It seems like everyone with a blog about camping or backpacking has their own camping list. I know I do. But there are several items that everyone should also consider “must haves,” regardless of they type of camping they are doing.
Backpacking.net offers a list of what they consider to be the 14 essential items that every backpacker should have. I tend to expand that a bit to call them the 14 items that any hiker should have. Of course, camping does not necessarily equal hiking, however, if you’re in the outdoors already, hiking is a great way to enjoy it further, and it’s a pretty healthy activity.
Backpacking ten essentials: the first ten items in this list are the selections of essential backpacking gear which The Mountaineers refer to as The Ten Essentials and promote as critical and essential items which belong in your pack as insurance against the unexpected. Although you may not use all the backpacking ten essentials every day, they can be life savers in an emergency.
Day-hikers (hikers who are on short hikes from a base camp) should always carry these items at a minimum. If the unexpected happens, they can make a bad situation from getting significantly worse, and could potentially even save a life. Carry a small day pack with these items - it won’t be much weight, and the knowledge that you’re hiking safely will be worth the effort.
Visit the Backpacking.net website and review their list before you hit the trail: www.backpacking.net/ten-essl.html
If you are new to camping, list the types of camping you’ll be doing before running out and buying a tent. If you’ll be primarily car-camping with your family, one of the big, multi-room tents would probably be ideal. However, if you’ll be doing backpacking or four-season camping (heavy snow), your choices aren’t so simple.
Car camping isn’t a bad thing. It’s an easy way to get started with camping, without letting go of all of the strings of civilization. Basically, you’re able to drive your car up to your campsite, so you’re able to bring as much gear and stuff as you can fit in your car. The great news is that you don’t have to hike deep into the woods to have an awesome time in the outdoors, so car camping is fine in my book.
As far as tents for car camping, since the only real requirements are that your family will fit inside and that the tent will fit in your car, the sky is the limit. However, I highly recommend dome or multi-room dome tents.
Standard dome tents are a pretty good choice for families who are just getting started with camping. If you have young children, just get a dome tent that’s rated for 2-4 more people than are in your family (for example, if you and your wife have 2 kids, get a 6-8 person tent). The reason for this is that the upper end of the number of people a tent can sleep according to the package only accounts for people lying side-by-side with no gear. That’s not very realistic for an enjoyable comfortable camping trip. The only negative with this style of tents for family camping is that there is zero privacy. It’s not an issue with small children who want to have mom and dad close, but as you’re children get older, you’ll probably want to go to the next step.
With older children, you have a choice of either purchasing a second round dome tent for your kids or buying a multi-room tent for the whole family. My recommendation is to go with a second dome tent. The setup time for two dome tents is faster than for one of the large tents, and the total cost of two round tents tends to be less than one monster tent.
There are inexpensive tent brands and very expensive brands, but unless you know you’ll be camping a lot, you’ll probably be safe in the middle-to-low price range. Ozark or Great Trails are lower-priced brands, and Coleman tends to be more mid-priced. The Scout Troop I volunteered with used nothing but Coleman tents, and they performed very well through rugged use.
Be aware that none of the tents that you can purchase in large retailers are designed to hold up to heavy snows, so if you’re camping or plan to camp in that kind of weather, you’ll need to spend a lot more for a good quality four-season tent. Also, most, if not all, of these tents come with separate rain flies. It’s very important when you set your tent up that you tie out both the tent and the fly with the included lines and stakes. You want the tie-outs on the sides of the fly to angle tautly at about 45 degrees downward. This will keep your tent nice and dry in case of rain (and when does it not rain on a camping trip?). If you’re very certain that the night will be clear, it’s sometimes nice to leave the fly off so that you can get a clear view of the sky at night. Of course, you’ll be sacrificing all privacy that the tent provides.
If you’re just getting started with backpacking, you have a daunting number of choices of tents (and other equipment) facing you. Again, it’s not as complicated as it looks from outside.
- If you’re going to be backpacking in heavy snow, you need a four-season tent. If not, scratch that entire category off of your list.
- If you’re going to be camping in very rocky terrain (bad enough that it’s nearly impossible to get wire stakes into the ground), you’ll want a free-standing tent. Again, if this doesn’t apply, you can scratch that category off of your list (or not, though they tend to be slightly more expensive and slightly heavier than tents that aren’t free-standing).
- Everyone else can use non-freestanding backpacking tents. To explain the term freestanding, if the tent can stand on its own without being staked out, it’s freestanding. My backpacking tent is not freestanding, and I’ve used it in lots of very rocky ground with just a little more effort (and a few s-shaped stakes) than if I’d had a freestanding tent.
- Finally there are the more extreme lightweight options like bivys and tarps. If you don’t know what these are, you’ll be fine buying and using a “regular” backpacking tent. Once you’ve been backpacking for a few years, you might want to try out other things (I’m using a tarp now), but you’ll get just as much enjoyment out of a tent.
- Just as with dome tents above, backpacking tents are rated for the number of people they will “sleep.” However, I recommend getting nothing larger than a two-man tent. It’s pretty easy to have one person carry the poles and stakes and the other carry the tent and fly. If you’re buying for four backpackers, purchase two two-man tents. Most two-man tents are very tight for two people. Remember, however, that a backpacking tent is a place to sleep. That’s it.
One other thing to remember about backpacking tents is that their floors are not reinforced or rubber-coated like dome tents. It’s very important that you use some type of ground cloth under your tent to help prevent punctures, water seepage, and mud from your tent. Mud seems like a silly concern, but it’s much easier to deal with a small muddy ground cloth than a muddy tent when you’re repacking in the morning. I use a sheet of polychyro (plastic), and it folds small and fits into its own stuff sack. I can also easily rinse it off if it gets filthy.
Hopefully the above list will help you when you’re picking out a tent for camping - list the features you need, and it should make your gear selection much easier.
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