There are some essentials you’ll need to take. As you gain experience camping you’ll modify your list to suit your camping style.
If you’re primarily camping in cold weather you don’t need to worry about windows, you won’t need them. For everyone else though, the tent you choose should include lots of vent windows. These windows are made out of a tightly woven screen to keep out bugs but allow air flow. Managing air flow is important; during sumer months you’ll want as much free flowing air as you can get, but during winter you’ll want to close those windows to block the wind and hold in heat.
There are two types of window coverings.
- Zippered windows sewn into the tent on one side and zippers on the remaining side. This style works great, but the extra material is always attached to the tent which could matter if you get serious about backpacking.
- No built in window covers at all. These tents instead rely on the rain fly to cover windows. This is nice on those mid-summer backpack trips where you want to save a few ounces of weight by leaving the rain fly at home.
Rain flies are important for more than just covering your windows. Their primary purpose is to protect the tent from moisture like rain or dew. Even with a light dewing you’ll find that touching the inside of your tent’s wall will cause that moisture to wick inside. But, with the rain fly installed, that moisture collects on the fly leaving the tent wall dry underneath. Some tents include a rain fly that extends out from the tent’s doors allowing you to stow gear outside the tent, but under the fly. This configuration is my favorite. I stow items like chairs, and other gear under the fly leaving more room in the tent.
Sizing a tent can feel misleading. When a manufacture says a tent will sleep three, what they mean to say is it will sleep three 5′ 2″ guys spooning. So, subtract one from the manufacturer’s suggested count and those two guys will be snug, bumping elbows. A manufacture suggested four person tent will sleep two 6′ guys comfortably.
The Kelty Trail Ridge 4 is a great tent for two large guys. Kelty makes a 6 person version of the same model as well.
Bags are rated for temperature. Pay attention to these ratings because their spot on. Taking a bag rated for 60 degrees on trip in Minnesota in November just might ruin your camping career forever. Likewise a 30 degree bag during July in Texas can have the same effect.
There are two styles; square and mummy. The mummy bag is shaped, just as the name suggests, to be as form fitting as possible. The pros are this means less material so less weight and it will warm up quicker since there’s less air to heat. On the negative side though some folks just can’t stand to be that snug.
The square style far more comfortable (a statement of personal preference if there ever was one). I prefer the square bag for two main reasons:
- You don’t feel like you’re in a cocoon,
- and you can store your shirt and pants in the bag with you in the winter months so they’re warm in the morning.
The Colman Dunnock is a great starter bag.
The camp kitchen you build will be based on your cooking style. Generally, you should consider including:
- Camp plates — these are flat dishes with high sides for serving soups, chili and stews.
- Cups — Tin coffee mugs are a favorite since they’ll handle any beverage you can through in them, even hot coffee.
- Various utensils — include knives, spoons, forks, serving utensils.
- Pots and pans — you should have at least one small pot and one fry pan.
- Camp stove — If you’re going to camp in a burn restricted area, you’ll need a camp stove. These stoves use propane bottles.
- Soap — Bring some bio-degradable soap.
- Trash bags — Pack in, pack out is the old adage and you should adhere to it. Bring a sack or two for collecting your camp trash in. Large plastic bags can also be used for rain ponchos.
- Food — Plan each meal before you go and take exactly what you need.
Different types of camping allows for different kinds a camp comfort. If you’re camping with easy access to your car, bring along some folding chairs and maybe even folding camp table.
If you’re backpacking then bring a tarp for sitting on.
For those car camping trips I like the canvas folding style chairs like this one from Colman.
First Aid Kit
You don’t have to be a super paramedic, but you should have a decent first aid kit along. Things happen when you least expect it and help is not just a phone call away. If one of your party cuts themselves you need to be able to at least disinfect the wound. Worst case you’ll need to know how to get the wound to clot so they don’t bleed out as you carry them back to civilization.
At the least your first aid kit should include some disinfectant, antibiotic cream and band-aids. You can get a more comprehensive kit fairly cheaply though so purchase the best bang for your buck. Mountain Series from Adventure Medical Kits are highly recommended kits. Walmart also has some decent kits that will work in a pinch.
Knowing CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver is important as well. Check with your local Red Cross or hospital, they’ll usually have a course or two every year.
Putting it all Together
Experience and common-sense will help you decide what gear to take on your next camping trip. Think about each part of your day, what activities you’ll be doing and the weather. If you plan your trip before hand you’ll have time to enjoy your trip without worry.