The ultimate guide to camping

 

Camping is a journey into the unknown, a sojourn into the wilderness, a time to be at one with nature. For athletes, adventurers and weekend warriors alike, camping is an opportunity for exploration, for reflection, for creating new stories, for discovering something new.

When you’re prepared, camping is an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors to its fullest. Done wrong, discomfort – and even danger – may soon follow.

If you’re planning a camping trip, it’s important to make sure you have all the know-how and gear to make your trip safe, smooth and successful. That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive list, covering everything you’ll need to make the very most of the experience. 

Prep

The importance of having the right gear

 

On any camping trip, having the right gear (and the right amount of gear) with you is key. Carrying too little gear or the wrong equipment can quickly leave you without the essentials – anything from the ability to heat food to drying off quickly after getting caught in the rain. Having too much gear can cause as much trouble, weighing you down and making hiking even short distances unpleasant or unmanageable.

To start the gear planning process sketch out a rough plan of your trip. Look at where you’ll be going, how long for and what the weather is likely to be like. Next, consider the key factors that will influence your gear choice. This will include elements such as the difficulty of the terrain you’ll navigate, your mode of transport, existing supplies at your campsite (if any) and the length of time your trip will last, how much gear you will personally need to carry with you, among many others.

For example, will you be doing a lot of hiking every day? Will you be passing through steep, mountainous terrain? If so, be mindful of the weight and bulk of what you’re carrying. 

Will you be crossing rivers or getting wet regularly? Make sure your clothes are quick-drying. Properly considering all elements of your trip can help you make sure your gear is tailored to what it’ll need to do. 

Investing in high-quality gear that’s built to last is a must. Alpinist and The North Face athlete David Göttler knows only too well the importance of having well-built, robust gear:

“If one zip isn’t working, this could mean the end of my expedition or, even worse, I could freeze my fingers. If suddenly I have a zip which isn’t able to open or a glove isn’t able to work or if your feet get cold in your shoes – it’s just so important, the gear. It determines how far you can push. If your gear fails, then even if you’re super fit, you can’t complete your expedition. Up there, when a zip doesn’t open, and you have to take off your gloves to open it, your hands get cold and won’t be able to get warm again. It’s amazing how these small things make such a big difference.”

 

 

Pro athlete and skier Sam Anthamatten also knows the difference having the right gear can make. While the average camping trip may not include skiing a 50-degree slope on a 6,000-metre peak, the right kit remains crucial for any trip into the great outdoors.

“All the tools and gear we bring enable us to go further even if we’re doing something we usually do,” says Sam. “For example, I do a lot of combinations with a paraglider and my skis. I tour up one and a half hours from the top of the lift station on the Klein Matterhorn, then I fly off the summit at like 4,000 metres. Then I land somewhere on the north face of the Breithorn, and I can ski a 50-degree slope in perfect conditions. I do this quite often, but even though I know it, still everything has to align. You have to trust in all this different gear.”

 

 

Camping is just about the best way to truly experience somewhere wild. Team athletes Jim Zellers and Alex Honnold have some great advice for first-timers:

 

 

Choosing the right camping style for you

 

Camping can be done in many different ways, from the most luxurious to the simplest bare-bones. To get the most out of your adventure, think about what kind of amenities you want, the kind of activities you’d like to participate in, as well as your fitness level, ability to lug gear, and choose a camping style based on that.

Some of the most popular camping styles include:

  • Tent camping

  • Car camping

  • RV or trailer camping

  • Dispersed camping

  • Backpacking or wild camping

Each style comes with its own pros and cons. Choose wisely in order to make the most of your time in the great outdoors.

Next, we’ll look at some of the gear you’ll need for your trip.

 

Gearing up

Invest in the right pack

 

When you’re doing any kind of camping, your backpack will become your go-to piece of kit. Having the right pack for the length of your trip, your trip’s specific requirements, and your physical build is essential. Not only will the right backpack make accessing your gear easier, but it’ll make moving around as easy as possible, balancing weight, function and size for your needs.

