Camping is one of life’s simplest pleasures. While technology and social media are great, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t enjoy heading off into the wilderness every now and then, even if it’s just for a night. As everyday life gets busier and busier, more people turn towards camping to get away from it all.
Of course, with the growth in popularity of camping comes an influx of new and increasingly creative pieces of equipment to help make your trip more enjoyable. Because of this, it can sometimes be overwhelming trying to sort through which gear is necessary, which gear will weigh you down, and which gear is just a waste of money. Of course, some choices will always come down to personal preference, but I’ve tried to draw on my past experiences while camping to compile a list of what I think are the top ten pieces of equipment to take on your next summer camping trip.
Disclaimer: while I tend to lean more towards backcountry endeavors, I’ve tried to make this list as inclusive as possible, so it can be applied to everything from the most extreme summer camping trips to relaxing nights spent by the fire.
This is an easy one to start out with. In fact, it’s one of humanity’s three basic needs (I left food and water off the list, for obvious reasons), and therefore earns the top spot on any ‘essential gear’ list. Your shelter keeps you warm, protects you from the elements, holds the bugs at bay, and provides you with privacy and comfort in any situation.
As stated above, the type of ‘shelter’ that you’ll be using depends heavily on the type of trip you’re planning. If you’re going backcountry, you’ll want something light and very, very waterproof. For car camping, there’s a massive selection of large, comfortable tents with enough space and head room to make you feel like you haven’t even left your house. People who use trailers and RV’s don’t even need to worry about this item on the list, so whatever your preference is, make sure to get the right type of shelter for you— just don’t be afraid to spend a little extra money here, because this will be your home away from home for however long you’re gone.
2. Sleeping Gear
Winning no points for originality but all the points for necessity, the equipment you use during the night comes a close second to shelter in terms of importance. Remember, you spend about one-half to one third of the day sleeping, and it’s a vital time to rest and recharge if you want to enjoy a full day of camping activities. Because of this, your sleeping gear— most commonly and sleeping bag an air mattress— are vital.
Just this summer, while road tripping through along the West Coast with a friend, I had one of the compartments in my air mattress rupture, making it all but unusable. Luckily, we were more than halfway done the trip, but a week of uncomfortable sleeps and shotgun-seat-naps really made me appreciate how necessary good gear is. As with shelter, don’t be afraid to spend some money and shop around a bit to find something that really works for you.
3. Portable Charger
Now, I know I said in the intro that the point of camping was (more often than not) to get away from all the rush and technology of society, but in this day and age, it’s unreasonable to assume that people won’t bring something that needs charging on their backpacking trip— and nor should they. Whether it’s a camera to record your adventure, a speaker so you can listen to your favourite song, or a flashlight for when the sun goes down, technology has become an integral part of most camping trips. Plus, with so many cool devices on the market nowadays, it’s worth checking them out and cutting out all the weight that comes with lugging extra batteries.
Now, you can buy normal, portable batteries for under $50 at your local electronics store, but these are usually only good for 2-3 uses before they, too, run out of power. Other alternative are starting to emerge, like this miniature wind turbine from Nils Ferber that’s being targeted towards long-distance backpackers:
This cool little device can operate in more adverse conditions than your average solar charger, and it represent an exciting new wave of technology that’s starting to hit the camping scene. I’m not sure if it’s on the market yet, but keep an eye out for it— and other pieces like it— in the upcoming years.
4. Fire Starters
Back to the basics now. Whether it’s used for warmth, cooking, or just hanging out, a good fire has been a staple of every camping trip since camping trips were invented (I assume, at least. I can’t say I was there). Of course, a certain amount of skill and practice is needed to start a fire, but for those who are inexperienced, or faced with poor conditions, bringing the right equipment can make your fire a whole lot easier to get going.
Because fire if so important, I like to carry at two to three different methods of starting one (matches, lighter, flint & steel), along with a small bag of kindling just in case there’s none available.
5. A knife
Question: Will I include a knife in every recommendation list I write?
Answer: Most likely, yes.
While some people don’t see the point in carrying a knife everywhere, I’ve found enough uses for mine to always include it in my gear. You can split wood, cut cord, make kindling, prepare food, build a shelter… really, the list of uses for a good knife is nearly endless. There’s a reason it’s one of the oldest tools ever invented.
Now, finding the right knife can be difficult. Personally, I love my Buck 110 folding knife and will probably endorse it until the day that I die. I’ve used it for activities ranging from barn work to ultralight backpacking, and it hasn’t done me wrong yet. However, it is a bulky creature, and lots of people might consider it ‘too much’ knife, so (as always), find whatever works for you and make sure you know how to use it.
