Summer is just around the corner and camping season is in full swing. Camping in the great outdoors is a fantastic way to connect with your kids and family, explore the beautiful greenery and national parks, and disconnect from your phone and inbox. After a few days in nature, you and your family will come back refreshed, reinvigorated, and full of gratitude.
Camping can be fun and a relaxing affair if you have the right gear and you’re prepared for the common situations you’ll likely encounter during a long weekend camping trip. Here’s a list of our top ten essential camping gear items you can pick up for cheap for a 2-to-3-day camping trip. This list is designed for the beginner but more advanced campers will also find this useful.
1. Mosquito and Tick Repellent
There’s nothing that will ruin a camping trip faster than mosquito and/or tick bites. It doesn’t mean you have to be afraid of either mosquitos or ticks. Instead, you should follow a few pieces of advice. When it comes to ticks especially, first, stay on the trail when you’re hiking instead of venturing into the brush. Ticks often like to hide in the brush and under leaves. Second, when you choose your clothes, pick lighter colored clothes. If a tick does land on you, they’ll be much easier to spot.
The other most important thing to prevent mosquito and tick bites is to choose a reliable mosquito and tick repellent. The light-duty one you may have from OFF for your backyard barbeque isn’t going to work for the woods. The same goes for the organic brands. To be sure, you can feel good about yourself and get an organic one made with lemongrass or you can get a repellent that really works. And the only sprays that truly work repelling mosquitos, ticks, and whatnot when you’re outdoors are the ones that contain DEET. Sure, the ones with DEET don’t smell as nice as the organic ones with lemongrass. But at the end of the day, I want something that works well, not something that smells nice.
The best mosquito and tick repellent we have used is the one made by REPEL. It has 40% DEET. It comes with a pump spray instead of the aerosol. You can fit it in your cargo pants or backpack easy. A little goes a long way. Don’t mess around with mosquitos and ticks. Get something that works. We have camped all over the country and there’s no spray we trust more than REPEL.
2. A Lightweight Sleeping Bag
For the typical long weekend camping trip, you’ll be driving to your campsite. Even though you’ll have the luxury of packing most if not all of your things in your car’s trunk, the last thing you want is a bulky, hard to pack or carry sleeping bag. And yes, you’ll need a sleeping bag even in the summer. We do not suggest you get the summer-only sleeping bags but instead a three-season (spring, summer, fall) sleeping bag. These bags are more versatile, often better made, and if you do decide to go camping in the fall (which is often an excellent time to camp), you won’t need to buy a different sleeping bag.
The Review Dads have used a ton of different types of sleeping bags but we highly recommend the three-season sleeping bag from oaskys for the following reasons. First, this sleeping bag will fit a tall guy up to about 6’ 1” or 6’ 2”. It’s also wide enough so it doesn’t feel like you’re sleeping in a sausage casing. Second, the oaskys sleeping bag is super light and easy to pack. It’s not going to take a lot of room in your trunk like many other sleeping bags. Third, the sleeping bag is extremely comfortable. The liner isn’t itchy and it’s breathable. It even zippers at the very bottom of the bag so that if you’re like us, you can keep your feet out at night. The zippers also aren’t flimsy so you won’t be fighting to unzip yourself out of the bag in the morning. At the end of the day, you’re not going to find a better priced sleeping bag for the features you get with the oaskys.
3. You Will Need a Good Sleeping Pad for Your Over-40 Back
You can have the most expensive sleeping bag in the world, but it means nothing if your neck is stiff and your back hurts. At the outset, before you lay your tent down, take a few minutes to remove any loose rocks and sticks. But even if you remove all the rocks and sticks, you’re still going to want to invest in a solid sleeping pad. You won’t realize how far a good sleeping pad goes to your state of mind the next morning until you sleep on what you thought would be a good sleeping pad. It’s hard to face the day with a smile when you’ve had a horrible sleep.
The sleeping pads fall into two major categories: the self-inflating ones and the air mattresses. I’m not including the old-school minimal foam pads unless you weigh less than 120 pounds and do yoga at least ten times a week.
