10 Unusual Tools To Take Camping (And Why)

Campers have their favorite things to take with them, to make setup and break down of the camp site easier. These 10 unusual tools to take camping,  and why, will give you some options for your campsite that you may have never considered before.

1. A pick mattock.

a mattock
A mattock comes in handy for all sorts of things when you’re camping.

You would be surprised how often you use a pick mattock when you’re out camping–especially when you want to make your own outdoor toilet. A mattock breaks down through heavy root and rocks.  You can use it to make a fire pit and to pry big rocks out of the way when you want to set up your tent on level ground.

2. a 2×4.

Several shorter pieces, in fact.  You can use them side-by-side as walkways over mud puddles, lay them on ledges and rocks for use as narrow shelves, and in a pinch they make great firewood. But the very best use I ever saw was this one:

3. a pool noodle.

pool noodle
pool noodles come in handy when camping

It seems that the world has looked at the pool noodle and seen something other than what it was intended for. You can slit them lengthwise and string them on your tent lines to keep yourself from tripping over them, place them around a laundry basket and stick them in the water as a kind of floating drink cooler, bend them into circles, fasten them with duct tape and make a giant ring toss; the ideas are endless.

4. toilet seat.

camping toilet
We thought we’d take a picture before disassembling. Note the duct tape hanging from the edge. Don’t forget the duct tape when camping.

Go to the store. Buy the cheapest toilet seat you can find. Then make the world’s greatest camping toilet by following these instructions. Makes for a shockingly comfortable camping biffy.

5. grocery bags.

plastic bags
they’re also great for picking up litter left by other, less responsible campers.

Grocery bags make wonderful tools!  You can stuff wet towels in them so the rest of your stuff stays dry, keep your clean and dirty clothes separated in your duffel bag, use them as emergency garbage bags, open them to make a temporary rain hat, gather foraged items, wear them over dry socks and inside wet shoes to keep your feet dry, stuff your pillow into them on rainy nights just in case your tent leaks–the list is truly endless. Just don’t leave any behind when you leave. That would be horrible.

6. fireplace logs.

For years I would take one fireplace log for every day I camped.  It was just so nice to go and get one the next morning to start the fire–you could take you time laying wood on it and even if the wood was slightly damp it would dry out and begin to burn because fire logs last 1-3 hours depending on what kind you buy. Stupid-simple to start a fire with them.

7. a 6′ folding banquet table.

These are starting to get expensive, but as soon as you can afford one, or if you see them on sale get yourself a six-foot folding banquet table. Invest in at least one, depending on how many people you camp with (we have three). They are easy to fold and store away at home, easy to pack and take with you, and all that surface space to work on almost brings tears of gratitude to my eyes thinking about it. Plus, they last forever.

8. door mats.

A couple of door mats, one inside and one outside your tent, will go a long way to keeping the woodsy stuff outside where it belongs.  Makes it so much easier when it comes time to pack up your tent and go home. I’m a huge fan of avoiding mess in the first place.

9. gardening gloves.

Heavy duty ones. They protect your hands when you’re adjusting the logs on the fire, grabbing the Dutch oven, clearing out the devil’s weed right beside your tent, etc.

10. duct tape.

duct tape
It may be the handyman’s secret weapon, but it’s also the campers best friend.

Granted, this is becoming less and less of an oddity when it comes tocamping and hiking, but there are many people out there who don’t realize just how handy this stuff is when you’re camping. It fixes everything from a leak in that air mattress to an emergency bandage for a really, really bad cut. Don’t waste time with that itty bitty bit they say to wrap around a water bottle.  Take the whole roll. It doesn’t take up that much room in the car, really. Stuff it in the glove compartment.

11. bonus item: large cup hooks.

Large cup hooks can be screwed directly into a tree trunk to hang your first aid kit on, string a clothes line between two trees, and generally act as useful hangy things. Plus, they’re easy to remove from the trunk and take back home with you, with minimal damage to the tree. And nothing left behind.

Setting Up The Cooking Area Of Your Camp Kitchen

camp kitchen
Notice all the cooking gear to the left–pots, pans and utensils are hung above the stove, propane tank and tree. The picture has been taken standing beside the camp fire; the cooking areas are close enough together that it’s easy to put food on a rack by the fire to keep warm.

When you go camping you quickly discover that when it comes to preparing meals, you need an organized area.  If you’re trying to fry eggs and bacon and the pans, prep space and stove are far apart from one another, the food is going to get cold and you are going to keep bumping into people who follow you in to the tent to grab a glass of juice, steal a piece of bacon, or just see “what you are doing”.

We have a 10′ X 10′ instant-up gazebo that has removable walls and mosquito netting. This keeps the bugs out and also lets the heat out on hot days. When it rains, everything food-related stays dry and you can make meals in comfort. You can see how we set up our kitchen tent and what you need in order to do the same. Just click here for full instructions.

Whether you use our set-up, or just want an area where you can cook, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Keep the camp stove(s), propane tank, and propane tree all together.

