The Best Gear and Gadgets for Summer Camping
Knives, stoves, sleeping bags and other useful stuff for spending the night outside
Summer is the perfect time to go camping with the family. School is out, public campgrounds across the country are open now, and, with the snow (finally) disappearing in the high country, the weather is starting to hit that sweet spot. And if you need more convincing—did you know that June is National Camping Month? And while part of the fun of camping is roughing it outside, it never hurts to bring some supplies that will make the experience more comfortable—especially if you’re camping with kids or some friends who might not be the “outdoor type.” So whether you’re car camping, taking an extended backcountry camping trip, or simply taking a quick trip for the weekend, here’s a list of gear items that will help you and your family and friends get the most out of your adventures in the outdoors.
Years ago, at the advice of a good friend, I began carrying a pack hammock and tether straps in my pack whenever I hunted elk or mule deer in Idaho’s high country. During the mid-day lull, I fix it between two trees, take off my boots, lay in the cradle of the hammock, and sneak in a quick nap. Pack hammock sets, like the ones from Wise Owl are inexpensive, easy to set up and take down, and a real asset in any camp. I keep one set under the seat in my truck, just in case, but you can stash these things just about anywhere; they’re lightweight and pack down into a stuff sack that’s about the size of a big grapefruit. Made from 210T parachute nylon, the hammocks are strong and weather resilient, and there are two carabineer clips to attach it to the tethers, which are both 9-feet long.
The Free P4 is the latest and greatest addition to the Leatherman family. There are 21 tools on the outside of this model that pop open with the push of a button, and a magnetic lock reduces friction during deployment. Weighing just over eight ounces, the 4 ¼-inch-long tool feels great in hand and it features a pocket clip for safe keeping when not in use.
I’ve been on trips where nothing seems to go the way I planned, and the lighter or matches I brought to start a campfire just weren’t working, especially in windy and wet, conditions. Survival Frog’s Tesla lighter is a great solution in tough situations. Rather than rely on gas or wood to hold a flame, the Tesla creates a double arc of electricity that can ignite anything flammable. What’s more, it’s rechargeable via a USB port, and works up to 300 times between charges. It also has a 10-second time-out to prevent accidents, and it comes on a lanyard that’s also attached to an emergency whistle.
One of the most important things to remember at the conclusion of any camping trip is to drown out any remaining flames or hot coals from your campfire. In years past, I’ve filled up 2-liter bottles, or any other sort of container I could dig out of the trash, to transport water from the campground water pump to the fire ring. I’ve since upgraded to a collapsible bucket like the one from Sammart. Compressed, it’s just 13-inches round and 2 ½ inches tall; extended it’s almost 10 inches tall and can hold 2 ½ gallons of water. The plastic is BPA free in case you need to transport potable water, and the handle is thick and solid, which makes carrying a full pail just a little easier.
An important consideration on any camping trip is hydration. Instead of paying for water bottled in unhealthy plastic carafes, consider a safer and environmentally-friendly canteen like those from Hydro Flask. Each bottle has a grippy, powder-coated finish, double walled insulation, and a non-toxic stainless steel reservoir. Add a wide-mouth straw lid, and you have the perfect companion for hiking, boating, fishing, or any other excursion you embark on from camp.
One of my favorite little pleasures in life is rolling out of my sleeping bag on a cool, crisp morning, and enjoying a fresh cup of coffee. And while I’ve tried preparing it with all sorts of different devices and accessories, a simple French press consistently produces the best cup of Joe. The Commuter JavaPress from GSI takes the French-press concept a step farther by replacing the sliding rod with a sliding inner carafe. Simply add the coffee into the bottom of the outer mug, add hot water, and slide the carafe inside. Small ports in the bottom let water through while keeping the grounds out. The lid is spill-resistant, a rubber foot prevents the mug from sliding, and a cloth sleeve insulates your drink until you’re finished.
