How to make sure your camping gear is good to go


The coronavirus pandemic has canceled a lot of things, but your summer vacation doesn’t have to be one of them.


While the country slowly emerges from coronavirus quarantine, few are more anxious to be unleashed back into the wild than America’s campers.

Be it a carry-everything-on-your-back backpacking trek, a car camping journey to a favored state park campsite or making camp via a creature-comfort loaded recreational vehicle, camping is one of the most popular summertime recreational activities in the U.S. and beyond.

According to the 2018 KOA North American Camping Report, the United States is home to 78.8 million camping households, an increase of 7.2 million since 2014.

Memorial Day weekend typically marks the unofficial start of the summer camping season. But thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the havoc it has wrought worldwide, camping is likelier to be more popular this summer than any in recent memory. Some campground facilities, be it local, state, federal or privately managed properties, will be operating on a limit basis. Others will be running at full throttle. Some will likely remain closed.

Camping situation report

Nebraska State Parks, for example, recently announced that beginning on May 20, “guests may begin enjoying recreational vehicle camping at select state park areas where social distancing and group-size recommendations can be maintained to help ensure compliance with the state’s public health directives amid the COVID-19 health situation.”

You’ll need an RV because lodges and group shelters will be closed at least through the end of May and park shower houses and modern restrooms will not be open “until further notice.” Campsites will also be spaced a minimum of 25 feet apart, which will result in some sites being closed.

In neighboring South Dakota, most state park campgrounds have remained open and many were planning to reopen restrooms and other facilities by the Memorial Day holiday. Reservations can be made at

Access to the country’s national parks – popular camping destinations for many – is loosening but facilities are far from fully accessible. Find out more, including a link to check an individual park’s accessibility and operating schedule, at

Access to Army Corps of Engineer campground properties is also in flux. Many have been closed or restricted. Expect openings to be staggered or piecemeal. 

As the access situation remains fluid, check before you travel and if your camping destination accepts reservations – and many do, make one. 

Wherever you plan to camp, be sure to check the facility’s COVID-19 page so you know what the restroom situation is and you are fully up to speed on its social-distancing practices and other policies related to the virus. 

Get that gear in good shape before you head out

Before you go, check, and if needed, repair or upgrade your gear, recommends Iris Diligencia, lead repair shop technician for Mountain Safety Research, the venerable Seattle–based outdoor gear company.

“Because you depend on your gear for warmth, comfort and safety, using the pre-season to perform basic maintenance on it will pay dividends in not only equipment lifespan,” Diligencia said, “but also your enjoyment in the backcountry.”


If you’re a tent camper, like I am, pitch your tent in the backyard, sweep out the inside and, if needed, scrub the outside with soap and water. Check the seams for loose threads or tears, repair if needed, and add a coat of seam sealer (available from most online outdoor retailers).

Do a similar inspection and repair of your rain fly, the waterproof outer layer of your tent. And don’t overlook tent stakes and guidelines, shock cords and poles for damage. Repair or replace as needed. You can usually buy replacement parts from your tent manufacturer and outdoor retailers like REI sell nonspecific items like stakes and shock cord.

Instructions and tips on repairing/replacing damaged shock cords and poles can be found on MSR’s YouTube channel.

“Check the quantity and conditions of your tent stakes, too,” Diligencia said. “It never hurts to pack a few extra. Nothing is worse than arriving at your campsite only to find your shelter is missing a few necessary pieces.”  

Cooking equipment

If you use a canister-powered stove, it’s likely that no maintenance will be needed, Diligencia noted, although it’s still a good idea to test the stove before heading into the field.

Liquid-fuel stoves, like the MSR WhisperLite and others, require occasional cleaning and maintenance to keep the fuel flowing smoothly and the flame burning efficiently. Check the wick and O-ring seals and use fresh fuel for the year’s first trip. Keep fuel canisters filled. If you need propane, you can usually find it at retailers like Home Depot or a local supplier.

Never cleaned a stove or replaced the fuel tank? As is the case with pretty much any task under the sun, you can find instructions on YouTube. Most stove manufacturers, including MSR, also provide helpful how-to, step-by-step videos on maintaining their equipment.

Sleeping gear

Air out sleeping bags and sleeping pads. Spot clean with soap and water where needed. If a thorough cleaning is needed, check and follow the bag’s washing instructions. Finish by turning the bag inside out and laying it under the sun to dry.

“Direct sunlight will help kill any lingering bacteria,” Diligencia said.

First-aid kits

Your first aid kit should include a fresh supply of insect repellent, bandages and ointments. Check expiration dates on any prescription and over-the-counter meds.

If you wear glasses, consider keeping a spare pair in your first-aid kit or another easy-to-find spot where they won’t get broken.


If you neglected to remove the batteries from headlamps and flashlights after last year’s camping season, check for corrosion. If you find any, it can sometimes be cleaned with white vinegar. Replace batteries and check that lights are in working order.

Backpacks and equipment bags

Most campers have a bag or pack that holds their gear. It’s also a place where grime collects. Empty it. Scrub with soap and water and hang to dry. Check zippers, seams, webbing and bungee cords and repair where needed. Apply zipper lube. (Chapstick will also work for this purpose.)

Love campground cooking? Add these  items to your collection

If you like to cook over an open campfire, the Outpost belongs in your camp bag. It’s a three-piece (grill plate, post and anchor point) campfire cooking system that’s well made of heavy-duty stainless steel. Takes about two minutes to set up and is easily adjustable, surprisingly sturdy and available in two sizes (19-inch and 24-inch). The Kettle Hook accessory (sold separately or packaged with the Outpost) will hold a Dutch oven or a ham. Includes carrying bag. Made in Pennsylvania.

The Takibi Fire & Grill is another well-made, smartly designed, stainless steel item for open-flame enthusiasts that is suitable for backyard or backcountry use. It includes a pack-and-carry fireplace, baseplate, grill bridge, grill net and carrying bag. The 31-pound kit folds flat and sets up in seconds. The fireplace coal bed accessory  allows the Takibi to be used with charcoal. The pack-and- carry fireplace, which  is available in three sizes and can be purchased separately, would be more travel-friendly in a backcountry camp.


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