If you are like me, you hate to forget anything, especially when your significant other already is a little reluctant to leave the creature comforts of her castle to go into the woods and you have promised to take care of everything. If that is you, then this camping essentials list is one you are going to want to print out and check before your next camping trip.
There are many camping essentials lists out there and this one will share some common items – which only makes sense because the basic camping gear you are going to want to bring with you is fairly standard.
But our camping essentials list is going to add in camping checklist items that have a dual purpose as survival items and will allow you not only to have a great time if you are out camping with your family but stay safer at the same time.
I will add survival items to the camping essentials and explain their utility so that you will have more context around why I recommend the items on this list. Also, many of the items on this checklist are not from a bug out standpoint so I am including items that you would never consider in a bug out bag when weight is an important factor.
Why is a camping essentials list on a prepper blog?
Great question! At first glance, you make think the concept of a camping list is off-topic for a prepper or survivalist but I have always maintained that virtually all of the camping gear you purchase can be used in a grid-down scenario.
Isn’t that what camping is at its heart? Camping is all about getting away from your home and living in a different way temporarily based upon your gear and resources. I know a lot of people who prefer glamping, but even with almost every piece of camping essential you can purchase when you get out there, you are still roughing it a little.
Regardless, the items that can help you survive a winter storm, the aftermath of a hurricane, or power outage also pull double duty as camping essentials. Having these items below on hand before you need them can help you if power is lost, local infrastructure has collapsed, or you are forced to abandon your home.
And, they can be used for fun family camping trips too, so without further ado here are the Prepper Journal’s camping essentials.
Tents are an umbrella term here on our camping essentials that just reference shelter. As most of you know already, the Rule of 3’s reminds us that without some means of staying warm when it is cold, or cool when it’s hot, we can find ourselves faced with serious health issues worst case, or a ticked off spouse best case.
Camping tents were once made of different materials and now we can enjoy lighter fabric and frame systems that reduce weight. Additionally, you have single person camping tent options that are both smaller and lighter like a bivvy tent that just gives you shelter while you sleep or a hammock.
Yet another camping essential option is to make your vehicle your shelter and many people have done this with truck camping setups that give you both the storage room and a sleeping platform. This is great for singles too, but a large family is going to prefer a bigger space and one they can stand up in.
I purchased a nice tent called the Oztent RV-5 that is not something you could ever carry on your back if you were looking to bug out, but for vehicle assisted travel, it is pretty nice. There is plenty of room for 4 people if you snug up together and it has a built-in vestibule for changing clothes or just offering more room to sip your favorite beverage out of the reach of mosquitoes.
There are cheaper alternatives to the Oztent that hold as many people and I have personally owned a Coleman 8-person instant tent. It was much cheaper and the first two times I used it, it was great. The third time, the leg would not collapse correctly (the whole thing folds up like an umbrella on crack) and ended up breaking on me. On top of that, you could never get the Coleman tent back into the bag. Some part of it always stuck out like Uncle Marty’s beer gut after Thanksgiving dinner.
Additional camping gear items for your tent/shelter
Tent stakes and a rubber mallet to pound them into the ground. When I am backpacking I use lightweight titanium tent stakes because they are lighter and much more durable than the cheap hooks you get standard with your camping tent.
If you are using a hammock as your shelter, the straps are usually included in your bag but a rain fly is a good option to keep you dry always and you might want an underquilt for your hammock in colder weather.
Backup items could be something like a survival bivvy that will keep you alive. These are small, lightweight, mylar lined sleeping bags and can fit in a corner of your vehicle in case of emergency.
Survival Gear Kit
Why have survival gear on you if you are on a family camping trip? This is not one but many of those prepper items that go back to EDC in some respects but just make sense if you are purposely out in the wild anyway.
Do you need survival gear if you are at the KOA where the guy next to you is 20 feet away in his Minnie Winnie? Yes! Survival gear is not something you should only carry when you are miles from the nearest camper in the wilderness. You never know when you will need gear so in this context since you are already planning for how to live outside of the normal frame of reference, this gear could help you out.
The benefit of these survival gear items have in our camping essentials list is that they work for you if you are all alone, or something bad happens when you are far away from your home. You can pack these items in a tactical utility pouch or even a plastic container.
Starting with the most obvious, that is a means to make fire. Fire is important in a lot of scenarios, not just for when you are camping and need an excuse to break out the smores kit.
Fires can keep you alive or help you signal for help if you are lost so the basic implements to create fire are an important part of your camping essentials checklist.
Some people carry a butane torch style lighter, but a simple bic lighter will do for most situations. I carry that plus a Swedish firesteel as well as stormproof matches as a backup. I keep these all in a lightweight waterproof bag and I have several of these fire kits so that I am never with fire.
