The primary objective of basic tent camping is to live in the outdoors
- as comfortably as possible - with just the equipment you can carry
in your car or on your motorcycle.
When planning a trip, you must decide what equipment to take. To make good decisions, you should learn as much as possible about your destination - including the expected weather. Begin by reading the campground's official web page. Then search the web for reviews, photos, and videos. And then, reserve the best available campsite. If you decide you don't like it after arrival, you can usually change if other sites are available.
After collecting as much information as possible about your destination, you can make better decisions about equipment to pack to insure a safe and enjoyable trip. When planning a trip, consider the following 16 equipment areas. If it is a backpacking trip, you can only pack a few essential items from each area. But if it is a car camping trip to a developed state or federal campground, you can pack more items that will increase your comfort. For more information about each equipment area, please read my book, Basic Tent Camping.
Essentials: extra nylon underwear, extra pair of wool socks, polyester or wool short-sleeve T-shirt, polyester or wool long-sleeve T-shirt, polyester or fleece athletic pants, polyester or fleece hoodie, knit cap, hat or cap & rain coat.
Underwear: ExOfficio and Duluth Trading Buck Naked nylon boxers are great for camping and other outdoor activities. I wear them under a pair of polyester shorts as my swim suit.
Rain Gear: Mil-Tec Poncho
Desirables: When packing space permits, pack as many as 7 pair of socks and underwear to minimize time needed for washing clothes.
Convertible pants such as REI Sahara are very versatile.
Undesirables: Cotton garments such as denim jeans, cotton sweat shirts, sweat pants, socks & underwear.
Pack clothing in small duffel bags that can be used as pillows in camp.
Essentials: a good tent that provides protection from rain, wind, mosquitoes, bugs, and dirt.
Most couples and small families should consider 6 or 4-person tents. This size provides a good balance between comfort, packability & campsite fit.
Six-person tents provide ample space and are usually high enough to stand in.
While smaller tents may provide more storm and wind protection, they are hard to enter, even harder to exit, and offer minimal room to move around.
Larger 8 to 12-person tents may offer more comfort, but they frequently are difficult to set up and squeeze onto many developed campsites and tent pads.
Although some campers prefer sleeping in hammocks, they should not depend upon finding two or three good trees in every campsite, and thus, should not depend upon hammocks as their primary overnight shelter.
Here is a summary of most 6 and 4-person tents available in 2017.
Model 6-Person 4-Person Comments
Big Agnes Flying Diamond 700 500
Kodiak Flex Bow 570 470 Great for cool weather
Eureka Timberline SQ 550 350 Adopted by Boy Scouts since 1973
Browning Glacier 500 350
Marmot Limestone 460 345 This is our favorite tent
REI Kingdom 440 390
REI Base Camp 430 370
Big Agnes Big House 400 320
The North Face Kaiju 400 300
Kelty Trail Ridge 330 250
Kelty Acadia 290 170
Eureka Copper Canyon 260 200 This would make a good entry tent
Eureka Sunrise EX 240 180
Paha Que Green Mountain 230 210
Eureka Sunrise 240 180
Coleman Instant Cabin 220 130 This is a popular tent but read reviews before buying
Coleman Montana 170 NA
Alps Mountaineering Meramac 165 100
Kelty Yellowstone 155 100
Coleman Weathermaster 145 NA
Coleman Evanston 110 60
Coleman Sun Dome 120 55
Tents priced under $200 will usually fail before 20 nights or 5 years. They have thin fiberglass poles that are difficult to set up and easy to break - especially in cool weather - and thin materials that easily tear.
Good quality tents priced over $300 should last over 20 years with proper care. They have strong but lightweight aluminum poles and tough materials.
Essentials: a warm and comfortable mattress. Invest wisely!
We use a thick insulated self-inflating pad such as the REI Camp Bed top of a Thermarest closed cell pad.
Air beds are comfortable but frequently spring leaks after limited use.
Desirables: an insulated ground blanket, a fitted sheet, pillow cases & a blanket or sleeping bag.
A standard fitted sheet will hold two mattresses together.
Sleeping Bag: Marmot Trestles 30; Marmot Trestles 15; Wool Blanket: Pendelton Wool Blankets
Could use a rolled blanket or a clothing-filled duffel bag for a pillow.
In cool weather consider a heated mattress cover.
