• Hannah Smentkowski

Car Camping 101: The top 10 items you need for camping

While I believe it is best to be almost overly prepared when camping in the wilderness, there are ways to make it happen with only the necessities. This list is my attempt to get anyone outside, for the complete beginner with no budget, that wants to experience the beauty that is sleeping under the stars.

Of course, this list should be modified based on where and how long you plan to stay out, and if you're starting in a campground or the backcountry. But this list will give you the bare minimum of what you need to get outside!

1. "Non - Perishable" Food

For food, think of healthy items that require no cooking. Such as trail mix, power bars, and fruit, not twinkies and snickers. This way you don't have to bring any cooking or preparing supplies and they still give you the energy to take on the day.

Also, bring beyond your normal caloric intake, since you'll probably be moving around and using more calories than you normally would.

2. Water

Always bring your own water, even if you're in a campground that says it has fresh potable water, bringing a gallon or two never hurts. On Small Car Camp, they suggest bringing 1 gallon for each person, per day just for drinking. Then, an extra gallon each for other water needs.

Plus, when that gallon is empty you can use that container to carry more fresh water to your camping spot. Also, make sure to filter any water coming from a natural source such as a stream or lake. Never drink straight from natural sources, as you are risking serious diseases that can be easily prevented by boiling it for a solid minute before drinking.

3. Shelter

Of course, you can sleep in your car overnight if you really can't afford a tent or aren't sure you want to make the investment quite yet, but the tent is what really brings you into that camping mindset when you're sleeping in the outdoors.

Also, when buying a tent, consider that a 2 person tent really only sleeps one person comfortably, and a 3 person is best for 2 people, and so on. So if you're going with multiple people or pets, think about getting a bigger tent than the recommended sizes.

You can also consider hammocks as an option, if you know it will be a clear night, and you have a good spot for setting one up, you can simply layout in your hammock all night. there are more complex setups that can create a shelter around your hammock, but they are not necessary if you're sure of the weather for the night.

4. Sleeping Bag

It's not completely necessary to have an actual sleeping bag your first time going out, a big warm blanket will do the trick. However, it is nice to have the knowledge that sleeping bags are rated for certain temperatures so when you go to sleep, you'll actually be warm for the entire night. Plus, sleeping bags surround your body keeping your body heat closer to you as opposed to a blanket with only one side to it.

While I'm on the subject of sleeping, I say it's mandatory to have some sort of pad to sleep on. While you can sleep on the ground without it, not only will your back will thank you in the morning, the bare ground is also very cold. So if you want to actually sleep through the night without tossing and turning from the cold and pain of a rock digging into your shoulder, I suggest grabbing one.

5. Fire Starter

Assuming you'll want to have a campfire on this venture, you'll want to bring items to start this fire. While most campgrounds sell firewood or let you scavenge the wood around your site, you can't have a campfire without the means to start it. I suggest a lighter, but matches and flint also work. Just make sure to bring backups.

And don't forget to grab some newspaper, or an actual fire starter of some kind to light in order to get the wood going. Trust me, holding a lighter to a log is not going to get you the results you want. And leaves and grass create a lot of smoke and burn rather quickly to be considered helpful.

6. Clothes

Bringing extra clothes other than the ones you are wearing is essential. Always bring layers of some kind, even a hoodie will do, and extra socks. If you were to get wet, without a change of clothes, this could lead to hypothermia and overall a crappy day.

As for the socks, athletes foot is no joke, give your feet time to breath and change your socks regularly to avoid infecting your feet. I suggest getting wool socks because the fibers wick sweat away from your body, but your first time out, any clean socks will do.

7. Light Source

You will need some sort of light source for when the sun goes down. While my top suggestions would be either a lantern or a headlamp for ease of use, a flashlight will do just fine. You really don't realize what dark is until you're out in the woods with no artificial light sources.

Also, always bring extra batteries! It is always a best practice to bring extra batteries or a way to recharge your light source. I know you will want to use your phone flashlight, but I'm going to tell you right now, get a real rechargeable or regular battery-powered light source, you do not want to kill your phone battery just because you wanted some light at night to go pee.

Quick tip: If you bring a headlamp, you can wrap it around a gallon of water (facing the water inside) and create a lantern out of it!

8. First Aid Kit

I say the first aid kit is absolutely mandatory. I can't in good conscience send anyone out camping without one. I'm not saying that if you're staying in a campground and just sitting around reading a book all day that you're going to lose a limb or something serious, but a minimal amount of health items never hurt.

Bare minimum:

  • 10 - 15 regular bandaids of various sizes

  • Neosporin (antibacterial medication)

  • Ibuprophen (pain reliever)

  • Benedryl (antihistamine)

9. Personal Items

While not all personal items are totally necessary, such as makeup or a razor, for a day or two out in the woods there are a couple of things to consider.

  • medication

  • feminine products