Camping at undeveloped sites can be intimidating. This kit will give you some peace of mind.
Sure, established campsites have amenities that take some of the work out of living in the woods for a weekend—namely latrines, potable water, fire pits, and picnic tables. But they can also get packed, making you feel like you’re searching for nature in the middle of a block party. Choosing instead to pursue undeveloped campsites on BLM and Forest Service land can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but it’s so worth it. There’s an enormous amount of open, mostly empty, land out there that’s easily reached by car if you know where to look (feel free to ask the folks at a local gear shop, as they’ll have good knowledge of the area and what’s accessible). All you need to enjoy it in comfort are a few key pieces of gear and little bit of know-how.
Reliance 7-Gallon Aqua-Tainer ($19)
I placed this simple, inexpensive container at the top of this list for a reason. It holds a family-of-three’s worth of cooking, drinking, and cleaning water for a weekend. (If you’re alone, opt for the smaller, four-gallon version.)
Sea to Summit Kitchen Sink ($27)
Set the Aqua-Tainer on this Kitchen Sink and violà, you have a handy system for washing dishes. Tupperware has worked for me in the past, but this purpose-built collapsible sink can pack down to nothing.
Platypus GravityWorks 4-Liter Water Filter System ($120)
This Platypus filtration system allows you to camp near a natural water source indefinitely. Simply fill the GravityWorks up and, as the name says, let physics apply the effort of moving the water through the filter.
Wilderness Bathroom Kit (cheap)
I’d make the argument that a poop kit—comprising plenty of toilet paper, travel-size hand sanitizer, and a few Ziploc plastic bags (for storage and packing out used TP)—is the most important item on this list. It’ll mean the difference between misery and comfort when nature calls. And it’s super cheap, since you can put it together with things you likely already have in your house. Pro tip: if you haven’t rationed TP for yourself for a multi-day trip before, take what you think you’ll need and double it. Bring too much and the worst-case scenario is that you bring some extra home. Bring too little...you get the idea.
Gerber Gorge Folding Shovel ($23)
Be conscious about how you dispose of your number twos. Always do your business in a hole at least six inches deep, then cover it up. You can certainly use a flat rock or sticks as makeshift shovels, but better to bring the real thing if you have the space. It’s much easier than furiously scratching at hard dirt with a stick after your morning coffee gets your system moving. In a pinch, the Gorge can also be used to dig your car out if it’s stuck or hammer tent stakes into the ground.
Dr. Bronner’s Organic Liquid Soap ($18)
Gaia (free; Android and iOS)
A GPS app for smartphones, Gaia has saved my butt on more than one occasion when I’ve been lost. But it’s also invaluable for finding a free, legal spot to camp, since it offers specialized maps from hunting agencies and other entities showing what’s public and private land in an area (though you do need a premium membership, and that’ll run you $40 a year). While I do prefer paper maps to GPS, it’s reassuring to have a backup on my phone to see where I can legally camp when I’m on the road.
Camp Time Roll-A-Table ($99)
I would rather have a good table than good chairs at a backwoods campsite any day—stumps make good chairs and are often easy to find. Food prep on short, uneven surfaces is a hassle, and eating off of a table feels so much more refined than having a plate on your lap. The Roll-A-Table has been my go-to for over a decade because of its bomber construction and packability, plus it’s a breeze to clean.
Hefty 18-Gallon Trash Compactor Bags ($6 for 5)
A trash bag is a trash bag, you could argue. But you’d be wrong. These are more expensive, but they’ll serve you better in the wilderness because they are so much durable than the standard bags you use in your kitchen. That extra strength will lower the odds of leakage into your car as you drive home. Compactor bags also make excellent drybags in a pinch.