How do you know what to bring on a camping trip? And once you have your list of things to take camping, how do you work out how to use that stuff so you know how to set it up when you’re out in the woods? This post includes a full camping checklist, plus advice on how to ensure you know about all the essential things to bring car camping, so you can plan for everything you may need to have with you on your next trip.
The advice in this article is especially for you if you are new to camping, or if you haven’t been for a long time! By the end, you’ll know all about what you need to take so you can make sure you’ve bought (or borrowed) and packed the right stuff to bring camping on your next trip. Once you have gathered the essential camping gear for your first camping trip, it will be much easier knowing what to take with you on future trips as you should have most of your camping gear packed or stored together so it’s (nearly) ready to grab and bring the next time around.
Scroll down to see the full camping checklist, or click here to jump down to our camping guide for advice on planning your trip and how to work out what things to bring camping so you can customize your own personal camping checklist.
What To Take Camping
Essential Camping Checklist
Before we jump into the full list, remember that if this is your first time camping and looks like you need to buy a lot of ‘stuff’ (if you don’t already have it and can’t borrow it), consider buying used outdoor gear instead of getting it brand new, either from your local outdoor store or by searching used gear online at REI’s dedicated Used Gear site. To learn more about how to buy used outdoor gear from REI, read this post.
1. Shelter, Sleeping and Sitting
- Tent – don’t forget stakes (if you need one, read our guides to lightweight tents and hammock tents for some inspiration)
- Sleeping Bag and Pad/Mat – such as one of these lightweight options. For more comfort, if you’re camping as a couple, consider a double sleeping bag and pad
- Sleeping Pad – including a pump, if needed to inflate it
- Multi-Tool – as these are so useful we consider them essentials for camping as well as to have in your car and to take hiking, too
- Pillows – either specific camping pillows or your favorite from home
- Camp Chairs – we like lightweight, folding chairs that pack down small when not in use.
- Camp Table – alternatively, we use our cooler as a table to save on space
- Separate Shelter – for protection from the weather and bugs
- Tent Footprint – unless your tent comes with one, like the REI tent pictured above does
- Hammock – either freestanding or to attach to trees/posts – see this list for some great options
- Camp Lanterns – We like rechargeable solar options
- Mallet – to get stakes into hard ground
- Camp Shower – if there won’t be facilities where you’re camping, this is a simple and cost-effective option
- Paracord and Duck Tape – for making fixes and repairs (make sure you have a multi-tool to cut it with)
- Tarpaulin (with eyelets) – for keeping gear and firewood dry
- Portable Power Bank or Power Station – for easily charging your phone, headlamp and other electronics
- Fire-Prep Gear – for example, a hatchet, firewood (if you can’t get any at your campground) and a lighter
2. Food and Camp Kitchen
- Cooler – a quality cooler will keep your food and drink cold for several days at a time
- Water Bottles – great for around camp as well as day trips and local hikes
- Flasks and / or Growlers and Mugs – for water and other beverages
- Water – it’s always sensible to bring a container of fresh water especially if you’re not sure of the source of local water for drinking and cooking with
- Food – enough food for your camping trip, or until you can re-supply (make sure it all fits in your cooler!)
- Cooking Essentials – spices, oils, salt, sauces, etc
- Camping Stove – plus gas. Something like this Eureka stove is a great compact option.
- Cooking and Eating Utensils – including a sharp knife and cutting board
- Cooking pots and pans – compact stackable sets are a good investment if you plan to camp often
- Plates / Bowls – consider mess kits for an organized, stackable option
- Drinks – tea, coffee, alcoholic beverages
- Washing-Up – biodegradable soap, tub and dish cloths
- Trash bags – pack it up and out with you if you’re in an undeveloped camping area
- Water purifier – like the Grayl Geopress water bottle which filters and purifies water from any source around the world in just 8 seconds. Also consider a LARQ UV Purifier bottle for this purpose. To learn more about how to filter and purify water in the backcountry read our backpacking water filter & purifier buyer’s guide.
