12 Essentials For Camping

If you want to have a great camping trip rather than a lousy one, bring everything you need. Don't head off into the wilderness until you have everything.

Our team of writers conduct thorough research, testing, and comparisons to provide recommendations for top-rated products. As a reader-supported platform, we may earn commissions from purchases made through our affiliate links.

If you want to have a great camping trip rather than a lousy one, bring everything you need. Don't head off into the wilderness until you have everything.

Whenever I go camping, I make sure I have fire starting nuggets, a GPS, a first aid kit, and a headlamp, plus several other things that I find useful. If you bring all ten of the things I always take, you avoid all common problems.

If you only bring matches and lighters and no fire-starting nuggets or only bring a map and not a GPS, you may run into difficulties. Bring proper gear and not minimal gear. If you are driving rather than hiking to your campsite, you do not have to travel light.

Table of Contents

The twelve most important camping essentials

An adequate tent

The most important part of your gear is your tent. You need a big enough tent for everyone in your group. Your tent must be waterproof, and suitable for the season you are camping in.

Your tent must be big enough not only for everyone but also for all of the gear you are storing in the tent. You never want to underestimate what you will need when you go camping, so don't get a tent that is barely large enough for all of you. The only disadvantage of larger tents is that it can make it harder to find a campsite.

Setting up a tent should not be a long and complicated process. Get a tent with a reputation for being easy to set up. Durability also matters a lot - the tent poles should be strong and flexible, and the tent should be able to resist strong wind.

Sleeping bags

Your sleeping bags have to be warm enough, and you can't always trust the temperature ratings that the products claim. The companies that make sleeping bags usually rate their own products, so you cannot trust their temperature ratings.

While it might not be legal for them to lie outright, the companies can get away with claiming their sleeping bag is more cold-resistant than it is. Buy sleeping bags that reviewers say are warm, not bags that have impressive temperature ratings.

As well as being able to resist the cold, a sleeping bag needs a comfortable inner lining. You might need to buy a relatively expensive sleeping bag to get a very comfortable one, as the inner lining is usually not nearly as good for cheaper brands.

If you have kids with you, they should have smaller sleeping bags that are for kids their size. If you put a kid into an adult-sized sleeping bag, they may be cold as their body heat will not be enough to warm the sleeping bag. Make sure your sleeping bags are warm enough because even in the summer, there are often cold nights.

Fire starting equipment

If you are camping in colder weather, having a reliable way to start a fire can save your life if anything goes wrong and you end up in the wilderness for longer than you expected. Bringing a few lighters is the right way to go - if you have only one or two of them, they might stop working when you need them most. Be on the safe side and bring a few of them.

Matches are not ideal, but you might want to bring a few boxes of matches as a final backup if none of your lighters work. If you bring matches, bring good ones - you can't rely on convenience store matchbooks. Get proper wooden matches in a water-resistant box.

It may take more than matches and lighters to get a fire started quickly. You should bring some quick-burning fuel to get a fire started fast if you are having trouble.

Many people buy fire-starting equipment such as fire starting nuggets and pocket torches. While you can start a fire without priming paste or fire-starting nuggets, it is safer to have the nuggets with you just in case. A heavy rainstorm can cause all sorts of problems, so you want to have proper fire-starting equipment with you at all times.

You can also bring everyday household things that can help you start fires. Small pieces of kindling in a waterproof bag will help, so will lint from a dryer - lint burns better than you would think. Candles can also help you get a fire started.

A fully stocked first aid kit

Camping is a reasonably safe activity, but you need to prepare for the worst. You should not only bring a good first aid kit but know how to use it. It is not hard to learn necessary first aid skills, and these skills can make a huge difference if anything goes very wrong.

If you do not want to assemble a first aid kit yourself, you can buy a first aid kit with everything you need. The most obvious things to bring are band-aids for small cuts and gauze for a real injury. You should also bring scissors, tweezers, pain medication, and eye drops.

Antiseptics are a must if you are out in the wilderness. A small cut can become dangerous if it gets infected. Always have antiseptic creams or wipes with you. Stopping the bleeding is not enough; you need to disinfect a cut right away.

Aloe vera is another good thing to bring because it can relieve the discomfort of poison ivy or a sunburn. Aloe vera also works as a natural antiseptic.

Emergency blankets

When in the wilderness, you might have to spend the night away from your tent unexpectedly. You could get lost or injured while a long way away from your tent. Be on the safe side and carry emergency shelter around.

Emergency blankets are not large or heavy, and you can easily carry one around with you when you hike away from your tent. These emergency blankets keep the wind, rain, and snow out.

They do an excellent job of keeping your body heat in, with some blankets trapping more than 90 percent of your body heat. Make sure that you get an emergency blanket large enough for you and anyone with you as some are smaller and shorter than others.

You might also find a use for an emergency blanket in a non-emergency situation. If you want to lie on the ground and look up at the stars, you can use an emergency blanket as a sheet to lie on.

Water and water purification equipment

If you are outdoors in hot weather, you will end up drinking a lot of water. Bring enough water with you wherever you go, and don't underestimate how much you are going to drink. If you are physically active on a hot day, you can go through a liter of water every two hours.

If you are camping away from a source of drinkable water, you need water purification equipment. Purification filters and purification tablets are both effective. Even if you have a potable water source near your camp, you might still bring purification tablets with you for emergency use.

Additional clothing

Even in the summer, it can get a bit cold at night if there is a lot of wind. You have to be prepared for bad weather as well. Bring enough clothing if you want your camping trip to go as well as possible.

