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I spent four months in 2017 seeing the 18 states I had never been to before. I thought I’d packed everything: I had the tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, single-burner propane stove, and two one-gallon jugs of water in case I got stuck in the desert (which I nearly did when a spark Burnt out connector in Arizona). I even had a backup for my inflatable pillow. But what have I forgotten? Scissors.
Two years later, when I drove from New Jersey to Death Valley National Park with my hair knotted so that the hair tie caught in it, what had I forgotten again? Scissors.
Luckily, when I went to Key West, Florida, in January and didn’t want the tag on my bathing suit top to stay on said suit, I had thought of the scissors. I’m no fool three times (at least for that matter).
If you’re going to camp this summer, as millions of Americans will be doing, here are six things you don’t think you need until you absolutely need them.
Yes, you can use a knife or the tiny pair of scissors that are part of a multi-tool utility knife. But sometimes you just need the size and leverage that real scissors provide. I didn’t want to put a knife blade on my swimsuit, especially if I could use scissors to cut the tag while I was wearing the suit. I now have a small pair in the glove box of my car.
Welcome mat for your tent
Camping by nature is dirty, muddy and dusty. If you sleep in a tent, you don’t need to bring that crap with you. A small welcome mat can not only make your place feel cozier, but also keep the filth of nature out as much as possible. You can go for a small RV mat or get creative and make one in the size you need. Mine is a piece of artificial turf from Veteran’s Stadium, the home of the Philadelphia Phillies, which imploded in 2004. My father, who was working on building their new park, saw a scroll that was going to be thrown away and strapped it to the roof of his car.
You can of course leave your shoes or boots on the mat, but they can accumulate moisture overnight — or get a furry or slippery friend.
Camping gets wet, especially if swimming, canoeing, or kayaking is on your itinerary. A fluffy towel might seem like a convenient idea, but a quick-drying towel is actually ready the next time you need it. Mine, which comes from REI, doesn’t even need to be hung up to rest from drying myself or the dog. Quick-drying towels are also good for wiping dew off the car windows in the morning.
Speaking of drying out, trees aren’t generally hard to find when camping, but two trees perfectly placed to draw a line between them can be. Instead, a clothesline with suction cup ends can turn your car into a post. Generally, these clotheslines have baskets at both ends. So if you have two cars, you can stretch them between them, but it’s not necessary. I usually find a tree to tie around one end.
I’d like to say that you go camping to get away completely, but WiFi is ubiquitous these days, even at campsites. For this reason, I pack a placemat that serves as a base for my laptop. It protects your tech and is more versatile than a tablecloth. I’ve used it on picnic tables, on the hood of my car in a Walmart lot, and on outdoor dining tables at breweries and fast food restaurants. My placemat is also washable, so if I decide to stay at a hotel and use the laundry room or stop by a laundromat, the placemat will be washed too.
When you travel to a tourist area, postcards are everywhere: visitor centers, restaurants, gift shops, and gas stations to name a few. But not many places sell postcard stamps, or postage stamps at all. Bringing them with you will save you the time and frustration of looking for a post office that also happens to be open when you’re walking through. I buy them by the roll, which makes sending out postcards to make my family and friends jealous is both cheap and easy. Having a postmark from my far away location instead of just mailing them when I get home makes it all the more authentic too.
Jen A. Miller is the author of Running: A Love Story. She reviews books at bookaweekwithjen.com.