Camping 101: Your Checklist for a Great Adventure

Ah, the great outdoors. Fresh air, swimming in pristine lakes, sleeping under the stars, waking with the birds. Sound serene…or intimidating? If you’re not a camping pro, here’s what you need to know to make sure your epic adventure doesn’t turn into an epic fail.

Gearing Up for Adventure

Go to an outdoor equipment store and try things out—tents, backpacks, chairs, etc. Some outdoor stores, like L.L. Bean, host free events to get you started. You could take the “Camping Essentials Clinic,” “Fishing for Beginners,“ or a Canoeing or Kayaking Clinic. And don’t forget to pick up some of their free pamphlets, such as the family camping essentials and backpacking checklists. Hopefully these will help you avoid that “Oh no! I forgot…” scenario.

Must-Haves for Camping Comfort:


Choose a tent based on how many people are camping and whether you’re car-camping or hiking with it into the backcountry wilderness. Tents can be compact and lightweight for one person hiking, or large enough for the whole family. The cost of a good tent ranges from 50 to several hundred dollars. Don’t forget you’ll need a tarp to put under the tent to keep the ground dry. $400, L.L. Bean


Sleeping Bag

A good night’s sleep is in the bag…if you pick the right one. Versatility makes this one a good choice. An inflatable sleeping pad can be easily attached, and should you go backcountry camping, purchase the chair sleeve that slips over the mattress pad, and voila, you’ve got a chair! $190 for synthetic-fill Therm-a-Rest bag, $500 for down-filled, REI and Therm-a-Rest











This chair packs up easily, has added support, two drink holders and even a built-in bottle opener. So go ahead. Sit back, relax and pop open a cold one. Or maybe you’d rather a glass of wine? That’s okay too, since there’s also a wine glass holder! $60, Wal-Mart, Coleman and Amazon


Air Mattress

Gone are the days where camping meant waking up with a bad back. This double-high queen air mattress allows you to sleep like royalty, even in the middle of the forest. $109, Coleman, Amazon and Wal-Mart


Not every campsite has a BBQ or a grill to cover the fire pit, so call ahead to check. If they don’t, consider bringing your own propane stove. Another reason for bringing the stove: hot water for your morning coffee! If you don’t want to drink instant coffee, bring along your French press. The classic Coleman stove comes in a wide variety of sizes. Just make sure and test it out at home before heading into the wild! $140, available at most outdoor stores



One of the perks of car camping over backcountry camping is you can load up your trunk with everything you need to turn your rustic campsite into a luxurious base camp. Get ready to hang out and stargaze in comfort. $80, REI and Therm-a-Rest


Hiking Shoes

Nothing spoils a hike like a blister or wet shoes! These do double duty—the rubber soles are great for hiking, plus the mesh and other quick drying materials resist water, so they’re good for canoeing and kayaking. $100, Uncle Dan’s in Evanston and Highland Park or Jambu


Base Layers

Base layers aren’t just for ski season. They’re perfect for camping trips since they can be layered on during the day and worn at night as pajamas. Lululemon Athletica makes comfy thermal shirts and tights for men and women. $68-88, Lululemon, Westfield Old Orchard, Skokie


Sun-Protective Clothes

Bring along sunscreen, but pack some sun-protective clothing as well. $42, Sun Love Peace


Rain Poncho

You can try to plan your trips around good camping weather, but you should always think like the Boy Scouts and be prepared for anything. $35, Amazon



Choose a backpack based on whether you’re car camping (where you’ll just need a day pack to hold snacks, water and miscellaneous items) or backcountry camping (where you’ll need a pack large enough to fit all your gear). $60, Coleman 

Camping 101 Checklist: Coleman Backpack

The Basics

You’ll need a few more items for the perfect camping trip: matches, mosquito repellant, newspaper for kindling, hand sanitizer, band-aids, ingredients for s’mores and a deck of cards.

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