YesYou may think you know what camping is all about, but is that really the case? As summer ends and cool weather is on the horizon, potential beach days could wane. However, your chances of camping are better than ever. Between the cooler temperatures and scenic fall trails, the end of summer / early fall is the perfect time to camp in most locations in the United States
But before venturing out into the great outdoors, take a minute to make sure you have all of the essentials. Whether you’re taking a weekend hike or planning an off-grid adventure for a week or more, safe camping requires planning and research to ensure you stay safe in the backcountry. That’s why we asked Lieutenant Kevin Burns, a ranger for the New York Department of Conservation in Upstate New York, for his recommendations for hiking trails.
Burns has been keeping Adirondack Park visitors safe for more than 20 years. As a ranger in the park’s High Peaks region – a mountain range that attracts hikers, bushwalkers and campers alike – Burns knows the specifics of comfortable and, above all, safe camping. While he has tips on the fun stuff like sleeping bags and hiking boots, he says the most important thing you can bring on your camping trip is knowledge. It may sound cheesy, but it’s true – being prepared before going camping is really a must.
“People have to spend some time researching where they want to go and what they want to achieve,” he says. “You could look up some guidebooks, look up some blogs, even call your local ranger and ask questions over the phone. “
If you’re planning on primitive camping (aka camping with a tent or under the stars), do your homework. Explore the area ahead of time and know the rules, especially for things like fire safety, food storage, and preservation. This will keep you and your campsite safe during your stay and in the long run.
As for your equipment, Lt. Burns a lot of recommendations. Below are the best camping essentials he’ll never camp without.
What a ranger says you should bring with you for your next camping adventure
1. Supportive walking shoes
The very first camping essential that Burns recommends packing for the backcountry is sturdy hiking boots. “When you’re carrying a 30-40 pound backpack, it’s pretty easy to roll your ankles,” says Burns. “Sneakers and sandals won’t make it. It doesn’t have to be expensive, just something with good ankle support.”
Look for a boot that goes up and around your ankle bones for support on rocky terrain or on steep inclines. Safe and affordable options include the – these will help you walk on rocky terrain or navigate steep, narrow inclines. Some solid, affordable options include the Merrell Moab 2 Mid Waterproof ($ 135), which offers great support and keeps feet dry in water and mud, or the Salomon Outline Mid Goretex ($ 150), which has the flexibility of a running shoe and that Robustness of a boot.
2. A well-fitting, durable backpack
Whether you’re on a weekend getaway or planning a week-long trip into the woods, Burns recommends investing in a sturdy backpack. Don’t skimp on your choices – look for equipment that is light but sturdy enough to withstand the elements, stow all your belongings and, most importantly, feel comfortable on the longest hikes.
“The best thing you can do is go to a store and get yourself properly equipped for a backpack,” he says. “You will spend a lot of time adjusting it for a properly fitting backpack, which is very important because if you get one that does not fit properly it will pull on your shoulders and not fit comfortably.”
3. A real sleeping bag
Burns explains that your sleeping bag choices should be based on the time of year. In summer and mid-fall, a light sleeping bag designed for sleeping at 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit should be sufficient. If you go out in the winter months, however, you’ll need something warmer, which is likely to be between 0 and 10 degrees.
When choosing the materials, consider the filling. Both down and synthetic fillings have advantages and disadvantages that you have to weigh before buying: “The disadvantage of down is that when it gets wet it doesn’t dry out as quickly as synthetic,” says Burns. “Even if it gets wet, it still has an isolation factor, it just gets lumpy.” And while synthetic dries faster when wet, long backpacks are a little harder to carry.
It all depends on personal preference, but Burns says whatever you choose should be rolled up in a compact, portable bag. “You don’t want a sleeping back that hangs down either side of your backpack,” he says. “You want it to be as compact as possible in your backpack.” Look for a model that comes with a compression bag, or buy one completely separately, like this one from Sea to Summit.
