Categories: Guides

Shannon Dobson

October 29, 2023

Embarking on a camping trip is an exciting adventure that allows you to connect with nature, unwind from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and create lasting memories. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoors enthusiast or a novice camper, having the right essentials can make or break your experience. Having camped several times before, I have experienced trips that would be considered a huge success in anyone’s book (Jenny Lake, Wyoming) and trips I’d rather forget (Ocala National Forest, FL).

It wasn’t the location that made these trips a success or failure–although it’s hard to beat the Grand Tetons as a camping backdrop. Rather, it was what I was prepared for, such as weathering the elements and ensuring comfortable shelter. In this article, we’ll explore the must-have items that will make your camping trip safe, comfortable, and enjoyable.

Read on for a comprehensive guide to packing for your next outdoor getaway, and don’t forget to download our FREE Camping Essentials and BONUS Hiking Essentials Checklists at the bottom of this page to make sure nothing is forgotten.

1. Shelter and Sleeping Gear

View of the Grand Tetons from our campsite at Jenny Lake, Wyoming. Not a bad view with your morning coffee.

First and foremost, you’ll need shelter and a comfortable place to rest your head. Key items include:

  • Tent: Choose a tent that suits the size of your group and the weather conditions. Look for waterproof and durable materials for added protection.
  • Sunshade/Canopy: For hanging outside the tent during the day, especially in warmer weather months.
  • Ground Tarp: Place a ground tarp under your tent to keep moisture and critters out.
  • Sleeping Bag: Select a sleeping bag that’s appropriate for the season and temperature of your camping destination.
  • Sleeping Pad: A sleeping pad (or even an air mattress) offers insulation and cushioning for a good night’s sleep.
  • Pillows: Bring yours from home, or get a special set just for camping adventures.

2. Cooking and Food Supplies:

Preparing delicious meals at your campsite is a rewarding part of camping. Below are some suggested items for successful camping trip meals:

  • Camp Stove: A portable camp stove and ample fuel.
  • Cookware: Bring pots, pans, utensils, and a cutting board for meal preparation.

    Anti-heat handles and lids are just one of the many features of this lightweight, durable mess kit.

  • Lighter or Waterproof Matches: Ensure you can start a fire for cooking and warmth.
  • Food and Water: Plan your meals in advance and bring non-perishable items, such as canned goods, dried fruits, and energy bars. Coffee was always a big, important item for me and finding a remote coffee system that works for you is a must-have. Also, pack a sufficient supply of clean drinking water or a water filtration system.
  • Special Cooking Utensils: Such as can openers, bottle openers, and a corkscrew if enjoying an adult beverage.
  • Cooler and Ice Packs or Ice: Keeping food at the appropriate temperature is not only more enjoyable, but keeps everyone safe from food-borne illnesses.
  • Dish Soap and Sponge: Even though you are camping, some clean-up will still be required if using a camping stove and pot.

3. Clothing, Footwear, and Personal Items

Packing the right clothing and footwear is essential for staying comfortable in various weather conditions. One of the reasons my trip to Ocala National Forest was a flop was because I was eaten alive by some variety of insect but wasn’t really aware of it until the next day. My pants were too thin and as we stayed up and played cards all night, the bugs bit me right through my pants. I didn’t dress for the elements and I paid for it when I got home. Here are some items to remember for your next camping adventure:

  • Layered Clothing: Choose moisture-wicking base layers, insulating mid-layers, and waterproof outer layers.
  • Extra Shoes: Yes, a good pair of hiking boots are essential. But also think about hanging out around the campfire or walking to the facilities in the middle of the night. An easy pair of slides or slip on tennis shoes can be a great option for hanging out or a quick trip around the campsite.
  • Extra Socks and Underwear: Uncomfortable base layers makes for a miserable trip.
  • Rain Gear: Even the most solid meteorologist can’t always predict a turn in the weather. Be prepared for all weather outcomes.
  • Sturdy Footwear: Hiking boots or waterproof, durable hiking shoes are a must.
  • Weather-Appropriate Accessories: Don’t forget essentials like a hat, gloves, and sunglasses, especially if you’re camping in extreme conditions.
  • Insect Repellent: Not only would better pants have saved me in Ocala, but applying a layer of insect repellent could have helped the situation. This can be especially important in areas prone to ticks.
  • Toiletries: Most of the comforts of home you’ll want with you on a camping trip–toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, etc.
  • First-Aid Kit: For obvious reasons, a first-aid kit is a must on a camping trip. Make sure you have gauze, band-aids, antiseptic wipes, small scissors, etc.

