So you’ve decided to go camping. Congratulations! Do you have everything you need? If you’re a seasoned pro, you’re ready to hitch up the trailer or throw the gear in the back of the truck and go. If you’re a novice, or this is your first time camping, I’ve created a list of supplies as well as some helpful tips and tricks that help you get started in your camping experience.
This is the most important thing you will need (other than food and water). First question you need to ask yourself is how many people are camping with you as this will determine the size of the tent you’ll need. Not only do tents range in size, but they also range in price, and sometimes the price can be pretty steep. I began with a 4-person tent and have increased my inventory over the past 10 years or so. I now have a 2-person, 3-person, 4-person and 10-person tent. You may not need that many, especially right away. If you and your family enjoy the outdoors and plan to make camping a regular outing, I would recommend a family sized tent. The 10-person tent I have has been discontinued, but this is one similar to mine:
Here is a 4-person tent similar to mine–
Once you purchase your tent, I highly recommend setting it up in your yard prior to going camping. I can not stress this enough! Pitching your tent and taking it down a few times will help you understand how the tent comes together. Trust me when I tell you that there is nothing like trying to pitch a new tent in the rain. It was nothing short of horrible. Take my advice and pitch your tent in your yard before pitching it in the woods.
- Camping Tarp
Camping tarps have a variety of uses. I use mine as a tent footprint, sunshade, rain fly and as a ground sheet. These multipurpose tarps are excellent for tent footprints/ground sheets. You try to pitch your tent in a nice, smooth area free from debris such as rocks and limbs. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case and a sharp-edged rock or small tree branch pokes a hole in your tent floor. The camping tarp prevents this from happening. Lay the tarp down and then pitch your tent on top of it.
Maybe later on, as your kids get older or your spouse begins to enjoy camping a little more, maybe you’ll invest in hammocks. The camping tarp can be used as a sunshade and rain fly. I recommend getting one to start with and then add another tarp later. Here is one similar to what I have-
- Camping stove
You gotta eat, right? Contrary to what you’ve seen in movies or on those survivor shows, wild game isn’t caught that easily. Do you know which berries are safe to eat? What about plants? Save yourself the trouble and plan your meals. Get yourself a decent camping stove and a couple of propane bottles and eat heartily. Your family will thank you for it.
Camping stoves come in different shapes and sizes, as well as prices. The more expensive stove doesn’t always mean it’s the best stove. Plan your meals prior to camping and you can determine the size of camping stove you’ll need. As you get a little more experience under your belt, invest in more stoves as your budget allows.
Stoves like this one:
These stoves do not come with propane bottles. You’ll need at least 2 to get you started. So prior to camping, I recommend practicing with the stove to ensure you’re comfortable with its design. The propane tanks can be intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of it, you can connect them to your stove blindfolded.
- Mess Kit
Laken Aluminum Camping Cooking Set Mess Kit 20cmI’ve seen camp goers arrive on site with a pack of paper plates and a box of plastic utensils. Don’t be that camper. Why waste your money on plates and utensils when you can reuse a mess kit for years on end? I’m not impressed with the newer mess kits, but they still get the job done. Once your finished eating, just wash what you used, dry it and store it in your pack so it’s ready to go for the next meal
Regardless which mess kit you choose, the basics you need are plate, utensils and cup. These mess kits will last you a lifetime.
- Camping Chair
Chances are you’re not going to find a campsite equipped with picnic tables and amenities within a stone’s throw distance. Your options are to stand all day long, sit in your tent or sit on the ground. Who wants to do any of that, especially when eating? Camp chairs are often overlooked and forgotten by novice campers. These gems range in comfort and price. However, they will last you many years. Obviously your budget will dictate how much you spend, but if your plan is to live out in the woods on weekends throughout the summer, I recommend shelling out a little more for a comfortable and reliable camping chair. I have chairs for each member of my family plus a few extras I’ve obtained over the years. The next chair (and last chair) I intend purchasing is similar to this:
- First Aid Kit
I was astonished (for lack of a better word) when one of the boys in my son’s youth group fell and skinned his knees and no adults in the group had a first aid kit at the campsite nor in their vehicle. I was more than willing to share my first aid kit with any of the families, but I was amazed by their lack of planning. I’m not saying that in order to be an expert camper that you must have a specific list of items, but one would think that a first aid kit is essential. However, I also understand that this was many of the aforementioned parents first time camping. My sons and I camp a lot. They are remarkably prone to injuries of some kind. For example, two of my boys have been stung by bees, all of my boys have fallen and scraped their knee or elbow, one of them had an upset stomach, and the list goes one. The point is when camping, be prepared for the unexpected and get a good first aid kit. Here is an example:
- Camping Tables
Best Choice Products Folding Table Portable Plastic Indoor Outdoor Picnic Party Dining Camp Tables, 4′Where will you place your camping stove and serve your food? Some of these tables can be fairly pricey. When looking for the perfect table, you’ll be tempted to find one with all the bells and whistles. I suggest you purchase a plain jane table that will get you through, unless you’re cooking for a rather large family, you won’t need a table with the bells and whistles.
Keep one table for cooking and food preparation and the other table for watching cookware and mess kits. The other table I have is smaller and adjustable.
- Flashlight, Headlamp, Lantern
LED Headlamp Lights, With Red Strobe, Waterproof, For Kids Runner Hunting The last thing you want to do is wander through the dark in an area you’re not familiar with. You could trip over a stump or stone, step in a hole or lose your footing on wet leaves or loose gravel. All these could result in an injury. Always keep your light source handy in the event you arrive at your campsite after dark or you’re stumbling through the night trying to find a bathroom. Keep your light source in your camping necessities kit and ensure you have fresh batteries in your gear. My boys and I keep a small flashlight in our packs and always prefer headlamps to keep our hands free.
