What to Take Camping
Choosing your equipment for hiking and especially camping is an important consideration. Almost every item will be a trade-off between size/weight/space and cost, with those amazingly lightweight tents costing hundreds more than the cheap heavy version. Most items will be a decision you make based on both your buying and carrying capacity. There are two very important areas, though, where we recommend buying the highest quality hiking gear you can afford: Boots and Backpacks. Beyond these two things, you’ll often be able to save money if you’re willing to carry equipment that is either a little heavier or a little bulkier.
Shoes are probably single the most important piece of hiking gear you can buy, and as such we recommend thinking of this as an investment in your health and comfort. Suffice for now to say that your boots should reflect your environment and hiking goals. For hardcore trekking with a heavy pack, especially in the mountains in winter, we’ve been wearing a pair of La Sportiva Makalu boots that are pretty expensive but worth their weight. For dayhikes and quick trips without much gear we’ve used several pairs of North Face Hedgehog trail shoes in the past, and while they were generally comfortable and had excellent grip they rarely lasted more than a year with heavy use. We’ve recently switched to Merrell, but so far they’ve been travel and dayhike shoes since we have yet to get them onto any multiday trails. We go into much more detail on our ‘
Hiking Boots ‘ page, if you need more info.
Backpacks are another important consideration, but not quite so important as boots. A good backpack if properly cared for should last for years and years. We’ve got an old Jansport Klamath from somewhere around 2003 that still sees trail time occasionally. More recently we’ve moved to an Osprey Aether for a bit more capacity for multi-day winter hiking. The main things to look for with a backpack are a good fit and high quality materials. For detailed info on picking out a new pack, check out the ‘Backpacks‘ page.
Inside your pack, ziplocs or other resealable and airtight bags are great for keep your stuff sorted and making sure that no spills or rain or anything amiss gets into anything it shouldn’t Also make sure to get a pack cover to keep out the rain in the first place!
Tent or Hammock? What about Bivy Sacks? Full-on sleeping bag or just a quilt for cover? What kind of padding to keep you warm from underneath? There are a number of questions to be answered here, in fact more than one paragraph will allow. Check out the Sleep Systems page for a detailed look at this rather important consideration.
Stove or no stove? Dehydrated food versus prepped ingredients? How much clean up will you be willing to tolerate? There are actually quite a few variables here, so check out the ‘Backpacking Food‘ page to read more.
No matter what you decide to do for food, always make sure to pack a bit extra just in case. On longer trips take a full day extra, on shorter a meal or two plus some snacks should suffice. Also ALWAYS take a lighter or matches as back-up. Most modern stoves come with an auto-light, but always have something else in your pack to start a fire easily in case you need it. Oh and while we’re on the subject, resealable bags like ziplocs are great for sorting and storing food but also make an easy way to pack your trash out once you’ve cooked a meal.
Staying hydrated is essential for any outdoor activity, but especially while hiking or backpacking far away from hospitals in case anything goes wrong! To put it briefly, the most common water bottles are those by Camelback and Nalgene while the most popular purification options are SteriPen, Iodine, and Filters. To get an in-depth review of each, check out the Hydration Systems page.
If it isn’t quick dry, you shouldn’t be packing it as hiking gear. End of story. (Unless you’re really on a tight budget in winter… in which case it happens but still isn’t a great idea.)
Hiking Socks. The should be comfortable, wicking, and have good padding on the bottom/heel/toes.
Zip-off Pants. As unfashionable as a lot of these pants look, having the ability to convert easily from pants to shorts and back can be really useful. We use this pair, which as an added bonus has a plastic-buckle webbed belt that saves weight and is really convenient for going through airport security. As with any hiking clothes, the fabric should be quick-drying and lightweight.
Rain Jacket. Something to keep you dry when it starts to get wet. Importantly, this includes breathability as being wet from sweat is just as bad or worse than being wet from rain. We’ve got an old Montane that we picked up second-hand from a friend. You don’t need anything nearly that expensive, just focus on breathability and weight.
Underwear. It took us a while to switch to Ex-Officio because of the cost, but we’ve since replaced our entire undergarment collection. They dry quickly, resist odors, and stay comfortable for several days of wearing. That’s the perfecta! (If you buy these on Amazon make sure to check prices on all the different colors, as it can vary widely.)
T-Shirts. Once again, quick dry and lightweight. Ex-Officio does shirts too, but so do a ton of other companies. If you live anywhere near a Decathlon store (which unfortunately has no US presence), their Quechua brand clothes are a great combo of quality and price.
Bandana. Something to keep handy to wipe off sweat and cover your mouth during dust storms or keep your face warm in the cold.
Light jacket. A lightweight fleece jacket is always a good thing to include. If weather goes bad in a hurry this can layer up underneath a rain jacket for warmth, and they also make good pillows in camp. Iuse a Quecha fleece picked up cheap at a Decathlon store somewhere, but Columbia has some decent offerings for $50 or less.
