Camping Essentials – building your basic gear stash, and then some!

Posted on Aug 30 2013 - 10:50pm by Guest Contributor


Kim Rohrer blogs at Kim’s Kitchen Sink about everything interesting including things like knitting, gardening, baking, technology, and friendship.


A few weeks ago, I gave y’all a detailed list (with photos) of the contents of my super awesome camping box. That post will help you maximize your efficiency when it comes to packing for camping trips, and hey, since it’s so easy, maybe you’ll find yourself camping more often!

But there are a few areas I didn’t cover with that post…clothing, food, hiking gear, bug spray…oh yeah. Things you need. Or maybe, not always things you need, but things that you might want. Or things that if you’re buying gear for your first ever camping trip, you might want to consider. Instead of, you know, buying everything at REI. For the purpose of these posts, I’m talking about car camping: where you drive to a campsite, park your car, and set up shop for a while. Backpacking is a whole different beast! Since I do the majority of my camping with my husband I’ll share tips we’ve learned across our many summer camping trips.

Let’s just jump right in, shall we?

Tent: A shorter tent retains heat better than a taller one, but it’ll mean laying down on the floor or squatting/bending awkwardly to change your clothes (we do it; it’s not so hard). A tent with a smaller footprint is more flexible for campsites that may not have as many options for flat, even tent setup locations, but a tent that’s larger is good for families or people who just need their space. Most tents these days are easy to set up and take down, though good luck ever getting it to fit perfectly back into its original bag (a set of bungie cords is helpful to keep things organized in this case). Look for something with a mesh ceiling and an optional rain fly – when you’re out on a no-rain-expected trip, you can leave the rain fly off and look up through the mesh ceiling at the stars!

Sleeping Pad: There are lots of options here…when we were younger, we just used foam pads. When we’re backpacking, we use individual, lightweight pads that are about an inch thick. When we’re car camping, we go luxe and bring our Coleman air mattress. Friends of ours have a double-high air mattress that’s even more luxurious. Depending on your mattress preferences, you can go as little or as luxe as you want. That’s the beauty of car camping.

Sleeping Bag: For this one, you will actually want to seek the advice of a pro at an outdoor store. They’ll ask if you sleep hot or cold, or if you’re planning on taking the bag backpacking or car camping (backpacking = pack a lighter weight bag), or whether you’ll be camping in super cold areas and will need ultrawarm bags, etc. etc. etc. You’ll also need to consider whether you like mummy bags or rectangular bags, or maybe something like this. Will you and a partner be zipping them together to create one mega bag or do you want your own bags? Lots to consider, and this may be a bigger investment, so take some time to research your options.

Pillow: Bring one. Whether it’s one from your bed at home, or an inflatable travel pillow, it’s a good thing to have!

Clothing: Unless you’re going to a nudist campground, you’ll want some clothes, and if you’re planning on doing a bit of hiking, you should bring less cotton/denim (they hold moisture and become heavy when you sweat) and more lycra/spandex/athletic gear (moisture-wicking! dries fast!). I typically hike in a cotton tshirt and sports bra for most day hikes, so do what feels right to you in terms of daytime tops. For easy walks/day hikes, jean shorts are fine, but I am a huge fan of those pants that convert into shorts when you zip off the bottoms. Two pairs of bottoms in one! Plus, you can usually remove the bottom half of the pants without taking off your shoes, which is a bonus when you’re out hiking and get warm. For long hikes, wool socks and sock liners are a good option to prevent rubbing and blistering. For evenings, you’ll want to pack warm clothes (depending of course on the weather where you’re going). Everything from leggings to long underwear to long sleeve tshirts to sweatshirts to puffy jackets is fair game. You know your body – check the weather and pack accordingly! Don’t forget hats (baseball or brimmed hats for daytime and warm hats for nighttime) and some warm gloves if your hands get chilly, and a bathing suit (oh, and a towel) if there’s a river or lake nearby, oh…yeah…and undergarments too.

Shoes: Sturdy sneakers or hiking boots are key. Lightweight waterproof sandals (Crocs, Tevas, and Keens are great options here) for river crossings or just playing around (I even hike in my Tevas). And if you have an old pair of warm boots or slippers, I highly recommend them for hanging around the campsite at night. I have a pair of UGGs from about 15 years ago that I use for this, and when it first occurred to me, I thought I was a genius.

Bug Spray and Sunscreen: I’m a huge fan of Natrapel wipes (I keep some in my duffel bag in the tent so I can wipe down before I leave the tent the morning — yes, I’m that sensitive to bug bites) and Coleman natural bug spray (made with eucalyptus and lemon oil). For sunscreen I recommend Neutrogena sensitive skin lotion (for the face), and cooling mist spray (for everywhere else). ProTip: When you’re spraying your bug spray (in the morning and early evening hours, as well as before you go on a hike through a meadow or area with standing water), don’t forget to spray over your clothes too. Mosquitoes can bite through your tshirt, guys! Those darn bugs.

Camping Chairs: Oh my, there are so many options! We have two ordinary camping chairs and two awesome ones that we got at an end-of-season REI sale. They make some with footrests and some that recline, but the most important thing is a cupholder for your drink!

Camp Stove: For cooking the meals you’re not making over a campfire, and for boiling water to wash your dishes. Don’t forget the Propane! And see my previous post for more on food prep equipment and lanterns.

Hydration: Water bottles are great for around the campsite, but for hiking I’m a huge fan of the Camelbak (or other hydration pouch). I have a hard time getting enough water while I’m hiking, but the hydration pack with its handy tube means I can stay hydrated without breaking my stride. And on our last trip, I realized that I can hang it (the hydration pouch sits in a backpack) on the back of my camping chair while sitting around the fireplace. BOOM! Instant easy access to hydration while getting all hot and smoky and gorging on s’mores.

Hammock: If you have one, it can be a great addition to your campsite. We have an ENO Doublewide, which we say is big enough for two to snuggle, and for one to be luxuriously comfy. We’ve fit the two of us snuggling inside, with three small children piled in on top. Cozy 🙂

Tools: It’s handy to have an axe or hatchet for splitting firewood into kindling, a fire poker for messing with your fire if there are no big sticks around and you like to mess with your fire, and a hammer for hammering in your tent stakes (though we usually just use our hands, feet, or a nearby rock).

Musical instruments: It can be fun to bring a guitar or ukulele if you are so musically inclined. We’ve even had friends bring a harmonica, tambourine, and maracas 🙂

A cooler: You’ll want to keep your food (and beer) cold!

And lastly, a sense of adventure, a flexible attitude, and a camera to record all those memories!

Me at a relatively hidden and totally beautiful river bend near Pothole Dome at Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park.

Me at a relatively hidden and totally beautiful river bend near Pothole Dome at Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park.

Did I forget anything? Do you have special comforts-of-home that you like to bring along? Going on any trips in the near future?

Next up on Kim’s Camping Recs…how to eat like a gourmand while “roughing it” in the woods!