There’s a bit of a serious element to pre-camping preparations. After all, you’ll be potentially hanging out in a pretty isolated area, so you’ll be on your own to a large extent. You need to be prepared to take care of yourself.
So, it’s important to take your tent, backpack, and sleeping bag choices seriously. It’s important that you select a first-aid kit that’ll provide everything you need to tend to injuries. And you must be prepared to feed yourself — even if you don’t plan on cooking at all.
But there’s another side of pre-camping-trip preparation. One that needn’t be so serious.
I’m talking about the miscellaneous creature comforts and recreational items you may want to bring.
Don’t misunderstand: These things are important. You go camping to have a good time (among other reasons), so it is very important that you bring the things along that’ll help you make the best of your trip.
But these things won’t really impact your safety or stand in the way of your safe return. So, kick off your shoes and day dream about your next trip a little, as I talk about some of the optional items you may want to bring.
Miscellaneous Items You May Want to Bring Camping: An Overview
To start, let’s just list some of the kinds of things many folks like to bring camping. This may give you some ideas, and it’ll also help you get your head wrapped around the types of things I’m talking about here.
- Reading material
- Notebook and pen
- Camp games
- Musical instruments
- Camera and associated equipment
- Music player (w/ headphones or speaker)
- Camp blanket
- Fishing gear/license/bait
- Eye masks/ear plugs
- Field guides
- Dog gear (dishes, tether, pack, bed)
- Camp chairs
- Hand warmers
- Inflatable Rafts
Dog gear is obviously not optional if you’re bringing your dog along, but — theoretically — you could always leave the dog home. This sounds like utter madness to me, but you do you.
And fortunately, I’ve already covered most of the things you’ll need to bring for your dog elsewhere. So, I won’t be recreating the wheel now.
For that matter, some may consider things like eye masks or ear plugs mandatory too. And if you really need these things to sleep, then I’d wholeheartedly agree — add these things to your list of required camping supplies without hesitation. You certainly want to get a good night’s sleep while camping.
But with those caveats aside, let’s dive into some of these items in greater detail below.
Radio or Musical Instruments
Music instruments, MP3 players, radios and other things that play amplified music are a bit of a contentious issue among nature lovers.
Some feel that there’s no better place in the world to enjoy strumming a few chords or bathing your ears in a favorite reggae tune than the great outdoors. Others find these sorts of disruptions rude, inappropriate, and out of place.
I’m not going to place my head upon that particular chopping block right now, except to say that those who do choose to enjoy amplified music in natural settings should obviously do so in a manner that’s respectful to others (including non-human others). Electronic devices with earphones are the best way to do so, but it’s hard to argue with the appeal of an acoustic instrument so far from civilization.
At any rate, those who’d like to enjoy some tunes in a responsible manner at the campsite should consider bringing along the equipment to do so.
The primary things you’ll need to consider are the weight and size of the gear, as well as how you’ll protect it from damage. And these factors will influence your next steps in umpteen different ways.
I’ll leave it to the reader to plan out the details of providing the soundtrack for your next trip, except to say that I’ve lugged an acoustic guitar into the forest a time or two, and “lug” is precisely the right word for such an endeavor.
On the other hand, you’ll already be bringing along a phone. A pair of ear buds won’t increase your pack weight much at all.
Food for thought…
Camp Chairs or Hammocks
Hammocks may not always provide the instant-fun-and-relaxation people think they do (translation: There’s actually a bit of skill involved in hanging and enjoying a hammock), but there’s no denying that hammocks and natural settings are like peas and carrots.
Best of all, they weigh very little and compress down into a backpacker-friendly size. So, all in all, they make pretty good recreational items to bring along on your next camping trip.
Just be sure to hang your hammock in a manner that won’t cause damage to the trees you use to support it. And don’t hog the best spot day after day if you’re in a popular location — let everyone enjoy the scenery.
It does belong to us all.
