Camping can seem a little overwhelming for beginners. There's lots of unnecessary outdoor equipment you can get talked in to buying when you visit a camping shop, so what do you actually need? Having the right gear can be the difference between a great experience that has you planning your next camping adventure or an unpleasant endurance event that leaves you cold and bored! You'll find a whole stack of articles on my website to help with choosing the right camping equipment, firewood advice, outdoor cooking, games to play while camping and a bunch of helpful "how-to's" to get you looking like a seasoned pro in no time.
What Do I Need For a Beginner Camping Trip?
I hear this question a lot when I get talking to people and encouraging them to take their first outdoor adventure. It's hard to answer because I need to know where you're going, who you're going with, how long for, what time of year and whether you'll have your vehicle with you or be carrying gear yourself.
Here's a basic list of equipment I give to beginner campers that will serve you well in most situations:
- Tent. (This includes a ground sheet and all the pegs, poles etc that are required for your particular set up.) Remember that a "4 man tent" can literally fit 4 adults bodies sleeping in it, but won't allow much more room for your gear or doing anything else inside. If you're planning on being in your tent for anything other that sleeping, you'll want to really consider the size and layout. Some tents are more waterproof than others and some are more thermally insulated. If you only plan on camping in the milder months, you can probably get away with almost anything and just take an extra layer of bedding of the temperature drops. If you're looking to take on the cooler climates, be sure to look at the thermal rating of your tent. You may even consider a hot tent set up!
- Mattress or sleeping pad. If you want a decent night's sleep, this is a must. Not only does a camping mattress provide something softer for you to lie on, but it also keeps you warmer. Your choice of camp mattress will depend a lot on portability. If you can park your vehicle right next to your campsite, you can probably bring a larger self inflating style mattress, which are really comfortable, but bulky. If, however, you're hiking over a few days and stopping to set up camp each night with all your gear being carried on foot, you'll need to sacrifice some comfort for something a little more lightweight.
- Sleeping bag or bedding. As I just mentioned, this is a personal choice depending on what options you have when it comes to carrying all your gear. I personally hate sleeping bags because I find them restrictive, but they are by far the most popular choice.
- Flashlight and/ or headlamp. You definitely need some sort of lighting. Headlamps are useful when you need your hands free at night. A stand alone lantern is also handy and won't result in anyone swearing at you when you look them in the eye whilst wearing your headlamp! There are some really awesome flashlights these days that have incredible throw distance, allowing you to see a long way around you. This is always good if you need to go for a wander in to the scrub at night when nature calls! If the idea of "digging a hole" is one of the things that's been holding you back from your first camping trip, you can always look in to a portable camping toilet too!
- Camping chairs and table. If you're traveling on foot, furniture is one luxury you'll have to go without. If you can transport a bit more gear to your campsite, you will find great value in having a dry and comfortable chair to sit in. Camping chairs range a great deal in price and there are some pretty fancy ones out there. My experience is that the cheapest ones never last very long, so if you don't want to spend too much, pick something mid range. You can skip on some of the added extras, like recliners and built in speakers, but still get a sturdy, comfortable camp chair with somewhere to stash your drink!
- Outdoor cooking equipment. There are SO many options here, depending on your chosen method of cooking, any limitations such as fire restrictions or portability, how long you are camping for etc. If you're going to be cooking over a firepit, a couple of good cast iron cookware items such as a hot plate and a dutch oven are a great investment. A simple billy for boiling water is a good idea too. Maybe you prefer a small portable stove? I've got loads of information on this website about different ways to cook outdoors.
- First Aid Kit. You probably won't need it, but if you do, you'll be so grateful that you brought it along. No need to go over the top here, but some great essentials include a few dressings, a compression bandage (incase of snake bites), some saline, paracetamol and a splinter removal tool such as tweezers. Don't forget to always take important medication with you such as asthma puffers, insulin or epipens if someone you're traveling with is anaphylactic. Remember, once you go off the beaten track, mobile phone reception can sometimes be unreliable!
- Insect repellant and sunscreen.