If you are new to camping, it can be a daunting task to pack only what you need for the trip and not forget anything. The first thing to understand, you will always forget something - just make sure you have the essentials.
What are the essentials? Well first you need to look at where you are going to camp, who are you taking and what experience you want?
1. Camp or Glamp? If you have young kids, the first time you go camping it would be advisable (in my opinion) to camp somewhere that has facilities (Hot showers, flushing toilets etc) such as a caravan park. There are many caravan parks out there that have decent camping sites where you can have a fire and pitch a tent, but you still have the ease of facilities close at hand.
If you want to jump straight in the deep end, head bush! You can easily find a campsite in a national park and there are thousands of free camps in every state.
Now if you are staying at a caravan park, the essentials you pack compared to the bush will change slightly. You will obviously still need to take food, water, cooking gear, shelter etc; but you won't need to take any portable toilets and shower.
If you are Bush camping then you will need either a portable toilet (Disposable Bag or Chemical), or a shovel and biodegradable toilet paper. *Check regulations for where you are camping and remember to be responsible when choosing a site for your latrine hole and covering it up correctly.* Most campers can go 1 night without a shower if they need to (scented baby wipes help), but if you don't want to rough it a bit you can get portable showers and privacy tent.
2. Who are you taking?
If you are just going camping with your partner or friends, you will need a lot less than others. A simple setup is all you need to enjoy the outdoors with other adults. If you have children, especially infants or toddlers it is a different story, you will need additional gear and to take additional things into consideration.
Taking young kids means that you will need to pack their gear, plus additional toys, more sanitary items and a lot of other gear. But it also changes the experience completely, for the better or worse? Depends on who you ask, but generally for the better. :)
When taking children you will need to assess your camp location as well; you don't want to camp next to a cliff or river, don't camp near the track/road etc.
3. What experience do you want?
If you want to get out camping to simply get in touch with your roots and rekindle your connection with the outdoors, then bush camping is the way to go and there is nothing more rewarding.
If you simply want to get outdoors and enjoy a campfire, watch stars and bond with your family and friends but don't want to head into the bush, then the camping area at a caravan park is the place to start.
What gear do you need to start with?
- Shelter (Tent or swag)
- Food (It doesn't need to be fancy, a canned meal will get you by).
- Sleeping Gear (sleeping bag, maybe a self inflating mattress and a blanket as well)
- Camp chair or a picnic blanket.
- Cooking gear - a butane gas cooker will suffice.
- A folding table
- An Ice Box
Honestly, that is all you really need to get by.
Now everyone wants to cook on the fire the first time to say that you did it - but if you have not done it before, have a backup just in case.
Cooking on a fire is super simple if you are just having Steak and Snags, just makes sure you have a solid fire plate. If you are planning on doing something a little more fancy, you may need to get a bit more advanced and you will likely need to have a few attempts. Cooking on a fire requires different gear than if you were simply cooking on a case stove - aluminium anything will melt on a campfire and you don't want to throw your non-stick frying pan on the fire; Stainless Steel and Cast Iron cooking gear is required.
Luckily once you buy it, you usually have it for life as long as you look after it. A stainless steel billy is invaluable for fire cooking, you can use it for stews, boil up yabbies in it and then the next morning you can use it to boil the water for your coffee! (Make sure you give it a good wash first).
If you want to cook on a gas stove then you can use the cheap aluminium pots and your non-stick cookware - although stainless is still better to invest in (versatility and longevity). You have flexibility with gas cookers as you can cook simple things or you can go full chef and cook up a storm like you would at home, with little to no issue.
When you are just starting out, I would suggest going the simple route - if you are cooking on a fire everyone loves a BBQ dinner, Steaks and Snags for all. If you are cooking on a gas cooker you can have surprisingly nice but simple meals like Spag Bog or Sweet & Sour Chicken etc. If you are pressed for time or can't cook to save your life, you can always go the route of canned meals and heat them up with your frying pan or billy. As you camp more and more, you will experiment with the food side of things and before long you will be cooking a rack of ribs in the cast iron oven, with sides of corn on the cob and freshly made coleslaw.
For breakfast it doesn't bother me if it is fire cooked or gas cooked, bacon and eggs is a camp favourite that is simple either way. You can't go passed a cast-iron Jaffle maker for ease of use though.
You can find a bunch of recipes and how-to's from Harry, the creator and Author of 'Fire to Fork'. Harry has some amazing tips and tricks for cooking at camp. Click the button below to head there now.
A very common misconception is that you need to buy the expensive gear you see on DVD's and Travel shows; false.
You can get some cheap camping gear from your local shopping centre that will do just fine - it might not have great durability but it will get you by.
That being said there are a few things that in my opinion, should not be skimped on; chairs, gas equipment and bedding. Skimping on those 3 items, could make for a bad experience.
At the time of writing this article, at Kmart you can get a 4 plates, 4 bowls, 4 cutlery sets (knife, spoon, fork) and 4 mugs for just $29! Now they certainly are the best quality, but they will last a handful of trips and it will allow you gather an understanding of what items you need to improve the quality of etc.
Camp chairs have a very personal preference based ranking, once you get into the decent chairs - best everyone choose their own camp chair as it is not one fits all, so head down to your local camping store and sit in all the chairs they have on display. I would avoid the camp chairs from places like Kmart, cheap shops etc - go to an actual camping store and purchase a reputable brand; why you might ask? Because a camping trip with no chair is not very comfortable - especially if it breaks while you are sitting in it and you injure yourself.
Now the reason you don't want to skimp on bedding is simply because your sleep setup while camping is what affects the majority of your experience. If you have a great day and then have a terrible nights sleep with a rock in your back and can't get warm - it will be something you will remember for all the wrong reasons, for a long time. If you have a nice toasty warm sleep on a comfortable mattress, it will simply be the icing on the cake and you will hold that camping experience in high regard.
Gas cookers - now this is an item you don't want to skimp on. While the cheap units do still work just as well as the slightly more expensive ones, you want to have confidence that the unit you are using has a high level of quality control. - NOTE: you should always check to make sure that you cannot smell gas coming from a gas cooker while it is off, but the canister is connected - if you can, do not ignite it.
You can get a good quality single or dual burner portable gas stove for around $60 - if you have the money, invest it. (*Pictured on the right is an example of a cheap gas cooker.) While I have used the cheap Kmart gas cookers and I still own one, I have had one that leaked a whole can of gas while it was switched off - hence my caution towards them.
The most important aspect of Camping is to simply enjoy the great outdoors!
Use your Camp site as your base and go exploring the surrounding area. There is so much to see in this vast world, but you won't see even 1% of what it has to offer if you stay on the roads and beaten track. Go hiking, go for a long walk around your camp site, even just go for a drive around your camp to see what the area has to offer - that's how you find the amazing spots that are seldom visited.
Spend time with your loved ones and the friends that get you through the daily grind. Appreciate life for all the splendour it has to offer and make the most of what time you have here.
You will find so much peace and serenity in the great outdoors, but you'll never know if you don't go. Get out there and Live to Explore!
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