Author Topic: Starting camping - what do I need?  (Read 6445 times)


  • Bristles
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Starting camping - what do I need?
« on: May 27, 2014, 12:53:04 PM »
I live about 3 hours from the Canadian Rockies and sadly I have only been there a handful of times and most of those were on work related retreats which consisted of everyone getting shitfaced for the most part.

I have never gone camping in my life but I think I would really enjoy it, plus it's alot more frugal compared to the RV or hotel options.

Only thing is, I have no idea where to start.  Sure I could go to the local camping place and get some "free" advice and drop a boatload of $.  What I'd prefer to do is get some advice/specific equipment recommendations from Camping Mustachians as to what equipment they would recommend and then try to source it off Kijiji second hand.

So I guess I would need the following:
-Decent leak proof, easy to put up tent
-Propane stove
-Sleeping bag adequate to freezing temps
-Hiking boots

Ummm, that's it right?


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Re: Starting camping - what do I need?
« Reply #2 on: May 27, 2014, 01:03:09 PM »
Camping, right, and not backpacking? The gear for car camping or "walk in" primitive camping is a lot different than gear for backpacking.

Yes, that's about all you need. Add in a headlamp and you're set. Oh, some kind of raingear but you probably already have that.

Get a 20 degree bag, which is pretty standard. I use my 20 degree bag down to 0 but I sleep very warm.

You can get away with an inexpensive $35 tent if you're not out in the winter. I once tried to use a one-man 3-season tent in the winter and the snow load broke the poles. You can also just use a tarp with cord.

Don't waste your money on those "camping" meals in a pouch. You can make it yourself for far cheaper or buy those cous-cous boxes and add some nuts and cheese.

Finally, let someone know where you're going.

Cpa Cat

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Re: Starting camping - what do I need?
« Reply #3 on: May 27, 2014, 01:16:41 PM »
If you're going to sleep on the ground, then I recommend some kind of mat to go under your sleeping bag. Also a tarp. Tarps are often useful.

My recollection of camping in Canada is that we had a rope so that we could hang our food bag off the ground in a tree. My outdoor ed instructor said bears would come eat it if we didn't... but I don't know if that was true.


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Re: Starting camping - what do I need?
« Reply #4 on: May 27, 2014, 01:47:23 PM »
Will you be driving to where you will camp and will you have your car nearby as you camp?  If so, what's your vehicle?

Prairie Stash

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Re: Starting camping - what do I need?
« Reply #5 on: May 27, 2014, 01:49:55 PM »
Bring a friend, preferably someone who's gone before.  With camping some items are group items like pots and stoves, groups are easier in some ways. Also see about borrowing some gear, I lent my spare sleeping bag out last winter camping trip, it's my way of encouraging friends to join me.

I also recommend trying your gear once before heading out. Set it up in your backyard and sleep a night (or a friends house).  Sleeping outside reminds you of all the little luxuries you love: TP, toothpaste, hot water, coffee etc.  If it sucks in the backyard it'll be worse 3 hours from home. 


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Re: Starting camping - what do I need?
« Reply #6 on: May 27, 2014, 02:00:08 PM »
I have never gone camping in my life but I think I would really enjoy it, plus it's alot more frugal compared to the RV or hotel options.
Welcome to the world of camping!
My advice: buy very little at first, go with a friend who's experienced, and do a few trips that are one-night-only or easy to hike-in, hike-out before you drop any real money on gear.  Then look for used gear.  Universities often have outdoor clubs that have their own gear you can use by paying the member fee - in California it was $15 - you might want to check out that option.

Don't let 'gear-head' infect you.  People went camping in the Canadian rockies 150 years ago, before there was gore-tex or GPS units or anything like that.  You don't need a $100 mattress pad or a $400 ultra-light tent (although they are nice on the back).  At least to me, camping should be a LOW COST past-time.
A pair of good boots, a basic tent or tarp, and a sleeping bag and foam pad will cover your basics. 


