Ready for the adult, outdoorsy version of the “going on a picnic” game?! Here it is! This is the essential A to Z list of everything you need for your next camping trip! Keep in mind, certain seasons and locations will have more specific needs, but this is a great place to start for the essentials! Whether you’re planning your first camping trip or a seasoned camper, let this be a little reminder of how to best be prepared! I am curious – what else would you add to the list?
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An axe can be helpful for chopping up firewood, especially for starting the fires. Sometimes, you may opt to bring a hatchet instead (which is a bit smaller).
IMPORTANT: Please be mindful of WHERE you get your firewood! Most campgrounds have firewood on site, and it is NOT recommended to bring firewood from other areas to your campground. Why? This can spread insects and tree-killing diseases (YIKES). Learn more at “Don’t Move Firewood” by clicking your state to see local regulations, or check with the governing agency of your campground.
If collecting firewood at your campground is allowed, follow the Leave No Trace Principles using the four D’s (Dead, Down, Dinky, and Distant).
Bear and Bug Proofing Materials
Bears, mosquitoes, ticks, and other creatures can be found in many campgrounds. It’s important to make your campground “bear aware” by using bear canisters, bear wire, or campground-specific regulations. Do NOT keep any scented foods or items (such as toiletries) in your tent, as this can attract bears and other critters!
Be sure to pack mosquito and bug repellent. My go-tos:
- Picaridin spray: Does NOT damage plastic/gear like DEET does and provides up 8 hours of protection against mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, gnats, triggers, and fleas.
- Picaridin lotion: This long-lasting, DEET-free lotion repels ticks and mosquitoes—even those carrying West Nile Virus—for up to 14 hours, and biting flies and chiggers for up to 8 hours.
For bear proofing, I’ve used a BearVault, specifically the BearVault BV450 Food Container. Little tip I have for you: be sure to YouTube/practice how to open it before you bring it though… or you’ll be like me unable to eat your food… read the story HERE.
While cooking over the fire is always amazing, you’ll probably want to bring other cookware (AND fuel!). I don’t camp without my Jetboil Flash, which boils water quickly and is especially nice for making coffee & oatmeal in the morning. There are MANY other campfire stoves and, according to OutdoorGearLab, the Camp Chef Everest 2X 2-Burner Cooking System is rated as the editor’s choice for 2022.
Don’t forget your pots and pans! I LOVE bringing a Lodge Cast Iron Camping.
This section is devoted to all the things you need to eat/drink/prepare food:
Utensils (fork, knives, spoons)
Cooking utensils (tongs, spatula, etc.)
Often, an entire set of cooking/eating utensils is referred to as a “mess kit.” For car camping, I like to bring a set of dishes and cups from home because the weight doesn’t matter.
Here are some mess kit options:
- Bamboo dishware set, 2-person, 10-piece (ecofriendly and in TEAL)
- Sea to Summit Delta Camp Set, 2-person (in teal or orange!)
- MSR 2-person Mess Kit
Individual Items (my favs):
- Cooking Utensils: OXO Camp Cook Utensil Set with Tool Rest (Silicone!)
- Eating Utensil: humangear GoBites Uno Spork, is only $3.50 at REI and my go-to utensil for all outdoors eating (plus who doesn’t love a spork?!)
- Mug (collapsible): Sea to Summit Cool Grip X-Mug
- Dream Mug: Mug (collapsible): Sea to Summit Cool Grip X-Mug
- Coffee maker (lightweight): Sea to Summit X-Brew Coffee Dripper
- Coffee maker (for higher quality brew): AeroPress Go Travel Coffee Press
Earplugs & Eye Mask
Our natural instincts are on high alert while camping, so we are more likely to wake up to smaller sounds/lights. This was really helpful for cavemen/women, but not always when we are safely tucked away in a campsite. Even so, using earplugs may not be the safest options in all areas (sometimes hearing is a good thing!), but could be helpful in case you have louder neighbors. An eye mask can help you get a little extra shuteye if you’re going to sleep or waking up during daylight. I find an eye mask essential if planning to sleep before the sun goes down. My choices:
First Aid Supplies
A critical item on the ten essentials of any outdoors trip, first aid supplies are a MUST when camping! Shop at REI for a first aid kit that meets your needs. I recommend any of the Adventure Medical Kits or HART Outdoor brand. Personally, I make my own First Aid Kit.
