Local and state officials are slowly but surely moving toward relaxing stay-at-home restrictions. That’s just in time for summer, but vacations are likely to look different this year.
Question marks around international travel and big cities have travelers in the US looking to the country’s impressive system of national and state-run parks for respite. But is it safe to go camping?
“Camping safely during social distancing can be done, but it requires individual responsibility,” explains Ben Moore, a National Park Service ranger on Mississippi’s Horn Island for more than two decades. “That means camping close to home so you don’t risk spreading the virus to new places, it means avoiding overcrowded campgrounds by seeking solitude and it means bringing everything you’ll need with you from home.”
So what exactly do you need? We spoke to outdoor and health experts to determine what you should purchase now to make your next camping trip as safe — and as fun — as possible.
The Body Wipe, 10-count ($9.99; amazon.com)
“A major component of camping safely in these unique times is to avoid public facilities as much as possible,” says Moore. Shower and restroom facilities are an essential part of the trip for many campers, however. So as an alternative, try these cleansing wipes. Their antibacterial formula is designed to keep your skin clean, healthy and odor-free, and they’ll suffice for a long weekend in lieu of a shower.
GoGirl Female Urination Device ($9.99; amazon.com)
There’s no denying men have it easier when it comes to avoiding public facilities while camping. This device by GoGirl helps bridge that gap — at least a little bit. It’s easy to use, easy to clean and comes with a storage tube that also makes it a breeze to transport. Avoiding public restrooms is good advice during a pandemic, and this product makes it much easier for women to do just that.
Dr. Bronner’s Organic Liquid Soap (Almond), 4 oz ($5.99; amazon.com)
“It’s a good idea to bring biodegradable soap for frequent handwashing like you would at home,” says Dr. Shannon Kelleher, an epidemiologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It’s different from hand sanitizer, she says, noting that soap is more effective. Hikers and backpackers love Dr. Bronner’s because it’s made from all-natural ingredients and is gentle on the environment. It also comes in low-weight travel sizes, making it easier to carry in a backpack.
Coghlan’s Toilet Paper, two-pack ($4.73; amazon.com)
We don’t have much to say here. You’ll know what to do. Though it’s worth noting that in an age when toilet paper is hard to come by, this toilet tissue is ready to ship immediately. Consider keeping it a camper’s secret.
Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes, 16 lbs ($9, originally $12.99; target.com)
Cooking food over a fire is the best part of camping for many vacationers. Many front-country campsites will include a metal grill and a firepit. Which do you use? It’s up to you, but the small grill uses charcoal and allows for more predictable and consistent cooking than a wood fire. Either way, sanitize the surface with wipes or soap and be sure to use gloves. Lump charcoal burns hotter than briquettes, but if you’re cooking basic camping fare, the economical briquettes will do just fine.
Hotsticks Premium Firewood, 0.75 cu ft ($7.79; truevalue.com)
Telling a ghost story or drinking a beverage around a wood fire makes for iconic camping moments, even if you decide to cook by charcoal. Many campsites have wood available, but, like everything else on this list, it’s safest to bring all you need from home until the pandemic is a distant memory. Bundles of firewood are also available at Home Depot (Premium Packaged Firewood; $5.98) for store pickup.
Standard Aluminum Foil, 85 sq ft ($2.59; target.com)
It’s a safe bet to cook on aluminum foil instead of directly on the metal grate covering your coal or wood. That foil is also a clean surface to rest food on once the cooking is done, and to wrap it in when you’re stuffed.
MSR Pocket Rocket Stove Kit ($74.96; amazon.com)
If you want to avoid touching grills and firepits altogether, then consider this camping stove kit. It’s pricey, but it’s comprehensive. The kit comes with a miniature stove, bowls, mugs, a pot and sporks. All it’s missing is a fuel canister. Speaking of which …
GasOne Camping Fuel Blend, two-pack ($18.99; amazon.com)
These fuel canisters work with most camping stoves, including the Pocket Rocket kit above. They’re easy to use, and each canister burns for between one and two hours. If you’re only using the fuel to boil water for cooking, these should last for weeks.
