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Camping Gear 101: The Top 16 Recommendations for Gear, Clothes and Equipment

Updated: Mar 7


John and I began our family adventure in 1993, and we have spent a lot of time on the road since, having visited between us and the children five continents and ten provinces.


(Some road warriors may laugh, but for our family it seemed like a lot!)


Whether travelling by car, air or sea, and no matter your accommodation, it’s natural to want to travel in comfort. In our family, when wishes and practicality collide our golden rule makes the distinction between “need to have” and “nice to have” very clear: If you can’t carry it, you can’t bring it.


In this blog I’m going to tell you about the need to have and nice to have camping gear, clothes and equipment.


A family sitting on a train station bench along a brick wall
2009 - waiting for the train to Quebec City with our backpacks.


Camping 101 Recap

First thing's first. Let’s sort out what kind of camping we’re talking about here, because there are seriously all kinds of camping varieties, and it really does make a difference to the gear, equipment and clothes you need to bring. 


We will focus here on highway camping and ready-to-camp glamping for three reasons – they’re: 

  • the most budget-friendly and easiest ways for beginners to learn to camp, 

  • typically the safest camping adventures, and importantly, 

  • both offered along the Highway 60 Corridor of Algonquin Park and South Algonquin. 



We will touch lightly on backcountry camping at times because it is a logical next skill extension for campers looking for more rugged experiences or challenges. Be aware that extra preparation is required if you’re going to try a true backcountry wilderness adventure.


We will also touch on the different levels of preparation and equipment required, and how these needs change again with the seasons and temperatures outside. 


Just for you: Are you a camping beginner? This is your ultimate beginner’s guide to camping.


Top camping gear for any kind of camping 

If you have the budget, you can spend a lot of money on highly specialized, expensive stuff for camping. But there are options – you don’t have to.


Highway camping generally means committing to own, borrow, rent or otherwise obtain your own camping gear. Owning your own equipment gives you the independence to be able to come and go basically whenever you have time. 


If you camp in an RV, van or trailer, some of the items on the following lists may be built into the vehicle you use, which is really convenient. This is a more expensive way to store and haul camping equipment around but solves a lot of the amenities and comfort challenges.


You can still highway camp on a budget, though. If you are willing to co-own or share items with a favourite buddy you like to camp with anyway, you can split the cost. 


Buying good quality items used through the thrift or circular economies can also help reduce the cost of owning your own gear. 


Related: Check out our Camping in Canada Ultimate Guide.


Camping gear and camping equipment needed for camping  

At Four Corners we host people on camping and glamping trips that typically range from one day to one week across three seasons of weather. We've seen everything the elements can throw, from snow in August to months-long droughts, to swimming weather in May. We recommend following a packing list whenever possible, but we understand that the weather can be surprising, even when you've been checking the forecast for weeks!


If your packing list fails, we've got you covered with our rental equipment and camping gear. As for that packing list, here is a list of common camping equipment and gear people enjoy away from home.

Camping Gear & Equipment 
Highway Camping
Four Corners Camping & Glamping

Tents

BYO

Your choice of pole, belle, safari or bubble

Mattress

BYO

High density foam mattress covered in antibacterial boat vinyl

Sleeping Bags

BYO

Rent or BYO

Blankets

BYO

Rent or BYO

Pillows

BYO

Rent or BYO

Seating & Tables

BYO

Wooden picnic table & Muskoka chairs

Food, Cooking Instruments, Cleanup and Food Storage

Campfire

BYO portable stove

BYO portable oven

Campfire Propane BBQ Inc propaneRent or BYO Kitchen conveniently stocked with soap & towels

Hygiene & Towels

BYO

Fully stocked bathrooms (hygiene products and sun screen) Towels are BYO

Flashlights

BYO

Rent or BYO

Personal Bag & First Aid

BYO

BYO and we have a kit on-site

Do I buy or rent camping gear?

