Ok, I’ll admit it …

Taking folks to places they would otherwise never visit, or even know about, is a huge kick for me. Its 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 participate 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.

Camping in Texas

For nearly 4 years, we’ve talked about doing a camping trip. Head out way away from Houston’s lights and enjoy some late evening photography and light trails. Its a hard event to plan and every time we were *this* close to pulling it off, something got in the way.

FINALLY we’re going camping! Ok, maybe the accommodations are going to be a little spiffy; we aren’t actually “roughing it” in the deep woods. And some folks would say if there’s a flushing toilet involved, its not really camping. But hey, small steps. 🙂

Massive Budget isn’t 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

Its 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 its 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?

Shopping List

Here’s 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. 🙂

Sleeping Bag

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.

$21

Camp Pad

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.

$20

Inflatables

There are a TON of different inflatable options out there. From 1 inch to 10 inches and more. Keep in mind, the thicker it is, the more you have to blow to inflate it.

If you still have last year’s swimming pool floaty, yeah, that works too. The trick here is to stay on the pad, even if you toss at night. If you buy one that has a felt lining, or you use a blanket, you can put the pad inside your sleeping bag so it stays put. But don’t sleep directly on bare plastic, the noise will keep you up and if it’s cold, you’ll wake up with the plastic frozen to your face.

Varies, free if you still have last year’s floaty

Small Lighting

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.

$5
Headlamps and Hands Free Lighting

Hands Free Lighting

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!”

$1-$20
MagLite Flashlights

Large Lighting

I’m a huge, long-time MagLite fan. Strong beams, well crafted, hard to destroy. You can even use them to fight off the bear. (not really)

$10-$50

Bare-bones Tent

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.

$7-$15

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.

$20-$40
Towels

Towels

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.

$4-$6 each

Other Stuff

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
  • Cooking utensils/pots/pans
  • Way to make fire.
  • Can opener
  • Reliable knife
  • Laundry bag (keeps dirties separate from clean)
  • Personal Hygiene – if you use it in the AM, bring it.
  • Small hand broom for the tent
  • First-aid / daily medication
  • Plastic trash bags
  • Bug Spray
  • Duct tape
  • Sun Block

Conclusion

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 wild life 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!