11 Camping Essentials to Get You Through the Summer

iStock/pixdeluxe
iStock/pixdeluxe

If you're hitting the trails this summer, you'll want to make sure you've got everything you need to make your trip to the great outdoors the best it can be. Before you lose cell service, grab these 11 camping essentials.

1. Alite Monarch Chair; $70

Treat your butt to this comfy hammock chair, which is perfect for sitting around the campfire. The patented design only has two legs (you’ll need your own legs to balance it) but that means it can easily perch on uneven terrain where other camping chairs can’t go—not to mention you can use it as a rocking chair. When packed up, it’s just a foot long and weighs just a little over a pound, so it can go anywhere, whether that means the soccer field on Saturday morning or a long backpacking trip.

Buy it: REI

2. Scrubba Wash Bag; $50 to $55

Wash your clothes on the go with this little bag, which has a textured washboard lining to give your clothes an actual scrubbing. Throw your clothes in, add water and soap, then slosh the bag around for a few minutes to get a high-quality wash for your sweaty, dirt-laden outdoor gear. Then empty out the soapy water, rinse, and hang your newly cleaned clothes to dry. Scrubba also makes a bag designed just for delicates, a travel clothesline, a camping towel to dry your clothes, and even a set of inflatable hangers.

Buy it: Amazon ($55) or REI ($50)

3. PackTowl; $7 to $55

This travel-ready towel dries 30 percent faster than the traditional cotton version, and despite its thin form, it can absorb up to five times its weight in water. It comes in multiple different styles, sizes, and colors from lightweight hand towels to deluxe beach blankets, the largest of which folds down to be about the size of a kid's lunchbox. The company touts its PackTowl Luxe as “the most luxurious fast-drying towel available”—and having used it as a very comfy desk blanket to ward off frigid office temperatures, we’d have to agree.

Buy it: Amazon or REI

4. Otterbox Venture Cooler; $230 to $350

Otterbox’s Venture Coolers are just as indestructible as the company’s famous phone cases. They’re waterproof, drop-tested from every angle, and can be made certifiably bear-proof with an optional lock set. You can add slide-on cupholders, a bottle opener, a cutting board, and other accessories as needed; you can even organize the interior into compartments to keep your fruit from getting squished by your soda, your bread from getting wet from your icy beer, etc. And the 2-inch foam insulation is designed to keep your ice solid for a full 14 days.

Buy it: Otterbox

5. Kicker Bluetooth Speaker; $81

Kicker’s heavy-duty outdoor speaker is water-resistant, durable, and fits in a cupholder. But don’t let the small size fool you: It’s also capable of churning out “muscular bass” beats. It’s got 10 hours of playback, plus a built-in USB port that you can use to charge your phone.

Buy it: Amazon ($81 plus shipping) or Walmart ($137)

6. Sea to Summit X-Series Cookware; $95

When you’re carrying everything you need to survive for days, weight matters. So does size. These aluminum-base, silicone-walled dishes and pot are a little pricey, but they take up barely any room and weigh less than 1.5 pounds. The two-person cook set comes with a pot (and a lid with a built-in strainer), two bowls, and two mugs. They collapse almost flat and fit together like nesting dolls, saving you space in your pack or in your car. Note: You’ll need a camping stove, because an open fire will burn the silicone sides of the pot.

Buy it: Amazon ($95) or REI ($110)

7. Kelty Sine 35 Sleeping Bag; $161

Even if it’s summer, you probably still need to prep for cold nights. This sleeping bag has easily customizable ventilation so you can adjust it for whatever the weather. Outside magazine calls the Kelty Sine 35 “a smart choice for almost everything.” The diagonal zips make it easy to get in and out of, and if you’re a feet-outside-the-covers person, there’s a vent down at the bottom of the bag for your tootsies.

Buy it: Amazon ($167) or REI ($161)

8. Summer Moon 2 Tent; $142

This squat tent is super simple to set up because it only uses two poles. At less than 4 pounds, it debuted as the lightest tent on the market for less than $200, according to its manufacturer Sierra Designs. It’s designed to function in three seasons and also comes in a three-person size. It comes equipped with Sierra Designs’s Night Glow, an accessory that turns your headlamp into an overhead light.

