We live in a fast-paced society. Work, keeping appointments, running errands, tending to household chores; by the end of the day, you feel like you’re going to collapse (and probably do, right on your couch or in your bed!)
All of that chaos can leave you feeling run-down, detached, and just completely exhausted. While planning an elaborate vacation on a tropical island at a 5-star resort would certainly be wonderful, you’re budget probably doesn’t allow for such lavishness.
Fortunately, there’s a way that you can get away from it all, kick back, relax, and reconnect with your loved ones, yourself – and nature – without breaking your budget.
How? – By going camping!
When you’re feeling like you need to take a break from reality, camping is just what the doctor ordered. Spending some time in nature unattached to your demanding schedule and disconnected from electronics and the never-ending stream of information is exactly what you need to recharge your batteries and feel less like an automaton and more like a human again.
If you’ve never been camping before, you might be feeling a bit concerned about what to bringing. While you want to “get back to basics”, you still want to be comfortable and have all of the essentials on-hand to ensure your excursion is a success.
So, what should you bring? In this guide, we’ll share a list of all the basics that you’ll want to take along on your first camping trip.
The first (and most basic) essential that you’ll want to have for a camping trip is a tent. Shelter from the elements is absolutely essential, and a tent provides the portable shelter you need to stay warm, dry, and comfortable.
With so many different styles, types, and sizes to choose from, however, trying to select the right tent might seem like a daunting experience. Here are some tips to help you make the right choice for your needs:
- Size. You’ll want to make sure that you choose a tent that offers enough space for you and your comrades to spread out, but you don’t want your tend to be so big that setting it up and breaking it down is a pain. Consider the number of people who will be sharing the space and make sure that the tent can accommodate everyone. It should offer enough room to fit all of the air mattresses and/or sleeping bags you plan on using. Before you buy, it’s a good idea to get inside a set-up floor model so you can see how much floor space and head room it offers. Make sure there’s enough space for you to sit up without pumping your head and enough room for the tallest member of your crew to fully stretch out. As a general rule-of-thumb, choose a tent that has a capacity for two people more than the actual number of people who will be using it; for example, if you’re camping with 6 people, opt for an 8-person tent.
- Three-season style. A three-season tent is comprised of a body, mesh panels, and a rainfly. All of these things combined provide you with shelter from the elements, as well as the ventilation that’s needed to avoid stuffiness and dampness inside the tent.
- Privacy. If you’re camping with a big group or young children, you may want to consider a multi-room tent. A 2-room tent features two spaces that are separated by panels that can zipper shut, closing off one section of the tent from the other. A 3-room tent is the same basic design, but it also features a screened-in “porch” on the exterior, which is great for changing out of shoes and clothing or for storing gear apart from the main “living” area.
- A tub floor. You never know when it’s going to rain. To avoid getting flooded out, opt for a tent that features a one-piece sub floor that’s constructed of waterproof fabric. These floors are seamless, so water can’t penetrate through.
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When you’re sleeping out in nature, basic blankets won’t cut it; instead, you’ll want to invest in a quality sleeping bag to keep you warm and cozy.
Check the temperature rating of the sleeping bag and consider the time of year when you’ll be camping. If you’re going out during the warmer weather, a summer sleeping bag should work just fine; however, if you intend on camping again after your first trip or you just want to ensure that you’re ready for any type of weather Mother Nature throws your way, a 3-season bag is a better idea, as you can adjust it according to the temperature.
Another suggestion: avoid the “mummy-“type sleeping bags and instead, go for a standard rectangular sleeping bag; it will give you a lot more room to spread out.
You’ll also want to bring along a surface to set your sleeping bag up on. While an air mattress might be tempting, if it gets cold, it won’t do you much good, as there’s no insulation; plus, there’s a chance that it could pop or deflate, and even if it doesn’t, you’ll need to worry about inflating and deflating it.
With that said, we recommend a sleeping pad. These pads are specifically designed for camping. They provide a bit of cushioning between you and the ground, and they also act as a layer of insulation from the cold earth.
Look for something that’s made of durable, high-quality materials that have insulating qualities; the higher the insulation value (known as “R-value”), the better.
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You’ll also want to make sure that you bring the necessary essentials to prepare meals. There are a few basics that you’ll definitely want to bring along, including:
- A camp stove. A traditional camp stove, which features two burners and is powered by propane, is really all you need. It’s lightweight, easy to transport, and easy to set up. It also offers enough space to hold skillets, pots, and even a camp coffee pot (you’ll definitely want to bring one of those along, too!). Make sure you pack a few canisters of fuel to be on the safe side. Also, we suggest trying it out before you head out, just to make sure you know how to work it.
