Given the comforts that we’ve created for ourselves in modern civilization, camping can seem a little inane. We rationalize the endeavor though; we go camping to get away from it all, to get in touch with nature, to find ourselves or, like Thoreau, “to live deliberately.” Or, unlike Thoreau, to get dirty and drink beers next to a roaring fire. The common denominator here is a notion of simplicity, but camping gear can become complicated… and expensive. Most of the essential items — a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad — cost over $100. And yet, quality can still be found on a budget. We set a per-item limit of $50; here’s some of our favorite stuff in that range.
Opinel No. 10 Corkscrew Folding Knife
This is a larger, picnic-oriented version of Opinel’s classic No. 8 folding knife, and it’s perfect for campsite food prep. Plus, corkscrews are likely one of the most oft-forgotten items during the packing process, so if you’re pairing pinot with your dehydrated chili-mac, it’s extra handy.
Moon Lence Camp Chair
Moon Lence’s collapsible aluminum and fabric camp chair uses a design similar to our favorite seat by Helinox but at a fraction of the cost.
Black Diamond Spot325 Headlamp
Black Diamond’s Spot325 is one of the best available — it is waterproof, has multiple light modes (close quarters, beam, strobe, red night vision) and is bright enough to shoot photons as far as 262 feet. Plus, it’s only $30.
Gear Aid Tenacious Tape
When one of those things that’s too expensive to make it onto this list — say, an insulated jacket or tent — tears (because beating up your gear is inherent to camping), Tenacious Tape is a quick, easy and cheap way to repair it.
Soto Pocket Torch
A typical cheap lighter will suit you just fine for most fire-starting needs. But if you’re worried about wind and temperature, this $20 add-on turns your last minute gas station purchase into a mini blowtorch.
Sea to Summit eVent Compression Sack
Getting wet is one of camping’s inevitabilities. Your clothes might get wet, your shoes, your backpack, your tent — but the last thing you want to dampen, the one thing that’s dryness you want to preserve at all costs, is your sleeping bag. This compression sack is the foolproof preventive measure (and you can pack it with clothing or electronics if need be, too).
Gerber Compleat Camp Cutlery Tool
The Compleat is one of those things that makes so much sense you wonder how it didn’t exist before. It has four separate implements that provide more than double the uses: spoon, fork, spatula, tongs, scraping edge, cutting edge, can opener, bottle opener, peeler. They all nest together neatly and weigh just over two ounces.
Nemo Equipment Fillo Elite Camp Pillow
Bundling up your sweatshirt and pants as a headrest always seems like a good idea, until you wake up with a crick in your neck in the middle of the night. This backcountry pillow is inflatable, has a soft cover and packs down to the size of a deck of cards.
BioLite SiteLight Mini
Not everything that you bring camping has to be essential. For additional campsite ambiance, string up BioLite’s affordable holiday-style lights. They’re bright, durable and stack neatly together when it’s time to pack.
Sea to Summit Alpha Pot
Sea to Summit’s Alpha cookware collection earned our award for one of the best products of the year back in 2017. This ultralight pot has a lockable folding handle and a lid with notches for draining pasta water without losing a single noodle.
Lodge Cast Iron Skillet
On the heavier side of the camping gear spectrum is the trusty cast iron skillet. While new boutique versions of the cookware classic can run as much as $200, Lodge’s offering is sufficiently non-stick and wildly affordable. Throw it on a grate or, if your campsite doesn’t have one, directly into the coals of your fire. (Just don’t leave it out in the rain overnight.)
MSR TrailShot Water Filter
The TrailShot is bigger than iodine tablets but smaller than a bike pump-style filter, and lighter too. If you’d rather not pack in multiple jugs of water to your site, bring this instead and filter it as you needed.
Mophie Power Boost XXL
Like it or not, electronics are a part of camping now, and having enough power for your gadgets is an important consideration to make. A backup charger isn’t essential but can come in handy in a pinch.
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