Hiking + Camping Tips

THE ULTIMATE ESSENTIAL CAMPING GEAR GUIDE

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There’s nothing quite like sitting by a campfire well into the night talking with some of your closest friends while all the stars shine above you.

Camping can be a fun adventure and great new experience, but it takes a little bit of preparation each trip.

One thing that really trips up beginner campers is figuring out what gear to take and what gear they should leave behind. That’s where having a camping gear checklist is so helpful.

Read on for more explanation of each product!

Girl sitting in tent which is an essential camping gear item
Tent in front of tree in Julian, CA

One pro tip – if you have space to store everything in one place at your house it will all be together when you go to pack for a weekend in the woods. We personally have a large plastic storage bin with all our camping gear in it!

We’ll go through all the essential camping gear items that I take with me on every camping trip. Of course, there’s plenty of other stuff that you could add, but I feel like these are the essentials for you to make it through the weekend.

Campsite Gear

These are all the camping essentials you’ll need to set up the infrastructure of your site. If you’re looking to buy new camping gear, I recommend investing in established brands with a good reputation! You can also usually find quality used gear at your local second-hand store or at an REI used gear sale!

Find the best bang for your buck instead of looking for the cheapest option. You don’t want to get out to your site and have things start breaking on you because it’s cheaply made.

I learned this the hard way. I am not saying you particularly need name brand items, but I will say the more well-known brands have higher quality gear that will last you a lifetime.

Correct Size Tent

This is one piece you definitely don’t want to forget at home! When bringing a tent you’ll want to make sure it’s the correct size for your group.

2-person tents are great for couples or you can get a 3- or 4-person tent so you can also keep your gear inside. The size is especially important if it’s going to be chilly outside. A larger tent means more space to fill with cold air.

Girl sitting in tent in the woods which is an essential piece of camping equipment

A two-person tent is comfortable for one person plus gear. A three-person is comfortable for two plus gear, and so on…

This 2-person tent from Amazon is a great start and it is affordable! If you find you enjoy camping and want to purchase a nicer tent then I recommend the REI half dome 2 which is what I have or the Big Agnes.

If you have a bigger family then here is an affordable 3-4 person tent.

Now when it comes to choosing a tent you will also need to factor in which season you are going in. There are different ratings for tents based on the season.

A 3-season tent will work in most cases (depending on the climate) and is the best choice, especially for beginners. You’ll only need a 4-season tent if you’re headed to camp in extreme conditions. If you are looking to camp in the winter I do have a winter camping guide.

I currently have a two-person tent to fit my husband and I. We are able to keep our gear in the tent with it being slightly smooshed.

Tarp/Ground Cloth

Make sure you have a good tarp to lay out under your tent. This is especially important when it rains so you can keep the water from running back under and flooding your tent. This is one piece of essential camping gear that you don’t want to forget!

Most tents comes with a tarp when you purchase them, but if not then I highly recommend one.

When you lay the tarp out make sure it’s just inside the footprint of your tent. Lay it out, pitch the tent, and then tuck the excess back under the sides. 

Camping Chairs

You’ll definitely want a decent place to sit after a long day of hiking. There are some great camping chairs for anything from car camping to thru-hiking.

I personally have the travel lite camping chair from REI, but this one from Amazon is equivalent and cheaper.

Look for something that’s a little more compact and lightweight. It also needs to be durable since it will be carried back and forth and out in the elements for its whole life.

Table

If you aren’t at a campsite that has a picnic table then it’s super helpful to bring one along especially for cooking. If you’re car camping this is easy, but it isn’t feasible if you’re backpacking.

This is a great portable camping table that works for camping, but not backpacking.

Lantern & Headlamps

If you’ve ever arrived at a campsite after dark, then you know how important this is. Whether the lantern is gas, battery-powered, or solar-powered find one that you like and make sure it’s in your vehicle.

Girl hiking with a headlamp on her head as a headlamp is an essential camping gear item

Headlamps are great if you need to walk away from the campsite (like for the bathhouse) or to help light up your tent when you are getting ready for bed.

Really, you can get any headlamp. I personally have this one.

Sleeping Needs

While many people think of a camping trip as roughing it, if you buy a good sleep system then you’ll feel like you’re staying at the Ritz. Well maybe not that nice, but you get the point.

A good sleep system makes a world of difference! Plus your body will thank you in the morning.

Sleeping Bag

Mummy bags are a really popular option because they are less bulky than the rectangular sleeping bags. The same idea that applied to tents applies to your sleeping bag too – more space in the bag means more space for cold air.

Above are two great sleeping bag options that are affordable and great for camping.

The temperature rating of the bag is also a very important factor. Just because it’s a 20-degree bag does not mean you’ll be comfortable sleeping in 20-degree weather. The rating means it will keep you alive at that temperature.

