12 Essential Things For your Camping Trip

Published: 18th June 2007
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There is now a vast array of camping gear that a person can lug into the back country and back out again. What is really essential so that the experience is the outdoors, not the high tech gear? This article discusses twelve items that I think are essential in an outdoor adventure.

1) Shelter

At first this one seems obvious. But it need not be a tent. I have been on minamalist camping trips where we only took a tarp and some rope to use as shelter. Now this was calculated since it was past the bug season in my area. It was a nice change from carrying a tent around.

In general I would recommend using a good quality tent . One that doesn't leak, or that the zippers don't break on. The tent has to provide you with two main roles. Keeping you dry in a thunderstorm and letting you sleep free from bugs and other small critters. Good zippers are important!

Depending on your trip you will have to decide on size and weight.

2) Sleeping Bag

You have a choice of synthetic or down filled bag, and a whole series of shapes. Rectangular to mummy. The synthetic bags will keep you somewhat warm if they get wet, but they require more room than down bag. Goose down is lighter and packs smaller than a synthetic bag, but is nearly useless if it is wet.

Choose a temperature rating that suits your sleeping temperature and the coldest overnight temperatures you expect. Using a 3 season bag, winter camping can make for a sleepless night constantly shivering. The proper temperature bag is a joy to sleep in on a cold night but it is hard to get out of on a frosty morning.

3) Food and Water

Being out of doors in even the mildest of adventures, you will burn many calories. The food you choose needs to be nutritious. If you are back packing weight becomes a huge issue. For years the staple of the back-packer was dried or freeze dried meals. Light, nutritious and easy to prepare. Today some of these meals even taste good.

If you are car camping or canoeing you can afford a bit more weight and may opt for less dehydrated food and more regular food.

Water is heavy. You can carry a certain amount but if you are on a long trek into the back country you will probably have to find water. Water sources can be tainted with microbial, parasitic, or chemical pollutants. One option is to boil your water for 10 minutes. This kills most of the fauna in the water but does nothing if it is polluted by chemicals.

You can also take chemicals with you to purify the water. In extreme cases there are small backpack filtration systems that you can carry with you. Be cautious about your water since a case of diarrhea in the woods can spoil you trip.

4) Stove

Cooking your food and boiling your water become a prime importance after a long days hike. The old campfire although nostalgic and useful in a pinch is not the best solution for backwoods camping. There is always a greater risk of forest fires from a camp fire than from a stove.

There are many camp stoves on the market, using many types of fuels. Propane or butane stoves are the easiest to use but you have to pack out the used fuel cylinders. I prefer naphtha stoves but they are a little more difficult to use but give a good heat and the fuel, if used wisely, will last a good while.

Propane and Butane there is always a chance the cylinder may leak and you loose your fuel. Naphtha is a liquid you keep in a sealed aluminum bottle. A little less chance of leaking.

Visit a camping equipment store to compare models or research online .

5) Cook Gear / Mess Kit

Simply the pots and pans and plates, knife,spoon and fork you use for cooking with. The best sets are stainless steel and pack inside each other. I built my mess kit by piecing together things from a discount store. It is very simple and contains a cup, bowl /pot, knife fork and spoon, a small plate and a lid. Everything packs inside the bowl and the lid snaps on.

6) Sleeping Pad

The sleeping pad provides both insulation and cushioning from the ground. The old closed cell foam pads worked well but were a bit thin on the ground. They don't soak up water and they don't pack down very well. You end up with a big blue or orange roll on top of your pack. Cheap and serviceable.

State of the art is the new Thermarest and similar pads. They are open cell foam (like a sponge) that is covered in an air tight fabric sleeve with an air inlet. When you let the air out they pack down quite small. These pads provide good insulation and good cushion. The only drawback is if the outer shell is punctured it doesn't work anymore.

7) Hiking Boots

I am a bit old fashioned on hiking boots. I still prefer heavy durable leather boots with a toothsome sole. I believe that if you are scrambling over rocks all day that the leather will stand up better. If you are not putting your boots to a nasty rocky test the newer nylon leather combinations with a good vibram sole should work well.

You depend on your feet so much when you are hiking it is better buy a boot that is solid and durable even if it costs more. I do like Vasque boots for their design and durability. It is worth finding something that is comfortable for you. Break in you new boots a month before you go on any big trip.

8) First Aid Kit

Small and portable with things suitable for the area that you will be camping in. Band-aids, tweezers, antiseptics, pain relief, blister patches etc. The most common injuries are cuts, scrapes, bites, slivers, burns, blisters, aching cramping muscles. Try to at least cover these mishaps and any others that fit your trip.

9)Back Pack

This is what you carry all your stuff in. They come with internal frames, external frames, no frames at all. For Hiking I prefer an internal frame with good hip and shoulder padding. Again you usually get what you pay for.

Carrying a well made pack, with the right weight in it, is still working but it is hardly a chore. An over loaded pack or one that doesn't fit you can be gruelling if you have to carry it for 6 or 8 hours a day. If you can, try on packs with loads in them in the store. Don't forget the bigger the pack the more stuff you are likely to take. Good working zippers and tie strings are important if you don't want to loose things.

10) Rain Gear

Sometime it will rain when you are backpacking. I don't like the heat and the sweating when I am in a full rain suit so I prefer a poncho. It also stores smaller and can double as a ground sheet if I need it. A full rain suit in a coastal rainy climate might be worth while.

11) Hot / Cold Clothing and Hat

Outdoor clothing has developed both style and functionality. Visit a local outfitters or search on the internet for the best clothes. For Summer trips I will concentrate on cool clothes but will toss in a sweater and a windshell for chilly nights. Look at the weather forecast for when and where you will be. You may have to add a bit. If you have got it you can put it on, but you have to carry it.

Dress in layers so you can peal off as you get hot. A broad brimmed Hat keeps the bugs off as well as the sun out of your eyes. It also helps prevent heat stroke.

12) Sunscreen / Bug repellent

We should all think sunscreen now. Imagine falling asleep on the rocks after lunch, soaking up the sun with no shirt on. The the next morning finding you have a nasty sunburn and having to carry you pack again on burnt shoulders. Use suncreen, it also helps long term prevention of skin cancer.

Bug repellent depends on the time of year. In my area from the end of September to end of April is a good time to not need repellent. The other months it is a must, to keep your sanity. It is better to have it than not.

That is my list of essential things for a camping trip. There are tons of other items that I do take, but these are the ones that I find most important.


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David Robertson makes his living as an artist blacksmith, but has been an avid camper for 30 years. For more tips and suggestions about camping visit his website. www.e-webincome.com/vasque/outdoor-index.htm


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