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Thanks to an ongoing, billion dollar battle between outdoor brands, fitness companies, and then some, the outdoor equipment industry has never been so crowded. While this is great for shoppers who enjoy variety, the plethora of products available can drown out picks actually worth buying — and subpar gear isn't ideal when you're bunkered down with no alternatives.
But we've got you covered. After interviewing a handful of women in the outdoor industry, scouring the internet for the best-reviewed products, and considering some favorite items road-tested by yours truly, we've pulled together a shopping guide that cuts through the crap with recommendations for the ultimate camping essentials.
It's true you can get by with very little if you have to — the only things you really "need" are a blanket and something to eat and drink — but the right type of equipment can turn your trip into an epic chill.
Read on for our top picks, complete with choices suitable for every budget.
There are so many types of tents on the market, but you generally want to look for one that's waterproof, easy to assemble, and spacious.
I bought this Coleman tent before my first camping trip with my husband, and I'm pleased to say it's gone way above and beyond our expectations. It's waterproof, easy to assemble, and is still in excellent shape four years later. It even includes some cool features, like two built-in windows that allow for a cross breeze and little pockets inside where you can stash things like your cell phone or your glasses. While it's too heavy to bring along while hiking a trail, this tent packs up nicely into a bag, which you can easily throw in the back of your car.
If you're ready to invest in something seriously fancy, Axie Navas, senior gear editor at Outside Magazine, suggests that Racked readers look no further than MSR's Carbon Reflex tent. It's durable, incredibly light, packs up real small, and is easy to set up. All features that, according to Navas, make it the perfect tent for backpacking: "It weighs less than a pound per occupant, which means though it's not particularly roomy inside, it's ideal for fast trips in the high mountains," she says. (Do be warned, some reviews say this tent won't hold up against strong winds unless it's tied down.)
Instead of relying on the battery-draining flashlight function of your iPhone, bring along a tent light. You'll want something lightweight but not so bright that it bothers your neighbors — or nearby wildlife!
Megan Petruccelli, the CEO of the Bay area's camping equipment rental company the Camp Kit, recommends this tent light mainly because it's solar powered, so you won't have to worry about packing batteries. "It's super lightweight and really durable," Petruccelli says. It also "provides a nice glow that isn't too bright, and is great for cooking at night."
Fun, whimsical LED lights that snap onto your tent are another great option. "They provide just enough light so you can rifle around in the tent and play cards, but not too much to blind you when you wake up in the middle of the night," Petruccelli, says. The kit is light enough to just leave in your pack, and if you don't remember to bring triple A batteries, the lights can also be powered with a USB source.
When you're basically sleeping on dirt, your sleeping bag can make or break a good night's sleep. Look for something comfortable and warm, but breathable.
Colorado-based backpacking brand Kelty started making sleeping bags for women last year after studying women's sleeping patterns, and this one is one of the brand's highest rated items. The sleeping bag features a two-layer blanket system that solves what outdoor instagrammer Johnie Gall calls "sweaty sleeping bag syndrome;" you can sleep with the liner, the down blanket, both, or neither. The sleeping bag zipper also hits midway, so you can stick your feet out of the blanket, instead of being trapped inside — a common frustration.
While $400 is definitely a steep price point for a sleeping bag, consider this: Outside Magazine's Navas tells us that "the Concerto is more comfortable than my bed at home." The tricked out sleeping bag has features like a built-in sleeve that makes room for an inflatable sleeping pad, a rectangular shape with "lots of room to stretch" according to Navas, and an additional layer that's a bed sheet, so you can alternate the layers depending on how cold it is. And in case it is really cold, this sleeping bag is 700fp DownTek, which basically means you'll feel like you're swaddled in a sea of cotton.
Pack a few lightweight, good-quality chairs and make the most of your time by the bonfire. You've got two options: backpacking chairs that fold up flat, or portable camping chairs with legs.
This backpacking chair was the first for Becky Day, a marketing manager for Colorado-based camping brand Topo. According to Day, she loves the chair because it "doubles as a sleeping pad so there is no need to carry both." The thick padding and high back make it extra comfortable, while its light weight means it's easy to bring along even when hiking to your campsite. The lifetime warranty doesn't hurt, either.
