Camping Essentials: 31 Must (and Nice-To) Haves

Words that no camper stuck out in the woods wants to hear, “SH*T, we forgot the toilet paper!”

While paper towels, leaves or a sock will work, this is one of the camping essentials that is E-S-S-E-N-T-I-A-L!

Don’t worry; I’ve got your butt covered (see what I did there?) In this article, I’ll review the “must-haves” and some of the “nice-to-haves” for your next outing.

Camping Essentials (In a Nutshell)

For those of you in a hurry, here’s a quick list of camping essentials. Click on each one if you want tips and tidbits from a camping pro!

I’ve also included a printable camping essentials checklist below.

  1. Tent
  2. Sleeping bag
  3. Sleeping pad or mattress
  4. Camping cot
  5. Camping pillows
  6. Portable table
  7. Lighting equipment
  8. Camping chairs
  9. Camping multi-tool
  10. Cooking set and utensils
  11. A cooler
  12. Camping stove or griddle
  13. Cleaning supplies
  14. Food prepping tools
  15. Food and water
  16. Base, mid and top clothing layers
  17. Rain jacket
  18. Hiking pants (or shorts)
  19. Hiking shoes (or boots)
  20. Optional attire (eg. bathing suit, shower shoes)
  21. Cards and board games
  22. Books and other reading materials
  23. Wireless speaker
  24. Lawn games
  25. Toiletries
  26. Medications
  27. Sun and bug protection
  28. First aid and safety
  29. Navigation tools
  30. Hammock
  31. Water toys
camping essentials checklist

Does reading bore you? Check out this helpful video instead!

Camping Essentials

Sleep and Shelter

First and foremost, you’re going to need somewhere to sleep.

It’s not going to be as comfortable as your bed, but we can bring some things that won’t make it feel like you’ve slept on a forest floor all weekend.

1. Tent

Most people don’t put too much thought into it, but choosing the right tent can make a huge difference in comfort.

When choosing a tent, you want to consider things like size, weight, and ease of setup.

For example, if you are backpack or dispersed camping, you’ll want a compact tent that is easy to set up and lightweight (as you’ll be carrying all your gear in and out.)

You’ll also want to consider the elements you’ll be sleeping in. For example:

  • If it’s calling for rain, a tent with a rainfly will keep you dry in wet weather.
  • A tent with good ventilation is good for hot weather and will prevent condensation buildup.
  • If you will be tenting in cooler weather, consider a 3-season or all-season tent, which provides better protection and insulation from the elements.
camping tents

2. Sleeping Bag

I’ll never forget how I used to feel snuggled up in my “caterpillar” sleeping bag as a child.

Even if we could hear bears rummaging around the campsite, I felt safe and protected in that thing!

You want to look for a sleeping bag that is rated for the lowest temperature you expect to encounter. You can always shimmy it down if you’re too hot.

Consider the shape of the sleeping bag, do you want to be snug-as-a-bug like me? Or do you prefer a bit more wiggle room (in which case a rectangular sleeping bag is best.)

Down insulation is lightweight and compressible, while synthetic insulation is more durable and performs better in wet conditions.

3. Sleeping Pad or Air Mattress

If you’re old like me, a sleeping pad or camping mattress is an ESSENTIAL thing to bring camping.

Not only will it protect you from roots and rocks, but it will also provide insulation from the cold ground.

Sleeping pads are popular, as they are easy to inflate and pack down small. If you have weak lungs like me, they come in self-inflating versions.

Air mattresses are another option, but they can be bulky and require a pump for inflation.

4. Camping Cot

A camping cot is perfect if you have trouble getting down onto (or up off) the ground.

They come in varying heights depending on your personal situation and some are adjustable which means multiple people can use them.

When selecting one, you’ll want to consider the cot’s weight, size, and ease of use.

two thumbs up to a camping cot

5. Camping Pillows

The days of rolling up a hoody and calling it a “pillow” are over. We’re adults, so let’s start acting like it!

