Surprisingly Useful Things to Have When Camping
You've finally accumulated your basic camping gear. Tent, sleeping bag, pad, coolers, and stuff to cook with. Now you might just be wondering on how you can make your camping life a little easier. There are about a million lists out there for “clever” or “ingenious” gear, but they all follow an annoying trend: they provide expensive solutions for problems you're not really having. Sleeping bag onesies? An inflatable hot tub? A portable hydropower plant? I mean, try to tell that last one to the half dozen people who died after getting swept away in Sequoia National Park. For the record, the NPS tells trained rangers to stay a full body length away from rivers.
Our list here is relatively short, but that's the point. Think of this as your second wave of purchases that are surprisingly useful in situations that may arise while you're out on your National Park adventures. Notice we're not plugging any particular product or brand.
1) An Insulated Growler
One thing that we discovered is that there's always a need a more water while camping. Cooking, cleaning, drinking, extinguishing your campfire, making coffee, etc. A half gallon is sort of that magic amount that helps take care of all those things. Small enough to drink from, large enough to handle all sorts of tasks. The insulation then keeps water hot enough for coffee in the morning or mountain water cold enough to stay refreshing as you drive through the desert.
2) A Collapsible Sink
A small tub will accomplish the same tasks, but they're bulky and not really designed to be hauled from a water spigot to your campsite. Camping sinks are. And they let you play by the rules even when there's a line at the utility sink for dishes. They hold enough water that they can even be used for emergency laundry or bathing, if, say, you get to a park and find out the showers haven't been turned on yet (looking at you Crater Lake). More compact than a bucket and more wieldy than a standard sink tub, you'll soon appreciate the extra packing space and the fact no water is sloshing back on you.
3) A Flexible Mini Tripod
Every hike has that moment. You're standing at a beautiful vista with no one around to take your photo. Selfies are terrible for capturing the magic of the moment. Selfie sticks help, but they look stupid and all the photos eventually start looking identical. Mini tripods, on the other hand, can sit on rocks, latch around tree branches, and fit neatly into your backpack. Set the photo timer or use a WiFi or Bluetooth option and start taking photos that really capture your adventures. Eventually people will ask you if you had a photographer following you around!
4) Travel Locks
I originally bought a pack of two for a trip to London to keep pick pockets out of my backpack. Turns out, they've been supremely useful camping. Worried about the stuff you leave in your tent all day? Lock it. Bear locker with a ton of food? Lock it. Lockers at park showers? Lock em. Grabbing a pack of 2 or 3 is an inexpensive way to have a little peace of mind.
5) Cooler Basket
Most premium coolers have brand name baskets designed to keep its contents out of the inevitable soup that's born as your first batch of ice melts. A lot fewer things are watertight than you might believe. Unless you’re using containers specifically designed to be water tight, chances are it's going to eventually leak. Suddenly you'll have soupy water seeping into condiments, bags, jars, and anything else that becomes submerged. The basket will help keep those food items dry, saving you money and frustration. Don't have a premium cooler? Measure your dimensions and buy a dish drying rack that'll sit around the rim.
Pro Tip: If you have a FoodSaver, vacuum sealing your meat is an excellent way to keep it waterproof. Freeze whatever you're not planning on eating right away and pack it frozen.
Speaking of waterproof...
6) Waterproof Food Storage
We use Snapwear, but it seems like every food storage and outdoor gear company has their own version. The more things you can make waterproof for your cooler, the less frustrated you'll be throughout the entirety of your trip. The longer your trip, the more helpful these little babies become. Watertight salsa, leftovers, meat, chocolate, or whatever else needs to stay cold and protected from the ice soup will save you time and money. Plus, these inexpensive containers work great in everyday life, so it won't feel like you're plunking down more money for just camping.