Ok, I’ll admit it …
Taking folks to places they would otherwise never visit, or even know about, is a huge kick for me. It is one of the biggest parts of running HoustonPhotowalks that I enjoy the most.
Quite often, people attending these tours are provided a checklist of stuff to bring, or at least a handful of hints. And there’s always that one guy that emails me back with “Did you seriously need to remind me to bring a flashlight to a night shoot?” Or “did you really need to tell me to not wear open toe shoes on a hike?”
Believe it or not, yes. Making sure folks know everything they need to know AHEAD of a tour is a major part of my job. In the end, a participant should be able to get right out of their car and start shooting, confident that everything is in order, and they brought everything they need.
No Massive Budget Needed
First, a disclaimer. This article is about preparing for short camping trips such as a 1 or 2 days photography trip during mild and dry weather. The advice here won’t be terribly helpful when its 25 degrees or 99 degrees, or during a hurricane. Its also not advice or suggestions for hard-core, long-term, deep woods primitive camping.
Folks that camp often are comfortable purchasing expensive gear that’s going to last forever. There’s a lot of benefit to having good gear, especially waterproofing, thermal protection, light-weight, and lasts. But for the once-a-year camper, a $200 sleeping bag might be a little overkill — and that’s JUST a sleeping bag!
A frugal shopper can get an entire setup for about half that price.
Now granted, it’s not high-end, well made and “pass-down-to-your-kids” quality, but will bring a little comfort to the occasional camp-out and photo trip.
Don’t Skimp on Important Stuff
It is a bad idea to go “cheap” on a few specific items. For example, a good jacket. Even if you only camp once, a good jacket will keep a photographer warm and dry regardless of destination. There are two main features of a shoot/camping jacket that are required before I even try it on: waterproofing and removable liner. Sometimes we shoot in the rain even if it is not cold, so the liner has to come out.
[Oh, side note, my most recent “favorite” jacket has a bit of leather edging. That’s nice, makes me feel special, but also means it has to be dry cleaned — which is a pain. Check washing instructions before leaving with a new jacket, especially if you know it’s going to get wet/dirty often.]
Another “you get what you pay for” item is a flashlight. That low-price, budget Wal-Mart flashlight works great in the store. But all it takes is a couple of bounces in your duffle bag on the way up the trail and the bulb or LED is trashed. Aircraft aluminum for high-end rugged needs, “unbreakable” ABS/PVC for less rugged yet reliable service. Also, there’s a huge difference in the amount of light you get from a $3 flashlight and one for $30.
Lastly, you’ll burn a cheap tent after first use. Especially if it rains and all your camera gear is trashed. You don’t have to pay a lot to get a decent one- or two-man tent. In fact, waterproof burlap and heavy-duty line threaded across branches will keep you dry. There’s absolutely no value in buying a 7-man cheap tent if you can get a 2-man, quality tent for the same price.
Plus, a 7-man tent is heavier, harder to put up, and collects more dirt for you to clean out. Who wants to clean out dirt while camping?
Here are a few items I found on Amazon for the casual (or one-time) camper. These are certainly not the highest quality products, but they get the job done without requiring you to mortgage the house so you can camp in the woods. 🙂
This is a decent sleeping bag for about 20 bucks. It’s rated for comfort at 55dF, which isn’t too cold. But remember that worn out old blanket with the torn edges that you keep around “just in case”? This is that case. Stuff the blanket inside the bag and zip back up for additional warmth.
It even comes with its own packing back.
If you sleep on your side, completely skip this. This pad (and others like it) puts a small layer of foam between you and the bare floor/sticks/rocks/dirt/sand. When I say small, its a very thin layer, just enough to even out those little rocks. It provides very minimal protection for cold ground, and zero protection for wet.
I have a handful of these around the house. The waterproof nipple button is easy to find and the light is fairly bright. at 5 bucks a pop, you can buy one for each bag and one for your pocket without breaking the bank.
Go ahead, make fun of me now. Call me a geek. When you get home and realized you dropped your remote trigger in the grass in the middle of the night while packing your gear up, you’ll think “wow, if only I had that goofy light that Joe was wearing!”
And this is about as bare-bones as it gets. These are called “Tube Tents” because its really one large tube. You stake it down in for places, then run a nylon string across a couple of branches to hold it up. There’s no window, no zipper, and no door. This may keep the rain off of you (if you stake out on high ground), but won’t keep the critters out.
Lots of ventilation though.
Classic Pup Tent
While growing up on Okinawa, I remember seeing massive lines of these out in the fields once or twice a year during military trainings. They aren’t much to look at, and certainly not much room, but gets the job done. Keeping dry, bug free and out of the wind are the major benefits of this style tent. You can find them on Amazon listed as “2-man” tents, but you better know that guy pretty well. Otherwise, its a 1-man tent with room for camera gear.
Hint: just like you check all your camera batteries, you want to check your camping gear before leaving home too. Especially to make sure your tent legs and stakes are all in working order.
Just bring some. Something’s going to get wet at some point. You can leave them in your car just in case, or bring a small one while hiking. You can use the old ones in the garage, not fit for the master bath. Or grab some of the cheap ones at Wal-Mart/Target. Don’t even have to match.
Food and Food Prep
You gotta eat, right? Here are some options for food prep.
The really nice thing about most camping meal kits is the lightweight. And because they aren’t fancy, they are quick to rinse off and repack before you head back home. Unfortunately, they are often plastic, so don’t get them too close to your cooking area.
Small camping pots are great for warming up hot water for your dehydrated meal at night and that morning cup of instant coffee in the morning. The important thing here is to get a pot that has a handle that won’t transfer a lot of heat to your fingers — and a handle that is *not* plastic. Sometimes it’s hard to control the size and direction of the heat on your campfire, so always get a camping pot with a metal handle.
When we are with a larger group, I use a larger pot. But for most situations, a small camping pot will do the trick.
If you bring it in, you need to take it back out — especially trash. When I’m taking a group on a camping trip situation, I often bring a collapsible trash bag holder. This keeps the trashbag up-right and ready for any disposables.
If there’s wind, you can throw a couple of big rocks in the bottom (BEFORE you put in the plastic liner) to hold the trash bag holder in place rather than blowing everywhere.
Wipe-on Bug Repellant
Depending on where you go, and what time of year, you may need bug repellant. PLEASE USE WIPE ON APPLICATIONS. The worst thing you can do is start spraying bug repellant around your camera gear! It is really difficult to get off of your lenses, and it can really upset fellow photographers that are within your mist/midst. Don’t be that guy/gal!
I never leave home without Deep Woods Off Deep Woods Insect Repellent Wipes 12-Towelettes (Pack of 3).
When it’s time to pack up and head home, you realize just how much nature you tracked into your tent. If our camping spot is pretty close to the car, I will bring a small hand broom with me to help clean up before folding the tent. If it’s a long hike, I make sure and clean the tent when we get home.
A Few Extra Other Items
Here’s a checklist of a few other possibly-easy-to-forget items. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but should get you going in the right direction:
- Headrest/old pillow
- Way to make fire.
- Can opener
- Reliable knife
- Laundry bag (keeps dirties separate from clean)
- First-aid / daily medication
- Duct tape
- Sun Block
A photography camping trip can be a blast. But forgetting something or not knowing to bring something can really be a drag. The occasional photography camping trip doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated, just a few items can bring enough creature comfort — and protect you from creatures — so you can wake up fresh in the AM, ready to photograph the wildlife hunting for breakfast!
Did you find this helpful?
Leave a comment if you find this helpful, or if there’s another camping gear item you include on your photography trips!