Camping is a fantastic way to enjoy the great outdoors, whether by yourself, with family, or with friends. Great camping opportunities can be found in state or national parks, private campgrounds, or even your very own backyard. Most campsites will provide some of the most basic pieces you’ll need, like a picnic table, a parking spot, and a dedicated place to pitch a tent. Running water and shared bathrooms can even be found at some campsites.
Many people enjoy the simplicity of camping, and the lack of equipment needed to enjoy the outdoors. However, most people also want some degree of comfort during their camping experience. Beginners may choose to rent or borrow some of the less-necessary camping gear, but as you become a more avid camper, you might find that deciding what to bring is actually a very enjoyable part of the camping experience.
So, while you’re gearing up for your next camping adventure, go over this checklist to ensure that you haven’t forgotten anything important. This list is very thorough, so don’t feel obligated to bring every item on every trip. But, there’s nothing wrong with being well prepared!
A camping tent should keep you warm, protected from the elements, and safe from bugs and other visitors. Consider the size of your group, your expected conditions, ease of setup, and design features like ventilation and number of doors before choosing a tent. Camping tents can be found in 2-person, 3-person up 8-person capacities for families. The come in a variety of materials such as canvas for the rugged outdoors or unique models for car & truck camping.
Tent accessories keep your shelter functioning throughout your camping trip. Consider bringing extra pegs, a pole repair kit, and equipment like mallets or twist anchor pegs if you anticipate difficulty staking your tent to the ground. Tent footprints can protect the floor of your tent over multiple trips. These accessories are great to have on-hand in case you need to repair in a hurry, or you just like having a small brush and dustpan on hand to keep your tent clean.
Sleeping bags keep you warm and comfortable in the great outdoors. Make sure you know your expected low temperatures, choose the type of fill that works for your comfort and packing needs, and find the right shape and size for your comfort. Sleeping bags typically come in rectangular, semirectangular, double bag and mummy designs using down or synthetic fill, with temperature ratings from 0 to 40 degrees.
Sleeping pads put an extra layer between you and the ground, which helps you stay comfortable and insulates you from the cold earth. Consider how much room you have in your tent, how portable you need your pad to be, and your budget when choosing a sleeping pad. Camping sleeping pads include self-inflating pads, thick air pads, ultralight air pads, and foam camping mats.
A camping pillow adds a bit of comfort to your outdoor sleep setup without taking up too much space in your vehicle. Decide how much cushion and support you need, and how compressible you need your pillow to be with your other belongings. Camp pillows come in inflatable, compressible, stuffable, and hybrid varieties.
Headlamps offer hands-free illumination that can be extremely helpful for nighttime cooking, hiking, tent setup, and more. Consider how bright you need your light to be, what kind of batteries you prefer, whether you like LED lighting, and whether it’s important your headlamp be water-resistant (if you might be setting up in the rain: it’s important!). Choose between LED, rechargeable, battery-powered, strobing, colored, flood, and spotlight headlamps.
Flashlights help you navigate around your campsite in the dark. Consider what type of batteries you prefer, how bright you want your flashlight to be, the weight and size, its resistance to falls and weather, and the grip comfort the flashlight provides. Camping flashlights can be rechargeable, compact, flashlight/lantern combos, mid-size or large flashlights, or keychain lights.
Camp chairs provide extra comfort at camp, around the fire or under a shade structure. Consider how many people you want to seat, how portable your seat needs to be, whether you want accessories like cupholders or side tables, and whether you want the chair to have its own integrated shade structure. Camp chairs come as benches, individual seats, loungers, padded varieties, and simple stools.
A camp table provides a surface for eating, planning a hiking route, playing games, or whatever you might need. When choosing a camp table, think about how much surface area you need for your activities, how many people you’d like it to seat, and how portable you need it to be. Camp tables come as side tables, cooking stations with included faucets, bi-fold tables, and ultralight stands.
Lanterns can illuminate a table, a tent, or a campsite. Consider what kind of fuel you hope to use, whether you want your lantern safe for in-tent use, and how bright you need your lantern to be. Choose between propane lanterns, candle lanterns, and hurricane lanterns.
Shade can make the difference between a lovely afternoon at the campsite and a few hours spent melting in a hot tent to avoid a sunburn. Canopies and sunshades are easy solutions to bring shade with you wherever you go. Consider how large you want your shade shelter to be, whether you want to use your vehicle as part of its support structure, and whether you want netting to protect you from bugs as well as the sun. Canopies and shelters are available as large as 15’x15’ and as small as 8’x8’, with options for tailgating canopies, outhouse shelters, and single-person netted shelters.
