When it comes to camping, you know you need a tent, but what else are must-haves to enjoy your night out in the wilderness? Camping is much more than just S’mores and sleeping bags. You want to make sure you stay comfortable, while not bringing a ton of unnecessary items you’ll just have to pack back up when you leave.

Tents in the woods.

Photo by Gina Tarnacki


Food

Invest in a camping stove if you want a headache free meal while camping. These handy little contraptions work off of a small can of propane so if you get stuck in rain while camping and can’t use the campfire or grill, you can still cook up some hot dogs or even get truly gourmet and make some marinated salmon or chicken (just pack it in some ice in the cooler).

If there’s a grill on the campsite and the weather report looks good, bring some charcoal with you to make your dinner. A raging campfire can also cook up some tasty grub – check if there’s wood at the campsite or if you’ll need to bring your own (it’s nearly always the latter).

Cooking burgers and hotdogs over the fire.

Bedding

A comfortable night’s sleep while camping generally requires more than just a sleeping bag. Even an extra thick sleeping bag isn’t going to provide much cushion for the hard ground so a sleeping pad for camping is ideal to have. Sleeping pads roll up thin so they don’t take up much space when packing the car and you’ll sleep much more soundly with one underneath your sleeping bag. Most camping areas get chilly at night so bring a blanket to throw on top of your sleeping bag if you’re worried about getting cold. You’ll be glad you have it if you wake up shivering in the middle of the night.

Bonfire

Once the sun goes down, the bonfire is usually where the fun is. Think of it as like the kitchen island or table of camping – everyone hangs around it to socialize. Plus, it keeps you warm and the bugs away. Bring marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate pieces for S’mores, plus a couple games to play around the bonfire. Catch Phrase is a great one and even smart phones can now provide some group entertainment with game apps – check out the Heads Up iPhone game.  There’s also the traditional fun of telling ghost stories if you have a good storyteller in your group.

Play guitar by the fire.

Photo by Steph Wells

After the Lights Go Out

Before crawling into your tent for the night, make sure the campfire is fully burnt out. If camping somewhere with bears or other predators, it’s wise to put all of your food into a bag and lift it up high into a tree with a rope. This isn’t just to keep your food for your enjoyment only, it’s also for safety. You don’t want an animal to finish up the food and then check out what’s in the tent.

Fire burns bright.

Photo by Steph Wells

Extra Necessities

Certain areas of the country are prone to some extra precautions or rules that need to be followed while camping. In Montana and Wyoming, for example, there are many grizzly bears that roam the land. While it’s rare to run into one, if you do, having bear spray on hand can literally be a lifesaver.

In California and other desert areas, you sometimes can’t have a bonfire if in a high fire hazard area. If that’s important to you, check the fire restrictions before booking a campsite.

Protected lake areas such as the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota have strict restrictions on garbage and swimming in the water in order to keep it pristine. Make sure you know the guidelines on what you can and can’t do while camping somewhere to avoid expensive fines.

Campers hike surrounded by mountains and trees.

When camping, it’s also often imperative to book a campsite before arriving – sometimes months in advance – if planning a camping adventure in a popular spot. America’s national parks and any beach campsites particularly tend to fill up quickly. Once you’ve booked your campsite, take the time to learn the rules and regulations of the campsite so you can adequately prepare and have a memorable and fun camping experience.

Campfire setup

Photo by Gina Tarnacki

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