OK, I’ll admit it…
A few years ago, I forgot to pack the sleeping bags for our weekend camping trip.
We were 3 hours from home when my wife asked: “did you pack the sleeping bags?”
My initial reaction was a defensive “of course I did …..” but as I thought about it more I realized – I HAD NOT!
We made due with a few random blankets but it less enjoyable and relaxing as it should have been.
After that, I decided to make myself a list of camping essentials. The same list I’m sharing with you today.
So don’t make the same mistake I did. Use this article to make sure you have all your camping essentials.
This camping essentials list is not just for first-time campers either. Even experience campers should use a list to double check their camping essentials before heading out.
We all get excited! We all get in a hurry to “get away!” We assume our significant other packed that essential item…trust me – it can happen.
So the following camping essentials are items you’d regret leaving behind. The things that turn a good camping trip to a great one.
Now, this camping essentials list is NOT an attempt to take as few items as possible. If that’s what you’re looking for, check out our article on minimalist camping.
This list includes all the essentials to make your camping trip as fun and as relaxing as possible.
Here are SkilledSurvival’s top 21 camping essentials:
1 – Shelter (Tent/RV)
I know what you’re thinking; shelter, duh!
But unless your shelter is your vehicle (like an RV or van), you’ll want to triple check you packed your tent.
Unless you’re one who enjoys sleeping under the stars without a tent.
If you’re only planning a single camping trip, you might be able to get away with borrowing one. But if you’re looking to make this a regular hobby, invest in a high-quality tent is essential.
Or you could even go with a hammock if the weather’s nice. Just use your sleeping bag in the hammock and sleep off the ground and under the stars.
But what happens if you forget your tent, hammock, and sleeping bag?
In the name of preparedness, you should have a backup emergency shelter such as this emergency survival blanket.
The Tact Bivvy is a life-saving survival device and an excellent backup camping essential. Toss one in your glove box and you’ll never be without protection from the elements – whether its camping or a blizzard.
2 – Water
Have you thought about your camping water plan? Will your campsite have a public water pump? Or is it a remote site near a lake or creek? What if your campground doesn’t have any drinkable water nearby?
You need to know what the water situation is before you go. You’ll need to plan differently for a site with potable water vs a remote place in the desert.
Either way, you’ll want to have a large water container and leave it at your campsite for daily use. You’ll need it for tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and extinguishing your campfire.
I recommend you get a few water bricks for this purpose.
These containers are perfect for camping.
Each one contains 3.5 gallons of water, they are stackable, they have a handle for easy carrying, and they’re virtually indestructible.
Plus, you can get a free screw-on spigot to go with it – if you buy four or more!
3 – High-Quality Survival Knife
While camping, you may need to cut a rope, fillet a fish, or whittle a walking stick and a high-quality survival knife is ideal for these tasks.
Invest in a survival knife that can pierce, slice and do some chopping as well.
I keep my survival knife on me at all times just in case. As a survivalist I always recommend a trusty survival knife anytime you head into the wilderness.
4 – Medical Supplies
So you need to take some emergency medical supplies with you.
Either way, never hit the road without this critical camping essential.
5 – Sleeping Bag or Blankets
Sleeping bags have been a staple for campers for years. Sleeping bags go with tents like peanut butter goes with jelly.
I even take mine during warm summer camping, because there’s always a chance it gets really cold in the middle of the night. And if you’re unprepared, you could wake up in the middle of the night freezing. Then you’ll have to scramble to add multiple layers of clothes just to stay warm – not fun.
So get a nice warm one for those cooler nights. Worst case, if your sleeping bag is overkill on a hot night, you can always just sleep on top of it. Then if you get cold, just quickly slip inside.
I recommend investing in a warm one instead of suffering the frustrations of a cheap one.
6 – Warm Rainproof Clothes
Heavy coats are warm, but on a rainy camping trip, they can be uncomfortable.
