While summer may have officially ended (hello, fall!), there’s still plenty of time to get in one last camping trip. If you aren’t a seasoned outdoorsperson or trying to be the next Cheryl Strayed, this includes you too! Our friends Holly Kulak and Brad Day over at Huckberry — an awesome outdoor gear store and magazine — are here with some pro tips on how to brighten up the camping experience, whether you’re in the wilderness or in your own backyard. Check out the advice they have for the novice camper and then get a move on. Chilly, hermit-causing weather will be here before you know it.
1. Camping gear is expensive! What are the absolute essentials I need to buy?
Holly: Well, a lightweight tent is a good start, and one that can hold in variable weather, especially if you’re heading to the mountains. You don’t need a hardcore hefty tent, just one that can hold up in rain and winds. There are plenty of economical options out there. Also, a decent sleeping pad makes a huge difference for warmth at night while sleeping. You can start by renting a lot of equipment from popular sporting goods stores. Some more boutique shops (like Alite in San Francisco) will even let you use their stuff for free to get you out there trying it!
Brad: You can rent gear at some of the big outdoor stores to see if you like it. I recommend doing that before spending a lot of money. If you’re looking to buy, then you’ll want a sleeping bag, sleeping pad and tent. There are a ton of accessories that you can geek out on – I love headlamps. But a simple flashlight would do the trick.
2. What is your one must-have camping accessory?
Holly: Yeah, base layers! Those are must-haves because they are utilitarian and very helpful. Temps change, and you want to be able to have a decent base layer to keep you comfortable and that allows you to shed or put on a layer as needed. There are plenty of great lightweight wicking layers nowadays, and you don’t need multiples. A good base layer and a good lightweight puffy coat are great for enjoying s’mores when the sun goes down. If you’re in the backcountry, a water pump is probably the best must-have accessory. Again, utilitarian. Tent lights are cool and everything, but not in any way essential.
Brad: That’s a tough one. I’d probably say a good sleeping pad. When you’re camping, you’re on a little mini vacation and you want to get some sleep! The sleeping pad will help make that night on the ground much more enjoyable.
3. Do you have any practical tips on how to shop for camping gear?
Holly: Start small with just the basics. Get the essentials first, and don’t wander the store buying everything you see that’s related to “camping.” Know the return policy, and see about renting some gear too so you can test out if you like what you’re doing enough to do it again. The basics: tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, headlamp and base layers.
Brad: Start small! This stuff can get expensive. Get a few key pieces of equipment at first, or rent. If you enjoy it, then it’s fun to start looking into all the different types of gear you can buy.
4. What survival tips to do you have for city dwellers who want to brave the wilderness?
Holly: Camping is a lot of fun. Go into it with an open mind, a feeling of wonder, curiosity and common sense. Make sure you have enough to be warm at night if it gets cool. Do a little research beforehand: Are you camping by a lake in the thick of summer? If so, there might be mosquitoes, so you’ll want to bring insect repellant. Are you in bear country? If so, be prepared to store food according to protocol.
Brad: Everyone is a bit different, but if you have good company and the camping essentials, then you’re going to have a great time. You might be surprised at how remarkably easy and refreshing it is to get out on a weekend camping trip!
5. What are some of your favorite camping recipes?
Holly: Mac ‘n’ cheese and bean burritos! Tuna and Ramen seems to be a favorite around here too. It also depends on the camping situation. For backpacking, sometimes backpackers’ meals are the most convenient to bring along because they are lightweight and you can just add water after a long day of trekking. MaryJanes’s Organics is a great backpacker meal. If it’s more like car-camping, or easy, hike-in camping, a good steak can’t be beat (with some beans to boot). If there are campfires allowed, s’mores are a must. I recommend trying them with a few banana slices on top. For those too busy to plan food preparation, there are some interesting new services out there, like Fireside Provisions, which will handle planning and packaging all of your meals so you just get to eat good stuff.
Brad: If I’m backpacking, then I’m trying to go as lightweight as possible with my food. There are some great backpacker meals out there – I like Mary Jane’s Organic. They have a killer mac and cheese. For car camping, I love waking up and having pancakes. Maybe some sausage and *real* maple syrup. It’s a great way to start the day!
6. What tricks do you have for newbie campers who want to make their campsite more comfortable?
Holly: Huts are great! There are plenty of places to do hut-based trips where you carry in a sleeping bag and your own food and basics, but have a nice warm shelter to share with others. Otherwise, the MSR Hubba Hubba 2-person, 3-season tent seems to be having a major moment.
Brad: If you’re car camping, bring a pillow. If you’re backpacking, consider a little inflatable pillow. It’s a small thing, but makes the sleep more comfortable. For tents, I like MSR and Big Angnes products.
7. Any apps or websites that are helpful for camping?
Holly: Well, we’re biased, but we like Weekend Sherpa for finding campsites. Our readers are primarily busy city-based folks who want to get out but aren’t sure where to go, and aren’t experts in camping. We write about places that are accessible for the casual outdoors enthusiast. Another cool thing to do is just ask people who get outdoors a lot. Local outdoors writers and bloggers usually have the good beta on where to go and what to do.
Brad: I think the best help is talking to people. Go to your local outdoor store, say you’re interested in a camping trip and ask what some of their favorite spots are. That’s when you’ll find the good stuff!
Make sure you check out Huckberry’s blog for even more inspiring trip ideas, recipes and general awesomeness.
Are you inspired to tackle the great outdoors yet? Tell us about your favorite camping experiences in the comments below!