If you’re lucky enough to go camping in your free time, you’re also lucky enough to choose your own equipment. Sure, our ancestors camped under the stars with nothing but a rock for a pillow, but they also died of exposure or got run over in their sleep by a wild boar at the ripe old age of 15. You can do better. Once you have the essentials taken care of, you can start looking for ways to upgrade your camping experience – especially if you’re traveling in a vehicle rather than on foot. With a few key purchases, you can eat better, sleep more comfortably, and bring your favorite playlist — all while maximizing your camping budget. That sounds like a wilderness oasis you’ll never want to leave.
Here are a few items that strike the perfect balance between civilization and frontier survival. You might even have money left over for provisions.
Yeti Tundra cooler
The cooler craze is in full swing, but there’s a reason the Yeti Tundra has made such a name for itself. Heavy-duty construction means the cooler can hold up to years of use. Large, NeverFlat wheels and a welded aluminum handle make it easy to move, even when full of frosty refreshment. Inside, you’ll have enough room for 45 cans of beer using a very scientific two-to-one ice-to-can ratio. A tough shell and proven insulation keep this cooler’s contents safe and cold, even when temperatures spike into triple digits. There are more compact or higher-capacity Yeti coolers, but this one is the Goldilocks of the bunch. [Buy]
Covacure camping hammock
Sleeping on the ground is fine, but sleeping in a Covacure camping hammock is arguably more comfortable and definitely more awesome-looking. Durable parachute material makes this hammock light, rip-resistant, and strong enough to support more than 750 pounds. In addition to adjustable nylon straps, you’ll get metal stakes to reduce the swinging effect while you sleep. At more than nine feet long and four feet wide, you’ll have plenty of room to get comfortable. Best of all, this hammock comes with a mosquito net to keep the bugs away. If waking up without an aching back and mosquito bites counts as glamping, count me in. [Buy]
EcoXGear Eco Trek speaker
Everything is better with music, and the Eco Trek speaker from EcoXGear isn’t your average Bluetooth boombox. With 100 watts of output and 50 hours of battery life, you can keep the party going as long as you want. The durable design is tough enough for the dirt, water, and hard knocks of life outdoors. In fact, it’s not just waterproof – this speaker floats so toss it in the canoe or strap it to a kayak. Connect it to your device with an auxiliary cord or pair wirelessly from up to 100 feet away. You can even use Siri or Google, and there’s also an AM/FM radio in case you want to hear from civilization. This beefy speaker isn’t for backpacking, but it’s sure to take more established campsites to the next level. [Buy]
Masterbuilt tabletop grill
Granola and trail mix might be enough for some people, but if your stomach is growling for bacon and eggs the Masterbuilt Smoke Hollow has the answer. This gas grill is small enough to throw in the car for a weekend away but large enough to cook six hamburger patties at a time. Stainless steel construction is durable and easy to clean. The 10,000-BTU burner distributes heat evenly and runs off standard 16-ounce propane cylinders. With a built-in igniter, you won’t even have to break out the matches. Go ahead, eat like a lumberjack. [Buy]
GoerTek solar charger
Keep all your electronics charged and ready with the GoerTek solar charger. Even the most purist backpacker can appreciate that their cell phone can serve as a map, camera, and lifeline, but it’s no good once the small internal battery dies. This solar charger turns sunlight into electricity and stores it until you need it. It can charge most phones more than five times using stored power. A green light lets you know when the solar panel is charging the internal battery, and a series of blue lights display the current charge. Three USB ports let you charge multiple devices at once. On the back of the charger, there’s also a bright white LED array that turns your backup power station into a powerful lantern. Unless you camp like a caveman, this one’s a no-brainer. [Buy]
Moon Lence camp chair
If you camp to relax, don’t forget a comfortable place to sit, like the Moon Lence camp chair. Weight is an important consideration, and this folding chair only adds two pounds to your pack. That weight will pay for itself when you have a place to kick back at the trail’s end. Durable cloth and an aluminum frame support more than 240 pounds. Reinforced seams and corners make sure this chair can stand the test of time. A compact carrying case makes it just as easy to tuck in your pack as it is to throw in the trunk for outdoor events. When your feet are sore from a day on the trail, this chair will be a welcome sight. [Buy]
Ruff Products Bark Bowl
Your dog might be the best way to upgrade your campsite, so don’t forget a Bark Bowl to keep them hydrated. It’s only considerate to bring some gear for man’s best friend, after all. This silicone bowl collapses when not in use, so it’s a great addition to your camping gear list. Its smooth surfaces are also much easier to clean than soft dog bowls. There is no rigid plastic rim, and all materials are BPA-free. An aluminum carabiner even makes it easy to carry this outside your pack, if you prefer. Fully expanded, this bowl can hold up to 27 ounces of water. This is a great way to take care of your dog without wasting water by trying to get them to drink from a water bottle. [Buy]
Types of campsites
- Wilderness camping: Primitive, remote escapes that probably requires a day of hiking are the essence of camping. Some of the best wilderness campsites can be found in national parks. Current U.S. military service members and their dependents can get a free annual pass at a federal recreation site with their common access card.
