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Camping Essentials for Beginner Campers

The other day one of our friends asked me what gear they needed to go camping. They had nothing. No tent, no sleeping bags… nothing. That prompted me to put together a short list of essential camping gear for new campers.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of camping gear – rather a short, concise list of items that are absolutely essential to car camping. All items are available on Amazon for your convenience and many of the items can be found at Walmart.

4 Person Tent from Coleman

Your first tent doesn’t have to be an expensive one. In fact, sometimes it is nice to have a cheaper tent to turn to for summertime camping trips so you don’t have to worry about it getting destroyed as much. Consider this 4 person tent by Coleman that comes in at less than $60 for your first camping tent.

Sleeping Bag

Some things you don’t want to cheap out on and a sleeping bag is one of those. If you are new to camping you don’t need to $300 bag but you do want something that is going to keep you warm enough when temps drop into the 30s at night. Kelty makes a quality bag at a reasonable price: ~$100.

Air Mattress

When car camping you can afford some luxuries you normally can’t if you are backpacking. One of those is an air mattress. Consider the Coleman inflatable air mattress for car camping as a more comfortable alternative to the sleeping pad. Just keep in mind you need a way to inflate it. Less than $40

Sleeping Pad

Need something a little more portable than an air mattress? Then check out your options when it comes to sleeping pads. They compress smaller, are lighter and do not require a pump to inflate. This Outdoorsman sleeping pat fits the bill at just under $40 and is perfect for those new to camping.

Air Pump

If you opt for an inflatable mattress you are going to need a way to blow it up. We really like the rechargeable pumps because they don’t eat through batteries and you can actually inflate your mattress in the tent rather than next to your car (inflated mattress often don’t fit through your tent door). This Coleman pump is both rechargeable and affordable and is perfect for air mattresses and water floaties.

Around Camp

Camping Lantern

What’s a campsite without a lantern? You need a way to see around at night when you are hanging out by the fire and these days battery operated lanterns are all the rage. Costing less than 40 bucks and delivering some serious light the Streamlight lantern is our favorite of the battery operated variety and is perfect for the new camper.

Camping Chairs

Camping involves alot of sitting around and doing nothing. That’s kind of the point of the whole thing. So you need somewhere to sit and while a rock or stump will do – it gets uncomfortable fast. A folding camping chair is ideal and Coleman makes a great introductory chair for under $30.

The Camping Cooler

The cooler is a bit of a necessity when camping. Food needs to stay cold or it will spoil. Same goes for beer 🙂 The best deal on a cooler is most likely going to be found at your local sporting goods store (or Walmart) but if you want to order one online we suggest the Coleman Coastal Xtreme series. It will cost you around $50 and is the perfect introductory cooler for those new to camping.

The Camp Kitchen

Coleman Propane Stove

The stove will be the center of your camp kitchen and this Coleman Propane stove is the quintessential camp stove. Seriously – this specific stove is what we would recommend to both novice and expert car campers alike. It is priced well and is one of the most essential and well-built camp items there is. If you buy one thing on this list it should be this stove.

Stanley Cook Set

How do you plan on cooking your food on that awesome stove you just bought? Pots, pans, plates, spatulas and utensils all take up tons of room. Unless, that is, you have the Stanley Cook set for 4. This awesome set includes all the basics for your car camping kitchen and is perfect for those new to camping.

We hope you find this list helpful and if you think we are missing an essential item please share it with us in the comments below. Happy trails!

My Favorite John Muir Trail Pass

The John Muir Trail (JMT) offers a long list of major passes to challenge the backpacker.  Fortunately, the passes begin easy and gradually become more difficult as the backpacker gets in better condition.  All the routes are beautiful, and all but two (Cathedral Pass and Island Pass) offer world-class vistas.

My favorite pass on the JMT is right in the middle.  It is not highest (that would be Forester Pass at 13,200’) nor the hardest (Glen Pass).  My favorite is Mather Pass.

Mather Pass is the culmination of the long climb from Le Conte Canyon at 8070 feet to 12,100 feet, a whopping 4000-foot ascent.  What makes Mather Pass special is the trail itself.  Leaving the Middle Fork of the Kings River, the trail begins a gradual stroll through the forest, passing many tempting campsites.  Don’t be tempted.  Continue on above timberline to the famed Golden Staircase.  This section of trail is engineered to scale a seemingly unscalable granite face, using switchbacks and stairs.  To many, the Golden Staircase is a rite of passage, a test of will against hill, and a bragging right.  To me, it is spectacular.