Don’t have time/resources to make your own first aid kit? THIS one is my absolute favorite! It’s the HART Outdoor Weekend First-Aid Kit.
Games and Toys
I don’t go camping (or most places) without a game or two, especially a simple deck of cards. Some of my favorite games for a camping trip are below! Have FUN!
- Card games with a deck of cards: Idiot, Golf, and Durak (link to rules!)
- Dutch Blitz
- Yahtzee (National Park Version!)
- Uno (because who doesn’t love making someone draw 4?)
Hammock (or Camping Chair)
I love bringing my hammock whenever/wherever I can!
- Hammock: I LOVE the Eno DoubleNest Hammock + Atlas XL straps for easy hanging between trees.
- Camp Chair: Can’t go wrong with the REI Flexlite camp chair!
Ice and Cooler
The Yeti coolers are all the rave, but I haven’t gotten one yet… even with the recent REI Anniversary Sale. I decided to try the Igloo ECOCOOL cooler instead, which also claimed to keep ice for 4 days (Spoiler Alert: Did not keep ice for > 1 day, so sad.)
Grab ice at the gas station near your campground, while en route to camping, or from your own ice maker!
Jackets for Rain and Insulation
When opting outside, we must remember to keep layers handy for all the weather conditions! I’d make sure to bring a rain jacket, puffy jacket(s), fleece, and a windbreaker – no matter when you’re camping! Weather can always turn and it may be cooler where you’re staying, so it’s important to stay warm!
These are musts for all camp tasks and repairs. I have a Benchmade knife, which is made in Oregon, and I could not recommend this company more. I have gotten away without a multitool to date, but a lot of people dig the Leatherman brand. I can’t recommend any because I haven’t used them, but they can be pretty pricey ($$$), so be sure to get one to fit your needs!
Lantern and Lighting
I don’t hike, backpack, or camp without a headlamp. My favorite is the Black Diamond Spot 400 Headlamp.
Another favorite item for camping (and life in general) is the MPOWERED Luci light series! I have the Luci Color, which can be set to any color in the rainbow or run through each color in intervals. The coolest features of the Luci lights are the inflatability (making for easy packing in compressed size) and solar power. I usually hang my Luci light outside camp during the day to charge so it’s ready to go when the sun sets. Don’t want multicolor? There’s also a clear version (MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 Inflatable Solar Lantern).
Matches and Lighter
Essential to starting a fire, don’t forget your matches and lighter! However, if you are a fire-building master who can do this with two twigs (or the MANY other ways to build a fire without matches/lighters), the more power to you! OWN that!
I also keep a lighter with me at all times in case the Jetboil Flash doesn’t light with the igniter. (Here’s some troubleshooting if that also happens to you…!)
Navigation (Map and Compass, GPS optional)
A map and compass is NOT optional when going outdoors (they’re part of the 10 essentials), so make sure you’re familiar with the area! Types of maps that are helpful include road maps (like the road atlas book your parents used to keep in the car?), trail maps surrounding the camping area, and campground map (typically provided by the site). While you have a compass on your phone, it may also be helpful to bring one!
Flip-flops and river shoes/open-toed shoes make for great “hanging out at camp” vibes. Even though they’re not entirely open at the toes, my FAVORITE sandals ever are the KEEN Whisper Sandals. I bring my Keens when I backpack, go kayaking, and anywhere I may be walking in water, needing a little quick, breezy comfort.
When you go car camping, why not splurge with a little extra weight and keep it comfy by bringing your favorite hang out shoes? Want to keep your toes snuggled instead of open? Sure, bring some slippers! Have fun, stay comfy, there’s no shame.
Pad and Pillow for Sleeping
Unless you’re camping somewhere with a sleeping surface, you’ll most likely need both of these items. When I car camp, I bring a different sleeping pad than backpacking in the name of comfort, without needing to save space. I also 150% bring my favorite pillow from home on my camping trips. You can also 175% bring an air mattress! Did I say keep it comfy? Have at it, y’all!