  • Stubble
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Re: Starting camping - what do I need?
« Reply #7 on: May 27, 2014, 02:15:02 PM »
Borrow, borrow, borrow at this point.  This will give you better idea of what you like and what you don't like.  For example, I'm a huge fan of mummy bags - they keep me warmer and I like that they're smaller.  My husband, on the other hand, hates mummy bags and prefers old-fashioned rectangle bags (which, incidentally, saved us lots of money).  It's by trying things out like that that you can figure out what you like and then find it on craigslist or the Canadian equivalent.  Also, hiking boots aren't a necessity at this point.  Wear whatever shoes you'd wear outdoors - if you have sneakers - those should work for now.  Once you think you'll really be doing more hiking, then spring for a pair of hiking shoes or boots.  I hike constantly, and I wear sandals (chacos or tevas) and hiking shoes, as opposed to boots, about 95% of the time.  As long as your ankles are reasonably strong, sneakers are a great starting shoe for the outdoors. 

After a year of camping almost daily - here's what we used everyday:
Camping Chairs
Sleeping Bags
Sleeping Pads
Propane Stove
Camping cookware
Camping dishware

Just about everything else is just gravy.  Also, you can often use things you already own for camping.  Do you have a small pot or pan?  Voila - you have your camping cookware.  Some cheap but incredibly sturdy plates we bought for super cheap years ago at Ikea served as our dishware.  (Note: this is all based on car camping, if you're backpacking, you may have some additional needs, especially in grizzly country). 


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Re: Starting camping - what do I need?
« Reply #8 on: May 27, 2014, 02:46:13 PM »
Paracord (550 cord) and a bandanna.

They're super useful.  Use the paracord for clothing line, thread (the inner portion), emergency belt, tiedown if your tent rope breaks, whatever - you can get 1,000 uses out of it and find it super cheap online or at a mil surplus store.
Same for the bandanna, which can be made out of thin cloth rags.  Washcloth, emergency bandage, nose hanky, sweap mop, soak it in water for a neck cooler, potholder, dish rag...


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Re: Starting camping - what do I need?
« Reply #9 on: May 27, 2014, 02:55:00 PM »
It depends what kind of camping you are doing.  I had a propane stove that someone bought me, tried it a few times and found it more trouble than it was worth.  I mean, there is a huge fire right there.  I prefer cooking on the fire rather than lugging a stove. 

I prefer a hammock and tarp to a tent personally, but I do more backpacking. 

Headlamp, lantern, sleeping bag, shelter, knife, possibly a saw or hatchet for firewood, some cord or rope, tarp, backpack.  That's it. 

I have never owned a pair of hiking boots.  I just did a 50 mile backpacking trip in my sandals (Keen) a couple weeks ago. 


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Re: Starting camping - what do I need?
« Reply #10 on: May 27, 2014, 03:01:23 PM »

Oh yeah, a water bladder is a good have.


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Re: Starting camping - what do I need?
« Reply #11 on: May 27, 2014, 03:02:40 PM »
Missing from posts above (when I started writing):
-pocketknife or small knife with sheath
-hatchet (Camping w/o campfires is sad; "business end" splits wood, the back end hammers in tent stakes)
-Containers for water. Chances are you won't have a spigot right at your site so bring something to carry water in. 1-2 gallon jugs will do fine for you+1.
-First aid kit

Other suggestions:
-more clothes than you think you need. Hat. Raingear. Extra shoes. Things get wet/dirty/muddy, nights get colder than expected, you get blisters...all these things can ruin your experience. They don't take much space.
-cutting board or other surface (flat tupperware lid, etc) if you  need to slice anything for your planned meal(s). Don't know how Canadian campsites are set up, but if there's a table it's not clean!
-compact toiletries kit. Put your stuff in a ziploc or a pouch of some sort. Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, soap, towel. You don't want to be juggling them when you go wash up.


