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10 things to take camping you didn’t know you needed

tarp and tent at Cultus Lake
600 300 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

Your ready to go camping and you’ve checked everything off your normal list of gear. But wait a minute – have you thought of everything you might need? Are you ready for any weather and any emergency? Do you have the top ten things everyone needs in their camping gear?

by Leon Pantenburg

Go camping long enough, and you’ll figure out the items that are necessary to have along, in addition to the standard stuff you think you need.

Here are 10 pieces of gear I always include in every camping trip. You can thank me later!

Many shelters are improvised from whatever materials are available.

A tarp can save you from being miserable in a leaky tent.

Tarp: I take a tarp everywhere, whether I’m backpacking, or car camping, hiking outdoors at the park, or a even trip to the grocery store. And especially commuting to work. I have quite a few and they’re tucked in my backpack, in a pile with the camping gear and in my trunk of the car.

Even when you’re not camping, there are dozens of reasons to carry a tarp in the car. Size is up to you, but I always carry a 6’x8′ and a 10’x12′. I’ve had to use both to change a tire in the rain and kneel on the dirty road, and throw over me to keep from getting soaked. You go to the park and the dog gets extremely dirty and you’ve got to throw him in the back seat of the car. The Sunday afternoon picnic gets a quick rain shower and you need to cover all the food. That outdoor concert looks overcast with a chance of rain. The family goes to the park and the ground is wet and dirty. There are countless reasons to have a tarp nearby.

A tarp can even used as an emergency flag for a search and rescue helicopter. My friend and trained rescue expert, Blake Miller, teaches emergency preparedness. He claims a blue tarp is more noticeable than red or orange from the air by pilots when searching. Imagine having a white car and getting stuck on a rural road in the snow and freezing weather. A blue tarp stands out. Same for snowmobilers. Even in a forested region, Blake claims, the blue “pops” out from the surrounding foliage and they can spot a stranded hiker.

On your camping trip, the tarp can be used to create a rain shelter, to cover a leaky tent, as a ground cloth or carpet at the front of the tent, cover the picnic table when the weather turns, etc. When setting up camp, my wife seems to find no end to the need for tarps to keep the area clean. I like to string the tarp over the cooking area. When backpacking, it’s nice to have a clean and dry spot.

Toilet paper and paper towels: Because you never know if the campground toilet will be out of the one-layer, waxed, barely useable TP. Paper towels are for everything, and you’ll regret running out. To be more environmentally friendly, add plenty of hand towels as you’ll see below.

Tent stakes: Always take extras. Chances are you will lose or break one. If you don’t take spares, you’ll end up whittling a stake from a stick. Murphy’s law guarantees this will happen as you desperately try to set up the tent before the rainstorm and wind hits. I know, because it’s happened to me. I always carry more than I think I need.

Small rug: We put a small rug outside the entrance of the tent, and sometimes inside. The rug is a great place to stand and kick off the dirt, or even wash your dirty feet prior to putting on socks or hiking boots. Or to change pants. Or anything. Inside the tent, there’s one more opportunity to keep the dirt off the sleeping bags, or gives the dog a place to sleep. Tip: I like to have a big box of diaper wipes to clean hands and feet throughout the camping trip. It’s so much more comfortable to feel clean before climbing into the bag at night.

Survive this: Check out these prices on MilSpec paracord

Paracord is lightweight and incredibly useful.

Paracord: Paracord is the cordage used on parachutes. Today it’s used for everything. There are countless uses for the stuff, and you’ll need a lot to set up tarps shelters in the rain. Take a minimum of 150 feet.

Individual keyring lights: I’ll bet 99 percent of your lighting needs around camp can be met with one of those tiny LED key ring lights. Get the ones with the on-off switches, and make them into necklaces, using paracord, for everyone. I have dozens and attach them to everything, including the dog collar.

These will work great for trips to the bathroom in the dark, finding stuff in your duffle bag, reading in the tent, and on and one. These are so handy you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it sooner.

Practical shelter building techniques are another lifesaver.

Practical shelter building techniques are another lifesaver.

Extra trash bags: Extra large bags, sure. But also take along smaller gallon and quart-sized Ziplocks. These can be used cover things in the rain, to stash away wet, nasty dirty clothes and to waterproof items in your pack. The large, 55-gallon contractor grade trash bags can be used for shelters, pack covers, improvised ponchos – you name it.

Duct tape, zip ties and bungee cords: I take duct tape with me everywhere, and use it for everything. Take along zip ties to fix things, and bungee cords to fasten coverings around gear.

Personalized drinking cups | 5 gallon water jug: This can be anything from a red plastic cup with your name on it, to elaborate water bottles. By the way, I highly recommend Hydroflask as an outstanding insulated bottle for cold or hot beverages. Leave behind the case of purchased bottled water and fill up your 5 gallon jug with tap water. Use a camp cup or your water bottle every time you need to fill up, and let’s stop being so wasteful and typically American. Our most recent addition to the camp kitchen is the Silipint. These silicone cups are perfect for both coffee, water, beverage, cocktail, you name it. Their flexible, and unbreakable, easy to wash and multi-use.

Individual hand towels: If everyone sticks a hand towel on their belt around camp, it will make a world of difference in how clean everything stays! Wipe your hands frequently, as needed on the towel, and you won’t be wiping them on your shirt. This hand towel becomes particularly appreciated when cooking. When the towel eventually gets dirty, wash and hang it out. It will save on the paper towels, too!

That’s my miscellaneous list, and it has evolved after many years of camping in all sorts of climates, weather conditions and seasons. The items are cheap, easily found and make camping a lot more fun and safe!

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7 comments
  • Aaron

    Solar lights have come a long way in the last few years, and wonder if they are worth adding to an “essentials” list yet?
    Solar yard lights would make for a nice camp lantern with renewable (free) light. am experimenting with going solar in my tent light. Some companies ( d.light for example) make solar lanterns being used in underdeveloped nations, and they are increasing the battery life to last for “years”.

  • Leon

    I’ve used ratchet straps to secure canoes on top of a vehicle, and they work fine. The little flashlights, along with a whistle, makes a great kid camping necklace. If the youngster gets lost, teach then to hug a tree and blow periodically on their whistle.
    You can never have too much paracord!

  • mark keeler

    Great advice about taking 150 feet of paracord. We carry about 50 feet and now I am adding another 100 feet.

    Ever use ratchet straps? My engineer friend turned me on to Ozark Mountain (Walmart) ratcheting straps for hanging cloths to dry. I string several together and they never droop like paracord or rope.

    I think I will try to make one of your tarp tents with the ratchet straps and hiking sticks for pole.

    We carry large Dorcy LED lights because my kids always loose the small flashlights. They are getting older and I think I will try the small key chain lights with a paracord necklace.

    We used to carry a rug to place in front of the tent. We left it behind and some one else is enjoying it. We will find another at a thrift store on our next trip.

  • Linda

    I always carry a tiny whisk broom and dust pan. They are great for sweeping out small spots in the tent that get dirt, rocks, leaves or whatever in it.

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