Hiking and Camping Essentials
The Best Tent for Beginners: Six Moon Haven Ultralight Tent
Both lightweight and roomy, this tarp tent from Six Moon Haven provides lots of headroom, has a waterproof canopy, and is extremely easy to set up—according to the brand, you can have it up and ready to use in two minutes. Online reviewers who brought it on backpacking and biking trips mentioned being happy with its performance in varied weather (from gusty winds to hail to summer heat), durability, ease of use, and overall comfort. One even described the interior space as “cavernous.”
The Best Four-Person/Family Tent: The North Face Wawona 4 Tent
For camping in comfort, Boomer likes The North Face’s Wawona 4 Tent. With a peak height of 68 inches, it allows anyone under 5’8’’ to change fully standing up. The tent also has versatile ventilation flaps and a clip for a lantern at the top. Boomer says you can easily fit a queen size mattress inside of it, and the set-up is simple enough for one person to tackle on their own.
The Best Sleeping Pad: Big Agnes Rapide SL Insulated Sleeping Pad
This three-season sleeping pad from Big Agnes is exceptionally lightweight, quiet, durable, and warm. It’s a breeze to inflate, deflate, and pack away too. It comes in several lengths and widths, and its higher outer chambers create a cradle-like shape that will help you stay nestled squarely in the center of the pad all night long. Online reviewers were pleased with its other practical details, like cozy insulation and a quiet design that won’t rustle all night long. Most importantly, many noted how simply comfortable it is. “I sleep better on this pad than a cot or inflatable mattress,” one reviewer wrote.
The Best Outdoor or Car Air Mattress: Luno Air Mattress 2.0
Your bedding setup can be a little more lavish when car camping (compared to backpacking, when every added ounce counts), and the Luno Air Mattress is a great way to take advantage of the extra space. It’s a long-term favorite of hiker and outdoor enthusiast Brandi Small, who’s had hers since November 2021 with zero complaints. It’s kept her comfortable through car camping trips in all four seasons and even while sharing it with another adult—and her 40-pound dog. Small also says that the air mattress is durable and easy to set up in the back of her car (as well as break back down), and she consistently gets a good night’s sleep on it.
The Best Sleeping Bag: North Face Trail Lite Down 0 Sleeping Bag
If you’re serious about staying warm while you snooze, The North Face’s Trail Lite Down 0 Sleeping Bag belongs in your pack. With a temperature rating of zero degrees Fahrenheit, this bag has plenty of design elements that’ll keep your toes toasty, including a cinchable hood and collar, water-resistant construction, and a blend of down and synthetic insulation to maximize warmth and prevent compression.
The Best Sleeping Quilt: Enlightened Equipment Revelation Sleeping Quilt
When it comes to truly versatile outdoor bedding, Manning points to the Enlightened Equipment Revelation Sleeping Quilt, which has accompanied her on countless rafting and camping trips around the United States: “I will never go back to a regular sleeping bag!” she says. “I can open it up to a full quilt or tighten it up for the sleeping-bag effect.” It’s a great lightweight option, especially for campers with larger bodies who have problems with sleeping bag sizing, Manning says.
The Best Travel Pillow: Nemo Luxury Camping Pillow
Mardi Fuller, a record-breaking hiker and advocate for racial equity in the outdoors, stays comfy on paddlepacking and backpacking trips with Nemo’s Luxury Camping Pillow, which has an adjustable air capacity to find your preferred level of firmness. Better yet, its inflatable air cell is encased by a thick foam layer, so your head can rest comfortably without feeling like it’s on top of a balloon all night—a notorious characteristic of many inflatable pillows. If there’s one downside to this pillow, it’s its bulk, Fuller says, noting that she mainly uses it on easy trips—so if space and weight are a premium consider the next item on our list.
