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Table of Contents
-Or Coffee and 17 Other Essentials for Wild Camping
18 Wild Camping Essentials is a Wild Camping Checklist for your next big adventure.
There are different levels of camping. Most of us start with car camping. It’s like being the slow kid playing tag; never get too far away from base. In the case of car camping, you bring all of the creature comforts from home to serve as your base camp.
But at some point, after experiencing all of the beauties of sleeping outdoors you begin to yearn for more and more solitude.
Maybe it’s the Call of the Wild. Or maybe it’s the annoyance of being kept up until wee hours of the morning by weekend warriors only to be awoken before the break of dawn by the serious campers.
Either way, you will someday want to try wild camping or backpacking. It’s not as difficult as you might think. And with just a little planning, along with some help from our checklist, you will be a wilderness camping expert in no time.
What is wild camping?
But first, let’s set the parameters for what defines wild camping:
As its name implies, it’s just camping in the wild. Without a campground, you hike to a campsite where you find yourself in the wilderness, alone. Sweet, glorious alone.
Since you are some distance from your home or car, there are certain things that you will have to leave behind. Other things are essential, not just for your survival, but also for your happiness.
Because the whole point isn’t just about surviving the wilderness. It’s about enjoying the best that nature has, without all of the misery of being cold and wet. Or the hassles of dying.
That said, here are the 18 Wild Camping Essentials…(Actually it’s Coffee – Plus 17 Other Wild Camping Essentials)
The Wild Camping Essentials That We Always Carry
Coffee – The Absolute Wild Camping Must-Have
Ok, I put this at the top of the list because well, the other things on this list may keep you alive. But coffee will give you reason to live.
The snap of twigs and the crackle of the fire to greet the sunrise. The enticing smell of the coffee brewing. The warm cup in your hands and the ethereal steam is the perfect transition from the dream world to reality.
Make sure you bring some good coffee with you. There are a number of ways to brew coffee, even when wild camping. (You can check out our full guide to brewing coffee when camping here).
Button: Brew Coffee
Ordinarily we like to grind our beans fresh. But when wild camping you want to save weight and bringing a grinder just isn’t as practical.
So, we will generally grind our coffee ahead of time. Don’t worry about degrading the coffee in the wilderness. In fact, our own unscientific testing methods have shown that nature actually infuses more happiness into coffee grinds than are lost by aroma depletion.
You can make this as simple or as complex as you would like. Some go old school and just make Cowboy coffee. A method that requires the least amount of equipment.
However, our go-to coffee maker is the Java Press by GSI Outdoor. Look for our full review as we have been using this every day for the past 2 years.
Map – An Essential to a Wilderness Camping Packing List
Unlike car camping, you will likely need to find your way in and out of the backcountry. Generally the trails are well marked, but knowing where designated camping sites are, good sources of water are good to know.
Additionally finding landmarks and roads or streams in case you get lost can be the difference between an adventure and a misadventure.
Traditionally a paper map has been the go-to choice, and offers some advantages over electronic apps and maps. Most notably, they don’t require batteries or recharging to function. A dead phone is completely useless in an emergency.
The Right Backpack – The Most Underrated Wild Camping Accessory
We may as well get right into this. You will be carrying all of your stuff with you. But that is what wild camping is all about.
So, choosing the right backpack is important for getting you and all of the important things as far into nature as your feet can carry you. You want one that is sturdy, comfortable, lightweight, and most important – big enough for all of your camping gear.
There are 2 major schools of thought here – ultralight backpackers that will cut the end of their toothbrush to save weight on one end of the spectrum. And those that would be better off with a burro to bear their expedition kit.
We, of course, consider ourselves the most reasonable people alive. That’s why we feel comfortable recommending a balanced view: know what to sacrifice, and know what actually enhances your joy in the backcountry.
We have Arc’teryx backpacks that are big enough to camp for a week. They are a little on the heavy side, but fit so well that we never have a problem with any of the discomforts of slimmer options.
Keep reading this checklist and see what you want to include in your kit. This will help you determine what size of backpack you need.
The Perfect Tent – The Essential Wild Camping Shelter
Shelter is one of the most important things to bring camping. And sure, there are those that prefer to sleep on the open ground or in a hammock.
