Camping Essentials – Complete Guide to the Basics
In this article, we’re talking about camping essentials for a beginner outdoorsman. Camping has a lot of appeal to it. Getting off the grid, spending time in nature, and being self-sufficient for a while.
The problem for many beginners is that it’s all a little overwhelming. Definitely one of the most common questions is “what should I bring camping?” Don’t worry, we’re here for you!
This guide is all about the essential camping gear for your trip. We have all the basics covered to get you through your first trip into the wild. With our checklist, we’re taking the stress out of planning so that you can simply have a great time on your first camping adventure!
Before we get started, it’s important to keep in mind that “camping” is a pretty broad term. There is no single type of camping. There’s anything from a drive-in camping lot, to portaging, to “living off the land.”
For the purposes of this article, we’re focusing on a more routine camping trip. Since this is about the “basics” of camping supplies, we’re assuming you’re not trekking into the wilderness for months. This is aimed at the beginner camper who is looking to spend a few days in the woods. You want to keep it simple for your first camping trip, and we’re showing you exactly what to put on your camping packing list.
Let’s jump into it. In this section, we’re breaking down all the essentials for your first camping trip. If you’re planning to spend a few days in the wilderness, you’ll probably find use for everything on this list.
We’ve broken our list into general sections to make it easy for you and make sure you have all the basics covered. We’re going to walk you through all the categories, so that you can pack efficiently and cover all the basics!
First up, you’re going to need something to hold all the stuff you pack! So a camping backpack is the logical place to start our list. The main advantages of camping backpacks are that they are big enough to hold all your stuff, and also designed to be worn comfortably on your back. This is especially important because they can get pretty heavy.
Many of the camping supplies you will buy are focused on being lightweight and easy to pack. But it’s also generally true that the super lightweight options are quite expensive, so keep that in mind as you read through this list.
Regardless, a great camping backpack is a must. Figure this out before you get started. They also come in various sizes, with the most popular being between 50-70 liters in capacity. The straps are specially designed to stay comfortable on your back even with a heavy load.
And of course, perhaps the most obvious camping essential – the tent! Shelter is key to a camping trip, so you’ll need a good tent if you want to be comfortable. Any quality tent includes a waterproof tarp. And also be sure to look for a tent that packs as small as possible.
This is a key consideration, because backpack space can fill up quick! You also want to buy a tent depending on how many people you are camping with. The size requirements of a tent are primarily dependent on the people inside.
This is one of the areas where we recommend you not cheap out! There are many options for budget camping supplies, but the tent is so important to your overall comfort level that we recommend you go with quality. Even the quality options are relatively affordable.
To go along with your tent, you’ll need some sleeping supplies! The most popular choices are a sleeping bag and a sleeping pad. The sleeping bag is essential for warmth, and the sleeping pad is so that you don’t have to feel all the bumps and rocks beneath your tent. A big consideration with a sleeping bag is how efficiently it packs down. Once again, backpack space is prime real estate. Many sleeping bags pack down very small, but they also tend to be more expensive. Additionally, if you are planning to camp in colder conditions, you will want a sleeping bag with more insulation.
This is another decision that you want to give a good amount of consideration to. The quality of your sleep will dictate how much you enjoy your camping experience. If you can’t sleep, you might be pretty uncomfortable!
A sleeping bag isn’t the only important bag you will need on a camping trip. If you are planning to go near the water, or on a canoe trip, you will definitely need some dry bags. These are bags where you can pack your supplies that you really want to keep dry (clothes, sleeping bag, tent, etc.). These bags are a must if you plan on being near the water in any shape or form. And even if you aren’t, a dry bag will come in handy if it rains.
Another type of bag that is very important is a bear bag. If you’re camping in an area where bears are an issue, then this is a must. Bears have extremely strong senses of smell, and you’ll need to keep your food out of reach. A bear bag allows you to pack your food and throw it over a tree branch to keep it high and out of reach.
Depending on the seriousness of your camping, navigation tools are pretty necessary. If you’re just going to a drive-in camping site, this won’t be necessary. But if you’re planning to venture into the woods, a map and compass or GPS will be necessary.
Especially considering you will be in an area without cell phone signal. You never want to find yourself in a situation where you have no method of finding out where you are, if even as a last resort. Some camping GPSs even have a built in satellite phone for emergency communications.
Likely, you won’t be doing anything too extensive on your very first camping trip. But this is definitely something to keep in mind as you get more experienced.
Of course, food and water! This is an obvious one, but no less important. In terms of water, you’re going to need a method of water filtration. There won’t be any fresh water in the wild, and you’re going to need a way of staying hydrated. There are various water filtration systems designed for camping. You can also buy purification tablets.
And it isn’t a camping trip without food. Here’s where you get to have a little creativity! Pack food for the camping experience you want to have. If space is an issue, you might want to pack food that is calorically dense (oatmeal, nuts, peanut butter, etc.).
If you have the space, or are doing drive-in camping, you have a bit more freedom. The key is to bring food that won’t spoil during your trip, and food you can easily pack. The best way to pack food is to plan ahead for each individual meal. This ensures you won’t under-pack. And don’t forget the coffee!
Also, if you plan on drinking during the trip, don’t forget your favorite bottle of booze.
Now that we’ve covered food, we have to talk about preparing it and eating it. A camping stove is a popular choice. While you can always opt to cook your meals over a fire, a camping stove is much faster, easier, and more efficient. Generally, camping stoves hook up to a propane tank and provide you an easy, reliable cooktop. Great for cooking all sorts of camping meals (fish, burgers, mac and cheese, etc).
