The Ultimate Guide to Outdoor Camping Equipment
Are you planning to go camping for the first time? Congratulations as it is an experience you’re not going to forget and will have you coming back for more. Camping means different things for different people: some do it to get back with nature, to relax, spend time with family and friends and so on. To get the most out of any camping experience however, you need to bring the proper camping equipment.
Deciding what type of gear to bring can be difficult for a first timer. On the one hand, you don’t want to go out there unprepared. If you want to have a good – and safe – time out there, you will need more than just a water bottle and a sleeping bag, especially if you’re planning to spend considerable time camping.
On the other hand you don’t want to go the other extreme end, where you pack too much gear including those you don’t need. If you have never camped before, you will be surprised at how tiring it can get especially if you’re carrying a lot of equipment. If you plan to do some trekking and not stay too long in one place, carrying all that stuff is going to strain you and take away all the fun.
The equipment you should bring depends on your objective. If you’re going to a well -known base camp and plan to do some daily treks, you should bring a good pair of shoes along with other essentials. The longer you plan to camp the more equipment you need to bring.
As has been pointed out above, what you bring along depends on the type of camping you plan to do. However, the following can be considered essentials for a typical camping trip. In the following sections we will offer some tips to ensure your camping trip is an enjoyable one.
Types of Camping Gear
There are a lot of camping equipment we can talk about, but these are the most essential.
The first thing you have to consider is the size, and the rule of thumb is to upsize the capacity by 1, so if you’re camping alone, get a 2 person tent, if you’re camping with another person, get a 3 or 4 person tent so there is room for your equipment. Apart from capacity the following have to be considered:
- 3 vs. 4 Season Tent: 3 season tents are for spring, summer and fall. They are lightweight, and will keep you dry even if it rains or there is light snow. 4 season tents on the other hand, can be used during all four seasons. They are more durable, made of tougher materials and just generally stronger. They are however, heavier and more expensive.
- Tent Length: a floor length of 90 inches minimum is recommended if you’re 6 ft. or over.
- Tent Height: check the tent height if you want to change clothes while standing up or want to stretch. There are two options, cabin style and dome style tents. Cabin style tents provide the maximum possible ceiling due to its almost vertical walls. Dome style tents have sloping walls but it is higher in the center. Due to the construction they are more durable than cabin style tents.
- Tent Doors: get a tent with several doors if you’re going to camp with other people. Check the zippers too and make sure they’re not noisy or get stuck, which could disturb your sleeping companions.
- Poles: the majority of camping tents today are of the freestanding type and don’t need any stakes. This is preferable because in case you want to move to another location, you can pack up the tent more quickly.
It is also better to go with tents that have as few poles as possible as they’re easier to set up. And given a choice between threading and clipping poles, go with the latter as they are stronger and provide better ventilation. As far as material is concerned, aluminum is superior to fiberglass.
- Rainfly: the rainfly serves as your tent’s waterproof cover. It is set over your tent’s roof and it will prevent rain from damaging your tent. There are two types of rainflies, full coverage and roof only. Roof only rainfly provides decent protection without compromising views and light. Full coverage can affect the view, but you get maximum protection from rain and wind.
- Materials: keep in mind that high denier materials are more durable than those with a lower denier. For additional strength look for tents with seam tape to further protect against leaks.
There are several factors that come to play here such as the type of camping you do, length, number of people with you and so on. We will look at the most critical factors here.
- Number of Companions: if you’re car camping alone or with 2 or 3 individuals, a 1 or 2 burner stove will suffice. However if there are 4 to 7 people with you, a 2 burner stove is the better option as there is more room. For 8 people or more, a 3 burner stove will be necessary.
- Trip Duration: no matter the length of your trip, make sure your stove has enough fuel or gas till the end. Go to your stove manufacturer’s website and check its fuel consumption so you can bring the appropriate amount. In most car camping trips, propane gas is used, with 1 to 5 gallon propane tanks the most popular option.
- Burners: as mentioned above, the number of people with you determines the number of burners you may want to use. However that is only a general guide: if you’re the type who likes to cook a lot of food even when alone, a 2 or 3 burner stove is the best option. However if your trip involves a lot of backpacking and moving around, a 1 burner stove is ideal.
- Weight and Size: If you’re car camping, you have room for just about any type of gas stove, whereas with backpacking it is a bigger concern. The most practical option for campers is a standalone stove as they don’t need a table and have lots of cooking room.
In most cases, a 2 burner stove will do the job and is great for cooking several items at the same time. If you are camping with several companions however, a bigger stove is in order. With regards to weight, it corresponds with the size, i.e. the bigger the stove the heavier they get. However it won’t be a problem if you are car camping.
Check the sleeping bag’s temperature rating, as it tells you the lowest temperature the bag can keep you warm. So if the bag is described as a 30 degree bag, it means the sleeping bag will keep you comfortable and warm as long as the temperature doesn’t drop below 30 F. Note that this rating makes the assumption you have a sleeping pad. Generally, summer season sleeping bags have a rating of 35 F and up, while 3 season bags have +10 up to +35. Winter sleeping bag ratings are usually + 10 and below. General, all-purpose camping sleeping bags are rated from +15 F and +50 F.
Here are other factors you need to consider:
- Shape: camping and sleeping bags keep you warm by holding non-circulating air near you, and your body heats this up. Camping bags usually have more room than backpacking bags, but they are more comfortable. The most common shapes are rectangular, barrel shaped and mummy like. Mummy shape bags are somewhat restrictive but ideal if you plan to do some backpacking.
