Are you new to camping?
We are going to assume that you have never camped before. We’re talking actually spending a night in the great outdoors, not falling asleep in a hammock in the backyard or crashing on the couch of some random person you met the other night. Camping, in the purest form, is an adventure. Okay, yes, you can argue that sleeping in your car in the Wal-Mart parking lot was an adventure.
We’ll give you that. However, the kind of adventure we are talking about is completely different than that. It’s something you would normally premeditate and actually plan to experience rather than accidentally have to adapt for because you got locked out of your apartment or some other easily preventable reason. Camping is fun, and you can increase the level of enjoyment by having a number of the following accessories to add to your gear.
First Things, First
We are also going to assume that you already have a pile of camping gear stashed away in some corner in either your carport or a storage locker. Those essentials will include your tent and assorted pillows, blankets, and the other creature comforts that will make setting up your camp a breeze. This article will focus primarily on the extras that can make the difference between you having a great time camping or a crappy experience. Unless, of course, suffering is your game plan.
1 – First Aid Kit
Yes, this should be a no-brainer. But, hey, people forget important things all the time, and that’s why we put this on the top of this list. While you can always look forward to the odd scrape or cut while enjoying the great outdoors, bleeding profusely from any such opening is not what you want to remember your first camping trip by.
So, in the interest of giving you some peace of mind, adding a first aid kit to your camping gear is a wise, practical step to enhancing your time in the wild woods. But what do you consider a first aid kit? A random selection of band-aids is a good start, but you will need a lot more than that. Fortunately, your local drug store or camping supply depot will have many different first aid kits available to choose from. Our suggestion is to get two. One should be smaller than the other so you can pack it around with you if there is some hiking involved as part of your camping experience.
2 – Matches
There is nothing wrong with rubbing two sticks together to make fire. In fact, that is about as old school as you can get about that exercise. However, for your first (and following) camping trips, you may learn to appreciate the ease in which building a campfire can be if you carry along something that produces a flame instantly. Oh, and to really impress anyone you happen to take camping with you, be sure those are waterproof matches that are stored in a sealed plastic container. You’ll thank us when you find yourself trying to start a fire in a rainstorm.
3 – Lights
We are talking about something other than the headlights on your car or pickup. Sure, you could use them to illuminate your campsite at night, but by morning, you may discover that your battery is hooped. This is why you will want to pack along with an assortment of flashlights, a lantern or two and even headlamps. Plus, if you didn’t already think about it, be sure each has been loaded with fresh batteries and that you have a full replacement set handy just in case. You don’t want to be wandering around your campground in search of the outhouse in the middle of the night with a dead flashlight. It just isn’t fun for anyone.
4 – Pocket Knife
Okay, just so you know. You are not using the pocket knife as a weapon. You will not be required to defend yourself from wild animals or angry campers. Well, at least not very successfully if you pack along with a pocket knife. However, it is a tool you will find very handy and practical on a whole lot of other levels when camping. Plus, it takes up very little space. You could also add to the list a multi-tool of some kind (you know, one of those gadgets with all kinds of attachments that may include a bottle opener and a screwdriver), a small pair of scissors and a portable saw.
5 – Rope
If you are the type of person who always ties their shoes only to end up tying them in knots, then you are the perfect person to have some rope on your camping trip. A rope is handy in many ways ranging from assisting with hanging things from trees to securing other items. You’ll find a gazillion uses for rope once you have some with you.
It’s a good idea to have some smaller pieces of rope as well for some of the other chores around the campsite that won’t really call for a 100-foot rope. Oh, and if you happen to have some basic Boy Scout knot-tying experience, you’ll be able to turn any length of rope into a useful resource. Even if all you end up doing is tying a piece to a six pack to prevent it from floating away in the stream, you have it cooling off in.
6 – Tarps
Think of a tarp as a barrier of some kind and you’ll see why they are so valuable at the average campsite. You can use one to act as the floor that your tent sits on, you can tie one overhead to create a roof-like shelter and you can even tie them upright to form walls to either protect you and your tent from heavy wind or to create some form of privacy to keep the prying eyes from the sketchy guy two campsites over from staring too much.
