Every camper has items they won’t leave home without. We’re not talking about tents, sleeping bags, and camp stoves. Everyone knows that those are essentials for camping. We’re talking about those special items that are particularly useful, that come into play after years of camping. Every veteran camper has a list like this, and we’d love to hear about gear that you think we missed. That said, here are our ten essentials for camping.
Lightweight Nylon Tarp
Old school plastic tarps aren’t worth the hassle. Yes, you can get one for ten bucks, but they never seem to last. They’re a pain to store, they’re loud, and they eyelets never seem to last more than a few years. If you upgrade, make sure you get one with multiple attachment loops, like the Sanctuary SilTarp. The SilTarp has 16 tie-down points, weighs less than a pound, and packs down to the size of a water bottle.
We all know that a first-aid kit is a smart thing to have at the campsite, but the bandages they come with are terrible. They don’t stay on for more than a few hours, and they don’t seal the cut properly. If you’re swimming, chopping firewood, and handling gear all day, you need a bandage that stays put. Our favorite for the last few years has been the 3M Nexcare Maxhold Waterproof bandages. The waterproofing is impressive, and they stay put for a few days, making them one of our essentials for camping.
Tweezers That Actually Work
As long as we’re on the subject of first-aid, let’s talk about tweezers. Standard tweezers made for plucking eyebrows don’t work very well for slivers. The box style point makes it difficult to reach the splinter, and remove the skin if need be. We’ve used many first-aid kits over the years, and one of them came with Uncle Bill’s Tweezers. We were sold immediately. The point is razor-sharp, making it easy to remove even the most stubborn slivers.
Full Tang Camp Knife
Full tang means that the steel runs the entire length of the handle, and it makes for a safer knife, period. For heavier camp tasks like batoning wood for kindling, it’s better to err on the side of caution. We like the Morakniv Garberg for its grippy rubber handle and carbon steel blade, which is easy to keep sharp. If you go with something else, know that if it’s full tang, it will be advertised as such. If not, it’s probably half or three-quarter.
An Easy to Use Knife Sharpener
If you leave the house with a sharp knife, you probably won’t need to sharpen it at the campsite. That said, it’s fun to sharpen blades around a campfire, so we’re including two of our favorites. If you restore the edge on your knives often, the Lansky Turn Box is a great option. It’s easy to use, and it’s only $20. If you want a more comprehensive range of grits, the Worksharp Field Sharpener is more useful. The course plate (220-grit) works great for touching up axes, and it goes all the way up to honing for your pocket knife.
We can’t imagine camping without a good headlamp. It makes everything at night a million times easier and safer, and is one of our top essentials for camping. The features we look for are a red light option and multiple brightness levels on the main beam. The red light is handy for not blinding fellow campers around the picnic table at night. We also like rechargeable headlamps, and the COAST FL75R is a solid choice. It has 530 lumens on high and has a focusable beam. We charge ours on the way to the campsite, and we’re good to go all weekend.
Picaridin Bug Repellent
If you haven’t tried Picaridin bug repellent yet, do yourself a favor and pick some up. After we tried it, we never went back to DEET. It works just as well, doesn’t have an odor, isn’t greasy, and doesn’t dissolve plastics the way DEET can. Sawyer Picaridin was one of the first to market in the U.S., and they still make an excellent product. It comes in lotion and aerosol.
If you don’t use any electronic devices at the campsite, good on you, but that’s not most people. The vast array of outdoor apps make smartphones incredibly useful at the campsite, and for that reason, we always bring them along. If you have a whole family that needs charging, you have to go big. The RAVPower 32,000mAh battery is an absolute beast that will keep everyone topped off all weekend.
Pro phone tip for campers: Make sure you download Google Maps for offline use before leaving the house so you can use it without a cell signal. It works great, and it’s free!
Full Rain Suit
The rain has the potential to ruin a weekend of fun. That is unless you’re prepared for it. With a good rain suit and a pair of waterproof hiking boots, you can still hike and enjoy the outdoors. Yes, it’s a different experience, but it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. An excellent option for exploring in light to medium rain is the Frogg Toggs Breathable Rain Suit. It’s comfortable, lightweight, and under $50.
Clothing that isn’t Cotton
If cotton gets wet, it can stay wet for the rest of the day (especially in humid weather). And we’re not talking about just rain. On a long hike, a synthetic shirt will dry out nearly as fast as it becomes damp. Cotton, on the other hand, becomes sticky and uncomfortable. Synthetics are also much cooler in hot weather. For pants, we like the Columbia Silver Ridge Convertibles. They dry incredibly fast and are UPF 50. Our favorite t-shirt this year has been by Recover Brands. The Sport Tee is made from recycled water bottles and also dries surprisingly fast.