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"Let's go camping," they said. "It will be fun," they said.
For some those words are a catalyst for a classic serotonin boost that could potentially last for weeks, but for others they might induce crippling anxiety beyond belief. Regardless of which way you lean on the spectrum, I'm here to help!
Henny, consider me your camp counselor: here to guide you through your camping, backpacking, and outdoor adventure fantasies. I recognize outdoor adventures may appear daunting at first; after all there are hundreds if not thousands of variables to account, and let's face it, outdoor rec policies/industries are historically exclusive when it comes to who should spend time with queen mother natche. However, even with the most basic of skills you can thoroughly enjoy your time underneath the stars.
Trust. You're in superbly moisturized hands. I may not have summited Everest or Kilimanjaro [yet], danced with penguins in the South Pole [yet], or free soloed Half Dome [hard pass], but I've been gallivanting in the outdoors since I was a little tyke. Through the years I've constantly been learning and hope to share a sliver of that with you. Do you have some knowledge nuggets to share too? Feel free drop your thoughts below, follow on Instagram, or send us an email.
So where do we start? Before we go anywhere we need to know where we're going and what we're doing. Is this venture a multi-day backpacking crusade, leisurely car camping, riveting rafting overnight, or something entirely different? Having a solid plan will ultimately determine the type and amount of gear to pack! Below are a my camping gear recommendations for a range of people from the fierce first time car camper to the legendary backwoods pioneer. Share your personal recommendations in the comments below!
Consider thy tent, thy sanctuary! When I was a young pup I had an overnight with my Boy Scout troop. It was the middle of March, in the middle of Missouri, and it rained cats & dogs. Unfortunately, a few fellow scouters made some poor tent choices and ended up miserably soaked. However this diva came correct and spent the trip dry and toasty. You're tent preparedness will either make or break the experience, henny.
Lofted ceilings your thing? This 3-season tent has room for the entire gaggle and is perfect for a weekend car camping excursion or a multi-day festival. Two doors make entry & exit a breeze, even with a roll out mat to boot. Finally, the rain fly can been set up without the tent as a sun shelter for a sunny park day with your favs. Word of caution, I would avoid extreme weather with this cutie pie. She will perform great with a light rain or dusting, but is not suited for gale force winds. Pick up the Big Agnes Big House 4 footprint to increase tent floor durability.
Weight: 11 lbs. 2 oz.
Dimensions: 90" x 92" x 70"
The Marmot Limestone is a great all around festival & car camping tent. It's super easy to set up either in the day or night and the seam-taped, catenary-cut floor offers extra 3-season weather protection if Mother Nature isn’t cooperating. Speaking of night you can tuck a strobe or el wire into the lampshade pocket for a personal disco. Or a headlamp makes for nice ambient lighting too. Available in 4p & 6p. Add the Marmot Limestone 4 footprint to protect your tent bottom.
Weight: 10 lbs. 1 oz.
Dimensions: 100" x 86" x 61"
Coleman Sundome? More like Coleman FUNdome! The perfect entry level tent for anyone. Seriously, if you've never owned a tent this is a great place to start. It's incredibly affordable, easy to set up, and all around good starter tent. Bottom line if mama needs a simple and cheap tent for a few nights of fair weather camping, the Sundome will do a fine job. Personally I used this fierce tent for 4 nights during weekend 2 of Coachella 2018. It was amazing! Available in 2p, 3p, 4p, & 6p. Don't forget the footprint.
Weight: 10 lbs. 3 oz.
Dimensions: 108" x 84" x 59"
Fly like a butterfly sting like a Nemo Hornet? A 3 season ultralight tent is essential for your next 20 mile out-and-back backpacking trip. The gorgeous Hornet has two doors and vestibules. It also boasts a large field of view without the rain fly. The Hornet also handles superb with rainy conditions keeping you toasty & dry. I wouldn't recommend this tent for car camping. Save it for the long miles. Available in 1p & 2p. Improve floor longevity with the Hornet 2 footprint.
Weight: 2 lbs. 6 oz
Dimensions: 85" x 53/41" x 40"
The Hubba Hubba is downright sexy! This tent is widely popular in the backpacking community and has been around for many years. Made with high quality materials makes this 3-season tent strong, durable and lightweight and provides excellent protection in windy/wet weather. Although the Hubba Hubba is considered a mid-weight backpacking tent it packs down nicely and is also durable enough to double for car camping. Available in 1p, 2p, & 3p. Increase floor durability with the Hubba Hubba footprint.
