If you looked inside my pack, you’d probably find a lot of things I don’t need. I’ve been a pack rat all my life but I’m trying to fix that. Gear is where I struggle the most. If I could, my whole apartment would be filled with gizmos and gadgets picked up from REI, local outdoor shops, etc. But do I need all of that stuff? Definitely not. So when it comes to gear, I try to ask myself these four crucial questions to make sure that I’m making economical choices for camping gear:
- Will it last? Sometimes the cheapest option isn’t the best option, and that’s definitely true with camping and camera gear. I try to find products that will be durable without breaking the bank.
- Is there room to grow? I don’t need the fanciest things in the world but I want products that will suit my needs both now and in the near future, emphasis on “near.” I don’t need products that I won’t be able to use for years and years, but I do want products that won’t just get me through this year. I.e. I’m not a backpacker right now but I’d like to be, so I bought gear that will work for both casual camping and backpacking.
- Are there sales going on right now? As you’ll soon discover, I tend to gravitate toward REI for all of my gear shopping, in part because it’s easier for me (a beginner) to go to a one-stop-shop and I enjoy getting advice from their employees. They say that the presence of a doctor’s white coat makes it easier to trust them. Well in my case, the presence of a green vest on an REI employee does the same thing. Another reason I like staying within the REI realm is all of the deals they offer, including a member’s rebate/dividens based on how much you spent the previous year at REI. When it came to actually buying gear, I paid attention to REI’s sales (especially “Garage Sales”), I used my member dividends wisely, and I signed up for the REI MasterCard which gives you a $100 gift card after your first purchase. The nice thing about the credit card is that, in addition to the dividends earned for REI purchases by being a member, you get additional dividends on both in-store and out-of-store purchases.
- Do I really, actually, truly need it? And do I need it right now? I have a tendency to go overboard with shopping and I also have a tendency to buy things that I don’t need just yet, so these are always good questions to ask myself.
With all this in mind, and heavily taking into account the reviews and advice from others, below is what I am currently using for camping and consider to be my “must haves.” I’m sure others will tell you not to use some of these things or use my methods of acquiring gear, but it’s what worked best for me. Hopefully you find out what works best for you too.
The Tent / In The Tent
REI Quarter Dome 2 Tent — Lightweight, easy to set up, comfortable for two (given that it’s a backpacking tent), convenient openings/pockets
REI Quarter Dome 2 Footprint — Protects the base of your tent; better to replace this than your tent!
REI Flash Insulated Air Sleeping Pad — Manual inflation, somewhat noisy to move on, but keeps you warm
Therm-a-Rest Non Inflatable Sleeping Pad — Just for extra warmth if needed
Slumberjack Slumberloft Camp Pillow — Nice and compact, though kind of hard to get back into the bag so I usually just leave it out
REI Flexlite Chairs — Lightweight and straps that can be hooked onto your backpack etc. Not as sturdy as other chairs but if you’re looking for a decent, small chair then this is your chair!
Fuzzy Blankets — Makes any camping trip a little more cozy and warm, no matter the brand! But a lot of people recommend buying a blanket from Sackcloth & Ashes so I may have to do just that. For every blanket bought, they donate one to a homeless shelter.
MSR IsoPro Fuel — I’ve heard that it’s better to get the same brand of fuel as the stove, so I get the 3.9 oz. canisters (they have other sizes too). They’re reusable, inexpensive and can be found at most camping stores.
GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Dualist Cookset — Folds up nice and compact and it’s very versatile
Cooler — Doesn’t have to be fancy (mine is from Target). But necessary if you bring along ice, meat, etc.
CamelBak Reservoir — Most packs (big and small) will have a section to hold a reservoir (sometimes known as a “bladder”). The area is noted by a “water drop” symbol on the pack, usually near the top of the arm straps. Some packs come with a reservoir but you can also buy a day pack and reservoir separately. The reservoirs come in different liter sizes so make sure you get one that fits your pack!
Hydro Flask Water Bottle— Has vacuum insulation to keep contents hot or cold for hours without the inside temp affecting the outside temp of the container.
Nalgene Wide-Mouth Water Bottle 32 Oz. — Perfect for everyday use to make sure you stay hydrated.
REI Flash 60 Pack — Lots of access points and airline carry-on approved! This pack is good for small, multi-day backpacking trips (roughly 1-3 days).
Osprey Daylite Backpack — I swear by this backpack. Even though it’s only 13 liters it holds so much! They have a “plus” option which is 20 liters in case you need more room.
CamelBak Sundowner 22 Hydration Pack — Perfect for a day hike when you want to bring a little more than your smaller daypack allows, such as camera gear. Since it’s a hydration pack, it comes with a reservoir. There are a lot of straps and accessible pockets too.
2-In-1 First Aid Kit (120 Pieces) — Some people make their own kits but I didn’t know where to start so I ended up buying one online that promised to have lots of pieces. I figured more pieces means more helpful, and this kit comes with a smaller kit that you can take on day trips.
Nite Ize Radiant 400 LED Lantern — Lanters make nights at the picnic table or in the tent a lot brighter…literally.
Petzl Tikka Headlamp — There’s a lot of things to pay attention to when it comes to headlamps (the brightness, how far the light travels, red vs white, etc.). REI has a nice guide to help you figure out what you need. I chose the Petzl Tikka because it was relatively inexpensive, had a red light option, and had an adjustable head.
Standard Flashlights — For that occasional walk to the bathroom, midnight stroll, misplaced object in the tent, standard flashlights are extremely useful and they don’t have to be fancy. I bought medium-sized flashlights and a larger flashlight from Target and they work great.
Matches & Lighter — Necessary for safety reasons (warmth!) and getting a campfire started, but also necessary to light camp stoves, etc.
Knife/Scissors/Ax/Swiss Army Knife — Crucial for safety and useful for day-to-day camp activities as well.
This isn’t a complete list but these are some of my must-haves:
Patagonia Women’s Micro Puff Jacket — Hands down the lightest yet warmest thing I love to wear when it’s brisk out. But if it’s freezing out, you’re going to need something bigger.
Patagonia Women’s Better Sweater 1/4 Zip Fleece — Stylish because of the slim fit yet effective in keeping you warm.
Adidas Tiro Training Pants — Perfect to pull on over shorts or leggings, there’s pockets with a zipper to make sure your stuff doesn’t fall out, and zipper openings which makes them easier to slide on while wearing shoes.
REI Sahara Convertible Pants — I used to love these kind of pants as a kid. I’m glad to see they’re becoming useful again!
Chacos — Most of their styles are great for roaming around camp, walking through streams, etc. Find what works best for you!
Under Armour or something similar for warmth underneath your clothes
Gloves / Beanie / Baseball Cap
Compression Stuff Sack — To minimize the space your sleeping bag takes up when it’s in the bag.
Portable Speakers and deck of playing cards
Other misc items from this list
Big container to put all of these items in
And of course, my camera gear! For more info about what I use, you can read all about it here!
This article is not sponsored.