Being outdoors is a wonderful experience but camping holidays often get unnecessarily uncomfortable if you’re not prepared. Make sure you have all the equipment on this basic checklist before you step out. We’ve covered your list of gear for any amount of time you intend to stay out, from a day excursion to an extended adventure.
1. Great shoes or boots: This is critical if you’re going to do any walking about, especially during the rainy season. The soles of shoes meant for flat city surfaces will not do on uneven terrain that can be mossy, slippery or wet. Good shoes or boots will provide arch and ankle support, have a sole with excellent grip, and can be waterproof too. The fit is important. Try on your shoe in the store; when you walk down a slope, your toes should not hit the front of the shoe. When you walk up a slope, your heel should be snug and motionless. If you have chosen a waterproof shoe, remember to air your feet out once in a while. Perspiration and grime can allow bacteria or fungus to get a foothold. Personally, I prefer Asolo boots. However, if you’re on a budget, Quechua is a great brand too.
2. Rehydration: A water bottle is fine for a day hike, but a bladder hydration system (like a CamelBak) is even better since it allows you to be relatively hands-free. Remember that for a day’s worth of strenuous activity, you should be drinking at least a litre or two of water. Double that if the weather is hot or if you’ll be spending a lot of time in the sun. One side effect of hiking in the monsoon is that we tend to forget that we need to hydrate, so make sure to pack and use one of these.
3. Sleeping bag: A sleeping bag is a lifestyle investment– most bags that are worth buying are expensive, so make sure you get one when you know you’ll use it. The best bags are down-filled. They retain heat better, compress into a smaller package and are lighter. However, they won’t suffer getting wet and are rather expensive. Synthetic fibre-filled bags are cheaper, but not as warm or as light. They won’t work very well when wet either, but they will dry out faster than down-filled bags. Make sure you get a bag that fits you snugly. Excess space in the bag is that much more space that needs to be heated before you get warm. The weather rating on the bag needs to match the weather of the place you’re traveling to – a bag that’s used in colder-than-rated conditions will actually lose heat through conduction. Another must-have is a layer of insulation between the bag and the ground. Even a cheap foam pad will do, but you will definitely need something. I use a Sierra Designs down-filled bag – other good brands are REI, The North Face (which is not as expensive as you might imagine!) and Kelty. However, in this case, finding the right fit and comfort level are far more important than any specific brand.
4. Tent: A really good four-season tent is mandatory if you’re going to be above the snowline, but if you’re not hiking and camping in extreme conditions, a three-season tent is good enough. The ideal tent will be strong and light. Make sure you check the seams to ensure they’re double-stitched. Cheaper tents come with fibreglass poles, but those are weaker than metal poles, and could give out with a strong gust of wind. A fly (the bit of the tent that extends over the opening) is essential as that provides space for footwear and other items that you may not want to bring into the tent itself. I personally use an Amari Eureka 3-person tent, which checks all the boxes. However, REI and Quechua do sell cheaper options. Make sure you swap out those fibreglass poles, though.
5. Water purification system: At the very least, you should consider water purification tablets. However the disadvantage with these is that you need to wait before you can consume the water and they do nothing to filter out particulate matter. Ideally, look at purchasing something like the LifeStraw, which filters and chemically purifies water instantly. It can be screwed onto a bottle or Camelbak that is filled with impure water, which it then purifies as you drink. It’s expensive, but worth it! Other options can be a gravity percolation filter or a UV filter – but you’ll need batteries for that last one.
6. Knife: A good knife is essential, especially when camping – you can use it for any number of tasks around the campsite, from eating to setting up your tent or whittling kindling to start a fire. My favorite is the Leatherman Wave, a classic that combines the most regularly used tools into one easy-to-use package. Even if the Wave is not something that you fancy, look at obtaining a knife that has similar features.
7. Headlamp: A good headlamp is essential. Most headlamps are perfectly fine, especially the LED versions. Make sure that the beam is strong and penetrates out to a distance of at least 30ft. More expensive headlamps come with lithium ion batteries and let you adjust beam cast and focus, but a basic model that runs off regular AA or AAA batteries won’t set you back by too much. Black Diamond is a great middle-of-the-road brand that sells some great pieces but if you’re looking for something exclusive, search for a brand called Petzl – their higher-end models sell for as much as $500 (which is probably overkill) but the quality is definitely palpable.
8. Layered clothing: This might be a no-brainer, but a lot of people (especially when travelling to colder regions) prefer to bulk up with heavy winter wear – when you’re hiking, this is usually counter-productive. What you need are many layers, not one heavy jacket. Ideally, you’ll have two or three layers on, with a waterproof jacket on top. Make sure you also have a hat and polarising sunglasses. Another good accessory to have is a telescoping hiking pole, especially if your intended route has large elevation changes. The North Face is a great brand for layered clothing but it can be pricey – I usually prefer to buy only their exterior jacket, and then load up on inner layers by other brands like Quechua or REI . Fleece layers can be unbranded but make sure the material is good.
9. Insect repellant: Another oft-overlooked item, especially now that the rains are here, is a good insect repellant. Try and look for broad-spectrum repellants that work on a variety of bugs, rather than more specialised creams or sprays. Remember to carry enough for your group and the amount of days you’re going for. A spray might be more effective, as you can also spray your tent exterior to ward off bugs.
10. Fire-starters or a good windproof lighter are a must if you intend to warm yourself or cook on a campfire. There are all manner of commercial and DIY firelighters available, and a good windproof lighter can be bought at most corner shops. Alternately, you may want to splurge and buy a camp stove and fuel. Just remember to get a stove that has a high BTU rating (which determines how hot the flame gets) and ensure that you have a windscreen to block the rain and the breeze from the flame. Fuel will need to be budgeted carefully as when you run out, all cooking will cease.
Since the rains are here, you might want to stock up on these extras to ensure you have a damp-free camping experience:
• REI Tent Repair Kit: Nothing is worse than finding yourself in a leaky tent in the middle of a rainstorm. A tent-patching kit is critical and REI sells a great one.
• Tarp or other waterproof liner: Tarps are great because you can use them as a ground sheet below your tent to ensure that standing water doesn’t get into your tent – and you can also use them as emergency shelters in woodland, which can be hung from a convenient tree or over a line.
• Tent Porches: Tent porches are smaller extensions that can be used to store wet items – although your tent might have a fly, sometimes the size isn’t enough – Hi Gear makes a brand of porches that also have a gap around the bottom, which makes them well-ventilated enough to cook in during cloudy weather.
Vahishta Mistry is proud of his ability to adapt to anything. A few years ago, he quit his job, sold his apartment, and lived as a backpacker. He's now saving up for a farm in the mountains. He tweets as @vahishta