Hammocks can provide fun, comfortable lounge areas on a hike or at your campsite. Consider how many people will need to fit in your hammock, how you will set up your hammock, whether you intend on sleeping in the hammock, what kind of protection from the elements you need, and how portable you need the hammock to be. You can choose from single-person, multi-person, or family hammocks with suspension systems, rain tarps, and mosquito nets in a variety of colors.
Sleeping on the ground isn’t for everyone, even when camping. Cots can keep you comfortable and warm above the ground. Consider how many people your cot should sleep, how portable it needs to be, and what your comfort needs are. You can choose from lightweight cots, XXL cots, and options with bunk-bed style for kids or built-in storage underneath the cot.
Sleeping bag liners and blankets can increase your warmth and comfort past your sleeping bag’s temperature rating. Sleeping bag liners can also be used on their own in place of a sleeping bag during warm summer months. When shopping, make sure your liner will fit inside your sleeping bag, and consider whether your blankets need to be durable enough to hold up to grit and dirt if they are used around a campfire. You can bring along mummy or rectangular sleeping bag liners, along with quilts, throw blankets, down blankets, and insulated blankets.
Firewood is essential if you’re planning to build a fire—but you can’t bring firewood from just anywhere. Sourcing firewood from near your campsite helps protect the natural environment by preventing the spread of invasive bug species. It’s best if you can purchase your firewood within 10 miles of your campsite, though purchasing within 50 miles is also acceptable.
Tablecloths can provide a nice, colorful surface that is also easy to clean. Choose a weather-resistant linen that will be durable in the outdoors and cover the size table you’re planning to use. Some tablecloths are fitted for specific table sizes, while others will need to be clipped into place. If you don’t want the wind taking your tablecloth into another campsite, make sure to bring those clips!
The ultimate portable drying rack, a clothesline will bring convenience and tidiness to your camping setup. Make sure you’ll have trees to hang it off, or bring a metal frame for a freestanding clothesline. Rope and sturdy string work well—you just need something that is durable but won’t harm the clothing. Clips can keep your clothing off the line, making sure to protect it.
A good multi-tool can help with a variety of camping tasks, often including sharp edges, serrated edges, pliers, scissors, and screwdriver heads. Make sure you know which tools are most important to you when choosing a multi-tool, and consider the materials, design and accessibility of the tools, and the size, especially if you plan to carry the tool in your pocket. You can choose from titanium, stainless steel, and mixed material multi-tools.
Duct tape is a great all-around backup plan for problems that might arise at camp. Since it’s waterproof and very hardy, duct tape can provide a temporary fix for a tent pole, guylines, and even your boots. Just throw a roll of duct tape in with your camping gear—you might be very thankful you did.
Never underestimate the power of tying things down when you need to. Extra cord can help strap down your gear on your roof or in your trunk. If rock climbing is part of your camping adventure, then extra cord or tie down has a new level of importance. Cord is also very helpful in rescue scenarios—though we all hope our camping trips don’t include these, it’s better to be prepared.
If one of your tent poles breaks, what happens? Hopefully the answer is that you pull out your tent-pole repair sleeve, and suddenly you have a working tent again! Rather than letting your tent sag for the rest of your trip, this sleeve covers the broken area and provides a temporary fix until you can fix the pole. This might be included with your tent, but if not, you can pick up an extra one to have on hand in case you need it.
What’s the use bringing along a cozy sleeping pad or mattress if it pops and you’re back on the ground? Bringing along a repair kit, which often includes patches and airtight adhesive, can keep you comfortable even if a stray rock or stick tries to take out your source of comfort. Make sure your repair kit is appropriate for the material and type of pad or mattress.
If you’ll be camping somewhere with hard earth, like the desert or rocky terrain, you’ll need some help getting those stakes into the ground. A rubber mallet is ideal for this, as most regular hammers are made of stronger metal than tent stakes are, which causes them to destroy the stake in the hammering process. The rubber mallet will help drive even a flimsy stake into the earth with less damage, and keep your tent anchored through windy conditions.
If you’ll be splitting logs or turning branches into kindling, a saw or axe can help tremendously. If you’ll be going through large logs, a saw will be much easier than an axe, but if you’re just stripping logs to create kindling, even a fairly small axe will help you. Consider what size logs you’ll be working with, and what size you will be most comfortable using. Choose from hatchets, axes, saws, and large knives for this task.
