When I first started getting into camping, I had no idea what I needed to bring along. And with every trip being different than the other, it can be tough to make sure you always have the right stuff.
Camping in the summer is different than in the winter. Going camping when there’s rain in the forecast means you need to bring some extra gear compared to when it’s dry. Pitching a tent in the middle of the woods during a primitive camping trip is different than staying in a campground.
You get the point.
So to make it easy for everyone else, I decided to come up with the most complete list of camping essentials you’ll find on the web. In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to go camping no matter what time of the year, where you’re headed, or if you’re bringing any of your furry friends along.
Here at Outdoor Andrew, my biggest goal is to provide other outdoor enthusiasts with the best information possible. Through my own experience as an avid camper and by talking to others along the way, I’ve come up with this complete list of camping essentials so you can rest assured knowing you have everything you need.
So let’s start packing for your next camping trip. If you want to become a camping expert yourself, check out our complete list of camping tips and tricks before you head out the door.
- A tent, a sleeping bag, and lanterns are the most basic camping essentials.
- Bring along the right gear depending on the weather forecast.
- Make sure you have plenty of water, food, and a way to cook while you’re camping.
Camping Essentials: Everything You Need to Go Camping
Basic Camping Gear
Let’s start off with some of the basic camping essentials that you should bring on just about every camping trip. If you’re brand new to camping and just want to get the bare minimum to get out there and have fun, these are the basics.
Probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think about going camping is a tent. The quintessential piece of camping gear, you need a tent no matter where you’re camping or what time of year it is.
Your tent protects you from the weather, gives you privacy, and ensures you have somewhere to sleep out of the elements. Both pop-up tents and regular tents have their place among your camping gear, but I recommend a pop-up tent for most situations since they’re so easy to use.
Andrew’s Tip: Consider a dark room tent to help block out the sun. These tents stay cooler, protect you from harmful UV rays, and offer even more privacy!
Other than a tent, a sleeping bag is probably the next most common item associated with camping, and it’s something you never want to go without. Sleeping bags have padding, blankets, ventilation, and everything else needed to give you your own personal oasis to get comfy at night and catch some shuteye.
Designed for use year-round, sleeping bags not only keep you warm on cooler nights, but they can even help cool you down if you’re camping in the dead heat of summer. There are sleeping bags for solo campers. There are sleeping bags for couples. There are even sleeping bags for kids, dogs, and anyone else who tags along.
Even if you’re using a sleeping pad or air mattress — which we’ll touch on shortly — you always want to bring along a sleeping bag to get comfy and get some sleep!
With any camping tent that you buy, you’ll almost certainly get some stakes included to help hold it down. Between the stakes that go on the bottom of the tent itself and the ones attached to the guy lines, they’re an essential part of setting up your tent.
But over the years, I’ve noticed that sometimes the stakes that come with your tent just aren’t enough, or they get lost, bent, or broken from time to time. I recommend heavy-duty tent stakes to make sure your tent doesn’t go anywhere.
If you get the tent stake kit I use above, it even comes with the next piece of gear on this list!
While you’re getting your tent set up, you need something to pound those stakes into the ground. I’ve tried everything from stomping on them or pushing as hard as I can, to grabbing a big rock or something else lying around the campsite. But nothing works as well as a hammer or rubber mallet.
They make it easy to get your stakes in the ground and are just an all-around great tool to have around the campsite.
Tent Footprint or Tarp
The first time I ever went camping I didn’t even think about putting anything underneath the tarp. But I’ll just say I’ve never made that mistake again. Something like a tent footprint or tarp that goes under your tent is the only barrier between your tent floor and the ground, and it helps out in more ways than one.
This layer of protection under your tent helps keep the tent clean, keeps moisture away from the tent, acts as additional insulation to keep your tent warmer, and keeps bugs away. It’s a no-brainer and something I never go camping without.
Sleeping Pad or Air Mattress
No matter how many sleeping bags or blankets you bring along on your camping trip, you’ll never be as comfortable as you would be if you bring a sleeping pad or air mattress. I get it, on a backpacking trip or something where you’re carrying all your gear, a queen-size air mattress might not be possible.
But if you’re staying in a campground, either one of these options will make a world of difference. There are options for every camper, every budget, and more depending on what you’re looking for, and even a cheap foam sleeping pad is better than sleeping on the ground!
