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Are you new to camping and just don’t know where to start with gear? This camping 101 beginner’s guide to gear is for you!
Being a new camper can be a bit overwhelming with all the different types of gear you need for a comfortable and successful trip.
In this guide, you’ll learn about some of the most critical camping gear you should have with you on your inaugural trip.
Let’s get started!
Camping 101: First Things First – a Tent
The most basic of necessities on a camping trip is a tent.
Tents come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, performance levels, and price ranges.
You can get a typical 2-4 person ground tent, opt for a larger 6-8 person tent, or even buy a rooftop tent for your vehicle (like my Torro Offroad Skylux Tent, shown above).
When buying a tent, don’t skimp on the size. If it’s just you and your significant other, a two-person tent, like The North Face Stormbreak shown below, might sound fine, but they can be quite cozy, especially during long stints of bad weather.
This doesn’t mean you need to go wild with a huge 8-person tent for the two of you, either. Just bear in mind that getting a tent that might be a good fit on paper might not be a good fit in real life.
So, when shopping, ignore the number of people that the manufacturer claims can fit inside and instead look at the dimensions of the tent. Figuring out square footage of the tent will help you get one that offers you the right amount of space.
The majority of ground tents you can buy these days are lightweight, easy to set up and take down, and come with stakes, poles, and a rain fly. The rain fly is obviously great for dreary days, but in better weather it can be removed so you can take in the nighttime view.
Pro Tip: Though it’s important to stay within your budget, don’t skimp on your tent. Buying the cheapest one you can find usually means you’ll have to replace the tent sooner rather than later. So, invest in a better-quality tent that will give you years and years of good service. The higher price upfront will pay for itself over the years.
Camping 101: Sleeping Pads and Bags
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Of course, you also need a cozy sleeping bag to keep you warm at night and a good sleeping pad to soften the ground you’re sleeping on.
Just like with tents, you’ll find a huge variety of sleeping bags and pads that range in materials, sizes, and price.
If you’re planning on doing some backpacking, you’ll need a small, lightweight pad, whereas if you intend to car camp and have the space, something beefier like this queen-sized air mattress will likely be preferable.
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Regarding sleeping bags, you’ll need to tailor your bag not only to the type of trips you will take (i.e., if you’re backpacking you’ll need a smaller bag than if you car camp) but you also need to consider the temperatures you’ll be camping in.
As a camping 101 rule of thumb, get a bag that exceeds whatever temperatures you expect to be camping in. So, if you think you’ll typically see weather 10 degrees and warmer, opt for a 0-degree bag just in case.
Sleeping bags usually come in rectangular and mummy shapes. Some manufacturers offer men’s, women’s, and child sizes as well.
Pro Tip: Accessories like a sleeping bag liner, an additional blanket to put over you, and a pillow will make your night’s rest much better! Also bring a tarp. They can be used to protect firewood from rain, as a backup rain fly, or even as a doormat for your tent that gives you a place to take your shoes off before heading inside.
Cooking and Fire Safety
When I was growing up, camp food meant a lot of hot dogs and tins of Vienna sausages…
But you don’t have to rough it like that. In fact, there are more options for camp cooking today than ever before!
Even if freeze-dried camp meals aren’t your thing, you can always prep your food before you leave, that way it’s a lot easier to cook at the campsite.
Obviously, whatever kind of food you bring, you’ll need camping 101 essentials like:
- A cooler and other food storage
- Dishes and utensils
- Pots and pans
- Spices, dish cleaning supplies, dish towels, napkins
A good rule of thumb is to freeze everything that can be frozen. Not only will this ensure freshness for longer, but it’ll also help keep the other items in your cooler nice and cold.
And remember – when you actually sit down to cook, be sure to follow basic fire safety rules, that way your dinner (and your campsite) don’t go up in flames.
One of my favorite campfire cooking accessories is my MC Ranch Overland Original Fire Reflector.
As its name implies, this the Original Fire Reflector helps reflect the heat from the fire towards you, that way you keep toasty warm, even if the air temperature is cold.
But more than that, this sucker gives me a protective layer for cooking – I approach the fire from the side protected by the reflector, that way I can add or remove food from the fire without having to worry about embers exploding out from the fire and hitting me.
What’s more, this reflector helps create a controlled environment for the fire. It manages wind and airflow, giving you a better fire that burns hotter and longer while maximizing your fuel resources.
As an added bonus, the Original Fire Reflector helps reflect light from the fire into the campsite, so you get nice ambient light that allows you to save the batteries in your lanterns and headlamps.
Pro Tip: Wash your dishes as soon as possible after you eat to minimize the effort needed to clean them up. Some campgrounds have facilities where you can clean your dishes. If not, use common sense when cleaning your dishes – scrape any leftover food into the trash and dispose of it properly. Also use environmentally-friendly dish soap to minimize the impact on the natural environment. If you backpack, whatever you take in must be brought out!
Clothing & Hygiene Items
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You’ll need a variety of clothes for your camping trip, but what you take will depend on a couple of factors.
First, the weather will dictate the clothing you bring. Obviously a camping trip on the Florida coast in August will necessitate much different clothes than one in December in Montana.
But regardless of the expected weather, you should bring extra clothing to account for changes in the weather. This might mean you bring a rain jacket or a parka, wool socks or water shoes, a quick-drying long-sleeved shirt or a fleece. The point is, you don’t want to be stuck camping without some options for clothing if the weather suddenly changes.
The second factor that will influence what clothing you bring is the activities you plan on doing. If you’re hiking, a good pair of hiking boots will be needed. If you’re going to be swimming, bring your swimsuit. You get the point…
You’ll want to have sleeping clothes that will help you get a good night’s rest. No matter how dirty you get over the course of the day, there’s nothing quite like putting on clean clothes to sleep in!
On the hygiene front, don’t forget all the normal items you use at home. This might include shampoo, body wash, hand soap, deodorant, lotion, and any other personal products you might need. Don’t forget your medications either!
Pro Tip: Don’t forget bug spray, either. It might not be hygiene-related, but it is still incredibly important! If you’ll be in bear country, bear spray is a must-have too.
Camping 101: Campsite Furniture
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One of the best ways to make your campsite feel a little homier is to bring some comfortable chairs to sit in.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should buy a spendy zero-gravity chair (unless you want to!), but after a long day of hiking and playing in the great outdoors, having a place to sit and relax is so very nice.
There are tons of options with regard to chairs, from hammocks to folding chairs to backpacking-friendly chairs.
If you have the ability to bring a small table, do it. Though most established campgrounds have picnic tables, some don’t, and remote campsites certainly don’t have tables. You can get a small roll-up table that won’t take up much room in your vehicle, but it’ll prove to be worth its weight in gold when it comes time to cook around the campfire.
Pro Tip: Bring a lantern (or two…) to give you more light around camp. Once you put out the fire for the night, it will be nice to have supplemental lighting for cleaning up and getting to your tent without slamming your leg into the picnic table.
Now Get Out There!
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Obviously the gear you need for your first camping trip will depend highly on where you’re going and the climate you’ll be in.
This camping 101 guide certainly doesn’t list every possible camping item you might ever need, but the items listed here are typical essentials that most campers will need in most situations.
Remember that your very first camping trip doesn’t have to be an epic adventure. In fact, it’s best that it isn’t an epic adventure. Start small, get the hang of it, and gradually build up to longer trips further off the beaten path. Like anything else, with more practice, you’ll become a more skilled camper.