Weight: 3 lbs. 14 oz
Dimensions: 84" x 50" x 39"
A classic design the Mountainsmith Morrison is a first rate 2 door/2 vestibule, rectangular floor, and crossing pole tent. It's light enough to pack for a super short backpacking trip, but I wouldn't recommend for any serious distances. This tent is also vers and can be used for car camping or festivals. Overall, the Morrison is a solid budget buy. Add the Morrison 2 footprint to increase floor durability.
Weight: 4 lbs. 11 oz
Dimensions: 92" x 56" x 43"
I don't want to boast, but I was prepared for that chilly moist camping trip with my Boy Scout troop. Yes ma'am! I spent hours analyzing the weather forecast and knew the likely chance of rain. Frankly I wasn't going to miss this trip. It was Marceline, MO afterall, the boyhood home of Walt Disney, and my most favorite overnight of the year. Linked directly to my enjoyment was my sleep and getting a great night sleep is a nonnegotiable. A good sleeping bag is key. For extra comfort don't forget your Travel Pillow.
The Nemo Disco is designed for comfort. It's perfect for side sleepers who like a little extra room to twist & turn about. This feature is also a fault as it takes a little more body energy to heat up the roomy interior. It's slightly bulkier than bags in a similar class, but will work great if you're trekking low miles or need for car camping. The Disco has excellent ventilation capabilities with a 2 zipper system. If you're looking for a more affordable bag check out the Nemo Fore below.
Weight: 2 lbs. 11 oz.
Comfort Rating: 25℉
Insulation: 650 fill power down
The perfect beginner sleeping bag, the Kelty is an affordable buy for car campers and those who aren't bothered with bulk/weight. The Cosmic 20 is one of the cheaper down bags on the market, but the 30℉ rating should keep you snug as a bug for 3 seasons. However it doesn't have the same warmth & packability as the WM MegaLite below. If you intend on backpacking a lot over the years, I'd recommend investing in a bag with a higher fill power and lighter weight. All-in-all this is one of my favorite down bags for backpackers on a budget.
Weight: 2 lbs. 13 oz.
Comfort Rating: 30℉
Insulation: 600 fill power down
The MegaLite is truly a premium high-performing ultralight sleeping bag. Rumor has it that it's 850 fill power down is a generously low statement and actual testing has it closer to 900. Henny, that's what you call packing heat. Not to mention this dainty beast is super lite and makes the perfect 3-season bag for all of those trail miles. Toss & turn at night? The MegaLite is splendidly roomy. At the end of the day, it's one of the best bags on the market.
Weight: 1 lbs. 8 oz.
Comfort Rating: 30℉
Insulation: 850 fill power down
Most bags in and around this price range will keep you warm around freezing temperature. If you run a bit cold or are active in the spring & fall, the Sawtooth is a great option without spending a fortune. It's 650 fill power will pack down nicely although it's not quite as light at the Rook or MegaLite. Overall the 27℉ will be comfortable for most backpacking excursions, but may be a little overkill for sizzling summer conditions. You smell what I'm stepping in?
Weight: 2 lbs. 8 oz.
Comfort Rating: 27℉
Insulation: 650 fill power down
Hands-down I prefer a down sleeping bag when I'm backpacking. They tend to be warmer, more comfortable, and pack down smaller. That being said, the Nemo Forte is attempting to cross to the other side with the somewhat compressible PrimaLoft RISE insulation. The synthetic bag is roomy enough for side sleepers, sports a decent 40℉ comfort rating, and costs a considerable amount less than its down counterparts.It's not perfect, but the Nemo Forte is a fine option at a good price.
Weight: 1 lbs. 15 oz.
Comfort Rating: 40℉
Insulation: PrimaLoft Rise Synthetic
Mountain Hardwear Rook 30 Mens / Womens ($415)
The Mountain Hardwear Rook is my personal car camping & backpacking sleeping bag. It's a great 3-season bag that sports a comfy hood, spacious interior, and water-repellent exterior. The bag's quality 650 fill power down is light weight, compresses down tightly, and keeps you cozy on those chilly alpine nights. I enjoy using this bag myself and would recommend to your too!
Weight: 1 lbs. 13 oz.
Comfort Rating: 30℉
Insulation: 650 fill power down
You've heard of The Princess and the Pea, but have you heard of babe on a branch? No? Well then you're lucky. If you are anything like me, you've learned the consequences of picking the right sleeping pad the hard way. Growing pains.
The most common ways to define a sleeping pad are by its weight, thickness, and R-value. Establishing the type of outdoor trip your planning will determine if you need to worry about weight. As for thickness, bigger isn't always better. Choose a pad that's thick enough to adjust the firmness before bottoming out. Most important is the R-value, the measurement for insulation. If you only need a pad for summer trips an R-value of 0-2 will suffice, whereas 3-4 is perfect for 3 season activity.