  • Bristles
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Re: Starting camping - what do I need?
« Reply #12 on: May 27, 2014, 04:09:37 PM »
You don't "need" anything other than something to sleep in/on, depending on your style of camping, and how long you want to stay out.  Some people sleep on an air mattress in the back of their covered pickup or SUV, and call it camping.  Being Mustachian, I'm assuming you want to sleep outside your small vehicle, so that means tent, tarp, or hammock, and a pad, unless you plan to stay in a shelter, and even then, it's highly recommended to have a shelter as a backup option in case they're full.   Comforters and blankets can substitute for sleeping bags in moderate weather if you're camping next to your car.  You don't need to buy a propane stove-- you can be a badass and make yourself an alcohol stove out of a soda can.

(They do put out a lot less heat than propane, canister or whitegas, but you can cook on them if you're frugal with your heat expectations).  They were a popular choice on the Appalachian trail due to the weight advantage. 

Camping styles range from "pull up in an RV" to "go into the woods with nothing but matches and a pocket knife, catch your food, and make your own shelter and clothing", to everything in between. 

Think about how far you will sleep from your vehicle and what kind of cooking you want to do, and go from there.  Foil cooking can help you prepare many tasty meals with no camping specific equipment.  Also, look for a gear exchange in your area.


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Re: Starting camping - what do I need?
« Reply #13 on: May 27, 2014, 06:55:15 PM »
We just got back from a long weekend of camping.  With two kids, we may need more than you, but here is my minimalist list (not out of frugality but out of hating all the packing/unpacking, loading/unloading).

Pads (I like the foam ones that aren't inflatable- the inflatable ones all pop a leak sooner than later)
Sleeping bags

Camp chairs
Light source of some kind- we have two led lanterns, one is battery, one is solar/hand crank and puts out much less light but we know it will never die since we can always crank it.  Both were cheap models as we generally just go to bed when it gets dark, so we don't need anything fancy. 
Rubber mallet
Should get a hatchet but don't have one yet.

A duffel bag of clothing, we change underwear daily but wear outerwear over and over. 
Rain gear
Two pairs shoes per person, in a case one gets wet.
Sun hat

Bug spray, sun screen, toiletries, roll of emergency TP

Propane stove and two canisters
One pot (we cook only one pot meals when camping, or else cook in foil packets on the fire)
2 kitchen towels, double duty as pot holders
Plates, cups, bowls, silverware
One sharp knife with a case/cover
One cutting board
Small bottle dish soap (I do dishes in the one pot)
Some trash bags
One metal spoon for cooking
Considering adding metal tongs to grab cooking food from fire.

For meals, we do sandwiches for for lunch, instant oatmeal or similar for breakfast, and a simple dinner.  Nothing that requires multiple utensils or pots/pans. 


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Re: Starting camping - what do I need?
« Reply #14 on: May 27, 2014, 09:13:43 PM »
Definitely go with a friend first, and borrow.

We just got back from camping in the desert.  What we use:
camp cots, sleeping mats (used to do air mattresses.  They leak.  Don't last.  Switched to cots.  Because we're old.)
head lamp
camp stove
water bladder (because there's no water in the desert).
sleeping bag

Now, we only car camp, not backpack camp, so we also bring:
cooking utensils
a tub for washing dishes (and towels for drying)
games like cards
baby wipes (but then, we were changing diapers)


  • Bristles
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Re: Starting camping - what do I need?
« Reply #15 on: May 27, 2014, 10:14:17 PM »
People here have long lists of gear. A lot of that stuff is nice to have, but you don't need much starting out.

Here's what I use:

Tent - I have an old, cheap one that has worked great in mild weather for the last 15-20 years. If it's going to rain I prefer a tent with a full coverage waterproof fly and vestibule area to keep shoes dry (REI Half Dome style) but it's not necessary. I've strung up a tarp over the old tent on several occasions, including one super heavy thunderstorm. Keeping the walls of the tent dry (to reduce condensation inside) and making a small dry area to enter/exit the tent and put on your shoes and rain gear is really nice. If the places you camp have trees you can string up a cheap blue tarp with Paracord and stake the corners to the ground to make an A frame.

