Flashlights/headlamps are an important item for normal camping functions and emergencies. You should not be without one. Even better than a flashlight is a headlamp. Yep, you are going to look like a nerd, but your hands are free. Headlamps are great for working on your vehicle in adverse conditions or setting up your tent if you arrive after dark.
Typical headlamps will come with a krypton center beam and three or more LED lights. There is usually at least two or more modes: the center beam mode when a spotlight is needed and other modes for the LED's (which produce shorter range lighting but conserve power).
Lanterns produce a lot of light and can use the same fuel as your stove. Typical lanterns are designed with one or two mantles and use butane/propane, white gas/unleaded gasoline, or kerosene for fuel (kerosene use is somewhat antiquated).
The two most popular fuels are propane and white gas (Coleman Fuel). Some white gas lanterns are dual fuel and will use unleaded gasoline also.
Propane (gas compressed into a liquid)
Pros - Convenient (usually a screw-on canister), easiest to use, safest, efficient, no pouring fuel, no pumping, clean burning, no spill or leak concerns (it just evaporates), no lingering odors.
Cons - Noisy, expensive (compared to white gas), environmental concerns due to the disposable nature of the canister, problems performing at low temperatures.
The boiling point of propane is approximately 44 degrees Fahrenheit which means the liquid may have trouble turning into usable gas at low temperatures Expect performance to decrease in relation to low temperatures. As you approach 0 degrees F your propane lantern or stove may not work at all.
White Gas (liquid)
Pros - Inexpensive, does not have the temperature issue that propane has (will burn at 0 degrees F, so no cold weather problems), no environmental concerns of disposing or recycling the canisters.
Cons - Not convenient. One must fill the lantern tank which can be messy (spills) and you must pump up the pressure. Other negative aspects include odor, safety issues, and equipment maintenance.
Coleman Single Burner Stove
Stoves come in a variety of shapes and functionality. The one you select should use the same fuel as your lantern if you want to keep things simple.
What you need should be decided by the type of cooking you will doing.
If you are camping with a group for a social outing who expects hot food then a two burner stove will work out best. Two burners allow you to cook two items at once, or keep one item warm while another is being prepared. Some two burners come with a grill over one burner and the standard pot/pan holder over the other.
For solo, or a camping group with a different agenda than eating a hot meal, maybe a single burner just for coffee is enough. Or maybe you don't need a stove at all.
Note, the use of the word "group" above refers to 4 - 8 folks, not a boy scout troop.
Rigid - Rigid containers are great for food (such as bread or cereal) that you don't want crushed. It is also a good choice for camera equipment when you might not be taking your camera bag such as a canoe camping trip. They offer very good moisture protection as long as the lid is on.
These storage containers are relatively inexpensive and can be purchased at department stores like Walmart. The container pictured in the image is a Rubbermaid brand and features locking lids.
Crushable - Collapsible coolers are great for items that are ok to get smooshed during packing in a car or canoe. I use them specifically for clothing, usually at least two coolers for a week long stay.
The neat thing about using a collapsible cooler is it's somewhat waterproof, heck it's designed to put ice into. For added protection on a canoe trip you could line the cooler with a heavy duty garbage bag.
Another great feature is that they collapse for easy storage at home.
The collapsible coolers shown are "48 can collapsible coolers" from Bass Pro. The dimensions when fully opened are roughly 16.5 in. x 10 in. and 12 in. deep. They are very inexpensive.
48 Can Collapsible Cooler - collapsed
48 Can Collapsible Cooler - closed
48 Can Collapsible Cooler - opened
SealLine 55 Liter Dry Bag
Dry bags - Use these when you must guarantee items stay dry. Most are extremely rugged and all are waterproof. The top typically folds over itself a couple of times then the ends are snapped together.
Dry bags come in various shapes and sizes as do their functions. Most styles are designed for activity in or around water such as canoeing, kayaking, and rafting. SealLine is probably the most popular dry bags on the market.
Pay particular attention to the size (volume of the bag). Visually their size is deceiving and you will get less into the bag than you think, at least that has been my personal experience.
The dry bag shown is a 55 Liter SealLine Baja dry bag. The contents of the bag include a 2 person Eureka Apex tent, plastic tent pad, 10x8 tarp, sleeping bag, stakes, mallet, and some small compressed camping pillows. Realize the tent is rolled up very tight and the sleeping bag is compressed..
Cooler - For cold food storage a "5 Day Cooler" or "6 Day Cooler" can be used. Supposedly a "5 Day Cooler" will keep ice for up to 5 days at some specified outdoor temperature. One brand lists that outdoor temperature as 90 degrees fahrenheit.
How long the ice will last depends on how often you open the cooler, the type of ice (block or crushed), and the outside temperature. From personal experience I find my 5 Day Cooler will usually keep ice for about 3 days, at which time I need to replenish.
Pocket Knife or Utility Scissors - Pocket knives and scissors are good for cutting cord or fabric, opening shrink wrapped packages, and a multitude of other uses.
Pocket Multi-tool - Similar to a pocket knife, but in addition to a knife blade these devices will have pliers, phillips head screwdriver, flathead screwdriver, and a few other items. While you may not ever need the functionality, it's nice to have just in case and doesn't take up much volume when packed.
Small Shovel (half handle size) or trowel - This tool can be used for digging a cat hole in areas without a toilet. It also might be used for gathering mulch to pad a crushed gravel tent site or creating a fire pit.
