A woman sitting on chair near a campfire

Must Have Camping Gear: 25 Camping Essentials

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Whether you’re staying in a campground for a weekend or heading out on a month-long backpacking extravaganza, camping can be one of the most amazing ways to enjoy and embrace all of the wonders of nature. While camping can be a way for us to reconnect with the natural world, however, we need to go out into these adventures prepared and ready to handle whatever the wilderness might throw at us.

Frigid temperatures, howling winds, and seemingly endless precipitation are all potential threats when we head out into the backcountry, so we need to bring with us all of the gear we might need to weather these storms. Next time you head out on a camping trip, don’t forget to bring these 25 essentials.

25 Pieces of Must Have Camping Gear

1. Water

Humans can only survive an average of three days without water, so you’ll need to make sure you have plenty of water with you when you’re out camping. This is especially important if you’re planning to camp in a particularly dry place, such as the desert, where water is scarce. 

If you’re headed to a campground without potable water or you know your first few backpacking campsites won’t be near a water source, you might have to pack water with you on your trip. A general rule is that you’ll need at least one gallon of water per person per day to stave off the potentially deadly effects of dehydration. If you’re particularly active and recreating in the heat, you may even need more.

2. Shelter

Being exposed to the elements in the middle of a storm can not only make you wet and uncomfortable, but it could also lead to some potentially dangerous situations. Thus, it’s essential to always have some sort of shelter with you so you can hunker down in foul weather.

While a tent is an excellent shelter for sleeping in, you’ll also want to bring along a secondary shelter that can be used as a tarp in your kitchen. Especially if you’re camping in bear country, where you want to keep your kitchen and sleeping areas separate, having a lightweight tarp can be the difference between a fun evening in the rain and a miserable time cooking mac and cheese in a lightning storm.

3. Tent

No one wants to sleep in the wind and the rain, which is why we bring tents with us while we camp. Tents come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the type of trip you’re doing, so before you rush out and buy one, make sure you take the time to assess your specific needs.

Generally speaking, a good tent is sturdy and durable in the face of high winds and foul weather but is also lightweight enough that it doesn’t hold you back while hiking. If you’re car camping, however, you might enjoy a bit more luxury and opt for a larger tent that’s more comfortable for sleeping and relaxing.

4. Sleeping bag

Sleeping bags are not only a cozy way to curl up in bed at night, but they’re also a great way to stay warm during cold nights in the backcountry. Since sleeping bags come in many makes and models, it’s important that you find one that’s rated to the handle the temperatures you’ll face on your trip. 

If you’re camping in a low elevation campground in the middle of the summer, you’ll likely want one that’s rated to a warmer temperature, like 40oF or even 50oF, but if you’re camping in the alpine in the winter, you may want one that’s rated to 0oF, -20oF, or even -40oF. So, make sure you check the weather before you head out to ensure that you’re prepared for your trip.

5. Water filter

When you camp in the backcountry, you’ll have to rely on natural water sources to stay hydrated and healthy. Unfortunately, due to animal activity and the improper disposal of human waste, many water sources around the world are contaminated with a whole host of potentially harmful pathogens. 

To protect ourselves in these situations, while still keeping ourselves hydrated, we use water filters that can remove these pathogens with relative ease. If you’re not keen on using a hand pump to filter your water, you can also consider chemical or UV methods of water purification while you’re camping.

6. Firestarter

On a cold night, a nice fire can be a huge morale booster and a significant source of warmth. Unfortunately, fires can be notoriously difficult to start, especially after heavy rain or in the snow. Thus, fire starter kit that can light a pile of wet twigs on fire can be a huge help when you need it most. Thankfully, fire starters tend to be small and lightweight, making them the perfect thing to pack in your emergency supplies kit on every trip.

7. First aid kit

A high-quality first aid kit (and the training to know how to use it) can make a giant difference when things go wrong. That being said, a well-stocked first aid kit also helps you manage all of life’s little bumps and bruises, so it can also simply help improve your overall camping trip experience.

Therefore, before you go out on your next camping trip, make sure your first aid kit is up to snuff. You should have plenty of bandages, gauze, gloves, and other supplies to manage bleeding, as well as a variety of over the counter medicines to deal with headaches, allergic reactions, and general pain. Oh, and you should consider taking a wilderness first aid or first responder course to make sure you have the knowledge necessary to handle whatever may come.

8. High-quality knife

A high-quality knife is an indispensable tool while camping. Whether you simply need to slice some cheese for dinner or you need to make kindling for your campfire, a quality knife can help make your life easier while you’re outside.

That being said, although a high-end non-serrated knife can be sharpened and used for nearly anything, however, sometimes it’s also worth considering adding a small multi-tool to your emergency kit. When used in conjunction with a high-quality knife, a multi-tool can allow you to handle a plethora of problems and make crucial gear repairs while you’re outside.