The difference between the hottest part of the day and the coldest part of the night can be very large. It can easily be a difference of 40 or 50 degrees between day and night in some states. Don't underestimate your need for warm clothing, even in hot weather.

Bring shorts, but you might not want to wear them much of the time. If you hike in shorts, you can end up getting scratches, poison oak, or poison ivy on your legs. Wear light pants that are suitable for hot weather.

Don't forget to bring a rain jacket with you. Don't end up getting soaked just before the temperature drops. Be prepared for whatever nature might throw at you.

A mapping GPS device

You should bring a GPS with you, preferably a mapping GPS that will let you see a map of where you are and not merely a location number. It is easier to get lost in the woods than you might think, and a lost hiker can walk in circles for days, unable to find their campsite. A mapping GPS can also help you make the most of your hiking adventures by giving you a map of what you can explore nearby.

If you do not bring a GPS device with you, you might still bring a map and a compass. A paper map might be out of date, but if you know how to read a topographic map, you can use it to wander a long way away from your camp and find your way back again.

Some GPS devices also work as emergency signaling systems that can let rescuers know you are in trouble and tell them your location. If your GPS does not work as an emergency signaling system, you can buy an emergency satellite messenger separately.

Gear repair equipment

The first piece of gear repair equipment you need is a pocket knife. As well as using a pocket knife to do basic repairs, you can use it to make small pieces of kindling, and countless other things.

Instead of getting a standard pocket knife, you could get a multitool instead. A folding multitool may also have a screwdriver, scissors, a bottle opener, and a knife blade.

Since it takes more than a multitool to fix your gear, you might pack a repair kit. If you bring duct tape, hooked stretch cords, tent pole repair sleeves, parts to fix your stove, ext, you can be prepared for whatever misfortune you run into.

Don't underestimate how useful a gear repair kit is. When you are setting up a tent, you might end up damaging one of the tent poles. Not being able to set your tent up properly can ruin your trip, so bring tent pole repair sleeves and duct tape with you.

You might also want to bring aqua-seal to repair an inflatable sleeping pad, replacement buckles for your tent, or even some thread and needle to fix ripped clothes. You can't bring everything, but at least sleeves to fix your tent poles, tape, and a knife are too important to leave behind.

Sun protection

While getting a moderate amount of sun can be good for you, you don't want to get burned. Too much sun exposure on your face can age your skin, so it's not worth the vitamin D you get from it. Vitamin D is important, but unprotected sun exposure on your face is not the right way to get enough vitamin D.

Exposure to the sun should be moderate. A reasonable amount of exposure makes you happy and healthy; too much will burn you and do much more harm than good.

Even if you are trying to get enough vitamin D naturally from the sun and not from supplements, you should still put sunscreen on your face at the very least. If you are going to be out in intense sunlight for a long time, you want to put sunscreen everywhere; otherwise, you will be burned worse than you expect to be.

Wear sunglasses

In the long run, not wearing sunglasses can damage your eyesight. Excessive exposure to UV light can be as bad for your eyes as for your skin, so make sure you wear sunglasses while enjoying your time in the sun.

Wear sunscreen

Find a formula that blocks UVA and not only UVB rays and use a sunscreen that is strong enough to protect you if you are out in the sun all day. If you are outside all day, you may need to reapply sunscreen more than once to avoid getting burned.

If you are concerned about sunscreen being bad for you, buy a healthy brand that does not contain the bad ingredients people worry about. Whatever might be said about sunscreen containing unhealthy ingredients or people not getting enough vitamin D these days, getting burned is bad for you.

Spending the whole day in the sun with no sunscreen on is way too far in the right direction as far as sun exposure goes. You might also wear a hat or sun-protective clothing when outside on a bright summer day.


Not all flashlights are created equal. You want a bright, reliable flashlight when you go camping. Bring a powerful flashlight or two, and make sure you buy a high-quality product and not one that will break easily.

You might also want to buy a night light so that you can read if you are awake at night. You can also get more powerful tent lanterns that light up your whole tent. Bring a few different lights; don't just bring a single flashlight for a whole group of people.

One type of light that I always bring with me when camping is a headlamp. Since I cannot use a flashlight and still have two free hands, I prefer headlamps when walking around at night.

Always make sure you have extra batteries with you. If something can go wrong, it often does go wrong, so be prepared. Bring extra batteries, warm clothing, an emergency blanket, and a first aid kit - you probably won't need any of these things, but you might.

Enough food

Great food makes a great camping trip. I always bring pre-made meals that I only have to warm up in a pot. Chili is a great choice, and so is a thick stew.

Campfire hash is another food you can prepare at home. Cut up some small pieces of meat and potatoes, and add some corn or whatever else you like to make a delicious mix. Don't pack boring foods when you go camping, bring foods that taste good and give you energy.

If you like to barbecue, bring one with you! I understand that you do not have unlimited room in your vehicle, but portable camping grills can be quite small. You can find room for a grill because it is worth it.

For breakfast and snack foods, you should not limit yourself to granola bars or trail mix. Bring bread, meat, and vegetables for sandwiches, plus milk and cereal with you.


Scott Kimball

Scott Kimball

From a young age I was introduced to fishing, hiking, camping, snowboarding and more through family, friends, and scouting. After 20 years of learning and participating in these outdoor activities, I share what i've learned (and continue learning) with you.

Read more about Scott Kimball