Note you should not be digging fire pits in national parks and it is frowned upon in most other public lands as well. Most developed campsites will have a fire pit/grill area. When in primitive camping areas, use a portable stove or grill instead if available.
Folding Saw or Hatchet - A saw or hatchet is used for managing firewood.
We are not implying to go cut down living trees, but you might find a tool for chopping or sawing deadfall into manageable pieces for your fire very handy.
Between the two, the saw is more versatile and can be used for functions outside of firewood.
For serious firewood work a bow saw or axe/wedge is needed.
Duct Tape - Duct tape can be used for temporary repairing, patching, constructing, or connecting things.
Note the usage of the word "temporary" above. The bonding on duct tape does not hold forever, especially in wet or extreme weather environments. It is great for temporarily repairing small rips in tarps. Duct tape can also be used in emergency situations to repair small cracks in fiberglass canoes or kayaks. A duct tape patch will hopefully make the boat seaworthy enough to get back to a put-in or take-out site.
Biodegradable Camp cleaning agent - (Campsuds)
As opposed to carrying different cleaners such as hand soap, shampoo, and dish detergent, you can use this one cleaning agent for hands, face, hair, body, clothing, and dishes.
Though it is biodegradable, it should not be used for bathing in a creek. Where practical, one should bathe with this soap at least 200 ft from any water sources. Bacteria in the soil is what breaks the compound down.
If group camping, your fellow campers would probably appreciate if you use one bottle for personal hygiene and another for dishes.
Antiseptic Wipes - These are also known as wet wipes. Be sure to purchase ones that are antibacterial. They are great for quickly cleansing hands, or for cleansing the rest of you when a shower is inconvenient.
Portable Shower - For most folks, it's not comfortable going to bed sweaty and sticky. A portable shower is a great alternative for times when a full shower with running water is not available.
While tented privacy structures are available for portable showers, one can also wash while wearing their bathing suit. The shower can be hooked/roped to a branch or a permanent lantern post for gravity feed. Occasionally I use one by simply laying it on a picnic table, while I sit on the picnic table bench. You'll have to bend over to wash your hair, but it works and is much better than being sticky through the night.
One should note that the water coming from public spigots in the mountains is usually very cold. You can added a little heat by filling the portable shower up ahead of time and let it sit in the sun throughout the day.
You can also heat some water up in a coffee pot to top off the bag. Be sure there is already water in the bag before you do this or you might damage the plastic bag with the hot water.
Portable Toilet - This is rarely necessary, though a few places require you to have one for a camping permit.
A portable toilet is required for wilderness canoe camping in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. While all the actual wilderness campsites at Okefenokee have a composting toilet, at least one canoe in the party must travel with a portable toilet according to the permit rules. Out of the four canoe trips I have done at the refuge, no-one has ever used one.
The requirement for a portable toilet while canoe camping in the Okefenokee probably stems from the long paddle distance between campsites. Depending on the reserved route, there is very little or no land that you can actually stand on outside of the campsite locations. If you have to go between campsites, you will be going while in the canoe.
PETT portable toilet - collapsed
5 Gallon bucket toilet seat
PETT portable toilet - opened
The PETT (Portable Environmental Toilet) comes with "WAG" bags (Waste Alleviation and Gelling). The bags are used to line the mesh catch. The WAG bags are biodegradable and contain a gelling powder. After use, the bags can be zipped up and disposed of in normal trash.
A less sophisticated method is a toilet seat that fits on a 5 gallon bucket.
Canopy over picnic table area
Spare Tarps - Many (experienced) campers like to string up a tarp over their tent for added protection. These campers have experienced the extremes of a heavy rain storm and don't want to go through the hassle of drying out items in their tent again. A tarp when extended over the tent can also give an added buffer from the elements for entering and exiting the tent providing the tarp area is larger than the tent.
Experienced car campers also like the added protection of a tarp over the dining area (picnic table).
Do you really want to be stuck inside your tent or car all day during a heavy rainstorm?
Canopy - Canopies are an alternative to tarps. They are self supporting and many come as an all-in-one expandable unit (such as the one pictured to the right). These require no assembling parts together. Like tarps, they are usually placed over a tent or over the dining area for added protection from the elements.
Thermacell Mosquito Repellent
Thermacell Insect Repellent - This is a mosquito repellent device that works by thermally heating a mat saturated with repellent chemicals which then disperses into the surrounding air. The unit is self-lighting and uses butane cartridges. Some folks swear by this device.
I have personally used two at a time in the Okefenokee Swamp at two different occasions with somewhat mixed results. The device works great when the wind is not blowing. Of course with enough wind the mosquitoes are not a problem in the first place. But with slight windy conditions the two devices did not protect me the way I thought it should. It was pretty obvious that the repellent in the air was blowing away.
In calm conditions, I highly recommend this product.
Neoprene Hunting Boots
Neoprene Hunting Boots - Not necessarily a "Camping Gear" item, but more of a necessity for wildlife photography. I love these things. This is the best investment I have ever made for exploring boggy/soggy areas.
The confidence these boots give you around moist environments will change the way you behave. No more being shy in muddy wetland areas. The freedom you have is every bit worth the cost and more.
One should realize these are not hiking boots or shoes, about as far as I can walk with my feet still comfortable is 5 miles.
These type of boots come with varying degrees of thermal insulation. I use a version with very light insulation and just double up on socks when I need to.
These boots are also great in overgrown fields with morning dew, such as Cades Cove or Cataloochee in the Smoky Mountains National Park. Without these boots my lower pants would be soaked, with these I am dry as a bone.