Books or Field Guides
Books used to be one of the only form of entertainment available to campers aside from a deck of cards or musical instrument. But thanks to technological advances, they’ve actually dropped down the priority list for many nature lovers.
That doesn’t mean you should sleep on books though — there is something truly special about enjoying a good book in the solitude of a forest or alongside the soundtrack of a creek. For that matter, books can be enjoyed at any moment of a camping trip without bothering anyone.
The primary drawback to books is their weight. Even a little paperback will usually weigh at least 1 pound, which isn’t exactly inconsequential for backpackers.
One pretty nifty idea I read a million years ago from a source I can’t remember (otherwise, I’d give the author credit). This camping veteran advocated for burning the book as you go. Finish chapter two after breakfast? Use it for starting your dinner fire later.
This obviously won’t help you at the outset (and it doesn’t represent a ton of weight savings anyway), but it is nice to know your pack will be a little lighter with every passing page. Plus, the book will serve as a convenient source of tinder in a pinch.
Obviously, you can also bring along electronic books these days. But doing so would be more appropriate to discuss in the following section.
Fishing is one of the most iconic recreational activities you can enjoy while camping. And if it goes well, you may even end up with one of the freshest dinners you’ve ever tasted (though you should never count on caught fish for necessary calories — even professional anglers are skunked at times).
There are two basic challenges to confront when trying to fish during backpacking trips: You must assemble a lean, but capable collection of tackle, and you have to decide your approach to a fishing rod.
You have unlimited options at your disposal for the first issue, and the specifics will vary so much that I can’t even address them here.
But the latter issue is a bit simpler.
The problem is, most fishing poles are at least 5 feet long, and some even measure 7 feet in length or more. You can’t easily lash a fishing rod to your back, and it is very tough to hike more than a mile or two while lugging a backpack and carrying a fishing pole.
Aside from just being a drag to carry, the rod will get snagged on anything and accumulate damage with each bump, drop and scrape.
This means that unless you want to carry the rod the whole way (you don’t — I promise), you have three basic options:
- You can opt for a multi-piece rod. This is my preferred strategy, and it’s probably the most popular with anglers who take their pursuit somewhat seriously. Quality is not really hard to find in the multi-piece rod category — many serious anglers use them on a daily basis. The primary problem with this approach is figuring out a way to carry the independent pieces, which may still be 3 feet long or more. Purpose-built carrying cases are available, but that does represent more weight and an additional expense.
- You can carry a very small one-piece rod. This approach generally entails buying a 30- to 48-inch-long fishing pole — usually one that’s designed for kids. You’ll then just figure out the best way to lash the pole to your bag, secure in the knowledge that if the rod breaks, you aren’t out very much money. I’ve done this because it was affordable enough to just try out, but it’s not my favorite approach. I will, however, point out that a short rod is easier to wield amid the overgrown streambanks you’ll often encounter while camping.
- You can use a telescoping rod. Theoretically, a high-end telescoping fishing rod may be the very best approach — the trick is finding a high-end telescoping pole suitable for camping. But many anglers like using telescoping rods as “impromptu rods” that are kept in a trunk or tool box, so you can likely find a model that’ll work for a week or two of fishing on the trail.
Binoculars are such an obvious tool for making the most of your time in the forest, that it almost feels as though they should be considered basic, mandatory equipment.
But you don’t really need, need them. Hell, most campers probably don’t carry a pair.
That’s a mistake, though. Binoculars — even a no-frills, totally affordable set — instantly open your world. And this obviously provides considerable value when you’re out exploring some of the very best the world has to offer.
Just go easy at the outset. Binoculars contribute quite a bit of weight to your pack, and they’re not exactly indestructible, so you’ll usually have to carry them and a protective case of some sort. For that matter, binoculars aren’t quite as simple to use as you may initially think; they require a bit of skill.
So, don’t go overboard until you know what you want in a pair of binoculars, you know how to use them, and how much of your pack capacity you’re willing to donate to them.
