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The Granola Girl Guide to Creating a Camping & Backpacking Setup You’ll Love 🏕️✨

Navigating camping, backpacking, and outdoor gear can be overwhelming at best, but it’s definitely worth taking your time to do your research and slowly build gear stash you love. Here’s my Granola Girl Guide to creating a camping & backpacking setup that makes you excited to go outside and have an adventure of a lifetime.

Everything in this guide

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My top tips for getting started

First things first: It’s important to acknowledge how expensive outdoor gear can be, especially if you’re looking to get lightweight gear. Here are my top tips for getting started.

Slowly build up your inventory.

If you buy all of your camping gear at once, you’re looking at one expensive trip to the outdoor store. I’ve slowly built up my inventory of backpacking and camping supplies over years, which has allowed me to 1) try out a ton of gear and figure out what works for me, and 2) buy nicer items.

Rent gear!

When you’re first starting out, I’d highly recommend renting or borrowing gear. Many local outdoor retailers will have rental gear (I know REI and Sports Basement [in the Bay Area] have great rental systems—I’ve used them myself!) that you can get for a low price.

Really think about the kind of adventures you’ll be going on.

You definitely don’t need to spend $700 on an ultralight tent if you’re only planning on going car camping. Similarly, you won’t need a 4-season sleeping bag if you’re only going to camp during the summer. When you really think about the features you need, you’ll probably be able to find gear at a better price point.

If you’re going on a through-hike and want to pack ultralight, you probably will want more specialized gear, but the majority of us can get away with only a few specialized items that fit our needs.

Most important (IMO!): The sleep setup

If there was one thing I’d invest in, it would be my sleep setup. As someone who gets incredibly grumpy when she has little sleep, the people I camp with would tend to agree. Also, who doesn’t like getting good sleep?!

The tent vs bivy vs hammock debate

Totally up to you & your preferences. I don’t think I’ll ever give up sleeping in a tent, but that’s just me!

Tent

Portable shelter made of fabric stretched over a framework of poles or other supports. Probably the most common shelter for camping and backpacking. Also my preferred setup!

+ roomy—can fit gear, another human, or pet inside
+ can be pitched wherever
+ good protection

heavier than other options
requires sleeping pad to be comfy
takes up more space

Bivy

A bivy, short for bivouac sack, is a lightweight, compact, and minimalist shelter option. It’s essentially a waterproof and breathable bag that goes over your sleeping pad and sleeping bag.

+ super lightweight
+ feels like you’re sleeping outside
+ best visibility from inside

condensation is a given
little protection from elements
no room for anything else

Hammock

A hanging shelter that is typically suspended between two trees or supports. Most camping hammocks will have overhead cover so you’re protected from the elements (and bugs).

+ comfortable
+ doesn’t matter what terrain you’re camping on
+ good visibility from inside

insulation isn’t as good as other options
difficult to set up
need two anchor points

Tent recommendations

2 Person Tent: REI Half Dome SL2+

I doooo love this tent. It’s a great car camping and backpacking tent. It’s definitely not ultralight, but coming in just under 5 pounds, it’s also not heavy. It’s roomy, has held up well to weather, and is my go-to recommendation for friends in the market for a tent!

It looks like it’s been discontinued but I’ve heard really good things about the NEMO Aurora 2P tent, too, and they’re comparable!

Ultralight Tent: Zpack DuplexL.

This is an incredibly lightweight tent that’s perfect for your next through hike, backpacking trip, or long adventure. This tent has held up in crazy rain and wind conditions (and even the gusts from a helicopter flying 20 feet away!). It’s definitely overkill for car camping but GREAT for backpacking—you can use your hiking poles as tent poles.

Sleeping pad recommendations

NEMO Tensor Insulated

Only recently started sleeping on this, but I love how WIDE this is. I also loooove the bag mechanism for blowing it up. It’s pretty light but more bulky than the sleeping pad below.

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite

This was my go-to sleeping pad for YEARS. I absolutely adore how light and compact this is—I have the short version and while it’s not super wide, it’s incredibly comfortable and I like that I’m not carrying extra weight and space for length (I have the petite version) I don’t really need!

Sleeping bag recommendations

Mountain Equipment Nova IV

This synthetic sleeping bag is my go-to for car camping. It’s kept me incredibly warm wherever I take it. It’s rated for 21 degrees and has held up to that rating. While a mummy-style sleeping bag, it feels roomy. Truly a dream to sleep in! The only downside (and truly the ONLY reason I’ve bought another bag) is that it does not pack up small. I’ve taken this backpacking, and was fine with the weight, but found it difficult to pack in a 45+10L bag. It wasn’t necessary to upgrade, but it was going to save me some space, which was worth it in the end.

Nemo Disco 15

This sleeping bag was my upgrade! I got this because it packs down smaller than my Nova did. It’s still quite large for a down sleeping bag, but it is SO roomy and is great for side sleepers, too! I was super toasty in this sleeping bag and it’ll be my go-to for backpacking trips. My first time using it was at Grass Lake and it held up really well.

Pillow recommendation

The Rumpl Stuffable Pillowcase is the only pillow I’ll sleep with when trying to save weight. I put my Patagonia down sweater in it and am set for the night.

If car camping, I miiiight bring my pillow from home, but the Rumpl has been perfect for most trips.

Kitchen gear

This is a section where you can go reaaaally minimal or be a maximalist. I find myself somewhere in between.

Stove & fuel

I have both a tiny screw on backpacking setup like this JetBoil one and a full camp stove (here’s the one I have). I’d never carry the full camp stove backpacking, but if I’m car camping, I definitely would bring the Eureka over the Jetboil. If you’re planning on doing both backpacking and camping, but only want to splurge on one camp stove setup, go for the backpacking one!

Pots, pans, utensils

This is an area where I skimped for years, and while I’ve upgraded to ‘backpacking setups’ now, I don’t think it’s that much of an unlock. A small frying pan or pot will get you pretty far. I have a JetBoil pot for backpacking and this pan for car camping.

I also have some old Talenti gelato jars for cold soaking oats and carrying produce. They’re super light and great for storage/backpacking.

For plates and utensils, I’ve picked up some cheap backpacking ones—a spork will set you back around $7 and a plate roughly $12.

Soap, salt, pepper, and oil are things that I take from home, stored in film canisters and small bottles I’ve saved.

Toiletries & bathroom

If you’re car camping, you won’t need anything spacial. If you’re backpacking, be mindful of leave-no-trace rules. These are some items I find helpful.

Small bottles/film canisters

I use old film canisters to carry my face moisturizer. Aside from that, I don’t have any other skincare items (unless you count an SPF lip balm).

Toothpaste tablets & toothbrush

I’ve become pretty lazy and more recently have been lugging a travel size tube of toothpaste with me on backpacking trips, but I love Lush Toothpaste Tabs for a lightweight option. I’ll also bring a travel size toothbrush.

Trowel

To leave no trace, I carry a trowel with me! I have a super lightweight one that goes in a bag with some toilet paper, a ziplock bag for trash, and some hand sanitizer.


I hope this guide helps you figure out what gear you need and what you’re looking for your gear to handle. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me on Instagram or through email.


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