Camping Essentials

Posted by MtnRoo Contributor on

We've gathered input and experience from fellow 'rooers to bring you guys a bit of helpful knowledge!

Author: Kristen Finley / Category: Community / Published: Feb 2019

As our lives broaden professionally and more time is demanded of us from various angles, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep in touch with our roots. The days we do get off are usually spent recuperating in front of the TV, or catching up on responsibilities that were neglected by what we put first.

It doesn’t occur to most that time spent surrounded by trees without cell phone reception would be one of the most underestimated ways to gain back energy lost in the tail chase we commit ourselves to in order to keep our heads above water.

When done mindfully, camping can be one of the better and cheaper ways to regain balance between the mind and body. In hopes to spark inspiration to get outdoors, here’s a list with some tips to dip some toes into what to buy and what to expect.

First and foremost,

It’s enthusiastically recommended that all campers, new and experienced, enlighten themselves to Leave No Trace's seven basic principles to keep all forms of natural land free of human waste and pollutants (this includes campsites). The less respect we have for our natural land, the less likely we are to have it available for future generations. It is no one’s responsibility but our own to keep our world pure for the next band of nature enthusiasts. The best mark to leave is no mark at all.

"The best mark to leave is no mark at all."


Road Atlas

Even in the age of advanced technology, there are places that satellites have a difficult time sending and receiving GPS signal. Therefore, it’s a clever and little known trick to plan an adventure the old fashioned way (or to at least have it as a back up). In the event of getting lost and not having the signal necessary to plan the next move, an atlas will be a trusty substitute. Just be careful to make sure it’s up to date, and to be educated as to how to orient yourself on a map.  A road atlas is preferred because it displays recreational areas available for camping, off-roading, and hiking. Road atlases of specific areas are available for purchase at ranger’s stations of national parks and forests, or online.


Emergency Medical Kit

Not all emergency kits are the same. It’s important to make sure that any medical kit in your car or on your person contains the following items:

  • Rain poncho(s).
  • Gloves - both for warmth and for medical scenarios (ie. latex or nylon).
  • Medical Supplies
    • Scissors
    • Bandages
    • Gauze
    • Antibacterial wipes/antiseptic cream
    • Styptic powder (to help stop excessive bleeding)
    • Medical tape
  • Batteries
  • Road flares
  • Reflective hazard triangles and vest
  • Rechargeable Jumper Pack: These are preferable to jumper cables due to the fact that a person is no longer reliant on another running car to put power back into a dead battery. There are several different brands that offer just as many sizes - as long as the jumper pack can charge a 12 volt battery, it’s not necessary to buy the biggest size possible for a truck or an SUV. Before heading toward the next adventure, it doesn’t hurt to confirm that the charge is full.
  • Flashlight: This seems like a no-brainer, but it remains one of the most commonly forgotten tools for campers and explorers alike. Out of the two types of flashlight bulbs, LED and incandescent, LED is quickly claiming the victory as the best type of flashlight on the market. With a higher output that requires less input, batteries for LED flashlights last longer and shine brighter than traditional flashlights. LED flashlights are also typically rechargeable, making it a little more convenient since batteries aren’t as necessary. Another big difference, however, is in price - LED flashlights are generally a lot pricier than incandescent flashlights. The deciding factor should be what would be demanded of a flashlight (ie. hiking, emergency use only, off-road, or camping). If a flashlight is going to be a large part of the adventurous equation, then an LED would be the better option. If a flashlight is something that’s going to lay mostly unused, then an incandescent flashlight (with spare batteries, of course) would do just fine.
  • Batteries: LED flashlight or not, it’s sensible to have spare batteries for any and all electronics that call for them.
  • Tools: To fix anything that needs repairing, or to compile things for the campsite. Such tools would be:
  • Hammer
  • Axe or hatchet
  • Screwdrivers - both philips and flathead.
  • Knife
  • Kitchenware:
  • Propane powered stove (and up to three extra bottles of propane).
    • Wind guards are preferred, to keep the flame from going out.
    • Having at least two burners makes cooking more efficient.
  • A medium sized skillet
    • Many, many things can be cooked or even boiled in a medium sized skillet.
  • Deep pot for boiling.
    • Great for cleaning water if necessary.
  • Biodegradable paper plates
  • Biodegradable forks, knives, and spoons.
  • Spatula, a ladle, a serving spoon.
    • Fun fact, a spatula is a fairly versatile - a serving spoon is good to have for stirring, and well, to serve.
  • Sponge
  • Environmentally friendly soap.
    • Be a label reader - steer clear from soaps that contain any phosphate, surfactants, triclosan, or any “anti-bacterial” agents. Phosphate and and surfactants are known to quicken the pace of algae growth, which can slow water flow and cause rivers to be filled with muck and block sunlight for plant life along the bottom. Triclosan, which is common in kitchen soaps and hand sanitizers, is incredibly toxic to water-dependent creatures.
  • Cutting board
  • Bottle and can opener
  • Mugs and cups
  • Matches (in case propane stove needs help igniting)
  • Cooler and ice
  • Wash bin for dishes


Camping Attire

In movies and some TV shows, it’s common to see people camping in normal, everyday clothes. While that’s acceptable if camping in the summer or even the spring, it’s suggested that there are a few of the following items are kept just in case:

  • Moisture wicking clothes
    • Including underwear and socks. If not wearing moisture wicking pants or jackets, those can be substituted with moisture resistant long johns and/or undershirts.
  • Waterproof shoes or boots
    • These are great for camping around a lake, or if gallivanting around in the snow. Keeping feet dry is an essential part of enjoying a camping trip.
  • Clothes for unexpected weather changes
    • Such as rain jackets, boots, warm gloves (preferably water resistant or proof), warm socks, long sleeve shirts or longer pants, warm hat or beanie, etc.