In general, the volume of a pack is measured in litres. A smaller pack is fine for a single or two-day hike. But if you’ll be gone for longer, you’ll need more room. Multi-day packs are generally around 60 to 80 litres, good for hikes from two to five days. With our extensive range of daypacks, duffels, bum bags and backpacks you can be certain to find the right bag for your needs.

  • At 20L, our Active Trail Backpack is a great choice for shorter camping trips that don’t require too much gear, but will carry all the bare essentials.

  • Or, with 36L of capacity and water repellency, our Basin Backpack is a great choice for longer treks with medium gear loads that won’t be too heavy.

  • Lastly, if you’re preparing for a long, gear-heavy trip, our heavy-duty Terra 65-Litre Backpack could be the one for you. The Terra proves that carrying heavier loads needn't be back-breaking.

Get the right jacket

 

Whether you’re planning two days in the woods or a week in the snow, having the right men’s or women’s jacket is critical for keeping dry, warm and protected. 

For Sam Anthamatten, that jacket is our Steep Series™ Freethinker Jacket. It’s the one that’s banked the most memories, joining him on missions, expeditions and adventures on his home mountains in the Alps, all the way to soaring 6,000-metre peaks in Pakistan. But it’s also the jacket he can always rely on, no matter where he is and what he’s doing.

“The Freethinker is the perfect lightweight jacket with minimalist features that you can rely on. This is really important when you’re at the limit. You need to know you can trust your gear. That it will really work when you need it to”

For David Göttler, our Advanced Mountain Kit™ (AMK) is his go-to. Designed specifically for fast and light high-altitude climbing, the jacket features a proprietary system of layers, each complementing each other to bring about the optimum balance of protection and weight.

“For me, every piece of AMK is amazing. But I totally love the 50/50 Down Jacket. It’s so light and compressible. But the thing with AMK is that it’s the whole system that works together.”

David even used his 50/50 and CloudDown layers, trousers and jackets, instead of a sleeping bag while resting at the South Col of Mount Everest during his summit attempt in 2019.

You might also want to explore the AMK L5 FUTURELIGHT™ Jacket - lightweight, breathable, waterproof and made using recycled materials, it’s ideal for climbing. The nanostructure of the jacket’s membrane allows air to pass through for better breathability without sacrificing waterproofness and durability. Or the AMK L6 1000-Fill CloudDown Parka, which provides unrivalled warmth without bulk or excess weight.

The rest of your clothing

 

Guide your choice of camping clothing according to the weather and your activities. If you plan on hiking, mountaineering, swimming, getting wet, climbing, skiing or snowboarding, ensure you’ve got the right, specialised clothing. 

Also, remember that temperatures in many locations can drop in the evenings, even when daytime temperatures are hot, so make sure you’ve packed appropriately for chilly (or even sub-zero) nights.

When thinking about what you’ll need, consider:

  • Baselayers and fleeces: do you need extra thermals to keep warm? Layering is the most effective way to insulate. If you want to understand more about how insulation works, read our insulation guide

  • Socks: will regular socks be adequately padded or warm enough? Should you invest in thicker, shock-absorbing socks, especially for hiking or combating the cold?

  • Tops and shirts: will you be sweating a lot? Exercising hard? If so, think about shirts that wick moisture from the skin. Need to stay warm? Consider a fleece-lined option and discover how to layer here.

  • Caps and hats: if you’ll be out in the harsh sun it’s crucial to stay protected. Think about investing in a cap or hat for your trip. Planning to be out in the cold? A beanie is a great way to keep your head and ears warm and protected from the wind.

  • Accessories: you’ll likely also need at least a few accessories to complete your setup. These include things like sunglasses, scarves and gloves and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Talking about the tent

 

At the end of a long day hiking, skiing, mountaineering, or just taking in the beauty of nature, nothing is quite as comforting or relaxing as returning to your tent for a bit of rest.

Size, shape, weather resistance, insulation and ease/speed to put up are all important considerations when thinking about the tent that should accompany you on your next camping adventure. So are choices of ground sheeting, which form an extra barrier against cold and moisture.