The self-inflating sleeping pads are easy to set up. You just unroll it and it literally begins to inflate itself plus or minus a few blows from your mouth. I will say that it’s a good idea to avoid the self-inflating minimalist pads. They’re cheaper and look all science fiction but they don’t do much for your back especially if you’re 40 and above. You’ll need a self-inflating sleeping pad with a little bit of meat. We’ll provide you with two options depending on your budget.
The other type of sleeping pad is the air mattress. They are often less expensive but are super comfortable especially if you have bad back issues. If have don’t have back issues and you don’t mind getting sideways glances, then the air mattress could work for you. But frankly, with the machine whirring around to get your mattress to inflate, the air mattress is going to alert everyone at the campsite that you’re a novice.
In any event, the most luxurious self-inflating sleeping pad in the world is the Therm-a-Rest MondoKing. You will literally sleep like a king and the people who know will know. You can join the MondoKing club. You will be the envy of every dad there. This is a rather expensive item but if you’re going to splurge on one of the items on this list, this will be it. It’s worth every penny.
If you don’t want to splurge on the Therm-a-Rest MondoKing, do not despair. There are other self-inflating sleeping pads that will get the job done, that is, you’ll wake up having a good night’s sleep. As noted earlier, we do not recommend you get the ultralight self-inflating sleeping pad. You’re not backpacking. And besides, you’re not a teenager anymore. You’ll need a self-inflating mat. A mat will have more meat and thickness that will assure you a good sleep. The one we recommend without hesitation is the Desque Thick Foam Sleeping Pad. It also comes with two straps if you don’t want to stuff it into a bag.
If you really must get an air mattress, it’s hard to go wrong with the Intex Durabeam. It’s comfortable and it’s durable. You can’t really ask for much more with an air mattress. Just make sure you don’t have any sharp sticks underneath your tent otherwise you’ll know what it’s like to be inside a taco by the morning.
4. Do Not Forget a Comfortable Pillow for That Neck of Yours
Let me first say that under no circumstances should you buy a pillow that you blow up with air. Sure, those are easy to pack but again you’re not backpacking. Those blow-up pillows are not comfortable and don’t give your neck the right amount of give especially if you sleep on your side. I don’t sleep with a blow-up pillow at home so I’m not going to use one when I’m camping. A good pillow goes a long way to ensuring you don’t end up with a sore neck. You can bring your favorite pillow from home (just change the pillow case) or get a small memory foam pillow.
If you like the firmer type of pillow or you’re a side sleeper, we highly recommend the memory foam pillow by DYNMC.
If you prefer a softer pillow or you’re primarily a back sleeper, then we highly recommend the memory foam pillow by inight.
5. You’ll Need a Dependable Light
You don’t need a headlamp unless you’re panning for gold at night. Instead, get a small, easy-to-carry but powerful LED lamp. You can use that when you go the bathroom or when you’re filling up the water bottles, when you’re sitting on the picnic bench at night eating dinner, or when you’re trying to find something in your tent. We love the Vont LED Camping Lanterns. They’re super easy to use. You just pull them all the way up if you want a lot of light and less so if you want less light. They are easy to pack and unlike a headlamp, you won’t accidentally blind someone in the face.
6. You’re Going to Want a Solid, Comfortable Camp Chair
Most campsites have a picnic bench and usually a couple of wood stumps around the fire. Sure, you could sit on those but you’re butt and lower back are going to hurt the next day. You’re going to want a solid, comfortable camp chair instead. After a long day of hiking or whatnot, you’ll want to be able to lean back and have a cold one near the fire. You’ll also want a chair that’s easy to fold and unfold, one that’s easy to get in and out of (that is, not too low to the ground), and one that’s not going to break when you sit down on it.
The Review Dads highly recommend the Coleman Camp Chair. It’s wide and solid enough so that if your child decides to sit on your lap, you can be assured the whole thing won’t collapse. It also comes with a low-profile cooler near the arm rest where you can hold 4 cans of your favorite beer. You can’t beat that.
