I love to camp. I love being outside in nature and having the chance to explore the wilderness. It’s also cheaper than a hotel so financially it helps on cross-country trips. I’m lucky the dogs like to camp as much, if not more, than I do so I try to spend as many nights camping as possible. The only times that we stay in a hotel is if the forecast is calling for rain or if the temperature looks like it’s going to drop too much for my delicate little ones. Wet dogs in a small tent is something that I try to avoid as much as possible as well as frozen pup-sicles. And there have been a few times when I haven’t been able to find a campground so we hotel by default.
So if camping is in the plan, here is some of the gear that you’ll want to pack.
The trunk all packed up clockwise from top left: towel, sleeping bag, bins of food, safety kit, sleeping pad, tent and poles, poop bags, bug spray and sunblock, backpack, camping stove and fuel (in the bag), nalgene bottles, gas can, bag with ropes and spare leashes.
You need to sleep somewhere. There are so many options for tents these days that the only limit is your imagination and finances. Most stores with a sporting section sell some kind of tent and you can get one for cheap if you just want something to use once a year but if you’re looking to use it often or in more rugged areas, I’d suggest going to an actual outdoor store. I find that the quality is usually better and they often have some set up which means you can climb in and feel it out. I once spent close to an hour crawling in and out of tents, laying down, and kneeling to see what they were like. It’s one thing to read the base measurements but when you actually experience the size, you get a whole different sense of it. If you go with friends it can be really fun (I’m serious about both trying it out and having a tent party in the store).
There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re going out to buy a tent or you have a few to choose from:
The number of people (and dogs) in your party – most tents will say how many people fit in the tent but I would suggest using that only as a guideline since that has everyone squished right next too each other and you may not want to get that close to your travel companions while you sleep. It also does not account for any gear or other things you would keep in your tent.
The size of the people in your party – if you have someone that is very tall, make sure the tent is long enough to accommodate them with some space on either end to allow for the inevitable shift that always seems to happen overnight and so they are not pressed directly against the tent walls.
Duration in your tent (staying put or moving every day) – If you’ll be setting up your tent as a base of operations for days at a time, you’ll likely want something a bit more roomy than just a place to lay your head every night before packing back up.
Weather – While most tents are good for three seasons, if you’re heading out into the snow, you’ll want a tent that’s a bit more robust.
Ease of set-up – I remember the tents of my youth being heavy fabric and multi-piece tent poles that you had to assemble before several people had to work together to actually pitch the tent. Most tents that I have seen lately have shock cord poles that snap together and allow a tent to be set up in no time. I have seen some tents that only require you to throw them out and stake them down. I’m a big believer in the less complicated the better.
Packed size/weight – if you’re just moving the tent in your car, there’s more leeway was far as size but if you’re heading into the back country, you’ll want the smallest and lightest tent you can find. If you’ll be sharing with other people, you can divide the various components between you to share the load.
I have the Wanderer 2 from Mountain Equipment Co-op. This is a two-person tent that has enough room for me and the three dogs with a little bit of extra space for my pack. There are pockets on either side of both doors, a loop in the roof for a lantern, and loops to attach an extra storage sling. The fly forms two vestibules over the doors which allows for extra storage. Some tents have a footprint that acts as a base layer, adding an extra level of insulation and protection from the ground. I usually use the footprint which provides a sort of floor in one vestibule which helps to reduce some of the dirt that the dogs track in. I’ve had this tent for about six years and it still looks like new. One of the best things about it is how easy it is to pitch by myself since the dogs aren’t very helpful.
Our site in Blue Mound State Park in Minnesota.
I recommend getting a sleeping bag that is rated for lower temperatures than you think you’ll encounter. You can always unzip and hang parts of your body out but when you’re putting every article of clothing on just so you can sleep, it makes for a very unpleasant night.
Sleeping bag styles are highly personal and there are a lot of options out there. I have several sleeping bags but my go-to is a synthetic down mummy bag. The dogs don’t like this one so much because it doesn’t allow a lot of space for snuggling. When we’re staying in an area that’s going to be warm for the duration of the trip, I have a larger rectangular sleeping bag. Because it is bigger, I usually have at least one dog sharing the space with me which makes it even warmer.
