I go camping about a half dozen times a year these days and I’m the first to admit I’m obsessed with the gear that goes along with it. When not actively planning a trip or already on one, I often spend the evening rearranging the shelves on which my various tents, packs, sleeping pads, and other such supplies are stored. I suppose I try to justify how much of the stuff I’ve accrued by reorganizing it when not actually using it.
But really, I don’t have to justify anything; I like the outdoors and the gear that goes with it, so that’s where I’ve chosen to spend some of my money.
However, you can get completely kitted out for camping for less than what some people spend on a single sleeping bag. If you’re new to camping (or hiking or mountaineering or paddle travel and so forth) and not sure it will grab a hold of you — or if you’re already an outdoor enthusiast but need of new kit — it’s OK to supply yourself on the cheap. You can always upgrade items as the need arises.
I’ve put together a $200 list of camping gear that’s surprisingly well made given the price point and I have tested products from every one of these brands myself. What you won’t find on this list is apparel and hygiene products or items that need to be resupplied before each excursion, like food, stove fuel, and beer. What you will find is everything you need for a weekend campout or an overnight trek.
If you’re going car camping, you can save your $21 and spend it on stove fuel or whiskey. If you have a bit of trekking to do (not long-distance and not mountaineering, mind you) then this $21 pack from Venture Pal will serve you well. It’s comfortable enough for a few hours of use when moderately loaded and it packs down small enough to fit in a drawer when the outing is over. Also, it comes in lots of color, if that’s a factor for you.
Your tent is arguably your most important piece of gear. It’s your shelter from the rain and wind (though not from the cold — see the next item for that) and it’s where you’ll store your stuff, change clothes, swap stories (or smooches), and get some rest. Amazingly, it’s not the most expensive item on the list. The Coleman Two-Person Sundome tent retails for $70, but you can easily find deals on Amazon. It’s about a two-and-a-half season tent, perfect for later spring, summer, and early fall. It has sufficient though not copious room for two and is spacious for one. If the rain is coming down in sheets and blowing in sideways, you may get wet. Light drizzle? No problem.
If your tent is the most important part of your kit, your sleeping bag couldn’t be much closer in second place. Your bag is what keeps you warm and safe. This bag from Outdoor Vitals features StormLight insulation that is highly water resistant, so even if your tent lets in some rain, you will stay dry in your OV-Light 35. And of course, that number refers to the low temperature at which this bag is rated for use.
If you’re headed out for a three-week trek through the Grand Canyon or you’re pushing for the summit of Denali, spend the extra cash and invest in Klymit Inertia O Zone pad — it weighs about three-quarters of a pound and packs down to measure three by six inches. If you’re doing a bit of car camping or a friendly two-day hike, save your cash and get this perfectly decent sleeping pad from My Outdoors and enjoy padding, support, and a built-in inflatable pillow.
Being out in the woods at night is great, but being relegated to darkness once the sun sets is not. A good headlamp is your single best choice when it comes to lighting and a great affordable choice of headlamp is the UCO Hundred Headlamp. It has a long throw when set to its brightest mode and a long battery life (75 hours) when dimmed to its lowest setting. At less than 2 ounces in weight, it’s comfortable enough for hours of wear. (Note that prices vary by color and style here, but you can find a $20 option if you browse.)
Again, you’ll need to provide fuel, and as that’s a recurring cost, not part of your base kit, I’ve left it off the list. But considering this amazingly compact, reliable, and user-friendly stove costs just fourteen bucks, you’ll be able to afford the added cost of a fuel canister. The Etekcity Ultralight Portable Backpacking Stove weighs four ounces, and when folded down, it’s about the size of a pack of playing cards. Yet it produces more than 6,650 BTUs and can bring water to a boil in minutes. And its Piezo ignition system lets you light it up without matches or a lighter.
Assuming your campground allows for fires, there’s nothing like a campfire crackling away to make your site feel like home. In an emergency situation, a fire might be the difference between life and death. So go ahead and spend the $5 and get this little bar of magnesium with handy spark striker included. It will help you start hundreds of fires, but do practice using it a few times before you head out.
First Aid Kit
This 150-piece first aid kit has everything you need for treating cuts or scrapes, bee stings, burns, and other minor injuries. It also has a tourniquet, gauze, tape, and gloves in case you face a more serious injury. The emergency blanket is handy in case of shock or if you end up lost in the woods away from the comforts of your tent and sleeping bag.