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Summer Travel | Magazine

The camping essentials most people forget to pack

From parachute cords to a headlamp, this list will help you out in your great outdoors adventure.

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Whether you’re about to spend your first night in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest or prepping for your umpteenth trek up Camel’s Hump in Vermont, chances are good that you’ll neglect to bring a few important items along. Here are some recommendations for lightweight, cost-effective gear that will make any camper feel safe and right at home.

1. A container that shuts tightly

A container that can be sealed tightly is a must for discouraging bears from visiting your campsite. Colleen Mainville, public affairs specialist for the White Mountain National Forest, recommends that, in addition to sealing food, campers place clothing with campfire or food smells on it in a receptacle with a lid. The container should be left outside your tent, and preferably in the trunk of your car, overnight.


2. Parachute cords

Another way to prevent attracting wildlife is to store food up high. Cort Hansen, who worked for the forest service for 10 years and co-owns Ragged Mountain Equipment in Intervale, New Hampshire, always brings a parachute cord to hang a Ziploc bag of food as high off the ground as possible — especially at popular campsites. “Between bears and raccoons, if they can find a concentrated place where there’s going to be a lot of food, they’re going to make a habit of visiting those spots on a regular basis,” Hansen says. “In a place that has a bear locker, definitely utilize it.”

3. A Frisbee

Any good camper knows that the more use you can get out of an item, the more worthwhile it is to carry. For Austin Borg, who works at the Burlington, Vermont, Outdoor Gear Exchange store, bringing a Frisbee is a must. “I use that to fan the fire, I use it as a plate, I use it as a bowl for my dog, and I use it to play,” he says.


4. A water purifier

Even water that appears pristine can be unsafe to drink, says Vermont-based outdoorsman Hunter Trowbridge. He explains, “You still have to treat it because you never know what’s upstream.” Options include germicidal tablets (Potable Aqua’s bottle of 50 will treat 25 quarts of water for less than $10) and filters (a 3 liter Katadyn Gravity BeFree water filtration system, for example, costs $69.95 and filters 2 liters per minute). Bringing purification equipment can be more efficient than carrying plastic water bottles.

5. A rain jacket and pants

Trowbridge prepares for surprise storms by packing a lightweight, waterproof rain jacket and rain pants. “Storms can roll in out of nowhere,” he says. “I’ve had my phone telling me that it’s sunny while it’s currently a thunderstorm, so a rain shell is a really important one.”

6. A headlamp

Bringing your own portable light source is smart. Instead of a hand-held flashlight, Hansen packs a headlamp to keep his hands free on hikes that go a little longer and later than anticipated. “Never be in the woods without a flashlight or a headlamp,” he advises.

7. Hand sanitizer

Getting your hands dirty is one of the requirements of camping, but keeping your hands sanitized is necessary to prevent infections. Zack Lockhart of Maine Sport Outfitters in Camden, Maine, believes you’re just as likely to pick up a giardia infection by shaking hands with fellow hikers as you are from drinking bad water. Lockhart always packs hand sanitizer. Plus, he says it’s a great fire starter: Just put it on a few cotton balls, light a match, and you’re good to go.


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Lilly Milman is finishing her writing and publishing degree at Emerson College. Send comments to