When it comes to your first camping trip, there are many things you need to consider when it comes to gear. The most important decisions you will need to make are about the big three "S's" – Sack, Shelter, and Sleeping. This is your sack (the pack your carry things in), your shelter or tent, and the sleep system you will use. The following guide can help you select the right pieces of gear.
Don't just grab the first pack you see. First, consider how you will be using it. For example, if all you need is a daypack for short hikes away from a base camp near the parking lot, then you can use any backpack that is comfortable to wear and has enough room for water, lunch, a light jacket, and a small first aid kit.
For trips where you will be backpacking over many miles while carrying your gear, you will need to decide between an external and an internal frame pack. External frame packs are less expensive, but they can be more cumbersome to carry because your sleep system and shelter are usually strapped to the outside of the pack. Internal frames are typically more expensive, but they often weigh less and are easier to carry because everything is kept inside the pack. Try several of both types on to see which is more comfortable to you.
Any tent with a decent rainfly to keep out the elements is suitable if you plan to camp near the car. If you must carry your shelter, you will want to find a lightweight option that is quick to set up but that provides sufficient shelter from the conditions you can expect. Here are a few of your choices:
A full backpacking tent. These are enclosed tents with rainflies and poles.
A tarp. A lightweight backpacking tarp that you set up with lines or a single poles. Designed to keep the rain off, but it is not enclosed.
A hammock. Backpacking hammocks are lightweight. Most come with bug nets and a rainfly.
Your sleep system will likely consist of a sleeping bag and a sleeping pad. The one exception is if you choose to hammock camp—then you will have an underquilt that insulates the underside of the hammock and a top quilt to keep you warm.
Pads are for more than comfort when you sleep on the ground. They also provide insulation from the cold that can seep from below, which helps you sleep warmer. A pad can also protect your bag from moisture if you shelter under a tarp instead of a tent.
The bag or quilt system you choose must be rated for the lowest temperatures you expect to encounter. If nighttime lows are in the 35 F range, then take a bag rated down to 30 F. Sleeping bags also come in two main styles—rectangular bags and mummy bags. Unless you easily feel claustrophobic, mummy bags are nice because they help prevent heat loss from your head.
Talk to a camping gear supplier like Bootdoctors for more help in picking out your first set of camping gear.