With more than 130 International Dark Sky Association–certified parks around the world, there are plenty of places to catch a glimpse of the majesty and wonder of the stars. Astrological adventures and stargazing trips are a great way to explore natural phenomena in the night sky, whether you’re planning around a supermoon or a meteor shower. (The Perseid meteor shower in late summer is one of the best to observe, producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak with best visibility in the Northern Hemisphere in the pre-dawn hours.)
I still remember my very first experience stargazing in Olympic National Park from the back of a pickup truck pulled into a remote parking lot. Wrapped up in a cozy blanket, I watched in sheer awe as the sky exploded with thousands of sparkling stars. Since then, I have explored the night sky in many places around the world. Below, find my favorite stargazing essentials to bring along to make those nights comfortable, safe, and memorable.
While some stars, meteors, constellations, and even the Milky Way can be seen by the naked eye on a dark clear night, a telescope takes the experience up a notch by giving you an opportunity to see thousands of celestial objects easily. Celston’s AstroMaster 130EQ telescope is perfect for stargazing beginners. With a 130mm objective lens, two eyepieces (20mm and 10mm), and a travel tripod for overnight camping trips when you’re bringing more gear, it is a great piece of glass that is easy to set up and use. Another option is the Starsense Explorer DX 102AZ Smartphone app-enabled refractor telescope, which uses your smartphone to analyze star patterns overhead and calculate their position in real time.
Celestron AstroMaster 130EQ telescope
Celestron Starsense Explorer DX 102AZ telescope
If you are a budding astronomer and need help identifying planets, consolations, or stars, there are many apps that act like a mini planetarium in your pocket. Mobile apps provide a vast amount of information about what’s happening overhead, regardless of time or place. And best of all, if you’re in the wilderness without cell connection, you can still get celestial information from these apps—just point the device’s camera toward the heavens and find the stars and constellations. Some favorites are Sky Safari, Sky View Lite, and Light Pollution Map, the last of which locates dark sky spots that have little to no light pollution. All feature night modes, which switch the apps to a red and black color scheme, so your eyes don’t have to readjust to the night sky every time you check a constellation’s position on your phone.
Being outdoors for a night of stargazing is an incredible experience. But just because you are out at night doesn’t mean you have to stumble around in complete darkness, risking a sprained ankle. A headlamp is a must to help find the perfect spot to set up your telescope, camera, or blanket. Plus, being hands-free means you can more easily carry all your gear in just one trip. It takes your eyes a while to adapt to darkness, so it is best to use a red flashlight to provide visibility while the eyes adapt. The Cosmo 300 headlamp from Black Diamond is compact, water resistant, and has a red night-vision mode, making it perfect for both urban adventures and overnighters in the woods.
Cosmo 300 headlamp
$30.00, Black Diamond Equipment
Sleeping bag and tent
One of my favorite stargazing trips was seeing the Milky Way from my tent in Great Sand Dunes National Park, which is one of the many dark sky locations in the U.S. If you love sleeping under the stars too, a lightweight tent and comfortable sleeping bag are a must. REI Co-op’s Half Dome SL two-person tent has mesh panels in the upper portion of the tent that offer clear views of the sky while The North Face’s One Bag has a three-in-one system that can be adjusted for any kind of climate. It has a color-coded system and zipper that can convert from a thin outer layer bag in summer to a double-layer one for colder temperatures.
REI Half-Dome SL 2+ tent
The North Face One Bag sleeping bag
Instead of sitting in a folding chair or camp chair where you have to crane your neck upward for hours to watch the stars, a more comfortable option is to spread out a warm, soft blanket. This Lumberlander Camp Blanket from Duluth Trading Company will help you get comfortable on the ground or even on the back of your car or pickup truck. For a water-resistant option to keep the dampness of the ground from seeping in as the night goes on, REI’s Camp Blanket works perfectly.
Best Made Lumberlander Camp Blanket
$180.00, Duluth Trading
REI Camp Blanket
Some of the best stargazing spots are the ones that offer unobstructed views of the night sky with little to no light pollution, like Big Bend National Park in Texas, Cosmic Campground in New Mexico, and Death Valley National Park in California. This means going away from the city into wide open spaces that are the perfect hangout spot for bugs—and nothing ruins the idyllic outdoor experience quite like being plagued and bitten by bugs or mosquitoes. So, before you head out, make sure to use a long-lasting bug repellent that is effective and safe to use. Coleman SkinSmart DEET-free insect repellent spray is non-greasy, works on bugs like mosquitoes and ticks, and lasts for up to eight hours.
Coleman SkinSmart insect repellent spray
Fuel and hydration
Those of us who have pulled an all-nighter know the importance of caffeine and hydration for staying awake. This is even more important if you are spending a night outside stargazing. In fact, the Milky Way is most visible from 3 a.m. to sunrise in the summer months and from late evening to overnight hours during the fall. InstaFuel chai, coffee latte, and matcha powders from Laird Superfood—sipped from a travel coffee mug or insulated bottle like Yeti’s 46-ounce Rambler—are easy on-the-go options for a late night caffeine fix.
Laird Superfood Instafuel chai latte powder
Laird Superfood Instafuel original powder
Laird Superfood Instafuel matcha powder
Yeti 46-ounce Rambler with chug cap
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