Four Corners Algonquin takes care of all the basics across seasons so you only have to think about the details as much as you want to and enjoy doing so. This means that in the spring, summer and fall, we can take people of any camping skill level right off the street, no experience required, and help them safely enjoy a great, one-of-a-kind camping adventure (with few exceptions).


Although some of the above items are fun to bring, you don’t really need to own or pack any of your own camping gear other than clothes for a stay with us – anything you need is available to rent from the Four Corners Algonquin Quartermaster Shack. 


The per night stay cost is higher than the highway camping options, but it is far more convenient, comfortable, and far less costly than owning your own camping gear and equipment, especially if camping is a once-in-a-while experience for you.


Camping really is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of deal, and you can custom fit it to your lifestyle, ability and budget. No matter which type of camping you prefer, you want to know what kind of camping gear, clothes and equipment to bring.


Camping gear and glamping equipment essentials 

Changing marketplaces and technologies make it really attractive to buy certain items brand new and arrive all decked out with the latest camping equipment and gear. But for most occasions, whatever household items you have close at hand will probably work. 


In this way, you can select how much to spend according to convenience and comfort levels you set for yourself. You can acquire items all at once, over time, or not at all, without sacrificing the comfort of your

camping trips.


Let’s look at the list above in more detail to learn more about specific items and brands that we rely on, enjoy, and sometimes indulge in here at Four Corners Algonquin.


1. Camping tents

There are literally thousands of different tent options to suit any family’s needs and budget. Tents specifications vary according to occupancy, shape, material, durability, structure, and season. 


The best places for newbies to learn about camping tents is to check out SAIL or Cabela’s camping gear in-person, where you can see and touch the many varieties of camping equipment in one same location. Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) is another good place to find high-grade camping gear. 


At Four Corners Algonquin, many of our custom canvas safari tents were purchased directly from Canadian manufacturers custom made to our specifications. 


A canvas tent at night, illuminated by light from within
The Guide Tent 



Our bubble tents are also custom made and imported from the US. Their size and durability mean that they cost far more than any family would want to spend on a typical camping tent. It also means that when you stay with us, you get to enjoy a really high-quality tent!


For the curious, we are also frequent shoppers at auctions and surplus sales where a variety of high quality, gently used and sometimes hard-to-find equipment can be acquired at a fraction of the retail cost. 


When shopping auctions and surplus, we look at the quality of the canvas, the size of the tent, the season it’s meant for, and what the specific needs are for assembly and disassembly. 


(Watch for our surplus tent sales starting in 2024 if you want to buy one of our decommissioned tents at a great price!)


2. Camping mattresses

When camping, the question is always, how do I get a good night’s sleep on the ground? There are lots of options!


In Four Corners Algonquin safari tents, you’re not actually sleeping on the ground. We buy high density foam slabs from an Ontario manufacturer, ordered and cut to size. We order the antibacterial boat vinyl by the roll from a different Canadian company, and have a local upholsterer custom sew the covers. The mattresses then slide into our fabricated-on-site bed frames made by residents of South Algonquin Township. 


We typically buy twin or cot size widths, which makes our modular system a breeze to set up and take down in the spring and fall. Our mattresses all have velcro sewn in so the twin mattresses stick together to make a king bed, and our cot sized floor mattresses fit together to make a queen bed. The velcro means the mattresses don’t slide apart when you’re trying to stay close. 


Even in tents where there is no bed frame, these mattresses cushion your sleep to give you sweet dreams while you rest – they range from 4-8” thick!


Vans, trailers and RVs often have mattresses built in. If you’re trying a highway camping with a tent and really are sleeping on the ground, options to cushion the ride include air mattresses, foam toppers, or our favourite, easy-to-pack sleep option: Therm-a-Rest.


3. Sleeping bags for camping

If you enjoy camping and know that you’re going to go more than once, a sleeping bag is probably the first and best investment you’ll make. In general, owning your own is a comfort for highway campers, and essential for back country campers. But how do you know which sleeping bag to invest in?


