Camping is a great way to enjoy a getaway, allowing you to see new places, try out new things and spend time in the great outdoors. Whether you’re a seasoned camper or new to it, it can be overwhelming looking at the huge range of products on offer. This buying guide aims to help you understand what gear you’re going to definitely need, and what extra essentials can make your trip even better.
What type of camping will you be doing?
The camping trip you’re hoping to do could be a full outdoor adventure in the wilderness where you’re completely responsible for your food, shelter and comfort, or it could involve a lot of hiking and camping in a location where you’re close to a base camp and shelter. The gear you’re going to need will be different, depending on how isolated you’re going to be on your camping trip. We’ll aim to strike a balance in this buying guide, giving you advice that strides between a rugged, self-sustained hiking adventure, or a planned, more structured camp with a base and a vehicle.
Camping gear hugely varies by price and affordability. There are lots of products with techy features and innovative materials. However, they’re often not completely necessary and people have camped for decades without them. You’ll need to judge how important these features are to you, and can expect to invest a lot more money in products that are on the cutting-edge of technology and innovation. Some of them do offer higher levels of comfort and practicality, and are worth investing in if you’re a veteran camper looking for quality, long-lasting equipment.
The main difference between gear designed for campers who hike out into isolation, and campers who return to a base camp, is in weight and portability. Campers who are hiking out into the wild, away from a static base, will need portable, practical and light items. If you’re staying at a base camp, you can afford to take heavier, larger gear as you won’t necessarily be carrying it with you. The lighter gear is usually more expensive; however, you can use it for both kinds of camping with ease.
What do you definitely need for any kind of camping?
There are some basic camping essentials that you’re going to need regardless of whether you’re staying in a base camp, or forging out into remoteness. Before buying anything, you’ll need to consider what your camping trips are likely to look like. Consider what time of year you intend to camp, what kind of place you hope to camp in, and what kind of weather you’re likely to encounter. All of these factors will influence what product you’re best off purchasing. Without further ado, let’s consider the obvious camping equipment that you won’t get far without.
Sleeping bags or pads
The right sleeping bag makes a huge difference to your camping experience. Sleeping bags have different weights, which will affect how easy they are to carry. Different bags also have the ability to cope with varying temperatures and weather conditions. Your camping plans will help you decide whether you need a heavy, thick sleeping bag, or whether you need something lightweight and insulated. Sleeping bags are something you should invest well in, as a good night’s sleep makes a huge difference to your enjoyment of camping. To feel even more comfort, you could invest in a sleeping pad. These are pads, usually inflatable, some with foam elements, which give you some distance between the ground and your body. They’re a more lightweight and portable version of an inflatable mattress, designed to provide some support and insulation.
Tents and required accessories
If you’re camping outdoors and not in a vehicle, you’re going to need to sleep in something. You can sleep outdoors without tent cover, and it’s an amazing experience; however, if you’re planning on doing that, it’s still a great idea for your safety to take a tent in case of adverse weather conditions. There are a huge number of tent styles and sizes. If you can consider whether or not you’re likely to camp in all seasons; your choice will be influenced by that. There are tents which are not suitable for winter camping (3-season tents), and tents that are built to withstand camping in snow (4-season tents). If you’re planning on hiking and camping whenever you’re too tired to go on, then you’ll need a lightweight, easy-to-put-up tent. If you’re going to return to stay at base camp, you can opt for a more luxurious, large tent that offers a lot of space and comfort. Your necessary tent accessories will include poles, stakes, tie downs and tarps. Some tents include these accessories, however, depending on where you camp, you may need more heavy-duty specialist products.
Hiking shoes or boots
Camping usually involves a lot of time spent outdoors, and one of the greatest outdoor activities to combine with camping is hiking. For real exploration and hours spent walking, having a pair of well-designed hiking shoes will save your feet from discomfort or injury. Hiking shoes or boots offer padding, support and stability. They also offer superior grip, in comparison to normal sport trainers. Once again, your planned camping location will affect what kind of hiking gear is needed. A hiking boot will offer a lot of ankle support and grip, but are also a thick and bulky boot. Hiking shoes are less chunky, more lightweight and offer good grip. If you like to mix in some outdoor running or climbing with your camping, you may want to invest in some trail or approach shoes. Trail shoes are light, with less ankle support and grip so that you can run comfortably. Approach shoes are great for climbing, offering good grip with a light weight.
The farther you go from civilization, the less likely it is that your phone will work. You may not be able to get any service on it, and if you were hoping to rely on your phone’s maps, you could find yourself quite stuck. It’s smart to bring alternatives which can help you find your way. A paper map of your location is, of course, an extremely reliable option, as long as you’re confident in how to read it. You can buy a satellite GPS unit which offers a superior signal than your phone would, but it’s best not to rely solely on technology for your navigation. Print or buy a map before you go camping, and carefully study it. You can aid your navigation with traditional tools such as compasses, which, when combined with your map, can be used to navigate just about anywhere.
Lighting: headlamps, flashlights, lanterns
Taking lighting with you whenever you’re away from a populated area is a good idea. If you’re out in the wilderness, you’d be surprised at just how dark it can get. Even if you’re planning on being back at a base camp by nightfall, it’s smart to be prepared in case that doesn’t happen. For lighting, a portable and reliable flashlight is a great idea to have at all times. By the same token, headlamps are also extremely useful and allow you to have light whatever you’re facing and need most. They also don’t take up much carrying space, as many models are comfortable enough to wear them while on the go. For times when you’re in a static base camp, you could use a heavy-duty lantern around your camping area, so that you can clearly see your campsite when it’s dark.