The Best Camping Pillow: Rumpl The Stuffable Pillowcase
The retro colorway might be the most stylish selling point for Rumpl’s Stuffable Pillowcase, but its functional design is what puts it over the top. Have you ever found yourself crumpling your sweatshirt or jacket into a makeshift pillow? That’s the idea here—but the end result is way more comfortable. Stuff your jacket, fleece, or any other layer you aren’t currently using into this case, and in turn you’ll get a proper cushion. It’s a great option for anyone who can’t stand an inflatable pillow or wants to save on space but still wants to get a good night’s sleep.
The Best Headlamp: Black Diamond Cosmo 350 Headlamp
For a dependable source of light with a long battery life, Ambreen Tariq, author of Fatima’s Great Outdoors and founder of Brown People Camping, recommends the Black Diamond Cosmo 350 Headlamp. It has a dimming setting as well as a red LED setting for night vision and adjustable straps that help it stay comfortable and in place during use. And Tariq says she’s only needed to change the three AAA batteries a couple of times in the five years that she’s owned hers.
The Best Hanging Lantern: Barebones Beacon Hanging Light
The rechargeable Beacon Hanging Light from Barebones comes recommended by Tariq for its sturdy, hangable design and dimmable brightness. She likes that she can clip it to her pack, hang it inside her tent, or simply set it on a picnic table for added illumination. She’s had her Beacon for about five years, and in that time she’s noticed that its battery life has waned somewhat, but it’s still easy to recharge. We also give it bonus points for its campy, retro look.
The Best Rain Shelter: Kammok Kuhli Versatile Camping Tarp
A rain shelter is a surprisingly useful item to have on hand for camping trips and outdoor hangouts—it can protect a snack-laden picnic table, act as a shaded homebase for young kids, or provide an open-air (but out of the elements) spot for a good nap. Take advantage of all a shelter can do with the waterproof, leakproof Kammok Kuhli Versatile Camping Tarp. It can cover two hammocks side by side, or seven people sitting beneath it. The brand offers lots of helpful info on how to make the most of your tarp on its website too.
The Best Hammock: Bear Butt Double Hammock
Though it’s marketed as a two-person hammock, Boomer recommends this option from Bear Butt for outdoors people with larger bodies who want to hang solo too. “It’s unfortunate that a product branded for two people is what plus-size people have to use, but the product works for me, and that’s what matters!” she says. This hammock is six feet wide with a 500-pound weight capacity and wonderfully comfortable.
The Best Hiking Poles: LEKI Black Series FX Carbon
Manning looks to the Leki Black Series FX Carbon hiking poles for reliable support and comfort: “I generally carry these poles on anything from a short, easy-going hike to a long and difficult trek,” she says. Especially noteworthy is their folding and locking design, which prevents the pole segments from sliding and collapsing under pressure.
The Best Hiking Poles (On a Budget): TrailBuddy Trekking Poles
Hiking poles can be expensive, and if you’re only an occasional hiker (or new to the activity) you might not want to spend a big chunk of change on a pair with lots of advanced bells and whistles. Luckily, these highly affordable poles from TrailBuddy keep things simple without skimping on functionality: They’re made of durable—yet lightweight—aluminum, come with multiple tips and baskets, and have easy-to-use lever locks. The fact that they come in a variety of bright colors is a plus, too, and it will help you stand out on the trail.
The Best Water Filter: Sawyer Squeeze
Thanks to its straightforward, user-friendly design, the Sawyer Squeeze is Manning’s go-to water filter for every backpacking trip, including a 900-mile trek on the Appalachian Trail. Fill up the pouch with water from any source, attach the filter, and squeeze your freshly filtered water out—either into your water bottle or directly into your mouth. “It’s just easy. I don’t even have to think about it to use it,” Manning says.
The Best Water Filter: LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
We’ve recommended the LifeStraw again and again, both as an indispensable outdoor gadget and a Prime Day sale item to stock up on—and we even gave it an Outdoor Award in 2022. It should come as no surprise, then, that it’s made the list again this year: The LifeStraw can quench your thirst in a near instant as it filters out waterborne bacteria like salmonella and E. coli, microplastics, silt, sand, and parasites like giardia. With it, you can drink directly from a lake, stream, or river, the stuff of our outdoorsy dreams. It weighs just two ounces and provides up to 1,000 gallons of fresh water in its lifetime (and will actually stop water from flowing through it once it reaches its filter limit).