Hygiene items

  • Toothbrush
    • Tooth paste is not completely necessary - using water and a brush is an effective and environmentally friendly option to adhere to dental health suggestions. However, if not using paste isn’t part of the plan, spit it out away from the campsite as mint may attract predators to the site, and dilute it with water.
  • Soap (see notes on environmentally friendly dish soap - same suggestions apply)
  • Warm socks (wool is best - moisture wicking and warmer than cotton)
  • Feminine hygiene products if applicable
  • Extra toilet paper or wipes
  • If roughing it out, bring a shovel. Going #2 in the woods is acceptable, but to truly leave no trace, it’s advised to bury excrement to minimize possible predatory encounters. That includes used [biodegradable] toilet paper.

Sleeping arrangements

Sleeping bag

A sleeping bag is arguably one of the more important items on a camping trip. What’s important to note is that not all sleeping bags are equal - they’re designed within the parameters of a certain range of temperatures. Depending on the area and what time of year, the temperature range would be different; so it’s important to make sure the bag being brought is for the right type!


Similar to sleeping bags, no two tents are created equally. Some are designed to tolerate higher wind speeds, some are better suited for warmer temperatures - some are better at keeping bugs out than others, as well. What’s most important is to have a tent that’s waterproof and mold resistant. Morning dew or rain can saturate a tent, and if left wet too long, can breed mold and mildew.

      • More space is better than not enough when it comes to tents. More space allows a camper to keep more gear inside - such as a lantern, clothes, extra jackets, and provide room to change. It also makes lounging and napping a lot more comfortable.
      • In addition, be sure to purchase a footprint for the tent that’s also waterproof - it helps keep the bottom of the tent from getting dirty, and helps keep a camper dry when the ground becomes dewey in the morning. It also keeps the bottom of the tent clean - which makes packing it away easier and more sanitary.

Sleeping pad

While not required, it does make sleeping on the ground a lot more enjoyable. Some are even inflatable (which can in turn be used as a floaty in a river, lake, or creek - as long as it’s waterproof), which makes the experience more “adjustable” since air can be added or taken out. What’s best to take away is this: make sure it’s insulated, easy to clean, and can be packed away neatly.

    • Note: an inflatable sleeping pad is known for drawing body heat away when it’s cold out - so be sure to have a layer between the body and the sleeping pad.


  • Pillows
  • Extra blankets (the more the better)


  • Sun Glasses
  • Sun Screen: Regardless of which type of sunscreen makes it on the trip (chemical or mineral), make sure that it does not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate - two chemicals that are proven to wreak havoc in the wild.  
  • Identification: Having an ID handy with a current address can come in handy in case of an emergency.
  • Storage: With all the items mentioned, it’s imperative that they’re all stored in something sturdy and preferably waterproof, to offer protection to both your items and your wallet. Also, it never hurts to clearly label them according to their purpose to make both finding and storing much simpler.

The list may seem daunting, but after a few trips, these items tend to come to the front of the mind when packing for the next adventure. With the basics covered, the topic switches to finding a site to reconnect with nature.

Finding a Site

After deciding to give camping a try, check the National Park Service's website for local, developed campsites. This means sites with clean, running water, bathrooms nearby, and in close proximity to general stores and accessible attractions. It also means While it may feel like “cheating,” it’s a more forgiving introduction - especially if the family is joining in, too. If an important tool or item is forgotten, a store is nearby. If someone (or yourself) is injured, emergency care is almost always closer (it’s always wise to research the closest hospital for reassurance purposes regardless of experience level).

  • Note: camping is a skill that is sharpened by experience. Do not expect to see all obstacles or predict all possible scenarios - after all, before we can ride a bike, we need training wheels.
  • Fun fact: it’s perfectly legal to camp anywhere in a National Forest as long as you are 100 feet away from a body of water (this includes creeks, brooks, and rivers), and 100 feet from a main road.  
  • Online resources are plentiful. Joining the page of a local off-road group is an undervalued way to connect with those in your area that have mutual interests. Many campers and off-roaders are excited to share spots and trails.
  • Ranger stations are another powerful resource. Many rangers are those who grew up in or are very familiar with the area in question, and are happy to share popular spots with those curious.

What’s most important in all this, is to be excited to learn, and to learn to be excited. Getting a foot in the door and getting familiar with the basics is always the hardest part - but once that’s out of the way, it’s amazing how quickly being a conscientious camper becomes second nature. Be kind, be patient, be open and respect the planet.

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