I am not fond of showers, and anyone that’s spent any time with me in elk camp, knows I’m not lying. But there is something to be said for occasionally washing off the stink now and then. If you’re not blessed with a camp trailer or some other rigged apparatus to spray warm water, a pop-up shower tent, like the one from WolfWise, might be for you. Deployed, this single-person stall creates privacy and is roomy enough to hang a portable shower bag and shower head. When you’re not bathing, you can use the tent as an outhouse for your portable toilet.
Cold and soggy boots can make life miserable, but when you’re far from an electrical connection, drying footwear is tough—if not impossible. The Extreme Boot Dryers from Drysure are a good alternative when you don’t have a powered dryer. Slip one into each boot at the end of the day, and when you wake up the next morning, they’ll be dry. Drysure says the devices make boot-drying 12x more effective than just air alone, and help keep odors, fungus, or bacteria from building up inside. The inserts are typically good for up to 10 drying sessions before you’ll want to reactivate them in direct sunlight, on a warm radiator, or inside a fan-assisted oven (100 degrees) for one to two hours. They’re safe for all shoes and boots and won’t damage leather or custom-made footwear like some heated dryers can.
After camp is set up, the campfire is glowing, and the kids are getting ready to make s’mores, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying an adult beverage. If you like to enjoy sipping a martini or margarita in the great outdoors, the Chasertini is just what the doctor ordered. It has a large bowl (8-ounces) and a sealed lid to prevent the accidental spill. The upper is double-walled, vacuum-sealed stainless steel, and the inside of the cup is copper clad, which will keep your drink cold for hours—not that you will need that long to finish your cocktail.
Nobody wants to find themselves in a survival situation, but even the slightest bit prepared-for-the-worst planning boosts your odds of making it back to civilization alive. The Survive Outdoors Loner (SOL) kit is small, light, and designed to fit inside a small pouch in your pack. It contains a knife, sewing needle and pins, fish hooks and line, aluminum foil, a fire starter, signal mirror, compass, LED light and whistle, and a handful of other useful tools. Weighing just six ounces, everything fits into a small, indestructible plastic box.
If you’ve ever spent any time in a popular campground, you might notice the lack of firewood—and suitable marshmallow roasting sticks—available on the forest floor. To keep the kids from getting disappointed, bring along some CampSpark Telescoping Roasting Sticks. A set of four comes in a heat-resistant canvas bag for easy storing. Extended, the sticks are 34-inches long to keep kids a safe distance from the fire, and each one has two prongs on the end to hold two marshmallows, or hot dogs, or whatever other roasting combination you can come up with. Made from stainless steel, these skewers are easy to clean, reusable, and come with a bonus e-book containing 10 marshmallow recipes.
The advent of LED lights has made camping life in the dark bright and inexpensive (LED bulbs don’t use as much battery power compare to halogen bulbs. LED lights and power sources are so light, some tent makers are incorporating small bulb strings on the inside of the frame. If you’re not ready for a tent upgrade but still need a light, consider the collapsible clover-style light from SUAOKI. Under each arm are six small LED bulbs (18 total) with low, high, and blinking settings. You can prop the unit on all three legs for a tabletop lantern, or use the attached hook to hang it on a tent ceiling. It charges via a USB cord and packs down to the size of a smartphone. But probably the best feature of this little light are the three solar panels located on the reverse side of the LEDs. In an emergency situation or for those places where you don’t have electricity to recharge the battery, you can use the sun to reenergize the device.
It doesn’t matter if you’re overnighting out of the back of your vehicle on some designated space, or trekking for miles into the backcountry with four days worth of supplies on your back, a sleeping bag is just one of those items that goes hand-in-hand with camping. Depending on the adventure, I’ve done both, and can honestly say I have multiple sleeping bags suited for different occasions. Typically, when I have the family in tow, I like a thick, heavy, soft bag that feels as good as my flannel sheets at home. Teton’s Mammoth bag is exactly that. Rated for either 20 or 0 degrees and measuring 94×62 inches, it’s slightly larger than the average queen-sized mattress. It weighs just over 16 pounds (which doesn’t really matter if you’re car-camping) and packs down in an included stuff sack to roughly the size of a sack of potatoes. It’s a great option if you like to spread out while you sleep, or you’re snoozing with your significant other on an inflatable pad.