The Best Camping Stove: Coleman Cascade 3-in-1 Camping Stove
This Coleman stove has an array of features that make cooking outdoors easier, including a convenient carry handle and secure latch, wind guards to protect the flames, and an easy-to-clean cooktop. Tariq says that it stands out from other camping stoves thanks to its cleverly built-in lighter: “You don’t have to pack another product, and using the built-in lighter is seamless after hooking up the propane.” The stove’s two burners, cast iron grill, and griddle make it easy to whip up a variety of dishes, and it’s worked dependably for Tariq through breezy summer and fall days: “It is dependable, very versatile, and pretty intuitive to use,” she says.
The Best Fire Pit: Solo Stove Ranger 2.0
Highly portable and simple to use, the sleek Solo Stove Ranger 2.0 is a fantastic fire pit for campers, tailgaters, beachgoers, backyard-lovers, smore-roasters, and open-fire cooks of all experience levels. Its unique smokeless design means it won’t engulf your clothes, face, or eyes with irritating fumes, and its removable ash pan saves you time on cleanup. Depending on your needs, the brand has a whole line of matching accessories to upgrade your fire pit as you see fit.
The Best Utensil Set: Hydro Flask Flatware Set
Gonzalez likes Hydro Flask’s Flatware Set for road trips, flights, and outdoor adventures—a testament to just how handy and versatile this three-piece kit is. It comes with its own carrying pouch, which sets it apart from other flatware sets, and is a total breeze to clean.
The Best Travel Cookware: Sea to Summit X Pot
Fuller stands by the X Pot from Sea to Summit. Made of heat-resistant silicone and aluminum, it’s collapsible and lightweight, packing down easily to save space without compromising on structure and durability when expanded. The pot is available in three different sizes and has measurements molded into its sides, streamlining your open-air cooking for the better.
The Best Quick-Dry/Travel Towel: Matador NanoDry Packable Shower Towel (Large)
Gonzalez has put the Matador NanoDry towel to work over several years of travels (backpacking through Europe, on road trips in the US, and on a bikepacking trip in Iceland, among other destinations) and says its convenience and functionality is second to none. She notes that it’s perfect for drying off after a shower, won’t hold moisture all day, and “maintains its structure without snagging or pilling.” The towel comes with a carrying case that you can clip to the outside of a bag or backpack for easy access too.
The Best Bare Bones Camping Chair: REI Co-op Flexlite Camp Chair
Be prepared for an outdoor hangout at a moment’s notice with this compact REI Co-Op camp chair, which Gonzalez recommends. She says that it can fit in a backpack side pocket when folded down and takes less than five minutes to set up. Gonzalez does note that, while the chair is both lightweight and durable, it sits relatively low to the ground, which might be uncomfortable for taller users.
The Best All-Around Outdoor Chair: Coleman Cooler Quad Chair
“I have used this chair multiple times over the course of three years and it is my favorite,” Small says, adding that it’s comfortable, supportive, and spacious. (In her experience, the armrest cooler can hold beer and a sandwich.) The additional pocket space is great for storing valuables like your phone, and the wide back makes it easy to get comfortable and relax the day away. And Fuller says her dog likes sitting in it, too, which is a pretty ringing endorsement, in our humble opinion.
The Best Beach Chair: RIO Beach Easy In-Easy Out Removable Backpack Beach Chair
SELF’s editor in chief, Rachel Miller, loves the Rio Gear Original Steel Backpack Chair so much that she’s purchased it multiple times and recommended it to several friends—and it’s easy to see why. For one thing, it makes the often-long walk to your preferred spot in the sand a little less of a slog: “The fact that you can carry it as a backpack is amazing, and it’s lightweight enough to make that a viable option,” Miller says. For another, it has a built-in adjustable pillow for your head and a roomy back pocket to keep drinks, sunscreen, and other beach day must-haves handy.