Hat. Wide-brimmed is better, to keep off the sun. This isn’t exactly a necessary item, but we find hikes a lot more comfortable when we have hats.
If you’re heading out in winter or colder climes, all the above applies but you should also know a bit more. Head over to the ‘Winter Camping Gear‘ page for more.
We prefer paper maps to GPS, but also recognize that in a lot of places getting a detailed paper map of where you want to hike can range from difficult to impossible. If you decide you want to to go the GPS route, check out our ‘Guides and Maps‘ page. Also, no matter what, ALWAYS remember to take a compass.
At some point on your trek the sun will go down and you’ll still need to see! Lighting is, without doubt, an essential piece of hiking gear. We mostly prefer headlamps because they stop being an inconvenience and become part of your natural movement a lot more quickly than a handheld flashlight. The one qualifying statement here, though, is that in places with a lot of bug at night it can be hard to do ANYTHING while wearing a big shiny beacon on your forehead. When this happens in-tent, consider putting it on the ground pointed toward the ceiling to bounce the light towards what you’re doing.
When looking for headlamps/flashlights, keep in mind these 4 things:
– Lumens. That is, how bright the lamp is rated. Generally, more lumens = brighter headlamp. This will often be influenced by how many LED bulbs the lamp has.
– Battery Life. Your flashlight isn’t worth much if you run out of batteries halfway through a trip. Make sure to check the battery life before you buy, and make doubly sure to take an extra set or two with you on the trail.
– Beam Strength. You want a flashlight that not only gives off a lot of light, but also focuses that light in a straight line the reaches as far ahead as possible. If you have the chance, try to test this somewhere dark before you buy.
– Weight is important, but the differences here will be minimal between headlamps. Pay attention mostly to what kind of batteries it uses and how many spare sets you’ll likely to need, as this will have the biggest size/weight impact. For your own sake, avoid MagLites
– Multi-modality. This isn’t a key factor, but having several different settings can be useful. Think high-beams for walking around at night and low-beams for reading in your sleeping bag.
In general, we tend towards Petzl as the ideal combination of cost and performance. Cheaper and more expensive brands are out there, but we find these to not be quite the same value. If you need to save some cash, however, this is not a terrible place to do it unless you’ll be caving or expect to do a ton of night hiking on purpose.
Hygiene and First Aid
Micro towel. There are specialty hiking towels out there, but we honestly prefer a small chamois for its effectiveness and quick-dry capacity.
Sunglasses. Protect your eyes. Make sure to take something with UV protection, and ideally with a case so they don’t get broken when you stuff them down in your pack.
Toothbrush and toothpaste. Ideally mini versions from the last hotel you stayed at. Otherwise those little colgate ones are handy.
Sunscreen. We simply *need* this, at any rate. You should know your own sun tolerance and judge accordingly.
Lip Balm (with Sunscreen).
Snakebite Kit. Are you hiking somewhere that poisonous snakes are a concern? Buy a small one and take it along (and be sure to learn how to use it BEFORE you hit the trail).
Painkillers. Be careful with these, as overuse can be very damaging to your body. However, we’ve known a lot of older hikers that take some painkillers for aching joints.
We tend to carry more of this than we need, actually, especially on solo hikes. At a minimum we would suggest a book, e-reader, or journal to keep entertained at night. Given the hyper-social world we live in, many people will carry a camera as well. Cell phones can also be a good idea just in case. To see our detailed rundown, click over to the Cameras and Electronics page.
Are there bears where you’re going? What about snakes? Yeti? Go find out! Bears, especially, are a big concern if they exist in the area you’ll be trekking. In Asia these are mostly endangered these days, but do a little research before your trip to see what predators are around and what you need to do in order to avoid them. There are places in the US especially that require bear canisters, but we’ve never come across this while hiking in Asia.
Having read through this far, you’re mostly set! A few other pieces of hiking gear that sometimes come in handy when considering what to take camping, and a look at the occasions when you might need them:
– Gaiters. If you’re just starting out with hiking and you’re going to spend most of your time on well-kept trails, this is not something you should be carrying. If you plan on bushwhacking through the Alaskan wilderness, well then yea.
– Trekking Poles. Some people swear by them, other scoff. We’re in the latter camp, and generally prefer the freedom of movement. However, anybody with knee or back problems would be well advised to check them out. There are also lightweight tents that incorporate trekking poles into the pitching process, which could save you weight if you’ll already be carrying them. If you’re looking to buy, make sure to check for rubberized tips and some kind of shock-absorbing joints.
– Sewing Kit. Do you know how to sew? If yes, take one. However, I’ve been amazed by the people who have no idea how to use these but carry them anyways. Yes, you probably should have one, but learn how to use it!