- Bear Canister (or Food Hanging Bag) – to keep food out of paws’ reach
- Bottle and can openers – consider getting a Multi-Tool that can do this and more
- Paper Towels
- Short Sleeve Tees
- Long Sleeve Shirts
- Something to Sleep In
- A hat or cap – for sun protection
- Waterproof Jacket
- Warm Down Jacket (or synthetic puffy jacket equivalent) – these are a good idea as they pack down small and provide lightweight warmth
- Sunglasses – we recommend polarized lenses especially if you’ll be on or near water as they minimize reflections and glare
- Down / synthetic puffy vest
- Buff or bandana
- A warm hat – if you expect to need it given the climate and how cold the evenings get
- Hiking Boots and / or Trail Running Shoes – if you need to buy a pair of boots or trail shoes, our buyer’s guides include advice and lists of the best styles for different types of hiking and running
- Sweat-Wicking Socks – quality hiking socks are a great choice
- Sandals or Flip Flops
- Water Shoes
5. Personal and useful camping gear
- Duffel Bag – Much easier than a suitcase when it comes to packing your clothes, footwear, toiletries, and other personal items for camping
- Daypack – for keeping smaller items in and to take on day hikes and local trip
- Quick-Drying Microfiber Towels – These are a significant upgrade over regular heavy cotton towels when you’re camping – here are some of the best, including ultralight options
- Personal Hygiene and Medications – all the usual things you need with you, in miniature travel sizes if you need to save space
- First Aid Kit – It’s always worth having a first aid kit with your camping gear, as well as one in your car
- Headlamp – with a red light function to avoid waking and dazzling others when you look directly at them
- Insect Repellant
- Toilet Paper
- Sanitary trowel for camping in places with no bathroom facilities
- GPS Watch or Handheld – for local hikes and adventures, especially if phone signal is questionable. See our recommended GPS watches for running and hiking here.
- Umbrella – useful for the sun as well as the rain
- Laundry Bag for Dirty Clothes – keep the stinky stuff separated within your duffel bag for the trip home.
If you plan to do some hiking when you’re on your camping trip then read our day hiking checklist next for a list of recommended gear to take with you in preparation for hikes.
The options are endless when it comes to entertainment ideas for camping; our preferences include:
- Playing cards (for when it’s not windy…)
- Binoculars for stargazing or bird watching – Read our Beginner’s Guide to Stargazing for some stargazing tips
- Your dog(s). Our dog Kepler provides hours of entertainment, whether we are at home, camping in the yard, or out somewhere adventurous 🙂 Don’t forget a dog sleeping bag, bowl, toys, leash and food!
- Books – I’m learning about the wildflowers of the Western US and have plans to learn about what is edible and what is definitely NOT edible!
- Local Maps for exploring the area
- Parks Passes / Season Passes for campgrounds and visiting local parks
- Running gear for trail runs nearby – if you are new to trail running and like the sound of it, check out our beginners guide for tips on what to wear and how to get started
- Camera – or perhaps an action video camera like a Go Pro. Don’t forget your tripod for long exposure or timelapse shots!
- Stand Up Paddle board or Kayak – plus paddles and gear such as buoyancy aids
Advice Guide: What to Bring on a Camping Trip
By the end of this guide you’ll have a very clear picture of what things you need for camping. Click the links to jump to specific sections, or keep scrolling for the full guide.
- Car camping vs backpacking
- Climate and location of your campsite
- What campsite facilities will you have access to?
- How long will you be camping for?
- Camping essentials vs. ‘luxuries’
- How to find the right camping gear
- Camping gear for home emergencies
- Preparing your gear for camping
Car Camping vs. Backpacking
Car camping, to most people, means setting up a tent near your car. Car camping can also mean that you plan to sleep in your car, or on the back of a truckbed, however as most people assume car camping means tent camping near your car this is what we are assuming when we think about what stuff to bring camping. This also applies if you’re going car camping and sleeping in a roof top car tent.
If you will be hiking or backpacking to your campsite, this assumes that you’ll need to carry all the things you need for overnight camping in your backpack.
Car camping generally means that you’re going to be able to bring a lot more luxury and comfort into your camping spot than if you have to pack and carry all the stuff in a backpack and carry it for several miles first! Car camping can also be pretty basic in terms of what stuff you may choose to bring, however, given the option many people will tend to think about bringing more camping gear, including camping mattresses, lighting, a grill and other luxuries that most wouldn’t choose to carry for camping while on a backpacking trip but may be considered car camping essentials!
