I spent the entire year of 1994 learning how to become an Air Force Survival Instructor. We learned to survive in all four seasons–on the sand, snow, and water. Every time I went into the wild, I went to learn and to work. What I forgot during that intense time was how to relax in the wild.
The first time I went camping in 1995, I set up my tent, gathered some wood, set up the camp…and had no idea what to do next. It took me some time to figure out how to just enjoy being outside without a specific objective in mind. I learned a few lessons that first time out, most notably that the items I used for work weren’t conducive to relaxing.
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If you’re new to camping, here are some basic camping supplies you’ll need to take with you. Most of these are pretty average for any trip: tent, sleeping bag, cooking tools, something to cook with and something comfortable to sit on.
What I want you to take away from this article are the general traits of the items you need and some choices based on my experiences camping solo and with a group.
If you have never camped, you may think a tent needs to be waterproof and have very thick, sturdy poles. The truth is, tents aren’t meant to be waterproof, they are designed to be breathable to release the condensation from your breathing and any other moisture.
The poles might be very thick and flexible, but they are designed to be that way on purpose. For one or two people, the Coleman tent below is my tent of choice. It fits a queen size inflatable air mattress and is tall enough for someone to stand up in. At least, if that someone is under six feet tall like me.
I also very much like the screen room which is a great place to put shoes and extra equipment you don’t want to keep inside the tent.
2. Sleeping Bag
Sleeping bags come in two basic formats: a mummy bag or a standard opening. The mummy bag ones tend to wrap around your head and just leave an opening for your face. I like to take my own pillow when I camp, so I use the standard bag.
Bags are rated according to the temperature range for which they can be used. If you are going to camp from late Spring to early Fall, a bag rated down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit should work just fine. If your chosen area to camp is prone to abrupt weather changes, choose a bag rated for even colder temperatures.
NOTE: Amazon has a great selection of camping items to take a look at. The example below is a great example of what a mummy bag looks like. I am not condoning Coleman specifically as a brand, but they have been in the business for a long time and are a good brand to show examples of.
If you plan to camp repeatedly, meaning every few months or even just annually, a good set of cookware for the long haul is a good investment. My cookware of choice is cast iron. It is durable, easy to clean, and cooks food well due to even heat distribution.
I have cast iron pans to cook on and a flat grill to toast things on, such as tortillas or bread. I do carry a pot set that is multi-sized and uses a universal handle. All of these pots fit inside one another and in a carry bag. Below is an example of what I use minus the three-quart cast iron pot.
The pot set I use is stainless steel with one handle that fits all three but detaches so when you cook, the handle doesn’t become hot or damaged.
4. Camp Stove
All the state and national campsites I have ever been to have always had a fire ring. A thick metal ring, usually with a grate for cooking, which was the focal point of the camp. Depending on your location, dry conditions may cause fire restrictions which limit the use of open fires.
My go-to tool for hot meals is the Coleman two-burner stove. You can use small one-gallon bottles or use an adapter to attach the stove to a five-gallon bottle.
Even when I plan on cooking over the fire, I still take the stove in case conditions change or I need to cook more than two things at once. It is a convenience but one that is not overly cumbersome or a burden.
I was so used to sitting on stumps or logs that I never packed a camp chair. What I found was that camp chairs are a great luxury to have and come in all shapes and sizes.
Some are loose canvas types, some are more rigid, some come with a very sturdy frame and a side table with a drink holder. That is my particular favorite because not only does it have a place for your favorite tasty beverage, it also has a convenient place to put your plate down.
The one below is the closest I could find to what I use. I have used the floppy canvas ones in the past and have had several whose legs broke or whose fabric tore.
6. Air Mattress
I always recommend an air mattress. When you add up all the nights I have probably years sleeping on the ground with various types of insulation, but now that I am over 45, I prefer a thicker air mattress for two reasons: It’s comfortable, and who doesn’t want that? Also, it makes it easier to get up off the ground when you are higher up.
A Thermarest or mattress pad works, but I prefer something thicker. Yes, there are less expensive choices than the one below, but I have found that you get what you pay for when it comes to mattresses. Spend a few more dollars and sleep much more comfortably.
You will find out which lanterns, flashlights, or headlights you prefer. If in a group, I will take two lanterns and a headlamp for myself. You can spend over $100 on a single one, but there is no need to unless you want to illuminate a large area.
The one factor I make sure of is that the face of the lamp can be adjusted up or down. This way I can aim the light exactly where I want to. My other factor in choosing a headlamp is price because I tend to lose them. Losing a $15 headlamp is less painful than losing a $100 one.
As with any hobby, there is always trial and error. Do you like a mattress or a hammock? Do you prefer a certain cooler over another? Do you want a brighter headlamp?
You will find things you wish you had brought: roasting sticks, lighter fluid, multiple lighters, a camp shower, a rigid water jug over a collapsible one. It really comes down to getting outdoors for a night or a weekend and seeing what works for you. I have found that in summer months in the Northwest, I haven’t even needed a sleeping bag–two blankets worked just fine.
Men and women and children all like shiny new things. It is very easy to spend $500, $1,000, or more on “convenient” camping items. Some of these items you will find a use for, many you may find don’t work as well as advertised and were a waste of money.
A good exercise is to go sit in your backyard, or living room if you don’t have a backyard, and imagine you are outside sitting around a campfire and think about what is going to make that experience much more enjoyable. When you go to make breakfast, will you have everything you need to make that delicious omelet the way you do at home?
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