Whether you are car camping or wilderness camping, having the right gear and keeping it organized is essential to an enjoyable experience. In addition to the essentials, such as a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent and stove, there are several accessories that can add to the enjoyment of your camping trip.
A tent is your shelter from the elements. There are many options for buying a tent. People who are car camping often like a big tent they can stand up in. These tents are too heavy and bulky for wilderness camping, however, and often only come with a partial rainfly, so they can leak in severe weather. For wilderness camping, a two- or four-person tent with aluminum poles, a full-coverage rainfly and a vestibule, is the best option. Get a ground cloth to put under your tent to protect the tent floor. Many companies make specific ground cloths that are cut to specific models of tents.
For a sleeping bag, a bag rated to 30 or 20 degrees F is good for most three-season camping. Synthetic-fill bags will keep you just as warm as a down bag and are cheaper. However, down bags are lighter and compress more, which is useful when wilderness camping.
A good sleeping pad is crucial to staying warm. An air mattress is worthless and will lead to a cold night out. A foam pad is best. Closed-cell foam pads work fine, but an open-cell foam inflatable pad is more comfortable. Thermarest makes several models of these pads in varying thicknesses and weights.
While it may sound romantic to cook over an open fire, local regulations might prohibit fires at certain times of the year. A good cook stove is the best choice. For car camping, a two-burner propane stove is a great option for making complex meals. For wilderness camping, a lighter, single-burner model, such as an MSR Whisperlite, is the way to go.
For cookware, get something with a non-stick surface to simplify cleanup. A pot and a fry pan are usually enough for simple meals, but more complete kits are available.
If you are wilderness camping, get a water filter so that you can have clean, drinkable water.
Bring a pack towel to dry off cookwear after cleaning it and to use after swimming.
A headlight is an excellent way to keep your hands free and have light at night. A battery-powered lantern is also nice when car camping with a larger group. Bring extra stuff sacks; you can stuff one with clothes to use as a pillow. Camp pillows are also something you can buy. Bring a tent-repair kit and, if you have an open cell inflatable pad, a repair kit for your pad.