If you're looking to do some 'sploring or find adventure in the wilderness there is a good chance you will be leaving most of the creature comforts behind. Seeing a family of 5 at a state campground with a complete Coleman Kitchen and a 3 room wall tent set up next to their 8 passenger urban assault vehicle always makes me laugh. Unfortunately, they have missed the point and the joy that is camping. I'll admit that there are several opinions on this, and many find themselves wondering what is up the trail, but are forced to consider things like age of children, physical condition, enthusiasm of your spouse etc.
I had the ideal situation growing up. My father was an avid outdoorsman, a forester, wild land firefighter and hunter. I have packed some of the most rugged terrain in the US; Colorado, Montana, and Alaska to name a few. I personally have multiple Search and Rescue certifications, survival training and a certain enthusiasm to get away from the paved road. This is probably not the average experience or a good starting place for most.
Picking a trip appropriate for you (or your party) can be difficult to do without research. Don't rely on google for a trail rating. Areas that people rate as easy to moderate can be well outside your capability. Don't be afraid to buy a map of the region and stop in at a ranger station for intel. Selecting an easy hike is an excellent way to gain experience and build confidence, especially if one or more of your party is new to the backpacking lifestyle.
Getting picked up by a rescue helicopter isn't an experience I want anyone to have. Do your homework! It's not cheap or fast but a good set of basic skills can make for an awesome experience that you'll remember for the rest of your life. Find a nearby REI Store, they give excellent classes on everything from basic first aid to beginners alpine climbing. Make sure you have these basic skills:
- First Aid/CPR
- Map/Compass Skills
- Fire Starting
Select Good Equipment
Gear is a huge subject. It's very personal. What I take on a trip may not be enough for someone else, or too much for others. Real backpacking gear isn't available at Walmart, and "what you pay for is what you get" in most cases. $400 for a tent might seem crazy, but it will be very light, stay dry, take 50mph wind and serve you well if you take care of it. That said, If you are just getting into the world of camping, best to get some reasonably priced gear that you can upgrade later.
I have 2 ultralight pack tents that have been with me for 15 years. You can save some money by going down to REI, Mountain Hardware or North Face to get your hands on equipment, get an idea of quality and construction and then shop online. Services such as Amazon, have good deals from many sellers, but I wouldn't recommend investing in gear you haven't checked out in the store first. The staff at the store can also help you identify what gear is appropriate for you and your capabilities, and most importantly help you find a pack and boot that fit correctly.
Tips for a great trip:
Keep an eye on the weather.
Mountainous terrain produces weather differently than down in the city. It can get nasty in just a few minutes on a beautiful day. A good tent will keep you dry in the rain but they don't work very well under water. If your site is not on a hill there is a good possibility that water from above you is headed your way. Try to select high ground for a camp site, if that's not an option, a shallow v-shaped trench can make a big difference.
Bring only essentials.
I packed far more than I needed for years. As a general rule, if you bring it more than twice and don't use it, you don't need it (the exception is survival and first aid gear; hope you don't need it, but don't go without it).
Know your gear.
Set up and tear down your equipment a few times in your backyard before you venture out. If your hike runs long or the weather changes, you'll be happy you didn't need the directions. With tents in particular, getting it back in the bag that it came in is a good skill, I'm always entertained when I see a tent spilling out of its bag.
Understand the wildlife.
I have encountered predators on several trips and generally they leave you alone. You should never tempt a wild animal, it doesn't end well. Don't keep food in your tent; if there are bears, hang a bag away from camp. If you do encounter a large predator, always stay facing them, make lots of noise, and try to stay calm. That last one is a little difficult.
Mind your fire.
I'm not talking about making sure you don't burn down a pristine wilderness, that goes without saying. Make sure you don't set your tent where embers can fall on it.
My typical 3-Day pack:
"If you don't have it, It ain't coming with you"
- Mountain Hardware Direttissima 46 Pack
- Walrus Ultralight 2m Tent (long discontinued)
- REI FatCat -20 Goose Down Sleeping Bag (long discontinued)
- Therm-a-Rest Trail Scout Sleeping Pad
- MSR WhisperLite International stove
- Katadyn Hiker PRO water filter
- First Aid Kit
- Compass and Signal Mirror
- 3x 60 gallon trash bags (Orange)
- 3x 40 gallon trash bags (black)
- Water Purification Tablets
- 2x Nalgene Bottles
- Kershaw 1660 pocket knife
- SureFire Backup flashlight with spare batteries
- Mountian House Meals
- 2 pairs of socks
- Columbia Rain shell and Fleece
- Wind-proof lighter and backup matches
- Collapsible Saw