- Insulation: synthetic insulation is preferred by most because it is affordable and offers good performance. These are usually made from polyester, dries fast and provides solid insulation even if wet. Another option is goose insulation, which has many of the same features as synthetic but is more durable. However, it is more expensive. Another option would be water resistant insulation if there is the possibility of rain.
- Lining and Shell: look for camping bags with polyester or ripstop nylon. If you’re using a synthetic sleeping bag, it should have durable water repellent (DWR) finish as this lets water bead instead of soaking the material.
- Hood: if you’re camping in cool weather, a sleeping bag with a hood is going to come in handy as it will prevent heat from leaving your body.
- Pockets and Sleeves: a stash pocket can be handy for storing small items like glasses, a watch or your mobile device. A sleeping pad sleeve can be found in some bags in lieu of underside insulation, and this is actually a good feature as it prevents roll offs from the pad. Lastly check out those sleeping bags with pillow pockets where you can put clothes and make a pillow.
If you don’t feel comfortable in a sleeping bag, perhaps you will prefer an air mattress instead. If you do go with an air mattress, check its dimensions and how much room it is going to occupy in your tent, especially if you’re going to bring lots of equipment. In addition to the size you have to consider the weight as well.
- Heavy: the more comfortable a mattress is, the heavier it will be, so you need to strike a balance here. If your priority is comfort, choose a heavy and thick mattress, and these types are also more durable. Heavy mattresses are also good choices if you don’t camp far from home or go camping with kids.
- Light: if you like to camp light or your objectives are to hike and trek (i.e. won’t spend much time inside the camp sleeping), you will be better served with a lighter air mattress as they’re more convenient and portable. While they’re not as durable as heavy mattresses, it doesn’t mean it’s going to give way immediately.
- Electric, Portable and Hand Pumps: if you’re camping near your car, an electric pump mattress will do as you don’t have to carry it far, given its bulk. However, a hand or foot pump is the better option if you have to walk some distance to your camping spot, as they’re lighter.
- Portable Pumps: no matter what type of pump you use, you can purchase an electric pump anytime you want. Portable pumps have AC or DC plugins. If you choose an AC electric pump you will need a wall outlet or generator, while a DC obtains its power from your car’s electric pump.
- Battery Power: some air mattresses are battery powered, with the pump running on 4D batteries. This is quickly becoming a popular option among campers who don’t have a vehicle or outlet power source and want a mattress they can easily inflate.
- Self-Inflating: self-inflating air mattresses are lightweight and portable. These are the most ideal options if your camping is going to involve a lot of hikes and treks. The drawback is they are not as comfortable as other mattresses because the material isn’t as thick.
Don’t forget to read customer reviews of mattresses: this will give you an idea how comfortable they are and what tent size is most suited for their size.
There are several types of ice chests in the market, from traditional models to high end ones with all the bells and whistles. Your budget aside, the following factors have to be considered:
- Insulation: standard ice chests can hold ice and remain under 40 F for two to three days. If your camping trip is only going to last the weekend then these ice chests will do fine. What’s more if you add more ice to the chest, they will keep your food and drinks for more than 3 days. If you’re camping for 10 days or more and carry lots of meat, use dry ice, but make sure your ice chest is equipped to handle it.
- Durability: the more expensive the ice chest is, the more durable it will be. However this really won’t be a problem provided you are careful and only use it as directed. Weekend campers will do fine with standard ice chests. But if you camp more than 10 times a year in diverse environments and the ice chest will take a pounding in your pickup truck or boat, consider investing in a high end model. These can be up to 4 times more expensive than a regular model, but if you’re going to keep buying new ice chests because they wear out, it’s better to invest in a good model now.
- Storage Capacity: this is a matter of personal preference and how many people are going with you. A 25 quart ice chest has sufficient room for drinks for you and a few companions, or food for one person who is camping overnight. If you’re camping for multiple days or a couple’s weekend camping, get an ice chest in the 40 quart range. For long weekend camping trips with family or friends, a 70 quart ice chest will be fine.
There are larger ice chests available, but the bigger they are the less portable, so you have to balance this.
With the list above you now have a good idea of what to bring when you go camping. Of course there are other things you need to consider, and chief among them is striking a balance between weight and necessity. As was pointed out earlier, this is something only you can decide.
We also need to make a distinction between camping and backpacking because that can determine what type of equipment you will bring. In general, camping involves driving to a place and staying there for a specific amount of time. Backpacking on the other hand, entails hiking and staying there for the night before moving on the next day.
This is where you will see the importance of planning ahead, as it gives you an idea of what items to bring. Aside from a tent and sleeping bag, don’t forget to bring a first aid kit, flashlight, pocket knife, map and a compass. Even if you’ve got a GPS on your mobile device, you might not get a signal if you’re too deep in the woods.
With all the focus on the gear, don’t forget about your food. Make sure they have a long shelf life and that they are easy to cook. And make sure you’ve got plenty of water: don’t just drink from anywhere because there is no telling if the water is clean or not.
Last but not the least, enjoy yourself. Camping is supposed to be fun, and it will be as long as you prepare in advance and bring the right gear. A lot of the potential problems you might encounter can be avoided if you are prepared. Earlier we mentioned how important it is to determine beforehand the kind of trip you will be undertaking, and doing so will result in a more memorable camping experience.