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Camping is one of my favorite ways to spend a weekend and refresh myself when I’m beginning to feel my stress level rise. There’s nothing like having several uninterrupted days of waking up in the natural world and spending the whole day outside. But do you know what to pack for camping?
It definitely takes some planning and preparation to be able to do this. If you leave the shelter of your home and kitchen behind, you’re going to need some supplies. I’ve been camping a lot lately and thought it would be a good idea to provide a comprehensive list of the gear I bring with me.
Note: Sometimes I go car camping, other times I backpack in. I’ve tried to keep this list backpacking friendly (in other words, as light as possible without sacrificing too much comfort).
One other note: camping gear can be a little expensive on the front end, especially if you’re starting from square one. But it is definitely worth the investment. Once you have your gear, you will get years of use out of it. Also, each weekend getaway will cost you very little, usually just the cost of food and gas to get to wherever you’re camping.
Without further ado, here’s my list of what to pack for camping.
1.Tent – MSR Hubba Hubba NX
The first thing you’ll need is a place to lay your head at night. I personally prefer a two-person tent. This tent is lightweight for backpacking. I personally have a very similar MSR two-person tent, it’s just an earlier model that I couldn’t find. This one is Amazon’s choice and very comparable to the one I own.
I particularly love how easy this tent is to set up and take down – no more shimmying tent poles through tiny sleeves of tent fabric. This tent has hooks that easily clip on to the tent poles and you can set this tent up in five minutes. This product has a 2-year manufacturer’s warranty.
2. Sleeping Bag – TETON Sports LEEF Ultralight Mummy
The next thing you need is somewhere cozy to curl up inside your tent! This sleeping bag is super lightweight and is Amazon’s #1 New Release. They have adult and kid sizes, extra insulation for your feet, and a draft protection tube along the zipper to keep you nice and warm. My personal recommendation is to go with the one rated for the lowest temperatures, but they have other options as well. This product is backed by a limited lifetime warranty.
3. Sleeping Pad – Therm-a-Rest Prolite Self-Inflating Pad
Sleeping pads not only offer you a little cushioning from the ground, but also protect you from the chill of the ground. Therm-a-Rest has long been my preferred brand for this. I like the self-inflating pad because sometimes I’m feeling lightheaded from the altitude when I reach a high camping spot, and the last thing I want to do is make it worse by blowing up my pad. The self-inflating feature lets the pad do most of the work, and I just finish it off with a few puffs at the end.
4. Flashlight – Goal Zero Torch 250 Flashlight
Okay guys, this gadget is probably the one I’m most excited about. It’s an awesome flashlight that has two different light sources – a large one on the side and a smaller one on the end – plus a red light, and it’s solar powered. I usually stick it with the solar panel facing up on the dash of my car while I’m driving out to the trailhead or campsite. You never have to change batteries.
If it’s not sunny enough to charge with the solar panel or you run low on juice, it has a hand crank so you can power it manually. I like to use the small light on the end when I’m walking with the flashlight, and I use the large light in my tent to read by placing the flashlight in a little net at the top of my tent. It’s perfect. This flashlight isn’t the exact one I have, but it’s the newer release of the same brand. This one is even better than mine because it has a red light, a USB charging cable, and a USB charging port (mine doesn’t).
5. Backpack – Osprey Women’s Viva 65
It’s pretty important that you have a good backpack to carry all of your stuff, particularly if you are hiking in to your camp spot. This is probably the thing I’m most excited about besides the flashlight I mentioned above. This is a super important investment that will actually last you a lifetime.
Osprey is hands down the best company to buy a pack from because they’re super functional AND they have an All Mighty Guarantee. They will replace or repair any damage your pack for any reason FOR FREE and FOR LIFE. It just does not get better than that, folks. I own an Osprey backpacking pack (again, I couldn’t find my exact pack because I’ve had mine for over 10 years, but this one is the most like mine). I just sent mine in to be repaired. The mesh pockets on the sides of the pack have some holes in them, and Osprey will fix it or send me a new pack.
6. Mess Kit – MSR Quick 2 System Cook Set
I own this exact mess kit, and it’s AWESOME. I love the way everything fits together like a puzzle, is super lightweight, and has what you need to cook for two. The shape of the insulated mugs fits so nicely in your hand. The plates are deep enough to serve as bowls as well.
My go-to camping food is the Indian food that comes in pouches at Trader Joe’s. All you have to do is boil the pouches in water and serve them. I usually cook the pouches in one pot and some couscous in the other, and the bowl-plates work perfectly. The only thing that’s missing is silverware – I have my own sets that you can find here.
