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Five Pieces of Camping Gear that You Don't Need, But Will Love

Lauren Braden

Published on: December 30, 2013


You have the perfect tent. And your Dad’s old Coleman stove still works like a charm. What’s next?

If you’re an occasional camper, you acquire the basics to keep you warm, dry and fed in the outdoors and you’re good to go. But if you’re ready to take your camping to the next level, there’s a whole world of fancy, specialty camping gear out there vying for your attention. Some of these little extras are rather overpriced and others are just not necessary. But after many years of car camping and backcountry camping, I’ve come to the conclusion that a few little luxuries can make a night in the outdoors a whole lot more comfortable. Here are five neat pieces of camping gear you might want to have for yourself.

Petzl Zipka Headlamp1. Petzl Zipka Plus 2 Headlamp

Hands down, this is my favorite piece of personal camping gear. I still pack a flashlight in the car, too, but nothing beats an LED attached to your forehead, pointing a bright light directly into your field of vision. This compact headlamp has a zip retractable cord system, allowing the headlamp to be worn on your head or wrist. When its not in use, I keep mine in my pocket when I’m camping at all times. Note: while the retractable cord makes this headlamp super compact, I have long hair and the cord does occasionally get tangled. If this might be a problem, you can opt for this Petzl model that has an adjustable strap instead.

REI shelter for picnic table2. REI Alcove Shelter

Pitch this shelter over your picnic table or over a big blanket for the kids to play on. The REI Alcove is a freestanding, floorless rain and sun shelter with substantial wind integrity. Make it even better by adding these REI Alcove Windwalls, a 2-panel windbreak that attaches to the Alcove shelter for more wind and sun protection (and privacy if you’re in a crowded campground).

3. Camp End Table

This is almost getting into “campground host” territory (though far short of hummingbird feeders and goofy strings of awning lights.) The thing is, sometimes you just really want a place to securely place your beer or set down the fixins for s’mores. Sure, you could bring a milk crate and turn it upside down–that’s what we used to do. But this high-quality REI end table with two cup holders and side pockets for storage is much nicer. Plus, it packs down small and has its own carry bag.

4. Uco Candlelier Candle Lantern

For years we used an old Coleman propane lantern that required silk mesh mantles. It puts out a ton of bright light, but I cannot count how many fragile mantles I ruined (I’m a bit clumsy). The Uco Candlelier Candle Lantern is much easier to use for a klutz like me, and there are no fossil fuels required. It puts out a fair amount of heat on chilly nights, which is a major plus. I rather prefer the dimmer light now, too —  the blast of harsh light from the Coleman can be a bit much, whereas the light off this one is just right.

5. ENO SingleNest Hammock

I’m not suggesting you leave your tent at home and sleep in this hammock, though plenty of campers do just that. Rather, I think hammocks are a grand alternative to a lounge chair at camp. Imagine that you return to your campsite after a long day hike, and you’re tired. You want to rest up a bit before dinner, but you don’t want to crawl into your tent in the middle of the afternoon. Instead, you recline onto this comfy hammock with a good book and a cup of tea. That’s the life, isn’t it?  They also make this double-sized, roomy enough to hold two adults.

BONUS! Reader favorites!

We asked some Northwest TripFinder readers to share with us their favorite “beyond the basics” camping gear, and this is what we heard:

Platypus Wine Bottles!“– Craig Romano, guidebook author and outdoors writer. Protect the flavor of your wine bottles with a set of 4 Platypus wine preservation bladders. The PlatyPreserve pouches extend the life of your wine by eliminating exposure to oxygen. Containers are lightweight and packable so you can carry wine to the campsite or take it along on a hike. These containers are BPA-free!

Silk sleep sheet.” – Lace Thornberg, Fullbright-powered museum-builder on Palawan Island.  The Cocoon Silk Travelsheet can be used as a sleeping bag liner for extra comfort and warmth, or simply by itself in warmer weather. These have become popular for travelers to use in hostels, too.

Popcorn!” – Janet Way, activist. The Camp Chef popcorn popper lets you munch on fresh popcorn while taking in the sites and sounds in the best theater around: the great outdoors.

Old milk jug - fill with water and clip the head lamp to it = instant tent lamp!” – Kris Kirwan, Don’t Break the Piggy Bank

Compact LED lantern – so much safer than my old candle lantern and it works better too.” – Dan Buck, master of the canoe.

A comfy chair for fireside.” – Lesley Braden, Seattle band Fast Arrow. This GCI Outdoor Wilderness Recliner Chair has a padded seat and lumbar support, letting you recline in absolute comfort. And of course, a cup holder for your…

Pabst Blue Ribbon.” – Brent Larson, urban dweller.

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