Camping Essentials: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right Gear for Your Next Trip

camping essentials - general list of things you should bring
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So, you're going camping! Planning and packing for an adventure is an exciting process. There are a few staples on my mental packing list that I never leave the house without and I'd like to share that with you in this post. Whether you're car camping or backpacking, these items are must haves for me in both scenarios. 

Let's Get Started

1. Navigation + Planning: First and foremost you need to know where you're going! My go to's for planning any adventure are Google Earth and onX Maps . I use them simultaneously for a few reasons. The first being that onX is a great resource for finding public land which is key for camping (particularly dispersed camping) as well as hiking trailheads. You can map out routes, see trail routes, download offline maps, mark pins, and track your hikes as well. Regardless of what you use, I highly, highly recommend downloading maps for offline use. That way when you're out of service you still have high resolution navigation. Google Earth is a great tool because the satellite imagery is slightly different so it's kind of like a second pair of eyes when scouting out areas. All Trails and Trailforks are two other resources that you can use for finding trails and downloading maps and I *believe* Trailforks will show you public land access.

Side note: I would be remiss to mention always check the weather ahead of time and as you get closer to your trip date. The NOAA weather service is the most reliable in my opinion as you can pinpoint exactly where you're wanting to go with the click map forecast and read detailed wind, rain, storm, snow, forecasts. 


2. Light Sources: My toxic trait is that I love to collect headlamps and lights. For any kind of camping my two main staples are a headlamp with at least 300 lumens, a pop up lantern and battery operated string lights because I'm a sucker for them. With a lot of gear, one thing I always say is that you will never regret buying something with more power, more warmth, more room, etc. and light sources are no exception to that.

Petzl headlamps have always been super reliable throughout the years. They're lightweight and a great investment. They have essentially have 4 light modes (low, medium, high, and red for night vision/not blinding our friends).

Luci inflatable lanterns are actually awesome - they really work for a number of hours AND they provide a packable, bright light source. They are light weight, collapsible, solar powered and don't add much weight at all for backpacking and camping in general. I like to hook it on the outside of my pack when I bring it into the backcountry.

These Portable LED lanterns are another favorite for me. They are surprisingly powerful and produce great light for the evenings. The handles are plus for hanging on branches, inside tents, and where ever else. We have brought them backpacking too. It just depends on how heavy your pack is if you want to bring one along or not. It fits perfectly in one of the side pockets for water bottles.


3. Satellite Communicator: This kind of goes with navigation but totally deserves its own spot. As technology has advanced, so has our ability to have contact with the outside world when we're out of service in the backcountry. This brings a huge piece of mind for backpacking and even remote road trips for ourselves as well as our families. We've used it when our truck broke down on a forest service road and we didn't have service and it's primarily used to send updates to one another. You can also get weather forecasts which comes in handy.
The Zoleo has been a great tool for us and is one that we recommend having in your pack. A lot of research was done on whether to purchase this or the Garmin InReachThe main thing for us was what were the differences in capabilities like phone use vs device only use (at the time we purchased the Zoleo 2 years ago it was the only communicator that worked with a smart phone for texting, but it looks like Garmin now has an app you can connect with as well). Secondly, the plans for Zoleo are more cost efficient and last but not least, the Zoleo is more affordable!
4. First Aid Kit: Always be prepared! Cuts, stings, blisters, burns, rashes, headaches and more can start out annoying and turn into something bigger if not dealt with appropriately. You definitely don't want to struggle through or cut a backpacking trip short due to that huge blister you got on day one that's now infected and irritated. You can find premade kits like this or create your own using this comprehensive checklist I found through REI to reference. Also, don't forget to bring your sunscreen!

5. Camp Cooking: This could really be a post in itself so to keep things simple, the two main staples we use for camp cooking are this 10,000 BTU propane/butane burner for more stationary type of adventures and we always bring the Jet Boil on any trip. We use it to boil water for instant coffee and for dehydrated meals. There are other cooking systems out there though, like this MSR burner it just depends on your preferences.