The Buck 110 has been around for more than 50 years now, is made completely in America, and balances its beauty with a practical toughness that’s good for any job. Via https://www.buckknives.com/custom-knife/customizable-110-folding-hunter-knife/CKS110/
6. Cleaning Supplies
Staying clean while you’re out in nature is one of the most difficult challenges faced when camping. Of course, it’s easy to carry a toothbrush and some toothpaste, but for anything longer than a couple of nights, those items start to feel pretty insignificant. On top of that, there’s more than just your own body that needs to be kept clean; dishes, cooking utensils, pots and pans all need to be scrubbed daily.
Thankfully, solutions have been created, such as this portable, solar-heated shower from Mountain Equipment Coop that can keep you feeling human when you’ve been away from your bathroom for a few days:
Items like this can help keep everything clean without causing damage to the local ecosystem and can make your camping trip a lot more bearable. It’s not the most packable of items, but if you’re car camping, or even feel like strapping in on the back of your bag, it can be well worth the extra weight.
Also, pro tip for anyone going on a backcountry trip: if you don’t bring one with you, leave a stick of deodorant in the car to use once you return to society. It will make the drive home a lot more pleasant for everyone involved.
7. Camera Equipment
Now, this is a category that’s constantly changing, but always important. Five years ago, small digital cameras were all the rage; they were cheap, easy to use, and great at taking pictures. Now, however, more and more people are leaving the camera at home and just using their phone to record pictures, which saves space and weight.
Recently, however, even more options have been coming out that are causing people to switch back to carrying a separate camera. My personal favourite is the GoPro Hero series, a handy little action cam that lets you take photos, videos, and time lapses. It’s a heck of a lot more durable than an iPhone, and it’s so small that you barely even notice that you’re carrying it.
However, technology is already outstripping even that high-tech device. On top of its line of super-durable video cameras, GoPro is bringing a whole new category to the market: the Fusion, an action camera that lets you capture videos in a full, 360 degree field of view. For anyone who wants to truly immortalize their camping experience, this camera could be the perfect thing for you.
The new GoPro Fusion records 5.2K video at every angle, making it the ultimate camera to capture your camping experiences. Photo via https://www.theverge.com/circuitbreaker/2017/4/20/15355234/gopro-fusion-camera-360-spherical-sample-video
8. A central Shelter
For most people, camping is a chance to socialize, a way to spend time with those you love without any distractions. However, the great outdoors often throws wrinkles in our plans, and it can be hard to enjoy the company you brought if you have to spend the entire trip huddled in your tent hiding from the rain.
Because of this, bringing some type of protection to put over your cooking/eating/social area is essential if you want to enjoy the down time on your trip. For most people, a tarp and some string is all you need to build a pretty solid shelter to keep you hidden from the elements. With a little bit of practice and a couple of well-placed trees, you’ll be able to create an awesome communal space so that everyone on the trip can enjoy each other’s company.
Even after all the time I’ve spent camping and in the back country, I still get taken by surprise at how dark it gets after sundown, and how inconvenient that darkness can get if you don’t have an artificial light source. It’s almost impossible to do anything in darkness if you haven't properly prepared for it.
Now, most households probably have several flashlights, which are fine for day to day use, but when camping, can be swapped out for more effective devices. If you’re going lightweight, a headlamp is the way to go; they’re hands-free, take up next to no space, and can be bought cheap at your local hardware store. If you have a little more room to spare, however, consider investing in a good lantern, which provide a wider field of vision and can really help if you need to do any chores once the sun goes down. There’s tons of lanterns on the market, but my personal recommendation goes towards the Eco Survivor LED Lantern:
This lantern is special because, aside from being incredible effective and unbelievably durable, it also stands for a great cause. Eco Survivor, backed by the company Jasco, has placed a 50% promise on this lantern (and all their other products), meaning that half of their net profits go towards providing clean drinking water to at-risk Indigenous people. So, if you have a couple of extra bucks to spend on a lantern, go for the Eco Survivor and assist them in fighting for a good cause.
Everybody needs something to do during the quiet hours at your campsite. Once the tents have been set up, the food has been cooked and the fire has been made, there’s nothing better than sitting back and relaxing with your friends. Personally, I like to keep a travel journal that I bring on every trip to record my experiences, and a pack of cards for once I’m done writing.
Once all the chores are done and the light is fading, there’s nothing quite like sitting around a campfire to make the perfect ending to any camping experience.
One thing that everyone should have is a good supply of campfire stories. It’s one of the great joys of the outdoors: sitting around the fire huddled underneath your blankets, sharing stories with friends (or strangers you meet on the trail). Funny stories, horror stories, hair-raising tales from past adventures— it doesn’t matter what you tell, as long as you tell it with conviction.
Written by: Canadian Adventure Guru Marcus Memedovich
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As I said at the beginning, camping is a timeless, universal experience that everyone should try at least once. The busier life becomes, the more important it is to unplug from everything and just head out. While it’s difficult to not enjoy a trip, the right gear can help make everything more comfortable and efficient, leaving you more room to relax and soak in the joy of being surrounded by the great outdoors.