9. Flashlight or headlamp

Since there’s no electricity in the backcountry, you’ll have to bring your own light with you when you camp. A flashlight, or better yet – a headlamp – can make reading in your tent at night or hiking in the dark a breeze. Instead of relying on the shining light of the moon and the stars to illuminate your night, a quality headlamp will make nighttime adventures more comfortable and more enjoyable in the backcountry. 

10. Camping lantern

If you’re planning a weekend of car camping, a camping lantern can make it easier to see and enjoy each other’s company when you’re hanging around the campfire at night. Camping lanterns can produce a large amount of light in a compact package, instantly turning your dark kitchen into a welcoming hang-out spot in camp.

Although you can still buy gas-powered camping lanterns, we strongly recommend that you consider a battery-powered alternative. Since battery-powered lanterns have no open flames, they don’t pose a fire risk, which is a great benefit, especially during wildfire season. Plus, battery-powered lanterns tend to be lighter and more compact, so what’s not to love?

11. Toilet paper

Unless you’re comfortable with using natural wiping materials or, even better – the backcountry bidet method – you’ll want to bring your own toilet paper with you for when nature calls. When you head out on a camping trip, make sure you bring more than enough toilet paper for everyone in your group. Oh, and don’t forget to bring a Ziploc bag covered in duct tape as a trash bag for packing out all that used toilet paper!

12. Rain gear

No one likes being wet and cold, which is why we bring along rain gear on camping trips. Although a rain jacket of some form is part of many people’s wardrobes at home, when you go camping, you’ll want to make sure you have a high-quality waterproof/breathable rain jacket as well as a pair of rain pants.

The best rain jackets and rain pants are made with waterproof/breathable membranes, such as Gore-Tex, eVent, or BDry, which are specifically designed to keep you cool and dry, even while hiking in the rain. Especially if you’re traveling in a particularly rainy place, we highly recommend investing in a good, comfortable set of rain gear. You’ll be happy you did.

13. Insect repellant

Oh, bug season. No one likes to get bitten by bugs, which is why insect repellant is a great thing to have with you while camping. Especially for those of us who live in or travel to places with tick and mosquito-borne illnesses, insect repellent can be one of our only ways to protect ourselves from potentially harmful diseases.

That being said, insect repellant comes in many shapes and forms, including DEET and non-DEET varieties. For those of us who prefer not to routinely spray ourselves with insect repellant, we can choose to treat our clothing with permethrin, which is a non-DEET insecticide that can stay on our clothing through up to 6 washes and 42 days – that’s something to be excited about.

14. Bug head net

When the bugs are really bad, insect repellant alone just won’t cut it – you’ll need a bug head net. Bug head nets are pieces of high-quality mesh fabric that drapes over your head to protect your face from fly and mosquito bites, providing a much welcome relief from the incessant swarming.

Bug head nets may seem simple; however, there are many different models and styles available to choose from, including some that are integrated with bucket hats for ultimate protection from the sun and the bugs. Our recommendation? Be sure to get a bug head net that’s made for no-see-ums or midgies – these nets will keep out pretty much any bug that might annoy you in the backcountry, while head nets designed for mosquitos won’t keep out the smallest bugs.

15. Camping chairs

While we could just sit directly on the ground, a camping chair can make a huge difference in our comfort levels when we’re outside. That being said, there are many different kinds of camping chairs, from the large folding chairs that you might bring to your kids’ soccer games, to the simple, yet comfortable Crazy Creek, which provides a comfortable resting place, wherever life might take you. Or, if you’re more of a lightweight fanatic, you can cut up an old foam sleeping pad and make yourself a small sit pad to rest on while at camp.

16. Sunscreen

These days, it’s well known that long-term repeated exposure to the sun can damage our skin and lead to serious issues, such as melanoma. Thus, protecting ourselves with sunscreen while we’re outside is of the utmost importance. That being said, you’ll want to make sure you’re wearing sunscreen every day, even when it’s cloudy, as the sun’s harmful UV rays can affect you through a thick layer of clouds.

Additionally, if you know that you’re particularly susceptible to sunburns or you have a family history of skin cancer, you might also want to consider investing in a sun shirt, which can provide another layer of skin protection in sunny conditions.

17. Camping cooler

There’s nothing better than an ice-cold drink after a day of camping in the heat. But, to enjoy such delights, we need one thing: a camping cooler. If you’re going car camping, you’ll definitely want to bring along a high-quality cooler that can keep your food and beverages cold after days in the backcountry.

A camping cooler is especially important if you’re planning to bring along meat, dairy, or other perishable foods with you on your camping trip as these products can cause foodborne illnesses if not kept refrigerated. Thus, a camping cooler is a must-have for those car camping vacations.

