Learning to Camp
Learning to camp is not just for the Boy Scouts. You don't need to know the 10 essentials or even have all the 10 essentials in order to camp. Don't over think it.
Today's average camper probably brings along over 100 different items. From camp chairs to portable coffee grinders, if it's a household item, a smaller version has been made for camping. In reality, you need less than 10 items to go camping.
Every person should know how to camp. It is a simple skill that once learned will bring you a level of security should anything ever happen to your residence. I'm not suggesting everyone should go camping....just know how to camp, as well as have the minimal camping equipment. How often do we hear about people having to rely on shelter from the Red Cross? During most emergencies and disasters, you shouldn't have the Red Cross as your backup plan. If you can provide your own source of shelter and stove for cooking and boiling water, you'll likely be self sufficient and much better off.
You can start in your backyard. If you don't have one, try a local city campground. You'd be surprised, most cities around the world have campgrounds in urban areas. Practice setting up the tent, see how well you sleep in a sleeping bag, adjust to whatever it takes to make you comfortable enough to fall asleep. I've met hundreds of people who tell me they can't sleep in a mummy style sleeping bag. Once you got the gear and feel confident in using it, go travel somewhere and camp. It's that easy. Most camp right next to their car, hence the term "Car Camping". You can put all kinds of other items in your car as well but again, you only need the basic items below.
The Basic Gear
Camping gear can range from just a few bucks at a garage sale to hundreds of dollars at high end retailers. The key with how much to spend on a purchase depends on how much you will use it. With most camping gear, you get what you pay for. So, if you only go camping once a year, you could probably find some inexpensive gear and get away with it. Chances are, if rain or cold temperatures are in the forecast, your not going to go anyway. But, if you are looking for camping experiences to become a part of your regular routine, you'll need some gear that is durable over extended uses and can be used in all types of weather conditions. This type of gear can still be relatively inexpensive, at least when compared to high end gear that can be used on climbing expeditions to Mt. Everest. Basically, there is a huge price spectrum with camping gear and it's best to do some shopping and advise asking before purchasing.
Now you could camp without a tent but why. Most enjoy the security of a full enclosure from the elements, which includes bugs. Most peoples first tent is quite large, usually one that a person can stand up in. I would suggest a tent that is easily portable, one that packs down fairly small. When I was young, my dad carted around a tent that took up half the trunk of the car. With modern fabrics, old heavy canvas tents are quickly disappearing. But, if you are wanting to go car camping where you pitch a tent for the weekend while lazing around a camp, the bigger the better....why not. Some tents now come with multiple rooms! The best tents for beginners are freestanding. This means you don't need to stake it out. You can set it up and move it around until you find that perfect spot. The tent will come with stakes but most of the time, you won't need to stake your tent. If you live in a wet area, just be sure the rain fly covers the entire tent, not just the top third!
Depending on where you live, you could use anything from a basic cotton "sleepover" bag to needing a synthetic bag that is rated for below freezing temperatures. If your just getting started, you probably know what time of year you're willing to go camping. Pick a temperature rated bag for that season. You'll be given many options for types of fill inside the bag. Most new campers don't know or care so for now, decide based on comfort, temperature rating and the price point. You can always upgrade in a few years once you know more about your camping style. The fill and compatibility of a bag will become more of an issue then.
You're going to need something to sleep on. It's not all about comfort. Even early travelers and explorers understood you need something to insulate you from the ground or your likely to get cold. Some use blow up air mattresses which are good for comfort but all that air in them can become quite cold during the night. You could use some extra blankets. In time, purchasing an foam pad is a good option. These are fairly thin so comfort suffers but they do a great job insulating. More expensive options are pads using a mixture of foam and air so they get the job done with comfort as well.
Now I have gone camping without one but as you can imagine, it is difficult doing everything by feel. You don't need anything fancy like a lantern (although nice) as a simple handheld or headlamp light source will do.
A stove isn't even necessary to camp but cooking a meal at a campsite is tradition. Everyone should also own and know how to use one for emergency preparedness at home. My camp stove has been used many times when the electricity was out at my home. Even if you have gas, after a significant earthquake don't expect to be using your gas range. Camp stoves have become super simple to operate....assuming you purchase the correct one. The easiest models use a propane or butane canister. All you have to do is screw on the canister and light it up. Some now even have self lighters so you don't need matches.
Matches, cooking pot, spoon, can opener, food and water
Finally, if you do bring a stove, you'll need some basic tools to cook and eat with. The can opener is essential because canned food can be found almost anywhere, from a rural country store to your neighbors pantry. There are no rules with what food to take camping. As you gain experience, you can start bringing more extravagant meals...just understand that the more complicated the meal, the more you have to make sure you don't forget any items to prepare and cook it.
Again, this is the bare minimum. Most enjoy camping because they bring all kinds of stuff they enjoy doing while in the mountains. But camping is still just sleeping in a tent, even in your back yard. Start with this list, if you are going with your family, you'll just need more sleeping bags, spoons and plates.
I hate to even bring this up but one of the most common questions I get from new campers is about safety. They seriously believe the boogie man is out there just waiting for it to get dark. If you are one of these people, resist these thoughts, stop watching scary movies and get out there and have some fun.
Camping near Arches National Park, Utah
Big tent camping in a public setting in a urban area
Small tent camping in a vacant campground
Camping on a local school football field during a wildfire