It’s better to pack lightweight, rainproof, waterproof, breathable clothes as a top layer. That way you’ll avoid overheating in warm humid weather but keep the rain off in wet weather.
It’s all about properly layering to prepare for any weather conditions.
Look for design details like armpit zips, mesh pockets, and cinched hoods, to protect you from the elements.
You won’t enjoy your camping trip unless you keep yourself both dry and comfortable.
7 – Insect Repellent
I’ve tried a few of the alternative repellents but for me, deet is the only thing that works.
Yes, deet is a nasty chemical, so I try to use it sparingly on my skin. But it sure does keep those pesky skeeters away.
It’s one of the more important camping essentials on this list!
Forget it and you’ll pay the price.
8 – Camping Chairs
Sitting on the ground sucks.
I’ve done it many times on backpacking trips because chairs are too heavy and bulky for backpacking –but not for camping.
If you’re going camping, you’re probably taking a vehicle to get there. So make some trunk space for a good camping chair or two.
Your butt and back will thank you.
9 – Lots Of Firewood
Some of you may be wondering why firewood wasn’t higher up on this camping essentials list. Isn’t firewood a camping staple?
Yes, it is, but you may not want to pack it.
It depends on your particular camping situation. Experts recommend you buy your firewood locally after you get to your campsite. And in some circumstances, it can be illegal to transport firewood across state lines…
Also, if it’s been a dry summer, you might have a fire bane to contend with.
The bottom line is, if you happen to forget firewood before you leave, you’ll typically be able to find some after you get there.
But do your research before you leave. Because camping without a campfire just isn’t the same.
10 – Air-Tight Containers
If you’re planning on camping for a few days, you’ll have to make a few camping meals for you and your group.
But remember, you’re now cooking and eating with wild animals around and that means you need to respect them.
Never leave your food out, instead, put it in air-tight containers – like this bearproof food vault.
These containers ensure you end up with raccoons and bears sniffing their way into your campsite.
Airtight containers trap food smells and protect it from hungry animals.
11 – Sunscreen
I don’t know about you, but when I go camping – I spend nearly all my time outdoors. I don’t understand people who go camping only hide in their tent or RV all day.
I usually go fishing in the morning and go on a hike in the afternoon.
And being outdoors more than normal is a recipe of a nasty sunburn. And you can still get burnt even if it’s a cloudy day.
So you’ll want to make sure everyone in your group is wearing some SPF protection.
Consider getting the waterproof kind if you’ll be out on the lake all day and re-apply often.
12 – High-Performance Cooler
A lot of people forget to pack a cooler, but it’s an important camping essential.
A cooler keeps your food safe from the outdoor elements and animals. It’ll also keep you from illnesses like food poisoning – so it’s absolutely essential and worth every penny!
A high-performance cooler will keep your foods fresh and cold for at least three days after being opened.
Plus, a good cooler helps keep your campfire beverages cold. And I like the coolers where you can grab what you need (beer) without having to sort through your food items in the dark.
I own a large sturdy cooler that doubles as an extra seat for your friend who forgot his camping chair!
Oh, and I hope it’s obvious – if you’re taking a cooler, you need to get some ice for it…
13 – Sleeping Pad or Air Mattress
If you’ve slept on the floor, you know how terrible you feel the next day.
Now, imagine trying to sleep on the hard, cold, uneven ground! Set yourself up for success by investing in a sleeping pad or camping air mattress.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you want to enjoy your trip instead of ruining your back.
Also, take pillows with you as well. I can’t sleep well without proper neck support and quality sleep is a must to enjoy your camping trip.
14 – Survival Tools / Gear
No one wants to end up in a wilderness survival situation. But every year, thousands of people do.
And if they had some survival gear with them it would help keep them alive.
So instead of listing each of these tools out individually, I’m just going to list the ones you should take with you camping – just in case.