A lantern is nice to light a larger area. There will be times when campfires are prohibited by park rangers and no one likes a flashlight shined in their eyes. I keep two lanterns on hand. One takes batteries there other requires a propane bottle. Here are the lanterns I keep in my camping box. This is the one we have—
- Water Source
Your two basic necessities in life are oxygen and water. You need a water source of some sort to take with you camping. I take a 5 gallon water jug with spigot You’ll also need a personal water source. My younger kids take sports bottles and camelbacks, my oldest brings a 2-quart canteen or camelback and I bring my camelback. I prefer my kids to have their camelbaks because we hike quite a bit. Here is an example what are family and kids use for hydration–
Is a canopy a necessity? Not necessarily. Is a canopy something I would recommend? Absolutely! A canopy accomplishes a few things during your time camping. It serves as a shield from the sun, provides heat, and serves as an oversized umbrella during rain. A canopy can be quite expensive, so I don’t recommend it as an immediate need. But I do recommend it as a future investment when your budget allows. Here’s an example of the canopy we use–
- Sleeping Bag
This ranks up there probably around #2 or #3 in priority. Regardless which season you decide to camp, weather is unpredictable and nights can get pretty chilly. Sleeping bags are temperature rated for cold temperatures. Sleeping bags are typically categorized as summer season, 3-season and winter. Most camping bags feature a temperature rating between +15 – +50 degrees F. If you’re going camping in near freezing temperatures, then a sleeping bag rates for those temperatures is what you need. Personally, I still use my old Army sleeping bag. I’ve had it for over 20 years and it goes everywhere with me. However, I bought my kids 20 degree bags like the Teton one shown here—
Nights can be miserable if you have a sleeping bag that doesn’t keep you warm. I also bring extra sheets for my kids to use in their sleeping bags in the event temperatures drop really low. That has never happened, but the key is to always be prepared. You may also want to bring a pillow.
- Air Mattress and Air Pump
What? A retired Army man using an air mattress when camping? Yes! Don’t judge me. If you don’t have an air mattress, I suggest you purchase one, along with an air pump. Your back will thank you for it. There was a time when I could sleep on the cold hard ground and my back would feel great. Those years have passed and I proudly use my air mattress. I recommend getting an air mattress without the felt top. I had a few of those and they got moldy. I don’t know if it was how I stored them, or if it was because they got wet one camping trip, but I will never purchase another felt top mattress. We really like these Airlite Sleeping mattresses. They even have an integrated pump!
However, if you pick another kind of mattress, don’t forget the air pump. You can get one that is powered through your car, but I prefer a battery operated air pump such as this one—-
- CoolerIgloo Glide PRO Cooler (110-Quart, White)You will need something to store and transport your food. I recommend a larger cooler that is easily transportable, like this Igloo.
You can transport your meat, eggs, dairy products, and anything else that needs to remain cooled in this size cooler. If you have a smaller family or if it’s just 2 or 3 of you camping, you could probably get by with a 50-quart cooler. Don’t forget the ice!
- Cooking Utensils, Pots, Pans
You’ll need a spatula to flip the eggs, a pot to cook the soup and pans to fry sausage or bacon. Don’t go crazy and purchase high end cookware. All you need is something cheap that will get the job done. You’ll be rough with the cookware and you don’t want to spend a lot of money on something that will be thrown in a bin labeled “camping stuff.” I purchased my cookware and utensils at Walmart, if I’m not mistaken. Don’t forget the non-stick spray! Amazon has a great selection of camping pots and pans. Here are some similar to what we have—
There’s a few extra things you should bring and always keep handy in your camping gear. Some of these things are insect repellent, sunscreen, personal hygiene kit, toiletries, gloves, hats, rain gear, extra bin for watching dishes, dish soap, sponge for washing dishes, foil, food storage containers and food storage bags, trash bags, matches and lighter, roasting sticks for marshmallows, extra batteries, tent and mattress repair kit, and paper towels or terry cloths.
- Other Stuff
Bring some games to play with your family. We always bring a football, frisbee, playing cards and fishing poles. My boys love fishing and throwing a frisbee. You could also bring a board game such as chess or checkers. If your kids are old enough to ride bicycles, then possibly bring their bikes. You want to make the time together memorable. Bring hiking boots to go on a scenic and romantic hike with your spouse, or a nature hike to explore bugs with your kids. Another suggestion is good ole fashioned outdoor games! be creative!
I hope this post has helped you prepare for camping. One can never be too prepared. I always tell my kids that it is “always better to have it and not need it, rather than need it and not have it.” If you think you’ll need it, bring it. As you gain more experiences, you’ll see what you need and what you don’t need. Don’t forget to replenish what you have used. The key is to go into camping with an open mind. Most people I know who have never camped as a child, have usually hated camping the first time they went as an adult. However, those same people who gave camping a chance have loved it. I hope you enjoy camping as much as I do.
The last though I want to leave you with is taken from my boys’ Trail Life USA Oath and Troop Promise. 1. Be a good steward of creation. That means to take care of what God has given you. Do not leave fires unattended or pollute the environment. 2. Leave it better than you found it. That means exactly that – leave it better. Sometimes my boys and I will roll onto a campsite and see trash left by someone else. We could just leave it because we didn’t put it there. But that’s not teaching my kids to be a good steward of creation nor teaching them to always leave things better that they found it. Please do us all a favor and leave with everything you brought, including your trash.
Speaking of trash, always remember to keep your trash bags closed up and secured and keep your food locked up. Raccoons can open coolers and they will eat all of your food and tear into your trash bag, leaving a mess for you to clean up. Always prepare of the unexpected, or at least try to.
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Walk Worthy and Enjoy God’s Creation!