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The Jet Boil is nice because it's self contained all in one unit. In our experience, we felt that the MSR burner and others similar to it were pretty unstable. Make sure if you're in bear country that you properly store your trash, food, and any other smell goods!


6. Device Charging: There's lots of options out there when it comes to portable charging and again, it's really based on your preference. Some things to keep in mind are weight, mAh, solar vs non solar. We never really had the best luck with solar charging as they seemed to fail quickly. Our go to and reliable portable chargers are the Anker Powercore 13000mAh and the Anker Powercore 26800mAh. The smaller one is excellent for individual use since it's smaller and lighter weight, while the larger charger is great for 2 or more people, but it is a little heavier. The higher the mAh, the more times you can use that device to charge. We can get about 2-3 full charges with the smaller charger vs 7-8 charges with the larger unit. 

7. Water: Depending on where you are, you might have the option to filter fresh water. Since we're mostly in the back country, our personal favorite filtration system is the Katydyn Vario because it pumps at a high capacity, which means you get to quickly refill your water bladders and it's really great for groups. There is a ceramic plate that filters out bacteria, sediments, spores, algae and more. Because of that you can use this in both clear and dirty water and you can feel comforted knowing you're filtering water that's safe for drinking. We first started using the Katadyn brand several years ago and they have since created a few other options as well that you might like to check out!

As for water storage at camp, grab one of these Sea to Summit bagsThey are low profile and convenient or there's these water cubes. Fill them up at home before you head out and you'll have a pretty good water supply for camp. These systems have adjustable nozzles so they also make for a convenient handwashing station too!


 8. Champ chairs: After a long hike or day, it's really nice to come to camp and have a comfy place to sit. For backpacking, I really like this REI Backpacking Chair because it's about as light weight as you can get (1 pound!) and it packs down to about the size of a 1L Nalgene bottle. For car camping we love to bring our Zero Gravity chair set. It's definitely one of our "splurge" items to pack since it's are a larger item, but we've never regretted bringing them along especially for long camping trips. They have held up great these last 2 years and are a great buy for the price. 

A future purchase I look forward to making is getting this love seat camp chair for when we wanna get cozy and to make packing slightly less cumbersome for a shorter adventure. 

 9. Camp Table: There's lots of options out there for table setups, but what we really like are these collapsible tables that make set up and tear down easy. They are light weight, adjustable, and fold down to about the size of a camp chair. We use them as a cooking surface, for eating, playing card games and as a place to set/organize stuff. Here is another option that's similar and less expensive. I should mention that this is geared more towards car camping, I have yet to find a little table that you can pack in!



10. Sleep + Hygiene: Don't forget some of the most important gear of all, your sleeping bag, blankets, sleeping pad, pillow, and compression sack if you're backpacking. Depending on your weather and time of year you might want a 0 degree bag or a 40 degree bag. I'm currently in the process of shopping for a new sleeping bag and have been super curious about the Nemo bag because of its shape (I'm very over trying to sleep in a constricting mummy bag).

As for sleeping pads one thing to keep in mind is the R-value, the higher the value the more insulation you'll have and the more weight you'll carry if you're backpacking. The sleeping pad we love has been discontinued which is super disappointing, but it's part of the Therm-a-rest NeoAir family, I've linked the one it's been replaced with. Here is a rectangular shaped sleeping pad which I personally find more comfortable than mummy shaped ones.

The ongoing theme here is I don't sacrifice on sleep comfort and so this Therm-a-rest pillow is my go to travel pillow. Many people I know really like the inflatable pillows, but to me they are just straight up uncomfortable. The Therm-a-rest pillows are super plush and roll up nicely to fit in your bag and are not that heavy at 9oz. I promise it's worth the space and weight to have a good nights rest. 

And for when nature calls when there's no toilet, you're gonna wanna have some wet wipes and a trowel to dig a hole for your poop :) If you're not familiar with LNT (Leave No Trace) here is some information on it.


 So much more could be added to this list, but I'll definitely be creating some posts geared towards more specific adventures. I hope that this general overview is a helpful resource for when you're planning your next adventure. Thanks for reading!

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