Help me navigate the world of camping purchases...
September 17, 2010 10:50 PM   Subscribe

Getting camping gear together... what should we buy next? We have just bought a tent (4 person), 2 chairs and 2 therma rests. We will be camping at a caravan park this time. What should we buy next? What are the priorities?

The world of camping gear has been opened to me... but there are so many options, and we can't afford to buy it all at once. Given that we will mostly be camping in caravan parks, but would like to have the option of going electricity-free, what order should we buy our gear in? We'd eventually like to get some kind of stove, a table, some kitchen-y furniture, a durable plunger, some camping crockery and cutlery, some sleeping bags (we're using our own quilt at the moment), a lantern... so assuming we'll buy this stuff over the next year or so, what should we get first? And what have I left off?
FYI: we're in Australia and will camp mostly in summer/spring/autumn (we won't go if it's going to be less than... 12 C during the day) and from the car, but would like to go to unpowered, non caravan parking sites).
posted by jojobobo to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
A cast iron pan or two. That should have been your first purchase after the tent.
posted by sanka at 10:57 PM on September 17, 2010

Lighting. Campstove. Maybe a decent pack for day-hikes? First-aid kit.

If you're car-camping, you generally won't be completely up the creek if you don't have something, so I'd advise just going camping and then remembering what you wished you'd had. Buy it when you can. Repeat.
posted by hattifattener at 10:59 PM on September 17, 2010

I'd say sleeping bags definitely. Even if it's warm out when you go to bed it's really nice to be snug in a sleeping bag.

Next, one good-sized pot (with a lid) that you can put on a fire or on a grill over a fire. Most meals can be cooked in one pot (or on sticks over the fire, or cans placed directly in the fire) and this will serve you well. For crockery and cutlery you can buy cheap flatware and non-breakable plates and bowls and mugs from an op shop that will work until you can upgrade. Each person should have their own mug or cup, available at all times for water.
posted by bendy at 11:00 PM on September 17, 2010

Best answer: 1. Get a lantern, the only thing worse than cooking in the dark is eating poorly cooked food in the dark, and it's hard to play scrabble by candle.

2. If Australian campgrounds are anything like Canadian ones then forgo the table as there will always be one at the site, so get a tablecloth and tablecloth holders, and get a tarp or one of those freestanding tarps so that you can still sit at your table when it rains, especially when it rains for several days in a row and you're sick of being in your tent.

3. A two burner stove will let you boil water and prepare food at the same time, or cook bacon and eggs at the same time.

4. Create a camping kitchen. I use a large rubbermaid container and it holds:
- a set of plastic dishes for four (bowls, plates, cups, utensils),
- a lightweight cutting board and a dollar store knife,
- a stackable set of pots and frying pan,
- a set of half litre squeeze bottles, one filled with olive oil, the other filled with dish soap,
- a basin for washing dishes (make sure your largest plate can at least partially fit in),
- a set of folding wine glasses and a waiter's cork screw,
- more tea towels and dish clothes than you can shake a stick at,
- lots of matches, a lighter too,
- kebab/brochette skewers, aluminium foil, ziplock bags, twine (for hanging tarp, tying down tent, putting up clothes line or privacy barrier, strapping stuff to the car, etc.),
- magazines for desperation reading/firestarter,
- a french press for making excellent coffee (pyrex FTW) with easy cleanup,
- a salt shaker, a pepper shaker, a set of seasonings (chilli powder and dill for me) so that when you make an omlette or dish you can add flavour,
- lots of garbage bags
- a collapsible water bladder with spigot (mine holds up to 20L)
- a tub of instant ice tea or gatorade, so that when you forget coffee or other stuff to drink you're still okay
- a box with ketchup packets, jam packets, peanut butter packets, etc that you happen to scavenge over time.
- a flashlight, for when it's time to pee in the bush.
posted by furtive at 11:19 PM on September 17, 2010 [9 favorites]