Cell phone cameras have changed the game for most campers. And in a roundabout way, they’ve rendered this entire discussion moot.
The vast majority of people will obtain better results by using a high-quality cell phone to snap nature shots and selfies than they would using mirrorless or DSLR cameras. And because you’re bringing your phone on your camping trip anyway, proper camera equipment is pretty superfluous.
And this means that most people can just skip this section entirely.
But some people do enjoy high-level or specialized photography.
This includes everyone from vloggers who emphasize video quality to bird lovers who require extraordinarily big and bulky lenses. Action-camera (GoPro) enthusiasts would obviously also fall into this category, as would those who like flying drones.
But here’s the thing: These shutter bugs have already figured the packing and transportation logistics of their camera gear out.
They may need help deciding what kind of camping multitool to bring along or how to organize a backpack, but they don’t need help packing their real gear.
A lot of car campers bring super-posh inflatable mattresses when glamping (said with no disrespect whatsoever — enjoy the type of camping you like to do).
But that’s not what I’m talking about here.
Nor am I talking about the kinds of inflatable rafts that require paddles, life vests and occupants.
I’m talking about those $15 inflatable rafts you buy in the seasonal aisle while grocery shopping (or, as a civilized member of the 21st century would do, just buy it on Amazon for even less). The kind that keep you afloat and kinda dryish while sipping something with an umbrella in it.
These things are awesome for camping. They compress into a very small size, they’re small enough to inflate without causing yourself to blackout, and they’re useful in a litany of occasions during the average camping trip.
Obviously, you can use them as intended. Blow one up, toss it in a lake or river, hop on, and enjoy.
But you can also use them as a cushion around camp. They’re never going to replace a proper sleeping pad, and you’ll want to be careful with them, as they’re not exactly durable. But high-quality sleeping pads cost a good bit more than these silly things, and tearing one just means that you get to try out your vinyl patching skills (you’ve probably got one in your camping tool kit).
Suffice to say, while not perfect, these things are pretty low-cost, low-risk, high-value things to consider throwing in your pack.
Cards or Other Games
Card games are just perfect for nights in the forest with friends and family. They work with a vast array of personality types and in an assortment of group dynamics, they’re hella fun, and they don’t represent many unique trail challenges.
Yeah, you’ll have to add a tiny bit of weight to your pack. Yeah, they’ll require some battery power at night in many cases. Yeah, you’ll have to protect them from damage (thanks to the burn marks incurred during last night’s fervent rules debate, I could tell Mary was holding the three of clubs…).
But these are minor obstacles to overcome in the name of a good card game on the trail.
Other kinds of traditional games work too.
Chess and checkers are obvious options, as are dominoes or Connect Four for your youngsters. Monopoly is probably a bit stuff intensive, but possible, while the prospect of keeping up with the legions of pieces Risk involves seems a bit ambitious.
There are obviously countless other items you may like to bring along during a camping trip. Off the top of my head, I’ve seen people bring coolers, smoking gear, hacky sacks, coozies, and those stick things people bat back and forth in the air that I don’t know the name of. I have even seen folks bring along full-sized digeridoos and congas.
I’ve also seen people bring more serious “miscellaneous” items, such as biological collecting gear, night vision goggles, and owl calls. For that matter, I felt naked without a snake hook on the trail back when I made my living handling legless ones.
Really, the point of all these words is that you should make room in your pack for to bring along some non-essential items that’ll help you enjoy your time in the woods.
Personally, my days of lugging an instrument into the forest are behind me, though I still enjoy earbud jams while on the trail. I never carry a full-sized snake hook anymore, nor do I feel the need to bring every bit of fishing tackle I could conceivably need.
These days, I care more about taking photos and video of the cool stuff I find in the natural world.
But a compact little fishing rig is also pretty fun to bring.
What do you plan on bringing on your next trip that you don’t really need, need?
Let me know in the comments below.
Header image from Pixabay.