18. Sleeping pad

Who said sleeping on the ground has to be uncomfortable? Even though you might be sleeping on the ground while camping, the right sleeping pad can turn an otherwise uncomfortable situation into a cozy bed. While plenty of options exist for camping sleeping pads, those of us who prioritize comfort over everything else will want to go for a thick, luxurious inflatable sleeping pad for their camping needs.

Others, who prefer to lighten their packs might opt for a closed-cell foam sleeping pad or an ultralight inflatable option instead. Regardless of what you choose to bring, however, a quality sleeping pad is a must-have while camping because it helps insulate you from the warm ground. Oh, and they make sleeping way more comfortable.

19. Toiletries

Although many people think that camping is “roughing” it, there’s no reason to be unhygienic when you’re outside. Sure, you might physically be covered in dirt at the end of the day, but with the right toiletries, you can ensure that you stay as clean as can be while in the foods.

As an absolute bare minimum, you’ll want to make sure you’re bringing:

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Soap (Dr. Bronner’s recommended)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Prescription medications and eye contact solution (if necessary)
  • Chapstick (with SPF)

While this may not seem like a lot, you won’t need to shampoo your hair or put on deodorant when you’re outside. Leave those items at home and make sure you’re bringing travel-sized toiletries with you, too!

20. Camping stove

Though cooking on a fire may seem like the quintessential camping experience, doing so is a long, labor-intensive, and sometimes tedious process that often results in blackened pots and pans. Instead, a quality camping stove can make mealtimes a breeze, especially in places where firewood is scarce.

If you’re out backpacking, you’ll probably want to opt for a canister or liquid fuel stove because they are light and easily portable. Car campers, on the other hand, will likely prefer a more robust dual burner stove for cooking more elaborate meals with fresh food.

21. Camping cookware

To cook a quality meal, you need some pots and pans. When you’re car camping, you might be able to get away with using some of the pots and pans you normally use at home as you’re not very concerned about weight or space on these trips.

Backpackers, however, often look for lightweight and compact options for cookware, which can be as ultralight as a titanium cook set or a bit more robust for larger groups. Regardless of what you choose for your camping cookware, however, just make sure you don’t leave home without it!

22. Camping pillow

Although a pillow might sound like a bit of a luxury to some of us who spend a lot of time “roughing it” in the backcountry, a compact backpacking pillow can be the difference between a horrible night’s sleep and an amazing one. These days, camping pillows come in all shapes and sizes, like an ultralight inflatable pillow or a plush compressible one, so you can say goodbye to a sore neck and hello to a good night’s sleep. 

23. Camping utensils

While mealtime can be a central point of any given day while camping, you’ll have a difficult time enjoying your food without some camping utensils. While you can just bring some utensils from home if you’re car camping, most outdoor enthusiasts, especially backpackers, prefer to have a set of dedicated camping utensils.

Many car campers will bring a full array of utensils, from forks to spoons, and knives, while many backpackers will opt to bring just a spoon, or, better yet – a spork. Some people prefer the lightweight and affordability of Lexan (plastic) camping cutlery, though, while others prefer to spend a bit more money to get a more durable titanium spork for their culinary camping needs.

24. Camera

Whether you like to post about your adventures on social media or you just like to keep your photos for your own personal memories, a camera is an indispensable part of any camping gear list. Modern cameras come in a huge variety of different models depending on your needs and experience, so it’d be impossible to recommend just one kind of camera here.

For the most part, however, many campers find that their smartphone camera does the trick for their adventures. Others opt for a waterproof/shockproof point and shoot camera, while others bring more intricate DSLR or mirrorless systems with them for more control over their shooting settings. Whatever you choose to bring, however, just don’t forget to pack your camera before you leave on your next trip!

25. Thick socks

When you’re out camping, wet feet are an unfortunate fact of life. River crossings, rain, and muddy trails all conspire against your desire to keep your feet dry when you’re outside. While wet feet are uncomfortable, they can also become dangerous when they’re not allowed to dry out every day. In fact, if you consistently fail to dry out your feet every day, you risk developing trench foot, a painful, and sometimes dangerous condition.

The solution? Keep a pair of thick, comfy, cold weather socks in your sleeping bag at all time. These are your “sacred” socks and should never be worn outside your tent. Keep these socks clean and dry, and you’ll always be able to keep your feet dry at night – a great way to help ward off constantly wet feet and the dreaded trench foot!

Conclusion

Ultimately, bringing the right gear with you while camping can be the difference between an uncomfortable trip and a joyous one. Wherever you go, however, these twenty-five camping essentials should certainly be on your packing list. Happy trails! 

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