Buy it: Amazon ($142) or Moosejaw ($190)

9. Jetboil Flash Personal Cooking System; $90

This handy system lights up with the push of a button and boils two cups of water at a time for coffee, instant oatmeal, dehydrated meals, and more. It’s essentially a combo stove/Thermos, which you can use both for cooking and as a drinking vessel. The Neoprene sleeve protects your hands while it’s hot—with a color-changing indicator to warn you when it is—and it comes with a lid you can use to drink straight out of the cup once everything is done boiling. When you’re done, the fuel, stove, and accessories all fit back into the cup for safe storage in your bag.

Buy it: Amazon ($90) or REI ($100)

10. Radiant 300 Rechargeable Lantern; $36

Your campfire can only be your sole source of light for so long. This ultra-bright rechargeable lantern works for five hours at its brightest setting and 27 hours at its lowest, recharging in three-and-a-half hours. It’s water- and impact-resistant, so there’s no need to treat it with kid gloves. Just clip the carabiner handle to your pack and go. It can also be used as a power source for your phone or tablet.

Buy it: Amazon

11. Vasque Breeze III GTX Boot; $180

What kind of hiking boot you want will depend a lot on the type of trip you’re taking and the specific contours of your foot, but for all-around outdoor footwear, you could do worse than Vasque’s Breeze boots. The Breeze III is lighter, with better traction than its predecessors. It’s got great grip on rocky terrain, keeps your feet cool with mesh panels, and features a nice cushion that you’ll appreciate after hours on your feet. It comes in men’s and women’s sizes.

Buy it: Men's: Amazon or REI or Backcountry; Women's: Amazon or REI or Backcountry

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

A version of this article first ran in 2017. It has been updated to reflect current availability. 

Hard Sell: A History of the Pet Rock

Amazon
Amazon

You may have heard the story of the Pet Rock, the Mexican beach stone that could be purchased in bulk for less than a penny, retailed for $3.95, and made inventor Gary Dahl a millionaire during a kind of novelty gift hysteria in late 1975. But Dahl didn’t really get rich off of the rock.

He got rich off of a cardboard box.

Dahl was working as a freelance advertising copywriter in California that year when, while having drinks at a bar with friends, the conversation turned to the destructive nature of pets. Dogs and cats ruined furniture. Worse, they required constant attention, from being walked to being fed to cleaning up after them. Dahl said that he didn’t have to worry about any of that because he had a “pet rock.”

It was, of course, a joke. And it got a laugh. But Dahl decided there could be more to it than that. He went home and began writing an owner’s manual for this hypothetical pet rock, which detailed how best to handle it, the tricks it could perform (“play dead” being the most popular), and how it could remain a faithful companion due to its “long life span.” The gag was not so much the rock itself but the way it was presented. In addition to the manual, Dahl conceived of a cardboard box with air holes that resembled the kind used by pet shops. It also bore a passing resemblance to a McDonald's Happy Meal container.

 

Dahl's motivation in making a serious effort to monetize his pet rock idea was due in large part to his precarious financial situation at the time—he was struggling to keep up with his bills. He recruited George Coakley and John Heagerty, two colleagues, to come on as investors. They both signed on, with Coakley investing $10,000—a not-inconsiderable sum in 1975, especially when the intention was to sell virtually worthless rocks.

The Pet Rock packaging is pictured
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dahl, however, knew what he was marketing. Like chattering teeth, the Hula Hoop, and other fads, the Pet Rock was the beneficiary of good timing. Vietnam had ended but Watergate was still fresh; the country’s mood was slightly downcast, and Dahl believed people would see the inane nature of the Pet Rock and recognize the humor of it. He boxed the rocks with the manual and packed them in excelsior, which may be best known as comic book legend Stan Lee’s catchphrase but also means a softwood shaving pile meant for protecting fragile items. The rocks were purchased from a local sand and gravel company, which sourced them from Mexico’s Rosarita Beach. Dahl debuted the rock at a gift show in San Francisco in August of 1975, then waited for a reaction.

He got one. People understood the appeal right away and he began taking orders. Neiman Marcus wanted 1000 rocks. Bloomingdale’s later signed on. Newsweek did a story with a picture, which spread the word. Dahl had retail and media credibility for what was superficially a nonsense product. His bar joke was turning into a national phenomenon.