- Sleeping pad (heavier, comfier): REI Co-op Air Rail Plus Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad
- Pillow (for when you’re not bringing one from home): Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow
NOTE: Check the R-value rating for your sleeping pad based on the temperature you’ll be sleeping in. For more information, read REI’s article on how to choose your sleeping pad.
Because who doesn’t love snacks?! S’mores are a solid idea, yet it’s also important to make sure you’re bringing quality snacks that will fuel your body! Nuts, granola bars, and fruit/veggies are all needed. If you’re an AM beverage drinker, you can also include coffee/tea here!
My favorite instant coffee and teas:
- Kuju Coffee pourovers
- Alpine Start Instant Coffee – 8 Pack
- Cusa Tea & Coffee, Cold Brew Variety Pack
- Cusa Tea & Coffee, Herbal Tea Variety Pack
Duct tape, tent pole repair splints, rope, Tenacious tape, and a sleeping pad/mattress repair kit are all awesome to have on hand for when things go wrong! If you have a multitool, that is great too. Call me Miss Fix-It.
A must have – with optional sleeping bag liner based on how cold it will be! Of course, though, you can 200% bring sheets and blankets for your camping trip if you’re loading up the car! When I first started camping, I’d just roll up a comforter to sleep on, then would bring all my blankets from home for sleeping. This made for more laundry when I got home, but it’s what worked for me.
My favorite: I have the REI Joule, which is discontinued, but the Rei Co-op Down Time 25 Down Sleeping bag is most comparable!
Another “have it your way” adventure of camping: your sleeping shelter! You can choose to sleep in a tent, bivy, teepee, hammock, or just on the ground. If choosing a tent, don’t forget your footprint and stakes. If you’re sleeping on the ground/in a hammock, bring a tarp or system for keeping you dry in case of inclement weather. My choices:
- Tent (lightweight, 2-person): Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2
- Tent (heavier/comfier, 4-person): Mountainsmith Equinox 4 Tent (discontinued at REI; available currently on Mountainsmith website)
Sunscreen, UPF clothes, and hats are the best ways to protect your skin from harmful UV rays! When choosing sunscreen, check for harmful chemicals AND be sure it’s reef safe if you’ll be sharing the water with other sea life. Here’s what I pack:
- UPF short sleeve: The North Face Wander T-shirt
- UPF long sleeve: Mountain Hardware Crater Lake Hoodie – Women’s
- Sunscreen: Raw elements (reef safe) and/or mineral sunscreen (Thinksport SPF 50+)
- Hat: my favorite is from Rachel Pohl art
Vehicle to get there!
I mean, duh? Make sure you check for the closest local gas station. Also remember if you’re going to use your vehicle for charging or blowing up items, keep the car running because you can drain your battery if you use car power with the vehicle off (I may have learned this from experience a time or two… like when I blew up my unicorn float without my car on and killed the battery. Gratefully, someone was nearby to help jump the car). With that in mind, it’s helpful to have jumper cables in case there isn’t another kind human nearby!
Water, Extra Water, and Water Treatment!
Usually campgrounds have water available, but this of course depends on the area. Things I keep with me:
- I ALWAYS put a gallon of water in my car before leaving
- Nalgene bottle for easy filling
- Hydroflask bottle for keeping drinks cooler
- Electrolytes, with my current favorite being Liquid IV (Flavors: Lemon Lime, Strawberry, Passion Fruit, Acai Berry, Watermelon)
- Water filtration: Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System:
XTRA Layers of Clothing
Layers, layers, and more layers! Bring extra socks, undies, pants, shirts, bras, and all you’d need to stay warm and keep dry when camping.
Your Personal Items
Cosmetics, toiletries, and medications. It’s probably a good idea to throw toilet paper in here. Also, any extra things you’d enjoy while camping such as a book to read, journal, and camera.
Ziploc + Trash Bags
It’s important to leave no trace when you’re camping! Pack out any trash you create and bring a separate bag for recycling. Depending on accessibility at the campground, you may have to bring the recycling elsewhere, but carrying it in the car isn’t too big of a hassle! I love having a bunch of Ziploc bags on hand for putting dirty items in, storing extra food, and more.
Thank you so much for reading! Share below: What else would you add to the list?