Michigan winter’s can be brutal. It was in the negative degrees for over a week- making it so cold that my hand stuck to my door knob one day (that’s ridiculous). We decided it was time to go somewhere warm where you can’t see your breath- so MLK weekend Logan & I took off on a weekend camping trip to Death Valley National Park!
I. LOVE. CAMPING.
Being outside in the nature, soaking in the sunshine and fresh air in the great outdoors is one of my favorite things to do. Camping is the best way to experience a National Park in all it’s natural beauty. Plus camping in the park has saved me hundreds of dollars in accommodations. What’s better than dinner with a view? Camping in the outdoors means cooking meals in cool places.
Last year I went on dozens of camping trips- forgetting something when you’re camping can be a huge pain in the ass (this one time we couldn’t find fuel, so our meal depended on if we could get the water boiling over a fire- not impossible, just time consuming, and after 5 days- that’s a lot of work) – most times we’re in the middle of nowhere, so you’re out of luck if you do.
I’ve brought friends with me on trips who have never camped before, and their first question is always- what do I pack? It was entertaining to watch them stumble through what they thought they might need (20 lbs of clothes, and no sleeping bag- maybe they were going to just wear lots of layers?)
I’ve created a packing guide to avoid that, broken up into what is a necessity (bare minimum)- down to what is nice to have if you have the packing space/weight. I usually try to fit my gear in a carry on so I don’t have to check a bag on the flight.
Here’s your ultimate packing guide to camping in national parks!
My REI Half dome plus tent is the perfect size for me and my travel companion. With a door on each side it makes it easier to enter/exit without disturbing my sleeping partner to pee in the middle of the night.
Sleeping on the ground isn’t always the most comfortable, a good pad can make a huge difference when it comes to a good night sleep- plus it keeps you warm when the temperatures drop. The REI pad I use is nice because it self inflates- and after a long day of hiking, I’m lazy and need all my air. The marmot sleeping bag I use is awesome- it has a hood at the top that not only keeps your head warm- it keeps your pillow from sliding away at night. Tip: Pack a sleeping pad repair kit just in case!
It’s always ideal to set up camp during the daylight hours- however somehow I always manage to end up at camp when the sun goes down. Holding a flashlight (or your cellphone) while trying to set up your tent for the night is difficult- get a head lamp. Yes it looks silly, yes you will be extremely grateful you brought one. Tip: its handy to study the park maps and pick out what hikes you’re going to do the day before to see if there are any restrictions before you get to the trail head.
Backpack With Daypack
The backpack I take on my trips is better classified as a travel backpack than it is a backpacking backpack. What I love about it is it opens like a suitcase/duffel is the removable day pack- great for holding your water bladder on your hikes.
Camp Stove/Cook Wear
Food is one of the largest expenses when traveling. Cooking your meals while camping will help cut down costs tremendously ($5 usd a meal vs $15 usd eating out). I bring my stove and cookwear with me on longer hikes and cook my meal with a view at the summit- just don’t forget your spork (that’s happened to me several times). The cook wear kit I have comes with bowls/pots/pans/spork- but the stove is sold separately. Tip: Conserve water and use the leftover water from cooking to clean your dishes.
Still Have Space?
If you are planning on backpacking and hiking to your campsite every oz of weight matters- you have to carry your bag for miles. These next items are SUPER NICE to have, but you can get by without them if you don’t have them or are trying to save space & weight.
Hammock & Slap Straps
There’s nothing better than kicking back in my hammock after a long day on the trails. I keep telling myself one night I’ll pull in my sleeping bag/pad and sleep under the stars (But then things like coyote’s howling at all hours of the night prevent that from happening- imagine that.) The slap straps I have are easy to use and make set up happen in seconds.
Pillow & Chair
I’m not gonna lie… camping without a pillow or camp chair can make for a pretty uncomfortable night. I use my pillow on the airplanes (and sleep the entire flight like 99% of the time I fly) one time I forgot it- so I made a ball out of clothes (I don’t recommend that). I use a camp chair when we’re car camping – but never have the space in my carry on. Tip: Some campsites don’t have picnic tables so then you’re stuck sitting on the ground or finding a good “butt rock”. I always regret not bringing one.
Packing cubes are perhaps the most genius travel invention ever. If you don’t have a set- pay the $10 and get yourself some. They will change the way you travel forever. The cubes keep your clothes separated, keep your bag organized, and make packing things up fast and easy. Tip: Roll your clothes instead of folding them, you’ll fit a lot more in.
Cocoon & Life Straw
I use my cocoon in the summer months- it’s perfect for warm nights and keeps my sleeping bag clean if it’s a dry shampoo type of day. The life straw is nice to have if you plan on doing longer hikes (6 + miles). My water bladder holds about 3 liters- and I get pretty close to running out on harder treks. I bring the lifeproof straw in case of emergency- it filters out 99.999999% of all the bad stuff, so you can drink from a fresh water source in a pinch.