When I’m bivy camping or just hiking and hunting in general, there are two things that are always in my pack—trail mix and jerky. Nothing beats homemade jerky, but if I’m running low at home and have to purchase a few bags, I like Country Archer jerky. What I like about Country Archer is they’ve broken free from the standard teriyaki, peppered, and other common flavors that all of the brands stick to, and created their own unique flavors like crushed red pepper, sweet jalapeño, and Sriracha.
My favorite way to rest in camp is atop a cot, but a thick sleeping pad is a close second. A good pad creates an insulated buffer between a sleeping bag and the ground (which can rob body heat) and is gentle on the back, hips, and muscles that might be stiff and sore at the end of the day. You can easily spend over $100 on a pad, but you don’t need to. Klymit makes a thick, lightweight pad for half the price. Deflated and in its 3×8-inch pack sack, a Static V pad weighs just over 1 pound and inflates to a whopping 72×23-inch sleeping area that’s 2 ½ inches thick. Made from thick polyester, it has an anti-microbial laminate that prevents the spread of fungus and bacteria, and it inflates with just a few breaths of air.
I’ve been a fan of the Jetboil single burner water-boiling setup for a long time because it’s lightweight and brings water to a boil faster than anything I’ve used before. More recently, I’ve found another Jetboil product, the Genesis Basecamp stove, that is equally useful when it comes to camp cooking. Closed, the unit fits in small spaces and weighs just over 6 pounds. But open the clamshell design and there are two small stoves capable of putting out 10,000 BTUs—enough heat to boil water in less than three minutes. There’s a windscreen to improve the burner’s performance, and you can power it with a 16-ounce propane tank.
Starting a fire in wet or windy conditions can be a frustrating experience. Even if your fuel is dry and resting on a nice bed of kindling, matches or disposable lighters still might not produce a sustainable flame. But you can turn just about any disposable lighter into a blue-flaming torch with a Pocket Torch adapter from Soto. Simply slip a lighter into the sleeve, attach the cap, press on the top button, and it will turn the lighter’s weak flare into a blazing, wind-resistant igniter capable of reaching temperatures over 2,000 degrees.
When Motorola first debuted their Talkabout two-way radios decades ago, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a set. I used them to stay in touch with my hunting buddies, coordinate float trips down rivers, and stay in touch with home. Every year since, Motorola’s technology took a step forward, and now, with the T800 models, users have the option of Bluetooth connectivity and off-grid messaging or broadcasting. The company says these latest models have a 35-mile voice range, and 20-mile data range and with 22 channels and 121 privacy codes, there are 662 available ways to have a conversation. Each radio also provides real-time weather updates, time, and LED flashlight, and can recharge via USB.
One of my father’s favorite lines in camp is, “Hold my beer and watch this,” which is typically followed by some act of idiocy. But with Camerons’ Tailgaiting Table, I can stash his beverage and mine so my hands are free to react to whatever foolishness is sure to come my way. The table expands in four directions and provides four cupholders, and mesh basket for food or anything else you want handy, and a zippered “bucket” that sits low to the ground and is perfect for keeping cans on ice. It’s light, easy to carry, and has tension straps to make the most stable surface possible and sturdy feet that don’t sink into the ground.
When it comes to biting bugs, my blood must taste sweeter than the average person because I’m a magnet for mosquitoes. Deep Woods OFF! has saved my neck, arms, and legs from becoming a bug buffet many times. A 6-ounce aerosol can contains just 25 percent DEET, which is less (and less toxic) than many other sprays that can contain up to 100 percent, and because it offers up to 8-hours of protection, you don’t need to constantly reapply it. However, one word of caution: Remember that DEET can cause chemical reactions to many types of plastics, so when you spray, be sure to keep it from contacting things like nylon clothing, fishing lines, and sunglasses.