Clean water and nourishing, warm food are fundamental to an enjoyable weekend in the woods, and it doesn’t take much to meet these basic needs. Following the packing list below and you’ll be self-sufficient for a single weekend or for weeks on end.
Cooking and making fire
Nothing beats a warm meal after a long day on the trail. You’ll need a stove, a pot, and utensils, though you could rough it and cook over the campfire.
There are several fuels and burner combinations available, from burners and propane canisters (heavy) to isobutane (lightweight) to solid fuels or a campfire. We have an old Coleman Peak One backpacking stove which runs on Coleman fuel (also known as white gas), which is both cheap and easy to carry since it can be brought in a separate fuel bottle instead of a metal canister. Price: around $70 or less.
Fuel bottle with spout
This is a special metal bottle that looks like those new preppy liter-sized stainless steel water bottles, except its for carrying fuel. It generally has a closed top for travel, and then a top with a tiny straw-like spout for pouring the fuel. Price: under $20.
Propane canisters cost around $4-6 each, while a gallon of Coleman fuel, also known as white gas, costs from $12-15 per gallon, which will last you for a long time. On our trip we took 3 ounces or so which was more than enough for all our cooking and cleaning needs.
Matches are matches, though if you have strike-on-box matches, don’t lose the box! Plus, wooden matches or a lighter are better than cardboard, which gets damp. Price: free (from your local steakhouse).
Compact pot set
A special backpacking pot set is ideal, or you may be able to substitute a lightweight aluminum or steel pot with handles, no more than 10 inches in diameter to fit on the tiny stove. These can be purchased at REI, EMS, or any outdoors store. Cost: $25-40 and up.
Take a plastic or metal bowl from the cupboard, or even use a big insulated mug. Price: under $10 or free.
You could also eat with your hands, I suppose. Just grab a spoon from the kitchen drawer. Price: Free.
Last but not least, camping is the perfect time to get your fill of MSG, noodles; cured, dried, and tinned meats; oatmeal, granola bars, and other marvels of modern (and ancient) science. Camping food tends to be dried and preserved so it remains fresh and stays lightweight — you can add the water later.
Choose something filled with protein and calories and uncooked, if you’re looking to break camp quickly. Granola or granola bars will suffice. If you want to make something warm during cold weather, you can boil water for oatmeal and hot cocoa. Pour the oatmeal directly into the paper envelope and then you can fold up and pack it away without washing a single dish.
Something quick while you stop mid-hike: Sandwiches of tuna fish or salami, granola bars. This is where those little condiment packets you get from sandwich shops or takeout come in handy, since they’re single-serving and unrefrigerated.
On our most recent trip we ate ramen and polenta with spam for dinner. The extra salt makes up for what you’ve lost during the day (or so I tell myself). This is your chance to rehydrate yourself a hearty meal. If you’re boiling water, it doesn’t need to be pre-treated, so you can use the more pungent stream water in the meal with no noticeable effect.
On that note, read on for more about proper water supply and care.
Water is a necessity, and you should plan to carry at least a gallon a day per person. However, as long as you’re within reach of a flowing stream, you can treat your own water
Personal water bottle
This is to drink from and may hang off your pack for easy access. Nalgene is the default brand and the 32oz size is ideal. Cost: $6-10 or free, since you could use an old soda or spring water bottle.
Large water bottles
This large container is for cooking or for refilling your personal bottle and goes at the bottom of your pack. In a pinch you can just use a 2-liter soda bottle, milk jug, or other large plastic bottle. Make sure you have at least 1 gallon per person per day. Cost: $8-15 or free.
PolarPure or another similar iodine-based product will allow you to use running stream water to refill your supplies, though the water needs to be at 70 degrees or warmer to fully kill all the nasties (we ignored this rule). This product can no longer be found in stores because iodine is a precursor for meth production (no lie) but I found it on Amazon. Price: $20 for 2000 liters (great!).
If you’re not a fan of the flavor of iodine, you can add powdered Gatorade or Kool-Aid to your water bottle to mask the flavor and give you some extra electrolytes, whatever those are.
Ready to go
Now that you’ve hopefully gone through all our camping preparation advice, you should be ready to head out on the trail. You’ll have the pack, the clothing and footwear, and the cooking and water supplies to last weeks on end, if necessary.
If you’ve been resourceful, for the price of a hotel room, you now carry life’s necessities on your back. This could come in handy for your next cross-country trip or in case of the apocalypse or trip to Bonnaroo.
Here’s a recap of the posts from this series, Preparing for a Camping Trip:
Camp Lodging and Travel Needs (Part II)
Clothing, Cold-Weather Gear, and Personal Items (Part III)
Cooking, Food, and Water Supply (Part IV)
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