

These pads tend to be the most expensive but also the most popular and have high comfort ratings.  In order to operate, the valve must be opened and then air will come into the pad.  Take caution not to puncture the pad.  It may be a good idea to have a repair kit on hand.

Air Mattress

The prices of this type of pad go from relatively inexpensive to expensive based on the pads materials, characteristics and options.  Basically there are two styles available.  One that holds air in a single chamber and the other holds air in multiple chambers.  Take caution not to puncture the pad.  It may be a good idea to have a repair kit on hand.

Clothing & Footwear

Shoes

Lightweight, mid-weight and heavyweight shows are available depending on the distance, pack load, support and terrain you will need to consider.  When purchasing shoes, allow for just slightly more room around the toe area due to the impact that hiking in the outdoors will bring.  Also be sure to “break in” a new pair at home before coming out in the wilderness with them for the first time.

Clothes

The weather temperature will be the main determining factor for how light or heavy you will need to dress.  While taking into consideration the weather forecast, it is always best to dress in “layers.” Begin with an inner layer and then add middle layers on top of that if needed until you reach your desired outer level such as your coat or jacket, if required.  Most professionals would say that it is better to have too many layers on that you can shed if you get too warm, than to be lacking too little clothing and be cold.

Also consider the material of the clothing.  Cotton, wool, polypropylene, polyester, down, nylon and other materials all have unique characteristics and the weather will be the determining factor on which type you go with.

Also remember proper head and face gear as well as gloves or mittens depending on the weather.

Ways to carry water

Drinking water and staying hydrated is very important to staying healthy and enjoying your outdoor experience.  Depending on the length of your trip, there are a few ways to have water at your campsite

1) Bottles of water.  Some people just buy a 24 pack of water an have it at the site.

2) Bring a water cooler full of water.

2) Drinking bottles are very common as well.

3) Hydration bladders can hold different amounts of water depending on their size and are worn similarly to a traditional day or back pack.  These are typically reserved for on the go hiking but can be used at the camp site as well.

Camping foods

While this is not a complete list, below are some common food items that people can enjoy on the trail.

Apples, bagels, bean spread, bread, cereal, chips, crackers, dehydrated foods, egg beaters, fruit (raw and dried), fruitcake, granola or energy bars, hard cheese, hash browns, instant potatoes, jam packets, jerky, pancakes, pasta, peanut butter and jelly, powdered milk, pretzels, vegetables (raw and dried), rice, salami, salsa, tortillas

Be aware of rules and regulations in certain areas that have bears or other animals.  You may be required to store your food well away from the camp, using a animal-proof container, hanging high in a tree or using some other method.

Selecting a camp site

A proper campsite should have multiple characteristics.  You will need to have a place for your tent, kitchen and bathroom pit area (if needed).  Also it is desirable to have some privacy as well as a nice view if available.  Of course, finding a site that is safe is paramount above all. Be aware of upcoming weather, lightening, flood zones, drop-offs such as cliffs, falling objects such as rocks.

It is important to find a relatively flat sight with soil that drains well if it rains.  Also, if needed having close access to water that can be disinfected.  Examples would include a stream, lake, snow or even rain if weather permits.

Be sure to locate your site early while there is still plenty of daylight.

Campfire safety

When building a campfire, be sure to clear the are around the site of the fire so that no flammable debris is around.  If there is no established metal fire ring, you can start preferably with bare ground as your base build a fire ring with stones or other non-flammable or non-combustible items in order to contain the fire.

When stacking firewood, be sure everyone is aware where it is at so that when it gets dark, it won’t become a tripping hazard.

Be sure that the fire is 100% completely out before leaving camp by pouring water on the ashes.  Try to clean up this debris the best that you can so that the next campers can enjoy the spot as well.

Plant safety

Similarly, there are plants and mushrooms that can cause itchiness or poison.  Educate yourself on those plants and how best to avoid them.

First Aid

Become familiar with at least the basics of first aid if not more advanced treatment options and how to properly use your kit.

Minimal Impact

Litter

Remember to “pack out” any waste or litter that you create and dispose of it properly when you return to your destination. By working together to keep the environment clean, we can all enjoy the beauty of nature the way it was intended.

Natural objects and vegetation

It is typically advisable and sometimes in keeping with the law to leave flower and natural objects in place and a part of their natural environment to allow insects and animals to utilize them.  Also by leaving them, you will allow others to enjoy them as well.  Examples include: antlers, seashells, tree limbs, birds nests, etc.

Do not feed wildlife

Remember that by not feeding the wildlife and keeping an adequate distance will help keep others safe and will not encourage the animals to come near the camp sites, trails or areas where humans congregate.  Observe them from a distance only.

Pets

It is typically recommended that pets such as dogs be left at home so as not to disturb other campers.  Also some dogs might carry diseases that wild animals can contract.  If you must bring your dog, be sure they are adequately leashed and up to date on all vaccinations.  Also, be sure that if you are going to an established camp site and plan on bringing your pet, check first to see if they allow pets or not.

Wild animal safety

In some areas of the country it is advisable to understand what animals such as bears, wild cats or snakes may be a threat and to study precautions that are needed to avoid dangerous encounters.  Also keep in mind how to best store your food and where to store it so that there aren’t run-ins with animals as well.

Cleaning and maintaining gear and equipment

It is critical that when you are packing up, you take the time to clean your equipment such as your tent, kitchenware, shoes and other items before you return home.  This will help to prevent mold, wear and tear and other ways of deterioration from affecting your stuff. Also, with your tent in particular, it is recommended that when you get home, set it up in a spot to allow it to dry further and clean it again as needed before storing it.  These drying steps can also be utilized with your sleeping bag and other gear if needed.  By taking care of these items now, then next time, they will be ready to go in good order!

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By Ryan Shields

Ryan is the Senior Editor here at Outdoor Home and Garden. He has a degree in Horticulture and has worked in the field of Facilities Management for over 16 years.

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