The Most Essential Camping Accessories, According to a National Park Ranger

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Preparing for a trip into the outdoors can be a confusing and overwhelming process. You know to cover the basics — pack a camping tent for shelter, a water purifier for hydration and some dehydrated food that’s easy to heat on the go — but what else do you need? Packing the right supplies for a camping or backpacking trip can be life and death stakes depending on the conditions you’re facing, so you want to ensure you don’t forget anything.

We’ve got plenty of resources about van camping, hiking in bear country camping with dogs, and even a guide to living off the grid with Forrest Galante. Still, we decided to talk to someone who lives and breathes National Parks, aka the place where most Americans camp and backpack regularly. What hiking accessories should you never leave the car without? Does the packing list change if you’re camping in snow? What about personal safety items like bear spray or a pocket knife?

We spoke with a National Park Ranger named Sean, stationed in Alaska, who has experience in Glacier, Denali and other National Parks. He asked us not to share his last name in the piece, so we’re just going to refer to him as “Ranger Sean.” I’ve included many quotes of his guidance below, along with SPY-recommended hiking accessories.

Editor’s Note: As a government employee, Sean couldn’t recommend any specific products or brands. All of the specific product recommendations in this piece are SPY editor-picked hiking accessories.

Here are the crucial camping supplies you need for every trip outdoors in 2022.

  

Top 10 Essential Hiking Accessories for Any Trip

In our email interview exchange, I started out asking Ranger Sean what 10 pieces of camping supplies everyone needs, regardless of the weather, terrain or length of your trip. Here’s the list he sent, filled with many expected items:

  • Water
  • Flashlight
  • Pocket knife or a multi-tool
  • First aid kit
  • Cooking stove + fuel
  • Kitchen set (bowls and utensils)
  • Food
  • Firestarter and matches
  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag + pad
  • Extra socks

He also added “good footwear/boots, puffy clothes that can be used as a pillow(or warm clothing in general), a tarp, and bear spray + bear barrel (bear-resistant food container) that are pretty essential depending on where you’re going,” said Ranger Sean. Here are a few of SPY’s favorite brands for some of the items on the list above.

Victorinox Swiss Army Multi-Tool

The Swiss Army Knife continues to be the multi-tool to end all other multi-tools. They’re high-quality, durable and the compact device you’ll want in your pocket on a camping trip for trimming ropes, tightening screws, tweezing, measuring and more.

Read More: Best Swiss Army Knives of 2022

swiss army knife, camping supplies Courtesy of Amazon

  

Coleman Sundome 2-Person Camping Tent

Coleman makes excellent tents for beginners who don’t want or need anything too complicated or expensive. This tent has a sturdy central dome for withstanding 35+ mile per hour winds and only takes about 10 minutes to set up. The Weathertec system has welded floors and reinforced seams to keep you dry through rough weather, and it has large windows and a ground vent for proper ventilation.

Coleman Fly Tent Courtesy of Amazon

  

Coleman Portable Gas Stove

A gas stove can take campsite meals to the next level, and this one from Coleman is minimal and designed for optimal efficiency. It has cooking power of up to 10,000 total BTUs and is built with a pressure regulator for consistent heat even in rough conditions. It has wind baffles for shielding the burner when needed, and the burner and base are separate for convenient storage.

Coleman burner stove, camping supplies Courtesy of Amazon

  

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Camping Supplies For Extreme Terrain or Weather

I also asked Ranger Sean how the list of essential camping supplies changes if camping in more intense terrain or an area with extreme weather. I was specifically curious about snowy mountains, dense rainforests and a dry, hot desert.

For snowy camping, he recommended “extra layers” and “especially warm, dry socks in case your boots get wet from hiking in snow.”

For rainforest camping, he recommended a “a dry bag to store clothes and sleeping bag in… never underestimate how nice it is having dry feet in your sleeping bag at night,” said Sean. He recommended sunscreen and lightweight, protective, long-sleeve clothing for the desert.

Dickies Dri-tech Men’s Moisture Control Crew Socks

Moisture-wicking wool socks are a must when hiking in any condition, especially when you might encounter more moisture than normal, like snow camping. These socks from Dickies are made with breathable fibers designed for moisture control, with arch compression and support. Ventilation channels help enhance airflow and have a reinforced heel and toe for added comfort.

Dickies dri-tech socks, camping supplies Courtesy of Amazon

  

Marchway Floating Dry Bag

A dry bag can make all the difference in wet, cold conditions where you need your electronics, matches or other supplies to stay moisture-free despite the weather. This one from Marchway is made from ripstop tarpaulin and comes with a roll-top enclosure and a waterproof guarantee. It’s easy to open and close and can even float on water after being rolled and fastened, so if you’re rafting and kayaking and flip over, your stuff should still be safe.

