There’s nothing better than the great outdoors, and no better way to experience it than spending some time camping. Whether you’re a seasoned expert or hitting the road for the first time, it’s always good to have a checklist of camping necessities to bring with you-no one wants to be left alone in the wild without their sleeping gear.
Here’s where I add the disclaimer that these are what I think a fun car camping trip should include. If you’re trying to bring as little weight as possible (ultralighting) you’d want as few things as possible. The process involves a lot of weighing items and leaving unnecessary things home, all in the spirit of staying closer to Mother Nature herself.
But I’m a car camper, and I love to bring the right amount of stuff; you’ll never find me weighing my hiking pack to remove an extra granola bar. And whether you’re camping alone, with friends or with the whole family, there are some essentials you’ve absolutely got to have. Below you’ll find a list of gear you’ve got to have when you’re out in the wild, hiking and having all that great summer fun.
P.S. It’s good to know what comes with the campsite. Nearly every site will have a place to pitch your tent, a picnic table and a spot to park your car. If you’re looking for running water and bathrooms, make sure to check ahead of time: many places will have artesian wells for water (the one that looks like an old-timey pump) that’s safe to cook with and consume most of the time. You’ll often find restrooms or drop toilets of varying quality depending on where you book.
The Checklist: Camping Necessities
- A good tent that can stand up to the bugs and the rain. Always, always put the rainfly up when you pitch the tent: you don’t want a passing storm to catch you unaware.
- Sleeping bags, pillows & sleeping pads are other camping necessities. Whether you’re a glamper who chooses an air mattress or prefer sleeping on the ground, an air-filled sleeping pad is the perfect in-between that helps take the tension off those tired bones after a long day of having fun. Plus, they’re easy to set up, store and tend to be very affordable.
- Proper luggage. Your regular rollable carry-on is unlikely to cut it in the dirt and dust. And there’s a reason. When you unzip it, your all of your possessions are left open and unprotected on the ground. Instead, opt for a duffel. The top-side zipper on something like this TUMI model keeps exterior elements from getting at your clean clothes and toiletries.
- A good water bottle. Not a bad water bottle, a good one. These are camping necessities especially if you’re going on hikes or will be doing outdoor sports. You’ll want one of two choices: an insulated water bottle that can hold onto that cool, chilled temperature hours after you’ve left home, like this Hydro Flask, or a plain plastic water bottle. With an insulated Hydro Flask, the extra benefits will make the water bottle a little heavier, but you won’t mind in the summer heat. The plastic one is simply lightweight.
- A quality cooler. There are a few different ways to eat in the wild, whether it’s granola bars for every meal, MRE-style bites or classic food brought in and out. Personally, I like to live the high life by planning meals that take just a few chilled ingredients that will last in a cooler in the car. Something like these Hydro Flask coolers is perfect: they’ll keep the temperature low enough for your ingredients. Have fun cooking at your campsite, and make meals everyone will love with. Scrambled eggs and bacon? Yes, please.
- Consider how you’ll be making food if you do cook, like with a classic one or two-burner camping stove or something completely different. Pizza ovens like the Ooni Koda are propane-fueled and easy to use. Craft more than pizzas in here, too: make fish filets, steak, veggies and more.
- If you’re not into pizza, portable grills are the perfect way to go. Explore rugged options like the Weber Traveler that can roll across terrain. Alternatively, try for smaller tabletop grills like the Smokey Joe.
- Bug repellent is one of the most popular camping necessities of the summer. Bring the strongest mosquito repellent you can find, because you’ll be dinner without it. A great option to keep your campsite safer is with a true zapper like this model from Dynatrap. When you settle down to eat, bugs will bother you less.
- Portable batteries and chargers for phones, watches, and flashlights are a must!
- Many campsites have a firepit, but if they don’t, a Solo Stove is a great way to bring the bonfire. Make sure you follow the campsite’s fire instructions, often by purchasing firewood native to the area. The best part of Solo Stove bonfires is you’ll see much less smoke than you would from a classic firepit. Don’t forget to bring marshmallows!
- While it’s not as necessary, lots of campers love bringing music with them with a favorite Bluetooth speaker. Pick features that you love, from clip-on capabilities to dust-and-waterproof-ratings to ones that can charge your phone.
- Incidentals like flashlights, sunscreen, a multitool/knife and a first aid kit are must-haves too.
- When it comes to personal belongings, always bring clothes for the weather, warm gear, a rain jacket and extra socks, as well as your toothbrush!
This list of camping necessities isn’t comprehensive, but it’s a good place to start packing your gear from. Always prioritize safety when packing, whether you’re hiking in the midwest or heading towards a National Park. And no matter what, it’s important that you have fun and make lots of memories you’ll treasure forever.