Every time I go camping, I make a list of things I absolutely need to pack. And every year, I forget something that ends up making a big difference. Now I want to be absolutely clear here. While RVs are nice as far as portable living rooms go, when I say camping, I mean the old-fashioned way. You know-in a tent. Camping isn’t really about getting back to nature unless you pitch a tent, sleep on the ground, and cook over a campfire. Whether you pitch your tent in the deep wilderness or on a lot in a state park, camping exposes you to the elements and you need certain things to make your camping trip successful. Here are ten things to put on your packing list that you don’t want to forget.
In order to successfully pitch your tent, you need to pound the tent stakes into the ground with something. That’s where your trusty hammer comes in. If you forget your hammer, expect to spend way too much time stomping repeatedly on your tent stakes with your flip-flops, then ransacking your car for a heavy book.
2. Sturdy rope
Chances are, you chose your camping spot because of its proximity to a beach. Every time you go swimming, take a shower, or rinse your clothes out, you’re going to need to do something with your wet towel, bathing suit, or clothes. If it rains and your tent floods, you’ll also have a wet sleeping bag on your hands.
Don’t forget to take a rope to string between a couple of trees for a clothesline. There’s nothing worse that a pile of wet stuff on the floor of your tent, stinking up your sleeping area.
You should buy firewood and collect twigs when you get to your campsite, but you’re going to need some paper to get your campfire going. (Do not take your own firewood on a camping trip. Moving firewood from one area to another is how things like the emerald ash borer wipe out all the ash trees in three states.) When you camp at a state park, you can sometimes find discarded newspapers in their drop boxes, but there usually isn’t a spare piece of paper around on a busy weekend. Instead of burning all your other camping supplies (like paper plates), take your old newspapers and junk mail to get your fire started.
4. Lighter Fluid
Camping purists might object to this suggestion, but the rest of us might find lighter fluid useful. I don’t know about your luck, but every time I plan a camping trip, I seem to hit monsoon season. If it rains, all the firewood and sticks in the area will be wet, and it will take a little something extra to start that fire. That’s where the lighter fluid comes in. Sure, you could drive twenty minutes to the nearest store in hopes they have a bottle left (and pay their overinflated price). Or you could be prepared and bring your own.
5. Garbage Bags
I know a lot of people who like to burn their garbage on the campsite, but there is some garbage (like plastic) that you shouldn’t burn and some garbage (like glass bottles) that won’t burn.
Take several garbage bags, and tie one as high as you can in a tree. This will keep theoretically keep animals out of your garbage. Recently, I discovered a rare tribe of acrobatic raccoons in northern Michigan, but most of the time your garbage will be safer in a tree than on the ground.
The extra garbage bags are great for taking home recyclables and packing up your dirty camping clothes and bedding. If you put your camping clothes and bedding in garbage bags before you come home, you’ll also be less likely to bring strange insects into your home.
6. Beach Book
My mother likes camping because there’s often absolutely nothing to do. Take a beach book or six so that when you’re stuck in your tent during a downpour or staring off into space on the sand, you’ll have something mindlessly entertaining to keep you occupied. Otherwise, camping might just seem a tad…boring.
7. First Aid Kit
Murphy’s Law states that if you don’t take a first aid kit on your camping trip, you will get hurt. Plus, you’re bound to get the usual camping-related scrapes and bumps. At the bare minimum, you should throw band-aids, an antiseptic, and an ace bandage into your backpack. At best, you’ll go to a camping supply store and purchase a really good first aid kit that will prepare you for a myriad of outdoor medical emergencies.
8. Phone Card
Cell phones are getting better and better, but on the off chance you’re camping in a wilderness area that doesn’t get cell phone reception, it helps to have a phone card for emergencies. Besides, you don’t want to dump three dollars in change into a pay phone just to call home to check on your cats.
Don’t wait until you’re already on the beach frying your skin to remember that you forgot the sunscreen. When your skin starts to blister and peel off in strips, camping doesn’t seem as much fun as it did the day before when you were getting your sunburn.
10. Extra Socks
Most people assume that one pair of socks per day is enough. This isn’t true when you’re camping, though. Bad weather, a long hike, or just a nasty mud puddle all deserve a change of socks, especially if you want to protect your feet from fungus. As a rule, I take two pairs of socks for every day I will be camping. Better to have too many socks than not enough!