While we’re on the subject of getting comfortable while you’re camping, don’t forget to bring along some camping pillows. Some sleeping bags come with pillows either built-in or included in the package, but these dainty little things aren’t going to do much to make you comfortable.
I know so many campers who don’t bring any pillows along and just use whatever comes with their sleeping bag, and it’s always a surprise to me. They’re affordable, easy to pack with the rest of your gear and add a whole new layer of comfort that you can’t get otherwise.
Lanterns and Flashlights
One of the most important things you never want to go camping without is a light source of some kind. I’ve shown up to a campground after the sun went down many times, and if you don’t have lanterns or flashlights, it can be downright impossible to see anything. Trying to set up a tent with only the light on your phone is not fun!
Many camping lanterns are versatile and act as flashlights themselves when you slide them closed, and they’re great to stock up on whenever you see them on sale. You can seriously never have too many lanterns in your camping gear!
Andrew’s Tip: Consider getting a few headlamps as well. By wrapping around your head and staying there, you get to point the light directly where you need it while still having both hands free to do whatever you’re doing. They’re an absolute must for avid campers!
This one might not be quite as fun and may seem more obvious than some of the rest of the gear in this guide, but you should always bring plenty of water with you when you go camping. Even if you’re staying at a campground that advertises potable water, you never know what the condition of the water will be or if there’s a broken pipe or something like that.
A good habit to get into is to bring enough water with you to get you through the whole trip, and then bring a little extra just in case. Water is one of those things you can never have too much of, but running out can ruin your whole camping trip.
Gear For the Campsite
Now that you have the basics, let’s look at some of the most important pieces of camping gear you want to get for your campsite. These are the things that will make your day-to-day life at the campsite much better and are all things you really want to bring on most camping trips!
Even though your tent might be the center of relaxation while you’re camping, you won’t be spending all your time there. During a camping trip, most of the time will be outside, taking in the sights and sounds of nature, but you don’t want to sit on the ground.
That’s where camping chairs come in, and you don’t really have to get too fancy here. If you have any sort of collapsible chairs around the house, they’ll do just fine. I prefer the low-profile camping chairs that are closer to the ground but to each their own!
As long as they collapse so they’re easier to pack and they have built-in cup holders for bottles of water and a few adult beverages, that’s really all you need!
The good thing about this is that if you’re staying in a campground, most of them actually put picnic tables at each campsite and you can just skip this one. But if your campsite doesn’t have a picnic table, then you definitely want to bring a camp table along.
Not only do you need a table to comfortably eat at, but it also gives you a place to set things out while you’re cooking, get ready for the day, and go over your gear before going on a hike, to name a few uses.
Just like with the chairs, you really don’t have to break the bank here, any basic camping table will do and it makes a huge difference.
Something you should really already have in your car, truck, or SUV is a first-aid kit. But if you don’t keep one in your car on a regular basis, you definitely want to bring one along whenever you’re going camping. At your campsite, you don’t have access to all the same amenities you do at home to treat cuts, scrapes, bruises, or injuries.
A good camping first-aid kit will include everything you need to clean a wound and dress it up to keep it clean and prevent infection. Look for a kit with bandages, wraps, gauze, alcohol pads, various ointments, painkillers, tweezers, and more.
It’s better to be overprepared than to need something you don’t have!
During the best times of year to go camping, bugs and insects like to be outside just as much as you do, and they are an absolute menace at your campsite. So you always want to bring some sort of bug spray or insect repellant to try to keep them at bay.
Basic bug spray does just fine and is great for going on hikes, but I like something a bit more permanent at the campsite. With something like the Thermacell Insect Repeller, you’ll get a protective dome of repellent around your whole campsite to stop bugs from coming around.
I’ve been using one for years and they work great, and they’re even battery-operated so you can move it around the campsite with you!
Even though you might think you only need to bring a camping fan along if it’s hot outside, you should really consider using them no matter what. When you’re inside the tent, not only will a camping fan help cool you down, but it’ll also circulate the air and prevent it from getting stale and stagnant.
When I go camping, I like to bring one or two for inside the tent, and a bigger, more powerful one to keep around the campsite. Especially during the warmer months, having a fan set up at the campsite will make a huge difference towards keeping you more comfortable.
Another item that might seem most important when it’s hot out is a cooler, but they’re essential for any camping trip as the only real way to keep both your food and drinks cold. A good camping cooler will hold ice throughout the length of your trip and ensure you can always grab a cold drink.
