A Beginner’s Guide to Camping Equipment

Are you looking to do more camping or looking to just get started in camping? Then it’s essential to own your own equipment! And honestly, I finally gave in to getting my own equipment instead of borrowing my friends’ stuff which I did in preparation for my Mogollon Rim camping trip.

This post is kind of a “shopping haul” but it’s also a guide to help you get equipment if you are a beginner in camping or looking to do some camping for your first time. As you will notice, camping gear is expensive! That’s because most camping gear items you see are made of high-quality materials that were created to withstand crazy weather conditions. 

When shopping for things that you know will be pricey, it’s better off to choose things that will last you for a long time and you’re getting more bang for your bucks. You also want to make sure you have the necessary equipment for your camping trip so that you are comfortable and prepared to make a camping trip complete.

Where to shop for your equipment

I shopped at both Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart to get my equipment. However, I would say Walmart is good if you’re looking to get things if you’re really tight on a budget and you’ll be surprised how good some of their stuff is! Dick’s Sporting Goods, REI, and Backcountry.com are also amazing for finding high-end outdoor brands and almost for everything you’re looking for in terms of more tools and the basics.

The type of equipment I specifically went after for camping can be used for backpacking as well and although I haven’t tried backpacking yet (planning to do some in the future when it is perfect timing), it’s good to be prepared ahead to buy camping things that will allow you to make backpacking easier for you and so, you don’t have to go out and buy extra new things.

This means the camping products I bought for the most part are lightweight! There are several pieces of equipment out there, but many are not lightweight. The lightweight products are going to be pricier. I don’t mind spending a bit more on good equipment though if this means it will last much longer and can allow me to be more comfortable and safe.

There’s going to be a bunch of items you will have to consider when camping from your obvious tent and sleeping bag to the food you should get. I tried to list out the things you need most as a beginner camper and showcased the ones I decided to buy and own for myself.

1. A tent

One-person camping tent set up outside on the Mogollon Rim
One-person camping tent set up outside on the Mogollon Rim

A tent is probably the first thing to come to your mind when you think about camping. Tents are essential as you know as complete protection for when you sleep to protect you against the wind, rain, and the sun and when you need a snuggly private place to hangout somewhere in nature.

There are many different types of tents out there. Some of the common ones are dome tents, a-frame tents, basic ridge tents, teepee tents, and inflatable tents. The type of tent you need depends on what your purpose is for them and how many people are you trying to fit in there.

The one I chose to get is the Eureka! Solitaire AL Tent ($99.99), which is a one person tent but perfectly meant to bring for backpacking for one person. I figured since I don’t have to sleep with someone else in a tent (single and also friends usually have their own!), this tent fits me. It also has decent reviews.

Other recommended tent alternatives:

2. Sleeping bag

A sleeping bag is like your “bed to go” and acts as a blanket to keep you warm. Many sleeping bags are shaped differently (rectangular, semi-rectangular, mummy, double bag) and the length varies too where they can be 6 feet tall or 7 feet tall. They also come in different temperature ratings, which can help you determine what kind you should get depending what season you’re camping in. For summer seasons, I’d opt to go for a 30° and higher. For winter, I’d opt to go for +15° and lower. For 3 season type of weathers (where it varies), 15° to +30°.

I bought the North Face Wasatch 40° Degree Sleeping Bag ($69.00)  because I live in Arizona and I’ve camped more during late spring and summer seasons. It gets really hot in Arizona, but temperatures can drop lower at night and for some areas, summer nights might not reach past 30 degrees, so I figured going for a 40 degree one is okay.

Other recommended sleeping bag alternatives:

3. Camping pillow

A camping pillow makes it much more comfortable to have a better camping sleep experience. I don’t know about you, but I cannot stand laying my head against flat surfaces without support for my head. A common thing you’ll see among camping gear is that they really do all look unique from each other with the different shapes, colors, and sizes. So, yes, this applies to pillows too. 

There are a few that can allow you to just inflate pillows by air and some that are just ready to go. I chose to buy a camping pillow that can be folded tight and small and ready to go, so I bought the Quest Camping Pillow ($9.99) in yellow. I like this one because it looks easy to just fold inside its bag and could definitely fit in a backpacker’s backpack.