Get a bag that’s rated at least 20 degrees lower than the temperature you’ll be camping in. You can always unzip the bag if the weather is warm.

Sleeping Pad

If you are a side sleeper then absolutely do not rush through buying a sleeping pad. This piece of essential camping gear is so important for your comfort level!

These range from thin pieces of foam to inflatable memory foam pads. Pay attention to the R-value of the pad as well. This measures the pad’s ability to resist heat flow, so the higher the value the warmer it will keep you.

The Nemo and the Therma rest neo air are both great options. If you are looking to add warmth and more comfort then think about purchasing the Therma rest Z lite as a base layer pad.

I recommend going to REI and testing these out. They have each type already blown up as a sample, so that you can feel the texture and lie on the sleeping pad.

Pillow

This is one of the commonly forgotten camping essentials. You can either use your sleeping bag stuff sack, stuffed with fresh or used clothes, or bring a pillow. Inflatable pillows are a good choice if packing space is an issue.

Camping Cookware

Camp food is some of the best and most fun to cook! Bring the right cookware so you aren’t scrambling to put together a meal.

Don’t forget you will have to clean these cookware items as well, so I highly recommend bringing this collapsible kitchen sink. I actually recommend purchasing two: one for dirty water and one for clean water.

Dutch Oven or Cast Iron Pan

A cast-iron pan and dutch oven are usually only used if you’re car camping. When backpacking it’s best to bring a stainless steel or aluminum mess kit.

For backpacking (and camping too) I use my jetboil or my rocket pocket burner set up with a small cookware set like this.

Don’t forget to bring something to clean all your dishes up with. A small squirt bottle of dish detergent works well. When in the outdoors, I try to be eco-friendly with my products. I have an entire article on eco-friendly outdoor products I recommend.

Plates & Utensils

If you’re traveling sustainably then bring your own silverware kit plus a plate and wash it between uses. You can also bring plastic utensils and reuse them multiple times during your trip.

Be sure to also bring a metal fork or spatula to cook with! I personally love this entire camp cookware set from Stanley.

Cooking on a camp stove which is essential for camping
Portable camp dishes which is an essential camping gear item

Charcoal Grill or Camp Stove

There are tons of different ways that you could choose to cook while camping. Many people love propane stoves but some prefer to cook over an open fire. Some people love lighting up their charcoal grill and using it.

This stove is a great option if you are camping with your significant other or friends as it is still small and compact.

Whatever you choose will depend on what method you know best or your willingness to learn. Just make sure you have the stove and plenty of whatever fuel you plan to use.

Water

You never realize how critical water is until you’re miles away from a fresh supply and don’t have anymore. Always pack twice as much water as you think you’ll need. You can also bring a water purification system with you.

If you just need a water bottle for sitting around at camp then I recommend the Stanley Quencher. It has a straw which makes it so easy to stay hydrated.

Girl with a backpacking backpack and her water bottle
Girl standing in front of the grand Tetons with her water bottle which is an essential item for camping

Never drink unfiltered water in the backcountry as there are many waterborne parasites that can be life-threatening. Always boil water for at least 15 minutes before you drink it or another way to make safe drinking water is iodine tablets though it may taste a bit funny.

This is the water filter I personally use.

Personal Items

Clothes

Always bring a full set of clothes to change into when camping and at least one fresh set of socks for each day. If you have room pack an extra set of boots as well. You never want to get caught out in the rain and have to slog through the rest of the trip in soggy socks.

Pack a set of cold-weather clothes as well. Depending on where you camp, the nighttime temperatures could be much lower than during the day. Mountain weather can also just be unpredictable in general.

First Aid Kit

You should always have a first aid kit handy no matter where you are camping as it’s one of the main pieces of essential camping gear. It’s best to be prepared because you never know what could happen.

Some items to make sure are in your kit are: Band Aids, antiseptic, alcohol wipes, acetaminophen/ibuprofen, gauze, medical tape, scissors, and tweezers.

Pocketknife/Multitool

A quality pocketknife is worth more than its weight in gold when camping. Use it while cooking, when setting up camp, or while you’re out during the day. There are so many times when it comes in handy.

Rain Gear

Always pack rain gear, even when the weather forecast doesn’t show rain. When camping in the mountains (or even at the coast) the weather can turn on a dime.

You don’t want to be caught underprepared as rain can at the very least dampen your spirits but can also quickly lead to more serious and dangerous situations.

FINAL THOUGHTS FROM YOUR OUTDOOR LOVING GIRL

If you have never been camping before I highly recommend going! And if you enjoy it then you can try out backpacking! I have a full beginner’s guide to backpacking as well to help you get started.

Also! Coffee is super necessary for me while camping to keep me awake after sleeping on the ground haha. I have a full guide on how to make coffee while camping for you too!

I hope you found this article helpful! Let me know in the comments your favorite place to camp!

The Ultimate Essential Camping Gear Guide

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