No matter what kind of adventure you and your family plan on having, there are always a few pieces of essential gear. If you’re camping, you must have some kind of cover over your head. If you’re kayaking, you must have some kind of float under your butt. Hiking? You’ll need shoes. Spelunking? You’ll need a light source. Snorkeling? An air tube of some kind. Geocaching? Some kind of GPS.
One thing you’ll discover after doing enough fun activities is that there’s also gear you’ll need any time you’re headed outdoors. These few items will become the basis of your gear kit no matter what you’ll be doing. Take a look at the photos below and see if you can spot the essential item that comes with us, no matter what we’re doing.
Okay, that last one was a gimme. Yes, no matter where we’re going or what we’ll be doing, we have a cooler with us. This one, made by Stanley, carries drinks, of course, but also carries ice packs for injuries, stores meat if we’re going to be camping, and more. This particular cooler has been thrown overboard to someone who’d fallen off a boat (seriously!) and has bailed out more than one leaky kayak. It’s bounced off the back of a truck and kept all our food safe inside, it’s been used as a chair by more than one person, and it even pulled double-duty as a step stool to hang our food bag from a tree branch overnight.
It does it all.
When it comes to selecting gear, though, you have to make a crucial decision. Do I buy one expensive item that might last for a long time and do a great job, or do I buy a cheapo version and not be upset when something happens to it? That is a tough call. You have to decide on the likelihood of the item getting lost, broken, or otherwise made unusable (and there I’m referring to the flashlight that one of my kids dropped while peeing, and yes, peed on it…it was cheap, and it went in the trash because it’s not possible to wash that kind of flashlight well enough to make it hygienic again!).
Flashlights are a prime example. I have a handful of really expensive but really awesome rechargeable LED lanterns, and now that my kids are older, they’re actually allowed to touch them. The funny thing is they usually won’t touch them until Mom says to, all because of the years of training that was threatened into them regarding children and expensive lighting. They knew the Walmart flashlights with their names on them were theirs, and the fancy (re: heavy) lights belonged to Mom. But until my kids got to be a certain age, even I didn’t have expensive lights because there was no point. They were going to get lost, dropped, used to retrieve a Lego from behind the bookshelf and never put back, and more.
This rule could apply to just about any gear you’ve got, depending on the type of adventure you’re going on. If you’re car camping, do you really need a $500 sleeping bag? Hint: no, you don’t. If you get that cold, get in the car and drive away with the heat on. Now, if you’re backpacking through Nepal for three months, yeah…there’s an excellent chance that sleeping bag will save your life and that a cheap discount store sleeping bag will kill you.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is planning their first camping trip and running to Walmart to outfit themselves. The second biggest mistake is planning your first camping trip and running to an expensive outfitter to buy everything. Both of those are a great way to end up with a closet full of stuff you’re not going to use. If you’re new to any kind of great outdoors lifestyle, don’t decide on anything just yet. Get the cheapest stuff you can get away with (borrowed is even better) and then decide what you really need to make it work after you know what gear you’ll really use. I happily loan out my stuff, and you probably have other friends with top-notch gear stowed in a closet somewhere. Just don’t ask to borrow my lanterns.