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Where and when should I camp?

One of the great things about taking a camping trip is that you won’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a plane ticket. Even for those of us that live in the bigger metropolitan cities, chances are you can access an open forest or sandy shoreline to pitch that tent within a short drive.

As you begin your search of camping destinations, consider these factors first:

  • Would you like to go car camping or backcountry camping?
  • Would you like to camp in a lake region, near a river, in a forest, or on the beach?
  • How far would you like to travel from your home?
  • What is the weather like in your chosen destination?  
  • Is the camping destination seasonal or open year-round?

Research campgrounds in the area that you want to visit. Check for local, state, and national parks in that region. You can also consider camping at privately-owned campgrounds, such as the nationally franchised Kamprounds of America (KOA).

Check out our list of Top 20 USA Camping Destinations for your First Trip for more ideas on where to go camping.

Essential Camping Gear

Whether you are heading out into the remote wilderness or camping at a local park, there is essential camping gear that you need. These include the basics such as something to sleep in, something to cook and eat with, and though often overlooked, lighting is an essential part of camping. Here is a general list of must-have camping gear:

Te There are several types of tents to choose from.  Basic tent designs are dome, cabin, A-frame, and tunnel tents.  If you are looking for a backpacking tent, then you will want to consider purchasing a lightweight tent since you will be carrying the weight.

  • Dome tents are a traditional and popular design, common for 2 and 4 person tents. Dome tents are typically tall in the center but the walls are more sloped which reduces space.
  • Cabin tents are designed with near-vertical walls to maximize overall peak height making them ideal for campers who like to stand up in their tent. These tents resemble more of an actual room and often come with windows.  Cabin tents are common for 4 or more people, and provide plenty of room.
  • Tunnel tents are generally easier to set up and take down. They have a uniform arch that requires the support of guidelines for optimal performance.
  • Pop-up tents are becoming more popular due to their ease of setup.  Some of these can be set up in a matter of seconds by simply removing the tent from it’s storage back and watching the tent “pop out”.

Sleeping bag and pad:  It’s important to get a good night’s sleep and choosing the right sleeping bag will play a big role in how comfortable you are.  The two main styles are mummy bag and rectangular bag.  Then you will have to choose from down or synthetic insulation, and whether you need a 2, 3, or 4-season sleeping bag.

  • mummy bag is shaped to hug the body with a narrow spot around the footbed, keeping the heat within the bag close to your body.
  • rectangular bag is wider at the feet for those who move around during the night, allowing a more comfortable sleep for those who like space.
  • Down insulation is created from goose or duck feathers and is known as nature’s best insulation, which makes this material perfect for well-insulated sleeping bags.  Keep in mind that down padding is not waterproof on it’s own.
  • Synthetic insulation provides good cover and is easy to dry, clean and maintain.  Moisture does not impact the insulating power meaning you can still sleep comfortably even if the sleeping bag gets wet.
  • sleeping pad or camping mat will provide some extra protection and add more comfort when sleeping on the ground.  These can help make a huge difference in whether or not you get a good night’s sleep.

Cookware (stove, pots, pans, bowls, utensils, lighter or waterproof matches, etc.):  Portable gas stoves come in all shapes and sizes.  Small, lightweight stoves are great for backcountry camping but a classic double burner stove will do just fine for cooking eggs in the morning and boiling soup in the evening.  We suggest purchasing utensils specifically designed for camping because they are lightweight, durable, and easy to clean.   

Lighting (flashlight, lantern, headlamp):  Headlamps are great to have around the campsite because it allows your hands to be free while doing camp chores, they are great for reading at night, and headlamps are typically small and versatile.  Lanterns are also useful because they tend to illuminate more light and can be hung above picnic tables during mealtime.  

Utility knife:  Such as Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman. 

First aid kit:  Perhaps the most important thing to have in your camping gear as there’s no telling what may happen.  A simple kit with bandaids, gauze, antiseptic cream, scissors, tweezers, and over-the-counter pain meds is adequate.  Though you can purchase a professional organized ready-to-go first aid kit.

Trash bags:  Disposing of your garbage properly is one of the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace.

Outside these main items, the rest of the gear just increases your comfort and enjoyment of the trip. These items also vary according to the style of camping you will be doing. For example, if you plan to hike multiple miles up a mountain, you’ll want to limit your weight as much as possible. However, if your vehicle is accessible from your campsite, then it’s never a bad idea to overestimate what you might need. Other common camping equipment can include:

  • Camping furniture (chairs, folding table)
  • Cooler or containers to store food
  • Cast iron skillet
  • Washbasins to clean your cooking and eating utensils
  • Camping ax or hatchet
  • Additional tarps for rain or sun shelter
  • Additional blankets
  • Pillows
  • Games
  • Music speakers (remember to be respectful with noise levels)

Not to be forgotten are the other everyday items that any camper “should have” but aren’t always considered camping gear. These often include:

  • Sunscreen
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Medications
  • Water
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