- Survival Whistle
- Survival Shovel
- Survival MultiTool
- Signal Rescue Mirror
Check out our ultimate survival gear list to make sure you’re always ready.
As A Way To Introduce You To Skilled Survival, We’re Giving Away Our Ultimate Survival Gear List. Click Here To Get Your FREE Copy Of It.
15 – Campsite Lantern
You should take an LED lantern. That way your group can play cards or set up evening snacks or light the trail to the restroom.
If you forget to pack a good camping lantern, trust me, you’ll notice, and that makes it a camping essential.
The good news is you can get super bright ones at such a low costs nowadays!
16 – Survival Hatchet or Axe
A survival axe does the one thing that even a good survival knife can’t. It can split a ton of firewood fast. Good luck trying to do that with a knife.
You can also chop down a few small trees as well (if it’s allowed at your campsite).
So get a good axe and add it to your camping essentials.
17 – Toiletries
Some campgrounds include restrooms with flush toilets and TP – while others do not.
Either way, having a few rolls of toilet paper packed is ALWAYS a good idea. You just never know and being without is less than ideal. In fact, it’s pretty crappy.
Also, if you like clean teeth and showers, etc., you’ll need to pack those essential items as well. Like soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.
18 – Fire Starters
I’m a fan of practicing survival skills like starting a fire with sticks.
But there’s also nothing as frustrating as spending hours trying to get your campfire lite. And your family and friends don’t care how you get it going so long as it doesn’t take all night.
I recommend trying these WetFire Tinder Cubs to get those marshmallows roasting asap.
19 – Thick Socks
Socks are one of the most underrated camping essentials on this list.
If you’re planning a lot of activities, having some thick socks is important to keep your feet dry and healthy.
Don’t pack thin ankle socks which will cause blisters. Thick long socks will protect your ankles and feet from ticks, and mosquitoes.
Also, don’t wear the same socks over and over – bring a fresh pair for every day you’re there.
Are you not sure which brand of camping socks to go with? I wear Smartwools.
20 – Camping Utensils
It’s hard to enjoy a great camping meal if you have to eat your food without a plate or forks. So make sure you have some cups, bowls, plates, forks, knives, and spoons.
There’s no real way to improvise these items so pack them, and you’ll set yourself up for some excellent camping meals.
Also, don’t forget your telescoping forks for cooking hot dogs or marshmallows over your campfire.
21 – Camping Stove
Yes, a camping stove is essential because you cannot 100% guarantee you can have a campfire to cook with.
I discovered this the hard way. We showed up to a campsite with our dutch oven and a campfire grill grate only to find out there was a fire ban!
We end up borrowing a fellow camper’s Colman Classic Propane Stove. Thank goodness for random campsite friends.
Lesson learned – always have an alternative way to cook your meals – pack a camping stove.
How About A Few Non-Essentials
Why would I put “nonessentials” on this list of camping essentials? Well, because, some things are really really nice to have! So I figured I’d toss out of few of my favorite camping nonessentials to wrap things up.
Here are a few of my extra luxury camping items:
- Dutch oven
- A pair of campsite sandals
- A few new books
- My acoustic guitar
- A frisbee
- Some healthy snacks
In the comments section, we get camping essential suggestions from our readers and if the suggestion is good (which it normally is) we add it to our list.
Camping Essentials Wrap Up
Camping can be an amazing experience, but only if you’ve properly prepared for such a trip.
You see, the key to having a good camping trip vs. a nightmare one is all in the preparation. Making sure you have all the essential items to keep it fun and relaxing – instead of frustrating.
Experience campers know this and have created a system to ensure they don’t forget those camping essentials.
Now you have this list to double check before you rush out to the wilderness.
But remember, every campsite and every camp trip is unique.
Research the campground before you go. You need to know what it offers regarding amenities such as washrooms, electricity, and more.
Ok, what did I miss? What camping essential can you not live without that didn’t make our list? Let us know in the comments below, and we might just add it!