We recommend checking out Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) first. They have a super guide for how to choose a sleeping bag, rating a whole range of name brand bags for temperature and comfort vs durability to help you choose exactly the right one. Plus they have floor models you can touch and try. MEC is a great place to learn!


At a minimum, for you want to make sure that the sleeping bag is rated to the minimum temperatures you expect to encounter - at least 0C in spring, or in winter probably -20C or colder. In summer you can often get away with a 5-10C bag and a blanket just in case.


At Four Corners, we have a collection of nearly 100 rental bags we sourced mainly from thrift stores such as the Salvation Army or Value Village. Since we are basically a three-season operation, and we’ve had lots of time to acquire our collection, we can afford to be picky about our thrift store finds to make sure we have a high-quality assortment of options to suit the changing weather patterns and client needs. Plus, our equipment takes a lot of abuse. We don’t want to have to back-charge guests for damage, so we keep the cost low to begin with. 


4. Sleeping bag liners for camping

You might consider buying a sleeping bag liner as well. We send out sleeping bag liners with every rental for sanitary and warmth reasons. The lighter poly-cotton bags are convenient. The warmer fleece liners add about 5C of extra warmth, and are far easier to launder than the bags themselves. We sourced these from Alibaba.


5. Blankets

If you are car camping or RV camping, you may be able to get away with just bringing warm blankets from home, especially in the summer time - be sure to check the weather forecast and bring extras. For those of you who prefer the cozy bed feel to the confined quarters of a sleeping bag, this may actually be the preferred option.


At Four Corners, we also offer sheet rentals for the tents that have a king or twin size beds in them. Our 100% cotton fleece sheets give you a layer of warmth between you and the vinyl mattresses. If you top it off with a duvet or other blankets from home, you’ll be all tucked up nice for the whole night. Or rest easy knowing you can choose from an assortment of extra warm wool blankets if you get here and find out you need more warmth than you brought.


Pro Tip: Make sure you pack extra-warm blankets for chilly nights so you can sit outside the tent and see the stars


6. Pillows for camping 

I don’t know about you but I always sleep better when I have the luxury of my own pillow. This is where I indulge. Unless it’s impossible, I always bring my own pillow.


For our own personal use, we love the Novaform gel pillows available at Costco. The bonus is they roll up quite small for packing purposes!


We also recommend that campers bring their own pillows from home whenever possible, especially if travelling from Ontario. But if that’s not possible (for example, for international travellers) we have an assortment of pillows available in our rental program to cover the need.


7. Camping tables and camping chairs

At Four Corners Algonquin, each campsite comes equipped with a picnic table and Muskoka chairs. We also have a comfort station and common kitchen area with more tables and chairs, perfect for families and groups.


Four Muskoka chairs around a campfire, a canvas tent on a platform beyond
Buckeroo Safari Tent



If you’re highway camping, you want to check whether your site includes a picnic table or not. You will almost certainly need to bring your own chairs. 


There are many manufacturers of folding chairs to choose from. Check out Walmart, Canadian Tire, or the Real Canadian Superstore for affordably priced options.


8. Cooking instruments, cleanup and food storage while camping

Cooking and eating at camp means planning for meal time.


In addition to a camp stove, bbq, or the campfire itself, you want to consider bringing any pots and pans or dishes you might need to get the job done.

  • If you plan to make camping a regular experience, you may want to look into sets of nesting pots that fit together in one bag, take up very little space and add a lot of versatility to meal prep.

  • Often campers will bring recyclable or disposable dishes for convenience, while others have a dedicated ‘camping’ set they never leave home without.

  •  If you’re concerned about your ‘good’ pots and pans getting black over a fire (yes – this is a thing) consider buying items at yard sales or thrift stores and using them just for camping.

  • Refrigeration isn’t always available, and so a cooler with ice is essential. We buy the economically priced Coleman Chiller coolers from Canadian Tire. If you pack it with a block of ice, it will stay cold for at least 24 hours at a time. Topping it up regularly with crushed ice will keep your food cold for as long as you need it.