Other recommended camping pillow alternatives:

4. Tarp

A tarp can be necessary when putting up your tent. Why use a tarp? A tarp protects the bottom of your tent and can help with providing protection from rain and to protect the bottom of the tent from sticks and stones that can puncture it. A tarp can also provide shade and protection just for those who want to sleep under the stars instead of a traditional tent where you can sleep in an enclosed place. There are many tarps that range from least bulky to bulkier and this depends on the surface you’ll be camping on. 

I bought a extra heavy duty tarp which provided a smoother surface for my tent to be on. This tarp is the Grip 6’ x 8’ Tarp ($9.99).

A trick to get bugs off from your tent that my friend taught me is to spray bug spray around the tent and on the tarp. 

Other recommended tarp alternatives:

5. Camping Chair

If you’re looking forward to building a fire and huddling around it, then bringing a chair is highly important. It’s also good to use as a way to eat your camp meals (right on your lap or placed on a table). You can also just use it to overlook the views outside your tent.

You might think all camping chairs are the same, but some range from lower quality to higher and that’s usually determined from how much you’re going to pay for a camping chair. I bought the Dick’s Sporting Goods Logo Chair ($9.99) and it is pretty decent for the affordable price and I was able to sit comfortable in it for long periods. You can also use it for any other occasions like for a sporting event too.

Other recommended camping chair alternatives:

6. Camping Pad

Along with your tent and sleeping bag, a camping pad is your best friend to sleeping too. A camping pad is a pad that will provide protection for your body as you sleep in on a tent. It goes under your sleeping bag. You can opt for an air mattress instead for a more comfortable sleep, but I think having a camping pad can be a good alternative.

Camping pads can range from very thick to thin and can be shaped like rolls (like a yoga mat!). The camping pad I bought is meant for backpacking and can be folded nicely and held by a backpack: the Ozark Trail Foldable Camping Pad ($18). It’s also a nice cheaper dupe for the Nemo Switchback Sleeping Pad that ranges from $39-$49.

Other recommended camping pad alternatives:

7. Flashlight

Being outside is scary, but being outside at night is scarier. Carrying a flashlight with you at all-times at night is a good idea. I bought this flashlight more than a year ago and have used it to go night hiking a few times. It is the Ozark Trail LED Flashlight ($9.62). This flashlight is small but mighty. It has three different settings of light and they provide so much light for a small flashlight and this bad boy also zooms in.

Other recommended flashlight alternatives:

8. Stakes

Most tents will probably come with stakes, but if you need extra ones in case you lose yours or a friend needs some and also ones to take in your backpack, I recommend using these ultralight aluminum stake ones. Coghlan’s Ultralight Aluminum Tent Stakes ($0.98) weigh less than regular metal ones and also work well and they’re also orange, so it makes them easier to see in the ground than the silver metal peg ones. 

Other recommended stake alternatives:

9. Camping stove

A camping stove is such a lifesaver when it comes to cooking meals! A camping stove is great to lay your pans and pots on with the connecting use of propane. I don’t own one (yet), but I used my friend’s when I went camping this last time. She has a Coleman Camping Stove and it is amazing! She hooked it up with a propane distribution post that provides light (necessary for cooking at night!) and connects the propane to the stove. 

For an alternative, Jetboil comes with many cooking system options. They’re compact enough to also use for backpacking.

Other recommended camping stove alternatives:

10. Cookware

You can’t really cook on a camping stove without the cookware. Just like when you’re cooking in a kitchen, you could bring the usual pots, pans, and utensils you already use. Cast iron skillets are a great choice for doing all sorts of cooking that involve sauteing, searing, baking, braising, roasting, etc., and if you love for your food to have more seasoning in it.

11. Lantern

This is a good alternative if you do not have a flashlight, but also they act as your main source of light for when you’re in a tent or just hanging out outdoors at night. They’re also useful for lighting up a large space. 

Sitting outside by the Mogollon Rim, sipping on a camping mug
Sitting outside by the Mogollon Rim, sipping on a camping mug

Of course, when it comes to camping, you can bring so much more, but these were just the basics. Camping can be a lot of work and can make you bring so many things, but it is definitely worth it

Here are other things to consider bringing camping too:

  • Hiking shoes
  • Wind/rain jackets
  • Air mattress
  • Coolers
  • Dry bags
  • GPS and Compass
  • First aid kit
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Firewood
  • Mugs
  • Foldable tables
  • Canopy

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