21 Camping Essentials: WHAT You Should Take & WHY

By "Just In Case" Jack | Updated: 11/07/2023

Camping Essentials

OK, I’ll admit it…

I forgot to pack our sleeping bags for our weekend camping trip.

Yeah. Not fun!

But THAT “bone-headed” mistake led me to put together the following list.

That way, I’ll never forget any essentials that make camping so enjoyable!

Camping Gear Checklist eBook Cover - roasting marshmallows on sticks over a campfire

Want a free camping essentials checklist?

Click here to instantly download this Complete Checklist PDF. No purchase necessary.

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 that tent.

Now, if you don’t own a tent, you have a lot of choices.

For example:

You could go with a survival tent, a cold-weather tent, or even a canvas tent.

Unless you enjoy sleeping under the stars.

If you’re only planning a single camping trip, you might get away with borrowing one.

But if you want to make this a regular hobby, invest in a high-quality one.

Or you could sleep in a hammock if the weather’s nice.

Put a sleeping bag in the hammock.

Or you could invest in a hammock tent.

But what happens if you forget your tent, hammock, or sleeping bag?

TACT Bivvy In Hand

In the name of preparedness, you should always have a backup emergency shelter, right?

I’m talking about an emergency survival blanket or bivy sack.

The Tact Bivvy is a life-saving survival device and an excellent backup.

Toss one in your glove box, and you’ll never be without protection from the elements – whether it’s camping or a roadside emergency.

Check out why I like The Tact Bivvy so much:

↓ Skilled Survival’s TACT Bivvy Review

Wishing Well With Wooden Bucket On A Barren Landscape

2. Water

  • Have you thought carefully about your camping water plan?
  • Will your campsite have a water pump?
  • Or is it near a lake or creek?
  • What if your campground doesn’t have any drinkable water nearby?

You need to know this before you go.

Your water plan chances based upon the answers.

You must plan differently for a site with potable water vs. one in the desert.

Either way, you’ll want a large water container to haul 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.

They fit into any sized trunk, are BPA free, and very convenient.

Each one contains 3.5 gallons of water, they are stackable, have a handle for easy carrying, and are virtually indestructible.

↓ 5 WaterBrick Uses You Haven’t Considered

And take a few water bottles, one for each camper, so you don’t have to drink directly from the container!

Boot Knife

3. High-Quality Survival Knife

Survival Neck KnifeEveryone should pack a knife for camping.

You may need one to cut some rope, fillet a fish, or whittle a walking stick.

And a high-quality survival knife is ideal for these tasks.

Invest in one that can pierce, slice, and do some chopping as well.

I always keep my survival knife on me, just in case.

As a survivalist, I recommend a trusty knife anytime you head into the wilderness.

If you want one that can take a beating but is still lightweight and compact, get a neck knife (this one is my favorite).

Pocket knives work well for everyday tasks as well.

But they can’t handle anything more demanding.

↓ Survival Neck Knife Review – Can Your Knife Do This?

Survival Medical Kit Image

4. Medical Supplies

MyFak-IFAK-EmergencyWe go camping to get away from it all, right?

But that also means emergency items like gauze, bandages, and painkillers are not as close as the corner store.

That’s why you must take some emergency medical supplies with you.

You can build your own DIY first aid kit or invest in one.

Either way, NEVER hit the road without this critical essential.

Here’s a review of the one I take camping:

↓ My Medic MyFAK – Walkthrough & Review

Camping Gear Checklist eBook Cover - roasting marshmallows on sticks over a campfire

Want a free camping essentials checklist?

Click here to instantly download this Complete Checklist PDF. No purchase necessary.

Cold Weather Tent With Man Sitting Outside

5. Sleeping Bag or Blankets

Sleeping bags go with camping like peanut butter goes with jelly.

I even take mine during hot summer camping trips.

Why? Because there’s always a chance it gets chilly in the middle of the night.

And if you’re unprepared, you’ll wake up freezing.

Frantically scrambling around for extra layers to end the uncontrollable shivering  – not fun.

So get a nice warm one.

Worst case, if it’s overkill, you can always sleep on top of it.

Then if you get cold, quickly slip back 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 they can be uncomfortable on a rainy camping trip.

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.hiking waterproof jacket

It’s all about properly layering for any weather conditions.