You could bring your pillow from home, but consider a camping pillow if it’s too big and bulky.

They’re lightweight and compressible, so that they won’t take up too much space in your camping gear.

FYI some camping pads come with an integrated pillow, although I don’t find them high enough for my comfort.

Camping Gear Essentials

You’ll want to add these general camping essentials to your camping checklist:

6. Portable Table

If no picnic table is available at your site, you’ll need a place to meal prep, cook and play cards (or maybe some beer pong!)

Look for a folding table that is lightweight, easy to set up, and durable enough to withstand whatever it is that you may use it for…

For a double whammy, consider picking up a table that has storage built inside.

7. Lighting Equipment

You’ll be AMAZED by how many stars you can see when you’re away from the city lights!

However, it’s not all about star gazing; you’ll need some lights to set up camp, cook, and navigate the campsite.

A headlamp, lantern, or flashlight can provide the necessary light, or if you’re setting up camp for a while, check out some of these lighting ideas.

camping lights

8. Camping Chairs

Once you find your favourite camping chair, you’ll fight people around the fire for it (I do!)

We have various chairs that we take on different trips with us based on the following:

  1. Length of the trip: if we’re only going for a night, a $12 Walmart chair will do the trick. However, I want my big cozy “Lazy Bear” chair if we’re going for a week!
  2. The number of people: consider double-seaters if you’ve got multiple people and bums to seat!
  3. Weather: same thing as the length of trip. My “lazy bear” provides much more insulation than the Walmart special so it’s my go-to for fall camping.

9. Camping Multi-Tool

Having 12+ tools in one compact piece is suuuuuper handy when camping.

You never know when you may have to chop wood, crack open a cold one, and whistle for help on the same day!

Kitchen Camping Essentials

10. Cooking Set and Utensils

Even if you’re not cooking gourmet meals, a good cooking set is one of your camp kitchen essentials.

Look for a “nesting” set that stores inside of each other to save space.

Cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens are popular choices for camping, as they can be used over an open flame or on a stove.

And don’t forget to pack utensils like forks, spoons, spatulas, tongs, knives, plates, bowls, and cups!

camping cooking set over-the-fire

11. Cooler

There’s nothing worse than running out of ice halfway through your trip (and wondering what you will do with your food!)

Mostly, I have a fridge to use when camping, but a good cooler is essential for when I don’t!

That’s why I recommend investing in one if it’s your main source for keeping things cold.

We like to have two coolers, one for beverages and the other for food, as the BEVERAGES one gets opened quite frequently.

We love our Yeti cooler, which keeps our food and drinks cold for days!

12. Camping Stove or Griddle

You don’t need anything too complicated here, but these are some things to consider when selecting a vessel to cook camp meals on.

  • Size of your group: the bigger your group, the bigger the cooking surface you’ll need!
  • Type of meals: A Dutch oven would be perfect if you’re down with one-pot meals.
  • Portability: if you keep your packing list light, consider a Jetboil unit.

These are some of our favourite camping griddles if you want something a bit bigger.

13. Cleaning Supplies

I’ve had food poisoning, and the thought of simultaneously pooing and puking in the woods does not sound appealing!

To prevent foodborne illness, you’ll want to pack the following cleaning supplies:

  1. Antibacterial dish soap
  2. Wash bin
  3. Dish scrubber
  4. Drying towel
  5. Food-safe antibacterial wipes (to clean prep surfaces.)
  6. Trash bags
  7. Paper towels
camping cleaning supplies like dish soap and antibacterial wipes

14. Food Prepping Tools

Preparing food while camping is way more challenging than at home.

That’s why I prep a lot of my meals beforehand. Then it’s just a matter of heating it up!

