Em’s camping favorites

6 May 2015

Loved hearing your thoughts on last week’s camping post! Looks like we have some other outdoorsy gals in the group :) Like I mentioned in my last post, once you have a basic stock of camping supplies it’s a delightfully cheap hobby, but it can be intimidating and expensive when you’re just starting out! We collected our supplies over several years and learned a few things along the way, so I’m sharing a few tips and favorites today!


As a note, many of our supplies were purchased with backpacking in mind, where lightweight items are worth their weight (and more!) in gold. You’ll pay for excellent construction, so if you’re not at all interested in backpacking, you could probably find heavier/less compact versions of many of these items for less money!

For each couple or person, you will need:
Sleeping bags. My sleeping bag is by Feathered Friends and I love it! It is extremely lightweight and warm. Also very expensive. John’s bag is by Coleman and is less expensive. Buy a version that comes with a stuff sack for easy packing. I like to bring my own full-size pillow when car camping while John uses this one.
Sleeping pads. For several years I slept directly on the ground and lived to tell the tale, but no more. John and I both have inflatable sleeping pads and they make a HUGE difference in our comfort and ability to fall asleep. Highly recommended if you camp at least once a year.
A tent. Our tent was less than $100 on Amazon and we’ve been happy with it. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like it’s available anymore, but if we were to purchase a new tent, it would absolutely be the Half Dome 2 by REI – it’s legendary for a good reason. Update: With our growing family, we received the Kingdom 6 as a gift and we LOVE IT!
Hand warmers. Better to be over-prepared than cold, I always say. Very nice down by your feet in your sleeping bag :)
Head lamps. Better than flashlights because you don’t have to hold them while building a fire or carrying things. We have one of these and one of these.
Warm clothes. It probably goes without saying, but bring comfortable clothes you can be active in and don’t mind getting dirty! Leggings and a sweatshirt is my go-to, with sweatpants for later in the evening when it gets colder. I also love SmartWool socks and always pack a pair of slip-on shoes (my Toms) for around camp in addition to my sneakers. If you’re at a site with a shower, bring shower shoes.


For the group, you will need:
Food prep supplies. A little forethought avoids a lot of frustration. Think through every tool or supply you will need to bring your menu together. A knife for cutting, a mixing bowl, a pot for bowling water, a spatula, etc. We try to do as much prep (cutting vegetables, washing tomatoes, etc.) before we leave to make this easier. John’s parents gave us a set of Kuhn paring knives with sleeves that are great (and safe!) to pack.
Cooking equipment. If you’re not planning to cook all of your meals over the fire, you’ll need some additional cooking equipment. Our normal camping accomplices, the Rays, usually bring their gas griddle and we bring our Pocket Rocket.
Serving pieces. Cups, forks, utensils, plates, etc. You can go paper/plastic or something sturdier here. We like to go sturdy and have a set of enamel coffee mugs that are lightweight and feel very camp-y :)
Fire supplies. Most campsites have reasonably-priced wood for sale. We bring matches (in a nifty match safe) and firestarters. Will loves his axe for chopping firewood into kindling. You should also include s’mores supplies on your packing list. Obviously.
Camp life items. In addition to your head lamp, a lantern that can sit on a picnic table is great for after dark. Camp suds for environmentally-friendly dish washing. A few trash bags and paper towels. Bug spray and sunscreen. We always bring seating for everyone, too – we have stadium seats, folding chairs, and this minimalist stool.

To keep everything corraled in the car and easily accessible throughout our trip, I like to pack in the largest size Bote & Tote (it’s enormous) as well as big Rubbermaid tubs.

I think that about covers it, my friends! For camping and hiking reviews and ideas, you can check out John’s blog (he doesn’t update it regularly but the archives are great!). In the meantime, here are a few spots we’ve camped in NC!

Carolina Beach State Park
Hanging Rock State Park
Blue Bear Mountain Camp
Boone KOA
Stone Mountain State Park

Any questions, just let me know! And local friends, I’d love to hear any of your favorite camping or hiking spots in the Southeast! We are always looking for new spots to explore!!

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May 6, 2015 11:21 am

I have a d.light S20 lantern (dlight.com) that I highly recommend! I got it while a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa but it’s perfect for camping too! I recently heard about LuminAID (luminaid.com) and now really want one of those!

Bonus- both of these companies are committed to providing access to safe, affordable lighting to the developing world. Both have current campaigns to send lights to Nepal!

May 6, 2015 1:09 pm

I loved (car) camping at Davidson River Campground in Brevard, NC! Bonus points that it’s a very short car ride to DuPont State Forest where there are several trails and waterfalls…and is where they filmed a lot of The Hunger Games! :)

My next adventure is going to be to Grayson Highlands State Park with biking along the VA Creeper Trail!

May 7, 2015 9:56 pm

I second Ashlee’s Grayson Highlands rec. It is my absolute favorite place. Start at Massie Gap and make a day hike to THomas Knob. If you are backpacking, you can hike on the AT and use one of the many state trails to make a loop hike. You won’t regret it. Beautiful sweeping vistas. Sweet Wild Ponies. Rhododendron. It is just spectacular.

March 30, 2021 6:40 pm

Just did our first family camping trip. I wish I thought to check here on recommendations first! Overall we had a great trip. The kids (6,4, and 19 months) slept great. I definitely wish I had a sleeping pad though. Getting that for next time! Also checking out your sleeping bag recommendations!