Look for design details like:

  • Armpit zips
  • Mesh pockets
  • And cinched hoods

These features help protect you from the elements.

Nothing is worse than being soaked all weekend.

So invest in gear that keeps you both dry and comfortable.

7. Insect Repellent

Maybe it won’t be buggy, but if it is, watch out!Insect Repellent

I’ve tried a few alternative repellents, but for me, deet is the only thing that works.

Yes, deet is a nasty chemical, so use it sparingly.

But it keeps those pesky skeeters away.

It’s one of the more important camping necessities on this packing list!

Forget it, and you’ll pay the price.

camping chairs

8. Camping Chairs

camping chairsSitting on the ground sucks.

I’ve done it many times on minimalist camping and backpacking trips.

Why? Because chairs are too heavy and bulky for such trips.

But NOT for car camping.

If  you’re taking a vehicle to get there, make some trunk space for a good camping chair or two.

Your butt will thank you!

stack of firewood

9. Lots Of Firewood

Now…why isn’t firewood higher up on this basic camping gear list.

Isn’t firewood a camping staple?

Yes, it is, but you may not want to pack it.

It depends on your situation.

Experts recommend you buy your firewood locally after you get to your campsite.

And in usually it’s illegal to transport firewood across state lines…

And if it’s been a dry summer, you might have a fire bane to contend with.

The bottom line is:

But do your research before you leave and make a plan.

Because camping without a campfire just isn’t the same.

10. Air-Tight Containers

bear food vaultIf you’re camping for a few days, you’ll want some easy camping meals.

But remember:

You’ll be cooking and eating with wild animals around…

Which means you need to respect them.

Never leave your camp food out; instead, put it in air-tight containers – like this bearproof food vault.

These containers ensure you don’t end up with raccoons and bears sniffing their way into your campsite.

Airtight containers trap food smells AND protect them from hungry animals.

landscape sunset

11. Sunscreen

I don’t know about you, but camping and hiking go hand in hand. 

When camping I spend nearly all my time in the great outdoors.

I don’t understand ‘campers’ who hide out in their tent or RV all day.

My favorite day is fishing in the morning and hiking in the afternoon.

And being outdoors all day is a recipe for a sunburn.

And yes, YOU CAN still get burn on cloudy days.

So bring some SPF protection.

Get the waterproof kind if you’ll be out on the lake all day and re-apply often.

12. High-Performance Cooler

A cooler keeps your food safe from the outdoor elements and animals.

It also combats digestive 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.

Plus, a good cooler keeps your campfire beverages cold.

I like the coolers where you can grab what you need (beer) without having to sort through the 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, don’t forget the ice…

↓ Yeti Hopper Soft Cooler Review

13. Sleeping Pad or Air Mattress

sleeping padIf you’ve slept on the floor, you know how terrible you feel the next day.

Now, imagine sleeping on the hard, cold, uneven ground!

Set yourself up for success by investing in a sleeping pad or air mattress.

It doesn’t have to be fancy.

But you want to enjoy your trip instead of ruining your back.

Also, take a comfortable camp pillow 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 survival gear with them, it would keep them alive.

So instead of listing each of these tools individually, I’m going to list the ones you should take – just in case.

Check out our ultimate survival gear list to ensure you’re always ready.

Survival Gear Checklist eBook Cover -with fire piston on a rock and campfire in the background

Want a free 54 item survival gear checklist?

Click here to instantly download this Complete Checklist PDF. No purchase necessary.

LED Lantern

15. Campsite Lantern

You should take an LED lantern.

That way, your group can:

  • Play cards
  • 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.

The good news is:

You can get super bright ones at a low cost nowadays!

rusty hammer and axe

16. Survival Hatchet or Axe

Estwing Survival AxeA survival axe does the one thing that even a good survival knife can’t.

It splits a ton of firewood fast.

Good luck trying to do that with a knife.

You can also chop down a few small trees (if allowed at your campsite).

So get a good heavy-duty axe and add it to your camping list.

17. Toiletries

Some campgrounds include restrooms with flush toilets and TP.

Most do not.

Having a few rolls of toilet paper packed is ALWAYS a good idea.

You never know and being without is less than ideal.

In fact, it’s pretty crappy.

(I know…bad pun but I couldn’t resist)

And if you’re heading to a remote campground – take a portable camping toilet.

