The Essential Guide to All the Camping Gear You Need This Summer


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Welcome to “Best Summer Ever,” your guide to making the most of the sunny season. Whether your idea of a perfect summer is embarking on epic adventures or blissfully doing as little as possible (preferably somewhere with good air conditioning), we’ve got you covered, because the best summer doesn’t just happen. You have to make it happen.

Whether your idea of “going camping” involves a solo trek far off the beaten path or packing an SUV full of gear for an all-family adventure to a KOA, camping and summer go together like mosquito bites and Calamine lotion. To help you get geared up for whatever you consider “roughing it,” here is a guide to essential camping gear and supplies, from tents to trail shoes, for both backpacker and car-campers. 

Essential camping gear: tents, sleeping bags, and more

Absolute camping must-have: a first aid kit

Hopefully you’ll never have to use it, but you gotta have a first aid kit. You don’t need anything fancy; This one, for instance, is very lightweight, waterproof, and features hospital-grade first aid treatments for cuts, scrapes, fractures, headaches, and more.

Choosing the right tent for your camping trip

Like just about everything camping-related, the tent you choose depends on your personal trip. If you’re packing up your car to park at your campsite, the size and weight isn’t a huge issue, so you can go bigger. If you’re backpacking to a distant locale, you’ll want to keep things as light as possible.

Another consideration is the weather. My personal ideal tent is something like this minimalist OneTigris Two Person Mesh Tent but only if I’m camping in my favorite spots: the beaches of southern California, where the heat radiating from the sand keeps the temperature comfortable all night, and the ground is so soft you don’t need a blow-up mattress. I like the mesh that keeps bugs out, but lets you feel the breeze and see the stars. If you’re not camping on a perfect beach, it pairs with a shelter for more traditional element protection. Camping tip: When a tent says “two person,” it means “one person.”

A car-camping solution that’s more versatile is a mid-range tent like this Skydome Tent from Coleman (the portable stove people). It sets up easily, is six-feet tall at its highest point, and comes in at under $200. And it’s designed to block out 90% of light, so you can sleep in or take a nap in the middle of the day. 

On the far end of the spectrum are “glamping” style tents that would be perfect for festivals where the outdoors is only part of the trip; something like this Koala Air Tent that’s more spacious than my first apartment. It features two separate bedrooms, a stove jack that lets you cook inside, and views from all sides. Even though it’s huge, it’s inflatable to make the set-up easier. Camping tip: This comes with a manual pump, but get a powered one to save your back.

The best pads and air mattresses for camping

I hate sleeping on a skinny mattress on the ground; that’s why I love this Coleman cot: It has a frame. It’s queen size, and it comes with a battery-operated pump. Maybe a huge bed is stretching the idea of “roughing it,” but you won’t care when you actually get a good night’s sleep. On this other side of the spectrum, this self-inflating foam pad weighs two pounds, eight ounces, so it’s light enough to haul into the back country, but it’s designed to be as comfortable as possible. You can adjust the firmness with a few breaths, and deflating it is easy too.  

The best sleeping bags for camping

If you’re backpack camping in summer, a sleeping bag is essential. While there are advantages to something like this Rab Mythic Ultra Down sleeping bag, you can find perfectly serviceable, ultralight sleeping bags for much less. This TETON Sports Ultralight Sleeping Bag strikes a balance between price ($54.99) and performance.

But if you’re car-camping and weight and space don’t matter, I say forget the sleeping bag altogether. I find sleeping bags to be constricting, claustrophobic, and often too hot for summertime camping, so I just bring some old blankets from home. I’d much rather have some layers of blankets so I can control the temperature and avoid feeling locked in.

Fire pits, coffee-makers, and other almost-essential camping gear

You could get by with just a tent and a sleeping bag, but if you want to actually enjoy your camping trip, you need to go a little further. The below items will make spending time in the great outdoors much easier and way more fun. 

  • A grill/fire pit: The idea of cooking over a fire pales in comparison to doing it, so if you have the space, something like this UCO Flatpack Smokeless Firepit and Grill provides an all-in-one outdoor cooking solution.

  • Coffee maker: I like the classic camping vibe of percolator coffee makers, but the one I have has a silicone handle because I will burn myself without it.

  • Thermos: A solid, dependable, time-tested thermos to keep the hot liquids hot and the cold ones cold is essential. I like the classic Stanley. Long before they were known for trendy water-bottles, this kept the company going for over 100 years.

  • Trail shoes: Like everything, the shoes you bring camping depends on how you’re camping. An old pair of Converse are perfectly acceptable for car-camping, but if you’re doing any hiking, your feet will thank you for wearing something more sturdy and supportive. That doesn’t mean you need a heavy pair of hiking boots, though. Trail shoes, like these from Hoka, aim for the sweet spot between heavy hiking boots and running shoes. They’re a great solution for more casual hiking.

  • Panic button: You (probably) won’t need a GPS device at a campground, but if you’re doing adventure camping, a panic button could save your life. This Garmin lightweight satellite communicator enables two-way messaging and interactive SOS just about anywhere on Earth, as long as you have a satellite subscription.

  • Fire-starting gear: My wife once gave me a Bear Grylls Fire Starter with a ferrocerium rod, SOS instruction, and a built-in emergency whistle. The thought was nice, but it’s useless. Just bring a lighter.

Camping gear you might not have thought of

  • Welding gloves: A pair of welding gloves are an essential part of my camping pack, because being able to manually rearrange hot logs leads to optimal campfires.

  • Flashlight gloves: What can I say? I like gloves. These LED-powered gloves are better than a flashlight, because you don’t have to hold them. You’ll find them useful at home too, for all kinds of low-light, detail-oriented work. 

  • Headlamp: Like LED gloves, headlamps are better than flashlights because they let you keep your hands free.

  • Booze: It’s a taste thing, but my favorite camping tipple is Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock & Rye, a delicious mix of rye whiskey, rock candy, oranges, and honey that’s strong enough to matter but mellow too.

  • Toilet paper tablets: These individually packaged, compact little “pills” contain disposable personal towels for all your business; throw some in the glovebox in case they didn’t refill the TP at the campground. 

  • Guyline cord adjusters: Throw some cord adjusters in with the tent stakes. Whether you’re setting up a tent or a hammock, cord adjusters will take the place of knots. They’re the kind of thing you never knew you always needed.  

  • Mosquito repeller: Skip the bug sprays and citronella candles. Instead, pack a Thermacell, an inspect repeller that actually works.

  • Body/face wipes: If you want your friends to be impressed with your camping preparedness, whip out some of these face and body wipes on a hot, grimy day. They’re like showers in a package. 

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