But a tent turns the torture of raindrops into a pleasant melody as it taps on your rainfly.
There are a few considerations when choosing a tent.
Ease of setup
For 15 years we had the REI Half Dome 2 person tent. It was the perfect compromise of size and weight and served us well all over the world.
So when we replaced it, we went with the updated version of it. They made it a little wider and roomier inside, which we love. And there is better ventilation for summer camping. It is a little trickier to setup, but worth it for the extra room
However, we are still determining how durable it is. After only 2 years, the shock cords are already losing their elasticity.
We will do a full review in a future post.
Sleeping Bag – A Wild Camping Dream Come True
Keeping warm in the wilderness is the key difference between surviving and thriving outdoors. We learned this lesson the hard way. There is no reason for you to suffer the same.
For nearly two decades we have carried the North Face Cat’s Meow and I will tell you they are the bee’s knees!
Quote: “The Cat’s Meow is the bee’s knees!”
Let me tell you why:
- They are mummy style, so no wasted space. Mummy sleeping bags are the most efficient at trapping body heat.
- They zip together to make one big bag. Which is a great benefit to share body heat. Just be sure to get one left and one right if you want this feature.
- They are rated at 20°, which is generally plenty warm for most 3 season camping.
- They are durable. As I mentioned, we have had these for a long time and they show no signs of wearing out.
Sleeping Pad – An Increasing Necessity With Age
This has as much to do with staying warm as it does with sleeping comfortably. We could get into all of the laws of thermodynamics to explain, but suffice it to say that heat doesn’t rise…Heat goes to cold.
Quote: “Heat doesn’t rise…Heat goes to cold”
That’s why when you lay on the bare ground your body heat sinks into the ground. And with it goes your will to live.
Just ask the campground in Utah’s Coral Pink Sand Dunes. I don’t remember a more miserable night of sleep.
A cheap, closed cell sleeping mat made all of the difference in the world the next night.
Those are fine for car camping. But if you want to backpack or take your sleeping pad with you on a plane, you are better off getting a self-inflating one.
We have used Therma-rest since just after that trip and have slept comfortably ever since. Although we have upgraded to a higher density for just a little more cushioning.
Stove and Gas – Arguably the Most Essential to Wild Camping Happiness
Some backpackers just bring things you don’t need to cook. Like gorp, jerky, and granola.
But no one can argue against the comfort from a warm meal after a long day of hiking.
Of course, you can cook directly over the fire at most car camping campgrounds. But when wild camping, there are often restrictions or bans on open fires.
So you will have to pack in a lightweight stove to prepare your meals and coffee each day.
We have 2 backpacking stoves. Our original one is the Coleman …and the new one is….
The Coleman is much smaller, folding down enough to fit into a shirt pocket (not a flattering look, but hey! Fashion police do not belong on the trail…Just don’t let me catch you wearing a fanny pack).
Camping Dishes – For the Civilised Camper
You will want to keep these as small and universal as possible. Generally in the backcountry, you eat out of the same pot that you cook in.
But you may also want to share your food, so an extra plate or bowl never hurts. We have the MSR … kit. It comes with pots, a bowl, spatula, and microfiber hot pad/cleaning cloth.
Plus it has room for the camp stove so I don’t have to carry it around in my shirt pocket..like an animal. (Right, fashion police?)
You’ll also want some utensils and perhaps some spices in small containers.
Head Lamp – Handsfree Nighttime Necessity When Camping in the Wild
A flashlight is a great accessory and a lantern is a luxury. A headlamp can act as both, yet offers a hands-free way to handle tasks around camp.
Headlamps are rated in lumens. I recommend no less than 300 lumens.
Brighter is always better, but also draws more power. Bring extra batteries or choose one that recharges with solar power.
First Aid Kit – Hopefully Nonessential When Camping
You don’t have to bring an EMT triage bag. But it’s good to have the basics for cuts or illness in the backcountry.
You can put one together yourself, or buy one that is already put together. Just remember to check it before each trip to make sure it is complete.
Dehydrated Food – Essential for the Soul
You can find specialty backpacking food makers. Mountain House makes some delicious biscuits and gravy.
Also, there is one that steams right in the bag, simplifying cooking chores.
