There was a time when you could walk into an REI and buy camping gear without boning up on terminology (what the hell is Cuben Fiber?!) in preparation. You could pitch your tent at the campground without your neighbor wandering over to geek out about his sleeping bag’s hydrophobia or how he managed to shave a couple ounces off his kit by using his trekking pole as a tentpole. Yes, it was a simpler time, complete with back-breakingly heavy gear made of simple leather and stainless steel. It didn’t keep you quite as comfortable as today’s gee-whiz wonder materials, but it also didn’t wear out after a season of hard use (sometimes).
But everything old is new again. Fueled by nostalgia, quite a few companies are now making classically styled camping gear that echoes the simple pleasures of being in the outdoors. This gear is the anti-ultralight camping setup. It’s best used for car camping only. Even then, you’ll want to be sure your shocks are in good condition. But hey — the Good Ole Days, right?
Kodiak Flex-Bow Deluxe Canvas Tent
Though it might look like your parents’ first canvas tent, this palatial Kodiak Canvas tent has a secret weapon — Hydra-Shield canvas. That’s custom-woven, double-fill canvas that’s bathed in a silicone-based dry-finish treatment to make it watertight and breathable. Even in a downpour, it won’t leak or gather condensation. As you’d expect from a 70-pound (!) tent, this 100-square-foot home away from home doesn’t skimp on creature comforts, including two huge doors with durable YKK zippers, four large windows and 6.5 feet of interior clearance. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that, thanks to the “flex-bow” design, one person can pitch it quickly and with relative ease.
The Simple Man 2-Person Canvas Sleeping Bag by Treeline
Everyone knows that to share a sleeping bag with a friend is to share body heat, which results in a much warmer night (sometimes in more ways than one). The Simple Man 2-Person is a great sweetheart sleeping bag that banks on old-fashioned body heat technology to pick up the slack where its heavyweight cotton canvas shell, thick insulation and polyester flannel lining leave off. And it’s rated to a respectable 23 degrees Fahrenheit. Even more interesting is its versatility. With a slick zipper trick, it converts to a big blanket, two smaller blankets or two separate, fully functional bags.
Coleman Classic 2-Burner Stove
Using this stove teaches you two lessons that you’ll wish you’d known all along: cooking with gas is way easier than with a campfire, and two burners are better than one (you can make coffee and cook bacon simultaneously!). Coleman has been making this simple, effective camp stove since the early 1940s with very few design tweaks. That’s because it works really well, pumping out 14,000 bacon-sizzling BTUs, and because it just won’t quit; my parents still use the same one they cooked on when I was a baby, and it works as well now as it did back then.
Coleman 54-Quart Green Steel-Belted Cooler
This painted steel cooler looks just like dad’s did, and can even keep 85 beers ice cold like his did. (But you should probably use it for food, too.) Because Coleman built this cooler to last, it easily performs double duty as a sturdy camp chair. Keep it out of the sun, and it’ll keep your rations cold for days.
Best Made Co. American Felling Axe
On family camping trips, my dad used an axe like this to chop down dead or dying trees and, once he’d sawed them into smaller pieces, split the logs. “Paul Bunyan!” my brothers and I would scream in delight as he swung the great felling axe and, with a crack as sharp as a home run hit, split the big hardwoods like kindling. Dad’s axe might not have been built with American-made 5160 alloy steel and Appalachian straight-grain hickory, like this one is (it definitely didn’t have a painted handle or come in a fancy wooden display crate). But it was big and heavy like the “Lincoln,” and evocative of outsized adventures in the great outdoors.
Stanley Classic 1.1QT Vacuum Bottle
Way back in 1913, when Thermos was keeping drinks warm with its fragile glass-insulated “vacuum flask,” William Stanley Jr. invented a way to do it with steel. The result was an indestructible all-steel container that could insulate all day and, reportedly, survive a mine collapse. This one, in the brand’s signature hammertone green, keeps drinks warm or cold for over 24 hours, and its insulated lid doubles as an 8-ounce cup.
Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron 12 Inch Deep Skillet
In over a century of making top-notch cast iron cookware, Lodge’s only update to this versatile skillet has been to “season” it with vegetable oil to create a natural, easy-release cooking surface. With an extra inch of depth, it can handle 5 quarts of chili or stew as well as it does bacon, steak, pancakes and — well, more bacon. At 10 pounds, it can also serve as a stake hammer or, in a real pinch, a bear whacker.
Kaufmann Mercantile Handmade Pewter Flask
It’s nice to see a classic-looking flask that doesn’t incorporate leather needlessly. You know, the glued-on stuff that inevitably starts to peel off in the summer heat, covering your drinking hand with tacky mess. This handsome, streamlined flask is made of English pewter, and holds enough whiskey to spice up your morning joe or raise your spirits on a cold, soggy day.
GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless 14 Cup Percolator
Given the general quality of tent sleep, coffee is the lifeblood of any excursion meant to last more than one night. This rugged stainless steel percolator will brew 14 cups of it in a jiffy, on the stove or over the campfire. A thoughtful upgrade here is the hinge, which prevents the lid from falling off in mid-pour.
Topo Designs Klettersack 22L
This pack will carry everything you need — rain jacket, picnic lunch, water, map, compass, first aid kit and flashlight — for long daytime treks into the wilderness surrounding camp. Its streamlined design includes just a single interior compartment and three external pockets for straightforward organization. If you’re pressed for space, you can secure excess gear to the outside with leather lash tabs — but don’t go too nuts with it, newbie. While the bombproof 1,000-denier Cordura fabric will protect whatever’s inside, outside stowaways like camp cups and sleeping pads are subject to the rigors of the great outdoors.
Danner Mountain Light
The Mountain Light is built to handle abuse in rugged terrain. The Vibram outsole provides traction on a host of surfaces. It has a timeless throwback style with tan leather and red laces. And, as with all Danners, the boot is handcrafted in Portland, Oregon, for quality that’s as enduring as its style.
Case TrapperLock Knife
W.R. Case has been crafting high-quality knives in the USA for 125 years, ever since William Russell and his three brothers began making and selling them along a wagon trail in upstate New York. A smooth chestnut handle gives this classic pocketknife an heirloom quality, and the company’s original CV steel blade — with a finger-saving locking mechanism — still holds its edge with the best. Sold exclusively by Filson.