Every year new camping gear is introduced, and every year I want to buy some shiny, new toys.
Some purchases have been great finds. Some have been collecting dust in the camping equipment morgue in my basement. But there are some items essential for a successful camping trip that aren’t shiny or new — just proven necessities based on years of experience.
The following are my top 10 items I pack when heading on a camping trip:
10. A quality tent. On a recent camping trip to Lake Sharpe in South Dakota, a friend drove trough the night to arrive at sunrise. He stepped out of his SUV, caught some fish and decided to take a midmorning nap. While he was sawing logs, the wind whipped up, and his tent collapsed — ruining it. He no longer had shelter. A few hours later he was back on the road — a six-hour return trip. He drove 12 hours to fish for about an hour. Do yourself a favor and buy a four-season tent. I bought mine in the late ’80s, and it has never failed through unbelievable storms, during which I stayed dry and secure. A quality tent can be expensive, but it’s worth every penny.
9. Plastic bags. You need small, medium, large and extra-large sealable bags. Small bags are great for packing single-serving treats or a few plastic worms. Medium bags are perfect for packing food items that otherwise might be ruined in the cooler, like butter. Large bags are good for combining several smaller bags for double protection or some fish you catch. The extra-large bags will keep wet clothing separated from dry clothing in the tent, for instance, or protect your deer jerky. Also, you need at least one heavy-duty garbage bag. Pack it in, pack it out.
8. Army cot. On a recent trip to the Sand Hills for winter camping, I picked up one of these. They take up some room, but offer great comfort for the few good hours of sleep you need. I graduated to the cot from the blow-up mattresses. I find it hard to trust an inflatable mattress. One encounter with my dog and the mattress is leaking. A sturdy cot is a good friend.
7. Propane-powered hot plate. Especially in a drought, a single burner is perfect for making coffee or cooking a meal without the threat of starting a wildfire. They are inexpensive, lightweight and indispensable. I’ve used a single burner to cook a meal in my tent on windy days. Even when you can build a campfire, making coffee on a burner is much easier and there are very few things as important as a hot cup of coffee first thing on a cool morning.
6. Flashlights. I can’t tell you how many times I put a flashlight down and need another flashlight to find the first. An LED headlamp is the latest addition to my collection. It offers hands-free operation while baiting a hook or field dressing a deer. How did I ever live without one? Always bring an assortment of flashlights and fresh batteries. This is a no-brainer.
5. Propane fire pit. In drought-stricken times, many parks don’t allow open fires. But most will allow a propane fire pit. A campsite without a fire is like a s’more without chocolate. You can set up a tripod-mounted Dutch oven and cook like a pro over the flames. The price point is about $100. I suggest using a 20-pound tank of propane and bringing a spare. To get nice-sized flames, you will go through a little propane.
4. Ketchup packets. ... And mustard and mayo and special sauce packets. And plastic silverware. Cashiers throw them in your bag in the drive-through lanes at fast food restaurants. You ask for one, they will give you four. If you dare ask for three, there will be enough to supply the camp with ketchup for breakfast hash browns. Arby’s Horsey Sauce on a turkey sandwich at a lakeside lunch is a treat. Wendy’s has the best plastic silverware. I collect the extras through the year and bring them to camp in a large sealable plastic bag (see No. 9).
3. Duct tape. You can fix the tent, the car and the fishing pole with duct tape. You can use duct tape to help make a splint for a compound fracture. You can reattach the sole of your boot, or make a new sole with duct tape. You could measure a piece of duct tape and affix it to your tackle box, boat or fishing pole so you can be sure your fish is a keeper.
2. Flushable wipes. There are very few suitable showers in the camping world. It’s OK to look dirty, but it is important to feel fresh. Baby wipes are nearly as important. I hate having to bait a hook without a pack of baby wipes nearby. Seriously, buy them, take them, and thank me later.
1. Cash. Bait shops seldom take plastic. You can’t write a check to the guy selling firewood from the back of his truck. The locksmith, willing to drive to the lake in the middle of the night to unlock your truck, wants cash. And if you forget anything on the list, especially No. 2, you can buy it on the way to the park. Take some small bills. Bait shop owners will thank you for not handing them a $100 bill for $6 worth of bait.
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