1. Tent. Some people think they need some fancy, expensive tent. Some people think they want a HUGE tent. Then they get one and realize they wasted all that money on a tent that is a pain in the ass to put together. Just buy a simple cheap “dome” tent that sleeps 4-5 people (which really means it sleeps 2 people comfortably, maybe 3 if everyone is small). They range from about $30-$75. You’ll thank me later, i promise. I like most anything from Coleman, which you can get just about anywhere (Walmart, Target, Any Sporting Goods store). I’d say the most important thing about a good tent(or sleeping bag) is it’s zippers. Like i said earlier, unless you’re going to be doing “ultra light” hiking/camping for multiple days in multiple “hardcore” primitive locations, stay away from the expensive tents from REI or Whole Earth, etc. They aren’t necessary whatsoever and are a serious pain in the ass to put together if you don’t use them frequently enough, especially if it happens to be dark while setting it up. Camping is about spending time in the outdoors not in your tent.
2. Cheap Tarp. I like to buy a cheap blue tarp from Walmart (or wherever) for $5-$10 and put it UNDER the actual tent before setting it up. This gives it another stronger barrier underneath for protection against wear & tears, mud, etc. It doesn’t need to be any bigger than about the size of the bottom of your tent. It doesn’t have to fit perfect.
3. Duffle Bag. If i’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that most people can never actually put a tent back in the bag it comes in, at least not without problems. My simple solution is to buy a mid-sized CHEAP duffle bag to put your tent, it’s poles & stakes, and your tarp in. A good size is about the size of baseball bat bag or as tall as about half your height.
4. Sleeping Bags. These come in various shapes, sizes, materials & prices. For moderate climates & regular old general use camping (such as Texas), i think a basic sleeping bag is fine. Again, they can be found at Walmart, Target, Sporting Good Stores. A basic sleeping bag may be as cheap as $30. Unless you get really cold at night or are camping in very cold weather, you shouldn’t need a bag that is rated below 30 degrees. You will just sweat most of the time anyway. Most of the year in Texas, it’s too hot to actually sleep in a sleeping bag anyway so most just sleep on top of the bag rather than in it. A down-feather bag is nice but unnecessary if not camping in very cold climates or needed to reduce the weight you are carrying while hiking long or difficult trails. I’d just go with a plain, cheap synthetic bag, preferably with a nylon outer shell. They come in 2 basic styles, mummy or square. “Mummy” bags are nice in the cooler weather but don’t leave much room to wiggle around. For most general purposes, a regular square bag will work fine. Don’t buy a sleeping bag at REI or Whole Earth unless you are going to be doing “ultra-light” camping/hiking. Most of their bags are between $100-$400.
5. Sleeping Pad or Mattress. I don’t mind so much sleeping on the ground but most people hate it. Over time i’ve learned to enjoy a little “space” between me and the ground. Now, mind you that when the ground is truly cold, you MUST have a layer/barrier between you and the ground to avoid hypothermia. A sleeping bag is not enough. This is essentially what the old school cheap lightweight military-style sleeping pads are used for, which are nothing more than a thin layer of foam, called closed-cell pads. The downside is that they provide very little comfort. The next option is to buy a fancy expensive open-cell “air” pad, which are around $100-200 at REI or Whole Earth. The best option for casual, comfortable camping is a cheap $10-20 blow-up mattress from Academy or Walmart. A Full size mattress can fit in most small dome tents but they won’t leave much room for much else. You could go smaller. But for two people, i’d recommend the Full. After all a tent is for sleeping not spending all your time in it. Most of the time is spent outside.
6. Pillow, Extra Sheets or Blankets. Pillows are nice so bring one or two. Personally, i never like to bring really “nice” stuff camping. This includes clothes, pillows, etc. I’d bring a pillow you don’t mind getting dirty or damaged. When it’s really cold at night, it’s nice to also have extra blankets. Fleece and Wool are the best and warmest for this. Extra bed sheets are nice in the summer when it’s too hot to actually sleep in the sleeping bad. Just lie on top of your sleeping bag (zipped or unzipped & spread out wider) and use a thin sheet to sleep with.
7. Lanterns/Flashlights/Headlamps. In the dark you can never have enough light. I recommend each person having at least 2 flashlights each (also make sure the batteries are fresh). Keep one on you at all times. They need not be big, just bright. Instead of 2 flashlights, i personally prefer one to be a head-lamp. Head-lamps are NOT necessary but they make things easier and more enjoyable. However, they can get very pricey. There is no need to buy an expensive one. A basic one Walmart would work fine. If you do want to spend a few extra bucks, go to REI. Next is a Lantern. Lanterns are nice to have for your “bigger, brighter” night-time light, especially if you unable to have a campfire. They are also nice to hang inside your tent. But lanterns are typically bulky and aren’t absolutely necessary to have. But just so you know, you can also hang many flashlights from the top of your tent using a cheap carabiner and you can use headlamps as your main source of light. Just keep in mind that when you move your head the light shines all over the place. This might disturb your friends or fellow neighboring campers. Lanterns run on either gas or batteries. I think both are fine. With that said, always bring extra gas cans or batteries.
8. Clothing. Much of what you want to wear while camping is of personal preference. The main idea is to be comfortable and ready for all types of weather. I would also recommend wearing clothing that you don’t mind damaging or getting dirty. Sometimes sh*t happens. With all that said, when it is cold or “may” be cold, it’s very important to bring plenty of warm clothes. If you get cold easily then you should bring even more warm clothes and blankets. For cold weather/cold nights nothing is better than thick WOOL socks, a beanie and maybe some gloves. Army Surplus stores are great for stuff like this. Long underwear are nice as well. Fleece is another essential material because it is warm but also very lightweight. My favorite is the military fleece called polypropylene. Just remember that when it’s cold, dress warm and in layers.
Knife/Multi-tool/Hatchet or Wood Saw
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