Camp Equipment: What to Get and Where to Find it

By April 22, 2017 January 4th, 2021 General

Some of the most common questions we receive from new camper families are about gear. Though we do provide a list of what to bring, trying to find and search for the stuff can understandably be intimidating. Not to mention the fact that there are more than a few questions that can come up along the way about factors such as price, proper sizes, and the best places to look. Well look no further because we’ve got your back! Here’s a quick guide on the most asked about items including backpacks and sleeping bags.

While we don’t endorse one item over another when it comes to brands or merchants, we’ve compiled some options for you that take into consideration elements such as affordability, positive reviews, and compatibility with the unique demands of our program. Some of these items are definitely an investment, but most of our campers use them year after year throughout our program, and continue to use them for family outings or any other trips that may come up. You’ll definitely get plenty of use out of them!Where to look

We’ve seen great prices for the outdoor gear you’ll need at places like Costco, Amazon, Woot, Campmor, and Walmart. If you do use Amazon, it could be worth your while to sign up for an Amazon Prime account to save on deals, and if you log in at Amazon Smile and choose Baltimore Yearly Meeting as your recipient, Amazon will donate a percentage of your purchase to BYM which will help us send it back to camper families in need. Yay! If you feel so moved, you can do that here.

We recommend sticking to online retailers like Amazon or Campmor. Most camping supply stores are outrageously expensive! Remember, if what you purchase doesn’t suit you or isn’t the right size you can always send it back.


The pack is one of the most important pieces of gear your camper needs, and the difference between a difficult hiking trip and an incredible one that they’ll talk about for years is a pack that properly fits. Here are some factors to consider:

Weight distribution – Packs are designed so that the hiker carries most of the weight on their waist and legs, and not their back and shoulders. For that reason, when choosing a pack, it’s critical that the hip strap fits securely and comfortably around your campers waist. It should make their legs feel heavier, but their back should feel fine. If their waist is too small for their hip belt, you’ve got the wrong pack!

Sizes – The packs we’ve included below are for smaller or younger campers. If you’re looking for something larger, check the same companies and brands. The thing to look for is waist size and torso length in addition to how many cubic liters it can hold.

Internal VS external frame – Most hikers swear by one style or the other, just know it’s mostly a matter of personal preference. Speaking very, very generally, external frames are easier to adjust and easier to clean and a lot of folks feel they’re easier to store stuff in or attach to. With internal frames, however, you can really shove stuff down deep in there and play some Tetris and they tend to hold up better over time. While external frames tend to be cheaper. Choose what works best for you!

One of the smallest and cheapest packs you can get is at Campmor. It’s the Outdoor Products Mantis Dragonfly External Frame Pack. The frame is made of plastic which makes it year to year durability questionable as well as less adjustable, but you get a lot of bang for your buck.

The Deuter Fox 30 is pricer, but has 30 liters of storage and is a good fit for most 9-10 year olds. It’s sturdier and of a higher quality, and could be a good choice if you’re looking for something that will last more than a few years. It can also be adjusted to your child as they grow.

The Deuter Fox 40 is similar, but is a little larger and holds more.

The Alps Mountaineering Red Rock packs are also solid, sturdy, and affordable options like this one. They’re also adjustable and have a nice padded hip belt for comfort.

Kelty Junior packs are on the high end, but they’re built to last.

Sleeping Pads and Mattresses

These items are easy to get confused, but here’s how it works: Sleeping pads are what your camper takes on the trail to sleep while out of camp – it needs to be light and fit on the pack. Sleeping mattresses are what they use on their wooden or steel frame bunks when they’re back in camp. And they need them both! Here are some options. First we’ll cover sleeping pads.  

The Pack-Lite Closed Cell Foam Pad. Tried and true. Cheap and gets the job done!

We’re also a fan of the Stansport back packing pad because it’s around the same price, comfy for the trail, and has straps making it a cinch to attach to packs

Now on to in-camp mattresses. You can get a queen size mattress toppers at your favorite big discount store which you can fold in half to make an affordable bunk topper. You can also find a nice folding guest/exercise mattress at Costco that folds into thirds. Online, Walmart has got a great Mainstays 5 Zone 2 Inch Foam Mattress on the cheap.

The Elite Adult Tri-Fold is another great choice – tri-fold mattresses like these are nice as they are covered and can be put inside your car for transport easier than some.

Air mattresses like this one are also a popular and easily transported option, but they will eventually leak air and they may not fit on many of our bunks.

Alternatively, this ALPS Mountaineering Air Pad is a more sturdy and more pricey choice.

Sleeping BagsThere’s nothing better than a super nice sleeping bag, but just remember you don’t need to spend all your money on those crazy fancy, arctic, negative temperature, professional, survival bags as tempting as they are. Remember, we’re a summer program. Though it does occasionally get a little chilly at night, most nights they won’t even want to be in their bag because they’ll be sweating bullets. Invest in something that is lightweight, built for hiking, and portable. You want it to be a “mummy” shape, not rectangular.

Suisse Sport is a solid starter bag and plenty affordable.

The Everest Mummy bag is a great find at Walmart which apparently is good for 5 degree weather, though we’re thankful we’ll never have to test that at camp.


It’s great to have something where they can store their stuff in their cabin. We recommend a sturdy footlocker which also makes moving day easy. But no need to spend a bunch of money on the big metal ones. This lightweight Sterilite Footlocker at Walmart will do the job. 

Mess Kit

The most simple way to go when it comes to eating on the trail are flat packing silicon bowls, a spork, and a BPS free bottle from brands like Nalgene. Here are some options for a water bottle, spork pack, and portable food containers that – yes- are technically listed as portable pet food vessel, but man is it awesome!   

Odds and Ends

Don’t forget a flashlight! LED lights are the best, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get something good. Check out a Rayovac like this one.

A bottle of Permethrin to spray on clothes and sleepings bags before your camper comes to camp is the best and possibly only effective way to repel and kill deer ticks which can spread Lyme Disease. You can find out more about this product right here.  

If you’re having a difficult time acquiring any gear for one reason or another, please be aware that each residential camp has a supply of loaner gear that we lend out. We do try to ensure that families that cannot afford to purchase items on their own have the first pass at these items, but they’re there, and we’re happy to help out!  

And don’t forget, if you have any questions about gear, what to buy, and where to find it, don’t hesitate to contact Brian Massey at

Happy shopping!