Beginners Guide to Camping

When you first start camping, it’s not easy to know what you will need. Plus, you have to decide which items you should buy. To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of gear that you should take on any camping trip, whether you’re car camping or backpacking.

Of course, these aren’t necessarily the only things you might want to carry, but these essentials will put you on the path toward a successful camping trip.




1. Tent

A good shelter is critical because it will protect you from the elements and keep you dry, warm, and comfortable.

What to look for:
  • Elbow Room If bad weather hits, you might huddle inside your tent for hours, so choose a shelter that’s not cramped and has enough space for each person.
  • Three-season shelter For spring, summer, and fall camping , go for a "three-season" shelter, which typically has a tent body, a rainfly, and mesh panels, which provide critical ventilation and prevent the interior from getting stuffy and damp.
  • Camping with kids If you’re car camping with small kids, you can go big with a cabin-style tent that’s designed to sleep a specified number of people. Consider getting older kids their own decent-sized tent for more space and privacy.
  • Weight If you are car camping, weight doesn’t really matter. For backpacking, choose a tent that’s relatively lightweight, with a "packed weight" that’s two pounds or less per person. For example, if two people will carry the tent, aim for a packed weight that’s four pounds total or less.
  • Important extras A two-door tent will allow you to exit without crawling over a partner, and larger vestibules provide storage for packs and dirty boots.


    2. Sleeping Bag

    A good sleeping bag is just as important as a good tent—if you’re miserable and can’t sleep, you won’t enjoy your trip.

    What to look for:
    • Temperature rating Bags are rated to be comfortable in a certain temperature range, so look for one that handles the coolest temps you’ll face. Keep in mind the listed rating is an estimate, and you have to factor in whether you sleep hot or cold. If you tend to be cold, buy a bag that is 10 or 15 degrees warmer than the lowest temperature you’ll encounter. Or, buy a bag liner to add warmth.
    • Rectangular vs. mummy For mild climates, where temperatures don’t drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you can use a less expensive rectangular bag. For colder conditions, choose a mummy shaped bag, which hugs your body to eliminate pockets where cold air can accumulate. If you are backpacking, mummy bags are a better choice because they are lighter and less bulky.
    • Gender-specific bags Top brands offer bags with torso and hip areas tailored to fit a man or woman. Also, avoid a bag that’s too long, because if there’s lots of empty air space in the foot area, you’ll get colder.


    3. Water Bottle

    Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, "hydrate or die"? It’s essential that you have something to hold water and other drinks while camping, whether you use bottles or a hydration reservoir (or both).

    What to look for:
    • Bottles For decades, campers and backpackers have relied on durable plastic water bottles, which are not only handy for drinking, but also for filtering water and pouring liquids while cooking. In recent years, the bottle markets has exploded, and you’ll find hundreds of shapes and styles made of glass, steel and rugged plastic. For car camping, steel or plastic works fine, but backpackers will want plastic to reduce weight.
    • Hydration reservoir When you’re walking or biking, it’s more convenient to use a hydration reservoir. It’s basically a bag of water with a tube that goes over your shoulder, so you don’t have to stop or reach to get some water. Some backpacks come with them, or you can just slide them in. For backpacking, get a reservoir that holds 2 or 3 liters, so you don’t’ have to refill it as often. Also, if you use a reservoir, consider taking a bottle as well for filtering and food prep. To save space in your pack, get a collapsible plastic bottle.


     4. First Aid Supplies

    Cuts, stings and other pains are common while camping, so you should always pack a first aid kit.

    What to look for:

    There are a couple options—you can build your own kit, or buy a pre-assembled kit. Pre-assembled kits can actually be less expensive, and some include helpful tips.
    To choose the right kit, consider how long you will be out in the wilderness, how many people are going with you, and any special needs of your group (allergies, etc.). Whether you build your own, or buy a kit, bring extra moleskin or other products to address blisters.