By Megan Horst-Hatch
Are you planning to camp overnight in the Chicagoland area? Whether this is your first time camping outdoors or you’ve camped before, it’s important to pack the right gear before heading out the door. From food to insect repellant, you need to be prepared for fun in the great outdoors. To get some ideas of what to pack for camping in the Chicagoland area, we talked to two camping experts.
Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
3S580 Naperville Road
Wheaton, IL 60189
Olszewski is the public affairs specialist at Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and he has offered some packing tips for camping. “It’s important to come to the forest preserves prepared for anything,” Olszewski said. The forest preserve features more than 250,000 acres throughout the county and has more than 4.3 million visitors per year. The forest preserves also offers camping facilities for families and youth groups.
Uncle Dan’s – The Great Outdoor Store
Three locations in the Chicagoland area
Brent Weiss is the owner and founder of Uncle Dan’s – The Great Outdoor Store. Established in 1972 as a surplus store selling supplies from the Army and Navy, Uncle Dan’s currently carries a wide variety of camping supplies. Its product selection includes jackets, tents and accessories for men, women and children. Uncle Dan’s has three locations in Chicago, Evanston and Highland Park.
1. Pack a map.
While cell phones might help you navigate a route, you don’t want to rely on your phone if you plan to hike or camp in any of the forest preserves in the Chicagoland area. “Having a cell phone is nice when you’re out hiking, but you should still bring a map because you have to be prepared in case your cell phone battery dies or you lose your signal,” Olszewski said. She recommended looking online at the forest preserve’s website and printing off a copy of a map of any trails you wish to hike. And of course, remember to stick to the path when hiking.
2. Dress in layers.
In the Chicagoland area, having unpredictable weather is the norm. A day that starts off warm and sunny might end in a thunderstorm and lowered temperatures by the afternoon. What’s a camper to do? According to Weiss, you should plan to wear layers when hiking and camping. “You should also wear jackets with a soft shell or hard shell to protect you from the elements,” he suggested. He also recommended wearing Merino wool from Icebreaker. “Even though it’s wool, it will keep you cool in the summer and warm in cold weather,” he explained.
3. Shine a light on your camping site.
Weiss recommended bringing a flashlight with when camping. The light can also help you navigate a trail if you are still hiking after sunset. “For additional flexibility, consider using a headlamp,” Weiss suggested. The headlamp is a flashlight that is attached to a strap and is worn on the user’s head, freeing up their hands to cook or fix a tent.
Related: Winter Camping Guide For Chicago
4. Bring bottled water and food.
Having potable water on hand is a crucial item to pack for any overnight camping trip. Olszewski pointed out that while many forest preserves in the Chicagoland area have potable water, not all preserves have camping stores on-site. She also advised storing food in a lockable cooler or storage tote, or even keeping it in your vehicle. While coyotes have been seen in and around the Chicagoland area, Olszewski said the greater concern would be raccoons and squirrels finding your food.
5. Keep yourself warm at night.
“You’ll want a sleeping bag that has a synthetic fill to keep you warm at night. If you use a sleeping bag with a down fill, you’ll lose the insulation if the bag gets wet,” Weiss explained. Just remember to pack a hat to keep you warm while you sleep and a tent to keep you protected from the elements.
6. Don’t let the bugs bite.
As the Chicagoland area had cases of West Nile virus last year, it’s important to protect yourself from bug bites when hiking or camping. Olszewski recommended wearing long sleeves and long pants when possible. “You want to wear light-colored clothes, too, so it will be easier to see a bug on your shirts or pants,” she explained. Don’t forget the insect repellant either.
Related: Best Chicagoland Nature Trails