I’m not a scout or a glamping fan, but camping for a night with my sister Chloe taught me that there are definitely benefits to being prepared. How: Did you know you can cook dinner on a collapsible table instead of sitting in the dirt? I did not. Chloe and her partner are half tired Van Lifers turned frequent campersand her packing list was perfected over many dusty nights outdoors. When the winter storms left parts of the country without power earlier this year, they were even uniquely prepared for it thanks to their solar battery and portable gas stove. When I started dreaming of spending a few weekends at the campsite this summer without forgetting to pack something important, I turned to her. Read on for the essentials. – Aliza Abarbanel
Even in times without COVID, my goal in nature is usually to be as alone as possible. This is where distributed camping comes into play (camping on public land outside of designated campsites). It’s the best way to find private swimming holes, quiet campsites, and empty paths, but leaving the crowds behind also means foregoing amenities like fire pits, picnic tables, and bathrooms. Before packing, find out about local regulations and Leave No Trace principles. Don’t forget the basics: a place to sleep comfortably, water, food, camping chairs, and a reliable way to get around the area.
Scattered campsites are usually free, but it’s worth investing in a few things to make you feel safe and comfortable. In my opinion, camping is about creating a comfortable environment in which you can enjoy the outdoors – not about loving the outdoors so much that you are willing to feel uncomfortable. When you’re ready to update your setup, this is my list of key items.
Coleman gas stove with two burners
Coleman Gas Camping Stove
I love cooking over a fire to grill vegetables and freshly caught fish, but a gas range is much faster and more reliable for tasks like boiling water, cooking pasta, and making coffee. It is also important for cooking if you are camping anywhere with a ban on fire or with no readily available wood. If we lived in the van full-time, a classic green propane can lasted at least a week or two, usually longer. You can find propane at most grocery stores, camping equipment stores, and even gas stations, especially near areas with lots of camping. I plan to invest in a refillable canister soon.
Collapsible folding table
Coleman Compact Roll-Top Aluminum Adult Camping Table
We first got this table when we lived in a tiny studio apartment and needed something small and foldable. We planned to get in the van soon so cooking outside as well seemed like a good option. It was great! Dirt and sand get into everything when you are camping, but the table makes it a lot easier to keep our food and utensils clean and to organize the campsite. The height is big enough for us to stand while using the gas stove above, and it works when we sit in our camping chairs to eat.
Portable solar panel
If you want to charge phones or other electronic devices without draining the car battery, solar panels are definitely helpful. There are many options when it comes to solar setups – some more DIY than others – but Goal Zero is the easiest plug-and-play option I have come across. They come in different sizes to suit different needs, from backpack-sized chargers to sturdy, mountable panels. (In general, panels with a larger surface area generate more electricity.)
Our panel is mounted on the roof of our van and powers a detachable battery that can hold enough charge for our phones, computers, and cameras for a few days when the sun isn’t shining. Usually, the panel can be charged continuously while in use, even when it is cloudy. I think it’s good that the battery shows how much power is coming from the panel and how much is being used by the currently connected device. We even brought the battery with us to charge phones and run lights when our apartment had a power outage earlier this year.
Fiskars hatchet with scabbard
Firewood bundles usually come with very large logs, but small lightings are important to start a fire – the large pieces won’t catch without it. A hatchet makes it easy to split large logs with a couple of swings. This comes with a cover to protect the blade when not in use, which is important for safety. When we buy a large bundle, once we get to the campsite we split the logs so that they are the perfect size to add to the fire next to any lighter we find in the area. Break down more than you think you need to because it is better not to wave the hatchet when it is dark. Always wear closed shoes when splitting wood!
Ozark Trail folding shovel
Dispersed camping means that there are no toilets. So you need to find a way to properly dispose of human waste. The best way to do this depends on your surroundings: sometimes you need to take them with you, so read the rules for doing so before you set off. Often times, you have to walk 70 paces from water, trails, and campsites to dig a six inch deep “cathole” and bury your trash. Look for a nice view if you can! Any shovel (or shovel-like rock) will work, but this one is light, foldable, and has serrated blades on the sides for easier digging.
612 Vermont 50 Clear Christmas Lights
Okay, twinkling lights don’t really matter, but they add to the mood! I connect our lights to our solar setup, but there are plenty of battery powered strings too. We use them to create an aesthetically pleasing perimeter around the campsite to improve visibility at night. They make a nice glow, but we can still see the stars.