Perhaps we all have that friend. That friend who enthusiastically seizes any opportunity to publicly brandish the joy of zipping into a sleeping bag to slumber under the stars. Maybe we are that friend.
With the onset of spring comes the onset of camping season. We start to crack open the house with a cautious optimism, letting in warm sun and cool air. The same occurs with the stowed away bins of musty outdoor gear. When setting up house anywhere besides, well, your house, especially when sleeping on the ground is the main event, primo gear is key. Gear that will make you cherish, not chide, the hobby.
There are two main types of camping: car camping and backpacking. Car camping means you are never separated from your car, which affords you more, bulkier, and perhaps gratuitous, equipment. Backpacking means you are carrying all necessary gear on your back. The most important factor with backpacking is getting the best possible items at the lowest possible weight. Unfortunately, low weight typically equals high price, so before you start weighing gear, weigh exactly what type of camper you aspire to become.
Hands down, if children are participants, car camping is the way to go. Kids require a lot of stuff best mobilized on four wheels. Size-up the size of your family and buy a tent accordingly. Consider adding a fake person to allow for extra storage space. Look for tents that are quick and easy to assemble (how many people does it really take?) or with pre-attached poles that pop up in seconds. Evaluate whether or not there are interior pockets, “room” dividers, or loops for hanging lanterns and Bluetooth speakers, all handy features. A rain fly is a must.
If you decide most of your camping will be during warmer conditions, your sleeping bag doesn’t need to withstand temperatures below 30 degrees or save you from frost bite. Shape is a personal preference (rectangular or mummy), as is insulation (synthetic or down). Synthetic is cheaper, down is pricier but more durable. Be sure to store any sleeping bag according to package directions so it will not lose loft while hibernating for the winter. Sleeping bags that come with a stuff sack vs. being rolled up and tied will save copious amounts of patience. Sleeping pads can be inflatable, a simple egg crate, or go big and invest in a camping cot to put some distance between you and the unpredictable ground. Some brands even market a pad and bag that attach together. This is a nice feature for squirmy kids.
For cooking, any propane-powered camp stove will do, but go for at least two burners. Look into cookware that stacks into itself for easier storage. As you’re loading up the car, go ahead and throw in some battery- or solar-powered string lights. Who doesn’t love string lights? (Note: Bugs also love string lights)
Again, the name of the game with backpacking is weight. There is no magic number to target, but now it’s not only about personal preference, but also physical capability. Start with your needs (backpack, sleeping bag, pad, tent, sustenance) then consider your wants (pillow, coffee supplies, camp shoes, string lights). Very generally speaking, 30 pounds is a reasonable total pack weight. When purchasing a backpack, it’s worth the extra time and attention to get properly fitted for one at your local outfitter.
Evaluate the packed-down size of your gear, measured meticulously in ounces and inches. Your sleeping bag should utilize a compression sack and your tent should probably not accommodate more than two people. Many sleeping bags come with a pouch at the top to stuff in clothes to make a pillow. Check the weather and determine if omitting the rain fly is a gamble you’re willing to take.
For water, consider a filter apparatus to safely take advantage of natural sources. For food, decide if you want to pack non-perishables like beef jerky, nuts, dried fruit or tuna packets or bring on board a small canister stove system so you can boil water and rehydrate freeze-dried bag meals.
Once everything is loaded into your backpack take a warm-up lap around the neighborhood or hit the stair climber at the gym to see how it all feels. And don’t forget a trusty spade for burying your business.
Sleeping alfresco with the night sounds whirring and the stars twinkling is a transformative adventure everyone should experience at least once. However, if you’re the type who would be just as content sleeping under glow-in-the-dark sticky stars scattered across the ceiling of your climate-controlled, memory-foamed bedroom … that can be just a magical, too. Especially with the sounds of whirring central air.
Favorite NRV Car Camping Spots:
Claytor Lake State Park, Dublin
Gatewood Reservoir, Pulaski
White Rocks Campground, Newport
Foster Falls Camp, Max Meadows
Favorite NRV Backpacking Spots:
Dismal Falls to the New River along the A.T., Pearisburg
Rice Fields A.T. shelter, Giles County
Rock Castle Gorge Trail, Floyd
Nancy S. Moseley is a freelance writer and happy camper. Having stayed in everything from rooftop tents to tent cabins, and currently operating with a four-man tent she can’t put up without a curse word or two, she prefers a simple two-man tent experience. No rain fly.
Text by Nancy S. Moseley
Photo by Kevin Laneselli