Oh, I always forget to bring a can opener, but it's a good excuse to talk to your neighbours and check out their camper. If nothing else they might remember you after the third consecutive day of rain.
posted by furtive at 11:21 PM on September 17, 2010

Response by poster: Great answers so far! Re: pans and cooking implements-- most of the camping we will do will be during fire ban times. So cooking over an open fire won't be possible. But small flames are okay if they are contained (i.e your own stove). We will need a stove before a pan if we are to cook, therefore (as opposed to eating a lot of muesli and getting fish and chips from across the road, as is the current plan!)
posted by jojobobo at 11:33 PM on September 17, 2010

I've never used any cast iron cooking gear while camping, regular pans from home are fine over a two-burner gas or liquid fuel stove. So I'd put a stove as highest priority. (And a washing-up bowl.)
posted by anadem at 11:44 PM on September 17, 2010

I would not get cast iron for camping. Very heavy and dirty, and you need an open fire or fire pit. A camping stove that uses "camping gaz" or similar compressed gas canisters is perhaps better.

Combine it with a lightweight pot, and you can heat up water for making food, warm up canned vegetables, fry up sausage etc. and use hot water afterwards for cleaning up stuff.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:53 PM on September 17, 2010

things that are cheap but essential:

towels (always handy!)
plastic bags
headlamps (the kind with the red light option are great for not pissing off other people or for peeing in a bush without everyone seeing)
bucket (for doing dishes)
tarps/plastic sheeting
hatchett/hammer (essential for starting fires and putting stakes in the ground)
baby wipes

also do yourself a favor and buy a two burner campstove. you won't believe you waited so long.
posted by palacewalls at 11:58 PM on September 17, 2010

Hi there. I camped 8/9 months in Oz a few years back. A reply to another Askme you might find helpful.

I know you've already got them, but long term you may want to reconsider your mattresses. If you're moving every two days then easy mattresses make sense. If you're staying somewhere for a week then as more comfortable mattress that takes longer to inflate will be better. It's not a priority though, unless you get a crap night's sleep.

Get a Coleman stove. They are worth the extra cash because you can take them apart and clean them. My one got run over by a 4x4 and still worked perfectly. And a metal stove holder. This is not a priority if you don't plan going off the beaten track - most decent campgrounds have a camp kitchen and you can check which ones do/don't. I'd highly recommend Big4 campgrounds. Get their guide and for the East and West coast especially, they were by far and away the best places.

You need chairs and a table. Nothing fancy, but they need to fold obviously. Sounds like you have these. Good.

For cooking, I wouldn't use a cast iron pan. I also wouldn't bother with stackable pans unless space in your car is tight (I bought a decent set, but because they were lightweighted aluminium I regretted how non-stick they were). You can't have fires in lots of places and you'll waste a lot of gas heating a cast iron pan up. Get yourself to Woolworths and buy a cheapo nonstick wok and a saucepan. I did this on the advice of someone I met who had done tons of 4x4 travelling in Oz and it was the single best piece of advice I got. Especially if you don't have a fridge, your cooking options are going to be a little limited anyway.

You'll need a washing up bowl and plastic boxes in which to keep your cooking and eating stuff, and your food. Don't go overboard: one sharp all purpose knife will do. One chopping board. One decent plastic plate each. One bowl each. A plastic mug each. A plastic cup each. A spoon, knife, fork. Tongs. Spatula. Spoon. Sieve/colander. Can/bottle opener.

Latterly, while travelling, I bought a metal diffuser for the gas stove so we could eat toast in the morning. The benefit of this in the outback was bread lasts longer than milk and doesn't need cooling. I.e. easy breakfasts.

For non-powered campgrounds the best thing I ever bought was a Bushranger power tank. No kidding, I was the envy of campgrounds up and down Oz. You can buy a light attachment, which is the life saver. With full power in the tank, the light lasts 18 hours, which is 4-5 days minimum in camping terms. It can charge when you drive from a 12v socket. If you plan on taking various mobile phones etc, also get a power inverter, so you can charge stuff up in the car.