When the holiday season arrived, Dahl estimated he was selling up to 100,000 Pet Rocks a day. Ultimately, he would sell between 1.3 and 1.5 million of them within a period of just a few months. Coakley made $200,000 back on his initial $10,000 investment. Dahl gifted both Coakley and Heagerty with Mercedes. Making 95 cents in profit on each Pet Rock sold, Dahl earned over $1 million. He launched his own firm, Rock Bottom Productions, which was itself another joke. “You’ve reached Rock Bottom” is how the receptionist answered their phone.

 

The fad did not last—by definition, they’re not designed to—but Dahl was satisfied. His two investors were not; they "claimed they had received too small a share of the profits" and later sued Dahl for more revenue. After a judgment in the investors' favor, Dahl wrote them a six-figure check.

The Pet Rock is pictured
Amazon

There were attempts to prolong the life of the rock by offering a Bicentennial version in 1976—it had the American flag painted on it—and mail-order college degrees for them. Dahl sold Pet Rock T-shirts and Pet Rock shampoo. There were also copycat gifts, since Dahl could not really patent a rock. (He might have been able to obtain a utility patent because of the rock’s particular purpose as a companion, but he did not.) The humor was transient, however, and people had moved on.

Dahl had other ideas. There was the Official Sand Breeding Kit, which claimed to provide guidance on growing sand, and Canned Earthquake, which consisted of a coffee can that had a wind-up mechanism that caused it to jump around on a table. Neither was particularly successful. Dahl’s real passion, though, was buying and renovating a bar in Los Gatos, which he named Carrie Nation’s Saloon.

This was not without its problems, as people who believed they had the next Pet Rock would often stop by the bar to try and secure an audience with Dahl for his insight. Many times, their idea consisted of packaging bull or elephant excrement. There were also proposals to market a pet stick. Dahl had no patience for these inventors, believing the Pet Rock could not be duplicated. Later, he went back to advertising after taking what he described as an “eight-year vacation” following the success of his project.

The Pet Rock can still be found online, though it’s no longer Dahl’s business. He died in 2015. Of the unsold rocks he had left over at the end of the fad, he was indifferent. If they didn’t sell, he said, he would just use them to repave his driveway.

Costco Is Now Selling a $20 Cheese Flight

Costco
Costco

Whether or not you know why Costco employees check receipts at the exit or have a handle on all the perks the company offers, there's one thing about Costco you probably do know: In addition to getting awesome deals there, you can also get more unusual things like huge tubs of Nutella and mac and cheese—and now, you can add a cheese flight to that list.

Cosmopolitan recently reported that Costco Deals, an Instagram account “not associated with Costco Corp,” posted a photo of Kirkland Signature Cheese Flight, Variety Pack.

“Now a new summer cheese flight is available! Only $19.99! These sell out fast and seem to be in select stores! Grab it if you see it! This was found in NW Region,” the Instagram post reads.

That’s right—for less than $20, customers can buy a total of 1.8 pounds of fancy cheeses in one package: Yellow Door Creamery, Tuscan Hand-Rubbed Fontina, Jasper Hill Farm Cabot Clothbound Mature Bandage Cheddar, El Pastor Spanish Red Wine Soaked Goat, Busti Il Tartufo Pecorino Toscana (white truffles from Italy), and Yellow Door Creamery Monteau Alpine (aged for 150 days). Three of the cheeses are made from cow's milk, one from goat's milk, another from sheep’s milk, and four of them don’t contain the rBGH hormone.

Instead of paying a lot of money to get a wine-and-cheese flight or charcuterie board at a wine bar, you can now DIY a cheese-wine flight at home. The packaging even describes what kinds of wines and beers you should pair the cheeses with. For instance, the alpine goes well with pinot noir, champagne, and a hoppy or amber beer. (Luckily, Costco is also known for its affordable booze selection.)

The post has more than 3000 likes and almost 400 comments, so there’s a chance your local Costco might be out of this life-changing product. But while you’re looking for Costco deals, they have Eggo Waffles, boots, head boards, plants, and non-wine-soaked string cheese on sale, too.

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