The number of gadgets seems to be endless. While many of these are not necessary, some of them can make things easier and/or more fun. Some you may need infrequently, but be glad you have when the need arises. When spending extended time outdoors, such as when camping, having a couple toys around can certainly make things more fun (and can keep the kids busy if the adults have tasks to tend to or simply want some time to relax or converse with other adults). You can find these things and more while wandering the camping aisle of many department stores or on collections of shelves and racks in outdoor stores.
From the time man discovered fire, he has been trying to find a better, quicker way to create it. There are a number of fire starting devices of many sizes and at many price points.
Marshmallow sticks, though not necessary (it is not too difficult to find a stick) can make roasting marshmallows (or cooking hot dogs or bread dough,etc.) more fun. Most of these are extendable, so you can stand away from the fire.
On a similar note, flashlights also area available in varying sizes and brightness, battery and solar powered, to hold in your hand or wear on your body. The same goes for lanterns which can be large and bright enough to light up a campsite or small enough to fit in your hand (and some are collapsible).
A tick remover is a simple yet ingenious device to quickly remove a tick from you or your pet while on the trail.
Carabiners come in all sizes and are useful for keeping just about anything attached to you or your pack.
Pedometers can help you keep track of distance and available in very basic models that count steps up to high tech ones that may monitor things such as speed and calories burned as well.
A weather radio will alert you to rapidly changing weather patterns and two-way radios can help you keep in touch with others in your group when you are out of sight distance.
A magnifying glass or portable microscope can help identify small critters and can make an outing with a child an adventure.
Hand and foot warmers can make your time outdoors more enjoyable. These small packs can be disposable or reusable and may come with covers and carry pouches.
For winter fun, sleds, tubes, and saucers come in many sizes, are made of various materials and at many prices.
A flying disc is a fun, portable toy to bring along and is no longer limited to a plastic disc. There are cloth and yarn versions available, some of which fold compactly enough to fit in a pocket. There are also some versions that light up.
A Hacky Sack can provide hours of fun at camp whether you play by the rules or simply toss it around. These small squishy balls come in a variety of designs and fabrics.
Kites can be as simply as a paper, plastic or fabric diamond stretched over sticks or as elaborate as a dragon or pirate ship. Though you need the right conditions to use them, flying a kite can provide hours of entertainment.
Camping always has some downtime. Small games that are portable are fun and can help occupy little ones while setting up camp. Think card games and self-contained games like Bananagram.
Making ice cream at camp is fun with an ice cream ball. You put the ingredients in the plastic ball, and roll it around until it’s ready to eat.
Snowshoes may more accurately fall into the gear category, but since they are designed for deep snow, in most areas, they are only used infrequently, so are more of a novelty item. Simple models created for children can be used with lighter snowfalls (and some leave interesting footprints behind).
There are a number of smartphone apps available that provide trail maps as well as those that can help you identify wildlife and trees.
Next up: Publications that encourage outdoor exploration