Backpacking means that the quantity and weight of the gear you need for cooking, sleeping and being away from home for several days at a time will be an important consideration, as well as whether you need more emergency repair and first aid gear for the unexpected if it’s going to take a while to get assistance. Most people considering backpacking are looking for more minimal, ultralight camping gear that packs down small – especially when it comes to finding a lightweight, portable tent, sleeping bag and cooking stove, for example.
As most of the larger items of camping gear differ in terms of weight and features between car camping and backpacking, this post focuses on what you need to bring for car camping – what to take backpacking is the subject of a separate post in its own right where we focus on their weight and portability.
Climate and location of your campsite
Consider the climate and location of your camping destination as this will help you work out what to bring camping so you can have the most enjoyment and be prepared for the elements and other factors such as bugs and humidity.
Specific considerations for your camping checklist include:
- Will you need to pack warm clothes for cold evenings?
- Will you need to ensure you’re staying cool in the heat of the day?
- Are there sandflies, mosquitos or other bugs in the area?
- What’s the UV index in the area where you’ll be camping?
- Is your camping destination exposed to strong winds?
If you’ll be camping near a lake in summer then the bugs are definitely a consideration. If you’re camping at altitude or in the desert then cooler evenings are likely, even if it’s very hot during the day.
‘Shoulder season’ either side of the summer may be better for popular camping areas, as you’ll have more chance of it being quieter, less expensive, and easier to make a reservation if reservations are required. The time of year you go will therefore influence what to take camping so it’s worth researching the area’s climate and average temperatures, wind and precipitation in that month so you know what to expect.
All of this research will help you work out what clothes to bring camping and how many layers you need. For example, if there will be mosquitoes (which are especially active at dusk) then insect repellant should be a necessity, but also long-sleeve shirts and pants will be useful to bring with you to stop them feasting on you, while you’re outside eating your own dinner!
You may also want to consider an additional shelter with bug screens, rain protection wind-breaks to make camp life more comfortable, and reflect on whether you need a stronger or more weather-resistant tent for camping in climates more prone to wet and / or windy conditions.
What campsite facilities will you have access to?
When working out what to pack for camping it pays to consider what facilities will be in your campsite and how remote your camping spot will be. Will you be somewhere with access to bathroom facilities? Will there be any stores nearby? Is there somewhere to throw away waste?
Depending on what facilities you expect to have access to, you may need to think about being more self-sufficient in terms of how much stuff to bring camping to ensure you have enough food, water, first aid and personal hygiene supplies. Having a good cooler with you stocked with plenty of food and drink, for example, is likely to be important, and its also important to ensure the cooler you have (or go out and buy) is large enough to hold it all – or consider buying two – one for food, one for drinks.
If you’re camping off-grid somewhere with no facilities, also consider how and when you’re going to dispose of your waste responsibly, and bring extra trash bags for packing it out.
How long will you be camping for?
If you are going for an overnight or weekend camping trip then you will not need to bring as many things with you – which includes the amount of food, water and clean clothes you may want. Once you start looking at more than a few days of camping then it’s worth paying additional consideration to practicalities such as how you’ll restock on food and drink and how you’ll charge your electronics such as your phone and camera, if you’ll have them with you.
Camping essentials vs. ‘luxuries’
This camping checklist includes all the things you may need to bring car camping. We have grouped this camping checklist into two types:
- Essential camping gear includes all the things you will almost certainly need to bring camping
- Optional luxuries are all the additional things you may want to bring camping for a specific camping trip.
Essential camping gear includes the basics in terms of sleep, food, water, safety and emergency preparation. We’ve also given examples of some of the specific gear we take camping under each item, so you get a better idea of what to take camping if you’re starting from scratch and getting your own camping gear for the first time.
Whether you bring the more luxury things camping depends on what you have planned for your camping trip, as well as your personal preferences regarding the level of home comforts and entertainment you want to bring with you. You may consider some of these ‘optional luxuries’ to actually ‘camping essentials’ for your preferred style of camping!
