Top 5 “Must Have” Items for your Camping Trip

Posted by: | Posted on: May 26, 2015

Adrien and Elena pitch a tent in the California Redwoods.

When you are heading out on a camping trip, you will likely spend more time on determining what to take with you than you will on researching your perfect destination. There are thousands of products advertised for people heading out for a few nights of sleeping under the stars, but what do you really need? To help you get your packing list together, here are the top 5 must have camping gear items for your first camping trip.

1. Tent or Other Shelter

Shelter is number one for any camping trip. Whether it is a tent or a permanent shelter that is available on your campsite or hiking trail, you need to be sure you have a way to get out of the elements and get a good night’s rest. If you are going the tent route, there are so many options that you can easily get overwhelmed. There are standard pop-up tents, hammock tents, tents tailored specifically for backpackers. If you are new to camping, consider the following as you determine what tent is best for you:

  • How long will you be carrying the tent? If you are camping out as part of a bigger hiking trip, you will likely spend a good amount of time carrying your shelter. In this case, weight should be a consideration for you. Even a few pounds can make a huge difference in your ability to complete a long hike.
  • How many people will share the tent? Is it just for you? You and a friend? You and your entire family? Pick a size that will be comfortable for the number that will be using the shelter. Note that tent sizing is a little strange in that a two person tent really only comfortably sleeps one, a three person tent comfortably sleeps two, etc. A good rule of thumb is to select a tent designed for one or two people more than you will actually have sleeping in the space to ensure everyone has enough room to be comfortable.
  • What conditions will you be dealing with at your campsite? Any tent you select should have some type of waterproofing at the base, but if you are in a damp climate, ensure your tent also includes a rainfly to protect the roof and other openings as well. Are you camping in a warm climate? Make sure there are plenty of mesh windows to allow airflow and keep you from sweating through the night. If you are camping in the winter or in a place with high winds, a dome tent will likely be the best option to shield you from those conditions. Know the environment and make sure your tent will have you protected!

2. Footprint

If you are sleeping in a ground tent, a footprint is key for protecting your tent from tears and, therefore, potential water or other outside intruders that you don’t want to wake up to in the middle of the night! A footprint doesn’t need to be expensive. You can use anything from a cheap plastic tarp to an old tablecloth you have lying around the house. Its main purpose is to protect your tent from wear and tear while it is on the ground so get creative and don’t spend a lot of money. The footprint, whatever the material type, should be just smaller than the actual tent base. If it is larger, water can pool under the tent making for a long and cold night.

3. Sleep System

Whether it is a sleeping bag or a pillow, blanket and a cushy yoga mat, you will want to be sure you have somewhere comfortable to lay your head at the end of a long day enjoying the outdoors. Get creative if you need to save money, but again, be sure you are prepared for the elements. Remember, many warm climates can still get chilly at night and you want to be well rested so you can enjoy the remainder of your trip. A mummy sleeping bag can be great for extremely cold campsites, while you may want something less insulated in a warm climate. Plan accordingly!

4. A Warm Meal

One of the keys to wilderness survival is a positive mental attitude. While most camping trips aren’t about life or death, the positive mental attitude can most definitely make or break the trip. There is nothing that that can instill this attitude better than a warm meal or a hot cup of coffee or tea. There are many options when thinking about how to warm up your food and beverages, from a beat up coffee pot on the coals of the fire to a multi-fuel system that can boil your water in near record time. Be sure that your cooking / serving items reflect the type of trip you intend to have. And don’t forget your wilderness oven mitts!

5. Bathroom Essentials

Yes, Mother Nature calls even when you are out enjoying nature. This fact is a hang up for many that want to go camping, but if you want to get out there, you’re going to have to go to the bathroom at some point during the trip. Going to the bathroom in the woods is a right of passage so it’s time to get on board! Many campsites have bathroom facilities. Check into what your campsite offers before your trip so you know what you are working with. If your site does offer a bathroom, still know that some facilities are better than others. Packing your own toilet paper and / or wet wipes is encouraged (as is hand sanitizer). If you are wilderness camping, you may be left to your own devices. Be sure that you research waste disposal guidelines for your campsite and bring bags to carry out waste such as used toilet paper and wet wipes. Dog waste bags are great for this. If you are not quite ready to dig a hole, you can bring a portable toilet as well. Just remember, if you are hiking a long way you might want to lose this extra weight and work those quads instead.

Remember that with each trip, you will learn more about what gear is the most important to you and what you like and don’t like about each item. Research, experiment and don’t be afraid to make changes to your packing list each time you go camping. Tell us what gear you wouldn’t be caught in the woods without in the comments below!

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