11 Essentials to Pack for a Smarter Camping Trip

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Before you trek into the wilderness for the weekend, load up everything you’ll need to make your campsite as comfortable as home.

1. Axe

If you need to split firewood or clear a campsite, you’ll feel like Paul Bunyan after just a few swings. This important tool has been essential for ages—the ancient Egyptians even had a hieroglyphic for it.

2. Tent

At best, a tent is a comfortable home-away-from-home. At worst, it’s just shelter, which is still pretty good. Toss in a rubber mallet to help with driving in the stakes so your temporary home won’t blow away.

3. Backpack

You won’t regret having a good pack. You don’t have to take our word for it—Ötzi the Iceman, a naturally preserved mummy from 3,300 B.C.E. found in the Italian Alps, will attest to that fact as well. Scientists believe he was carrying a rudimentary backpack.

4. Canteen

Stay hydrated with a good canteen or camping water bottle. The easy-to-drink spout is not a new invention—ancient tribes would make their own by poking holes in ostrich eggshells.

5. Cast iron skillet

The workhorse of the outdoorsman’s kitchen. Besides being durable, cast iron skillets may have other benefits; they’ve been known to add dietary iron to food.

6. Pocket knife

Though called a “pocket” knife, campers will tell you these tools spend far more time in use than in storage. The Swiss army’s iconic knife first came into use in the late 19th century when soldiers switched to a rifle that required a screwdriver for disassembly, and it’s no less useful on a modern campsite.

7. Tarp

If you want to pack a versatile piece of gear, the choice is easy. A tarp can be almost anything: a floor, a roof, a dining room table, you name it. It can also be a “hootch” (Australian slang for “tarp”).

8. Sleeping bag

A definite must for any camping trip, sleeping bags can be the difference between restful slumber and an unpleasantly chilly night. The first version of the sleeping bag was called the “Euklisia Rug,” and it was patented in 1896.

9. Flashlight

Flashlights get their name from the finicky old batteries used in early versions in the late 19th century. The batteries were weak, so the devices would only work in flashes.

10. Lantern

A natural back-up for your flashlight. Early Chinese lanterns were perhaps the most eco-friendly—they’d catch fireflies in clear containers.

11. Waterproof Matches

You can buy them, or make them yourself in a pinch. Just light a candle and dip match heads in the melted wax. Once it’s dry, it will protect the match from inclement weather. Just scrape away the wax when you’re ready to use it.