Everyone’s definition of luxury vs. essential camping gear varies – from people who want to take the minimum amount of things possible and be as close to nature as possible, to others who may want a really comfortable sleeping bag and sleeping pad (or even a double sleeping bag and luxurious camping mattress to go with it), lots of entertainment and to be able to cook up tasty meals on a grill each day.
In this camping checklist we’ve included all the items we consider to be essential things to take camping, as well as listing more luxury, optional items that we typically choose to take camping ourselves.
If you haven’t been camping before and are finding yourself leaning towards the ‘luxury’ end of the spectrum and you end up with a very long ‘essential’ camping gear list it’s also worth considering whether you should try out renting a camper van for your trip, rather than tent camping, as it may provide you with more of the luxuries you’re looking for! This is our preference and why when we converted our Sprinter van into a camper we made it into a luxury tiny home from home 🙂
Advice on choosing specific items of camping gear
Camping essentials to consider buying used
While you can buy a whole range of outdoor gear used, these are the most expensive pieces of camping and hiking gear that are often available used on REI’s used gear website. If you need to buy one of these for your camping trip, I highly recommend doing a search and seeing if you can find a great deal on there (most of these items are basically new and have been returned, or very lightly worn):
- Sleeping bags and pads
- Camping stoves and kitchen cookware
- Waterproof and warm down / synthetic jackets
- Camp tables, chairs and hammocks
- Backpacks and duffel bags
- Hiking boots and trail shoes
Choosing a tent and sleeping bag
If you’re camping near your car then you do not need to have an expensive lightweight tent, and can get away with a bigger, sturdier (and often less expensive) tent that has double layers to reduce the impact of condensation building up overnight, especially in wetter climates. Also, depending on your tent, it may be worth buying a tent footprint or a tarpaulin to place under the tent, to protect the tent material from snagging on the ground.
If you’re camping in your car then you obviously don’t need to take a separate tent, unless it is intended to give you more space and storage for your stuff while you’re on your camping trip!
You’ll need to bring a sleeping bag on most camping trips, so it makes sense to get a good quality one that will stand the test of time. Unless you intend to camp in conditions below freezing, or in winter, then for most people a good quality three-season sleeping bag will be perfect for camping trips – here are some of the best sleeping bags and pads currently available.
If you are camping as a couple then I highly recommend looking into double sleeping bags and 2-person sleeping mats to go with them. Especially if you are going to be car camping, this is a great way to sleep overnight together without both being restricted in separate one-person mummy-style sleeping bags.
To add comfort to your sleeping arrangement, we suggest getting a sleeping pad, that will insulate you from the cold of the ground, and also provide some padding to help get a good night’s sleep when the ground is uneven.
Finding the best footwear to take camping
Whether or not you’re actually doing any hiking, it makes sense to take a pair of hiking boots, or at least trail running shoes, with you on your camping trip, to protect your feet from obstacles, especially at night whether it’s harder to see where you are stepping.
We also like to take flip-flops or sandals with us for wearing around camp and giving our feet a breather.
Dn’t forget good quality natural fiber hiking socks, to wear under your boots/shoes and also at night if you get cold feet, especially when tent camping. We prefer Merino wool socks for their natural anti-stink and sweat-wicking properties.
Ensuring you have clean drinking water
Even if there should be access to a drinking water source at your campsite, I strongly suggest taking your own water supply just in case the quality of the water there is dubious.
It’s also worth having a water purification and filtration device if the water supply where you’ll be camping is not from a drinking supply.
Keeping your food secure
If you’re going somewhere in bear country then there are additional special considerations regarding where you store your food and toiletries when out of camp – it needs to be somewhere away from your campsite and out of reach from bears – make sure you do your research before you go to know the rules and guidance, and whether you need to invest in a bear canister.
Suitable clothes to pack for camping
At the very least, some quick-drying pants, shorts, t-shirts, a warm down jacket and a waterproof jacket come with us camping – including items we can sleep in.
