For those of us who enjoy cooler weather, camping season is just around the corner. For some, it’s already been going on all summer.
Whether you’re camping this weekend or waiting ’til autumn, here are some recommendations for neat items you should bring along. Obviously, there’s no way we could be all-inclusive for camping gear, so we’ll avoid listing obvious things like tents and sleeping bags, and instead link to oddities and cool things.
Also, you may not want or need every item on this list for your next outdoors excursion. These items reflect our tastes, and we’re simply trying to give people some interesting ideas they may not have considered before. Pick and choose what you think works best for your needs.
Not an all-encompassing list of course, just a few good things.
Gränsfors Bruk Wildlife Hatchet »
One of the best and most versatile items in any camper’s arsenal is a good hatchet. It’s a tool that lets you fashion other tools, should you ever find yourself in the wilderness alone. Or, after using it to chop and split some kindling and firewood, you can pair it with a firesteel to start a fire.
The Wildlife Hatchet from Swedish company Gränsfors Bruk is the one we’d recommend. At $170 as of this writing (we’ve previously seen it priced over $250) it’s on the pricey side — especially for one so compact — but its old-world craftsmanship is worth every penny.
The high-carbon steel head of every GB hatchet is individually forged, ground, and polished by hand. Once the smith has completed the job, if they decide it’s good enough to release into the world (and their standards are high), they stamp their initials into the head right beside the company’s crown logo. Talk about standing by your work. The wood handle is made from solid, fine-grain hickory, and is finished with linseed oil and a coating of beeswax. The hatchet comes with a handsome leather sheath that covers the top of the head, which helps protect the generous amount of wood protruding from the eye area.
Each hatchet is backed by a 20-year warranty against manufacturer’s defects. If you’re still not comfortable dropping that much money on a hatchet, Best Made Co. makes a decent one for about half the cost.
UCO Stormproof Matches »
Of course, carrying only a hatchet and firesteel isn’t likely to be the most preferred method of starting fires outside of survival situations. Not to worry, there’s a better way: UCO’s stormproof matches. These bad boys will stay lit for about 15 seconds, even after being submerged in water and covered by sand.
We recommend storing them in this:
Exotac Matchcap »
The Exotac Matchcap is an aircraft-grade aluminum accessory that can hold several stormproof matches. It has several types of built-in striker surfaces and a convenient lanyard loop. More importantly though, this thing is very durable, will keep your matches dry, and even floats on water so you’re less likely to lose it.
The Matchcap is available in black, blaze orange, and gunmetal flavors.
Ontario Knives RAT-1 Pocket Knife »
While the hatchet above is a great choice for many cutting jobs you’ll encounter outdoors, keeping a pocket knife on-hand is essential for smaller tasks.
Our top pick is the Ontario Knives RAT-1. It is a solid, chunky knife with a no-nonsense design and nothing flashy to speak of. It’s bulky and feels like a tank to hold and use. There is nothing nimble about this knife, and when it comes right down to it, that’s exactly what we want from a knife when camping or hiking. It’s great for carving, cooking, and even battoning when splitting wood.
The blade is AUS 8 steel — a good middle ground when you need to sharpen in adverse conditions, and, astonishingly, this knife can be had for less than $30. At this low of a price you can really beat on the knife without worry, as it is cheap enough to replace.
LED Lenser T7 Tactical Flashlight »
The LED Lenser T7 is a tactical flashlight that gives off a lot of light for its size. It measures only 5.4″ long and weights less than 7oz., but its max brightness is an impressive 175 lumens, plenty enough for most jobs in and around the house.
It actually has three brightness settings: full power (175 lumens), regular power (135 lumens), and low power (27 lumens). The full power setting can kill its four AAA batteries pretty quickly and is best saved for emergencies, but the lower two settings work quite well in most cases. This is a pretty tough little flashlight too, able to withstand hard impacts and even water to a certain degree.
GORUCK GR2 Bag »
GORUCK’s GR2 bag is the ultimate travel companion, whether you’re getting on a plane or heading into the great outdoors. It’s remarkably comfortable to carry over extended periods of time, despite its 40-liter capacity, and there’s plenty of room to pack clothes and gear for a week, regardless of weather conditions.
The main structure is made out of 1000 Denier Cordura, a highly durable, highly water-resistant material with exceptional strength-to-weight ratio. Strictly speaking, GORUCK bags in general are not technically waterproof, but they’re highly water resistant. What this means is that, while it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to submerge the bag in the ocean, you can safely walk with it in the rain — even in the topical rainforests of Brazil — without worrying about its contents.