    Complete 154pcs first aid kit that even includes a whistle.

  • Toilet Paper, Paper Towels, and Wet Wipes: If the camp grounds have facilities, it’s not always a guarantee that they will have toilet paper available. Wet wipes are great for after meals and freshening up after a long day.

4. Navigation and Safety:

Safety should always be a priority when camping. Ensure you have the necessary tools to find your way and communicate with others:

  • Map and Compass: Learn how to use these tools for navigation, even if you rely on GPS.
  • GPS Device: Consider bringing a GPS device as an additional aid.

    This device maintains your GPS location even in heavy cover and deep canyons.

  • Headlamp or Flashlight: Don’t forget the extra batteries!
  • Multi-Tool or Camping Knife: Be prepared for any plausible scenario, especially if not camping in a monitored campground.
  • Fully Charged Cell Phone: In case of emergencies, keep your phone charged and consider investing in a solar charger.
  • Emergency Shelter: Such as a space blanket or extra tarp.
  • Whistle and Signaling Devices: Especially important if you are taking long hikes or camping far away from others.

5. Campsite Set-Up:

In addition to a solid shelter, here are some additional set-up options that will make your stay more comfortable.

  • Camp Chairs or Portable Seating: Important if picnic tables are not available at your campsite, but even if they are, folding, tailgate chairs will be a more comfortable option. These King Camp chairs are oversized, durable, and provide lumbar support.

    The King Camp chair is our top choice for comfortable, portable, all-weather seating.

  • Camping/Folding Table: Especially important if you plan on cooking at the campsite as prep might require a stable, flat surface.
  • Rope or Clothesline: If your clothing essentials get dirty, you may need to do a quick wash and dry outside.
  • Trash Bages and/or Disposal Plan: You want a solid disposal plan (which may be already dictated by your campsite) to ensure you do not attract wild animals. Remember, live by the rule: Leave no Trace.

6. Recreation and Entertainment:

Camping itself is great entertainment and telling stories around a campfire is a solid evening activity. However, if you are camping with kids that may not have the attention span of an adult, other entertainment options are great to have as a backup.

  • Books and Magazines: Camping is a great time to start that new novel your friend recommended.
  • Playing Cards and Boardgames: A perfect alternative to campfire stories. How fun are these Basecamp Conversation Cards? Perfect for a technology free night.
  • Binoculars/Other Outdoor Gear: You might not consider yourself a bird watcher until you go on your first hike in a National Park. Yellow-bellied Warbler? Yes please.
  • Camera and/or Smartphone: Sometimes you had to be there in order to appreciate it, but sometimes a picture is a perfect way to capture a moment that you just don’t want to ever forget.
  • Campsite Decorations: While easily the least important item on this list, decorations can be fun, especially if staying several days or travelling with kids. Think string lights, decorative table cloths, etc. Check out these cool camping lights that are easy to manage and hang up!

7. Miscellaneous:

This list is all the things that are easy to forget, but equally as important.

  • Cash and ID: Cash is always a good idea on a trip, and ID is essential, too.
  • Permits and Reservations: It would be a major bummer if your plans to go fishing on your trip were thwarted by forgetting your new permit. Keep these in a safe, waterproof place for easy reference.
  • Campsite and Trail Maps: While many National Parks will have these resources handy, doing research ahead of time of which trails are most appropriate for your skill and endurance level is a good idea.

    Don't let a dead battery or zero service keep you from exploring. Maps are still an important part of your next adventure and this clear carrying case is perfect for your map or trail guide.

  • Notepad and Pen: Some kind of writing pad and utensil is great for emergencies, but also campsite musings that were inspired by your new, amazing mountain view.

FREE Camping & Hiking Checklists

Camping offers a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with nature and unwind from the stresses of daily life. To make the most of your outdoor adventure, it’s vital to pack the right essentials. With the items listed in this guide, you’ll be well-prepared for any camping trip. Remember to check the specific requirements of your chosen camping location and tailor your gear accordingly. Embrace the great outdoors, explore new places, and create unforgettable memories on your next camping expedition. Happy camping!

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