If you're new to the whole outdoor experience, chances are, you aren't familiar with the weekend camping essentials you'll need to get you through a couple of days in the rough. Fortunately, camping is a basically minimalist pastime—armed with just a few essentials, you can look like a pro even on your first night under the stars. To get you started, here's a camping essentials checklist, made up of all the things you should never leave home without.
A quality sleeping bag This should be number one on every camping equipment list. The flimsy, acrylic-lined sacks that used to be the hit of the middle-school slumber parties are no match for the outdoors. Invest in a good, sturdy bag meant for camping, one that's been tested for warmth to at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit. It's always best to be prepared.
Tarps These come in handy even if it doesn't rain—they provide a good buffer between your tent and the ground, which will become damp no matter what the weather. Bring along an extra one to string above the picnic table (yes, where there's a tarp, there should always be a length of rope, just in case).
Lantern or Flashlight This one is self-explanatory. You're going to want to be able to find your way to the outhouse—or at least to the nearest bush—once the sun goes down. Even better, invest in a hands-free headlamp, so you'll have the light with you at all times.
First aid kit It doesn't have to have a full snakebite kit or anything like that. Just the basics: Band-Aids, tweezers, antiseptic, burn cream, maybe a bottle of aspirin or ibuprofen.
Compass and Area Map You probably can't imagine life without your GPS, but there's no guarantee it will work out in the wilderness, especially if you're planning a long hike. Bring along the map and compass to maintain your sense of direction, and be sure to stay within the marked trails.
Matches Even seasoned outdoor enthusiasts have a hard time with the old "rubbing two sticks together" routine. It's much simpler to enjoy the fruits of progress when it comes to starting fires.
Rain Gear Nothing but clear skies in the forecast? Pack a slicker anyway. It's far better to have the foul-weather gear and not need it, than to leave it behind and spend the trip soggy and miserable. Make no mistake, once you get wet on a camping trip, you don't fully dry out again until the sun comes out. Speaking of which:
Extra socks wrapped in plastic Everyday zip-top kitchen baggies work marvelously for the chore of keeping a couple spare sets of socks dry. Even on dry days, nothing will lift your spirits faster than a pair of warm, fresh socks on those cold or tired feet.
Pocket Knife A Swiss Army knife, or something similar, serves multiple duties in the wild. It can be used to help prepare dinner, to whittle branches for toasting marshmallows or hot dogs, to trim errant toenails, even to open bottles of wine or sparkling water.
Essential camping cooking gear A camping stove with a gas cylinder will open up a world of possibilities when it comes to planning meals. Why limit yourself to burgers for dinner and granola bars for breakfast, when you could be preparing chicken fajitas and French toast? Most stoves of this type burn liquid petroleum gas (LPG); the gas cylinders can be ordered from an L.P.G cylinder service near you or are readily available wherever camping supplies are sold, and inexpensive to boot.
Whether it's your first time sleeping under the stars or your hundredth, you should always keep this camping gear checklist handy. Before loading up the vehicle, stock up on any weekend camping essentials that need to be repaired or replaced. Preparation is the key to a happy and successful camping experience.