10 CAMPING ESSENTIALS & MUST HAVES LIST

Spending a week in the great outdoors can be an amazing adventure, but can be a chaotic camping trip if you’re not prepared with the right camping gear. 

Two women pitch a tent

Usually, a good or bad camping experience comes down to just one factor: what you packed (or didn’t pack) for the trip. Having the camping essentials and must-haves with you can mean the difference between an enjoyable experience or a trip cut short. And if you’re camping with kids, it’s even more important to take the essentials with you.

We’ve put together an essential camping checklist to keep with you. Whether you’re a first-time car camper or a seasoned survivalist, don’t leave home without these 10 camping essentials our readers say are must-haves for your next camping trip.

1. TENT

Even if you prefer sleeping under the stars with a sleeping bag, you should always have a tent or other emergency shelter on hand no matter what kind of camping trip you’re on. An unexpected rainstorm or blizzard can leave you drenched and at risk of hypothermia. A tent or shelter can shield you and your gear from high winds as well. 

Make sure you bring along all of your tent accessories including cordage, tent poles, stakes, and a rain fly. Camping with your family. Make sure you take along the best family tent to make sure everyone is comfortable. 

2. SLEEPING BAG

Temperatures can drop significantly at nightfall, sometimes 20 degrees or more. It’s also important to keep in mind that many insects are most active at night and you may find yourself waking up to itchy bug bites. 

Going without a sleeping bag risks an uncomfortable night’s sleep at best, exposure at worst. And if you’ve ever tried to go camping with your kids, you know without a kid’s sleeping bag, they’ll toss and turn all night. 

Check out our Guide to Camping With Kids for a camping checklist and camping essentials specifically geared toward family camping trips. Also consider an air mattress for those who have a harder time sleeping.

3. WATER

Water is one of the most important camping essentials and the further off the beaten path you go, the more quickly it seems to run out. 

The last thing any camper wants is to be stuck without a fresh supply of H2O, especially since drinking from a river, pond, or lake can cause serious illness due to bacteria. There are many methods to purify water when camping or on the trail. Keep a couple options on hand.

Even if you’re car camping and have water at a designated campsite, make sure you have plenty of water for everyone. Plan on at least two liters of water per day per person while camping. 

4. FIRE STARTER AND POCKET KNIFE

Camping isn’t camping without a warm, crackling campfire, so you’ll want the tools to get one started quickly. 

A fire starter is one of the most important camping essentials to keep you safe if temperatures start to drop or you’re caught in an unexpected rainstorm.

You can start a fire with matches or a lighter, but there are numerous other methods to start a campfire. It’s not a bad idea to pack two fire starters in case one fails. 

Take along a little kindling as well, such as dry bark or strips of newspaper, in a waterproof container. Finding dry kindling when you need it can sometimes be a challenge. 

Add a pocket knife to your camping checklist, as well. The pocket knife is the ultimate multipurpose tool of the outdoors. 

A knife can be used to trim a rope, cut fishing line, dice bait, slice cheese or sausage, open a tightly sealed package, sharpen a stick, deal with tangled vines, tighten a screw or skin a small animal. Without a knife, such tasks become nearly impossible. If you leave your knife at home, expect to feel frustrated—and often.

5. FIRST AID KIT

It’s unlikely you’ll experience a life-threatening injury while camping, but even a long day of hiking can result in blisters that require bandaging, that’s why we have a first-aid kit on our list of camping essentials.  

Small cuts and scrapes can become infected if left untreated, so keep bandages and antiseptic on hand. Your first aid kit should include other necessities as well: scissors, adhesive, gauze, soap, a CPR mouth barrier and an emergency whistle. 

Be sure to toss in bottles of sunscreen and insect repellent as well. Sunburn and bug bites can end your trip as quickly as any laceration.

A woman grills up some veggies on a Eureka SPRK Grille

6. CAMPING STOVE

camping stove should be included in your camping essentials and must haves. It gives you the ability to cook at your campsite or even in the backcountry. And don’t forget other cooking essentials like extra fuel, cooking utensils, and pots and pans

Take your next camping trip to the next level by creating a lightweight and portable camp kitchen that makes cooking and serving campsite meals a breeze.

If you don’t already have a camp stove our guide, How to Choose the Best Camping Stove will point you in the right direction. 

7. MAP AND COMPASS

If your camping trip itinerary calls for hiking in remote areas, don’t go without a map and compass. A GPS device is also an excellent addition. 

Constant changes in the sun’s position can make forest landmarks seem unfamiliar, causing hikers to become disoriented. Unprepared campers have occasionally wandered the woods for days before getting rescued or finding their way back to camp. 

Getting lost or stranded in a wooded area, especially with a limited supply of water, is no joke. Even if your kids just want to walk down to the nearest creek from your campsite, make sure they have a way to return safely.

Be sure to learn the basics of how to use a compass before you go out on any adventure where you may get lost.

Two women huddle under a trail fly to seek shelter from the rain.

8. WEATHER-APPROPRIATE CLOTHING AND RAIN GEAR

Camping means having only a few changes of clothes available, so it’s important to keep them dry. Walking around in damp clothes is not only unpleasant, it can be dangerous in cooler climates where hypothermia is a concern. 

Choose a waterproof rain jacket or shell, and pants that will accommodate multiple layers of clothing. Layers are your friend to stay comfortable and to help control your body temperature.

If you are backpacking, be sure to have a rain cover for your pack and a couple dry sacks to keep clothing and other essential items dry for when you need them.

9. FLASHLIGHT, LANTERN, OR HEADLAMP

A campfire may be nice and bright, but only for about six feet in any direction. 

If you need to locate an item within your tent or visit the latrine during the night, a portable, battery-powered light is invaluable. 

Many campers tout headlamps as the best option because of their hands-free functionality. 

Bring at least two sources of light and don’t forget extra batteries or charging devices!

A woman writes in her notebook by headlamp while sitting in a tent at night.

10. TOILET PAPER

Hardcore survivalists may view toilet paper as an unnecessary luxury in the outdoors, but many campers swear to its necessity. 

Bark and leaves make poor substitutes for latrine duty in both comfort and hygiene, and a chapped backside can make sitting painful. 

Also, campgrounds with bathroom facilities have been known to run out of paper. 

If you’re camping in the deep woods and concerned about the environmental impact of using toilet paper, purchase some that’s biodegradable or take a refuse bag for disposal.

Another option is to create a simple self-contained camp toilet made from a 5 gallon bucket, pool noodle seat (for comfort), trash bag liner, and cat litter. The bucket handle makes an excellent toilet paper roll holder.

When ready to leave camp just seal up the trash bag and bucket for disposal later.

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