A few thoughts from a fairly avid and experienced camper/hiker/hunter/outdoorsman:
Bring a good fire kit, not just some matches. I include regular matches, waterproof matches, a lighter, tinder, and a good magnesium fire striker
in my fire kit. Generally it's easiest and most convenient to just use a lighter. Why mess around trying to get a fire started when you need one? Keep the matches as backups, and the striker for situations where you have nothing left and still need a fire. They're amazingly cool and useful.
For water, I'd also bring either a decent-sized canteen, or a pack with an integrated Camelbak-style water pouch
. Camelbaks are a lot easier to use. Bring a Nalgene bottle or two for other use, and/or additional water storage. Always have a water purification kit with you. I like the SteriPEN water purifier
myself. It's small, light, and easy to use.
I recommend Jetboil stoves
for your food and cooking needs. They're light, small, and easy to use. They come in several sizes, depending on how big a meal you need to prepare. They set up in no time flat, screw onto a little (or big, depending on the length of the trip) isobutane/propane canisters
. The canisters are quick and easy to use, and slide right into the Jetboil containers for travel.
There are a number of other cooking kits out there, but just get gear you can carry and use easily; something you're comfortable with. In addition to my Jetboil stoves, I carry a light frying pan/griddle, a foldable wire rack for barbecuing, and usually make a spit for meats. If you're traveling with a number of people, having a large stew pot and large frying pan is almost a necessity, but the bigger they are, the more you are limited by what you can carry. The Jetboil line is cool, and very convenient for light camping and hiking, but it's not really suitable for larger groups unless everyone has one and just makes their own grub.
You can use a lot of the freeze-dried, pre-packaged meals that are sold in pretty much any outdoors store worth its salt, but don't forget about a lot of normal commercial stuff. I'll always take packets of chicken noodle or onion soup, as they're small and convenient. Pasta, chicken or beef broth, dried potato flakes, oatmeal, and cold cereal (with powdered milk) are other great staples you can do a lot with. You can find dried mushrooms and vegetables in Asian supermarkets to spice up your dishes. Next time you're grocery shopping, stroll the aisles with camping specifically in mind. Avoid anything canned, bottled, fresh, or frozen. You'll also get a lot of mileage from breakfast and candy bars (which can have as many nutrients and calories as the "healthy" energy bars.
Don't forget about tea and coffee. Tea bags are light and easy to pack, and hit the spot in the morning or evening around the fire. I like to take those Senseo coffee pods
, or something similar for my coffee, because they're light and convenient like tea bags, and I don't have to fool around with grounds and a coffee pot. The little flavor packs for water are great too; a great way to get something flavored to drink when you don't want a hot drink like tea or coffee.
Bring some quick snack food in an easy-to-reach place in your pack. Stuff like jerky, candy/energy bars, trail mix, peanuts, dried fruit, etc. Great for replacing energy along the trail. If you really want quick energy, you can find a variety of energy gel packets
in most outdoors stores. Different flavors, with or without caffeine, etc. They're good for quick energy and they're compact and light(ish).
Bring plenty of spices, herbs, and seasonings. It's easier to make a crappy meal taste better when you can flavor it. They make a lot of multi-packs for spices, but they're expensive, and I find I can do combinations better and cheaper myself. If you want something compact to keep them separated in, consider either buying one of the spice combo packs and restocking it yourself, or use something like this screw-together stacking storage container
. Those stacking containers come in handy for other stuff besides spices, such as storage for odds and ends like can openers, extra Camelbak bite tips, shoelaces, fishing gear, etc.
If you're using a blow-up mattress to sleep on, that's fine, but it's also extra work and weight, and you really can't stray far from the car. If you're backpack camping, you'll want to bring only a thinner pad, if anything. Grass, leaves, twigs, and pine needles make a great mattress to set your sleeping bag on, and if the area's dense enough with such growth, you can use enough to be quite comfortable. I often camp without a tent, so I'll use a bivvie sack around the sleeping bag. Always err on the colder side with sleeping bags, i.e., if it's going to get down to 40 degrees, take a 30-degree bag. If it'll hit zero, bring a bag rated to -20 degrees. If the elements are going to be an issue, foil space blankets
come in handy. They're cheap and light; kind of a throwaway thing that you can use for anything from protection from sun, rain, and other elements, to collecting water in an emergency.
Comfort is above all paramount in camping. I'd skip buying fancy hiking boots if you have a sturdy pair of running shoes you like. Nothing worse than getting up in the woods with an untested pair of boots and finding they chafe, they're uncomfortable, stiff, and the laces keep coming undone. Might want to bring a cloth boonie hat
along. Comfortable, and keeps the sun and rain off your face.MicroNet Microfiber towels
for your cleanliness needs. They're light, compact, and dry easily. They come in a variety of earth tone colors: desert tan, forest green, olive brown drab, etc.
Always pack a first aid kit, with at least the bare necessities; band-aids, gauze, wraps, sterilizing agents, a snake bite kit, etc. There are a variety of ready-made commercial ones out there, but I also have a smaller one I carry in a red plastic soap case for shorter excursions. I can personalize it to specific need that way.
I usually store my gear in a small assortment of small cloth bags, plastic bottles, film canisters, and containers that come in handy for a variety of things besides packing stuff around. Never know when you're going to need them. As much as possible, I like to pack my kits in Pelican micro-cases
. They're sturdy as hell, mostly water proof, and protect whatever you're carrying well. They make easy kit bundles for separate items like fire kits, first aid kits, spice and flavorings kits, etc.
A decent knife (or two or three). I recommend at least something like a CRCT Carson folding lock blade
. That, or the several like it I have, is my staple knife when out in the woods. I always carry my pocket knife in addition to that, and if I'm on longer trips, I'll carry my Cold Steel Trail Master
, which I can alternately use like a hatchet to cut wood for fires and shelters. If you're going light, or won't be gone too long, just the folding blade should be fine.
I'd also recommend a good firearm if venturing into known bear-, pig- or cat-infested areas. I recommend at least a .357 Magnum, or something that pack an equivalent or better punch. I like revolvers over semi-autos in the woods personally, as they're easier to keep clean, and they have fewer moving parts to jam and gunk up when you need them to work. Hiking and camping in Montana when I was younger, I often carried both a .357 Magnum and a .44 Magnum. Bears, pigs, and cats will usually give you a wide berth, and you probably won't even see them, but every once in a while you get into a situation where that's not the case.
My camping gear is about equal parts military gear, top line commercial gear, and random useful/old/jury-rigged items I've picked up somewhere. It doesn't have to be top of the line. It has to be useful, and more important, easy and comfortable for you to use. Don't change your life and habits completely going out there or you will be in an unfamiliar situation even before stepping foot in the woods. You don't always need the best stuff you can find -- the top shelf freeze-dried foods, the ultra-light pack, the hip new hiking boots. Find what works for you.
Bottom line: Always remember the four basics: fire, water, food, and shelter, or as we joked sometimes going out into the woods when younger, firewater, food, and shelter. In all seriousness, though, I'd cut back on any alcohol intake in the woods, or not bring any at all. It's often a bad mix with stuff out there. That is, of course, not the order of importance for those items. Food and fire (unless fire plays into the warmth/dryness/shelter equation) are way lower on the list than water and shelter/protection from the elements. Hydration is paramount. Keeping yourself warm/cool, dry, and safe is next, followed somewhat further down by food, and then least important of all is fire.
Hope this somewhat long missive helps. I'll continue to flesh this out a bit more as I think of stuff, so check back. Have fun out there.