Guide to camping equipment
A checklist is extremely useful when planning and packing so that you don't leave any essentials at home - doesn't matter if you forget your toothpaste, but you're in trouble if you forget the tent pegs or other specialised items. We keep our list by our gear, ready for when we next pack. Our list is at the end of this page.
You could also start with something like one of Simply Hike's camping checklists or Halfords camping checklist as a basis, then amend it to suit you and your destination. You can refine the list further from experience, preferably the minute you arrive home while it is all fresh in your mind. Then you won't weigh yourself down more than necessary next time.
All good specialist retailers produce buyer's guides to explain their range of camping equipment.
For a start, try these:
Halfords brief overview of camping items.
Simply Hike's tent guide is a good introduction to which tent to buy.
Simply Hike's sleeping bag guide is another good introduction to ensure you are warm and cosy at night. We've also written our own guide to sleeping bag choice and prices on our separate price comparison site.
Our cycle-touring/camping checklist - for two
We cycle-camp and backpack, and both being lightweight camping activities, we use the same camping equipment and outdoor clothing for both. Just swap the bike stuff for the big rucksack.
- Two-person mountain tent (Terra Nova Ultra Quasar) - (without its bag)
- Groundsheet protector/insulator cut from thin closed-cell foam
- Sleeping mats - self-inflating (Therm-a-rests) with their stuffsacs to reduce volume
- Sleeping bags - down-filled for compactability (see our sleeping bag guide)
- Sleeping bag liners - home-made from Pertex
- Pillows - home-made from a cushion inner and a small washable cover (because our clothes are never enough, and any zip tags etc always dig in, so the pillow on top is really the icing on top of the cake)
- Seats - one Therm-a-rest chair kit; one Star Seat ie a three-legged stool (but we do also look for campsites with picnic benches or ask staff if we can borrow a couple of chairs)
Some people avoid camp cooking by eating out all the time, or relying on cold food, or both. We prefer to be able to produce our own hot drinks and some hot meals.
- Stove - either a multi-fuel stove or micro stove for a gas canister, depending on destination, temperature etc
- Stove maintenance kit (which may only be to clear the jet)
- Matches in a plastic bag
- Two lightweight cooking pans and lids (lids used as plates)
- Pot grab
- Two forks and spoons or two sporks
- Two acrylic mugs (don't taint the wine like plastic ones; don't burn your hands like metal ones)
- Small container of washing-up liquid
- Washing-up scourer sponge
- Food containers - freezer bags good for tea bags, rice, pasta etc; plastic peanut butter jars handy for keeping instant coffee (or even peanut butter - but that's really heavy). We keep old food/medicine/spice containers and look for little containers in pharmacies and pound shops, but we test them for leakages before trusting them. Old film containers are also useful for storing small dry things.
- Food - some basics in case there are no shops or pubs - a tin of tuna and some pasta or brown rice.
- Energy food - bananas (not in cold weather), muesli bars, chocolate (not in hot weather)
- Drinks - Alec drinks black coffee; we both drink mint tea and red bush tea too, so milk not essential. Also drinking chocolate powder provides a complete drink.
- Butter/marg/oil - we don't take it as it's possible to 'fry' mushrooms/onions etc with a drop of water or if using tinned fish, we choose the option in oil and use that. If you cook meat/bacon (we don't), the fat from it will help.
- Breakfast, day food and meals - that's a topic for another article - coming up soonish.
Clothes - obviously depends on the time of year, destination and duration of the trip. We dress in layers and take thin easily washed and quick drying clothes - e.g. synthetics or Merino wool or silk.
- One set of body and leg wear for cycling/walking in - to get progressively nastier each day until can be washed on a 'rest' day
- One set of body/leg wear for evenings/non-sweaty activities and when the smelly set are being washed.
- Underwear (ladies, try microfibre knickers with a cotton gusset for fast drying, and extend their wearability with panty liners - but only if walking, not so good for cycling)
- Base layer
- Warm layer - a fleece is good, and waterproof overtrousers make legs warmer on cold/windy days
- Warm hat and/or earband
- Waterproofs - jacket and overtrousers, possibly overmitts and overshoes
- Gloves - padded fingerless mitts for summer cycling, padded insulated gloves for winter cycling, although we prefer mittens (Buffalo mitts) to keep fingers cosy. Thumbs always go dead though.
- Footwear - shoes with a stiff sole for cycling; hill boots for backpacking; sandals for evening/sight-seeing
- Socks - 2 pairs
- Spare specs
- Lightweight crushproof specs case(s) (Aldi sunglasses last year were sold in plastic shell cases, which were ideal)
- Swimming stuff - sometimes
- Cycle clips/elastic bands
- High-vis reflective sashes or waistcoats for night riding along unlit roads (high-vis yellow reflective waistcoats (EN471) are a legal requirement now for such situations in France - check for other countries). See our online shop).
- Clothes wash - some liquid biological stuff in a small container.
(- Washing line - we used to carry one of those double twisted line things that don't need pegs until we realised with could tie one of our guy lines horizontally across our tent to make a line against the flysheet.)
We decant what we need into small containers we've kept after using the contents, or found at pharmacies and toiletries shops.
- Drawstring toilet bag with extra hanging loop
- Shower gel - for hand-washing, hair and, well, showers
- Toothpaste or toothgel (warning: tubes have very sharp corners that will rip things, so round these off and wrap them up in something to keep them away from fabrics that you want to keep intact - like Expeds, rucksack liners, plastic bags, panniers, rucksacks...)
