I don’t need much to keep me happy. When I’m traveling, I’ve found that even the most meager accommodations are good enough. But it’s always nice to have a few luxuries around, even on the trail.
How to accomplish this without requiring the services of backcountry porters is the dilemma faced by many when they first venture out into backpacking territory.
Camping, for the most part, is a blast. If you don’t mind camping around other people, you can car camp and bring anything your car or truck can haul. That could include large tents, a travel trailer, or even an RV with a kitchen. If that’s the case, I imagine your experience will be quite comfortable indeed. Steaks, anyone?
But if you’re like me, not only to you lack all that stuff, but you also want some solitude. That means hauling your stuff to places where cars, trucks and ATVs don’t go. So you’ll have to put it on your back and hoof it.
I haven’t perfected the art of the luxurious campsite, but I’m getting there. Some things that I’ve found to be backpacker-friendly but nice to have around include:
A good supply of hot food and the means to prepare it. You’d be surprised how good some dehydrated meals taste. Red beans and rice are a favorite with some of my friends. I like beef stew. I did taste a friend’s pad thai that wasn’t too tasty. But most stuff I’ve brought worked out pretty well. Hot instant oatmeal for breakfast, and maybe hot chocolate/coffee. Nothing warms the soul more than a good hot meal. For a kitchen, I use an MSR Pocket Rocket stove, 3.5 ounces not including the fuel can. That plus a water filter and a light cookware set, and I can eat for a week with less than 10 pounds of food/gear.
How about accommodations? A good tent can be had for less than $200. Neither of my backpacking tents weighs more than 6 pounds, and neither were more than $150. I’ve got a decent 20-degree sleeping bag, though an upgrade would be nice. The indispensible part of my gear is my Thermarest sleeping pad. Gives me some cushion under the bag and insulates me from the ground. A camp chair is probably next on my gear wish-list, something small but comfortable to relax in around the campfire.
I don’t bother with a camp pillow. I just put extra clothes in a stuff sack and make that work. Hasn’t let me down yet. Don’t pack the sack too full, though. Then it becomes too hard to be a good pillow.
Let there be light! Lastly, I like to read. A lot. But when it gets dark, it’s pretty hard to read without a light source. I leave the flashlight at home and take along one of my two lightweight headlamps. My Petzl is a little bigger, but it has a brighter beam and a “red light” option. My wife’s tiny Black Diamond headlamp work just fine as well. This is something you should have in your pack anyway.
These aren’t going to replace 5-star hotels, but they are some small tools and such that make the campsite experience a little more posh than granola bars and gorp. Feel free to share your tips by posting here or e-mailing me.