While YETI undoubtedly makes the best camping coolers on the market, I’ve been using much more affordable Coleman coolers for years and have had no issues. There’s a lot more nuance to choosing the right cooler than you might think, and it depends on whether you’re staying in a campground, going backpacking, camping at the beach, and more.
But when it comes to a basic camping cooler, you just need something that’s going to hold ice for a few days and keep everything cool. Don/t overthink it!
Can Insulator (Koozie)
Since we’re on the topic of keeping your drinks cold, don’t forget to bring along a can insulator or koozie when you go camping. While you might not be drinking anything but water on your camping trip, I know I like to crack open a few adult beverages from time to time, and I think we can all agree they’re better when they’re cold!
Even though I don’t necessarily think a YETI cooler is always worth the cost, I’ve been using a YETI can insulator for years and it’s one of my single favorite pieces of camping gear.
Camping Kitchen, Food, and Drinks
Now let’s take a look at the most important gear when it comes to setting up your camp kitchen. This section includes all of the main items you’ll need to cook while camping, keep your food cool, and clean up when you’re finished.
Camping Stove or Jetboil
Whether you’re planning on warming up some pre-made meals, cooking something fancier at the campsite, or just need some hot water for your coffee, a camping stove or a way to boil water is essential.
Most camping stoves you find online typically come with a few collapsible pots and pans so you have everything you need. I’m partial to the Jetboil Flash since I’ve been using one for over a year now and it works great.
Having boiling water in barely a minute sure is nice when you wake up in the morning and just need some fresh, hot coffee!
Even though camping stoves are nice to have, you usually need something a little bigger if you’re trying to cook a full meal. Whether you want to grill up some burgers and hot dogs, or you’re in the mood for juicy steak, bringing along a charcoal grill is an easy, affordable way to cook.
Charcoal grills designed for camping are small, lightweight, and simple to use. Just bring along some aluminum foil (we’ll touch on that soon), and you should be ready to go.
We just talked about how great a charcoal grill is for cooking while you’re camping, but it won’t do you much good if you don’t have any charcoal! I tend to prefer anything that’s stackable and easy to light, but just about any brand of charcoal briquettes should do.
Even if you don’t bring your own charcoal grill, having some charcoal goes a long way toward cooking at your campsite, especially if the campground has built-in grills at each site. Just stack your charcoal, light them up, and wait for the flame to die down and for the briquettes to turn ashy.
That’s your sign that they’re ready to cook!
Over the years, I’ve oddly caught some flack for bringing an electric grill when I go camping, but I stand by it to this day. Some campers seem to think that bringing an electric grill or griddle is cheating and is not in the outdoor spirit, but I’m about as avid of a camper as you’ll find, and I take one any time I stay in a campground.
No matter the temperature, the weather, or what the rules are on open flames, you can always fire up your electric grill and cook your food. If the campground has full hookups, just plug it into the standard AC outlet and you’re all set.
Otherwise, you’ll have to bring some sort of generator or power bank, but we’ll touch on that a bit later!
No matter how you decide to cook at your campsite, you need to make sure you bring some cooking utensils along. If you have any grilling utensils around the house, those will do just fine. But a set of dedicated camping cooking utensils is relatively affordable and comes with everything you need.
Try to find something that comes with collapsible or smaller utensils so everything is easier to pack up. Plus, many of the best sets even come with salt, pepper, and a few other basics so you’re ready to go as soon as the grill or fire is hot.
Get Packed Up For Your Next Camping Trip
If you’ve read through this entire list, you should know just about everything you need to bring camping no matter where you’re headed or what kind of trip you’re going on. I know that It’s an exhaustive list, so don’t think you have to go pick up everything here before your first trip!
If you’re just wanting to experience the great outdoors and see what it’s like to spend a weekend in a tent, focus on the basics in the first section. My very first camping trip was super basic. I pretty much brought nothing but a small tent and a sleeping bag and stayed close enough to town to get food and stuff.
You don’t have to do anything crazy or break the bank when you’re just getting started!
As you go on more and more trips, just add to your repertoire of gear with some of these camping essentials, and in no time you’ll have everything you need for any sort of trip. I’ve acquired mostly everything on this list by accident over the years, and now I’m ready to go camping any place, any time.
So pack your gear, load up your vehicle, and head out on your next camping trip. I might just see you out there!