- Toothbrush - not yet had the urge to cut off half the toothpaste handle to save weight/space
- Flannel - a piece of old much superceded Pertex travel towel
- Travellers' towel - microfibre. See our online shop - get a bit pongy if packed damp - need a spare plastic bag to put it in
- Razor (disposables are light)
- Hairbrush or comb
- Insect repellent as always bitten - Autan
- Zapper to take the itch out of bites where the insects dodged the repellant
- Ultrasun high factor (30+) once-a-day sunscreen (browse for Ultrasun in our online shop) - means we can expose our skin without burning for 30 times as long as if we didn't use it - brilliant as it isn't oily, sticky or scented, only has to applied once (45 mins before braving the sun) because it binds to your skin, doesn't stain once dried, is sweat-proof and water resistant (so how does it come off when you wash? Never worked that out). Do not confuse with the repeat application version. We used to use Riemann Tan Ban (SPF30+) but it only seems to be available as P20 now, and its main disadvantage is 90 minutes advance application (200ml from Chemist.net)
- Lip sunscreen/balm - we've found those with cocoa/theobroma butter are the most soothing to cracked lips, but prevention is better than cure so we apply it obsessively throughout the day. (eg Ambre Solaire factor 20 or Banana Boat's lip balm - see our online shop)
- Moisturiser and/or aftersun
- Toilet paper/paper tissues
- Any other current/likely essentials in the medication/toiletries department
- 10 litre water bladder (sometimes - if we think we'll be camping a long way from a water source), otherwise we use the pans and drinks bottles on the campsite
- Drinking water bottles (we re-use plastic drinks bottles)
- Relevant maps and/or pages torn out of a motoring atlas
- Waterproof mapcase (ours is Ortlieb but there's quite a choice )
- Head torch - but in summer with light evenings, use a small bike light instead
- Ear plugs/eye mask - for night travel, and for places that are noisy or lit all night
- Housewife (that's a sewing kit to you landlubbers) - including some needles kept safe in a film container, and a thimble for tough fabrics
- Emergency bits and bobs (length of nylon line, straps, rubber bands, sticky tape)
- First aid kit
- Sit mats - for sitting on damp/cold ground or seats, to insulate your lap from a hot plate, and to add an extra bit of insulation at the end of the sleeping mat
- Temporary hook that attaches with a sucker - great when there are no hooks in the shower, but inevitably leave it behind - the company must sell loads.
- Universal plug - very handy especially abroad where they don't go in for plugs in basins and sinks (why is this?) - again, eminently forgettable, so we usually end up making do with stuffing a sock in the plughole (no, not when we're washing our pots and pans - we use one of the pans as a washing up bowl)
- Watch - so don't miss the train
- Alarm clock if catching tranes/planes/buses (or use the mobile)
- Mobile phone and charger - sometimes
- Essential phone numbers, timetables etc
- Wallet with cash, plastic cards and all the other stuff you need (remembering to turf out all the dross that cannot/won't be used at the destination)
- Keys (first removing non-essentials from the key ring)
- Passports, tickets, insurance and any other essential documents
- Computer back-up discs (just in case the house burns down while we're away)
- Compass (quick/handy for finding way around/out of unfamiliar towns - really)
- Camera and spare batteries/memory card
- Monocular (lighter than binocular) - good for spotting road signs
- Phrase book/dictionary - sometimes
- Anti-travel sickness treatment (eg mapcase)acupressure wrist bands)
- Flight socks - if we'll be sitting still for a long time on a bus, coach or plane
- Cycles (difficult to forget!) - we have folding tourers (Bike Fridays) fitted with dynamo front lights and rear battery lights, toe clips for more efficient pedalling (Alec has 'rat-traps'; Val has deep half-clips), a comfy saddle ( Alec swears by a Brooks; Val has yet to see the light), pannier racks (Alec has front and rear; Val has just a rear one)
- Cycle covers if we expect to fold the bikes for the tain, so we can bag them and keep the chain oil to ourselves
- Bungees - in case we need to secure things to the bike or the bike to something on trains and ferries
- Bike locks and the keys
- Panniers (6 between us - Alec's are Altura 46 and 36; Val's are very old Karrimor Iberias)
- Exped waterproof stuffsacs - for keeping stuff dry and separate ones for storing the tent flysheet and inner as these are often still wet from condensation or rain when we move on. We have the drybag fold bags which are fully waterproof but difficult to get the last gasp of air out of, so now we force the bag into the pannier first, then twist the bag neck around to get out the air, then three-fold the opening. Next time will get those with a one-way valve. Exped bags are also good because the buckle fastening makes a hanging loop, so useful for keeping a change of clothes dry in showers that spray everywhere.
- Bumbag/shoulder bag/barbag to take valuables with us when leaving the bikes
- Puncture repair kit
- Bike maintenance kit (essential tools and hard-to-find bits and pieces)
We've been using some of this gear for a long time - not seen a need to replace it. So perhaps some isn't available now or has been superceded. What do you take? More or less? We'd love to know as sharing tips is the way to reduce the load - tell us in the comments section below.
This page includes Halfords, Wiggle Online Cycle Shop, Simply Hike, guides to choosing and buying camping kit, tents, sleeping bags, hammocks, microfibre towels, for lightweight camping.