Juvale Water Storage Containers, two-pack ($8.97; target.com)
There’s nothing more important to the success of your camping trip than having plenty of water. It’s recommended you bring 1 gallon of water per person per day. You’ll also need a little extra for cooking and cleaning. A two-pack of these collapsible containers holds more than 2.5 gallons, which should get a single person through the weekend, but it’s always best to bring extra.
AmazonBasics Portable Camping Chair ($30.49; amazon.com)
Most front-country campsites include a metal bench and table. That’s convenient during normal times, but these aren’t normal times. This comfortable camp chair has a mesh backing for breathability, a built-in beverage cooling pouch that can fit four 12-ounce cans, a cup holder and a strong steel frame. It also includes its own carry bag for easy transport.
First Aid Easy Care Comprehensive Medical Kit ($24.99; target.com)
Hiking is an activity many of us enjoy with others, but, as Kelleher reminds us, that can be challenging while social distancing. “If you hike with a friend, you need to spread out,” she explains. “A wide trail is ideal.” Kelleher says hiking alone is a safe option from a social-distancing perspective, but being alone in nature presents its own risks. “You need to bring a first aid kit with you, especially if you’re by yourself.”
70% Alcohol All Purpose Multi-Surface Alcohol Based Cleaner 3-Pack ($34.95, originally $37.50; amazon.com)
Rhino Wipe Tote System ($14.99; amazon.com)
“Let’s face it,” says Jay Frisard, who spent years managing food and beverage operations at Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, “camping and backpacking facilities aren’t exactly pristine and sterile environments. Pandemic or not, I always camp with sanitary wipes.” Alcohol wipes aren’t the easiest to come by these days, so make your own with this set of three 70% alcohol sprayers and a Rhino wipe tote system that comes with 75 dry wipes; refills are also available (110-Sheet Rhino Wipe Refill Roll; $9.99). Your Dr. Bronner’s soap can clean surfaces, too, but wipes have the edge on convenience.
Alps Mountaineering Lynx 1-Person Tent (starting at $81.99; amazon.com)
Kelleher suggests that people who have not been isolating together bring entirely separate supplies to avoid touching the same surfaces. This includes tents — and she recommends setting up individual tents at least 10 feet apart. This Alps version is light, affordable and comfortable all year, except maybe on the coldest winter nights. The tent is only large enough for one person and allows for a vestibule under which to store gear.
Ball Park Beef Franks, 8-count ($3.49; target.com)
There’s no food more iconic than hot dogs if you’re at a front-country campsite. “It’s advisable to limit your camping to the amount of supplies you can bring from home,” says Moore — you don’t want to be poking around supermarkets when you drive into town. Order any food you think you’ll want before you leave home and you should be good to go.
Pepperidge Farm Bakery Classics Top Sliced Hot Dog Buns, 8-count ($2.79; target.com)
Hot dogs need buns, of course. This top-sliced option from Pepperidge Farm makes it easy to scoop a frank from your aluminum foil-covered grill without an additional utensil.
Plastic Disposable Gloves, 500-count ($17.97; amazon.com)
These disposable gloves are large, which means they’ll fit most any hand. (They’re also in stock, which is particularly important at the moment.) “You really want to avoid touching shared surfaces as much as possible,” advises Kelleher. “If you absolutely must, though, gloves are essential.” She also suggests washing your hands after touching a surface with your glove, “just to be safe.”
Three-Pack Non-Medical Face Masks ($20; madewell.com)
Kelleher suggests always wearing a face mask while camping in the covid-19 era. In fact, she suggests bringing more than one. “Change them like you change your clothes,” she says. They’re great to have at a crowded campsite, but are also important while passing others on narrow hiking trails. If you don’t want to make your own mask, check out more of our favorite premade options.
Midwest Can Gas Can, 5 gallons ($13.25; target.com)
The towns around national and state parks are often small and isolated, with less access to health care facilities than bigger cities. It’s important we’re careful not to bring the coronavirus to them. “If possible, I suggest camping and hiking no more than an hour drive from where you live,” says Kelleher. “Even once restrictions are lifted, it’s best not to travel beyond a few hours until we see the consequences of resuming normal activities.” Gas stations receive a lot of travelers and can serve as a node for the virus, so fill up the gas tank in your hometown. This 5-gallon reserve can reduce the chances of needing to stop along the way.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.