I have an inflatable sleeping pad that I use for me and a foam sleeping pad that I put down for the dogs, mostly for their comfort but also to protect the floor of the tent from sharp nails.
Stoves, like tents, can be as simple or as complicated as you like. I only have one stove since I’ve only ever had to feed myself. It is by a company called Trangia and what I like about it is how simple and compact it is. The entire unit packs small and there are no parts that I have to worry about breaking. It uses methylated spirits as fuel which is cheap and can be found anywhere. All you do is pour some fuel into the fuel cup and light that. A simmering ring fits on top of the cup that controls the temperature. It’s quiet and foolproof. And I can eat directly out of the cooking pot so there’s less dishes to do. It’s a win-win situation.
Breakfast in Minnesota. We had to use bottled water because the camp’s water was not drinkable when we were there.
Utensils and dishes:
If you’re going to be cooking, you’re going to need things to manipulate your food in the pot and get your food into your face hole. I have a set of camping utensils that are light weight and have a clip to keep them together but I usually only break those out if I’m going in the back country when weight is a serious consideration. I usually just grab a fork, spoon, and paring knife that I don’t mind if I lose or damage and put them in one of the food bins. And I pack a folding spatula for cooking.
If you’re cooking for multiple people, you’re obviously going to want to bring at least one plate for everyone. You can get deep plates that will do double duty as bowls as well. I know that camping instantly brings up thoughts of metal dishes but if you have young ones with you, you may want to avoid metal as little fingers tend to forget about hot surfaces.
I would suggest packing one plate, one fork, one spoon, and one cup per person. A bowl if you’ve planned for soup or cereal unless you’ve got the deep plate. As far as knives, you can get by with one big knife that everyone uses to cut their food with if you don’t want to pack a knife for everyone. I also like to pack light in the dish department because it makes clean up a bit easier. I’ve found that if you bring it, you’re likely to use it.
Since some campgrounds don’t have a washing station, you’ll want to bring a basin of some sort to clean your dishes as well as biodegradable soap and a scrub of some kind. If there is a designated cleaning area, please make sure you use it as it limits contamination and helps to protect wildlife. Yes you may have to lug your stuff but imagine if the person who used the site before you dumped their dirty wash water within spitting distance of where you would be camping. Food particles rot and that rot can smell and that smell can attract animals. Need I say more?
If you’re in a place with no designated area, perhaps back country or public land, make sure you dump your wash water far from water sources and your tent. If you’re not sure about proper back country etiquette, there are plenty of sites to do a bit of research. And if you are, it may be a good refresher at the start of the season.
Yes it’s good for the obvious chopping of wood but turn it over and you’ve got a hammer for driving tent pegs. Scrape your wood and you’ve got tinder for your fire. Heck it’s good in an emergency if you need to smash glass to help someone in an accident or cut branches for a splint which is why I keep my hatchet right at the front of my trunk for ease of access.
Why chop wood if you’re not going to light a fire? I don’t usually have fires but there have been a few times when I’m glad I did. There is something so soothing about sitting in the growing dusk with a fire crackling away. And if you’re in a place with no cell service, it gives you something to do until bed time. And you’ll need some source of ignition if you’re using a stove.
When it gets dark out, you’ll want some means to find your way around your site. Or it can be a surrogate if you don’t start a fire. There are even little ones that can be hung from the ceiling of a tent. Lanterns aren’t strictly essential since you can use a flashlight for the same thing (which of course you have packed in the car) but I like being able to plunk it down on a table or in the tent and read or write out the adventures of the day. And if you have people with you, can you beat it for a game of cards?
Tarps or screened tents:
If you’re going to be stationary for a bit, these are invaluable for covering your area in case of rain that will keep you huddled in your tent.
A deck of cards is pretty much mandatory if there’s more than one person. Flip flops for the shower. Spare toilet paper because…well you never know.
You didn’t want me to move did you?
Because this post got a bit long, I’ll do my camping routine in a separate post.