If you’re camping at Four Corners Algonquin, you really only need the basics and all of that can be rented if you don’t have or don’t want to bring items from home. Our rental program carries an assortment of coolers, dishes, pots, pans in stainless steel and cast iron in a variety of sizes. If you bring from home, save yourself some grief by favouring non-breakable items made of plastic or steel. 


9. Camping food

If you’re adventurous and want to extend your skill or add the back-country feel to a highway camping trip, drybag cooking (premade meal bags) are great nutritional value for the space they take up. 


Although they can be more costly if you buy them ready-made, you can also explore the whole world of dehydrated food recipes including favourites like beef jerky, fruit leather and freeze-dried vegetables and make your own. Instant potatoes, rice and pasta all make great dry bag meals without very much preparation. We’re big fans of DIY dry bags. We pack them in ziplock freezer bags.


It's smart to try a few of the prepared meal bags ahead of time so you know what the taste and portion sizes are like, and to figure out whether they work for you – practically speaking. 


You may want to bring extra spices or additive things to increase quantities or flavour. Check out the Backwoods cookbook published by the Scouts for campfire recipe ideas.


Insider Tip: We have a grocery store in town, so you don’t even need to buy food ahead - you can shop here! 


10. Hygiene and towels while camping 

Normal rules for sanitation apply no matter where or how you plan to camp. That means choosing environmentally friendly products and packing your garbage out. If you’re highway camping or RV camping, you’ll definitely want to bring items like garbage bags, soap and towels from home.


At Four Corners Algonquin, we provide most of these items for our guests. We have garbage bins around our comfort station. Our bathrooms are stocked with hypoallergenic castile soap and shampoo (made from olives), conditioner, SPF 30 sunscreen, and hygiene products. Our kitchen is stocked with fresh towels daily, as well as dish soap.


A grey comfort station complete with trash depositories and kitchen sinks
Four Corners comfort station kitchen


If you plan to swim or otherwise get wet, personal towels that dry quickly are another camping staple. SAIL, Cabela’s and MEC all sell their own varieties. We’re also fans of the simple Turkish hammam towel for their large coverage, small packing size and warp-speed drying time.


11. Bug spray for camping 

Depending on what time of the year you visit, you should also have a good quality bug spray handy. We use Off! Deep Woods brand and Thermacell here at camp. You’ll be glad you brought it, I promise! 


12. Camping flashlights

Flashlights, with spare batteries, are essential to the camping experience for around the campfire and on those late night trips to the loo. 


We have used all kinds of lanterns and flashlights here at the campground over the years, but our favourites include the Duracell Torch Ultra, 3 pack, these rechargeable work lights from Princess Auto (especially if you can get magnetic versions) or any battery powered light in the Milwaukee Tool line up. 


13. Personal bags and first aid kits for camping

One of our staple travel tricks includes packing a personal bag with toothbrush, cotton swabs, first aid kit, nail clippers and antiseptic wipes (such as iodine and alcohol). These items can get you through almost any run-of-the-mill emergency (including clipping tangled fishing lines.)


Dedicated first aid kits are an afterthought for many people, but should be considered essential. When packing or purchasing an emergency kit, remember to include items for burn care. We also pack an emergency foil blanket - not only do they reflect light, they’re waterproof and can keep you dry in an emergency. 


14. Glamping gear - the “nice to haves” 

If visually attractive spaces are what fills your bucket, you’re in good company. There are plenty of people who like to dress their tents up to the nines. Blankets, duvets, rugs, lampshades, lights and curtains have all made an appearance here at one time or another. We’ve even seen twinkle lights and full-on movie projectors!


We are also partial to some ‘special’ equipment that you don’t often think of as camping gear, but which nevertheless elevates the camping experience. Asobu Bottle makes a really neat cold brew coffee press – no hydro required.


People don’t often carry pocket knives any more, but we do all the time. Our favourites are the custom made models by Grohmann Knives in Nova Scotia. Check out their clearance section!


