Yes I’m still looking out the windows at the snow and thinking about summer.
Since my last post it occurred to me that backpacking is far from the only camping activity that folks might be interested in. In fact, most folks that are interested in it likely already have a good amount of camping experience. Not everyone has had that opportunity.
With that in mind I decided to make three lists of gear instead of one. All of them will be made assuming that money is tight. Yes, more expensive gear might be better, but so long as safety isn’t compromised I’d rather folks get the chance to actually do some camping with cheap gear than wait for years saving up the cash to get started. Especially those with kids, they grow up so damn fast. Make those awesome memories now, while you still can.
That’s why my first list, which will be the bulk of this post, will be designed for a family of four that’s interested in getting into camping for the first time at a local campground or state park. Since its a campground I think we can assume access to clean water and bathroom facilities. Depending where you go there may even be electricity.
The second will be assuming a pair of adults that will also be camping somewhere near their car. Again we can assume that they will be at a maintained campsite with at very least water and bathrooms available. The gear for them will be very similar, but a bit different than the family that we will talk about today.
The third will be for that same pair of adults, but now they are going to be going backpacking. That brings a whole new pile of gear into the picture. Weight and volume of gear matter far more. We will also have to worry about access to water and restrooms.
Alrighty, lets take a look at what kind of things we are going to want for our family campout. We will divide it up into a few groups of gear.
We are going to need somewhere to sleep. Since we have four people we will be needing something that will sleep at least that many. In a perfect world we would pick up a giant 8 person tent, but considering we are just starting out we will go small. Figure the main thing the tent is for is sleeping, it will be… cozy.
After a good bit of looking I ended up coming to the conclusion that the best bang for the buck here would probably be the Ozark Trail 10X8 five person tent for $50. My daughter has one, so I’ve seen it set up and find that it’s a good little tent. There is enough room for a queen sized bed and then some. Come to think of it, it’s not much smaller then the computer room I sit in as I write this.
So, we have somewhere to sleep. tell you what, the ground gets real uncomfortable real fast. On the plus side, I know from experience that a queen sized air mattress will fit in that tent with a little room to spare. At $20 for the mattress I think its worth it for the much better nights sleep you’ll have.
Depending on the time of year you might very well be able to get away with just bringing along blankets and pillows. (Bring twice as many blankets as you think you’ll need)
If you choose to go the sleeping bag route you can go any where from the inexpensive $20 bags that are good down to about 50 degrees all the way up to hundreds for bags rated for below zero. If summer camping is where you plan to start the cheap ones will work. They will even suffice for spring and fall if you don’t mind sleeping in sweatpants and a sweatshirt.
One last thing, the cute little bags for kids are usually not very well insulated. They are better suited for sleepovers at someone’s house than actual camping, at least in my experience.
Cooking and Food Storage.
First off, I like to store any dry goods in a plain ‘ol plastic tote. Those are pretty cheap at perhaps $7-$10 depending on which one you get, assuming you don’t have some around the house like I do. (I use them as laundry hampers as well as for storage)
Then again, we are talking about car camping here. you could always store your dry goods in the trunk to keep critters away and save a few bucks on a tote.
For cold storage a cooler is the way to go. I use a pair of basic 48 quart Igloo coolers, one for drinks and one for perishables. If you are just starting out one should do you just fine, even none if none of your food doesn’t need to stay cold and you don’t mind warm drinks.
These can be had at the local Wally World for all of $19. The only difference between this one and the ones we have used since the kids were little is ours are blue.
For cooking I suppose it all depends what you plan to cook. My only real input here is that you should have at least one decent sized pot to heat water for washing dishes. Granted, it would come in handy for making a pot of chili or some spaghetti as well.
The best source I have found for pots, pans, silverware, etc to add to my camping gear is the local Goodwill. One could likely outfit a whole campsite for $20-$30 assuming you chose not to just use some of your normal stuff from home.
There is really not much to say on this one. A good lighter, some folding chairs, perhaps some hot dog pokers. Sticking with the walmart theme, since I still have their website up in another tab, Basic folding chairs are $7 a piece. Hot dog sticks come in at $2 for a four pack, lighters can be had at the local gas station for about a buck.
Now, firewood is likely to be another expense. Anything from those $4 five hour firelogs from the hardware store to buying split wood on site. Depends on where you are, what you want, and the campground rules. One thing I like to do for fire starting is to get one of those fire logs and cut it into roughly 2″ thick hockey pucks. I then wrap the pucks in waxed paper and they make real easy fire starters.
Depending on your families tastes, perhaps a board game or some cards. a Frisbee, and sportsball of some type to toss about. Basically the kinds of things your family finds fun.
As much as I love to sit out after kids are asleep and the fire has died looking at the night sky, I’ll be the first to admit a flashlight comes in really handy around camp.
For starters my kids were big on a combination of flashlight tag and shining lights in peoples faces when talking to them, though your mileage may vary.
Either way you will want to be able to see in the dark, whether if its just to find your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night or to chase the kids around the camp.
I found two that tied for the best deal and both kind of surprised me. Four LED flashlights and two LED headlamps plus the 18 batteries it takes to fill them all for $10. Headlamps come in really handy if you are trying to work on something in the dark and need your hands free.
The next lacks the utility of the headlamps, but I think more than makes up for it in sheer volume of stuff. Ten of those same LED flashlights, and the thirty batteries it would take to run them all, for the same $10.
I honestly expected to spend more for the batteries than for this.
Not So Fun Stuff
You definitely need a first aid kit (about $10 to $20 for a premade basic kit, or variable depending what you get if you build your own)
Some basic tools. A hammer for tent pegs, pliers for various things, maybe a screw driver or two, some leather work gloves to act as pot holders and for general safety when working with the campfire, and of course some duct tape. Never leave home without some duct tape.
Garbage bags, cleaning supplies for doing dishes, toilet paper in case the campground runs out, hand sanitizer, and of course bug spray.
Honestly that’s my basic list of things to get started.
We have a shelter that cost us $50, a $20 air mattress, we can bring blankets from home, a $19 cooler, four folding chairs for $28, assorted pots and pans from the goodwill for another $25 or so, some hot dog sticks for $2, $10 for some flashlights and batteries, a plastic tote for another $10, then $20 for a basic first aid kit, and lastly a buck for a lighter.
That’s a guesstimate of about $185 to get started for a family of four.
Granted, that doesn’t include food or bug spray or any of the other consumables, and assumes you’ll use some things from around the house, but this would be enough to get you started.
Like I said in the beginning, it’s better to get out there and start having fun with the cheaper gear, you can always upgrade later. Memories with the family, you can’t go back and redo it.
See you by the fire,