However, if you are cooking in the woods, make sure to add these things to your camping checklist:

  • a cutting board
  • a sharp knife
  • a can opener
  • aluminum foil
  • food storage containers (for leftovers)

15. Food and Water

Plan ahead and make sure to pack enough food, water and snacks for the duration of your stay!

camping snacks

Clothing For Camping

I always pack way too much when I go camping, but you want to ensure you are comfortable and prepared for any weather conditions.

Consider packing these essential components:

16. Base, Mid and Top Layers

You want to have a good base layer that wicks away moisture, a mid-layer for insulation, and a top layer for protection against the elements.

For your base layer, consider materials like merino wool or synthetic fabrics that are quick-drying and odour-resistant.

Your mid-layer can be a fleece jacket or vest, and your top layer should be a waterproof and breathable jacket.

17. Rain Jacket

Even if the forecast calls for clear skies, a rain jacket is NECESSARY!

Look for a lightweight, packable jacket with a hood to keep your head dry during a downpour.

18. Hiking Pants or Shorts

If you plan on hiking, you want comfortable pants or shorts that allow for a full range of motion.

Look for quick-drying and moisture-wicking materials, like nylon or polyester, to prevent chafing (OUCH!)

Save space and look for hiking pants with zip-off legs to convert them into shorts if it gets too hot.

essential clothing like hiking boots and pants

19. Hiking Shoes and Socks

Blisters SUCK!

Look for waterproof boots with good traction (in case you end up hiking in the rain.)

You’ll also want to bring along a few pairs of hiking socks made from moisture-wicking materials (polyester, nylon, wool) to keep your feet dry and prevent blisters.

20. Optional Camping Attire

Depending on where you’re going and what you plan on doing while you’re there, here are a few more items you may want to consider bringing along:

  • Sunglasses
  • Sun hat
  • Bathing Suit
  • Camp sandals or flip flops
  • Shower shoes
  • Water shoes

Camping Entertainment

While it’s nice to “relax and do nothing” while camping, you’ll eventually get bored!

That’s why I always make sure to bring “things to do!”

21. Cards and Board Games

Playing games with friends is one of my favourite pastimes when we’re out camping!

Don’t bring your whole stash; pack a few favourites to enjoy with friends and family.

Check out some of our favourite “adult” camping games.

playing board games outdoors

22. Books and Reading Material

Reading in my hammock is my second favourite pastime!

If you want to save space, invest in an e-reader where you can have 1000’s of books to choose from. Just don’t forget to charge it before you leave.

Don’t like to read, how about a puzzle or colouring book?

23. Wireless Speaker

I don’t know about your world, but music is essential in ours!

Whether we’re chilling in the hammock or partying on the “dancefloor” (aka the lawn), the tunes are always pumping.

You want to look for waterproof speakers (because water happens) with Bluetooth and long battery life for easy, long-lasting playing.

24. Lawn Games

We love playing horseshoes, lawn darts (the real ones that can f*ck you up), cornhole and ladder toss! They’re a great way to get you up and moving while you socialize.

They’re also easy to pack and can be played in any open area around your campsite.

Want some more ideas? Check out some of these funny camping games!

ring toss

Toiletries and Personal Care

Remember the toilet paper? Don’t be like us! Add these to your camping checklist:

25. Toiletries

  • Biodegradable soap
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Dental floss (which can double as string in a pinch)
  • Washcloth
  • Moist towelettes or baby wipes
  • Anti-bacterial hand sanitizer
  • Quick-dry microfiber towel
  • Contact solution (if you wear them)
  • Moisturizer
  • Shampoo and conditioner (we love a good combo bar!)
  • Deodorant

26. Medications

  • Prescription medications: Bring any prescription medications you need and enough for your trip.
  • Pain relievers: Bring pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen for headaches or other aches and pains.
  • Antihistamines: If you have allergies, bring antihistamines to help relieve symptoms.
  • Anti-diarrheal medication: I don’t wish this on anybody when they’re camping, but just in case!
  • First aid kit: Be prepared for cuts, scrapes, and other minor injuries with a basic kit.
remember medications and supplements

27. Sun and Bug Protection

  • Nature-safe sun cream: Protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays with a nature-safe sun cream.
  • SPF lip balm: This is so important if you’re like me and have REALLY sensitive lips!
  • Bug repellent: I make a natural bug repellent by mixing coconut oil with several drops of cinnamon oil. Not only does it smell good and moisturize my skin, but mosquitoes HATE IT!
  • Antihistamine cream: If you do get bitten, use antihistamine cream to relieve itching and swelling.