Marchway dry bag, camping supplies Courtesy of Amazon

  

Men’s Origins 86 Mountain Jacket

A warm jacket is crucial if hiking, car camping, and especially if you’re backpacking in the mountains. This one from The North Face was made famous when American climber Eric Perlman climbed all six “classic north faces of the Alps” while wearing this jacket. It has an entirely waterproof exterior, a breathable interior and a relaxed fit so you can move. The VISLON center front zip forms a tight seal and a double storm flap for extra protection against snow, rain and wind gusts.

men's origins 86 mountain jacket, climbing supplies Courtesy of The North Face

  

camping supplies, s'more Licensed From Adobe

Nice-To-Have Camping Supplies

Alright, we’ve covered the essentials, but what about camping supplies that aren’t technically essential but nice to have? Camping doesn’t have to be about roughing it in the middle of nowhere. You’re going to pack minimally for efficiency’s sake, but that doesn’t mean you have to go without simple pleasures. Sean had a few, in particular, that he tries to bring when he can.

“I like to bring real food or fun snacks. There are lots of fun camp kitchen gadgets for making delicious meals on the trail. French bread is tough enough not to get smashed in a backpack. Something as simple as a sleeve of cookies/Oreos can boost everyone’s spirits at camp.”

He added that fresh produce could also make a huge difference and doesn’t necessarily need refrigeration, depending on where you’re camping.

“Certain fresh veggies and fruit can last longer than most people expect without refrigeration(depending on your climate… in Alaska, we have natural refrigeration!); try broccoli or even zucchini if eaten within a couple days after purchase. Think outside the dehydrated packaged meal if you’re going out for multiple nights!” said Sean.

A few go-to items of mine that aren’t essential but can make camping much more enjoyable and fun include a large camping lantern for lighting up your entire camp, rather than relying on single flashlights or headlamps after the sun goes down. I also like s’mores supplies and a super comfortable camping chair.

LuminAID PackLite Max 2-in-1 Camping Lantern

This solar-powered LED camping lantern is capable of up to 150 lumens of brightness and can fully recharge in 12-14 hours of direct sunlight. It has a convenient handle and is lightweight and collapsible, making it perfect for car camping or even backpacking with the suitable pack. It’s 100% waterproof, dustproof and shatterproof, and you can even plug your phone into the top for extra juice for your mobile device.

LuminAID camping lantern, camping supplies Courtesy of Amazon

  

MalloMe Marshmallow Roasting Sticks

The first bite of a delicious s’more after a day of exploring outside is tough to beat. These roasting sticks pack up small and are made with rust-free stainless steel that’s safe for roasting and easy to clean. Each one has a smooth finished wooden handle for easy gripping; fully extended, they keep you 32 inches away from the fire, so they’re safe for kids to use.

Remember: Fires aren’t allowed in all National Parks or campsites, so make sure you’re allowed to have open flames at your destination.

MalloMe Marshmallow roasting sticks, camping supplies Courtesy of Amazon

  

Coleman Camping Chair With Built-in 4 Can Cooler

I love a foldable camping chair for sitting around the fire, resting after a long hike or enjoying a cup of tea in the crisp morning air. This chair has a built-in cooler designed to keep up to four cans cold at a time, as well as side pockets and adjustable arm heights. It folds up and unfolds easily, and while it’s not the smallest and most portable design, it’s easy to throw in the trunk for a car camping excursion and can make sitting at your campsite much more enjoyable.

coleman camping chair, camping supplies Courtesy of Amazon

  

Personal Safety Items You Should Bring On Every Camping Trip

The great outdoors is a lot of things — beautiful, immersive, calming — but it can also be dangerous, especially when it comes to unpredictable wildlife or strangers you may encounter on remote trails. I ended our interview by asking Ranger Sean about personal safety items no camper should leave home without.

“In Alaska, bear spray is essential, as well as a bear-resistant food container to store your smelly items at night. A first aid/survival kit is always a good idea; everything from a compass to ibuprofen can come in handy when you’re in a tough spot outdoors,” said Sean.

Bear spray is a definite must when hiking in certain parts of Canada, Alaska and the U.S. I recently spent two weeks camping and backpacking in Glacier National Park. I wrote an article about the supplies I brought with me on every hike.

Not sure if you’re hiking/camping in bear country? Here’s where you need to be careful

Sabre Frontiersman Bear Spray

This bear spray from Sabre is maximum strength and easy to fire in case of an emergency encounter with a bear. It has a 35-foot range, so you don’t have to wait until the animal gets too close for it to be effective, and it has a belt holster, so it’s easy to carry. The holster is also not made with velcro, so you can silently access your deterrence weapon if necessary.

Sabre frontiersman bear spray, camping supplies Courtesy of Amazon

  

BearVault Bear Canister for Backpacking

Keeping your food safe from bears while camping and backpacking is essential for your safety and theirs, and this canister is built to be bear-resistant but easy to open for humans with clear sides and a wide opening. It’s made to be lightweight so that you can slide it into your pack, and the stout, wide size can also double as a camping stool.

BearVault bear canister food storage, camping supplies Courtesy of Amazon

  

Protect Life 100-Piece First Aid Kit

This 100-piece first aid kit carries a lot of shelf-stable equipment in a small, compact package that’s lightweight and easy to throw in your car or backpack. It includes a tourniquet, Band-Aids, blanket and even a CPR mask. It has durable seams and high-strength zippers, so you can bring it on multiple trips with minimal wear and tear.

Read More: The Best Emergency Prep Kits of 2022

100-piece first aid kit, camping supplies Courtesy of Amazon