Back to Nature

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Gearing up for one of Canadas favourite outdoor pastimes

I want to start camping. What do I need?
The basics are a tent, sleeping gear and cooking equipment. You've also got to think of food and water, lighting and ways of carrying or storing all of the above.
That's a lot to buy, but you can rent most of the gear, says Mark Stanley of Trailhead in Ottawa.

• Are the basics the same for everyone?
No. It depends on what kind of camping you want to do, and what comfort level you prefer. There's a big difference between car camping (driving to a campsite) in provincial parks in the summer, and going off on a five-day hike in the wilderness in October with no access to running water or toilets.

• Understood. So what do I need, again?
First, you need a tent. A two-person tent rents for about $10 a day, says Stanley, or you can buy a decent one for $250 to $300. Lucie Boulianne of SEPAQ, Quebec's provincial parks service, says you should make sure the tent has a fly to keep it dry in inclement weather. She also suggests hanging a tarp over your eating area to protect in case of rain.

• Is it easy to pitch a tent?
Stanley says it's getting easier. He says many new tents are designed so the poles only fit one way. But it's a good idea to practise beforehand.

• What else do I need?
Sleeping gear. This is personal, because what's comfortable for one person may not be for another. Stanley suggests you try out sleeping bags in the store before rental or purchase. Is it long enough? Is it the right weight for the season? As for mattresses, the usual choices are air mattress or pad. Try before you buy is the best advice.

• What about equipment for storing and preparing food?
There are a few essentials: a cooler for storing perishables, a way of keeping animals from your food, a stove for cooking, water for drinking and matches or a lighter. You can dispense with a cooler if you are bringing non-perishables such as dried food. But a stove is essential, says Stanley. He says a lot of first-timers expect to cook their meals on a campfire. But if it rains, they can't make a fire. Make sure you have enough fuel for your stove. Don't forget matches and, if you're bringing canned goods, remember the can opener.

• Can I bring pots and pans from home?
Only if they don't have anything plastic that might melt over a campfire. Stanley says the best cooking gear for camping is a set of nesting pots and pans. Woks are also popular since they are designed to cook using minimum energy. Don't forget plates, cutlery and a wash basin.

• What else?
Lighting. Stanley suggests headlamps because they leave your hands free. They're especially handy when playing cards after dark, he adds. As for the rest, it depends on where you go. Boulianne says some campgrounds have toilets, showers and running water. But others - especially if they tout wilderness camping - may lack even the most basic amenities. Find out what's available before leaving home. You might have to add drinking water and toilet paper to your list.

• Any other essentials?
Clothes pins, insect repellent, sunscreen and a first-aid kit.

• What if I forget something at home?
Many parks, says Boulianne, will sell the basics such as ice, matches or flashlights. Some Quebec parks even provide sticks for toasting marshmallows so campers don't scrounge for sticks in the woods. But don't go expecting you can buy much. Think like a Scout: Be prepared.
Ottawa Citizen
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Luxuries of home in the Great Outdoors

Canwest News Service
Not the type of camper who likes to rough it? Here are a few fun finds to help boost your comfort factor.

• Lights, action
No more stumbling around in the dark with a flashlight in one hand and an armload of firewood in the other. The powerful LED bulb of the Princeton Tec Eos Headlamp lights the way when you need two hands to get the job done. $37 at Mountain Equipment Co-op, mec.ca

• Royal throne
Not a fan of smelly outhouses? The Campa-Potti Portable Toilet means never having to leave your tent to go the bathroom in the middle of the night. $129.99 at sears.ca

• Shower to go
Wash up after a day at the beach in the Hillary Shower Tent. Features two rooms, fibreglass and steel poles and a carry bag. $119.99 at sears.ca

• Comfort zone
There's nothing more back-breaking than sleeping on the cold, lumpy ground. The 4-in-1 Queen QuickBed from Coleman provides ultimate comfort. Use the inflatable mattresses separately as two queen beds, zipped together to make a king-sized bed or stacked and snapped together for a double-high bed. Comes with a 120-volt pump. $94.96 at www.colemancanada.ca.

• Buzz off
Don't let bugs keep you from having fun. The wide-brim Pocket Hat from Lee Valley (www.leevalley.com) is a one-size-fits-all nylon hat with a net to keep mosquitoes and blackflies from nibbling on your neck, face and ears. Folded, it will fit in your pocket. $13.95.

• Instant kitchen
Whip up gourmet meals by the campfire with the Outfitter Camp Kitchen from Coleman. Made of rust-resistant aluminum, the collapsible workstation includes a sink and side shelf that holds most Coleman stoves. $259.99 at colemancanada.ca
Ottawa Citizen

Organizations: Canwest News, Mountain Equipment Co

Geographic location: Ottawa, Quebec, Lee Valley

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