What to Take Camping | Basics for Beginners
The staple items to consider for any overnights in The Great Outdoors, plus advice on choosing the right kit to suit your trip
The joy of camping is its simplicity. Removing yourself from home comforts and luxuries creates a sense of freedom like no other and it can often be one of the best ways to declutter the mind and to relax. So this is a crucial thing to bear in mind when planning what to take camping – if you bring the whole house with you, you might as well stay there, as you'll probably return to it more stressed than when you left.
What to take camping is very dependent on a number of factors but there are two particular ones that are crucial: the environment you are heading out into and the length of time. For instance, if you're going hiking and camping in the wilderness of Northern Scandinavia in winter for two weeks then you're going to need a four-season tent and a backpack big enough to carry all of your extra food. Then in contrast, if you're heading to Cornwall for one warm night in July, then a smaller bag will be more convenient and your tent can be much simpler.
While the type and quality of kit you need to take is a case of horses for courses, there are still staple items that should be on every camping kit list. Before we introduce this staple list, a word on packing. This can be one of the most stressful parts of a camping trip, but it really doesn't have to be. The trick is to think about each typical scenario you will encounter whilst you pack. So start with, what do I need to carry everything? Then, what do I need to sleep comfortably? Then, what do I need to eat with?
What to Take Camping: A Tent
Starting with the obvious. Tents come in all shapes and sizes and are often designed to suit a specific purpose, say for lightweight solo backpacking or for high-level mountaineering. They are usually categorised by the number of people they can sleep comfortably inside, going from 1-person through to 6-person or more.
One of the things to consider when choosing a tent is the space-to-weight ratio, particularly if you have to carry your equipment a long way. The MSR Access 2 is a good example of a tent with a good ratio. We liked it so much that we chose it for our Summer 2017 Outdoor 100, our pick of the season's latest and greatest kit.
It weighs a decent weight of 1.9kg yet it still has plenty of space for two people to sleep and socialise in comfortably. Tents with an excellent space-to-weight ratio are usually made with high quality materials and more often than not, as is the case with the MSR, this will mean a high price tag. You will occasionally find some brands that offer exceptions to this rule however.
What to Take Camping: A Backpack
Some may find that they can fit all of their kit for a camping trip in a 35-litre pack, but most people will tend to go for something larger of around 50-65 litres. A good one for weekend trips is the Lowe Alpine Mountain Ascent, which also was featured in the Summer 2017 Outdoor 100.
The 1.4kg pack is made from a tough TriShield fabric that will be able to withstand any branches or sharp rock faces. It also has a PU coating that will help shed water rather than letting the fabric absorb it.
What to Take Camping: A Sleeping Bag
There are different sleeping bags to suit every environment, from single layer liners for humid summer nights to puffed up 1500 fill power down bags for sleeping on a ledge halfway up Everest. They are usually categorised by season, from one season (summer), two season (summer and a warm spring or autumn), three season (all but winter), to four season (winter), but it's also worth checking a bag's temperature rating when you are buying one. This will indicate the highest extreme of temperature it will perform at, the lowest extreme, and the optimum performance level.
The insulation in a sleeping bag will either be down or synthetic fibres, or a blend of the two. These fills each have different advantages and disadvantages when compared against each other. Again we come back to the saying, 'horses for courses'.
One of the sleeping bags we've been impressed by is the Mountain Equipment Helium 400. It's a down fill sleeping bag designed for two to three season use with a comfort rating of 3 degrees – so it's an option that's suited to a British spring, early autumn or summer night.
What to Take Camping: A Sleeping Mat
This is an item that can sometimes get overlooked and it really shouldn't. Some camping beginners assume that a sleeping mat is for comfort simply in the sense that it's a nice, soft thing to place over the lumps and bumps of terra firma, however it's actually more about warmth. The cold ground saps a lot of your body heat when camping and a sleeping mat is about providing an insulating layer to prevent this from happening.
Often a simple foam mat will do the job, however there are now lots of inflatable options that will not only provide more insulation but also make for a very cushioned lie down. Pictured is the Sea to Summit Comfort SI, an 890g mat that has uses self inflating technology and will pack up to the size of a small loaf of bread.
What to Take Camping: A Headtorch
Another very important item when considering what to take camping is a headtorch. On nights that are lit by a full moon you might not even need to use it but it should still be with you as a safety item – say if you get caught out by something at night and need to hike off the hill or if you become lost and need to signal for help.
The brightness of a headtorch is measured in Lumens with the higher the number, the higher the brightness. What's worth considering with headtorches is that those with a high Lumen rating will generally have a shorter battery life than those with a low rating. Most headtorches will offer around 60-100 Lumens but there are some that can give up to 2,000.
A headtorch that strikes the balance well is the Petzl Nao+ which has 750 Lumens but will still last up to 15 hours on its brightest setting.
What to Take Camping: A Stove
A warm meal can do wonders for morale when out camping, and the whole process of cooking outdoors is fun in itself. Well, we think so anyway. Stoves come in a number of different forms, mainly varying in the types of fuel they burn. There are gas stoves, stoves that run off spirits and stoves that burn solid fuel like tablets or even natural objects from the forest floor. Personal stoves are nearly always lighter in weight than stoves for group cooking.
Large gas burning ones are very useful for cooking for groups of people, but these are usually too big to be carried very far and are designed more with car camping in mind. One such example is the Primus Onja, a two burner gas stove that folds up to a neat box and can be carried by a shoulder sling. Some stoves have Piezo ignition (a built in spark lighter) but it's always best to bring matches or a lighter just in case.
What to Take Camping: Pots, Pans, Utensils and Drinking Containers
Weight is often the main consideration when picking this kind of stuff and the good news is that there are loads of lightweight options on the market. One item we've recently enjoyed using is Kershaw's take on the 'Spork'. There's also the Alpkit's cookware set which is made of lightweight but hardy titanium. Don't forget something to scrub up with.
Sealable drinking containers are essential for carrying water out with you and for refilling from a safe source as you go. Some people chose to carry bottles while others might go for a hydration system where water is stored in a soft pouch and sucked from a straw.
What to Take Camping: Something to Sit On
OK. This is a bit of a luxury, as sitting on the ground really isn't the end of the world, especially on hot sunny days when it's a pleasure to be able to stretch out on the grass. But, when the ground is wet, camping is better when you have something to kick back and relax on.
The Helinox Chair One is one of our favourite items for this. It's impressively lightweight and packs up to a small size so it can be realistically carried on fairly long hiking trips without being obtrusive in your pack. Chairs aren't the be-all-and-end-all though, you could simply sit on your backpack's rain cover, your waterproof jacket or a sleeping mat. If wet ground is expected, just make sure you at least have something.
What to Take Camping: Safety Items
A waterproof jacket is always an important item to bring, even if the forecast looks good (you never know in the UK). If you are camping in a wild place, say in a national park, never forget a first aid kit. No matter how experienced a camper might be, there's always the chance of something unexpected or out of your own control, and when you're on a hill in the middle of nowhere and alone then a first aid kit be crucial.
When camping in the wild, you should also have a whistle and a phone to alert people if something has gone wrong. Of course, if you are camping off the beaten track and venturing out then you should always have a map and compass.
What to Take Camping: The Extras
These will be your extra clothes, food and drink, hat and gloves, toiletries and things like suncream or anti bug spray.
You're all set. Happy camping!