Updated: Dec 14, 2021
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!
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For food, think of healthy items that require no cooking or refrigeration. This way you don't need any cooking supplies and you don't need to own a cooler. Think trail mix, power bars, and fruit, and keep the sugary things to a minimum (only for nighttime snacking around the fire).
Also, bring beyond your normal caloric intake, since you'll probably be hiking and moving around more than you usually do, it's best to be prepared for eating a bit more.
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.
The simplest option of all is to sleep in your car overnight, if you own a bigger car or a hatchback this could be a very simple and comfortable option. Especially if you aren't sure if you want to invest in a nice tent quite yet. While I am partial to both car and tent camping I feel like the tent is what really brings you into that camping mindset when you're sleeping in the outdoors. Plus, you can get further out into the woods with a tent besides anywhere just your car can take you.
Quick Tent Tip: 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 good trees for setting one up, you can simply lay out 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.
One important thing here is just to have a really good sleeping bag since you will be getting more wind without any surrounding shelter making you cooler at night. Also, you are more vulnerable to wildlife being out in the open, but there are plenty of people who love this way of camping.
4. Sleeping Bag
It's not actually completely necessary to have a real sleeping bag your first time going out, a big warm blanket (like a comforter) can 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. Just make sure to check the weather for the night time so that it's not too cold for whatever option you choose.
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.
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 incase on does't work. Also, be sure that you're allowed to have fires in your camping area before starting one.
Don't forget to grab some newspaper, or a premade 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 most of the time.
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 breathe 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!
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.
10 - 15 regular bandaids of various sizes
Neosporin (antibacterial medication)
Ibuprophen (pain reliever)
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 so you can be comfortable.
10. A Good Attitude
I'm not going to sugarcoat it, you may get bored or frustrated just sitting out in the woods all day. While some people do this once and never again, some people really find themselves while camping and absolutely love it. So, maintaining optimism and a good attitude towards your time spent outdoors will really make your time so much better.
If you're spending your first few times out in campgrounds, which I highly suggest, look around at all of the other campers, they are some of the nicest and happiest people you will meet. So even if you can't get your fire started, maybe a friendly neighbor can help you! This happened to me when I tried to start a fire with wet wood in a rainforest, my camping neighbor saw I was struggling and came over to give me some dry wood to get the fire going. I've also had another camper offer me their ax when I was chopping wood with a tiny hatchet, or when my boyfriend forgot a lighter and we borrowed one from the people next door.
Just stay optimistic and ask for help if you need it, I'm super introverted and stubborn, so it's difficult for me to ask a stranger for help but in the outdoors we are all in this together. Just keep an open mind and a positive attitude and you'll have a great time.
Getting started with camping doesn't need to be overwhelming. You can get all of these items at your local Walmart for under $100, and some of these things you might already have. Just make sure to thoroughly research your camping location and double-check your packed items and the weather before you leave, and you'll have a great time!
If you're looking for a more comprehensive list of camping items needed to expand your camping repertoire, you can download mycamping gear checklist here.
Until next time,