Once dust starts accumulating in your tent, it can be hard to get it out. A small broom and dustpan can help you keep your tent interior tidy without taking up too much space. Consider how much room you have in your tent, and don’t buy a standing broom unless your tent actually has standing room in it! Choose from handheld brooms and full brooms to find the cleaning aid that’s right for you.
Camp Kitchen Supplies
While many campgrounds have drinkable water, not all do. You should always have a water filter handy just to make sure you always have access to clean water. For a more comprehensive list of kitchen ideas, visit our camp kitchen checklist.
Water is one of your basic essentials for survival, but if you’re going on a long hike, it can be difficult to bring enough. A water filter allows you to clean water from lakes and streams so you can refill on the go. A water filter will help weed out protozoan cysts and bacteria, while a purifier will combat against viruses (recommended if you’re traveling through developing nations). Consider where you’re traveling, how much water you want to filter, and the method you prefer to use. You can choose from pump, gravity, ultraviolet, bottle, squeeze, or straw-style filters for your next adventure.
Whether you’re a camp chef or just looking for a way to make ramen, a camp stove broadens your menu and brings warm food and drinks on chilly nights. Consider how you’ll be using your stove, how many burners you need, whether speed to boiling is important to you, protection against the wind, fuel type, and what kind of surface area you have available for cooking. You can choose from canister stoves, alcohol stoves, liquid-fuel stoves, and multi-burner stoves.
Make sure you have enough fuel to get through your trip—and maybe a little extra after that. If you already have a camp stove, then you likely know what fuel type you need. If you’re still choosing both, you can commonly find camp stoves that use butane, propane, isobutane, and liquid fuel. Consider fuel portability, availability, and power when selecting the best option for you.
A camp stove isn’t too much use if you can’t light it. Make sure you have a way to start your stove, whether that’s a long kitchen lighter, a regular handheld lighter (if you’re brave), a metal Firestarter that can create a spark, or wooden matches. You don’t want to store your lighter in the same space as your fuel. Matches can be unreliable in wet or windy conditions, so take that into consideration when packing.
Cooking pots should be tailored to the dishes you plan to make and the number of people you intend to feed. You might want pots that can double as serving bowls, work on a stove or over the fire, or just boil water, depending on your preferences. If you want to cover your bases, you can get a set of camping cookware, or opt for individual pieces tailored to your exact needs. Cooking pots for campingtypically come in aluminum, stainless steel, cast iron, titanium, and nonstick.
Frying pans help bring you French toast, bacon and eggs, or whatever your ideal menu is at the campsite. Make sure your frying pan will fit on your camp stove burner, and if you’re opting for cast iron, be prepared for some extra weight. Some camping frying pans have adjustable handles for easy transportation. Frying pans can typically be found with 6”-15” diameters, with various handle arrangements, and with or without lids to trap heat or prevent splattering.
Utensils don’t just cover the basic fork, spoon, and knife to get through a meal—you also want to consider knife sets, measuring cups and spoons, and any specialty items you might need, like claw crackers if you’ll be having crabs by the water. You can choose from plastic or metal utensils, camping utensil sets that hook together, or multi-use utensils like sporks if saving space is important to you.
Take a look at your planned recipes. Will you be stirring? Chopping? Flipping pancakes? Make sure you have the camping utensils including stirring spoons, chef’s knives, spatulas, tongs, barbecue tools, lid lifters, skimmers, and scrubbers that your camp kitchen requires. You probably don’t need all those things—but that’s why checking the recipes is a great place to start!
If you need to open a bottle or a can, make sure you have the correct implement to do that. For utensils like this, sometimes picking up a cheap version at the dollar store to keep handy in your camping tub is the best way to have tools readily available without having to pack and unpack them every time.
If you’re going to be chopping anything for your recipes, make sure you have a nice, sharp camping knife. A dull knife is always dangerous, but this is especially true on the uneven, uncontrolled surfaces common to outdoor cooking. If your camp menu is very simple (opening packaged meals and adding small things like garlic or ginger), you may be able to use the knife on your multitool—but if you’ll be chopping anything tougher than a strawberry, you want a real kitchen knife. Many knives come with blade protectors, which can make packing and transportation more convenient (and less dangerous!).
The best plates and bowls for camping are durable, lightweight, and portable. You can find dinnerware sets if you’re camping with a large group, or buy items individually. Some camping bowls are collapsible for easier transportation. Consider the size of your party, what kind of meals you’ll be eating, and whether you prefer lighter materials such as plastic or hardier enamel builds for your camping plates and bowls.