The reward at the top of the Golden Staircase is the Palisade Lakes.  Both the Lower and Upper Palisade Lakes offer many excellent campsite options.  The waters of the Palisade lakes is amazingly clear.  The lakes are home to a healthy golden trout population, easily visible from shore.

From the lakes, it is a few long switchbacks to Mather Pass.  Views are breathtaking, both north and south.  You can see Bench Lake and Marjorie Lake to the south with Pinchot Pass behind them.

The descent is down a series of glorious switchbacks into Upper Basin, festooned with tarns and small creeks.  To the east is 14,000 foot Split Mountain, to the west are the granite slopes of Vennacher needle.  The easy walk down is so spectacular you do not want it to end.  Too soon, you must cross the South Fork of the Kings River, which can be either terrifying or carefree, depending on the season.

Why I hate Red’s Meadow

I admit, I do not avoid Red’s Meadow completely. Red’s Meadow, located just east of Devil’s Postpile National Monument, is an essential stop for pre-mailed resupplies. Rather than carry a heavy load representing 5-8 days of food from Tuolumne Meadows to Muir Trail Ranch, a Red’s Meadow resupply allows a backpacker to break it up into 2-3 days and 3-5 days of supplies. With that in mind, Red’s is a natural stop early in the JMT.

But be prepared. Red’s is a quick bus ride from Mammoth Lakes, which most people in Los Angeles think is a quick drive from that metropolis. Which it seems everyone does in the summer. As you trudge up from the river, you will be greeted by mobs of flip-flop wearing, out of shape, cigar-chomping, loud talking city folk. Their unruly children will be running around being unruly. Litter is present. The transition from wilderness, having likely descended from the unparalleled grandeur of Thousand Island Lake, to urban chaos is startling.

Lines are everywhere. Lines to buy junk food. Lines to pick up your resupply. Lines to board the bus back to civilization.

The backpacker campground is bleak, at best. Restrooms and showers are adequate. But the site is crowded and noisy. Red’s cabins are adequate, mostly. When described as rustic, that is pretty much accurate. You will not be the only visitors, as the resident mice, frogs, and ants will be reluctantly sharing their space. If you must spend the night here, jump on the bus and grab a cheap motel room in Mammoth Lakes. It will be less expensive, quieter, and the plumbing will all be functional.

The Mule House Cafe serves backpacker sized portions. Breakfast is at 7 AM, dinner requires pre-registration by 4 PM. Quantity is satisfying, quality is compromising. Hey, you are in the mountains….what do you expect?

My recommendation is to get in there early, grab your resupply and some Gatorade, and head south to Deer Creek.

Oregon State Parks Day

On Saturday, June 1 all Oregon State Parks will be waiving entrance, day use and camping fees to visitors. State Parks day is meant to celebrate our parks and encourage visitors to get out and enjoy all that the state of Oregon has to offer.

This year there are 11 parks which will be holding events to celebrate the day. Below is a list of parks holding events:

  • Fort Stevens State Park
  • Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint
  • Benson State Recreation Area
  • Tryon Creek State Natural Area
  • The Cove Palisades State Park
  • Prineville Reservoir State PArk
  • Tumalo State Park
  • Collier Memorial State Park
  • Wallowa Lake State Park

Most of the events at these parks are concerts mixed in with other activities. For a full list of events and more details visit:

5 First Come, First Served Campgrounds Near Portland

Ever since the creation of reservable campsites it has become more and more difficult to find campgrounds with first come, first served sites. As a result we are experiencing the death of the spontaneous camping trip. There are, however, a handful of campgrounds within a two hour drive of Portland that do not take reservations. Here are 5 campgrounds you may want to consider if you are looking to go camping without reservations.

Gales Creek Campground

40 miles from Portland
21 Campsites

Gales Creek Campground is one of the closest campgrounds to the Portland metro area and is located off of highway 6 in the Tillamook Forest. Sites are situated near Gales Creek and the area is heavily shaded. The campground tends to fill up quick on the weekends but if you get here early you could be one of the lucky ones that snags a spot.

Barlow Crossing Campground

75 Miles From Portland
6 Campsites

Barlow Crossing Campground is located on the edge of the White River near Mt. Hood a short drive from Highway 26. It is a small campground with sites near the river and some primitive sites outside of the campground. There are also several other first come, first served campgrounds nearby should Barlow Crossing be full.