Many campers also enjoy having a little extra room in their tents. For example, if two people will be sharing the tent, some people prefer to choose a three-man tent. Think about what works for you.

Here are some useful links to read through before you decide:

Important: remember to check you also have your pegs and poles with you before you set off. 

 

Getting some rest: the sleeping bag

 

An all-important gear item is your sleeping bag, which should be rated to keep you warm even if the temperatures start falling. If you get too hot, you can always unzip the sleeping bag to use as a blanket or simply sleep on top of it for extra cushioning.

  • The Eco Trail -7C synthetic sleeping bag is rated for -7 degrees celsius. It’s wider over the knees than conventional sleeping bags and retains its insulating properties, even when damp.

  • Or, if you’re headed for colder parts, the Green Kazoo -18°C down sleeping bag could be the right choice, coming equipped with a fitted hood for more warmth and comfort and a zipped baffle to prevent heat loss.

 

Sleeping pads

 

Sleeping pads provide extra cushioning and insulation between the sleeping bag and ground. Sleeping pads are rated by R-value, which measures the amount of insulation and warmth the pad provides.

 

Water bottle or water carrier

 

It’s hard to overstate the importance of having the right water bottle or water carrier (and a reliable, clean water source) on any camping trip. When you’re active, it’s easy to get dehydrated fast.

Make sure you invest in the right choice for your specific needs, considering: volume of liquid, ability to keep liquid cold, the ruggedness of the bottle’s material as well as the kind of spout/lid the bottle comes with. You may also want to think about investing in a collapsible water carrier that packs flat when not in use.

 

Camping stove

 

Think about what you’ll be eating during your trip, and equip your camp kitchen appropriately. A basic item that campers should invest in is a camp stove, the most practical of which are propane stoves. Consider the number of burners you’ll need as well as the temperature control. Also, consider bringing an extra fuel/propane canister if you’re going on a longer trip.

 

Headlamps, torches and lanterns

 

When the light begins to dip, it’s important to have a reliable light source. Headlamps and torches are a great choice, not only for illumination in your tent but any after-dark walks or hikes, too, ensuring the path ahead is always clearly lit. For longer stays at a campsite, think about investing in lanterns to help light up any dark spots, making moving between tents or going to the toilet in the night much easier

 

Camping chairs

 

Sitting around the campfire is an essential camping experience. If you can bring a car up to your campsite, think about packing in some camping chairs to make the fireside experience more comfortable and enjoyable. 

 

Coolbox

 

Again, if you’ve got access to a car, trailer or RV, bring along a cool box and ice packs on your trip to effectively store any perishable food. To extend the life of the contents in your cool box, freeze or chill as much as you can before you pack it. Also, remember too that the fuller your cool box is, the more effectively it will keep the contents cool.

 

Camp dishware

 

Plates, pots, cups, knives and forks… decide on what you really need and only bring the essentials. While important, items like these can quickly get bulky and heavy if you overpack. 

 

Personal items

 

As with dishware, keep personal items to a minimum, including only the necessaries. Consider the toiletries you’ll need, such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soaps and sunscreen, as well as other necessities like toilet paper.

 

Making a fire

 

When you’re out camping, a fire is not only comforting but keeps away the cold (and if you’re roughing it in the wilderness, any wild animals). Ensure you have everything you’ll need to make a fire if you intend to. That means fuel (likely wood of some kind) as well as firelighters and kindling. 

Important: if you’re at a formal campsite, always check whether fires are allowed. Also, always ensure that your fire is fully extinguished before leaving your campsite, especially in high winds, as coals can easily be blown onto dry grass, starting wildfires.

 

Top tips and things to remember

Read up on campground regulations ahead of time

 

If you’re headed to a formal campsite, make sure you read up on all rules and regulations ahead of time. There could be important information you need to know on fires, amenities and water access. For example, construction or droughts can close amenities like bathrooms or water fountains. Be sure to check the website to know if you need to bring your own water supply. If you can, bring some backup water too, in case.

