There’s such a huge range of tents and camping equipment out there that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But in reality, you really don’t need much to go camping. If you’re planning on going camping for the first time, you don’t want to splash out on lots of fancy and expensive gear incase you don’t end up using it again - although we’re sure this won’t be the case once you’ve had your first night sleeping under the stars and woken up to the beautiful sound of birds singing in the trees. Just start out with the basics of a tent and a sleeping bag (and food of course), and once you’ve caught the camping bug, you can buy more gear to make your next trip more comfortable.
You’ll learn as you go what little extras will make your life easier and more enjoyable, and you can take as little or as much as you like. Just remember you’ll need to carry it all! But you should consider borrowing kit from family or friends to start with so you can ‘try before you buy’. And once you have a couple of trips under your belt, you’ll have a better idea of the kind of equipment you would like to buy for yourself. But first, you’ll need to decide what sort of camper you are. Let’s look at the different types of camping so you can choose the right kit for you.
- Campsite camping: is the most popular type of camping. It’s basically where you pay for a pitch on a campsite for a period of time. A dedicated pitch means you’ll have your own space and be surrounded by other campers. Many campsites allow you to park next to your tent for ease. Check the rules of your chosen campsite before you set off as some sites have restrictions on the size of tent you can pitch. Also check out what facilities they have beforehand, from those with just the basic toileting facilities, to sites with a swimming pool and entertainment. You’ll also need to know if electricity is supplied on site, and what the rules on stoves and cooking are.
- Glamping: is great if you like the idea of camping, but don’t want to ‘rough it’ in a claustrophobic tent, and want something a bit more comfortable, with some of your home comforts. ‘Glamorous camping’ can include booking Yurt and Teepee sites for a little bit of luxury, so it feels more like you’re on holiday rather than a Scouts weekend trip away.
There’s also Van Camping, Backpacking/Trekking, Wild Camping, Winter Camping and lots of other different ways to enjoy nature and the outdoors.
So now you know which type of camping you’re going to do, now you can make sure you have the right equipment to get yourself set up for your first camping trip. Let’s start with the basics:
- Shelter: Your tent is your most important camping accessory. You’ll need something to protect you from the elements, and somewhere nice and cosy to rest your head. The size of the tent will depend on how many people will be sleeping in it, and how you’re going to transport it. You may decide to go for one big tent that everyone will share, or you may opt for a few smaller tents for some privacy. You might want to borrow a tent from a friend for your first trip so you can decide what you like and don’t like before buying your own tent. And make sure you’ve practised pitching your tent and folding it away again before you go on your trip, so you're not battling with it once you’re on site.
- Tent & pegs
- Groundsheet/waterproof sheet
- Flysheet (extra protection from the rain)
- Windbreak (for protection from the wind, and for some extra privacy)
- Sleeping: You’ll want a good night's sleep so you need something comfy and cosy to sleep on or in. This is usually a sleeping bag (which come in a whole host of different shapes and sizes), but it could also be an inflatable mattress, an air-bed, or a bog standard foam mattress. You can even make do with a few blankets and cushions for your first camping trip. And don’t forget your pillow.
- Sleeping bag
- Camp bed/mattress
- Hot water bottle
- Eating: Unless you plan on eating out, you will need to bring equipment for preparing, cooking and eating food. Long gone are the days where you’ll be spooning beans out of a metal container (unless you want to of course). You don’t need to lug lots of fancy kitchen equipment with you, but you will need the basics of pans, plates, eating utensils and something to cook on, like a camping stove. And a cooler is useful to keep food and drinks chilled. What you need depends on what sort of meals you want to cook, and for how many people, but the best thing is to keep it simple. Use your pan for boiling water for that well earned cuppa. You also won’t need to take all your food with you (unless you’re at a festival or out in the wilderness) as most campsites have shops close by where you can pick up a few essentials.
- - Pots and pans
- - Utensils (for cooking and eating)
- - Cooler
- - Plates & cups
- - Portable stove
- - Vacuum flask
- - Water storage container
- - Tin opener
- Relaxing: You’ll need to create a comfortable place to relax when you’re not sleeping or out exploring. It could be just as simple as bringing a waterproof sheet (if your tent doesn’t have a ground sheet included) and a few cushions to chill out on. Little foldable chairs and tables are excellent if you have the space, and you might want to pack a few books or games to enjoy in the evening. Don’t forget a torch with plenty of batteries so you can still see when the sun goes down.
- - Folding chairs & tables
- - Torch/lanterns (don’t forget the batteries)
- - Portable phone charger
- - Citronella candles (insect repeller)
- - Books/games
- - Local guidebook
Don’t forget to pack enough changes of clothes for the whole family and toiletries. Plus suitable shoes and backpacks for you to take out on your day hikes.
And if you’re taking your furry friend along, make sure you’ve packed for them too. As well as their lead and collar, it’s also good to take toys and handy space-saving collapsible bowls for their food and water. And remember to get a number for a local vet, just in case.
What type of tent do I need?
There are lots of different types of tents on the market, and deciding which one is right for you depends on what sort of camping trip you’re planning. If you’re trekking across Europe, then you’ll need something lightweight, waterproof and easy to carry. But if it’s a two-week family trip then you need something spacious, with good sized bedrooms, as well as a living area. Tents are classified in berths, meaning sleeping spaces, but this doesn’t take into account any luggage. So if you’re a family of four, a 6 berth tent may be more comfortable. But you’ll need to check what size restrictions your campsite has in place as you don’t want to get charged for multiple pitches.
Here are just some of the different styles of tent you can choose from:
- Ridge Tent: This is the classic shaped tent, with a pole at each end and a cross pole (ridge) supporting the roof. These tents are extremely stable, and range from mini one-person versions, right up to huge marquees. And they’re easy to pitch, but not great for a family holiday as they’re quite low.
- Dome Tent: Perfect for a weekend away, it’s simple to pitch and offers great internal space. The flexible poles cross in the middle of the tent, making it sturdy in the wind. But stick to a small dome tent as these tend to be sturdier than larger versions.
- Geodesic Tent: Features criss-cross poles which create a free-standing shape. This tent is rigid and stable, giving excellent protection against strong winds which makes them popular for backpackers.
- Pop-up Tent: This quick-pitch tent is ideal for festivals and garden sleepovers. They’re super easy to set up as the coiled frame is fixed into the fabric and so just pops open in seconds. It can take a little practice to fold the tent away again, but it’s easy once you know how.
- Inflatable Tent: A great alternative to a traditional family tent, inflatable tents are super simple to pitch with their inflatable beams rather than the fibreglass poles. They’re becoming increasingly popular with families, but they are more expensive, and surprisingly heavy.
- Teepee Tent: Also known as the ‘Bell Tent’, they have a single pole which creates a deceptively spacious tent. Popular for glamping trips, but they do not offer much protection from the rain, so they’re best suited for summer camping.
- Tunnel Tent: A great family tent, they’re easy to pitch and have lots of internal space. The poles are arched to create a tunnel, but unlike a dome tent, tunnel tents are not free-standing so need to be pegged as you pitch. Although they are taller and more practical for a longer camping trip than dome tents.