McNeil Campground

50 Miles from Portland
43 Campsites

McNeil Campground is located outside of the town of Zigzag near Highway 26 on Mt. Hood. The large first come, first served campground offers 46 sites, old vault toilets and no potable water. This is a popular campground for hikers visiting the nearby Ramona Falls.

Elk Creek Campground

51 Miles from Portland
14 Campsites

Elk Creek Campground is located off of Highway 6 in the Tillamook Forest just beyond Gales Creek Campground. It is a shaded campground that is also adjacent to the Elk Mountain Trailhead. The campground is near Elk Creek which helps drown out some of the noise from highway 6.

Forlorn Lakes Campground

90 Miles from Portland
25 Campsites

Forlorn Lakes Campground is located in the Gifford Pinchot Natioanal Forest in Washington and is more difficult to reach than the other campgrounds listed here. However, it is probably the most impressive campground on this list and offers some incredible scenic lakeside camping. Because of this, though, sites do tend to fill up quickly so try and get here early. If Forlorn Lakes is full you can see if nearby Goose Lake Campground has any vacancy.

Oregon State Parks also has 28 first come, first served campgrounds though most of these are further than 2 hours from Portland. Here is the list of State Parks that are suitable for last minute planners:

Do you have a favorite first come, first served campground that isn’t on the list? Be sure to share it with us in the comments below!

Best & Worst Campsites on the John Muir Trail

Really? Are there best or worst campsites on the John Muir Trail (JMT)? All of the trail is spectacular, and would pass as a worst campsite on the JMT is likely a best campsite almost anywhere else. But there are campsites which are relatively better, and some which are relatively not as nice.

Best campsites – Rae Lakes

While everyone has a different opinion, one of the campsites which is on most all favorite lists is Rae Lakes. Rae Lakes is a series of three nearly connected lakes tucked in a glacial valley with Fin Dome bookmarking one end and Painted Lady the other end. The scenery is amazing, fishing is good, swimming is superb, and the camping is outstanding. Because of these attributes, Rae Lakes is a popular place, both for through hikers on the JMT or PCT and for weekend warriors coming in from Sawmill Pass or Kearsarge Pass.

Fortunately, the crowds are easy to avoid. Most backpackers are lazy by nature, and gravitate to the low hanging fruit of Middle Rae Lake, which even has bear boxes and a wilderness ranger station. Instead of joining this mini-city, hike around either of the lakes to the back side. Numerous obvious and hidden sites exist.

Two amazing campsites are on southern end of Middle Rae Lake. As the JMT winds around the lake, look for a scramble trail up slope towards the lake. A nice flat spot awaits you, with unobstructed views of the lake. The second is off the Sixty Lakes Basin Trail towards the lake. Again, perfect views with the bonus of a private swimming bay and beach.

Worst campsites – Tuolumne Meadows

The JMT begins with a relentless climb out of Yosemite Valley, followed by an easy stretch over Cathedral Pass into Tuolumne Meadows. However, most backpackers are feeling pretty sore and miserable by the time they arrive at Tuolumne Meadows. The easiest campsite is the Tuolumne Meadows Campground Backpackers Camp.

Positives include proximity to the store, grill, showers, and restrooms. These are also the negatives, as there is no wilderness experience at all. The Backpackers Campground is crowded into a hillside with sporadically placed picnic tables and bear boxes. As a result, it is a noisy campsite.

Best campsites – Trail Junction ascent

The vast majority of JMT hikers make Guitar Lake their final campsite prior to ascending Mount Whitney and exiting at Whitney Portal. And there is good reason: beautiful lake, right off the trail. And just before summit climb begins. As a result, it can be crowded.

So, stop for a drink, and keep going, for there are two great options yet to come. As the trails rises above Guitar Lake, there are a series of tarns to the right, offering a handful of sandy campsites. Water availability is seasonal. If you are truly adventurous and want a head start on the summit rush, continue up, tackling the switchbacks. Prior to the final switchback, there are a few obvious sandy sites carved in the mountainside with room for one or two tents. Here you will find unobstructed views down Whitney Creek Canyon. No water, meaning you need to tank up at Guitar Lake with enough liquid to last the night, the summit ascent, and the descent to first water coming down from Trail Crest. But is well worth it! You can be on the trail early and on the summit for sunrise with an extra hour of sleep.

Worst campsite – Muir Trail Ranch

Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) is a hiker friendly resupply stop. MTR organizes an impressive hiker box, which is actually twenty buckets organized by product. They also provide a charging station for electronics,
water, and a very limited store. MTR does not provide hikers access to restrooms.

