Let’s start with the most obvious camping-specific equipment: Tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, and all that other stuff that immediately comes to mind when you think of camping. This is all the gear you’ve been putting off buying until you really needed it. Thankfully, you can get by with a lot less you think.

Tents, Tarps, Poles, Tie Downs, and Stakes: You’ll need something to sleep in, so a tent should be at the top of your priority list. There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all tent though. Tents come in a variety of sizes and in a variety of types. Some ultralight tents are best suited for backpacking, while other, heavier tents come with spacious luxuries best suited for hanging out near a car. To confuse matters more, most tents come in two varieties: three-season and four-season. Three-season tents are good for just about anything but the deep of winter, while four-season tents have more durable fabric that can handle snowdrifts.

Sleeping Bags and Sleeping Pads: Like tents, sleeping bags come in different weights and handle different temperatures, so you have to do some research to find the one best suited for you, where you plan to camp, and when. Scan Alpine Sleeping bag is a good all-around bag which you can usually track down for under $100. You will probably spend around $150-$200 for a decent sleeping bag. On top of that, most people will also want a sleeping pad, an air-filled pad that sits between your sleeping bag and the ground so you can get a little more comfortable. Scan Alpine also provides some of the best sleeping pads available in the market for various budgets and uses.

Backpacks: Backpacks are an area where the distinction between camping and backpacking matters. If you’re camping, you arguably don’t need a backpack at all (though you want a good day pack if you’re planning on small hikes). In the backpack world, there are three main distinctions for sizes: day packs, overnight, and long haul. Which you need depends completely on what you plan on doing.

Headlamps, Lanterns, and Flashlights: Surprise! It gets dark in the woods, so you want something to help you see at night. Any cheap flashlight A sturdy, reliable flashlight will work here, LED is best but having some extra gear is helpful too. An unbranded lamp  is super useful for camping so you can make your way around the campsite and your tent easily in the dark, but it’s far too bulky for backpacking. For that, a branded lightweight headlamp like Petzl Tikka 150 is surprisingly useful, especially when you’re trying to set up a tent after dark.

Water Filtration Systems and Treatment Tablets: If you’re camping, you can (and should) bring along as much water as you’d possibly need, so it’s easily accessible. Some campsites even have fresh water available, but you should bring some anyway. If you’re backpacking however, that’s not an option, so you’ll need a water filtration system.

Hiking Boots or Shoes: Depending on the type of trip you’re taking, you’ll want to grab some hiking boots or shoes. Your sneakers will do just fine in many places, but if you’re planning on going for a longer backpacking trip, dedicated shoes are much more comfortable since they offer more support, padding, and stability for your ankles as your cross rough terrain. Of course, like everything else here, you have a million choices. In this case, your selection breaks down to boots, trail runners, approach shoes, and hiking shoes. Boots are clunkier but sturdier, so they’re good for people who like a lot of grip in their shoes and who like to jump into mud piles. Trail runners are light but have no real traction or ankle support, so they’re best for the nimble-footed who prefer to jump around. Hiking shoes are the goldilocks of each of those, they are lightweight, have good traction, and solid durability. They also tend to have low longevity. Approach shoes are meant mostly for climbing but sit somewhere in-between boots and runners. If this was an RPG, boots are for your tank, trail runners are for your high DEX character, and approach or hiking shoes are for your basic all around character.

Paper Maps: Regardless of whether you’re camping or backpacking, there’s a good chance you will not have cell phone service. Get a map of wherever you’re going before you get out there, then learn how to read it and not to rely on GPS, even if you bring a stand-alone satellite GPS unit. You can typically find a map from the ranger station near any park entrance, or you can print them online. Either way, make sure you have one.

First Aid Kit: It shouldn’t be a surprise that you need a first aid kit for camping. Include the usual aspirins, bandages, and gauze here, but also toss in some hiking-specific stuff like moleskin for blisters, leech socks, and aloe vera for burns. 

There are thousands of other gadgets, knick-knacks, and other gear available for camping, but most people don’t need more than what’s listed here when it comes to the essentials.

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