A propane distribution tree is a long pole that attaches to the tank, with a propane lamp at the top.  If you have one of these setups you can have a nice bright cooking area if it falls dark quickly.  Your stove can also stay attached to the tank.  Any time you need to cook or heat something on the camp stove, it just becomes a matter of turning the stove on. So much easier!

Have a separate stand for the stove, and a prep table beside it.

The propane tank and tree should be on one side of the camp stove, and the prep table on the other.  Have a stand for the camp stove to sit on. You save your back because you can stand and cook instead of being bent over all the time. A stand also keeps the stove from taking up all the space on the table. It’s light and easy to fold and pack away, too.

We usually have a large group with us, so we have invested in three of those folding banquet tables. They last forever and are great for food prep. We stick all the cooking gear bins underneath and lay out one end for washing up. The corner is for drinks and snacks. Because they fold away, we just stick them up against a wall in the garage when we go home.

Your tent cooking area should be close to the camp fire.

We set up our kitchen tent so it’s just a few feet from the camp fire.  That way, if we decide we want to do some Dutch oven cooking or set up a BBQ grill, everything is in the same general area. You can also put grill racks across hot coals at the camp fire to act as a food warming area.  Just wrap it in tin foil and lay it on the rack.

go vertical.

Invest in some “S” hooks and hang your pots and pans and cooking utensils from the frame of your tent inside; then you just have to reach up and grab instead of digging around in the bins. It’s amazing how much easier cooking becomes at camp when you can see where everything is! Some people suggest getting a belt and adjusting it around a nearby tree; that works, I suppose.  But then you have to go get the cooking utensils. If you hang it from the tent frame it’s right there. We like to use the trees for makeshift clotheslines and for hanging the first aid kit in plain sight.

You can also use a bungee cord, thread it through the center of your roll of paper towel, and hang that from the tent frame too.  It’s always at hand and won’t get knocked off the table.

final thoughts.

The nice thing about setting up your cooking area like this is that it’s so easy to set up and break down.  There’s no wondering where what goes. All the stuff you need to cook with is in one area and it’s good for two or three people, or a crowd. (If you do want to set up a camp kitchen for a crowd, we have how to’s and more hints here.) You can adapt it to your circumstances, whether it’s a camping trip for a few weeks, a long weekend, or even an ambitious tail-gate party.  No matter what, you’re prepared. Happy cooking!

Rekindling Your Campfire The Next Day

campfire in a fire pit
Rekindle that campfire the next day using the tips and ideas in this post.

Rekindling your campfire the next day will never be a huge problem for some people. They have the skills/supplies/money to get the job done.  For the rest of us, though, starting up the campfire the next day can be like rolling the dice. Sometimes it works like a dream, sometimes it doesn’t. It rained overnight, or all the wood was used up, or the wind keeps blowing the little bit of flame we create, out!


So here are a few hints, tips, ideas, and gear you can think about for starting up your campfire again.

think ahead.

Many times you want to get that campfire going in the very early morning.  It’s kind of dark out still–okay, it’s day two, you’re all excited to be camping, probably it’s still full dark but you’re raring to go–but everyone else is asleep.  If you’re in an area that has several camp sites, the last think you’re going to want to do is alienate everyone and maybe cause a lynch mob because you’ve fired up the chainsaw or started chopping wood with an axe.

So prepare ahead of time–set some wood aside for the next morning. Some kindling, small pieces, and a few larger pieces.  Doesn’t have to be a lot–just enough to get you through the first few very cold hours. By that time you’ve had breakfast and toasted your feet and you actually might feel like going to gather some wood. And if the campfire is dying again and everyone else is just getting up, so be it.  They should have woken up early like you did. Now they have to wait.

(for the millionth time on this website) Tarp.

Make sure any wood that has been gathered for your fire, both for that day and for when you go to rekindle it, is tarped over.  It rains without warning when you camp.  If you try and rekindle your fire with wet wood–well; do I even need to finish the sentence. One tip:  Set tomorrow morning’s wood aside or behind the main pile, separate and further away from the fire than the wood you are using that day.  People are less likely to feed the fire with the stuff you are saving.

bank your fire.

When you make your fire pit, dig a small depression in the ground, and then circle the top of it with rocks.  The bigger, the better. Banking your fire in this way will keep the embers out of the wind, and they are more likely to still be hot the next morning. Caution: Make certain you are allowed to do this in the area in which you are camping.  Many areas and camp grounds want the fire put completely out each night. If you are allowed to let the embers remain, be sure your fire is in an area that won’t carry embers to nearby trees. If you are at a paying campsite, you probably have one of those fire pit rings to build your fire in.  That works on the same principle as the rocks; it acts as a protective bank for your fire. 

Cover those coals.

When the fire has burnt out and there is nothing left but coals and embers, you can save them by shovelling some ash over them and then using additional cover to protect them.  If the fire is small (and most state and province regulations demand this), then place some heavy-duty tinfoil over the ashes covering the embers, and weight them down with some stones.  This needs to be done with a little caution. If the embers and coals are too hot, the tinfoil can catch fire. The next morning there should be enough warmth and ember left to make rekindling easy.