Pack everything except mattresses in a large duffel bag.
Desirable: In addition to a tent, many experienced campers erect a second shelter to protect them from sun, wind, and rain during the day. Under this shelter, they may sit in chairs, prepare meals, eat meals, play games, read books, or relax.
Many campers use screen rooms or EZ Up folding canopies but we prefer three economically priced 8 x 10 poly tarps with reflective silver on one side and dark color on opposite side.
One tarp is used for the top and the other two are pulled out to make the sides.
Face silver side up in hot weather to reflect sun's radiant energy and down to hold in heat in cool weather.
Support fly with three 8-foot poles and one 6-foot pole.
Pack in a large duffel bag.
Essentials: Tent stakes, pocket knife (or multitool) & cord.
Victorinox Tinker is a good pocket knife.
Desirables: Camp axe, large camp knife, folding saw, wedge, baton, channel lock pliers, rake & small shovel.
I prefer reconditioned vintage camp axes but if you want to buy a good axe under $50, consider Husqvarna Curved Handle hatchet. The discontinued Council Tool Camp Axe also makes a good camp axe but you must purchase the sheath seperately.
Folding saw: Bacho Laplander folding saw or Silky Pocket Boy folding saw
Camp knife: Mora Companion knife is economically priced and great for wood cutting. Many prefer the carbon steel blade.
You can make a baton and wedge from small pieces of hickory firewood. Use baton to drive in tent stakes and split firewood. Use wedge to split firewood.
Splitting platform: Pack a tree round or make a platform from 3/4-inch plywood. Use it to split firewood when tree stump and tree round are unavailable.
Pack in a Cordura tool Bag. I use a Husky 17-inch Tool Tote.
Desirables: folding chairs, folding table & hammocks.
Armless quad chairs fold into a small space. Alps Mountaineering Adventure Chair makes an extra strong chair.
Four-foot folding tables are easier to pack than larger tables. You can make one or buy one. Lifetime makes a good one.
Food prep counter top: Make or buy a 36-inch counter-height table. See my Modern Tent Camping YouTube videos for details.
Essential hygiene items: tooth brush, soap & towel. Desirables: tooth paste, floss, brush, razor, nail clippers, tweezers, cotton swabs & scissors.
Essential shower bag items: soap, wash cloth & small micro-fiber towel. Desirable: plastic shower shoes. Add pair of clean underwear and shirt to bag
Optionals: books, games, radio & iPad.
Portable Radio: Sangean DT 400W
Toys and recreational equipment.
Pack most of personal items in a back pack to bring into the tent.
Essential: A small headlight or flashlight for each person plus a spare and extra batteries are all you need in summer months when the sunsets around 9 or 10 p.m.
Desirable: In early spring and late fall, acquire a variety of battery and/or electric powered lights for campsite and tent because sun sets around 4 or 5 p.m.
Acquire 3 or 4 grounded outdoor extension cords plus multiple outlets.
Compact lighting: Etekcity Folding LED lantern
Rope Lights: Izzy Creations Rope Lights
In cool weather, pack a heated mattress cover or electrical space heater and make sure to reserve a campsite with electrical connections.
In hot weather pack a fan and wear a cotton shirt soaked with water. The breeze blowing over the wet shirt will produce an air conditioning effect.
Undesirable: Candle lanterns, gas lanterns, and other open flame light sources because they are messy to pack and create a fire hazzard if brought into the tent.
Pack in a milk crate.
Essentials: First aid kit, sun screen & insect repellant
Desirable: Assemble a second first-aid kit for your tent.
Keep sun screen, insect repellant, and hand sanitizer in an accessible location in your car.
Essentials: Mess Kit - can opener, cup, pate/bowl & spoon
Desirables: Pots, frying pan, cooking utensils, eating utensils & a bucket or large stew pot to catch grey water.
Select pots, pans, plates, bowls & cups that nest together.
Can opener: Nogent Super Kim
Kitchen knife: Opinel #8 Stainless steel knife is best for most chores; #10 cuts through watermellon like soft butter.
Optional: Coffee maker; Thermos Nissan Insulated French Press; Timberline 6-cup coffee pot
Store kitchen items in Milk Crates
Stove & Fuel
Basic tent campers staying in developed campgrounds usually have their vehicles in or near their campsites and either restaurants or grocery stores located just a few miles away. Thus, basic tent campers can eat a wide variety of foods that do not require cooking - or can buy charcoal and grill many more foods in their campsite fire ring.