Sleeping pad - I used closed cell foam ones for a long time, but I could never sleep well unless the ground underneath was very soft. I tend to sleep on my side so the side on the ground would go numb, making me wake up and roll over. I have an inflatable pad now and it's a huge improvement. I've used it more than 30 nights with no holes yet, and if it leaks I will patch it. Two foam pads is almost as good as an air pad, and probably cheaper.

Sleeping bag - Buy one rated for about 10 degrees colder than the nighttime lows you are expecting, or rated for even colder if you get cold a lot. If you're not carrying it in a backpack or camping in below freezing weather there's no need to spend a lot of money here. My Kelty 20 degree bag was great for about $50, and as warm as a 0 degree bag if I cinched it around my head, but I replaced it since it was too heavy/bulky for backpacking trips.

Light source - A headlamp is best, ideally one per person but you can share. Since it frees up your hands and always illuminates where you are looking, it no longer matters if it's night or day. Lanterns always throw off too much glare for me, and you can just put a headlamp in the top of the tent if you are inside.

Water container - I like to use a water bottle that won't leak so I can put it next to me in the tent.

Glasses or contacts case, if needed.

A pot for cooking. A pot can work as a frying pan, too. Stainless is best since it can tolerate overheating. I have a backpacking pot, but I've also used one from my kitchen on a grate over a fire. It's permanently black on the bottom now, but that improves heat transfer. Keep plastic handles out of the fire. Cast iron is ideal, too.

A spoon - This is often the only utensil I use. I almost always have a knife, but I don't always use it.

A bowl, if more than one person is eating (otherwise eat from the pot). I use a $0.99 bowl from Walmart that's not intended for camping. A tupperware works, too, and it has a lid so you can seal in the mess and clean it at home. Plates are not needed if you have a bowl.

Clothes appropriate for the weather.

Toilet paper, a small trowel (poop shovel), and hand sanitizer if facilities are not available where you camp.

Some general advice:
Make sure to always secure your food from animals. In the car is usually good enough unless you're in grizzly bear country (they will rip the car open).
Learn about sanitation in the woods if there are no facilities where you are going. The poop shovel should never touch poop!
A saw is more effective for cutting wood than a hatchet. Most designated campgrounds don't allow cutting down trees, but you can cut up fallen logs.
You can sit on logs instead of camp chairs.
I've found that not using toothpaste works just as well as using it, and missing a few doses of fluoride won't hurt you.
Instant oatmeal packets are small, expensive, and loaded with salt. I need to eat three or four (half a box) to make a good breakfast. Buy quick cooking oats and add spices, brown sugar, or fruit. You can mix in an egg to make it rich and creamy, but a serving of oatmeal already has as much protein as an egg.
If you're not backpacking you don't need expensive gear for camping.
Learn how to build a good fire, and bring some things for reliable fire starting. Dryer lint is good. If it's always wet you might want to bring dry wood from home.
Layering works with sleeping bags too. I have a 30 degree bag for summer, a 20 degree bag for spring/fall (often below freezing at night. I slept on snow earlier this month), and if I put the 30 inside the 20 it's good down to below zero if I cover my head and face enough.  Sleeping pads are also an important part of your insulation since the sleeping bag under you is compressed and the ground is colder than you think it is. Get an insulated air pad or use closed cell foam pads. Or use foam pads under an air pad.


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Re: Starting camping - what do I need?
« Reply #16 on: May 27, 2014, 10:25:31 PM »
You've got a lot of good advice here, but I'd really suggest borrowing gear from friends to first see if you like it! As a veteran camper, I've got most everything anyone would need, and I'm always surprised when people tell me that they rented gear instead of asking me to borrow it!

Also, camping food is my favorite food, and I don't eat anything made with a propane stove. Unless you're camping in an area where fires are banned, you can just cook your food on the fire! (A ton of stuff can be cooked by wrapping the food (meat, potatoes, veggies, whatever) in buttered tinfoil).