- A cooler. Since you won’t have a fridge, you’ll need to keep your food and drinks cold somehow! Make sure you opt for a high-quality, durable cooler that offers enough space to accommodate the perishable foods you plan on bringing, as well as a few cold beverages. The thicker the insulation, the longer your stuff will stay cold. If you’re packing for a large crew, a cooler that features built-in wheels and handles is a great choice, as you’ll find it’s a lot easier to tote around.
- Pots and pans. Bring along at least one frying pan and one pot.
- Plates and cups. While you don’t want to use anything breakable, you should also avoid single-use products to reduce your waste. Reusable plates, bowls, and cups that are made of non-breakable materials are ideal. You can wash them down when you’re finished and use them over and over again.
- Cutlery and cooking utensils. Again, you don’t want to bring your best stuff, but you also should avoid single-use items. Instead, opt for inexpensive and reusable spoons, forks, knives, spatulas, tongs, mixing spoons, etc.
- A coffee pot. We mentioned it above, but it’s worth mentioning again; make sure you bring along a portable coffee pot that can be used on a camp stove so you can brew up a fresh cup o’ joe when you need a pick-me-up.
While a campfire can certainly serve as a source of light, it won’t do you any good when you’re trying to get ready for bed in your tent or you need to make a trip to the bathroom.
Portable lighting is essential. Pack plenty of flashlights and battery-operated lanterns. Headlamps are great, too, especially when you need to see what you’re doing but also need to use both of your hands.
A Utility Knife
A utility knife is another must-have. You don’t need anything crazy, but something that offers the basics, such as a foldable blade, a can opener, a screw driver, etc. This tool will come in handy for so many different reasons; cutting kindling, slicing food, opening cans, etc.
Staying hydrated is always important, but particularly when you’re out in nature, hiking, playing, or just soaking up the sun. Make sure you bring something that can hold plenty of water; ideally, it should be insulated, too, to keep your H2O nice and cool. An easy to open lid is important, and you may even want to opt for something that has a clip that you can connect to a belt loop for hands-free portability.
First Aid Kit
While you certainly hope you’ll get through your trip unscathed, it’s far better to be prepared. With a first aid kit, you’ll be able to tend to any unexpected cuts, bruises, scrapes, burns, bug bites, or blisters that may pop up.
The easiest option: purchase a pre-assembled first aid kit that features all of the essentials, including:
- Bandages (in an assortment of sizes)
- Antiseptic wipes
- Burn cream
- Anti-itch cream
- Medical tape
- Disposable sterile gloves
- Pain relievers
- Antiseptic cream
- Cough medicine
- Sun burn relief cream
- Antihistamine tablets and cream
- Eye wash
- Distilled water
You could also make up your own first aid kit. If you do, make sure you include these basic essentials. Also, if young children will be traveling with you, make sure you bring along kid-safe medications.
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Toiletries and Cleaning Supplies
To tend to basic hygiene, make sure you bring the basic toiletries and cleaning supplies. Examples of products that you’ll want to have on-hand include:
- Bar soap (packed in a portable, waterproof container)
- Sanitary products (if needed)
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Toilet paper
- Towels/hand towels
- Hand sanitizer
- Multi-surface spray cleaner (biodegradable is ideal)
- Paper towels
- Trash bags
Even if the campground has a restroom and a general store, you’ll still want to pack these items with you. If the store is out of soap or the bathroom runs out of toilet paper, you’ll be happy you came prepared!
Even if your campsite offers a picnic table and benches, you’ll still want to bring along a camp chair; these chairs are a lot more comfortable than those metal or wood benches.
Camp chairs that are collapsible are ideal. We also suggest investing in something with a high back for better support, as well as arms that come complete with built-in cup holders for your comfort and convenience.
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Of course, you’ll want to make sure that you pack up some yummy snacks and nourishing meals. But again, you aren’t going to have access to a fridge or microwave, so the meals and snacks you’d usually munch on at home might not work at a campground. Instead, you’ll want to bring easy to prep and easy to cook items, or things that don’t need to cooked. Examples include:
- Dehydrated foods
- Trail mix
- Cereal bars
- Dried fruits
- Instant coffee/tea
- Deli meats/packaged meats/cheeses
- Popcorn (that you can cook on a campfire, of course!)
- S’more supplies
Those are just some suggestions. When it comes to the food you bring camping, just be smart and plan ahead. Make sure all perishable items are properly packed and stored in your cooler (and of course, be sure you bring along plenty of ice and ice packs so that your cooler stays nice and chilled).
Additionally, it’s a good idea to pack your perishables in air-tight, waterproof containers so that they won’t be exposed to water as the ice in your cooler melts.
Drinks are also important. Of all the beverages you pack, it goes without saying that clean water is an absolute must; however, you can also pack some other beverages, such as juices, sodas, and even some adult libations (for those who are 21 and over in your party, of course!).