I spent four months in 2017 seeing the 18 states I had never been to before. I thought I’d packed everything: I had the tent, the sleeping bag, the sleeping pad, the single-burner propane stovetop and two one-gallon jugs of water should I get stuck in the desert (which I almost did when a spark plug blew in Arizona). I even had a backup to my inflatable pillow. But what did I forget? Scissors.
Two years later, when I drove from New Jersey to Death Valley National Park, and my hair was so knotted that the hair tie got stuck in it, what had I once again forgotten? Scissors.
Fortunately, when I drove to Key West, Fla., in January and the tag from my bathing suit top would not stay inside said suit, I had remembered the scissors. I’m not a fool three times (at least when it comes to this).
If you’re headed out to camp this summer, as millions of Americans will, here are six things you might not think you need, until you absolutely need them.
Yes, you can use a knife, or the tiny scissors that are part of a multi-tool utility knife. But sometimes you just need the size and leverage that a pair of real scissors offers. I didn’t want to be holding a knife blade up to my bathing suit, especially when scissors let me clip the tag while wearing the suit. I now keep a small pair in the glove box of my car.
Welcome mat for your tent
Camping is by nature dirty, muddy and dusty. If you’re sleeping in a tent, you don’t need to bring that muck in with you. A small welcome mat can not only make your spot seem cozier, but also keep the grit of the outdoors as outside as possible. You can opt for a small mat made for RVs, or you can get creative and make one to fit the size you need. Mine is a piece of artificial turf from Veteran’s Stadium, the Philadelphia Phillies stadium that was imploded in 2004. My father, who worked on the construction of their new park, saw a roll about to be tossed and strapped it to the roof of his car.
You can, of course, keep your shoes or boots on the mat, but they may accumulate moisture overnight — or acquire a furry or slithery friend.
Things get wet while camping, especially if swimming, canoeing or kayaking is on your itinerary. A fuzzy towel might seem like a comfy idea, but a quick-drying towel will actually be ready by the next time you need it. Mine, which comes from REI, doesn’t even need to be hung up to recover from toweling off myself or the dog. Quick-drying towels are also good in a pinch to clear dew off your car windows in the morning.
Suction cup clothesline
Speaking of the need to dry: trees aren’t generally hard to come by while camping, but two trees perfectly situated for stringing a line between them can be. Instead, a clothesline with suction-cup ends can turn your car into a post. Generally, these clotheslines come with cups at both ends so if you have two cars, you can string between them, but it’s not necessary. I usually find a tree to tie one end around.
I would like to say that you’re going camping to completely get away, but WiFi is ubiquitous, even in campgrounds, these days. For that reason, I pack a place mat to serve as the base for my laptop. It will protect your technology, and it’s more versatile than a tablecloth. I have used it on picnic tables, on the hood of my car in a Walmart parking lot, and on outdoor dining tables at breweries and fast-food restaurants. My place mat is washable, too, so whenever I opt for a hotel and use the laundry roomor stop at a laundromat, the place mat gets washed, too.
If you’re going to a touristy area, you will find postcards everywhere: visitor centers, restaurants, gift shops and gas stations, just to name a few. But not many places sell postcard stamps, or stamps at all. Bringing them with you will save you the time and frustration of hunting down a post office that also happens to be open when you pass through. I buy them by the roll, which makes sending postcards to make my family and friends jealous both cheap and easy. Having a postmark from my far-flung location, rather than just mailing them when I get home, makes it all the more authentic too.
Jen A. Miller is author of “Running: A Love Story.” She reviews books at bookaweekwithjen.com.