- Car camping: Adding a car to the equation makes camping easy on the legs and provides a safe place to sleep. Car camping offers peace of mind for those concerned with woodland creatures, but the tradeoff is being limited to accessible locations and needing a car that you’d want to sleep in.
- Overlanding: Modern wilderness expeditions require a strong body and mind. Overlanding combines rugged camping with off-roading for an undeniably awesome adventure. As an added benefit, you’ll have an excuse to buy things like a lift kit and rooftop tent. Let the Toyota vs. Jeep debate begin.
- RV camping: Also known as glamping. Modern RVs blur the lines between camping and a mobile home, but that doesn’t make them less fun. Take advantage of that tour bus lifestyle and cover some serious miles. Just don’t forget to plan ahead and reserve a campsite.
Key features of camping gear
- Materials: Durability is paramount. Whether you’re shopping for an ice pick or a Bluetooth speaker, you need to be able to count on your gear when the going gets rough. Camping equipment should be strong, but also easy to clean. Gear won’t last long if you pack it away wet and dirty. The faster you can get it clean and dry, the better off you’ll be.
- Weight: If you’re traveling on foot, keeping your pack light should be one of your top priorities. Adding a vehicle to the mix certainly increases your payload, but weight is always a factor. Lightweight materials come at a premium, so expect to pay more for less. That doesn’t mean you’re sacrificing quality, though. Modern materials can be both light and strong.
- Size: As with weight, you might need to buy equipment that maximizes space to have an ideal camping trip. Ditch the shovel and bring an E-tool. Opt for an inflatable sleeping pad instead of a traditional foam one.
- Multifunctionality: What better way to save weight and space than eliminate items altogether? By purchasing gear with more than one use, you can shorten your gear list without giving up capability. The much-loved military poncho, which is basically a tarp with snaps, earned affection by serving as a raincoat and a tent. Buy multifunctional tools, and you’ll understand the feeling.
- Price: Dedicated camping gear costs more than everyday alternatives, but most of it is worth the premium. The extra money gets you products that are smaller, lighter, and often more durable. There is a point of diminishing returns, though, so don’t feel like you need to break the bank for top-of-the-line items every time. There are plenty of bargains to be found.
Benefits of quality camping gear
Buy once, cry once, as they say. Well-built camping gear can cost a pretty penny but it’s typically worth it. These products are designed to be lightweight, compact, and durable. After all, you’ll be using them in situations where they can’t be replaced in event of failure. Purpose-built gear can save you from blisters, cold nights, and a rumbling stomach. By planning ahead, setting some money aside, and outfitting yourself with the essentials, you can set yourself up for an epic camping trip every time you leave city limits.
Camping gear pricing
Camping gear runs the gamut from checkout stand trinkets to high-dollar bespoke products. As with anything else, you get what you pay for. Take the time to prioritize your gear list to save money where you can and spring for name brands when you should. For example, if you can make do with utensils from your kitchen there’s no need to throw money at anodized aluminum utensils designed for the campsite. On the other hand, a cut-rate sleeping bag or pair of boots can make you miserable.
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