Most hikers pick up their resupply, and hike 400 yards to a cluster of campsites just off the JMT connector trail. These campsites have no ascetic positive, other than being in the middle of a wilderness area.

Instead, backpackers should pick their resupply, and head south 3-4 miles and grab a prime campsite off Piute Creek just inside Kings Canyon National Park.

Essential Camping Gear for Memorial Day Weekend

In the Pacific Northwest camping on Memorial Day Weekend usually poses some unique challenges. The month of May can often times be one of the rainiest months we get all year. Temperatures can dip into the low 30’s at night, lakes and rivers are near frigid and there is almost always mud everywhere. That being said, Memorial Day weekend is the official opening day of camping season and hoards of people flock to their favorite campgrounds to celebrate.

To help make things easier on you this Memorial Day we have put together a list of essential gaming gear you need if you are heading out to camp.

Table Cloth and Bench Cover

Camping on Memorial weekend often means wet tables and benches. Stay dry with this high quality, reusable picnic table cover available on Amazon.

Fire Starters for Wet Wood

Camping early in the season usually means the wood you use for your campfire is a little damper than usual. Make sure to pick up some fire starters to make starting a fire much easier.

Reusable Tarp

Camping in May can result in epic downpours. Be prepared for whatever the weather throws at you with a reusable tarp or 4. Every camper should have several tarps as part of their arsenal.


Mosquito and Bug Repellent

Mosquito repellent is a must when camping in the late spring and early summer. Keep the bugs away with this two pack of sprayable insect repellent.

Citronella Candles

Speaking of bugs – outfit your campsite with these citronella tea light candles to keep the mosquitoes away.

Cottenelle Flushable Wipes

It’s camping… you are going to get dirty. Make sure you stay clean in the kitchen and bathroom with these disposable wet wipes.

Camp Axe

You were planning on building a fire, weren’t you? Well then, you are going to need a quality axe that is both portable (cause your are camping) and effective. This 23 inch Gerber Axe fits the bill.

Your Favorite Camping Hat

You can’t go camping without a hat! What about your morning camp hair? Make sure you pick up a Muddy Camper hat before your next outing. Plus, it shows us that you like and support what we are doing here.

Canopy Tent

Here we go again with the rain warning. These canopy’s are a HUGE lifesaver if it rains on your parade but they are also super handy to have around during the warmer summer months of camping.


Are we missing something essential? Share it with us in the comments below!

12 Campgrounds Near Mt. Hood Open This Weekend

Whether you are ready for it or not, camping season has shown up early this year and is officially upon us.  Camping before Memorial Day weekend usually is not a “thing” in the Pacific Northwest thanks to our ultra wet climate but this year the sun gods have made an early appearance.  With the nice weather here you can count on the crowds looking to escape the unseasonable heat and enjoy some time out in nature.  There is one problem though…. many of the campgrounds people are accustomed to visiting are not open yet.  To help, we have put together a list of some of the more popular campgrounds in the Mt. Hood area and included their open/closed status.

Campgrounds near Mt. Hood Open this Weekend (May 10)

Campgrounds Near Mt. Hood Opening Soon

Timothy Lake Campgrounds Opening Dates

Keep in mind that temperatures at night are still very cold and the lakes and rivers are frigid.  This is also when mosquitos start arriving so be sure to bring plenty of bug spray with you.


The Best Piece of Unnecessary Backpacking Equipment

Endless blogs of self-appointed backpacking authorities offer opinions and recommendations on how to shave weight off your basic weight. My favorite is to cut off excess pack straps. Weight savings? Maybe 2 ounces. Ridiculous. While I maintain a base weight of about fifteen pounds, I do enjoy a few luxuries.

By far, my favorite piece of unnecessary equipment is the REI Flexlite Air backpacking chair. A chair? Seriously? Yes! For us older backpackers, sitting on a log, a rock, or the dirt simply does not cut it. First, there is no back support. Second, it is not relaxing. On a recent hike, I unfolded and set up my chair on the summit of Pinchot Pass. I could have sold this chair multiple times for a nice profit!

Purists will scoff at the weight and absurdity of a backpacking chair. This chair clocks in at a whopping one pound. I will happily leave the 35 mm camera or solar panel to make room. The Flexlite chair is durable, comfortable, but a bit of an irritation to set up, as it has been engineered with minimal clearances. For a hundred bucks, it is well worth the money.