The Best Beach Chair: Kelty Lowdown Chair
Another excellent beach chair is Kelty’s Lowdown model, which has two insulated cup holders that you can adjust to fit your vessel of choice as well as a padded carry wrap that can hold additional gear if needed. It’s made to sit lower to the ground at a reclined angle, perfect for easy days spent reading (or napping) in the sun or shade. (Just don’t forget that SPF!)
The Best Beach Shelter: CoolCabana 5
Unlike other beach shelters that rely on poles for structure, the CoolCabana uses sand as an anchor—all you have to do is fill up the bags when you reach your home base on the shore. This clever design makes it one of Boomer’s favorites, and she recommends bringing a small shovel to make the fill-up process easier. She also likes that it comes in fun, eye-catching patterns, stands up to stiff winds, and is easy to carry without another person’s help.
The Best Portable Power Station: Jackery Portable Power Station
To say that Jackery’s Portable Power Station can keep up with Manning is an understatement. She’s brought it on trips ranging “from an overnight rafting trip on smaller rivers in the east to a month-long multiday trip in the Grand Canyon,” and successfully kept her phone, headphones, and other devices charged the entire time. Her only note of caution: It can be easy to accidentally press one of the buttons and turn the battery on, draining it without you noticing. But if you pay close attention, you should be good to go.
The Best Portable Charger: BioLite Charge 40 PD
The top-rated Charge 40 PD from BioLite is a great lightweight power bank to have on hand for rapid recharges while you’re out and about. It has a charge capacity of 2.5 smartphones (or one tablet), and recharges within two and a half hours. At less than one pound, it’s pretty compact, and, with one USB-C port and two USB-A ports, can charge up to three devices at once.
The Best Cooler: Yeti Tundra 65 Cooler
For freelance journalist and outdoor enthusiast Hannah Singleton, the Yeti Tundra 65 Cooler is just the right size for long weekends. It’s large enough to hold everything, but not so big that it’s a struggle to fit in the back seat of her car. She notes that it has excellent ice retention and is easy to organize—it even has a dry goods basket to keep items cool without getting them wet. Though it’s definitely on the pricier side, it might be worth it in the long run if you’re a frequent camper: “For anyone that camps often and can afford to splurge on a cooler, a Yeti is a great investment,” Singleton says.
The Best Cooler (On a Budget): Coleman Portable Cooler with Wheels Xtreme Wheeled Cooler
If you’re looking for a more affordable cooler, check out the Xtreme Wheeled Cooler from Coleman—it’s garnered more than 10,000 five-star ratings on Amazon and came recommended by SELF’s editor in chief. Complete with durable wheels and a telescoping handle, it’s made to roll along with you, even over dirt and grass. You can choose between a 50-quart and 62-quart model, both of which will retain ice for up to five days (!!) in summer heat.
The Best Water Bottle: Hydro Flask Wide Mouth (32 oz.)
Not only does Singleton use this widely loved Hydro Flask on hikes and climbing days, but she also keeps it on hand for everyday use. Its simple but smart design features help her stay hydrated, she says: “It’s amazing the difference a good water bottle makes. This thing retains ice for hours, even when stowed in a hot car, and the straw top lid is essential so that you don’t have to unscrew it every time you want a sip.” The only activity she doesn’t use her Hydro Flask for is biking, as it’s on the heavier side and doesn’t fit in her bottle cage.
The Best Water Bottle: The Stanley Quencher H2.0 FlowState Tumbler
TikTok’s favorite water bottle also has plenty of outdoor cred. It holds a whopping 40 ounces of liquid, which it can keep cold for up to 11 hours (or hot for up to seven) and has a lid that allows you to sip as you choose: either from a reusable straw or straight from the bottle. Unlike many high-capacity water bottles, the Quencher can fit in most car cup holders thanks to its tapered base. On your next hot beach or park day, tote this handy hydration helper along.