7. If You’re Going to Cook, It’s A Great Idea to Have a Dependable Folding Stove
Most campsites have a firepit and a grill. You could certainly use that but if you want coffee, you’re going to have to wait until the firewood gets hot enough. That might not be an option depending on the degree of your coffee addiction. A folding stove gives you the flexibility.
If you want coffee, you just have to turn on your stove. And if the grill at your campsite looks a bit suspect, then you can just bust out your folding stove and cook. The folding stove we recommend is not surprisingly the Coleman 2-Burner Model. It’s a classic that has stood the test of time. Other companies come and go but the Coleman 2-Burner Model has stuck around and for good reason. It uses propane. It has wind blocking panels and the stove is easy to get started. You press a button and light it. That’s it. You can fit a 12-inch and 10-inch pan at the same time which should fit most of your needs. It also has an easy to remove chrome grate which makes it a breeze to clean.
8. You Will Need a Durable and Dependable Cooler to Store Your Food and Beer
Let me first break the news to you that you don’t need a Yeti Cooler to keep your food cold. Sure, the Yeti cooler is amazing, but it’s a luxury item that will set you back a few hundred dollars. If your camping trip is about 3 days, then the Coleman 48 Quart Cooler is the best thing since sliced bread. There are two handles so that you can carry it by yourself, or two kids can carry it together. Since the top of the cooler has a flat surface, it can also double as a seat and a table, especially if you’re playing cards on your Coleman camp chair. The flat surface also makes it ideal when you’re packing your car trunk — you can stack things on top of it. You can’t beat the price for a cooler of this quality and dependability.
The primary tricks when using a cooler during the summer is a) don’t set your cooler in the sun and b) use the right type of ice. Do not use loose ice. Instead, use the Cooler Shock ice packs. They will keep your food and beer cold for more than 3 days.
9. You Will Want a Stainless Steel Mess Kit
Don’t use plastic cutlery or plates. They’re a lot harder to clean when you’re camping as they often leave an oily residue. Don’t bring your ceramic dinnerware from home either because I guarantee you, they’ll break. And it goes without saying that you don’t want to bring disposable paper plates. Most campsites especially national parks have minimal garbage facilities. We recommend a stainless steel messware kit from the Wealers Store. The kit includes a plate, a bowl, fork, knife, spoon, and a large cup, along with an easy carry bag. This kit will last a very long time and therefore this is a no-brainer, high-value item.
10. Unless You’re Bear Grylls, You’re Going to Need a Tent
Tents nowadays are easy to put together even if you’re a beginner. They usually involve putting four to six foldable plastic poles through various holes and pushing it through. The tents you do want to avoid — as they have questionable durability — are any tents that claim they either “pop-up” by itself or they claim it “takes only 60 seconds to assemble.”
Tents take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes to set-up. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. It’s also a great chance to teach your kids where to set up a tent (any dangers above? Is the surface fairly flat?), how to set up the tent (lay the tent down first, set up the different size poles, do the rain fly last), and where the door should open (think if it rains, where do you want the door to open? Downhill or uphill?). Youtube is your friend when it comes to all that, especially if you don’t know anything about how to set up a tent or where to set up a tent, etc. You’ll soon find out it’s not rocket science.
The tent we recommend is the easy to assemble Coleman Sundome Tent. This is a classic tent known for its durability, spacious interior, and budget price. It comes in various sizes, from a two-person tent (which can easily fit 1 adult and 2 kids) to a six-person tent if you are crazy enough to bring your parents-in-law. You can’t go wrong with this tent. You can go wrong with cheaper knockoffs. Don’t believe me? Try one of these knock-off tents during a rainstorm. If you have the Coleman, you’ll know that you’ll stay dry.
Here is a quick video on how to set up the Coleman Sundome Tent.
Thank you for stopping by! Please let us know how your camping adventure went!
Note: We only recommend products The Review Dads have used themselves. All opinions expressed here are our own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, we may earn a small commission.