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 you’re out in the woods? In this post we’re covering all the essential things to bring camping, as well as a camping checklist, so you can plan for everything you may need to have with you on your next camping trip.
This post is especially for you if you are new to camping! By the end of this post 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 right 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.
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.
If you are currently staying home and unable to get out camping (or anywhere far from home) – which is the case for most of us while we all implement social-distancing, now is a great time to work out what to bring camping and to work on planning your next camping trip, so you are prepared for when you are able to go.
Click here to jump down to our full camping checklist, or scroll down to learn more about working out what things to bring camping and what camping gear is essential vs. luxury (and optional).
Thanks to REI for continuing to support us so that we’re able to share this camping essentials list and tips.
Work Out What To Bring Camping: Go Backyard Camping #OptInside
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 how to pack your backpack if you’re backpacking or hiking to your next campground.
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.
Planning what to bring camping (especially if it’s your first time camping)
So, how do you plan a camping trip and work out what things to bring camping? Planning is important as it will help you know what to take camping and what to leave at home. Some of the helpful questions to ask yourself when customizing your own personal camping checklist are:
Will you be car camping or backpacking?
What is car camping? Car camping, to most people, means setting up a tent right next to 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 car camping.
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.
Backpacking means that the quantity and weight of the gear you need for camping will be an important consideration, as well as whether you need more emergency repair and first aid gear for the unexpected.
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Where will you go camping?
Consider the climate and geography 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.
Will you need to wrap up for cold evenings, or will you need to ensure you’re staying cool underneath the heat of the day? This will help you work out what clothes to bring camping and how many layers you need.
Also 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? 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 hygiene supplies.
When do you plan to go camping? What is the best time of year to go camping for your chosen destination?
Some beautiful mountain places (where we like to spend our time), are only accessible in the summer months – or would be extremely cold in other months, even if we can get to them. ‘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 camping will influence what to take with you.
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. Examples include the amount of water, food, clothing and other supplies such as the ability to charge any electronics you take with you.
Decide what to bring camping: essentials and luxuries
This camping checklist includes all the things you may need to bring camping. We have grouped this camping checklist into two types:
- Essential camping gear – all the things you will almost certainly need to bring camping
- Luxury ‘stuff’ 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.
Luxury things to bring camping depends on what you have planned for your camping trip, as well as your personal preferences regarding the level of luxury and entertainment you need to bring with you.
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 some more luxury, optional items that we typically choose to take camping ourselves.
Camping Checklist: our full list of things to bring camping
Click on each of the links for more detail and examples of what we bring camping:
- Camping tent
- Sleeping bag and sleeping pad
- Water bottle, jug and accessories
- Food and camp kitchen equipment
- Appropriate clothes for camping
- Microfiber towels
- Multi-tool and repair kit
- Backpack or duffel bag
- Sanitary and first-aid items
- Lightweight camping chairs
- Campsite lighting, solar power and battery charging
- GPS navigation device
1. Camping Tent
We have a super lightweight tent, the REI-brand Flash Air 2 Tent, which is perfect for lightweight camping and fastpacking adventures – you can pitch it with its own poles or use hiking poles to save on weight.
Even with the poles included, the whole tent only weighs 2lb 2oz!
It sleeps two adults and can fit us and our dog Kepler in (we are not that tall and he fits nicely at the foot-end of the tent, which makes him the perfect foot-warmer 🙂 ). We can also store some of our gear overnight under the large doors at either side.
If you’re camping near your car then you do not need to have a lightweight tent, and can get away with a bigger tent and one with 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. A great place to look for tents is also on REI’s Used Gear website, where you can buy outdoor equipment with a significant discount off the retail price.
If you’re camping in your car then you obviously don’t need to take a separate tent, unless it will give you more space and storage for your stuff while you’re on your camping trip!
2. Footwear – hiking boots and sandals
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.
In the photos in this post, Helen is wearing a pair of Danner Boots’ 80s-inspired Jag Boots, and I have on the Merrell Ontario Mid Waterproof hiking boots, which have bright red laces – also channeling that retro-hiking-boot vibe.
Also, don’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.
3. Sleeping bag and sleeping pad
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.
To add comfort to your sleeping arrangement, I also 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.
Sleeping pads are differentiated by their ‘R-value’, that is, the amount of insulation they offer. Personally, I am unlikely to go camping again without having a nice inflatable sleeping pad with me – I tend to get cold at night, and like a good night’s sleep to recover from the day’s adventures, so this is a must!
A less-optimal alternative to an inflatable sleeping pad if you’re new to camping and on a budget is to take your yoga mat with you camping (assuming you have one) – it won’t protect from uneven ground but will provide an element of insulation.
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.
4. Water bottle, jug and accessories
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to quality insulated water bottles to take camping. Hydroflask, YETI, and Stanley are popular brands that make a range of double-walled water bottles and containers. The 64oz Stanley Growler set pictured above is great because you can fill it up with cold beer and not have to worry about it going warm anytime soon.
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. 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 – or at least some water purifications tablets and a filter.
5. Food and camp kitchen equipment
Food and camp kitchen equipment is an area where you can add a lot of weight and also luxury to your camping experience! At the most minimal level, you can take food you can eat cold, such as nuts, fruits, bread and toppings for the bread.
At the other end of the spectrum, you can take a camping stove and full grill camping, together with a cooler for your cold drinks and perishable food.
We use our YETI 45 Cooler to keep food and drinks cold, and it also doubles as a simple camp table.