Imagine, the end of a long day with a few thousand vertical feet climbed. You set up camp, heat up dinner, and settle into your comfy chair to enjoy the view of Palisade Lake. Every muscle in your body is relaxed and feeling good. All that is missing is a cold beer. But that is just another sixty miles down the trail.

REI not your jam? Check out the Basecamp chair available on on Amazon:

Three Butt-Kicking Sections of the John Muir Trail

The John Muir Trail (JMT) is well known around the world for its unparalleled beauty and grandeur.  What is not widely spoken about is the ability of this popular backpacking destination to humble strong and experienced hikers.  The combination of long ascents, high altitude, and isolation from exit points combine to test one’s resolve.

Glen Pass

The JMT has eight major passes over 11,000 feet and several lesser passes.  As the typical hiker progresses from north to south, the passes get higher, steeper, and more exposed.  Forester Pass, at 13,200 feet, gets most of the attention, but its neighbor to the north, Glen Pass, is actually much more of a challenge.

Glen Pass begins in a very quaint manner from the beautiful Rae Lakes, ascending perfect steps formed from granite.  The further trail travels from Rae Lakes, the more rugged the trail becomes.  Soon, the hiker is above tree line, exposed to the relentless Sierra sun and winds.  The condition of the trail deteriorates as the tread steepens and the footing becomes looser.  Early on, the views are captivating and distracting.  As the hiker climbs, the only view is the rough trail immediately in front.  A final traverse puts the hiker on the knife like ridge of Glen Pass.  If the winds are not howling and it is not a summer snowstorm, enjoy the view, as the descent is no easier.

Glen Pass descends to the south very steeply, with loose rock and extreme exposures.  A slip here will definitely end the trip.  The descent is better described as a scramble, and you will likely be searching for handholds.  Believe it or not, sure footed mules cross this pass daily.

The obvious challenges of Glen Pass are compounded early season and in heavy snow seasons, such as 2018-19.

Glen Pass makes all the other passes seem easy, and after this, Forester Pass is a bit of a letdown.

Muir Trail Ranch to Evolution Lake

The climb out of Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) is not the steepest, not the longest, section of the JMT. It may argued that is the prettiest section of the JMT.  The challenge here is the load the typical hiker will be carrying.

MTR is a resupply stop for the majority of JMT backpackers.  Supplies that have been shipped here are picked up and the backpacker is equipped to complete the balance of the JMT, normally about ten days.  Assuming two pounds of food per day per hiker, backpacks just added twenty pounds.  MTR is low on the San Joaquin River at 7,800 feet, and Evolution Lake is at 10,800 feet, setting up a 3,000 foot climb with backpacks that are filled to capacity.

The climb begins gently, following the river, but 6.5 miles it splits away, following Evolution Creek.  The climb steepens and is relentless.  Fortunately, the cascades are amazing and the scenery is jaw dropping.  Which is what your jaw s doing anyhow, as you are gasping for oxygen in the rapidly thinning air.

The destination at Evolution Lake is well worth the efforts.  Many exposed campsites are near the lake shore.  On the north end of the lake, there are a couple premium sites tucked in white park pines and protected from adverse weather.

Mount Whitney Descent

Now this is sure to be controversial.  After summiting Mount Whitney, hikers retrieve their stowed backpacks at Trail Junction, climb the final insulting 200 vertical feet to Trail Crest at 13,658 feet, and begin the long decent to Trail Camp.  Yes, it is all downhill.  Yes, your backpack is practically empty as you have consumed all the food you picked up at MTR.  But, the descent is 99 switchbacks.  And, it is all exposed to the sun and winds.  A short section has climber cables to mitigate the deadly exposure.

At Trail Camp, you think the worst is behind and you can already taste the Whitney Portal burger and cold beer.  Unfortunately, you are now beginning the longest 7 miles on the JMT.  This is not relaxing hiking.  Footing is often loose, there are immeasurable steps, and there are several small stream crossings.

Miles turn into hours, and it feels no closer to the trail’s end.  After three weeks on the JMT, the mind is focused burgers, beers, beds, and baths.  Long, gradual switchbacks are followed be more long, gradual senseless switchbacks, making what should be a quick decent into a long plodding march.   Suddenly, when all hope is gone, a flash of a reflection from a windshield and the final traverse takes you into Whitney Portal.

Hitchhiking from Whitney Portal to Lone Pine is a cinch, as most day visitors are aware of the need for rides.