An awesome solution is an item called the Campfire Defender. It’s a kind of pricey “blanket” for your fire. At the end of the evening, you throw this over your coals and embers, and it keeps them hot for up to eight hours. It protects them against wind, rain and snow and also contains the embers so they don’t fly around and possibly cause a forest fire. The cover is 68″ X 60″–plenty big enough for even a good-sized fire. They have a smaller, lighter version for hikers who camp, as well.

Get this toy.

A propane fire starter is a long wand you can screw on to the top of a small propane tank.  It gives you a continuously burning flame as long as you keep the trigger depressed.  If you have this handy little item, you can start a campfire up again with little trouble. Even if the wood is slightly damp you can keep the flame on it until it catches.  Just make sure your kindling isn’t. I have an article about it, and how handy I find it when I’m camping.  You can find the article here.

final thoughts and suggestions.

If you have the room in your vehicle to pack it, invest in some fireplace logs.  Those burn for three hours. You can take your time placing kindling and wood on top of it to get the fire started with ease.  When I have to room to pack them, I always take one for each morning.

Start your fire with softwood, such as pine, fir or spruce. Then keep it hot and sustained with hardwood, such as hickory, oak, beech or alder, if you can.  Softwoods burn easy and fast; hardwoods burn slow and hot.

A campfire at night is a wonderful thing.  It is rivaled only by a campfire first thing on a cold morning, as you sit in front of it with a coffee mug in your hands, listening to the world wake up.



Camp Comfort Foods #4–Fried Chicken

fried chicken
One of the most perfect camp comfort foods is fried chicken!

One of the greatest comfort foods of all time, fried chicken is a meal that many home cooks–and most campers–shy away from. They feel it’s too complicated to make, takes too much time, and is a dish best obtained by bringing it home in a big red-and-white cardboard container.

While this may indeed be the most convenient, fried chicken can be made at home and at the campsite without too much trouble. Just follow the directions, step-by-step.  All of the steps are easy, and you won’t believe what a hit it is at the campsite! The recipe and instructions below are for 10-12 pieces of chicken, enough for three or four people. (If you’re looking for our other Camping Comfort Food Recipes, click here.)

at home prep for camping.

Cut your chicken into ten pieces or buy 10-12 pieces from the store.  Budget-friendly legs and thighs with just a couple of breast pieces are great if you are doubling the recipe or want to save time and money. You can also purchase a whole chicken pre-cut in larger grocery stores.

In a large Ziploc bag, place the chicken pieces along with 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon each of garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, rosemary, and one teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Seal the bag, mush it all around until the rub coats the chicken pieces evenly, and stick the chicken in the freezer until you go camping.

at the campsite.

Remove the frozen meat from the cooler and allow to thaw. In bowl, mix 1 cup yogurt and 2 eggs. Once well blended pour the mixture into the large Ziploc bag that contains your thawed chicken pieces. Mush around a bit to make sure all the chicken is coated in the yogurt-egg mix. Set aside. If chicken is thawed, place in cooler to prevent spoilage. You can do this 15 minutes to several hours before getting ready to fry it. The yogurt helps the chicken absorb the flavors of the rub and makes it more tender and juicy.

When you are ready to fry your chicken, heat an inch of vegetable oil in a cast-iron frying pan over a camp stove burner over high or medium-high heat. Two frying pans are recommended here, because you don’t want to crowd the chicken pieces, and this will help get it all cooked faster. Of course, it goes without saying that you need a 2-burner camps stove! This Coleman stove is the one we have and use; the electric starter makes things so much easier. Get a wire rack ready over a tray to lay the cooked chicken on. (A camping grill rack over aluminum foil simplifies things for camping.) While the oil heats up, do the following:

Get ready to coat and fry

On a flat surface near the camp stove (and if you have set up your camp kitchen the way we do, you’ll have a great table to work from) mix in a medium bowl 2 cups flour mixed with 1/4 cup cornstarch and 2 tablespoons each salt and pepper. You can mix this up at home or at the site. If at home, place in a lidded plastic container. Make it large enough to place a piece or two of chicken in. That way, all you have to do at the camp site is take off the lid and you’re good to go!

Check the oil in the frying pan. It should be hot enough to brown a small piece of bread (about 1″ square) in about 60 seconds. If it is ready, put your chicken in:

Take pieces of chicken from the yogurt-egg mix in the bag and shake off the excess, then place into the bowl of flour, covering each piece of chicken thoroughly. Then place the chicken in the hot fat carefully. Only do 3 or 4 pieces at a time; crowding the pan makes for soggy chicken. Fry for about 6-10 minutes or until golden brown, turn with tongs and repeat on the other side.  If you have an instant-read thermometer (and I always have one in the camping gear now and I love it), insert it in the meatiest part of the chicken to make sure it reads 165° F (to insure meat is cooked through) If it isn’t, lower heat and continue to cook until it does. Under-cooked chicken is something you don’t want to mess with! Remove to the wire rack and repeat until all the chicken is cooked.

Serve with our fabulous Grand Potato Salad and you’re good to go!