Camping. Maybe it’s a memory of the quintessential family vacation you had growing up. Maybe it’s a thirst to recenter and get grounded in nature. Maybe it’s a challenge your friends never thought you’d accept.
Whatever reason takes you to the great outdoors, there are some basic camping essentials you need to pack to ensure you have a stress-free, enjoyable outing.
Keep reading and we’ll share our favorite camping product recommendations for your next camping trip!
Shelter & Bedding
Regardless of the size of your camping party or the destination in which you plan to camp, a good-quality tent is definitely a camping essential.
First and foremost, make sure you pack a tent that’s the right size for your camping party (or at least for whomever you intend to bunk with). If you’re planning to hunker down at night with the family, consider the REI Co-op Kingdom 6 Tent. This six-person tent is great in three seasons, features two doors, and comes with dividers so you can establish a little privacy.
If you need something less roomy, try the Wakeman Outdoor 2-Person Tent. This lightweight, budget-friendly shelter is guaranteed to help make your camping trip stress-free if it’s just you and a friend who need a tent.
Make sure you bring a tent that’s appropriate for the climate you’re camping in. For stress-free family camping, you’ll likely be sticking to moderate climates and won’t have to worry too much about it; however, if you plan to go a little more rugged, the REI Co-op Base Camp 4 Tent is a good all-weather option. This four-person tent comes with two doors, so you don’t have to climb over your tent mates to get in and out of the surprisingly roomy, durable shelter.
2. Sleeping Bag
Naturally, a sleeping bag is another camping essential you’ll need if you want to have a stress-free outing in the great wilderness (or even at a family-friendly campground). Sleeping bags are easier to deal with than a mess of blankets and offer at least some water resistance.
There are several factors to consider when choosing a sleeping bag, such as temperature rating, insulation type, weight, fit, and fabric. For the run-of-the-mill casual camping trip, a three-season, waterproof bag is a worthwhile purchase that won’t break the bank.
If you plan to camp on mostly level ground, a decent-quality cot is a camping essential that can help you get the rest you need. A cot will keep you off cold, hard ground and, for those of a certain age and beyond (or those that just don’t want to deal with sleeping on the ground), will make for a much easier and graceful descent into and rise from bed.
4. Sleep Pad or Air Mattress and Inflator
Another option that can replace a cot or–better yet–be used in conjunction with one is a sleep pad or air mattress, which can range from simple foam pads to inflatables. For better or worse, a pad or mattress also provides some extra insulation, keeping you warmer than just a sleeping bag, alone. Remember that when you’re deciding which mat to pair with which sleeping bag.
Self-inflating air mattresses are the easiest form of air mattress to use on the road, as you don’t need a pump to fill them up. You simply open the mattress and flip an “inflate” switch. These sleep supports also may come with a small, manual pump to “top off” your mattress if you prefer something more rigid than the self-inflator provides. They are also relatively lightweight.
If you want to go simpler, a basic foam pad can make your sleep situation more refreshing. Sleep pads are also often more affordable than an inflatable mattress. Look for one that has a removable cover so you can wash any dirt, grime, or s’mores goo off of it when your outing is over. If you plan to use the pad on top of a cot, look for a mat that will fit a standard-sized cot (or whichever cot you choose to take along).
A good, old-fashioned air mattress can also be lugged to your campsite, if you wish. One benefit of purchasing an inflatable mattress like this is that you can set it up for overnight guests back home, too. A two-person mattress can be easier to fit in a tent than two single air mattresses; however, remember that you will feel every small move your bedmate makes through the night unless you’re fortunate enough to sleep through it.
5. Camping Pillow
Trust us — you’ll miss this camping essential if you forget to pack one! A good camping pillow is crucial for getting a good night’s rest and not waking up with an annoying crick in the neck that can ruin a camping trip.
Camping pillows can be air-filled, foam, or even just sacks that you fill with soft items like down jackets, towels, or clothing. The main consideration you’ll need to take into account is how much gear space you have for a pillow.
Backpackers might need an inflatable or compressed pillow, while car campers can go for bigger, more plush pillows.
Planning ahead for meals and snacks is imperative if you want to have a stress-free campout. Before you start meal planning, though, map out how far a grocery or convenience store is from your campsite. You want to find a balance between being prepared and spending your time shopping while on site.
Once you know if you’ll need to bring all your food or shop for some while at your destination, start thinking of easy meals that don’t require a lot of prep or clean up. Cut fruit and vegetables ahead of time. Freeze meats, juices, and any other ingredients that are freezer-friendly to help keep them–as well as the other perishables in your cooler–at safe temperatures.
No cooler? No problem. If you don’t want to lug around a big, bulky cooler, look into foods you can pack that don’t require refrigeration. You might be surprised at how many options there are! Believe it or not, coolers don’t have to be considered camping essentials.
And don’t forget the condiments! This may not seem like a camping essential, but all your meal planning goes out the door if you forget seasoning and condiments. Stash small salt and pepper containers with your other foodstuffs, and consider other popular options, like mustard, ketchup, butter, and even cooking oil. Are you one of those people who keeps small condiment packs from take out and drive-through orders? Perfect! Toss those packets into your cooler or food tote.
Water is another camping essential to think about before you hit the road on your outing. Will there be potable water where you’re going, or will you need to bring your own? Either way, it’s always a good idea to have a gallon jug or two of water with you when you travel.