Safety and Navigation Tools

These are some things we don’t always think of, but you want to be prepared for any situation.

28. First Aid and Safety

You’ll be chopping wood and cooking over fires; accidents are bound to happen on camping trips.

Make sure to pack a basic first-aid kit with the following:

  • Bandages (of all shapes and sizes)

  • Antiseptic wipes

  • Gauze

  • Adhesive tape

  • Pain relievers

  • Tensor bandage

  • Antibiotic ointment

In addition to a first aid kit, you should bring a whistle, flashlight, and extra batteries.

camping essentials first aid kit, water, whistle, knife

If you plan on venturing into unchartered territory, you will want to ensure you can find your way home.

A map and compass are essential.

Even if you have a GPS device, having a map and compass as a backup is always a good idea.

Oh, and make sure you know how to use both before heading out (which way is North again?)

Optional Camping Supplies For Your Next Camping Trip

If you have room and want to add a little extra comfort, consider bringing along some of these luxuries!

30. Hammock

I LOVE my hammock!

Whether I’m reading or having an afternoon siesta, it is my favourite place to be.

Look for a hammock that comes with straps and carabiners for easy setup. Some hammocks even come with mosquito netting to keep the bugs away.

reading a book in a hammock

31. Water Toys

Water toys are a must when camping near a lake or river!

If you’re bringing inflatables, don’t forget the pump.

Otherwise, a kayak or stand-up paddleboard is a great way to enjoy the water.

You’ll also need to remember your life jackets (safety first) and paddles.

FAQs Regarding Camping Essentials

What are some must-have items for a successful camping trip?

Some must-have items for a successful camping trip include a tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, a camping stove, cooking utensils, a cooler, a first aid kit, insect repellent, sunscreen, and a flashlight or lantern.

It’s also a good idea to bring extra batteries, a map and compass, and a multi-tool or knife.

How do I choose the right camping gear for my needs?

When selecting camping gear for your needs, consider the environment you’ll be camping in, the length of your trip, and your budget. Look for lightweight, durable, and easy-to-set-up gear.

Read reviews and ask for recommendations from experienced campers.

What are some tips for camping with kids?

Some tips for camping with kids are:

  1. Choose a family-friendly campsite with amenities like playgrounds and restrooms.

  2. Bring plenty of snacks.

  3. Bring activities to keep kids entertained (eg. books, games, toys.)

  4. Involve them in setting up camp. While it may take a bit longer it’s a learning experience for them.

  5. Bring extra clothes as they’ll inevitably get dirty (or embrace the dirt!)

What should be on my camping checklist?

You should include the following items on your camping checklist; a tent, sleeping bags and pads, a camping stove and fuel, cooking utensils, a cooler, food and water, a first aid kit, insect repellent, sunscreen, a map and compass, a flashlight or lantern, and extra batteries.

How can I make sure I have enough food and water for my camping trip?

To make sure you have enough food and water for your camping trip I HIGHLY recommend planning your meals ahead of time. Bring plenty of non-perishable snacks and meals that are easy to prepare, like canned soups, pasta, and trail mix.

I also recommend bringing water purification tablets in case you need to refill your water supply.

Before You Go…

Now that you’ve packed all of your camping essentials, let’s look at ways to reduce our environmental impact when we’re out camping.

Zero Waste Camping (16 Essential Tips)