Multi-Use Must-Have Gear for Setting Up the Perfect Camp
Camping is all about getting back to what really matters: the sounds and sights of nature, clean air, seclusion, and relying on your wits to survive. Whether I’m backpacking or car camping, I like to spend my time sitting by the fire and enjoying the scenery, not fiddling with a bunch of cumbersome stuff. But minimalist camping doesn’t have to be primitive. With a few tips, and some simple multipurpose gear, it can be downright civilized. It all comes down to how to set up your campsite with the right, simple tools.
Here are my top four musts for the most comfortable camping of your life.
The Primo Spot: Make Nature Work for You
Finding the perfect spot to set up camp is both an art and a science. Depending on the terrain, you’ll need a spot where the elements are working in your favor. Hiking in the desert? Look for a spot that’s likely to have some shade (particularly in the morning before you wake up) and a bit of moisture in the air (watch for patches of scrub, always a sign of moisture).
If you’re in a more temperate, forested terrain, you’ll have to negotiate with water instead of sun. Look for signs of run-off or standing water, such as soil erosion. In case of rain, you want be in a spot that moisture flows away from, so you don’t wind up sleeping in a puddle.
Whether you’re in the mountains or low desert, look for a natural wind shelter, like high rocks or trees. The best camping spots are usually not too high, or too low, but places where there’s some level ground along the midpoint of a slope. Lastly, keep an eye out for some of nature’s little perks to make your campsite more comfy. Two trees a couple yards apart are perfect for stringing a hammock, setting up your clothesline (a must if you’re backpacking in the wet forest), or rigging up your tarp.
Tarps: A Camper’s Best Friend
Speaking up rigging your tarp, you’re bringing a couple tarps on your camping trip, right? Growing up in an outdoorsy family in rainy Oregon, big blue tarps were a fixture of my childhood.
Pack one with a frame if you’re car camping, or just string up a tarp with paracord if you’re going minimalist. Your tarp shelter will keep you dry in a downpour, or keep you cool in the afternoon sun. This second point is especially crucial, since a tent does not work as a sun shelter. Without a tarp overhead, your tent will quickly turn into a sauna in a sunny spot.
After stringing one up above your head, the next-best place for a tarp is under your feet. Putting one under your tent will keep your sleeping spot water-tight. Plus, the tarp provides a perfect little “porch” for your tent, a spot for taking off your boots and wiping your feet.
A Perfect Tent: Skip the Stakes
Don’t stake that tent just yet. You really only need to stake a tent if conditions are very windy. If you leave it unstaked, it’s easier to move it around to get that perfect cozy sleeping spot.
Another thing: tents are really only good for sleeping. With that in mind, your tent should be no bigger than it needs to be for one or two people to sleep comfortably. Plan to do most other activities, like cooking, under your tarp shelter. A smaller tent is lighter and easier to set up. Another plus of a small tent: you can easily “sweep” it. Just pull out your gear, pick up the empty tent, and shake it out with the flap open. All the dirt and debris you’ve tracked in will fall out, so your sleeping spot stays clean and cozy.
Paracord: Tie Up All the Things
Think of paracord as the glue that holds your perfect campsite together. Use two trees, or your tarp shelter, to string up a paracord clothesline, which is a must when camping in wet or snowy conditions. You can use paracord to hang food bags, protecting them from animals, or to hang up a lantern. If you don’t want to bother with a lantern, bring a small extra flashlight with a keychain attachment; you can hang that from your paracord instead.
Extra paracord is great to have for last-minute repairs. Ever had a strap or plastic clip break on your camping pack? Fix it in a pinch with some paracord.
If you’re feeling crafty, and really want to trick out your campsite, you can even make your own ultralight hammock with paracord. A hammock is one of those little extras that will take your camping experience to the next level. Instead of sitting in a cramped tent, with a hammock you can nap, sip your campfire coffee, or get lost in a book while still enjoying the awesome scenery, which, after all, is why you went camping in the first place.
What’s your must-bring item for a perfect camping trip? Tell us in the comments!