Campers are always faced with a dilemma. Either you bring the entire house or you invariably find that the one thing you need was left at home. There’s no perfect way out of this, but a little thought will help improve your odds. Bring what you really need, without overflowing your vehicle or breaking your back.
If you’re planning on tent camping, you’ll need the tent, of course. But that can mean poles, stakes, ropes and other items as well, along with any tools you need to assemble it. Reduce your headaches by investigating a self-assembling tent. That type has all the major components needed to keep the tent sturdy and upright as part of one integrated unit.
You’ll find it easy to assemble (the name is only a slight exaggeration) and much easier to pack, unpack and haul to the campsite. Look for one made from waterproof material and that has sturdy seams.
Something to sleep on is essential. Sleeping on the ground may look adventurous in old Western films, but it’s hard on the back. That will reduce your enjoyment of camping and make hiking the next day difficult. There are a hundred different kind of inflatables, sleeping bags and other options. If you bring an inflatable or air mattress, make sure it’s self-inflating. Make sure your sleeping bag is waterproof and made with good insulating material with a durable shell.
Unless you want to subsist solely on pre-packaged, ready-to-eat food, you’ll want to bring something to cook with. Keep items to a minimum – a multi-purpose pan, a lightweight camping stove, a few utensils. You don’t want to spend all your time packing, unpacking, cleaning and so forth. If you bring disposable utensils, make sure they’re sturdy enough to handle the type of food you prepare and eat.
A first aid kit is a must. A splint can be improvised from available material, but you’ll need bandages (both wrap around and stick on band-aids). A disinfectant and/or anti-bacterial cream or spray is essential. A minor cut or scrape can become deadly out in the wilderness, but is trivial if treated properly. Aspirin is a great all-around drug, but ibuprofen or acetominophen are good substitutes for those with sensitive stomachs.
Bug bite spray or cream can prevent a minor irritant from becoming a major annoyance or worse. Some moleskin is a good idea for treating blisters, too. Scissors or a multi-purpose, Swiss Army-style knife can be really handy. Resist the temptation to bring a hundred different tools, though. Some cleansing towelettes can be great for hygiene and first aid.
Many campsites have a water supply, but the quality varies. Be prepared. Bring water bottles for drinking, cooking and emergency cleaning (wound treatment). You won’t be able to haul enough to shower every day, but you might be able to bring enough to wash your hair once every few days. Water weighs about 8 lbs (3.6kg) per gallon (~4 liters), so plan ahead. You don’t want to haul several hundred pounds of water anywhere.
A rechargeable flashlight (of the sort that can be plugged into the cigarette lighter or cell phone recharger in the car) can be a lifesaver. Even in non-emergency situations, it’s about the most helpful thing you can have at night when you’re a few feet from the campsite.
Think ‘essential’, minimize luxuries. If you want all the comforts of home, bring a big RV or just stay home.