If any holiday is about pure fun, it’s Halloween. Whether you’re looking to up your pumpkin-carving game, creep-out your front yard, or just make sure your whole family is safely visible on one of the most trafficked nights of the year, Wirecutter writers and editors have some personal recommendations to help you spike up the spook this Halloween.
Carve a better pumpkin
Dedicated jack-o’-lantern implements
A few years back I bought a pumpkin-carving set at a touristy pumpkin farm only to find that the handful of nearly identical serrated knives were impossibly flimsy. This year I upgraded to a Messermeister set, which includes larger and much sturdier tools: A spoonlike pumpkin scraper, a sawtooth carver, and a smaller etching device (which can also be used to carve citrus ribbons to garnish cocktails). My 8-year-old was able to successfully carve “X” eyes into his zombie pumpkin with the sawtooth knife and my 3-year-old could scoop out the brains much more effectively with the oversize scraper than with a regular large kitchen spoon.
Killer blades (for Halloween and everyday use)
If you’d rather spend your money on tools you’re going to use year-round, know that two of the three knives we consider most essential for any kitchen, a chef’s knife and a paring knife, can also serve as key pumpkin-carving implements (a dremel is another option ideal for precise carving). For the first rough cut to remove a pumpkin top, we recommend a sharp eight-inch chef’s knife. A paring knife is another kitchen essential you probably already have that works well to create frightening facial features, though a serrated paring knife is superior for sawing into pumpkin flesh. For ambitious carvers wanting to tackle curved shapes, like scary eyebrows on a pumpkin goblin, say, the ideal tool is a tourné knife, also known as a bird’s beak. The curved edge is also great for smoothing out any rough edges in your design. And it’s a killer blade for hulling strawberries, stemming tomatoes, and other small trimming tasks.
Create a creepy ambiance
Subtle but scary fangs
Dollar-store vampire fangs fit in no one’s mouth, make talking impossible, and look like you bought them from, well, the dollar store. Scarecrow Vampire fangs, on the other hand, mold directly over your canines or incisors, creating a perfectly fitting, natural-looking spiked tooth that you can reuse through multiple years and costumes. Even as a 6-foot-2 person, the “small” size suits me well, but they do come in other sizes and some different shapes. You may have to cast the mold multiple times to get a really great fit (which takes 15 to 20 minutes each time you do it); I still haven’t quite figured out the best way to clean them, and because they pop in and out it’s hard to ignore the temptation to fiddle with them all night long. But you can talk normally, drink (through a straw), and eat (very, very carefully). And under the pale moonlight, when the candles flicker and the ravens cry, they look more than real enough.
Light a spooky walk
Mix and match glowsticks
We always have at least one adult with a great flashlight to help light the way, but our kids are resistant to the hassle of carrying a flashlight themselves, and a headlamp blinds other trick-or-treaters and the people treating them. Plus, it’s tough to fit a headlamp over many costumes. We’ve found a happy compromise in glow-stick bracelets and necklaces. The kids love wearing them—individually or as elaborate DIY contraptions—and their colorful light makes our little monsters easier for drivers to see. (They’re also great for finding your particular trick-or-treater among the throng.) But beware: If one kid has them, every kid in the group will want them. Luckily, you can get 100 of them for just $9.99, or 200 for $15.99.
Reusable fairy lights
These LED fairy lights have 30 tiny, very bright lights per 9.8-foot string—you’ll get eight in a box—and an easy on/off switch. The lightweight power pack (with watch battery included) can be tucked into a pocket, hat, or fold of fabric, and the wire is easy to shape around or in whatever you’re brightening. Wear a string as a crown, necklace, or bracelet, wrap them around your bike or scooter for heightened visibility, or use them to glow your candy bag or front porch decor. I bought three boxes last year, and they were a hit with the kids I babysit.
Smarten up the sweet collection
Smarter trick or treating
We live in a really dark spot on our street and I am always wondering how many trick-or-treaters are coming and going. To make sure it’s not just one kid stealing the entire candy bowl, I have the Logitech Circle 2 camera pointed at our front door (this weatherproof camera is our pick in our guide to indoor security cameras). While I’m out with my son, I can get smartphone alerts when kids approach, see costumes, record antics, and even talk back using the camera’s microphone and speaker. The Ring Video Doorbell 2 is a more permanent fixture that can do the exact same thing. Paired with the Ring Chime, it can also emit screams, howls, creaks, cackles, and other creepy holiday sounds.