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 — typically 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.
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.
Nalgene remade its classic water bottle with 50 percent recycled materials, but it's still super-durable and super-affordable.
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.)
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.
Tupperware always makes for suitable campsite tableware. Hydro Flask's bowl is better, though, because it's insulated, so your food will hold its temperature for longer, and because it comes with a lid, so you have a safe place to stash leftovers.
If you've ever tripped on a tent stake in the dark, then consider Nemo's Sweepstakes an easy safety upgrade. The glow-in-the-dark piece slides up and down the stake, which helps kick off dirt when it's time to pack up.
Crank up your campsite ambiance with this 10-foot light-up line. It comes with four gear ties that make it easy to set up and runs on a rechargeable battery.
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.
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).
The real hero of a camping trip is whoever gets up early enough to make coffee for the rest of the crew. The Java Press is insulated so that it'll stay warm if they sleep in longer than expected.
The Armbar Cork can cut, snip and open (cans and bottles, even corked ones). That makes it the perfect multi-tool for camping, and it's far lighter, not to mention less expensive than the full-sized ones that might come to mind.
Black Diamond's Spot 350 is one of the best headlamps 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 282 feet. Plus, it's only $40.
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.
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.
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.
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. This one has both USB-C and USB-A ports.
It may not be a fancy inflatable camping mattress, but the TwisterCane is lightweight, comfortable and made (mostly) of sugarcane-based foam.
High-quality campsite seating — complete with cupholder and a stash pocket for your headlamp and bug spray — can cost a bundle, but it doesn't have to. You don't have to sacrifice quality either, thanks to REI, which made this collapsible seat both comfortable and lightweight compared to similar models.