Also, if you like clean teeth and showers, etc., pack those essentials as well.

Personal hygiene items like:

  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste
  • etc.

Fire Survival Skill

18. Fire Starting Tools

I’m a fan of survival skills like starting a fire with sticks.

WetFire Fire Starter

But there’s also nothing as frustrating as spending hours trying to get your campfire lit.

And your family and friends don’t care how you get it going…

So long as it doesn’t take all night.

Add these WetFire Tinder Cubs to get those marshmallows roasting ASAP.

And don’t for get to pack a survival lighter.

19. Warm Thick Socks

Socks are one of the most underrated essentials on this camping list.

If you’re planning  adventurous activities, having thick socks keeps your feet dry and healthy.smart wool socks

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.

There’s nothing that feels better than putting on a pair of fresh socks that fit.

Not sure which brand of camping socks to go with?

I wear Smartwool’s.

20. Cooking Utensils

It’s hard to enjoy a great camping meal without a plate or fork.

So pack some cups, bowls, plates, forks, knives, and spoons.

There’s no real way to improvise these items.

And don’t forget some telescoping forks for cooking hot dogs and marshmallows over your campfire.

21. Camping Stove

Colman Classic Propane StoveYes, a portable camping stove is essential.

Why? Because there’s no guarantee you can have a campfire to cook with.

I discovered this the hard way.

We showed up at 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 pack an alternative way to cook your meals!

Side Note #1:

For winter camping, check out getting a tent stove.

Side Note #2:

Will your site have a built-in picnic table? If not, you may want to take a portable camping table.

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 here are a few of my favorite camping nonessentials to wrap things up:

Dispelling The 5 Most Dangerous Camping Myths…

Myth #1: You Can Drink Water From A Stream

It’s so tempting to dip your canteen into that crystal-clear mountain stream, right?

To take a big delicious swig!

But don’t be fooled by appearances.

You can’t trust that water source.

It might LOOK pure, but there could be nasty bacteria and pathogens lurking in there.

IT may be a one-way ticket to the land of diarrhea.

So, always purify your water before you drink it.

Myth #2: Bears Only Come Out at Night

Bears are just as active during the day, especially if looking for food.

When in bear country, store your food properly.

Use bear-resistant containers, and make noise to alert to your presence.

It’s better to be loud and annoying than to surprise a bear on its turf!

Myth #3: You Don’t Need Sunscreen on Cloudy Days

Ah, an overcast day – seems like the perfect time to skip the sunscreen, right? Wrong!

The sun’s harmful UV rays will penetrate those clouds and fry your skin.

So, always lather up with sunscreen, wear a wide-brimmed hat, and protect yourself from those sneaky sunbeams.

Skin cancer is no joke, folks.

Myth #4: Moss Always Grows on the North Side of Trees

I’m sure you’ve heard that moss always grows on the north side of trees…

Well, not exactly.

While it’s true that moss favors the shadier, more moisture-laden side of trees, it’s not a foolproof compass.

Many factors can influence moss growth, like:

  • the tree’s location
  • the local climate
  • and even the individual tree’s characteristics

So, if you’re lost in the woods, don’t rely solely on moss to find your way.

Use a real compass or a GPS device instead!

Myth #5: You Can Outrun a Charging Bear

Some folks think they can outrun a charging bear. Let me tell you, that’s a recipe for disaster!

Bears are incredibly fast and can sprint at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour.

Us humans, on the other hand, are no match for that kind of speed.

Your best bet when faced with a charging bear is to stand your ground, make yourself look bigger, and make loud noises to intimidate it.

Running away could trigger its predatory instincts, and that’s a situation you want to avoid at all costs.

Final Thoughts

Camping can be an amazing experience.

But ONLY IF you’ve properly prepared.

You see, the key to having a good camping trip vs. a nightmare is all in preparation.

Packing all these camping essentials to keep it fun and relaxing – instead of frustrating.

But remember:

  1. Every campsite and every camp trip is unique.
  2. Research the campground before you go.
  3. Rules and regulations differ for dispersed camping vs. national parks.
  4. You need to know what amenities are in place such as washrooms, electricity, and more.

So use this camping checklist to know for a FACT you’ve got everything!

Next, learn these 21 amazing camping hacks to improve your camping life.

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