I’m sure we have all been there… took the wrong gear, the wrong clothes … Couldn’t build a tent because one of the poles were missing… Forgot tools how to make fire and everything got wet because you pitched your tent at the lowest part of the campsite. Camping can indeed be very miserable, if caught unexpected or being not ready. The best way to avoid any of such misfortunes is to think and plan systematically and take gear that will cover you on the unexpected.
Your camping gear can be categorized into: 1) shelter and sleeping; 2) clothes and insulation; 3) cooking kit; 4) accessories and useful items. Be clear in your head, what function each item will perform; similarly – know, what aspects of your trip you need to cover.
Shelter and sleeping
Camping assumes sleeping in the outdoors, so you will need either a tent, a bivy bag or a tarp. The choice and type of shelter will be dependent on the weather conditions and climate. If it’s dry, bivy bag may be sufficient. If you’re hiking in stable summer air, enjoy the shade of a lightweight tarp. Anything else, choose from one of the best tents.
Two main types of tents available are single and double-wall tents. Single wall tents are extremely lightweight and usually utilized by alpine climbers; they are excellent at handling snow and wind, but are not very good with rain and your own generated moisture. Double-wall tents can also be really lightweight these days, but they are better suited dealing with rain.
Before choosing your tent, know if you will need to carry your tent anywhere and will be shifting your campsite a lot. For car-park campers, just choose the biggest, most spacious tent out there. These tents are usually extremely heavy and not suitable for hiking with, but if you are going to drive in to your campsite, just pick whatever will provide you with the most luxury (think about sitting in your tent through a rainy day). For those with walking access to your campsite, consider the weight of the tent.
Choose your sleeping bag and camping mattress based on likely temperatures and your own cold sensitivity. Do not blindly rely on temperature rankings of each item and be sure to check some reviews. Also note to yourself, if you’re among the cold-sensitive or the cold tolerant. Sleeping alone in a tent will be colder, while together with a bunch of buddies – warmer.
- Always aim to pitch your tent on the higher ground, as it will reduce your chances of being flooded in.
- If you wake up in a lake or river due to heavy rain, dig a trench around your tent and form a drainage canal away from your tent.
- If you’re expecting rain or stormy weather, take your time to stretch and secure your tent properly; any loose bits are likely to cause leakage.
- Remove any items from touching the inside of the tent, as might also cause leakage in rain.
- Extra ropes and pegs can go a long way making your tent placement more secure.
- Seek natural shelter – choose campsites under trees, sheltered by rocks and similar.
- Check your tent for all the building parts to be there. If it’s been a while since you last used the tent (or have recently lent it to someone…), try building the tent to see if there might be tears and/or broken parts. The same applies with your inflatable mattress – check if it still can be inflated…
- If your tent is very lightweight with a thin fabric base, use a tarp underneath to increase its durability.
- Check if your cooking stove needs a lighter and do not forget one, in case you need it. It is also wise to have several lighters/boxes of matches, in case some get wet or are faulty.
Clothes and insulation
Camping and hiking clothes could be divided into two groups – the ones you will be sleeping in and the ones you will be wearing during the day. This is not a big issue for summer and fair weather camping, but if you’re likely to deal with cold and rain, have one set of clothes that you keep dry for the night. Wool socks and long merino wool or fleece bottoms and uppers are ideal for when you need to warm up.
The choice of day clothes will depend on the weather and the elements you might be facing, of course, but the general idea is to always have some weather-proof layers (waterproof, windproof jacket and maybe pants). Secondly, you should make sure you have a thick (depending on the weather) insulating layer – down, wool or thick fleece jacket.
Layering is the cornerstone of efficient clothing systems – combining different types of materials and thicknesses of layers allows to achieve the best insulation and provides you with most flexibility.
The best choice for base layers are synthetic and wool materials; cotton is very cold when wet and dries very slowly. Choose lightweight t-shirts and shorts, fast-drying lightweight pants and long sleeve merino t-shirts.
One thing to note is that you do not need a set of clothes for each day; if you choose materials like merino wool, they are good to wear for many days in a row. Keep it easy and light for yourself.
One tip – always take thicker socks, gloves, a hat and/or a neck warmer – these will add a lot of that valuable heat.
The items of your kit will again depend on if you’ll need to walk with your gear or will be camping next to your car.
The most basic cooking kit would include a lightweight hiking cooking stove with a gas canister and a single pot together with some lightweight plates and utensils (or just using pot as plates). Titanium cookware is the most lightweight out there. Aluminium is also a good choice. I usually use my Nalgene bottle instead of a cup. To make your cooking faster and to save some gas, take a piece of foil that could fold around your cooking stove flame to protect from wind and increase the heat.
Another layer of comfort is take several pots, a lightweight frying pan, cups – up to you how much you want to deal with cooking. It is always easiest to choose easy cooking meals with simple components, but of course, you might choose to have a bit of a cooking challenge.
Cooking stoves vary in size, weight and power from super lightweight hiking stoves of just above 60g to large grills. So if you’re camping next to your car, you might want to consider a larger, more powerful cooking stove.
Finally, I personally really enjoying warming up next to and cooking on campfires. However, make sure you are setting that up in a safe and controlled manner. Do not set campfires in protected, fire-prohibited areas, or if the hazard for bush-fire is high. Also, you should not make camp-fires in extremely windy condition. Please make sure to dispose of the campfire with a lot of water and sand/ground.
Accessories and useful items
Here are some useful items and tips on how to manage your camping experience.
- Keep you gear protected from water. Pack your clothes and sleeping bags in dry-sacks or even just thick plastic bags.
- It’s also very convenient to keep different sectors of gear separated – cooking gear, sleeping gear, warm gear, and water-sensitive items.
- Dry-sacks come in various sizes are extremely lightweight these days. It is a very good system to compartmentalize your gear and keep the items dry. I always have one small dry-sack for my phone, wallet and camera.
- Do not forget your camping light – head torches and lanterns will come in handy, when trying to find your tent or your sweater in the tent
- Toilet arrangements. No one usually wants to talk about it much, but it’s a natural and very important topic. If there is quite a bunch of you camping and you’re planning to stay there for a few days, make sure you designate a toilet area and you bury any waste. Unless there are outside toilets, in which case, do use those.
- Plastic bags are always useful in the outdoors. They serve well for rubbish, wet clothes and gear. Big rubbish bags are perfect emergency bivies and rain-jackets.
- Insect repellents. Just do not confuse the types of repellents. Some are designed to be sprayed on a bush away from people to attract insects in the area, while other are actual repellents designed to be sprayed on people.
- First Aid kit! Essential for any outdoors experience.
Successful camping comes with experience and some annoying experiences are impossible to avoid. Just make sure to take any of these adventures as valuable life lessons that will just make you into a better outdoor person.