The further you go into the outback the more you'll need water. We did ok with a 20l can, even quite far in the outback. If you want to play it safe (i.e, what happens if your car radiator busts a leak), go with 40l. Showering is not an issue. Most places, even in the middle of nowhere, either have some water course to splosh about in or showers. Worst case - you'll go a day or two without a shower.

For powered campgrounds, you'll be required to get an outdoor rated power lead. Run it into your tent and connect to a 4 point domestic extension so you're not unplugging stuff all the time. I had a loop inside my tent on the roof and used a mechanic's light, which had a little hook for car bonnets, to hang down. Cheap, durable and did the job brilliantly.

Finally, a fridge. I probably should have got a second car battery installed and bought a decent camping fridge. But I didn't. I quickly learned you need a decent solid cool box. I bought a Coleman. Just buy ice as you go. The ice will last just about for two days (two bags) in 30+ degree heat but suprisingly longer in cooler climes. But the further you go from the last place to sell ice the more things like milk and fresh meat don't feature on the menu. It can be done. I did it, although it's a ballache to have your food swimming in water as the ice melts.

For the other stuff: I wouldn't worry too much. You'll work out very quickly what you actually need and my advice is start light and build up. Rubbish sacks, obviously. Matches/lighter. Dishcloths. Both to dry and as generic padding to stop stuff banging together as you drive. A dustpan and brush is a lifesaver if you don't want your tent to become a tip. Almost everything else is secondary.

A good rubber mallet is a must. The tent pegs you got with your tent are most likely shite. Chuck them. Buy strong ones so you don't spend hours erecting your tent when you go somewhere with hard, dry ground. Finally, finally, I'd also get a folding shovel (although pit toilets were pretty universal) - also useful for the car, a tow rope and some basic car/tyre repair stuff.* If you can't read the direction from the sun a compass is useful.

Although IMHO tales of being lost in the outback owe more to stupidity than any other factor it's worth knowing the single best way to summon a car is to squat and have a pee by the side of the road.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:22 AM on September 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sleeping bags are much better at keeping you warm than whatever you use at home. If you get one that zips on the left and one that zips on the right, then you can zip them together and cuddle (and keep even warmer by sharing body heat).
posted by ssg at 2:24 AM on September 18, 2010

Buy a headtorch. It allows you to wander away from your lit campsite, and most importantly gives you hands-free time. It's perfect for prepping for dinner or cooking, or putting up your tent in the dark, or going for a wee in the bush.

Count me in as a convert to cast-iron. My boyfriend has always had one in his campbox, and does great steaks over an open campfire.
posted by chronic sublime at 5:51 AM on September 18, 2010

The humidity level will work with / not work with different materials. Down, windstopper, stuff like that does not work at humidity greater than 60% or so; and down can become a soppy mess over a period of days in humid enviroments.

A durable shovel or garden spade might be good for digging organic storage holes.
posted by buzzman at 6:35 AM on September 18, 2010

Camping checklist.
posted by dontrockwobble at 7:47 AM on September 18, 2010

furtive has it as far as kitchen supplies go, and a lantern really is a must. Toss a pack of cards in with all that and I think you'd be pretty much set.

I also really recommend an air mattress. Nothing sucks as bad when you've gotten a good nights sleep. I like sleeping bags over quilts, but we camp where it gets pretty chilly at night. If it's warm where you are there is nothing wrong with using regular bedding, but an air mattress makes things much nicer.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:31 AM on September 18, 2010

I would get a stove ASAP if you're comfortable sleeping with the quilts, then get sleeping bags.

Despite what many people here say, I don't think special pots and pans are required for car camping. I have an ultralight pot I use for backpacking, but if I go car camping I just grab a pot from the cupboard and take that instead.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:11 AM on September 18, 2010

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