7. Camp Stove – MSR Pocket Rocket 2 Stove
When I think back to all the camping trips I took as a kid with my family, the Coleman camp stove was the biggest, heaviest piece of equipment. Those days are LONG over. Enter the aptly named Pocket Rocket – a powerful little burner that fits in a tiny case that fits in your pocket. Again, it weighs practically nothing and it’s really all you need for one or two people to camp.
You just attach the little burner right to your fuel canister and BOOM. Dinner is served. The link above is for the exact pocket rocket I own, and it has served me well. However, on my most recent camping trip, it was pretty windy at our camping spot and I had some trouble. A friend of mine brought his Reactor stove. It kicked my pocket rocket’s butt when it came to boiling a pot of water in those conditions.
The Reactor is a lot more expensive, but it COMPLETELY blocks the wind out. I finally gave up trying to use my pocket rocket in the wind after 20 min. or so and used his stove to boil water in just two minutes. You can find the Reactor here. Also, you’ll need ISOPRO fuel for this, which you can find here.
8. Water bottle – Hydro Flask 32oz Wide Mouth Insulated Stainless Steel
I LOVE THIS WATER BOTTLE. I carry this around with me every day to stay hydrated, and that includes my camping trips. It keeps water cold forever. I once put a bunch of ice water in it and the ice took three days to fully melt. It’s really durable, a good size/amount of water, and feels good in the hand.
Pro tip: I take two water bottles with me – one Hydro Flask that I use daily, and one Nalgene bottle that I use just for camping. Nalgenes don’t insulate nearly as well as Hydro Flasks, which is why they’re perfect for pouring boiled water into and tossing into your sleeping bag at night to keep your feet or anything else warm. It radiates the heat and you can put it wherever you most need the warmth. You wouldn’t be able to feel the heat through the Hydro Flask. I recommend the wide mouth, 32oz bottle you can find here.
9. Headlamp – Foxelli Headlamp
Although you may have already added the solar panel flashlight to your list, I would also highly recommend having a headlamp for the times when you need your hands free, like when you’re cooking dinner in the dark.
This lamp has the most important features – a tilt-able light, 3 different white light settings, and a red light setting. This is SUPER nice to have so you don’t blind your friends while hanging out. I have found the red light to be particularly helpful when camping in places where fires are prohibited because that means the only light you have to hang by is artificial, and you don’t want that to be too bright.
10. Water filter – MSR AutoFlow Gravity Water Filter
When it comes to clean water while camping, you have a few different options. When I’m car camping, I usually bring a couple of gallon jugs of water to refill my bottles. However, if you’re hiking into your camp spot and can’t have your car carry all that water weight for you, the gallon jugs are a no-go.
The best option for hiking in, in my opinion, is a gravity water filtration system. A friend of mine recently introduced me to this. It’s a water bladder with a filter in the bottom that you can fill up and hang somewhere at your camp. There’s a tube to fill your bottles, like a water cooler. When it’s time to pack up, you can just empty the bladder and roll it up.
I also have a Life Straw, both for camping and as a part of my home emergency-preparedness kit. The filter is contained in the straw itself, so you can drink through the straw straight from a river. The only drawback to the Life Straw is it doesn’t enable you to fill up your bottles with filtered water to take with you. That’s why I think the gravity system is best. You can find one here.
I always make sure I have enough layers when I go camping, so you can easily regulate your temperature. Long johns, a long sleeve, a button up, and a puffy jacket are all a good idea. I also always bring a scarf, beanie, and gloves for chilly night-time hangouts, as well as WARM socks for sleeping in.
In terms of clothing, I usually bring leggings to sleep in (put over long johns). I also bring a pair of jeans, shorts, a short sleeve, a tank top, and the layers/warm stuff I mentioned above.
I always bring travel size toothpaste and my toothbrush, travel size Dr. Bronner’s soap, travel size deodorant, a dish towel, paper towels, toilet paper, a small hand trowel, plastic bags for trash, a book of stories (I personally like spooky stories for camping, most recently H.P. Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson’s Dark Tales), maybe a deck of cards, a camera (often just my phone), a rope for tying food up in a tree away from bears, a map of the area I’m camping in, and my glasses (I don’t like wearing contacts camping because it’s too easy to get them or the solution dirty).
In terms of food, I bring those pouches of Indian food, couscous, and bread for dinners. I bring fruit, trail mix/nuts, Clif bars, instant coffee, and oatmeal if I’m backpacking. If I’m car camping I bring a cooler with sandwich stuff, cream for coffee, berries, and beer, of course.
That’s pretty much it for most camping trips. Special conditions might require a few special items, but the above list will get you pretty far. Let me know if you think something should be added to this list or if you have a book recommendation. Or tell me about a trip you take after using this list to prep. I’d love to hear from you!
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Until next time,
P.S. You may also be interested in my post 36 of the Most Useful Things to Keep in Your Car!