Gear 101: Basic Needs and Options
This is a basic overview of gear that needs to be covered by the novice camper. After these areas are covered, the rest of your gear is left open to anything you feel is worth hauling with you into the woods. It’s your backpack and your energy to burn, but keep in mind that it is also you that will have consequences to pay if you either bring not enough or too much gear.
THE BIG THREE: WATER, SHELTER, FOOD
These are your top priorities not only for camping, but for survival. Note that the importance of each need depends on the situation, for example water would be a much higher priority if one where to live in Saudi Arabia.
WATER – Lucky for me, I live in Sweden, which has a rich source of fresh water that is generally clean and safe to drink (with certain precautions). Wild water should usually be sanitized (e.g. boiled), and you should always take at least some water with you. Don’t go crazy hauling water, however, as one liter of water weighs one kilogram. There are many methods to collect wild water, from building a small solar distillary, to using plants, to soaking up dew with your t-shirt. However, these methods should be used for emergency, or for fun to practice your survival skills. Idealy, you should have enough water at all times, and be able to find and use the more dependable and easier to collect sources of fresh water such as lakes, rivers, streams, springs, and rain.
SHELTER – There are many options for shelter while camping. You can buy a tent, but not only will it cost money, it will also cost you energy hauling it. Prices and weights of tents vary greatly, and so does quality, so make sure to do research before you buy. A very important function of a tent (or shelters in general) is that it is WATERPROOF. You can also sleep under a tarp or big piece of plastic, or build an improvised shelter out of natural materials found in the woods. These options are of course cheaper and lighter weight, but require more skill and knowledge.
FOOD – Camping usually involves high-energy activities such as hiking and swimming, so make sure to pack food that is high in energy. Note that high energy does NOT have to mean unhealthy, some good examples are: nuts, pasta, lentils, olive oil, oatmeal, dried fruit, dried meat, etc. Food has a huge range of options, but one ought to keep in mind preparation and weight in the choices as well as nutrition. How will you cook/eat your food? Perhaps you don’t have to cook your food at all. How much does your food weigh? Perhaps you can save on weight choosing for example dried foods over canned foods.
Other Essential Gear
First Aid Kit – This should go without saying! Also keep in mind any medication you use or could need. Store bought kits are fine, but for the avid camper, I recommend building your own kit to suit your needs and cut down on weight and bulk.
Knife – Should need no explanation, a tool of significant usefulness. Many options are available, but what is most important is that the knife is sharp and the person using the knife does so SAFELY. It should be noted that there are high-quality knives out there for reasonable prices thanks to technology, so you don't have to get a fancy military issue knife for thousands of crowns.
Compass and Map – A camper should always know where they are, and these should only be left at home if you are very familiar with the terrain and don't plan on doing any exploring at all. Many cell phones have both compass, map, and even GPS--but remember that cell phones run on batteries!
Proper Clothing – Based on the time of year and conditions, a camper should always make sure to be prepared with the right combination of clothing. This includes rain gear, and also includes proper footwear, such as boots or tough sneakers. At the bare minimum, an extra pair of socks should be packed, if not other extra clothing such as a spare t-shirt or sweater.
Sleep System – There are many options as far as sleeping in the wild goes, from sleeping bags vs. wool blankets, to inflatable mattresses vs. foam pads. I will post a full article further elaborating on this subject in the future. Keep in mind that according to the US Army survival guide, up to 80% of your body heat can be absorbed into the ground. Insulation from the ground is important to keep warm, and is often neglected by novice campers.
Emergency Signaling – Just in case of an emergency, a camper should always have a method of getting help. Fully charged cell phones fulfill this need, but are prone to failure (e.g. no reception or battery dies), so other steps should be taken in addition to a phone. For example, a whistle is a good way to be heard, and a brightly colored piece of clothing or gear is a good way to be seen.
Fire Starters – Matches and a lighter work, but there are other options such as flint and steel or a magnifying glass. Tinder is also useful to have along with fire starters, such as a candle or newspaper, and should all be stored in a water proof container. Fire provides heat, light, keeps away mosquitoes, and is a morale booster. A fire can also be used to signal in the event of an emergency. Food can be cooked over a campfire, but can also be cooked over a small alcohol stove, depending on what gear is available.
Flashlight - Another piece of gear that has many options, but thanks to technology, there are many very good choices for low prices. Plus, there are also flashlights that do not require batteries, and run on a hand-crank. LED lights run on batteries, but last much longer than other older models, and LED lights can also be so small and light you can hang one on your keychain.
A Big, Black, Garbage Bag - Cheap, easy to find, and only around 80g each, the humble garbage bag is something I never leave home without. It can be a small ground cover for you to sit/lay down so you don't get wet or dirty, an emergency layer of clothing, a container for LOTS of water, a backpack rain cover, and can even be used to make an improvised shelter or to repair a tent or tarp that is damaged.
Additional gear that is helpful:
Small axe or saw, cooking equipment (e.g. a pot or metal mug), fishing gear, string, rope, duct tape, plastic bags, a good book, personal hygiene kit (e.g. soap, tampons, toothbrush/paste, etc.), trowel/small shovel, toilet paper, small towel or bandana, fork, spoon, bowl or plate, insect repellent, and anything else you just can’t live without or can’t leave at home.