But there is a much cheaper way. In every grocery store you can find dehydrated soups, noodles, and other meals where you just need hot water.
Mashed potatoes are one of my favorite comfort foods when camping. They are to evening camping what coffee is to morning camping – life affirming soul food to punctuate the beauty of the nature around you.
You will need water for drinking and for cooking. This doesn’t need to be complicated. Humans have been carrying water for thousands of years. And there have been few advancements that vastly improve the process.
However, there are certain advantages to Nalgene bottles over other alternatives. They are lightweight, the cap is easy to secure, and they can turn your headlamp into a lantern.
Not only that, but during cold weather you can fill them with hot water and put them in the foot of your sleeping bag. Even when temps drop below freezing, they will stay warm all night adding just the right amount of comfort when you need it the most.
If you plan on camping for more than one night in the wilderness, there is no way you want to carry that much water with you.
The only exception is when camping without a good water source. When camping in the desert, for example. In which case you need about 1 gallon of water per day per person.
Otherwise, plan on filtering your own water. The minimalist will just pack some iodine tablets or simply boil the water. Which is fine where you have clear running water.
But a better option is a filter that can take out both the harmful bacteria and some of the sludge that can be in slow moving streams or ponds.
We have had the Katahdin filter for years and it has never let us down. A small package that will save a ton of weight compared to carrying your water in.
Ok, just because we like wild camping does not make us animals.
Always bring your toothbrush. However, studies show that toothpaste is not actually necessary.
While we don’t ascribe to that philosophy at home, going a few days without toothpaste will not cause any problems as long as you keep to your regular brushing routine.
Please do not take this as medical or dental advice as I have no expertise in these fields. But do some research and try it out if you feel comfortable doing so.
Wild Camping Essentials for Cold Weather
Even on hot days, the mountains or deserts can get quite cool at night. 90% of your energy is lost out of your head.
Sleeping in a warm hat can be the difference between a chilly night and a chill night. There is nothing worse than counting down the hours until the sun comes up and you can end your misery.
On the other hand, there is nothing better than being tucked cozily into your sleeping bag, toasty and warm after a rigorous day of camping activities.
This is one of the most important elements to happiness: warm, dry feet. That applies to everyday life, but never more so than when camping.
There are a number of choices when it comes to socks. I can’t imagine a scenario in which cotton socks should even be considered.
In the summertime, you should be wearing sandals or flip flops around camp. Unless you want to flaunt the fashion police’s jurisdiction, you’re not wearing socks with these anyway.
The rest of the year, wool socks are the answer. Especially during the cool spring and fall months, wool is the perfect moisture-wicking insulation for camping.
You may ask, “hey, what about fleece?”
I would reluctantly recommend fleece or artificial materials as a distant second. First of all, they don’t insulate nearly as well. And second of all, it seems like your feet are either on fire or freezing in fleece.
Choose a good quality pair of merino wool socks. Always have a dry pair for sleeping. You can thank me later.
This may be the most important layer of clothing you own. Your body temperature is controlled by moisture and insulation. The best thermals handle both.
There are a variety of base layers you can choose from. Buy the highest quality you can afford.
Not surprisingly, a merino wool base layer is the best you can get. It wicks moisture efficiently, provides excellent insulation, and does this all with odor fighting properties.
However, wool is an expensive option. Just remember that alternatives will have drawbacks, either less efficient at handling moisture, less insulation, and almost universally inferior odor control.
Bonus: Wild Camping Nonessential Luxuries
This is a definite luxury. Ordinarily I just roll up a jacket to sleep on and that is just fine.
But admittedly, we like our small camping pillow when car camping. And occasionally will even carry it with us when backpacking short distances.
We have a solar charging station that we use for things like batteries and even our phone. Although I have come to loathe electronics, I have to admit they have their place in certain situations.
This is another luxury that we bring with us when car camping. It comes with a small string of led lights that are perfect for the tent without adding a lot of pack weight.
Arguments can be made for or against items on this list. And I am sure that you can think of others that belong on it. If you think we have missed something, be sure to mention it in the comments below.
However, these are some of the basic necessities that we carry with us when wild camping.
If you want a guide to car camping which allows for a lot more luxuries, be sure to check out our article on car camping here.