4. Tent and sleeping mat
Much like sleeping bags, your tent should compress into something light and packable for life on the trail. “You want something that will keep you dry in a rain shower, something with a good fly,” says Burns. If you don’t want to pitch a tent, he suggests trying a portable hammock with a built-in fly that will hang you off the ground while protecting you from the elements.
If you’re aiming for classic tent camping, bring a sleeping mat that will be placed under your sleeping bag for cushioning and insulation. “I usually bring a Thinsulate pad and an air mattress,” says Burns. “They now sell a lot of backpack air mattresses that compress into a small bag and inflate themselves when the valve opens … It’s an extra piece of equipment that I take with me, but I’m totally comfortable.”
Do you need some shots? The Sleepingo Camping Sleeping Mat ($ 40) is an affordable and durable inflatable mat that won’t take up too much space in your backpack. Or treat yourself to a dreamy night’s sleep with the Therm-a-Rest Prolite Apex Sleeping Pad ($ 120), which uses self-inflating foam to pack light while providing insulation.
5. Drinking water
There is a common misconception that you can drink running fresh water straight from the stream. “If you go into the backcountry, you need to be aware that the water needs to be treated against a bacteria called Girardia,” says Burns. “There are water filters on the market that you have to have with you so that you can pump water directly from the streams or ponds, drink it and not get sick.”
Instead of lugging gallons of water to your campsite, buy a water bottle with a built-in water filter, like the Grayl Geopress Water Purifier ($ 95) or the Larq Bottle PureVis ($ 95), both of which clean water from bacteria, pollutants, and pollutants on the go. More affordable options include the LifeStraw ($ 17), which filters water in regular water bottles by simply drinking through a straw, or drinking water tablets ($ 8), which cleans dirty water in just 35 minutes.
6. First aid kit
Have a first aid kit on hand every time you hike in the wild. Ankle sprains, cuts, allergic reactions – all of these can happen on the trail. Burns says it’s best to be prepared.
“You can put together your own first aid kit by doing research and thinking about things that could happen,” he says. When hiking up and down rough terrain, pack an ace bandage or a small splint to help reduce joint rolls and sprains. Or, if you’re hiking through the bush and thorns, bring cleaning supplies and bandages to clean up cuts and scratches. Pain relievers, gloves, and alcohol swabs are solid bets too.
7. Satellite GPS
In order to stay safe on long trips into the hinterland, Burns recommends carrying an SOS beacon or a GPS satellite device. Tools like the SPOT Gen4 GPS Satellite Messenger ($ 100) use satellite technology to enable life-saving communications in life-threatening situations. So if you are out in the hinterland and need help from a ranger, SPOT sends your GPS coordinates to first aiders at the push of a button. “
“They become a more useful tool at this point,” says Burns. “If you fall and injure yourself and need help, you can press the emergency call button. The entire system is in place where the call comes to the rangers. Then we have your coordinates, we know that you are sitting and we come to you on site to help you with anything you need. “
Another essential item on Burns’ list is proper navigation. When you’re out in the woods or up a mountain, you can’t rely on your phone to get your bearings – batteries die, signals are lost and technology stalls. Instead, a traditional compass and map for packing and unpacking are essential.
“Technology is great – AllTrails and all available apps are great, but people should have it [their phones] stowed in her backpack. If you want to find out where you are, turn on your phone. But using a card is the best, ”he says.
Before heading out, buy a map from a local outfitter or lodge (if it’s nearby).
9. Bear canister
Depending on where you are going, proper storage of food from bears and other predators is key. Some places, like the Eastern High Peaks in the Adirondacks, even require a formal bear canister while you are camping. “The majority of state properties don’t require it, but as a ranger, I recommend it – why not,” says Burns. “Your food is safe and you’ll be comfortable at night knowing no bears will tear your backpack.”
If you’re traveling anywhere you might encounter a bear, be sure to bring a bear canister like the Bear Vault BV500 ($ 80). “When you’re done cooking, you’re going to put everything back in that canister and walk it 100 yards where you secure it in a log or something where it won’t roll away,” says. Burns. “Even if you don’t need them, it’s a good idea to have them.”
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