It’s best to avoid taking cotton clothing camping, as it does not effectively wick sweat, and takes a relatively long time to dry. Instead, the best clothes for camping are similar to the type of clothes you may wear hiking, and best worn in layers. These clothes tend to be made out of either wool or synthetic fabrics that are designed to wick-sweat, help you regulate your temperature (in both the heat and cold) and wick sweat away from your body to help manage moisture and keep smells down!
As down jackets and waterproof jackets are typically camping essentials that can get expensive if you need to go out and buy them new, these are great candidates for finding used, if you’re on a budget, and it means you can get a better-quality used jacket for the same price as a new, cheaper alternative.
Also, don’t forget a good cap and sunglasses combo! Both will protect your head and eyes from the elements – whether that’s the sun, wind or rain, it’s a good idea to have these with you when camping.
Choosing a headlamp
Trust me, you’ll want a good headlamp to take with you camping. You need to be able to see what you’re doing once the sun goes down, when you’re in camp, inside your tent, rummaging for stuff in your bag, or navigating your way to a suitable bathroom area in the middle of the night.
A good quality headlamp is another useful item to have at home in case of emergencies, as well as for backpacking, hiking and trail running.
Taking a headlamp with a red light function is important for camping, as it means you can use that light in the night without unnecessarily disturbing or temporarily blinding other people camping with you.
How to pack your camping gear
With all of this camping gear, you need a bag to put it in. Packable soft duffel bags are great value and perfect for taking on camping trips to carry your clothes and personal items as you can fold them down small when they’re empty or only half-full, to save on space. They can also fit in your car around the larger, bul
We suggest also taking a small backpack camping even if you’re car camping because you can use it for day-hikes, it will keep your smaller items organized, and it’s easy to carry over uneven ground.
Camping gear for home emergencies
A great thing about buying good quality camping gear is that it’s not just to take camping – this gear can also be very useful to have at home in the case of an emergency. Camping gear that is useful in an emergency includes lanterns and headlamps (if there’s a blackout), emergency camping food, and other camping essentials such as a first aid kit or sleeping bags for extra warmth if there’s a power cut in the middle of winter.
So when you’re considering investing in some relatively expensive camping gear, it’s worth thinking about other benefits of owning it and how else you may get to use it when you’re not actually on a camping trip.
A Fun Way To Prepare For Your Next Camping Trip
Backyard camping is something that many parents will be familiar with already, as it’s a great way to have some fun with your family, whether you’re in your yard or even inside your home. However, some of us may not have given much thought to going backyard camping before social distancing forced us to think differently about how we spend our leisure time.
Going ‘backyard camping’ is actually a great way to work out what to bring on a camping trip. So while it may not be as exciting or adventure-filled, it can be great fun as a ‘dry run’ to prepare your customized camping checklist to ensure you know what stuff to bring camping – both the essentials and safety gear, as well as luxuries that you may want to take with you.
Backyard camping is also a great opportunity to set up your camping gear and work out how any new camping gear works, such as how to set up a new camping tent, how long it takes to inflate your camping mattress, and whether all your camping necessities fit in your duffel bags (and car, for that matter!).
Setting up a mini campsite in your backyard or living room is also an excuse to dust off older camping and emergency preparedness gear, check it still works and hasn’t deteriorated with age – so you have confidence that it’s ready for use when you need to take it camping. If you have a garage of ‘stuff’ that may be useful, it’s pretty satisfying to have a rummage and dig up the existing gear you own, rather than feeling you have to go and buy a load of brand-new things to take camping.
If it turns out you do need to buy some camping essentials, it’s definitely worth checking out the REI used gear website to see if you can pick up a great deal there before looking at buying new.
That brings us to the end of our camping checklist and tips on what to bring camping. Now you’ve read the full guide, click here to jump back up to our camping checklist to work through what to pack for your next trip.
Thanks to REI for continuing to support us so that we’re able to share this camping essentials list and advice. Being an REI member not only entitles you to an annual dividend on everything you spend there, but you get access to exclusive sales and pricing, as well as being part of an outdoor-loving community and co-op that supports important causes that matter. For more information about REI membership and why we’re such big fans of the REI Co-Op, click here.
I hope this checklist and guide has helped you work out what to take with you on your next camping trip, whether you’re going basic or luxury. However you do it, camping is a great way to spend time in nature.