To go with your stove, you’ll also need cookware. This is where things can start to get a bit bulky. We recommend bringing only a couple pieces of cookware if you are space limited. Often, a single frying pan and pot could get your through a whole camping trip.
You’ll also need plates, cutlery, and cups. There are so many options for this online. Many times, these are sold as a package deal. Don’t overdo it, one of each will be fine. As with any camping consideration, it’s all about maximizing the space you have.
8. Fire Starters
A campfire is called that for a reason! It’s pretty much essential that any campsite has a fire. This is useful for cooking, for warmth at night, to scare off predators, and also just to keep that camp vibe alive! There really is nothing like sitting around a campfire at night with friends. Don’t forget to bring the marshmallows!
To make a fire, you don’t need to bring much. A simple lighter will do. Just be sure that it has enough juice to last the whole trip (might as well bring multiple). At most campsites, you’ll be able to scrounge all the firewood you need. The important thing is that you know how to build a fire. Building a fire isn’t as easy as throwing some sticks in a pile and lighting it. So before you go, check out a simple tutorial on fire building. It isn’t hard, but you have to know how.
A knife isn’t a must for camping, but it’s something that can definitely help. Rarely are you going to require a knife for protection, but it can come in handy for cutting brush, or even for cutting food. You never really know when you might require a sharp edge, so it definitely might be something that is worth bring along.
10. First Aid
You’ll definitely want first aid supplies on any camping trip. The reason is obvious, but it bears repeating. You never want to find yourself in that unfortunate situation where you need first aid but don’t have it. Even things as simple as Advil and Polysporin can come in handy to prevent pain and infection. We recommend simply buying a first aid kit. You never know when you will need anything in a first aid kit, but it’s definitely better safe than sorry.
A lamp is another good idea for camping. If you ever have to venture off your campsite at night, you’ll be happy to have a lamp. An easy solution is to get a headlamp. A headlamp will keep your hands free to carry around other things. It comes very much in handy if you arrive at your campsite after dark. For a flashlight, we’d recommend a MagLite. MagLites are strong and durable, and emit a powerful beam to light up even the darkest areas.
Of course, you want to pack clothing. This can be one of the trickiest areas of packing for a camping trip. You want to have all your bases covered, but you don’t want the clothes to take up too much space. You might want to pack 1 type of clothing (maybe multiple underwear and socks!) for each situation.
Also be sure to check the forecast, to see whether you will even require warm clothes. Try to pack one of: t-shirt, shorts, bathing suit, long pants, jacket/rain jacket, hat, sunglasses, long sleeve shirt, hoodie, underwear, and socks.
Also, you want a good pair of hiking boots or trail runners if you plan on any sort of hiking during your camping trip. This is really dependent on how active you plan your camping trip to be. If you will be doing a lot of hiking and/or canoeing, you’ll probably want something durable and waterproof.
Don’t forget the toiletries! This section really goes without saying, but you definitely don’t want to forget it. Also, opt for the “travel size” versions of anything if you can. They’ll be available at any drug store. Don’t forget: toothpaste, toothbrush, toilet paper, lip balm, and anything else you use on a daily basis!
14. Fun Stuff
Now that we’ve covered the essentials, you might want to leave some room for fun stuff! After all, camping can be a pretty slow-paced activity. So anything you can bring to help pass the time will be a welcome distraction. This really comes down to your own preference.
Bring whatever you think will keep you entertained. Popular options include – books, puzzle books (crosswords, Sudoku, etc.), magazines, travel-sized board games, drinking games, and anything else you can think of to pass the time!
Buyer’s Guide for Camping Equipment
So there you have it, all the essentials for your camping excursion! However, as is the nature of camping, not everyone’s needs will be the exact same. This was a general guide to what you will need to bring, but when it comes to your exact needs and preferences, they will differ according to certain criteria.
So to finish off our guide, we thought we’d include the main factors you need to consider in picking the perfect camping supplies for your individual needs.
1. How “Intense” is Your Camping Experience?
The first major consideration in packing is how intense your camping experience will be. Camping can cover a broad range of activities – from simple drive-in camping, to camping in the woods, to portage trips. What you are planning will dictate not only what you have to bring, but how much you need to bring.
For example, if you are going on a portage, you will require more dry bags, as well as more serious hiking shoes. This is just one example, but you really need to be sure to cater your packing to your specific needs.
Weight is another big consideration. Space is a luxury in camping. Many of the options above are quite small, as they are designed to be packed away. It largely depends on the size of your camping backpack, and how much you actually need to pack. The more serious and lengthy your camping trips are, the more lightweight and portable your camping materials will need to be.
3. Price vs. Quality
Camping supplies can get rather pricy. We like to think of it in terms of price vs. quality. Provided you do your research; you can expect to get more bang for your buck. This is true in terms of portability, but also true in terms of durability (how long your camping products will last).
If you plan on getting into camping in a serious way, then you might want to consider these products an investment. After all, a cheap product isn’t so cheap if you have to be constantly replacing it.
And finally, climate! Depending on where you live, and also the seasons, you want to account for temperature, precipitation, and anything else that nature might throw at you. Check the forecast, and know the potential for weather swings.
You want to pack for the coldest it could possibly get. This means warm clothing, but also a warm sleeping bag. You also want to ensure that you bring a rain jacket, and any other waterproof clothing you might need.