Whatever you do with a tarp, you’ll be glad you packed one or more of them for your camping trip. Just remember that they come in different sizes from teeny to humongous and they also are available in different thicknesses and colors. You’ll be glad to have at least one with grommets if your plan is to tie one up somewhere.
7 – Maps/Compass
Whaddya mean there may not be cell service? Yup, it is a very good possibility that wherever you have chosen to go camping may just happen to be out of reach of the nearest cell tower. Hey, if you are camping, you shouldn’t be playing online poker or Facetiming, anyone, anyway. Plus, as fancy as your GPS system may be on your phone, it won’t be much use to you if your phone can’t talk to a cell tower about making it function like you are used to it working when you are home.
So, maps and a compass are going to be your alternatives. Sure, not very high-tech but they may just save your ass if you wander a bit further than you had planned to chase butterflies in the nearby meadow.
8 – Weather Gear
It’s true, the weatherman still makes mistakes. We also agree that it is kind of hard to believe that this is even possible when you consider the amount of technology the average weather department has on hand. Some of them may even use military-grade tools that we will never see enter the consumer marketplace. So, with this in mind, we want to remind you that as good as the forecast may sound for where you are going to set up camp, follow this simple rule:
There is a 50% probability that the weather forecast is going to be wrong. With those kinds of odds, you’ll want to pack rain gear. It’s just a safe way to cover your butt. It’s not that the weatherman (or gal) can’t be trusted, it just that they are not camping with you and therefore your location is not quite as important as their air-conditioned studio. Just saying.
9 – Spices
Imagine any of your normal meals at home. We’re talking about the meals that don’t come out of a take-out box. What is one of the first things you do after admiring the wonderful scent and visual of a plate of well-prepared food? You probably reach for the salt, pepper or some other kind of seasoning to liven it up a touch. Well, if you do this at home to enjoy a home-cooked meal, why would you be expected to chomp into a charred piece of something at a campsite without adding some seasoning? Again, if your overall goal is to really rough it out there, then we get it. However, sometimes you need a little salt or something to kill the taste of charred food.
10 – Books/Magazines
When the possibility exists that your cell phone isn’t going to work where you have chosen to camp, it is also a really good bet that your radio or portable television isn’t going to either – if you packed them in the first place. So, in order to stay on the path of enjoying the outdoor experience, one great way to kill time is by doing something quite common in the olden days. It’s called reading. In order to play this game correctly, you will need some reading material. You can use books, magazines, newspapers and pretty much anything else with words printed on them. Reading is fun and its how people used to learn things like how to camp and how to read storm clouds and all kinds of cool things. Plus, when you are finished reading those books and magazines, you can toss them in your campfire to help make it bigger and warmer.
11 – Garbage Bags
Another no-brainer but just in case you need to be reminded, garbage bags are not just for holding garbage. Although that should be your primary reason for packing a box of them with you. One of the cool things about camping to being able to pull up to a space that looks pristine and virtually untouched. That look is accomplished by the camper who was there before you who had garbage bags and made sure they didn’t leave anything behind to mess up someone else’s camping experience.
Yes, there are some idiots out there who didn’t get that memo and may leave the campsite in a mess before you get there. However, you are expected to do the right thing by keeping the site clean and by packing out your garbage and sometimes someone else’s. Garbage bags also help in keeping some items waterproof until you need them.
12 – Cell Phone
We know what you are thinking. We made a big deal about the likelihood of camping outside of a cell service a few hundred words up this page. Why would we even suggest taking a cell phone at all when you are camping? Well, aside from the fact that it has a nifty little camera inside that you’ll be able to use quicker than most any other camera you may cart around with you, the cell phone may actually work out there in the middle of nowhere.
Cell towers are located in some pretty remote locations these days, and although you may be out of normal cell range at your campsite, you may end up picking up a signal just a few hundred feet from it or out on the lake. The emergency access that you will have with a cell phone makes it a key item to pack as there are some cell towers that will still permit “Emergency Calls Only” and one of those may save someone’s life at your campground.
13 – Protein Bars
They don’t take up much space, but they happen to pack a punch. Anything that is high in protein and fiber is a good idea to have along such as granola bars, trail mix and those kinds of things you can get in pre-made packages or in bulk and mix your own to take camping. Not only will these healthy snacks keep you energized during your camping trip, but they will also keep you from going hungry if your fishing skills don’t exactly measure up and you are searching for something to eat in order to maintain your sanity.
