For basic camping, essential camping gear includes a shelter system, like camping tents or hammocks, and a sleeping system. We’re gonna talk about what you need to sleep effectively and comfortably on the ground as well as in the wind and rain.
The first question to ask yourself is what kind of conditions do you want shelter in. If you set up your camping tent and rain pours down with thunder and lightning with no sign of letting up, will you likely pack up for a hotel or home? If so, most any basic, inexpensive nylon tent with partial fly and fiberglass poles will do. You do not need to spend a lot of money on a tent.
Other things to think through:
- How much can you spend?
- How many people are you sheltering?
- What are you packing it in? A car? Rooftop carrier, backpack, kayak?
- How much weight you want to pack?
- How easy or difficult it is to put it together?
- Are you camping in three seasons (spring, summer, fall)? Or four seasons (including winter)?
First, we’ve got our ground sheet. This is a piece of plastic or footprint for a tent that’s lightweight, water-resistant, and protects your gear from the ground eating it up or getting it wet. Most people who have slept in a tent and woken up wet, it’s because they haven’t used a floor saver underneath their tent. This does not always come with a tent that you buy. So you can use something like a 2 mil or 4 mil piece of shower curtain, painting drop sheet, or Tyvek material. A sheet that’s just an inch smaller than your shelter.
If you intend to camp frequently and do not want weather to be a determinate, you need a shelter that you can have faith in. Invest a bit more.
While a full rain fly will increase the price point, it will also be the difference in staying dry and sheltered. Zippers, vents, and windows will increase price and weight but will also give you options for ventilation and access. Today the the best rainfly material is polyester, which stays very rigid even when it gets humid. So it doesn’t sag and get down next to the tent body
When you’re looking for tent sizes, they measure the tent floor space with mummy bags, tapered, and alternated foot-to-head, which is really conservative when you think about square footage. So a 3-person tent is going to be a really tight 3-person tent. For someone who likes their space, two people may sleep more comfortably, but you have to have the space and budget for the extra room.
Another thing to think about is whether it’s a 3-season or a 4-season. If there’s any chance you could wake up in the morning with 18 inches of snow dumped on top or up the side of your tent, it must be structurally strong enough to not collapse on top of and suffocate you. You pay more in cost and weight for this.
Finally, the option that many are really excited about these days is hammocks. It’s really lightweight similar to the bivy with the ability to pack down really small. Some have tarps for weather and noseeum netting for bugs. Or you can have three separate systems for options.
There is not much insulation value to a hammock. One thin fabric between you and the ambient air outside of that hammock. So you want to make sure that you can have a warm night sleep. A closed cell foam pad or partially inflated pad helps with a more comfortable night’s sleep.
The first thing you want to know about your sleeping system is what you’re wearing. Always have something clean, dry, and warm. You don’t want to be wearing your damp clothing that you were hiking around in during the day. A clean, synthetic tee and shorts. In the winter, synthetic or wool long johns. A nice cozy pair of fleece pants and fleece hoodie, a really nice thick warm pair of socks if you sleep cold. You may even want to cover your head with a fleece hat.
Next, we need a layer of separation between the ground and our bodies to to keep us comfortable and insulated. A sleeping pad! Surface contact with ground pulls the heat from your body, and you feel every rock and stick. Closed cell foam pads for a sleeping pad are relatively inexpensive. You can roll them up and strap them really easily. You don’t have to worry about it popping, which means you don’t have to carry a patch kit. It also doubles as a sitting pad.
Another option is an inflatable sleeping pad. Similar to pool loungers, inflatable sleeping pads are designed with comfort in mind, lite weight, and collapse small. A third style of sleeping pad is a self inflating pad. It’s actually got foam inside of it as well as air. It’s a bit heavier and bulkier, but inflate faster and are a bit warmer than the inflatable pads.
Pads are rated on an r-value scale: the higher the number, the more insulating properties of the sleeping pad. Companies put really great insulation inside of these pads, like a space blanket, to keep you nice and warm.
Then you’ll want to know what you’re sleeping in. There’s the standard rectangle bag. Mummy style sleeping bags taper down to be narrow at the foot. This means there’s not a whole lot of dead air that your body has to heat up.
Cotton insulating material is fine if you know you’re going to be sleeping in 70 degree lows with 0% chance of precipitation. Down is the lightest with the most insulation value to keep you warm. Synthetic filling is less expensive and maintains it loft when wet. Regardless, you want to be really mindful of keeping your sleeping bag dry.
Another style is called a quilt. A bit fancier than a blanket may have a shape that means it can wrap around shoulders and/or have a pocket for your feet. Quilts are becoming popular with people who are really concerned about weight because it eliminates the need for a full sleeping bag, which compresses beneath you, if you’re already sleeping on a warm sleeping pad underneath you.
Sleeping bags made particularly for women a little bit more room and more insulation around your hip because women have a tendency to lose a lot of heat there. Men’s sleeping bags are built more like a V so they’re they get more narrow as they get closer to the waist and they’ve got a little more insulation in the shoulder area. Same thing with women’s specific sleeping pads.