Marjorie is a journalist who goes camping on weekends. She considers herself lucky, living so close to the Pyrenees.
A Babe In The Woods
Full disclosure, I never went camping as a kid even though I always wanted to. My mom paid for my scouting membership, but not once did we have a scout meeting. Just one of the many scams that happened at my school! But, bygones. I am the woman I am now because of that. Who is this woman, you ask? Someone who grew up romanticizing the great outdoors from her bedroom window, facing the neon lights of the big city. (It was the 80s. We had neon.)
So what gives me the right to cull together this list of camping essentials? Well, in the last ten years I’ve had really wonderful and downright catastrophic camping trips to make up for my lack of childhood experience. Nature will do what she will, but what made a big difference in comfort was the gear. I’d like to think I froze in the wilderness so you won’t have to. Please let me have this? It’s my only consolation.
Visiting the camping store or going online can be overwhelming, but I’m here to help you streamline your checklist of things to take with a few tips.
Maybe it won’t surprise you to know that there are tents for all kinds of weather. The time of the year you want to go camping annually would help you determine the kind of tent to bring. Summer tents are lighter and perfect for backpacking, but they are not as great on cold and rainy days.
I once went with a group of novices on an overnight camping trip to Mount Pulag in the Philippines. Our organizer said he had two-person tents, and we just took his word for it; he was the expert after all. Once we were halfway up the mountain at base camp, it rained hard. He made us stop at a mountain pass and distributed the tents to us damp campers. To our shock, the fabric was thin and the shelter so small that the only way two people could sleep inside was if we took turns lying down in a crouched position! My companions and I (there were three of us) decided the conditions are not ideal and trekked back down to the village in the pouring rain. We knocked on doors to ask for a dry spot to sleep in. Luckily, we found a nice woman who had a storage shack. That night we listened to the wind knocking over branches, shuddered at the sound of the creaking walls, and the rain pounding on the thin roof. We felt so bad for those who chose to stay at the mountain pass, where the wind usually blows harder. The morning after, they told us they hardly slept because they were wet inside the tents and there wasn’t space to sleep. Because it rained all night, the morning was also foggy, and they didn’t see past their noses when they continued their climb to the peak.
In contrast, my husband and I have a 3-Season tent that we've had for over ten years. It saved our butts when we camped on the banks of Lake Maggiore in Italy. It was summer, but it suddenly rained that night. In the morning we felt the sensation of floating. We were dry inside and our tent became a boat, floating on rainwater.
Big Agnes's Ultra Light an Ultra Popular 3-Season Tent Keeps Dry and Ventilated; Extra Features for Digital Gear
If you want to be ready for anything, even snow, then a 4-Season tent may be more your speed. But if you're planning on camping only around spring, summer and early fall then a 3-Season tent will suffice. What you need at the very least is a waterproof tent (or one with a rainfly), with a sturdy frame that wont bend or fall over when the wind is strong. A mesh lining is a must especially if you want to leave the tent open on hot summer nights to let the breeze in. The bigger the mesh, the better off you are in the summer. There are tents that can be stripped down to the mesh and they are great for stargazing!
Take note of your height when ordering online, you don’t want one that’s too small because you need space to sleep and a spot for your backpack. It's hard to carry a family-sized tent if you're hiking, I recommend a small two-person tent. If you want to be able to stand up inside, take note of the peak height. Lastly, tents with fewer poles are lighter and easier to set up.
Nemo Kunai 2P: 4-Season Tent with a Lifetime Warranty; Blocks Wind, Rain and Snow; Great Added Features
Marmot Crane Creek: Budget Friendly Backpacking 3-Season Tent, Best for Stargazing
The Princess and The Pea is a cautionary tale for any camper. If there is something wrong with the mattress, you will have an awful night! If you trekked or swam all day, then you’re looking forward to a good night’s rest.
My husband and I used to bring an inflatable mattress for two, but then we realized that the slightest budge is magnified and hella loud. We also learned the hard way that if you lose air while sleeping, you both roll to the middle! So we bought a mattress each, including a foot pump and an electric pump. It's so convenient when you have a car with you. The problem with inflatable beds though, is they're too heavy for backpacking. So we bought a compact, super-thin air pad specifically made for mountaineering. You still have to blow into it, but it doesn’t take a lot of air to firm up.