The front of the bag features four rows of webbing designed to reliably and securely attach small accessories such as a compass, pocket knife, carabiner, keys, and the like.
Read more about the GORUCK GR2 in our in-depth review.
Coffee & Cooking
Fill up and get going.
Just because you’re away from civilization doesn’t mean you have to go without your coffee fix. Consider bringing along an Aeropress and a hand grinder like the Porlex JP-30. You’ll have to supply your own hot water but it’ll be worth it. (And of course, don’t forget the coffee beans.)
The Porlex JP-30 — or its mini counterpart — can stow inside the main body of the Aeropress for easy storage. If you also want to put the Aeropress plunger’s open interior to good use, you can store beans and filters in that space and keep it all sealed up with the Aeropress Travel Cap + Brewing Grip ($10) from Able Brewing Co.
For a pour-over alternative, check out the Snow Peak Coffee Dripper.
Littlbug Junior Collapsible Camping Stove »
Whether you’re cooking food or boiling a kettle of water, a good portable stove is always handy to have around.
The Littlbug Junior is a super-light stainless steel camping stove able to be collapsed and stored in your backpack when not in-use. It can burn wood or alcohol, can support fairly large pots, and only takes about 15 seconds to assemble. Its height and shape creates a nice chimney effect, so you shouldn’t even need all that much burning wood to get the job done, and quickly.
The larger version of this stove is currently sold out, unfortunately, but the Junior version should meet most people’s needs unless they’re trying to cook for large groups (i.e. more than 3 or 4 people).
Best Made Co. Takedown Skillet »
What’s interesting to me about Best Made Co.’s Takedown Skillet isn’t just that the handle can be detached and reattached in the other direction for easy storage, like so:
It’s that it also shares similar heat-retention properties with cast iron but with half the weight (2lbs 6.5 oz in all), and like cast iron it should still last a lifetime if properly cared for. It’s made from a flat piece of 99.1% pure spun iron — sourced from a legendary British iron foundry — that’s been turned over a lathe, and conveniently arrives at your door pre-seasoned with a natural oil blend so you can get to cooking straight away. The diameter of the skillet is 10″, while the handle is 7.25″ long.
We recommend picking up a cast iron skillet mitt so you can handle the pan while cooking without burning yourself.
Let’s be honest, we’re nerds here. We’re not leaving all our tech behind unless we have to.
EasyAcc Power Bank Dual-USB Portable Battery »
The EasyAcc Power Bank is a great device to add to your camping arsenal. While we obviously don’t recommend spending all your camping time on your iPhone or iPad, this battery is a great option for families with multiple devices to charge. With its 20,000mAh capacity, it can fully charge an iPhone 10x or an iPad mini 2x. And with its dual USB ports, the entire family can stay charged all weekend long.
UE Boom Wireless Bluetooth Speaker »
Highly regarded as one of the best Bluetooth speakers out there. It’s compact, gets excellent sound and battery life, and comes in a variety of color options. If you’ve never used a Bluetooth speaker, you’d be surprised how fantastic and handy they are, wherever you are. The right music can make a camping trip all the more fun, and the UE Boom provides just that.
For a smaller, cheaper version, the UE Mini Boom is highly acclaimed. We’ve also reviewed the larger UE Mega Boom.
Odds & Ends
A few other nice things to have at your campsite, or give as gifts to the camping nut in your life.
Wood & Faulk Camp Stool »
If you’re looking for an alternative to the $20 camping chair you get at Walmart, this classically-inspired camping stool may be just the ticket. The seat is made from English bridle leather and the legs from hardwood Ash. It’s handmade, unique, and built to last.
Trails of Escape Camp Trip Notebooks »
These Camp Trip Notebooks from Trails of Escape are great for planning and journaling your next outdoors excursion. The cover lets you fill in a trip location and date range, while the inner pages contain gear-packing checklists and pages where you can capture your thoughts during the trip. $10 gets you a pack of two, each with 60 pages.
Packtowl Nano Light Towel »
Anybody who’s ever read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will tell you: A towel is one of the most important and useful things a traveler can carry. And if you’re going to have one with you while camping, the Packtowl Nano Light Towel is an excellent choice.
This thing can absorb just about any liquid you throw at it (up to twice the towel’s weight) and it will wring out almost completely dry as if by magic. It can be used over and over for several days before needing a wash, and when not in-use, it can be easily stored in the included mesh bag (which has a nifty snap-on strap for attaching to other equipment, such as a larger bag or tent).
It’s not meant to replace your bathroom towels, but it’s perfect for camping and other sorts of travel, and even for cleaning your eyeglasses. I recommend picking up a few of the medium size, which are just over $11 each on Amazon.