When you’re in the great outdoors, the best camping mugs and cups are durable and portable. Plastic or enamel mugs are often better than ceramic mugs. You can find collapsible mugs that are easier to pack, backpacker mugs that clip onto your pack during a hike, and sets of mugs that will match a kettle.
Cutting boards for camping are very similar to cutting boards at home. Consider whether you want rubber grips to hold your cutting board in place, and how much surface area you’ll need for the recipes you’re planning to use. If you’re just cutting small things like garlic and ginger to spruce up a prepackaged meal, a small cutting board might stow away nicely and serve you well. You can find sturdy, durable cutting boards fairly inexpensively that will work great outdoors.
Whether you’re planning on meals that require refrigerated ingredients or you just like having a few cold beverages nearby, a cooler can be your best friend camping in hot summer months. Consider the size cooler you’ll need and how you intend to pack it. You can choose from hard coolers (with tough edges that can have things stacked on top of them) or soft coolers (which lack structural integrity but are easier to fit between other items). Coolers are commonly found with capacities anywhere from 4 quarts to 400 quarts.
If you were scrolling through this checklist and wishing you could get everything in one place a mess kit might be the best option for you. Mess kits help get your camp kitchen running, offering packages that may include cookware, cleaning dishes or supplies, dishware, and utensils. Make sure your mess kit actually includes everything you need, and choose your mess kit based on the number of people you intend to feed while camping.
Sometimes a stove just isn’t enough. If you have a large party or just a love of grilling in the great outdoors, a portable grill can liven up your camp kitchen tremendously. Consider how you will transport your grill, what fuel type you need, and what kind of accessories or cooking space you’ll need your grill to accommodate. You can also consider grills that go over a fire for a more portable (but less controllable) way of getting your grill on at the campsite.
Griddles help bring the sweet smell of pancakes to your campground in the morning. Consider the size of your party and whether you want a standalone griddle or a griddle attachment for your camp stove. Griddles can cover one or two burners, and you can choose reversible options with different types of surfaces for added versatility.
Dutch ovens add a versatile, dependable piece of cookware to your collection. You’ll want an option that’s safe over open flames, which means a seasoned cast iron or stainless-steel oven. Legs on the bottom can help balance the Dutch oven over your heat source, and a rimmed lid allows you to add charcoal on top of your Dutch oven for heating from above and below. Consider how many people you’ll be feeding when choosing the size of your Dutch oven.
While the following campsite extras are optional, depending on how active a camper you are and how remote you travel, many tools such as maps, compass or GPS may be required.
Binoculars can elevate your stargazing and nature-watching on any camping trip. Many campers are looking for a balance of magnification and portability, making binoculars with a magnification of 8 or 10 a popular choice. Consider how crisp you want your image, how durable your binoculars need to be, and what you’re willing to spend when choosing the best pair for your purposes. There are several types of binoculars to consider including fullsize, compact, ranging finding binoculars, and monoculars.
These days, there are plenty of ways not to get lost in the wilderness. Whether you’re opting for a good old compass and map, or newer technology like a GPS watch, make sure you are prepared to use the technology and that you are set up well for the specific area you’ll be exploring. You can explore handheld GPS, satellite phone and GPS locators, GPS watches, GPS mapping software, compasses and maps, and electronic collars for your pets.
Clothing & Footwear
Around your campsite, you’ll want a pair of shoes that are durable, protective, can get dirty (either because they’re easily washable or they’re your dedicated camping shoes), and won’t sink into the earth (like a high heel might). If you’ll be hiking, bring hiking boots that provide ankle support and traction for the conditions you’ll be hiking through. Take the thickness of your hiking socks into consideration when sizing your hiking boots. You may want to bring multiple pairs of shoes, some to protect you on the trail and others that can slip on and off easily during downtime at your campsite.
When choosing socks for camping, you want to consider warmth, water resistance, fit, and cushioning. Make sure your socks go higher than your boots, if you’ll be wearing them with hiking boots. Ultralight socks are available for warmer weather, and thicker socks provide more warmth and cushioning for the colder months. Many hiking and camping socks are made from wool, but you can also find polyester, nylon, silk, and spandex options.
Rainy and cold weather items:
Health, Saftey, & Hygiene
A camping first-aid kit should be small enough that you always have it on hand, while still providing the essentials if you run into an emergency. First-aid kits should offer basic supplies, wraps, splints, wound care, medications for common ailments like coughs, headaches, and indigestion, and basic medical tools like thermometers and tweezers. First-aid kits can be found in various sizes, and you can choose from a larger kit that will stay in your car or tent, or a smaller kit with the bare essentials for hiking and backpacking.
Sun and bug protection: