In normal times, now would be the beginning of camping and backpacking season.
The National Park Service (NPS) has been our "go-to" resource for avoiding high-risk outdoor activities. They advise us to "recreate safely and responsibly" which is good advice and plain old common sense.
Some good news is that many parks have just begun their first phase of re-opening. In fact, you can use the NPS "Find a Park" Tool to see the status on each park in the system.
We know more parks and trails will open eventually. Hopefully sooner than later. And now is the perfect time to get ready!
Why Prepare Now?
You don't want to put things off until opening day, when your favorite campsites and trails officially put up their welcome signs. The more prepared you are, the more enjoyment you'll have from the get-go.
And nobody wants to spend more money than necessary for equipment and supplies. Making a list in advance allows you more time to find what you're missing—as in buying it—or even borrowing it from a friend. Especially with expensive items, you don't have to start out with an expensive new purchase. Borrowing or renting lets you test it out first.
We suggest you start with a list by considering these points:
Choose what activities you will participate in. Will you be cooking, fishing, swimming, boating, hiking?
Choose which cooking gear, equipment and clothing you will need, then make sure you have it.
If it's something you already have, check it. Does your sleeping bag need washing? Does your tent need repairing? Do your water bottles need a deep cleaning, or a change of filter? Now is the time to attend to these things.
Plan out where you will be going. Get familiar with the terrain. Take note of any bodies of water around the site, any hiking trails to traverse, and other organized campsites in the area.
Check the weather forecast. Even if your trip is months away, use historical weather data on what to expect for that time of year. As it gets closer to the trip, check again to verify that you are sufficiently prepared for the predicted climate conditions.
Consider what animals and pests you might encounter. Are bears, rattlesnakes, spiders, mosquitos likely to come around? Whether dangerous or non-dangerous, little and big "intruders" can ruin your experience if you're unprepared.
A Basic Checklist
Now let’s look at some of the basic things (clothes, supplies and equipment) you should consider taking with you on a camping or backpacking trip.
A lightweight hat—anything with vents is a plus.
A jacket—preferably waterproof, breathable, and easy to pack.
Shoes—hiking boots or trail shoes, depending on the ground you'll be treading.
Water shoes—nything that can handle damp conditions
Sunglasses—look for ones with polarized shades that can block out the sun’s rays
Comfortable socks—wool socks are ideal.
Swimming apparel—as long as your destination has safe lakes, rivers, etc.
Storage compression cubes—these are generally used for travel because they save space. They help you pack items flat because the cube will compress everything together to eliminate empty space. They'll fit inside a backpack.
There are many supplies you could bring on an outdoor trip. We recommend starting with this list to ensure your safety and hygiene:
Toilet paper (anything that is biodegradable is best)
Itch relief items (a topical antihistamine works)
First aid kit
Toiletries (including a toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap)
A water filtration device
Mild painkillers (i.e. aspirin)
Any prescription medications you require
A stove (including enough fuel)
Cookware and utensils
Cooking materials (including foil and measuring items)
Lightweight towels (with soap)
Charging materials, especially if you have any battery-powered items
Flashlights (and other flameless light sources)
Tent (with the necessary poles and stakes. And don’t forget to bring a mallet for everything)
Because this is often something people forget, you should inspect all of these items before you head out on your adventure. You don’t want to load up with stuff that isn’t working or is unsafe in any way.
For a complete, more extensive list, view or download a printer-friendly camping checklist from LoveTheOutdoors.com.
The mindset you bring with you during a camping or backpacking trip is essential to a truly enjoyable experience. These are the points we think you should consider:
a) Think about the things you want to do in nature. You could go fishing alongside a lake. You could make s’mores or grill hot dogs over a campfire. There’s even the option to go to an open space to look at the stars. Thinking of these things ahead of time is better than regretting the fact that you missed out on a great experience.
b) Look at how much you want to carry with you. Only bring items that you know you will need. You should still bring necessities like portable shelter and sleeping materials, cooking items, sanitary products, and first aid items. The key is to pack items that you're pretty sure you'll be using.
c) Take it one moment at a time. Camping is all about relaxation and enjoying the outdoor world. You shouldn’t try to do anything too rough or harsh. Pick the things you can control if that's going to put you at ease.
d) Are you prepared? Well... life happens. And while you should prepare as much as feasible, and be ready for whatever might happen, make sure to relax a bit. Don't embark on your adventure from a worried or negative state of mind. Keep it light and positive.
Tips for Buying New and Affordable Camping Equipment
You can find many affordable items for your trip, whether it's your first time or you're an experienced outdoorsman (or outdoorswoman). It helps to know what you’re looking for and that you don't have to break the bank in getting it.
Places like Walmart offer some great backpacking and camping items for those on a budget. They just launched their new Lithic brand of outdoor gear to make the outdoors more affordable and available to everyone.
Tents—one, two, and three-person tents
Backpacks—lightweight, can handle 40L, 50L, or 65L
Sleeping bags—synthetic or down options
Camping stoves—for backpacking or "all-in-one"
Tips for Buying New and Affordable Outdoor Apparel
Buying new clothing for outdoor activities can get expensive, and fortunately Walmart comes in handy here, too. They now sell performance fabrics under their Allforth brand, from zip-off pant legs to vented shirts. And they offer a wide range of sizes to fit just about anyone (Women's 2 to 18 and Men's S to XXXL).
Rent Your Gear or Purchase Used
Check out camping gear stores in your area to see if any pieces of second-hand equipment are available. You’re more likely to find those products in independent stores. But the options you will find should be diverse enough to help you get out there and enjoy what’s outdoors.
"Bay Area Wilderness Training", a nonprofit in northern California, helps create access to outdoor experiences for low income youth by means of a "gear library". They lend out sleeping bags, ground pads, tents, stoves, cookware and clothes to these youth at no cost. You can check your local area for similar organizations.
Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), located in the majority of states, sells used equipment and holds "garage sales" from time to time. It's another great way to find camping and outdoor gear at heavy discounts. These include products that are lightly used and have been returned.
The moral of the story is—if you're on a tight budget, you don't have to let that stop you from going camping, hiking or backpacking. And a little planning never hurts!