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The Best Camping Gear to Buy for Your Next Adventure
These camping items will help ensure your next adventure is successful and safe.
Camping provides an excellent way to enjoy the great outdoors. Consider planning ahead and purchasing this gear before you venture out. (Getty Images)
Going camping proves a balancing act between being adequately prepared and overpacking. Buy too much, and you'll end up with a stuffed car or backpack; meanwhile, cutting corners could lead to dire circumstances.
While no two outdoor adventures are the same, U.S. News scoured the internet for the best general-use camping gear to make sure your next wilderness experience is a smooth one.
Keep in mind that the exact equipment required will vary based on your budget, the climate of your chosen location and whether you intend to camp in your car, an RV or the backcountry. Whether your next camping trip takes you to Argentine Patagonia, a nearby national park or your own backyard, there are a handful of essentials required to make any camping adventure a success.
- A reliable tent is one of the most important tools for camping. We recommend the Coleman Cabin Tent with Instant Setup for car campers because it is easy to set up and you can choose between four- and six-person options. More expensive tents earn their prices due to their more lightweight material and higher resistance to the elements.
- Discerning between different types of sleeping bags can be a difficult task. Generally speaking, the number in a sleeping bag's name refers to the coldest temperature (in Fahrenheit) that you can comfortably sleep in when using the bag. Most casual campers will be hard-pressed to find a situation where they need a sleeping bag equipped for temperatures below 30 degrees, so we suggest choosing the Marmot Trestles Elite Eco 30 Sleeping Bag.
- The frequently overlooked companion to a sleeping bag, a sleeping pad saves heat by insulating your sleeping bag from the ground. Sleeping pads also provide a cushion on hard or uneven ground.
- Hiking boots should not be purchased online. Instead, go to your local outdoor store and ask to try on a few pairs. Specify how rigorous your adventure will be, as boots for short hikes differ from those suited for backpacking. Also, test the boots' performance on different surfaces and angles if possible.
- Camp shoes, or lighter shoes worn around a campsite during a backpacking trip, typically complement hiking boots. These shoes should be able to take a beating (overshadowing boots for some short hikes), but are also excellent for swimming or hanging out. Chaco's chunky sandals tread this line, but an old pair of running sneakers also work as well.
- Outdoor adventurers should avoid cotton socks (and cotton clothes, in general, because cotton absorbs sweat and dries slowly) and instead opt for wool or synthetic socks. Keep in mind that most outdoor-oriented socks are quite expensive. Smartwool and Darn Tough Vermont both offer a variety of outdoor socks, with cushioned options for long hikes and thinner socks for trail running.
- Unfortunately, peak mosquito season and peak camping season typically both start in spring and end in fall. OFF! Deep Woods Insect & Mosquito Repellent VIII is formulated with 25% DEET, the active ingredient in keeping mosquitoes and other insects away. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that higher concentrations of DEET mean a product works longer, not necessarily better.)
- In areas without running water or soap, hand sanitizer becomes essential before every meal and after trips to the bathroom or latrine.
- Though packing your own toilet paper may not seem necessary, you'll be happy you have it if your chosen car campsite runs out of this hot commodity. Remember, toilet paper can be disposed of in established latrines but not buried.
- A microfiber travel towel allows you to dry off quickly after a swim or an unforeseen rainstorm. While a beach towel also works, many companies make compact alternatives.
- Check to make sure your raincoat is waterproof, not just water-resistant. The difference between being dry and damp becomes consequential as the temperature drops. Columbia makes exceptional raincoats, but rubber raincoats also work well.
- Similar to raincoats, waterproof rain pants are also essential. Before your camping trip, test the durability of your rain gear by standing in the shower.
Food and Cooking
- A mess kit should have at least the following items: a fork, a knife, a spoon, a bowl and a cup. The UCO 6-Piece Camping Mess Kit includes all of the essentials and is machine-washable.
- The taste of warm, heavily spiced food in the wilderness is divine, but you need a handful of gear to get cooking. The MSR WhisperLite Portable Camping and Backpacking Stove, the MSR Liquid Fuel Bottle and the MSR Alpine Stowaway Pot have earned the trust of the outdoors community for their reliability. While there are cheaper camping stoves available, MSR products are considered some of the safest to use.
- Hydration is essential for any outdoor adventure. The Nalgene HDPE Wide Mouth Water Bottle is an affordable and reliable option for storing water, while Hydro Flask offers well-insulated bottles for hot and cold drinks. (Those venturing into the wilderness will also want to pick up some water purification tablets.)
- Every home should have a well-stocked first-aid kit. For trips where space is an issue, take out the essentials from your first-aid kit and store them in a waterproof bag.
- While you will hopefully never need to use it, a loud whistle is essential for any wilderness trips. If you are lost or separated from your group, blow your whistle three times, repeating several times for an hour. After an hour, decrease to three loud blasts every few minutes. Don't blow your whistle if you're not lost.
- In addition to providing an excellent learning opportunity for children, a reliable compass can help you navigate tricky trails. Just make sure you practice using it first.
- Lightweight, packable Crazy Creek Original Chairs transform any flat surface into seats with back support, so you can easily set up to fish, enjoy a sunset or roast marshmallows over a fire.
- While headlamps and flashlights serve the same purpose, we recommend using headlamps because they free up your hands. The Black Diamond Spot 325 Headlamp offers a variety of useful features, such as different brightness levels and red light.
- Hammocks provide the quickest way to kick your relaxation up a notch, as well as test your family's collective balance. ENO hammocks, which can easily be suspended from trees, are available in a variety of sizes and colors.
- In our roundup of the Best Travel Backpacks for 2020, U.S. News chose the Osprey Farpoint 40 as the best adventure travel backpack. The bag straddles the requirements of a daypack and adventure pack thanks to its lightweight design and ample storage pockets.
- A camping blanket can provide extra warmth on particularly chilly nights while doubling as a great picnic blanket for daytime jaunts.
- For adventurers who plan on visiting more than three national parks in a year, the $80 America the Beautiful - National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass proves a cost-effective alternative to paying separate entrance fees. Plus, it gives pass holders access to more than 2,000 recreation areas managed by five federal agencies.
- Leatherman products are basically silver bullets for your camping tool needs, with all of the clamps, files and sharp edges you could want in the wilderness.
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