There are air pads with built-in insulation that offer a great deal of comfort when the ground is too cold. I slept like a baby in the sleeping pad even though it was super thin, and my body didn’t ache the morning after our day-long hike (through fog, mind you!) to Lac d’Espingo in the Pyrenees.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite: Best 3-Season Ultralight Backpacking Mattress
Klymit Static V2: Most Loved Budget-Friendly Ultralight Backpacking Sleeping Pad
The Sleeping Bag
A good sleeping bag is a lifesaver. My husband and I once traveled in the desert, at the border of Pakistan and India, for 4 days on a camel. I liked the idea of doing things Silk Road style: nothing modern, eating only what our guide would provide like the usual desert hits of unleavened bread, curried vegetables, and fruit. It was a rude awakening to find out how unprepared I was to sleep in a hole dug in the sand, hugging a quilt that reeked of camel for warmth. I loved the idea of seeing the stars before I closed my eyes, but when I opened them up in the morning, icicles had formed on the tarp my husband flung over us in the middle of the night because the mercury went below zero. He had frosty brows and a frozen mustache. A pair of down sleeping bags would have been very welcome then -- and we might also have smelled less like our camels! Ever since the Thar Desert, we made a conscious choice to have a sleeping bag with us on any camping trip.
Just like the tent, there are cold and warm season sleeping bags. Temperature is measured by ISO and EN levels. The lowest temperature the user will be comfortable in is the "Comfort" level, while the highest temperature is the "Limit." Think of the actual temperatures you’ll be out in the most, then go lower than that temperature just in case it suddenly gets cold. If you plan to camp out someplace like Mt. Everest, you need a sleeping bag that is thin, light, but extremely warm. I once got sick in the Himalayas for being underdressed because the weather changed suddenly. Don’t make the same mistake! In places where the weather is prone to be cold, prepare for the cold even in early summer.
Marmot Ironwood 20 Mummy: Lightweight Down Sleeping Bag Up To 20-Degrees F; Stays Warm When Wet
Oaksys Sleeping Bag: Budget-Friendly, Small and Light, 3-Season Sleeping Bag
I think of food as the highlight of any trip and camping is no different! There are recipe books for camping that you can download or get hard copies of. They will elevate your culinary ideas for your next rendezvous with the great outdoors. That said, your al-fresco menu can be as simple or as intricate as you want depending on the tools you will bring.
Your camping stove is a very important consideration. Traditional options include canister stoves and liquid-fuel stoves. Since most parks don't allow open fires, you will probably use one kind or another of these two types. In my book, I like the convenience they provide when it rains. Under the shelter of a tree or with a tarp high enough, you can cook your meal any time you want. Just imagine a steaming bowl of soup in the comfort of your camp!
Canister stoves are a breeze to use. You just screw the stove on the butane canister and unfold the arms that will hold your pot in place. Butane is not too heavy and the stove is collapsible, so the kit doesn't take up much space or weight. However, because it is so light, it is also quite unstable. You need to find even ground before lighting it up if you don't want your pot tumbling over. It is also sensitive to the wind so you may need a wind cover.
MSR Pocket Rocket: Best Ultralight Canister Stove
Lightweight Stove Windscreen
Liquid-fuel stoves use white gas and are practical for freezing weather. These stoves are also more stable because the system is on the ground. The main disadvantage for me is the complexity of the system. They are hard to maintain and a bit complicated to use. Liquid-fuel stoves are also heavier than canister stoves. The idea is to have the lightest materials possible, so I'm not a big fan.
You can’t bring your whole kitchen, but you could find ingenious gadgets to get the same effect. (We outfitted our canister stove with a toaster attachment that we found at a camping store in Holland. Hello, full English breakfasts!) More on kitchen gadgets later.
KapMATE WoodFlame: Light On Pocket Ultra Light Stove Weighs 1.1 lbs
But the lightest option for cooking is a wood-burning stove because you don't need to carry fuel. Just find some twigs and balance your pots or pans on top! It’s a safer alternative to making a bonfire that could start forest fires, and you don’t need as much wood either.
Another option is a solid fuel stove, but I haven't tried them. The tablets are expensive, not easy to control, and most of all toxic.
And That's Just for Starters!
These are just some of the essentials but we're not done yet! On part two of this guide, we'll get into how you can make your camp more cozy. We'll also continue with some basic camping gear that you can't leave home without!
© 2020 Marjorie Dumont
Marjorie Dumont (author) from France on August 12, 2020:
Thank you for your kind comment, Alpine Ramble Treks! I really tried to dig deep into my experiences :) I love Nepal so much! I hope I can revisit once travel becomes safer.
Alpine Ramble Treks from Sorkhutte, Kathmandu, Nepal on August 10, 2020:
This is an amazing post, thanks for your time to share it, greetings from the land of the Himalayas Nepa #Alpineramble