Another good option is to invest in a water purification system. Gravity purification systems are relatively inexpensive and are great for a group. They usually consist of a bag that you hang on a tree or tent pole. Gravity pulls water through a filter, then campers can dispense fresh water through a tap.
Personal water purification straws are also convenient and inexpensive. Consider one that attaches to a common water bottle mouth.
8. Cooking Tools
One of the most stressful situations when you’re camping is realizing you don’t have the tools you need to make the meals you planned. A basic set of cooking utensils and pots and pans are another camping essential to pack. Size your supplies up or down to meet your needs–a single mess kit will do the trick if it’s just you and a backpack.
9. Eating Tools
Unless you plan on sticking to finger foods, a basic set of utensils, as well as plates and bowls, are definitely camping essentials! Disposable flatware and dishes are also an option; however, packing out a bunch of trash or worrying about your carbon footprint might be more stressful than you’d like.
10. Camp Stove
Maybe you intend to do only fire pit cooking, but if you really want to open some options, bring a camp stove. There are several options available, whether you’re cooking for a group or for one or two.
Also, think about how you want to cook. Many camp stoves are designed to sit on a table, which might be a problem if you need that space for something else. In that case, look for a raised, free-standing unit to free up some space.
And whether you plan to cook with a stove or over an open fire pit, fuel (propane, wood, etc.) is absolutely a camping essential!
11. Kettle or Coffee Maker
Don’t forget to prepare for hot cocoa, coffee, or tea. Hot drinks can be a huge comfort on a cold campout. Many a parent will attest that hot coffee while camping is maybe the most essential camping essential there is!
12. Dishwashing and Drying
Even if you opt for all-disposable flatware and dishes, you’re still going to need to wash some cooking tools on your campout. Many times, having a basin that you can use at your campsite makes this chore less stressful; you won’t be hauling dishes to and from a general camp sink. Choose a dishwashing basin that doesn’t take up too much room and that you can fill and drain easily.
Even if you’re camping somewhere that provides a picnic table, a spare table is definitely a camping essential. It never hurts to have an extra table for games, food prep, or just a place to set a plate full of camp food. (Bring a disposable plastic table cover or two to make cleaning up even more stress-free.)
If your camping party is small, a compact table is probably just right. Choose one that doesn’t take up too much space in your car or RV, then enjoy the extra space when you need it.
If you’re camping with a larger party, you’ll need a larger table for a crowd. However, remember that you don’t need anything too crazy; go for lightweight length.
Don’t forget to bring something to sit on! Whether at the table or around the campfire, a chair is definitely a camping essential. You don’t need anything fancy; in fact, having a lightweight, collapsible chair that’s easy to move will keep your outing even more stress-free.
Handsfree lighting is also a camping essential for a stress-free outing. Consider bringing handsfree lighting for inside the tent and around the campsite. Headlamps are a great option for individual use, though they aren’t always ideal for playing a card game near the campfire. This tent light can sit on your table or be clipped to a guyline to provide just enough light to enjoy your friends’ company without blinding anyone in the process.
If you have the space for some luxuries, you can more easily create a stress-free outing for yourself and your campmates with a few less-essential camp supplies.
16. Tent Fan
A tent fan is a very nice amenity to have when you’re camping in even mildly warm weather, as most tents can get pretty stifling hot when they’re closed up during the day and when they’re filled with breathing humans over night.
This fan doubles as a tent light and has a handy hook so you can hang it from a tent pole or strap. When you’re not using it, it collapses down so it won’t take up too much space in your luggage.
17. Tidying Tools
A few of the best tools to take on a stress-free campout keep your shelter free of dirt and debris. Consider bringing an inexpensive outdoor mat to leave outside your tent door. Campers can doff their shoes here or wipe them off before entering the tent. This also provides a nice place for people to put their shoes on outside the tent without worrying about getting their feet too dirty in the process.
Similarly, a hand broom and dustpan will help ease any stress you might feel from a messy tent floor (because, let’s be real, even with your best efforts, you will get some dirt inside the tent). Use this to sweep up any big or bothersome messes and easily clear them from your tent.
18. Personal Comfort
Last but not least, don’t forget personal items that increase your comfort and decrease your stress, even though they might not be considered camping essentials, such as the following:
- Bug spray
- Environmentally-friendly toiletries
- Sandals/flip flops/shower shoes
- Battery pack/power bank and cords
- Laundry/dry bag
- Earplugs and eyemask
Get Out and Enjoy Camping!
Now that you have all the essential camping gear for a stress-free outing, here’s a final tip: Use plastic totes to store supplies for easy packing. Keep similar items together (for example, keep all your kitchen, cooking, and dishwashing tools in one tote). Few things are more stressful on a campout than not being able to find your supplies when you need them!
With a little preplanning and help from this list, you can pack all the camp essentials for a stress-free outing in nature, giving yourself time to actually enjoy the outdoors and the people you’re with.
Get more camping tips and tricks for any occasion and location by visiting the Camping page on our website!
- About the Author
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Ronda Lindsay is a professional writer and editor who has worked in government communications for nearly two decades.
Growing up in Portland, Oregon, she fostered her love of nature and the outdoors by exploring the Pacific Northwest’s many natural playgrounds before moving to the Washington, DC, area to see what the eastern side of the country had to offer. She’s also spent plenty of time camping, hiking, and floating around central Texas, where she now lives.
With a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in professional writing, Ronda loves to learn and write about the latest trends in outdoor adventuring and share that information with Beyond the Tent readers.