The Best Water Bottle: Nalgene Monochrome Collection (32 oz.)
The classic Nalgene you know and love has gotten a fashionable revamp with the brand’s new Monochrome Collection, which revisits the standard 32-ounce design in trendy new colors, complete with matching lids. This collection touts more than just a surface-level change: The bottle is leak-proof, lightweight, compatible with most filtration systems, and dishwasher safe, and this latest iteration is made from 50% plastic waste.
The Best Pet Accessory: Ruffwear Swamp Cooler Cooling Dog Vest
Tariq keeps her Bernedoodle comfortable through hot, humid weather with Ruffwear’s Swamp Cooler Cooling Dog Vest, an innovative piece of outerwear that uses evaporative cooling to help pups beat the heat. Just soak the vest in water and put it on your pooch before heading outside—and keep some extra water with you to rewet the vest if it dries out. Tariq notes that it’s easy to use with a harness and leash, and it helps her dog enjoy summer weather without overheating.
The Best Pet Sleeping Bag: Backcountry x Petco The Dog Sleeping Bag
Give your dog their own comfy bed away from home with this water-resistant, heat-reflective sleeping bag. Depending on the climate or the weather, you can zip it up to use as a cozy, cocoon-like bag, or unzip it to use as an open sleeping or lounging pad for your pup. Either way, your best friend will get a good night’s snooze.
The Best Outdoor Blanket: Eddie Bauer Deluxe Outdoor Blanket
Stargazing, summits, and afternoons in the park will get a major upgrade with this durable (yet comfortable) blanket from Eddie Bauer. Made to withstand even the dampest grass, it’s water-repellent and ready to brave the elements. When it’s time to leave, pack the blanket down into its own pocket, then carry it by its built-in backpack straps—and when you get home, you can toss it right in the washing machine.
The Best Utility Wagon: Stoic Essentials Half Folding Wagon
Whether you’re setting up a camp kitchen or meeting friends for a picnic, forget about dragging your supplies in a ten-pound tote bag that’s bursting at the seams. The Stoic Essentials Half Folding Wagon makes it a breeze to move your necessities from place to place. It’s light and easy to pull, with a strong aluminum frame that folds up to fit in your car when not in use. It even features two external cup holders to accommodate overflow.
The Best Binoculars: Carson VP Series Full Sized 10×42-mm Waterproof and Fog Proof Binoculars
When Miller took up birdwatching, she invested in these high-quality binoculars from Carson; they won’t fog up or get bogged down by moisture, so you can observe nature in crisp detail without interference. They also weigh less than two pounds and have a comfortable neck strap to keep them on-hand when you aren’t actively using them. You can even mount them to a tripod if you’re keeping a close eye on a specific nest or habitat.
The Best Binoculars (On a Budget): Pentax 8×21 U-Series UP Binoculars
Bird-curious? Try Pentax’s U-Series Binoculars, which were also recommended by Miller. In addition to being simple and straightforward to use and focus, they’re lightweight and comfortable to hold thanks to their grippy, contoured body. Just keep in mind that they aren’t water-resistant, so they shouldn’t be used in damp weather.
The Best Birdfeeder: Homebird Window Bird Feeders with Strong Suction Cups
Jenifer Calle, SELF’s senior commerce editor, gave this birdfeeder a try after seeing its bestseller status on Amazon—and found that it truly lives up to the hype. She says that setting it up, as well as cleaning and refilling it, is an easy, painless process. Plus it’s brought her the great joy of watching birds grab a snack from the comfort of her apartment. (One note: Since the bird feeder is clear and attached to a window, it’s a good idea to use window decals, which help prevent collisions.) Calle says that it took a little time for birds to start visiting the feeder, so be patient if you don’t get many bites right off the bat. If anything, it’s a nice reminder that we could all slow down from time to time, which the great outdoors can teach us in the sweetest, subtlest ways.
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