Kelty Linger High-back, $140
If you're camping out of the back of your car, you can opt for something a bit more heavy duty. Day recommends this collapsible chair, also from camping brand favorite Kelty, because it comes in handy for so many situations in addition to camping. "This chair is amazing for everything from watching movies in the park to sitting around the campfire," she says. "It's comfortable and breaks down to almost nothing, so it's super easy to pack."
Instead of toting bottles and bottles of drinking water, make things easy on yourself by bringing along a water filter. When camping, you want something light weight, easy to use, and fast.
Kat Carney, an outdoors photographer based in San Diego, recommends this Sawyer filter because it's "lightweight, fits anywhere, is fast, and is easy to use." A hollow-fiber membrane filter removes 99 percent of bacteria, so just pour water through it into a secondary bottle and it's ready to drink. Carney adds that "it's perfect if you are hiking in a location with ample water sources because you can reduce the amount of water you have to carry by drinking straight from a stream."
Puralytics Solar Bag, $80
Carney also recommends this reusable water filter bag because it can clean up to 3.5 liters of water at a time, powered by the sun. "The Solarbag is great because it purifies water using the sun, making water taste great no matter what murky location you took it from," Carney says. Sunlight triggers the bag's interior nanotech-coated mesh, where contaminants in the water are then broken down into water and carbon dioxide. The downside, though, is that this bag takes two to three hours to purify the water, so it's best as an extra for filtering water while you're out and about during the day, instead of using as your only source for drinking water.
It might seem like an gratuitous item to bring camping, but once you own a portable hammock, which hangs from ropes you can secure on two trees, you'll understand what all the hype is about.
Eagles Nest Outfitters is the brand almost everyone turns to for portable hammocks, and for good reason — the company's gear is light and durable. ENO's Single Nest hammock is the perfect size for one person, though you should size up if you like your space. This hammock packs up nicely into a little sack and, according to reviewers who own the hammock — myself included — it's 100% awesome.
Kammok Roo Hammock, $99
A common question on sites like Reddit and camping gear forums is whether campers should go for ENO or Kammok, and while the discussion pretty much goes in circles — both are great options — some campers believe spending extra on the Kammock Roo is worth it. This hammock is made with incredibly high quality fabric and customers rave that it's every bit as comfortable as a couch. As one REI reviewer put it, "The only bad thing about it is that people inevitably climb in on top of you to test it out which can wreak havoc on nap times and serious relaxation plans."
Music is always a fun way to up the campsite game, and Bluetooth technology makes this easier than ever. Ideally you want something durable, easy to pack, and water resistant in case of rain — or swimming opportunities.
Jess Smith, a senior account manager with San Francisco-based Outside PR, recommends this affordable speaker because it's super-portable, multifunctional, and water-resistant. Outdoor Tech is known for its rugged, outdoors speaker systems and Smith enjoys all the extra features this one comes with, like a bike mount and microphone. The speaker is also shock-resistant which is perfect for "those inevitable fall-to-the-ground encounters," Smith says.
For all the water babies out there, Smith says this one can be your best friend — for a steeper price point, of course. The NUU Wake waterproof speaker is splash-proof, light, and even "performs well when dunked in water or buried in sand," Smith notes. Its battery lasts up to seven hours and is even powerful enough to charge other devices. The speaker also floats, which is a huge plus. "When you drop it kayaking, it'll be just fine," Smith says.
It goes without saying you need lots of sunscreen when spending time outdoors. Look for something tough and waterproof, and remember to reapply every two hours for the best protection.
Smith, of Outside PR, says Beyond Coastal makes all sorts of products that are perfect for "chillaxed and adventurous sun-lovers," as she puts it. The SPF 30 Face Stick is pocket size, so it's easy to carry around with you during the day. It can also be applied straight to the face (without using your hands to rub it in) so you don't need to worry when your hands are filthy and you're on the move.
Shiseido WetForce, $40
I bought this sunscreen back in 2013 after reading that its a favorite amongst surfers and snowboarders; the Wall Street Journal has even called fans of this sunscreen a "cult." It can leave a white mask on your face if you don't rub it in well enough, but once its on, this sunscreen smells great and isn't at all greasy. Best of all, it's thick and waterproof, meaning it stays on through sweating or swimming.