Protein bars also become pretty handy bargaining tools if you encounter a situation at the campground that requires a quick-thinking solution. You can trade a protein bar for virtually anything when other campers reach the point of desperation. Just don’t let that happen to you.
14 – Peanut Butter
A lot of what was just said about protein bars could be copied and pasted here so consider this entry a bit of an extension to that point. Some of the bonuses about a jar of peanut butter is that it comes in a watertight container. It also is easy to spread on anything you choose to put it on to eat. Peanut butter is also a handy treat that can be enjoyed by the spoonful right out of the jar.
What you may not know is that you can use peanut butter for other things in and around your campsite. You can cook with it as either a spread on top of food or on the grill to provide oil to cook with. You may want to water it down a touch for this. Also, peanut butter will help to remove gum from hair.
15 – Sunscreen
Although it is highly probable that you will be camping in the rain, there is just as much a possibility that you will be camping in scorchin’ hot weather. Just like spending a day on the beach, you need to give your skin some added protection when outdoors.
This means carrying along the tools that will keep you from burning to a crisp like the meals you’ve been preparing on the campfire. Always remember that if you happen to be camping on a mountainside somewhere, you will be at a slightly higher elevation than you would be on the beach.
This means that the sun’s UV rays are going to be a bit stronger and you’ll have to protect yourself a little better than you normally would. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat is going to be of some help, but you have to use sunscreen. Lotion is a good choice and aims for the highest SPF that you can and remember to reapply often.
16 – Mosquito Repellant
Not everyone thinks about this one for some reason. Typically, the only time you realize you should have packed some bug spray is at about the time the bugs start eating you alive. The woods are no different from any other venue, other than the bug population is probably somewhat higher. Oh, and some of the bugs you may encounter camping are not going to be the small, insignificant types you may find around your home that disappear with a simple swat.
You’ll appreciate the tip to take bug spray when you find yourself in the middle of the lake surrounded by a swarm of starving, blood-sucking winged creatures. Just be sure to have a repellant that actually has some success at killing the little buggers as opposed to just pissing them off. You don’t want to be followed back to your camp by a few thousand flying insects you’ve ticked off by filling their lungs with some useless spray that smells more like a garden of fresh flowers than death.
17 – Notepad/Pen
You know what? How are you going to get better at camping and preparing for camping if you can’t make a note of things you need to do to improve? Maybe you need ropes in assorted lengths or in addition to salt and pepper you’d really like to have some steak spice to sprinkle on the burgers that are sizzling over the campfire. Things like this you can write down for later.
You may get a tip from a neighboring camper on some gear ideas or a phone number of someone who can build you a custom lean-to for setting up your camp site in a spot without trees. Whatever the reason, you’ll be glad you brought along something to jot those ideas and hints down on. Maybe you’ll come up with a campsite layout you don’t want to forget. Now you can scribble a quick sketch of it for future use.
18 – Money
In a perfect world, everyone will accept credit and debit cards. However, cash still gets the job done in any and all places. Although you are going camping, you may need to replenish supplies at one point, and a trip into the nearest town doesn’t exactly mean there is going to be a Wal-Mart there. If you are lucky, you’ll find a Joe’s Trading Post that is only open two days a week and only takes cash.
We’re not suggesting you carry hundreds of dollars with you, either. Have what you need to cover the essentials, including going into town for dinner in case your campfire meal is less than appetizing. You can’t go wrong with money, and even if you are staying where you have to pay for your campsite, cash will be a lot easier for everyone involved.
Did We Forget Anything Here?
Let’s review. Camping is fun. If you’ve never done it before, it can be a bit scary, but if you packed correctly, you should do just fine. Remember to take notes about what you can do to improve your situation in the future and don’t panic if you don’t have cell service. You will be okay as there’s a jar of peanut butter and a magazine to read. If you tied your tarps correctly, you’ll be reading by flashlight in the rain and not get wet…or not too wet, anyway. There are other things to pack, but for your first trip, this should get you on your way to a great camping holiday.