Essentials: Two or 3 butane lighters.
Desirables: a small stove and fuel that require little packing space.
If you plan to cook with wood, make a fire starter kit at home containing small twigs for kindling, used printer paper for tender, and your butane lighters.
Several small wood burning stoves are available for backpackers but these stoves are too small and too fragile to hold heavy cast iron cookware and cook large portions needed for family meals. So, I developed a large portable wood burinng stove - which I call Woody The Campfire Stove or just Woody. It allows you to cook a complete family meal over a campfire in any campground - regardless of the type of fire ring available. It features:
1) heavy duty 11 GA carbon steel back and sides that are strong enough to hold large cast iron dutch ovens and frying pans filled with food;
2) a large 13 by 13-inch cooking surface that can accommodate a 12-inch frying pan, a 10-quart stew pot, or 3 smaller pots;
3) a stainless steel cooking grate that locks into place and can be used to grill steaks, hamburgers & pork chops;
4) two piano hinges that allow you to fold the sides flat for travel;
5) high quality welding and fabrication;
6) good fuel efficiency that allows you to cook a meal or boil a pot of dried beans for an hour with one large piece of firewood.
Woody weighs 10 pounds and can be placed on the ground, inside a fire ring - or combined with a commercial Aluminum baking pan to maximize fuel efficiency. A limited number of Woody Stoves with cooking grates are now available for $125 plus shipping costs. For more details. please watch my YouTube video and contact me. My contact information can be found by clicking the "Contact Information" link below.
When planning a trip to a particular park, visit the park's webpage and read their firewood policy. Some parks have burn bans in effect and prohibit all camp and cooking fires.
When campfires are permitted, most state and federal parks prohibit cutting standing trees and burning firewood that was cut over 50 miles away from the park. Furthermore, many also prohibit removing dead wood on the ground because deadfall provides food and habitat for small animals and insects low on the food chain. Consequently, most campers must buy firewood bundles from local dealers or the park concession. Local firewood dealers usually give the most wood for the money but be sure the wood has been seasoned before buying it. Grocery stores and convince stores also give a reasonable amount of wood for the money and it is usually heat treated U.S.D.A. or state certified pest free firewood that has a federal or state shield on the package. Park venders vary considerably in terms of the amount of wood they give for the money. Some give a reasonable amount of seasoned wood for the money (4 pounds for $1) but a significant number sell unseasoned wood or very small bundles for high prices.
Firewood sold in bundles typically are about 6-inches in diameter - too large for starting fires or cooking meals. Consequently, campers should split these larger pieces down to kindling and small pieces of stove wood about 1/2 to 3/4 inches in diameter with a camp axe and wedge.
Campers should always pack a backup cooking stove with fuel in case the park has a burn ban in effect.
Essential: Personal water bottle.
Desirables: one or more 1-gallon water jugs. Gator-aid jugs and bottles are economical choices. Most developed campgrounds have potable water near their campsites but some spigots are several yards away. You will need containers to get it from the spigot to your campsite. Avoid large 3 to 5-gallon containers because they are difficult to carry from the water spigot to your campsite, difficult to move about your campsite, and difficult to pour.
Unnecessary: water filtration and purification equipment.
Basic tent campers staying in developed campgrounds can buy a wide variety of restaurant and grocery store take out foods.
Desirables: Cereal bars, nuts, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables & other snacks
Couples should pack an assortment of small cans of vegetables and fruit.
Store beans, pasta, rice, grits, flour, and other dry goods in plastic mayonnaise or peanut butter jars.
Desirable: Store eggs, butter, cheese, meat, liquids, and other foods in small waterproof plastic containers.
Pack in a small to medium (50 quart) cooler without wheels or a handle.
Pack tent, secondary shelter, furniture, and bedding in duffel bags
Pack kitchen items, nonperishable foods, and electrical items in milk crates.
If you have a small car or a few children, invest in a rooftop or trailer hitch mounted luggage rack. We use a rooftop rack and pack several items in duffel bags.
Rooftop racks: Yakima Mega Warrior
Essential: A good roadmap
Desirable: GPS receiver or cell phone maps App.