If it’s your first time camping, you’re probably wondering what all you actually need to bring to have the best camping experience. The good news is that you can get by with very little as most car camping sites have amenities nearby. If you’re backpacking, we have a list of suggestions on what you should bring. For now, let’s focus on car camping.
What is “car camping” vs “backpacking”?
Let’s start with the basics. If you’ve never been camping before, you might not realize that there is a difference between car camping and backpacking. Car camping, in short, is camping where you use your car to transport gear. This means often means you drive into a campsite with a firepit where you’ll set up your tent. These campgrounds also often have toilets, either flush toilets or pit toilets (a toilet above a hole in the ground). You can check on the campground’s website or read TripAdvisor reviews to see what facilities the campground has.
In contrast, backpacking is where you carry all of your gear on your back and hike to your campsite. Backpacking is the more rugged of the two and allows you to venture to campsites with fewer people. Since you can’t drive there, you’ll have to bring all of your food and water on your back, and often you’ll need to bring some sort of water filtration device. Some backpacking campgrounds have pit toilets, but often you’ll need to bring a shovel to dig a hole. Given the more approachable nature of car camping, most beginner campers start their to see if they enjoy camping before they progress to backpacking.
Packing for Car Camping
Now that you know the difference, let’s move on to selecting the right gear.
Choosing a Tent
Sleeping in a tent is the perfect way to connect with nature. You’ll wake up in the morning to the sound of bird’s chirping and feel how the air changes throughout the night. Of course, you need to have the right tent in order to have the best experience.
- Tent Size. Tents come in sizes based on the maximum number of people who can sleep in them. If you’re planning to bring an air mattress (see below), keep in mind that these take up more space and might reduce the number of people who can sleep comfortably in your tent. For example, if you have three adults with air mattresses, the 4-person tent might mean you’re all sleeping right next to each other. Something to keep in mind if you don’t want your friend’s friend snoring in your face.
- Tent height. Some tents have taller roofs than other, which makes it easier to enter and exit. At Foryst, our tents are slightly taller so we don’t have to crawl in and out of our tent. Either way is fine, it just depends on your preference.
- Windows. All tents will have some sort of mesh window to allow fresh air to enter the tent and prevent it from getting too hot inside. Typically you unzip to “open” the window, and you zip it up if you don’t want it open. Some tents have fully mesh sides without the option to zip it shut, which means you’re always allowing cooler air into the tent. While this is sometimes appealing, on a cold night it could make it harder for you to stay warm. The mesh sides also reduce your privacy since everyone in the campground will be able to see through that side of your tent.
- Rainfly. Make sure you connect your rainfly to your tent. This prevents rain from entering, but it also prevents the dew from falling on you. While camping is fun, waking up wet and shivering from the dew is not.
Keeping these factors in mind while choosing your tent will set your camping adventure up for success. If you’re considering renting one of our kits, all you need to focus on is the size. All of our tents come with a rainfly and have zip-able windows.
Selecting Your Sleeping Gear
Arguably the most important decision you’ll make is around what you bring for sleeping. If you spend all night tossing and turning on the hard ground, your memories of camping will be filled with discomfort rather than peace. To sleep well, you’ll need at a minimum a sleeping bag and a mattress.
- Sleeping Bag. If you’re camping somewhere that will get down into the 50s or less at night, you’ll definitely want a sleeping bag. Most bags have a temperature rating on them, but we’ve found that we’re still chilly at those levels. We always at 10 degrees to the minimum rating to be safe. If you’re camping with a spouse or significant other and want to be able to sleep next to each other, you can unzip the sleeping bag all the way to use it like a blanket. Bringing a bunch of warm blankets to cover up with is a great alternative for warmer nights.
- Mattress. Even with the best sleeping bag, sleeping on the ground without any kind of mattress is uncomfortable. It’s easiest to bring an air mattress that uses a battery powered pump. Foam mattress pads are also an option, and some people have been known to simply pile a lot of blankets and pillows on top of each other to sleep on. As long as you have something comfortable between you and the cold, hard ground, you should be fine.
- Pillow. Often forgotten while camping, pillows make your sleep so much better. Bring a dedicated camping pillow or simply grab the one off your bed. No matter how tired you are, you’ll regret not having a pillow when trying to sleep.
To Cook or Not to Cook
Kitchen supplies are definitely not required for camping, but they can help your experience feel more home-y. We’ve seen a wide range of preferences regarding food while camping. Some friends will pick up a sandwich or something easily simply from a store and bring it to eat for dinner at the campsite with a granola bar for breakfast. We also once camped next to a group of college students who had a fryer and shared fresh-made doughnuts with us. You can be as creative or simple as you want. We tend to stay more to the middle of the group. Below are a few kitchen items to consider bringing on your camping trip.
- Roasters. Some people use sticks to roast hotdogs and marshmallows over the campfire. If that’s not appealing to you, make sure you pack roasters to use.
- Dishware. If you’ll be grilling or simply roasting hotdogs, at a minimum having a plate with you will make your meal easier. Bowls for cereal or oatmeal for breakfast are also a great idea. Utensils are something we often forget but wish we had.
- Portable Stove. Simple camping stoves that use propane or even alcohol are an easy way to have a warm breakfast or dinner without having to build a fire. We often use our propane or alcohol stoves to boil water for oatmeal or coffee, and we’ve even used it to make pancakes for breakfast. Nothing there’s no better feeling than eating delicious pancakes while wrapped in a blanket and watching the wilderness around you start its day.
- Common Accessories. The most common items you’ll need for camping include flashlights, a lighter (or several), and a first aid kit. You can also bring a lantern for light in addition to the flashlights.
- Cooler. If you’re bringing food items or beverages that need ice, make sure you bring a sturdy cooler that can keep them cool throughout your trip.
- Folding Chairs. Most campsites have a picnic table, but they’re often uncomfortable for extended periods of time. Bringing a folding chair will allow you to move locations more easily and comfortably sit near the campfire to stay warm.
- Rain shelter. If you’re anticipating rain or staying at a campground with limited tree cover, bringing a rain shelter is a great way to stay dry and cool. If you’re not planning to spend much time at your campsite, this probably isn’t needed.