They might not be the most fashionable, but a good pair of technical pants are a great way to protecting yourself from bug bites and scratches while hiking and camping.
Water repellent? Check. Lots of pockets? Check. Slim fit? Check. Available in black, green, and grey, these pants are a best-seller at REI because of the high quality and fit. The stretchy nylon and Spandex fabric makes water bead away, and according to reviewers is also extremely breathable. And while cargo pants get a bad rep because of their typically boxy shape, this pair is slim fit through the waist, meaning they're actually flattering.
Gap fitness spinoff Athleta makes great apparel for all sorts of sports, and these hiking jogger pants are no exception. With a whopping 315 reviews on the Athleta site, customers love that these pants are light, comfortable, and flattering. The length of the pants are great too; hitting right above the ankle, you don't have to roll them up to prep for climbing through a trail or crouching over a bonfire. As a bonus, they also come in tall and petite sizes, if "regular" fit doesn't work for you.
With all the Zika news, the days of just putting up with bug bites are over. Thanks to the rise of clean beauty, there are plenty of natural bug sprays on the market (though if you're in a location where mosquitoes carry diseases like Malaria, it's recommended that you use bug spray with Deet).
All Terrain's herbal insect repellent is the go-to for Tara Hansen, who is part of the marketing team of outdoor headwear company Buff USA. Hansen recommends this spray because it's both non-toxic (it's made from cedar, lemongrass peppermint, and citronella oils, which naturally repel mosquitoes and ticks) and water resistant. These ingredients also mean that, unlike insect repellants with choking chemical odors, All Terrain's spray has a tolerable, earthy scent.
If you're feeling like you're bug-repelling powers should be a little bit more classy, clean beauty company Credo stands behind several higher end, natural insect repellents. Made from ingredients like lemon eucalyptus, rose geranium, and peppermint essential oils plus witch hazel extract, this one is a favorite of Annie Jackson, Credo's vice president of merchandising and planning. "I have kids and they love the smell, and I love that your skin feels great after applying it," she says.
Even if the forecast says sunny, you should always bring a rain jacket. Buy one that's light and foldable, and just leave it in your pack. Because you never know.
This polyester, dress-length rain jacket from design-y Japanese brand Muji is light, durable, and can fold up into a cute little pouch. It's simple, which is what Muji does best — and frankly, simplicity is all you need in a packable rain jacket. If you love a good multi-use item, the gingham checked version is sleek enough that you can wear it around the city with your normal clothes, too.
Kühl Jetstream Jacket, $179
Ski and mountain brand Kühl makes this durable rain jacket, which comes in black, white, and maroon, and conveniently folds into its right pocket for easy packing. Like Muji's ultra-simple version, this jacket is light too — but the steeper price point is because of some luxury features including stretchy, waterproof fabric; a high collar to keep out the cold; and a brimmed hood to keep the rain out of your eyes.
Last but not least — the only way you're going to actually bring all of this stuff with you on your outdoor adventure. Look for something that's beyond functional, with lots and lots of pockets.
REI Flash 18 Pack, $40
Petruccelli, of the Camp Kit, loves this REI bag and says she owns about four of them. "[It's] as affordable as you can get," she says. "It has pockets and straps in all the right places and carries everything you need." The bag's shoulder straps and back panel are slightly padded, so the pack is comfortable for hiking. It's also pretty light itself — so if you don't pack too much, it's easy to forget you're carrying it.
Gregory Baltoro 65, $299
If you want to channel your inner Reese Witherspoon, opt for a multi-day pack with lots of features. Carney, the outdoors photographer, recommends this one from Gregory, because as she puts it, "it has it all." From a rain cover, to easy access from both the top and bottom of the bag, to a special waterproof pocket for electronics, to an additional backpack inside that can hold a Camelbak bladder or be removed as a daypack, this bag comes with countless specs — and is, somehow, still light. Above all, Carney says she values the bag for its padded hip belt, which makes carrying a heavier load more manageable.