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Camping during the summer months is one of the best ways to spend good, quality time with your friends and family. The memories you make will last a lifetime.

Now that summer is here, it’s time to take stock of your camping equipment and supplies. In addition, you’ll want to know where to find bargains to replace worn-out equipment or add to your existing gear. Having the right outdoor gear can mean the difference between having a good camping experience or a bad one. Check out the list of essential camping gear.

Essential Gear for Car Camping

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  • Shelter - Your family’s camping fun begins with the shelter. It will be your home away from home in the great outdoors. It’s important to make sure the shelter provides ample protection from the elements, is constructed of quality material, and has plenty of space.
  • Bedding – Choosing a sleeping bag is the second most important item on the list.  When decided on a sleeping bag for your trip, check the size, temperature rating, and material.  Sleeping bags come in three lengths, junior, standard, and extra-long.  Kids grow.  Make sure the sleeping bag your child used last year still fits.  For summer camping use a warm weather bag with a 40 degree rating or warmer, depending on your location.  Synthetic material is fine for the warm summer nights and washes up easily. 
  • Cookware - No camping adventure is complete without camp cooking.  Food cooked over an open-fire or on a camp stove just tastes better.  To make the most of your outdoor cooking experience, choose lightweight, durable, and easy to clean cookware.  When car camping a Dutch oven and cast iron skillet are two of my favorite cooking tools to use. A Dutch oven simplifies the work of cooking outdoor meals for small groups or large families, while a cast iron skillet is indispensable for frying up freshly-caught fish or strips of bacon.   A rugged campfire percolator made from stainless steel will provide years of great-tasting coffee.  Of course you will need to store the perishable food in a camp cooler, like an Orion Cooler.  Other essentials include fire starters, prep tools, tableware and cutlery, fillet knife, basic seasonings, paper towels, dish rags, storage containers or foil for leftovers, and trash bags for clean-up. 

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  • Lighting – Camp fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down.  To light up your nighttime activities, look for lighting that is both water-proof and rechargeable.  Don’t be tempted to purchase sub-par lighting.  It’s no fun waking up to the call of nature and following a dull, feeble light through the dark woods, hoping it won’t quit on you.  For basic lighting, you will need reliable lanterns and flashlights like the ones Olympia offers. 
  • Personal Items – The must haves are insect repellent, toilet paper, personal hygiene products, appropriate clothing and footwear, and a well-stocked first-aid kit.  Everything else is optional based on your individual needs.     
  • Activities - State and national parks will have all kinds of outdoor activities to choose from such as hiking, fishing, canoeing, and mountain climbing.  Plan accordingly.  If you’re going mountain climbing, remember to pack suitable shoes.  Likewise, make sure if you plan a  canoeing expedition that you pack life vests.  Whatever adventure you have planned, take a few moments and make sure you either have the proper gear or it will be provided for you.  In addition, plan for inclement weather by packing a few board games, journals, pens and pencils, and a deck of cards in case you have to pass the time inside the tent.

Bargain Hunting

You’ve gathered the family around the kitchen table and made a list of the supplies you have and those you still need.  Now it’s time to go shopping.  Find discounted camping gear at online market places, military surplus stores, thrift shops, and garage sales.  Look for gear that is well-cared for, in working order, has all the parts, and is priced below market value.  Don’t forget to check with outdoor retailers for discounts on new merchandise that is over-stocked or closed-out.

Proper Storage and Maintenance

Finally, to protect your gear so that it will provide years of reliable service for your family, it’s important to properly maintain and store the items.  Dedicate space in your home, garage or shed specifically for camping gear.  Store the items in sealable plastic tubs or cardboard boxes and keep it all in a cool, dry place.  Always clean the mud, dirt, sand, etc. off of your gear and give it enough to time to dry and air out before you pack it away.  Keep in mind your camping gear needs to be appropriate for the season, location, and activities you choose.   Once you have the right gear, you’re all set.  All you have to do then is pack the car, gather your friends and family, and head into the great outdoors.  

- Andy McDaniels

Andy McDaniels is the Sportsmen’s Outreach Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation’s Vanishing Paradise Campaign. He is also a blogger and expert outdoorsmen. You can read his blog, Andy-n-Tami Outdoors, to learn more outdoor sporting essentials