First aid kits
First aid kits are, and always have been, absolute life savers when camping. They are a real essential for safe camping, and you should take a well-stocked kit with you whenever you stride out, whether you’re alone or in a group. You can buy pre-packed first aid kits, or you can source your own items for it. At a minimum, it should include bandages, dressing pads, gauze, painkillers, a multi-tool and a form of antiseptic. However, as camping can throw some strange situations at you, it’s best to also be prepared for injuries that may occur while hiking or camping. There are guides online with suggestions for how to build your own camping first aid kit. Aloe vera is a great soother for burns; bug spray can keep away pests; and products that prevent or protect blisters such as moleskin will help to save your skin if you find them blistered or bruised. Of course, always take any prescription medications with you, and life-savers such as epi pens, for those of you with allergies.
Eating and drinking: stove, fuel, cookware
Your camping trip could be a lot more enjoyable if you are able to enjoy a hot meal during it. You can create a campfire and cook on it using pots, but it’s not always a reliable way to heat your food. Camping stoves vary between light portable options, and sturdy propane options. We go into more detail on the right cooking equipment for you below, as what is a good choice depends on whether you’re using a base camp or cooking on the go. Staying on top of your hydration is exceptionally important, and there is more information for you below if you’re doing isolated camping on how to meet that need. Make sure you bring plenty of water with you, or a way of filtering water. You should also bring cleaning gear with you, so that you can keep what you’re using hygienic. You don’t need to invest in camping cleaning products, all you need are some bin bags and dishcloths from home.
What do you definitely need for outdoor, isolated camping?
This kind of camping usually involves a lot of hiking, and the typical day will end with the camper setting up for the night using only the gear they’ve brought with them. For this kind of camping, products need to be lightweight, portable and fit for purpose. There are lots of products designed with multi-use functionality which can reduce the number of objects you’re carrying with you.
If you choose the right one, your backpack will become your best friend when camping. Choose between a backpack suitable for a day hike, an overnight stay, or a long trip. The difference between the types of backpack will generally come down to storage space and functionality. Modern backpacks are designed to be reduce strain and offer support, which is beneficial when carrying a heavy load.
Drinking: water filtration, treatment tablets
If you’re not going to be heading to a base camp regularly, you’re going to need to bring with you a way to have clean drinking water. The traditional method is through boiling water, but it needs to boil for at least 5 minutes and you may not have an adequate heat source. Instead, you can buy water filtration systems that are reusable, reliable and portable. They work to remove harmful bacteria, dirt and green matter, so that you’re less likely to fall ill. You can use these systems by filling bottles, drinking with the filter from the source, or drinking from pouches. Alternatively, you could opt for water treatment tablets that usually purify water using iodine or chlorine. Water treatment tablets don’t remove any dirt or sediment from the water however, and can leave an aftertaste.
Eating: stove, fuel, cookware
Your equipment needs to be light, portable and efficient. Look for small stoves that are durable and safe to use. For your cookware and utensils, you can find portable sets which are light and easy to pack. Usually, cups and bowls designed for camping are lightweight, stackable and portable. You’ll need to be careful with your fuel, and pack enough for the entirety of your trip with some to spare. It’s a good idea to plan your meals out in advance, so that you can pack what you need as effectively and sparingly as possible. Meeting your nutritional needs is very important when camping and hiking, so plan well to make sure you’re getting the calories, liquids and vitamins you need.
What do you definitely need for camping in a base camp?
If you’re bringing a vehicle with you and staying at a base camp, you will be lucky enough to have access to a lot of storage space for camping items. This gives you a bit more flexibility and means you don’t necessarily have to buy dedicated camping gear. You can also bring items with you that add a touch of home, for a bit more luxury and comfort, such as camping chairs, camp beds, or extra pillows.
Eating: stove, fuel, cookware
You can purchase a propane stove, choosing an option that is a good size and powerful enough to cook your meal with. If you’re planning on cooking at your base camp, you won’t need to buy dedicated camping cookware, as you can bring your pots and pans from home and use them with your stove. You also won’t need to buy dedicated utensils, bowls, cups or plates, as you can bring whatever you have from home.
What products are often forgotten, but useful to have?
Although the items mentioned above are essential for camping, there are other products you can bring with you that will help to make your camping trip run smoothly. While they’re useful in a range of situations, you may already have them at home and will not need to buy anything new. One of the most useful items to take with you is duct tape. You can patch up any minor issues with your tent or sleeping bag, use it for basic first aid, and fix numerous other items with the liberal application of some tape. Another helpful savior item is string or cord, which is useful for binding or tying things together.
It’s a good idea to bring items such as extra tent pegs, or a mallet, to help with erecting your tent. If you’re bringing tinned food or bottles, don’t forget the tin or bottle opener. Baby wipes and toilet paper can help you freshen up if you’re feeling a bit dirty. Sun cream will help to protect you from the sun and prevent skin damage. A whistle can be helpful if you’re in trouble. A multi-tool which includes scissors and a pocket knife will be useful in a number of situations.
Finally, when buying your camping gear, consider products that have safety features such as reflective panels. It’s important to check the weather forecast for where you’ll be camping, but also to be prepared in case it turns out to be changeable. Pack enough clothes to be comfortable, and make sure you have clothes that are suitable for all weather. Even if it’s forecast for sunshine all week, you may still get hit with a day of rain, and you’ll wish you’d brought a raincoat.