Check out Yeti’s outdoor gear to get extra ideas on all things camping equipment! 


15. Camping footwear

Don’t forget about your feet! They’re going to be carrying you along the best hiking trails and it’s important to have dry, blistered feet. 


Go in to the stores to shop for these to make sure they’re a good fit. Spend some time testing them out and breaking them in before you head out on your camping adventure to make sure they’re comfortable. 


Some of our favourite camping footwear come from Keen, Columbia, and the thrift stores. You can find a lot for good prices at thrift stores!


Pro Tip: Find out which trails are the BEST hiking trails in Algonquin Park.


16. Oops, I forgot something…

Ahhh, the oops factor. What happens when you get to your destination and discover you forgot something?


When you’re highway camping, you have a car and can usually pop over to the nearest town to solve your need. The town may be an hour drive away, but it’s possible.


At Four Corners Algonquin, forgetting camping gear or equipment is seldom a problem. If the nights are colder than you expected, or your flashlight ran out of batteries, we have a fully stocked comfort station ready to outfit you with what you need to be comfortable and safe. Just be sure to order before the Quartermaster closes each night!


Best camping clothes: Packing list

John always says that there are no bad camping trips, just unprepared campers. Seriously, clothes can make or break a camping trip whether you’re 9 years old or 90.


This doesn’t mean your clothes need to be new or expensive. It just means you’ll be happier if you put some thought into your camping wardrobe before you leave home and plan for the variables in the environment you’ve committed to spending time in. You’ll want to consider the length of your visit and the season at a minimum - summer is noticeably different than spring or fall. 


Your standard camping packing list

The first rule is to dress in layers of clothing. Temperature swings can exceed 20C from daytime highs to night time lows. 


That’s a lot for some people to manage. If you dress in layers, you can add clothes or remove them to suit whatever the weather is at the moment, ensuring a consistent level of comfort.

Here are a few staples we always like to pack when camping in spring, summer, and fall.

  • a pair of jeans just because they’re durable

  • a comfortable pair of shoes, especially if you plan to hike

  • a zippered hoodie/sweater or jacket for cooler times

  • a windbreaker or water repellent jacket if the weather calls for rain

  • a clean pair of pyjamas for sleeping

  • a hat to protect your face and neck from the sun 

  • shirts or sweaters with long sleeves

  • socks (to provide protection from mosquitoes)

  • shirts and pants with pockets (you can never have enough pockets!)


For our clothing needs, we really like to check out the clearance sections of Roots and Lululemon, for clothes that we know are going to be warm and durable and designed for the outdoors. We also love Costco for the prices! 


Getting wet is nearly inevitable so when you’re selecting items, pick items that dry fast. We prefer natural fibres like wool, cotton, but there are some increasingly fantastic manufactured fibres that dry quickly and wick the moisture away from the body.


Another favourite are pants with zip-away legs from Columbia, Mark's Work Warehouse and Under Armour.


Is camping worth the cost?

Although we visited some cool far away places over the years, our ‘staple’ vacation destination was always Whitney, Ontario, adjacent to Algonquin Park. 


This was the inspiration for starting Four Corners Algonquin – to make camping just a little bit easier to reach for people who have never tried it or thought their camping days were behind them.


Five lads sitting on a log enjoying camp food by the lake
May 2007 


Backcountry camping trips were a hoot, with good food and good company and lots of laughter at life lessons learned the hard way even years later. Glamping is even better because more people get to enjoy a very similar experience.


But learning how to live on nothing but what you brought or could forage? Well, that’s priceless. 


Book your camping trip 

Heading out on a camping adventure is not just about escaping into the wilderness – it’s getting out into nature and truly enjoying yourself, and true enjoyment has a lot to do with being comfortable. 


Camping with the right clothing and gear can make all the difference between a dud trip and a beauty trip – and we want all your trips to be beauties! 


So you’ve got the gear and you’re good to go! The only thing missing is the campsite.🏕️

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