If you’ve gotten the itch to pitch a tent this summer under the stars (and not just in your backyard), you’re going to need a few things. It’s tempting to just hit up the nearest sporting-goods store, but when you’re new to camping, the choices can be overwhelming – not to mention expensive. We’ve compiled a list of ten things you absolutely need (OK, some are just cool – but they’ll come in handy, trust us).
A no-brainer, right? Well, first note that camping during the summer months is a little different than hunkering down somewhere on the frozen tundra. Tents come in different “weights” geared to weather conditions; there are many “three-season” varieties that can carry you from spring to fall. Don’t automatically opt for the cheapest one – you’ll pay for it if the tent doesn’t adequately protect you from the elements.
If you plan to sleep two people in the tent, look for one that has two “doors” and “vestibules,” so that you won’t be clambering over your partner in the middle of the night. As to size, pick a tent that could sleep one “extra” person: if two people are stuck inside on a rainy day, it can get crowded fast with both of you and your gear.
One handy item to add is fluorescent rope; when you have to step outside at three in the morning, these glow-in-the-dark lines will keep you from tripping.
And here’s the most important tip: know how to set up and take down your tent before you go. Also, how to handle and repair any weather damage that might spring up.
Like tents, sleeping bags are geared to different weather conditions. What you need on a balmy August night is not what you might need in December, so shop around for an appropriate model. Don’t forget a pad for beneath it; it will keep you drier and much more comfortable.
Many experienced campers swear by a hands-free head-lamp (because, hey, it gets dark out there). Flashlights and lanterns are two other musts. The new 30 Day Lantern has been winning raves. It can shed light for a month, on just a single set of batteries – and is bright enough to let you see those critters checking you out from the sidelines.
Sitting on a log or the ground gets old, fast. Lightweight, folding camp chairs will make your outdoor experience way more comfortable and enjoyable.
Minding your campfire is among the most critical elements of safe camping. Experts recommend knowing how to safely start a fire (never under low-hanging trees, etc.) and how to completely douse it when you break camp.
Campfire Defender is a new piece of gear that greatly increases safety. It‘s basically a lightweight cover for your fire pit, and withstands temperatures up to 2500 degrees F. The “Campfire Defender” stakes securely to the ground, and keeps random sparks from flying around. It also protects against sudden downpours that can douse your fire, and keeps coals warm for hours – just in time to make another batch of S’Mores.
Speaking of S’Mores…your campfire may be fine for those, but a propane-powered camp stove makes other cooking chores much easier. There are two-burner models that fold down to the size of your typical briefcase; stoves that light with a match are less expensive than those with electric ignition.
You’ll also want a good basic set of cookware for your adventure. There are simple “mess kits” that combine all you really need: a fireproof pot with cover, a pan, combo cooking utensils, bowls and multi-use eating utensils (all hail the “spork”). Of course, don’t forget the coffee pot!
Never take safety for granted. A first-aid kit, multi-purpose pocket knife, bear spray, pepper spray, bug spray and whistle (in case you get lost) are smart to pack.
Along those lines, you’ll need a paper map (and know how to read it) and a compass (know how to read that, too). Because technology can fail – and often does.
OK, in theory, you should be “off the grid” while camping. But many of us find it hard to unplug, in which case, you’ll need a way to keep your smartphone, GPS and tablets going. A solar charger may take a little longer than your outlets at home, but it gets the job done.
There’s always going to be a situation where you think, “Darn, I KNEW I should’ve brought (fill in the blank).” This new tool has you covered. Besides the mini-shovel, it also features an axe, hammer, saw, knife – even a bottle opener, plus a few other useful tools, all in one compact form.
There are some campsites that offer public showers, but if you’re in an area that doesn’t, you’ll discover just how fast you get “stinky,” especially during the summer. A solar-heated camp shower can increase your comfort – not to mention that of anyone downwind.
So break out the campfire songs and ghost stories, and get ready to make the summer one to remember!