Tent: check. Sleeping bag: check. Gas in the vehicle: check. Years ago, this might suffice for a basic camping gear checklist. Today, it is only a hint at what you may want to bring with you on your trip to the Great Outdoors, where you can find peace with Mother Nature- that is, if you don’t get lost, rained out, bump your head in the dark or get eaten by thousands of swarming mosquitoes. Don’t be afraid! There is fun to be had out there. It begins with the right items on your camping gear checklist.
The camping gear checklist of yesterday was small enough that you didn’t really even need it, and quick visit to Sears or Ace Hardware could yield the basics for your outdoor excursion. Today, there are several enormous bona fide camping stores such as REI, Cabela’s, L.L. Bean and Gander Mountain that offer enough goodies to make your head spin and your wallet implode. Where to start? What to do? What are the “must-haves?”
“Must-have” items must not be confused with “essential” items. In fact, they’re opposites. Must-haves are luxury items, things to make your life easier. They are the items that you think of after you pitch your essential tent, sit in your essential folding chair, and exclaim, “dang it! Why didn’t I remembered that?” Here are three must-haves of the modern camper:
Headlamp. I imagine the first camper to innovate the headlamp looked rather ridiculous with the flashlight strapped to the side of his head, his buddies laughing at him until they realize he’s done pitching his tent, rolling out his sleeping bag, and is now enjoying a frosty beverage by the fire while they continue struggling in the dark. Why? Because Flashlight Man was willing to sacrifice style for efficiency. Two free hands are better than one shackled to a lantern while you work, and it’s not supposed to be work, is it? So buy a headlamp (or strap a flashlight to your head if you like) and be the first to enjoy a cold one in the Great Outdoors.
Repellent/sunscreen combo. At some point on your camping trip, you are going to be walking through nature, whether it’s a hike through nature’s scenic beauty, or simply when nature calls. The must-have item for this situation is a pocket-sized “hands-free” repellent/sunscreen, such as the one made by Sun Bug. Turn the corner on a trail and walk right into a swarm of mosquitoes like I have, and you’ll draw it out and apply it faster than Clint Eastwood's gun on a dusty Western street. The bottle has a special foam applicator allowing you to apply it on the go with one hand. Not exactly hands-free, but certainly handy for bugs or sun, and a must-have!
Smart Phone. The third item on our camping gear checklist (of must-haves) is the one most likely to rile camping purists. But camping purists wouldn’t be interested in a list of “must-haves,” would they? A smart phone is a smart thing to have on a camping trip (as long as you remember you are on a camping trip- use it sparingly!). It will keep you safe with instant weather reports, keep you from getting lost with GPS capabilities, and lead you to the nearest McDonald’s for breakfast to feed your wailing kids after you burned breakfast on the open fire, or run out of the most essential of all items on the camping gear checklist: Coffee.