For cooking meals the BioLite Carbon CampStove 2 Bundle is awesome – with it you can cook not just by boiling water, but also on the built-in grill, and it features a light and battery charger. Read more about this innovative camping stove bundle here.
Alternatively, there are many other simpler camp stove options out there if you don’t need all these features. Also, if you’re not too into cooking and want some easy, read-to-prepare camping meals, there are loads of freeze-dried options available, most of which can be made just by adding water and boiling up.
Don’t forget to take utensils, plates, cups and bowls to eat and drink out of. For lightweight options, a simple mess kit is an easy way to get all of these in one go.
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.
6. Appropriate clothes for camping
Depending on where you’re going, the climate and what you’re planning on doing, there are a lot of options when it comes to deciding what are the best clothes to bring camping. At the very least, some quick-drying pants, shorts, t-shirts and a warm 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, 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!
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.
REI Co-op has its own brand of camping and hiking-appropriate clothes for men and women, explained further in these related posts:
7. Microfiber towels
Similar to with clothing, we avoid taking cotton towels camping, as they take ages to dry once wet. Microfiber towels are a perfect thing to bring on a camping trip, as they pack down really small, are lightweight, and dry relatively quickly.
If you are backpacking as part of your camping trip then you can attach wet or damp microfiber towels to the outside of your pack while hiking, and they should be dry by the time you reach your next campsite.
8. Multi-tool and repair kit
It is my humble opinion that a multi-tool is one of the high-priority essential things to bring camping. Everyone who goes camping should have a good quality multi-tool. It’s also a handy thing to have around the house at home, and in your car. By definition, a multi-tool has lots of potential uses, the most obvious being to help make repairs and fix items on the go, as well as simply do things around the campsite such as cut bread/cheese/food for your camp meals. We’re long-time fans of Leatherman, a classic multi-tool brand.
It’s also a good idea to also bring some paracord and duct tape with you camping, as these can be used to repair clothing, tents, sleeping backs, hiking poles, shoelaces, etc etc.
Trust me, you’ll want to 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.
If you’re in the market for a headlamp to take camping, also check out our best headlamps for trail running buyer’s guide, which also applies to hiking and other active pursuits including campsite activities.
10. Backpack or duffel bag
With all of this camping gear, you need a bag to put it in. If you’re hiking then a hiking backpack is, of course, a necessity.
We’d suggest 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.
Alternatively, a duffel bag is a good option for stuffing lots of clothing and sleeping gear in, and they fold down small when not in use. REI’s own-brand duffel bags are great value and perfect for taking on camping trips – alternatively, REI has an extensive range of both hiking backpacks and day-packs.
11. Sanitary and first aid items
Depending on your needs, preferences and where you’re camping, the following are important things to take camping:
- Biodegradable soap
- Sanitary trowel
- Toilet paper and bags for disposal
- Bug spray and nets
- First aid kit
- Trash bags
- Personal toiletries, contact lenses, medications, etc.
What else to bring on a camping trip – We also consider these ‘luxury’ items to be important for our camping trips:
12. Lightweight seating
We have super-lightweight aluminium camping chairs that quickly fold out and pack away. Seriously, these are crazy light, you can pick them up with a thumb and forefinger.
Our ones are the Helinox Chair Zero; but REI also sell their own range of lightweight camping chairs called the Flexlite range, which is similar very similar in design and specs but cheaper. If you’re looking for even more relaxed seating when you go car camping, consider bringing a hammock with you camping.
13. Campsite lighting, solar power and battery charging
In addition to a headlamp, other campsite lighting can add to atmosphere as well as make socializing after-dark a lot easier than trying to do so just using the beam of your headlamps. We’re fans of solar-powered string light and lantern options, most of which can charge either by USB from a battery bank, or in-built solar panels, to then illuminate for hours at night.
For longer camping trips, having the means to charge your devices may be important to you. If your phone is out-of-signal for a period of time, this can really drain your battery quicker than normal, so it’s good to have a backup battery to charge the phone from in case of an emergency.
Companies such as BioLite and Goal Zero offer really cool innovative products that include solar panel-based power stations and charging devices, as well as lighting options – the links on the brands’ names take you to two of our favorites.
14. GPS device
A bit of a luxury, a good GPS watch can help you track and plan for weather conditions, sundown, and sunrise, as well as of course navigation, so this may be a good thing to bring camping, depending on what you plan to do while on your camping trip.
A GPS watch or handheld can be useful in addition to a map and compass, if you’re going for a hike or run in the local area, to help you avoid getting lost – for example, you can add a waypoint to set the location of your basecamp so that if you stray from camp it will direct you back towards the campsite. The best GPS watch that has all these features is the Garmin Fenix 6 series, which is also a watch we highly rate for sports we enjoy such as trail running.
The options are endless when it comes to entertainment ideas for camping; our preferences include:
- Playing cards (for when it’s not windy…)
- 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!
- Binoculars for stargazing or bird watching. Read our Beginner’s Guide to Stargazing for more details.
- Your dog(s). Our dog Kepler has everlasting batteries and is still learning what an off-switch means. This means he provides hours of entertainment, whether we are at home, camping in the yard, or out somewhere adventurous 🙂 Don’t forget a dog sleeping bag!
That brings us to the end of our camping checklist and tips on what to bring camping. I hope this has helped you work out what to take with you on your next camping trip, whether you’re going backpacking, car camping, basic or luxury – however you do it, camping is a great way to spend time in nature.