 

Camping with kids? Say no more.

 

Make sure you can navigate without mobile phone service

 

Most of us use our phones to navigate nowadays, but remote locations may have spotty connectivity or none at all. Use either a physical topographical map, or the Google Maps app to make a custom map available offline.

 

Know best practices for wildlife safety

 

Unexpected wildlife encounters can be intimidating. To prepare yourself, read up on animals you may encounter in the area you’ll be camping and how to best handle any encounters.

 

Bring along a first aid kit 

 

Every camper should carry a basic first aid kit with the necessaries to treat minor cuts and patch up wounds until proper medical help can be found.

 

Have a car safety kit

 

If you are driving to your campsite, make sure you have a proper roadside kit. At the least, this should include everything you need to jumpstart your car or change a tire.

 

Plan meals in advance

 

Don’t leave your meals to chance when you’re out camping. Planning meals for each day means you won’t find you’ve over or under-packed food. Plus, you’ll know exactly what cooking equipment you’ll need to take with you.

If you’re feeling extra confident, cook your own campfire pizza like snowboarder and The North Face team athlete Taylor Godber:

Prep food at home

 

Preparing food at home (like chopping vegetables) makes cooking at the campsite much easier. You can store your prepared ingredients in food bags or storage boxes.

 

Don’t skimp on snacks

 

As well as regular meals, you’ll need access to snacks during your camping trip. Consider protein or energy bars, nuts and dried fruit.

 

Practice pitching your tent

 

If you’re a camping beginner, make sure you’ve practised pitching your tent a couple of times before you reach your campground, including in the dark. 

 

Choosing the right campsite

 

No matter where you’re camping, choosing the right campsite can make the difference between a great camping experience and a disappointing one. 

Consider the following:

  • A great view. Scope out spaces with panoramic views. Plus camping on higher ground provides protection from flash flooding and rock fall. 

  • Distance to amenities: If your campground is equipped with toilets and showers, you might want to pick a campsite that’s a little further from any ablution blocks, especially if you’re a light sleeper.

  • Shade. If it’s summer, choose a spot with a little shade. This will keep your tent from heating up to an uncomfortable temperature.

  • Wind. Choose a sheltered spot out of the wind if you can.

 

Check your batteries ahead of time

 

There is nothing worse than getting to your campsite and realising the batteries in your headlamp or lantern are flat. Make sure you test everything beforehand, preferably at night, so you can see clearly how much power the batteries still pack.

 

Dealing with insects

 

If you’re camping at a time of year when insects are out and about, don’t forget the repellant, especially for mosquitoes. Citronella candles and burning sage in the campfire can also help keep bugs at bay. For a natural solution, mix lemon and eucalyptus to create a natural mosquito repellent. 

 

Hand sanitiser

 

Camping can get dirty, and you don’t always have a sink and soap nearby. Hand sanitiser is always good to have at the ready.

 

Pitch your tent in daylight

 

It’s far harder pitching camp in the dark. Plan to spend about 30 minutes getting camp set up before the sun goes down.

 

Set up your tent away from the cooking area

 

If you’re camping in an area with lots of space, try to keep some distance between your cooking and sleeping areas, as food attracts animals. Also, remember to store your food and utensils inside of a food storage locker to stop the scent from attracting unwanted visitors.

 

Know how to purify water

 

While most campgrounds provide filtered water, it’s still a good idea to know how to purify water in case of an emergency. Consider treatment drops or other solutions.

 

The camping wrap-up

Camping can be exhilarating, restorative, restful or action-packed – whatever you want it to be. Having the right gear and know-how is crucial for creating an experience that’s both safe and enjoyable.

More than 50 years after its founding, The North Face delivers an extensive line of performance apparel, equipment, and footwear. We push the boundaries of innovation so you can push the boundaries of exploration. We remain deeply proud to be the first choice of the world’s most accomplished climbers, mountaineers, extreme skiers, snowboarders, endurance runners and explorers.