Going back to shelter above, if you aren’t able to keep your body insulated from extreme cold or heat you won’t last long. These are relatively inexpensive survival items and each person should have one of these survival bivvys set aside in their camping gear.
Survival bivvys will also give you a great option to stay warm if you are caught in a winter storm
Every respectable camper should have at least a knife on their person at all times. You never know when you will need to cut open that bag of hot dogs or butterfly the pork tenderloin you are going to cook on your camping stove tonight.
A multitool does the knife one better and gives you over a dozen other tools that can help around the campsite or if needed in a survival situation. I have carried the Leatherman Wave for years but the Leatherman Skeletool is a great, lighter option that you will wonder how you lived without.
Carrying a firearm gives you a chance to defend yourself against either a bad guy with a gun or wildlife that wants to do you in. I know the chances of you meeting a grizzly bear with a revolver who wants to kill you is slim, but you never know.
As much as possible, when I am away from home, I have at least one firearm with me. If I am going to be camping in the woods away from civilization, I absolutely carry. There have been enough stories of people killed that I don’t need any convincing. Your mileage may vary.
A good map will serve your camping needs in a couple of different ways. If you have plans to go exploring trails that you aren’t familiar with a good waterproof hiking map of the park or wilderness area you are in could come in handy.
Most of the time I have a couple of different options. First I have maps of my location downloaded to my smartphone. I use Gaia GPS Maps and even without cell service these maps plus the GPS on my phone allow me to see exactly where I am.
If I am backpacking, I also carry a map and a handheld GPS that already has my route and waypoints mapped. Usually, I pick up maps when we arrive at our camping destination, but depending on the trip I may purchase maps online ahead of time to plan our routes and explorations.
If you find yourself lost, a map could be what gets you back to civilization. Alternately, a map could show you ways around roadblocks or obstacles you want to avoid on foot or in a car.
Knowing how to use a compass with a map is something many of us learned a long time ago and forgot. You probably know the basics of how a compass works, the arrow points North, but orienting your map is another important step.
Used together with a map, a compass is one of those camping essentials that can lead you back to a known location or away to a destination you are trying to get to. These hiking compasses are cheap but effective and you should both carry one and know how to use it.
The duct tape of rope. Paracord was initially invented to be used in parachute suspension lines and its usefulness as a survival tool has been evident for a long time. Paracord has an internal group of 7 smaller strands that can be used for various needs like fishing, sutures, stitching gear back together, or fixing the Hubble Telescope.
When it is whole, the paracord has a listed strength of 550 lbs. although I would not want to trust this paracord to heavy lifting of objects or people like rappelling rope. That being said, it can be used in a million ways and some people prefer to carry their paracord around on bracelets.
Regardless of how you carry it, 550 paracord is a camping essential worth adding to your survival kit.
Duct Tape is the other side of your fix all camping essentials checklist. I have used duct tape for a ton of uses. I have fixed holes in raincoats, repaired camping gear, used it to prevent blisters on my feet, and made cooking implements.
Gorilla tape is a really good brand of Duct tape that is tougher and thicker than regular tape.
Pro tip – Don’t carry that big roll. Just remove 5 feet or so and wrap it onto its own roll and you will save space in your survival kit. I have also wrapped this around old hotel room key cards and it works great and takes up so much less space than a full role. You can also purchase gorilla tape in a travel size.
A survival mirror is a signalling device that could show others where you are when you are unable to use your voice, or the distance is too far. Rescue mirrors were designed to flag aircraft by reflecting the rays of the sun back to any point in the distance.
Another really great signaling device, a survival whistle can be heard for miles and doesn’t make you lose your voice like screaming for hours will do. In a situation where you are yelling for help, you will get tired soon.
Bring a survival whistle with you and if you need to call out for help, just blow on this really load whistle. It will be much easier for you, and the sound will carry much further.
I attach a survival whistle like this to my kid’s backpacks.
If you are in the Western US, bears may be a bigger issue for you and certainly, if you are really remote in those areas, you want to have bear spray to ensure you have a means of defense against these giant predators.
But the bear spray is also a good defense against two-legged predators too so if you can’t or don’t want to carry a firearm, the bear spray could be a good alternative that you could deploy in a serious situation.
Having appropriate clothing for your activities is one of those camping essentials that can make or break your own personal experience on your camping trip. This isn’t to say you need to be outfitted like a movie star with $250 hiking pants but the choices you make around what you wear can dramatically affect your comfort and potentially health, in the elements.
- Layers – The secret to being appropriately dressed for the environment is dressing in layers. Look at the explorers who crossed the South Pole, or the people who summit Mt. Everest every year. I can tell you they aren’t wearing their University sweatshirt and some comfy jeans. Depending on the season you could need a wicking base layer – think long johns but thinner and more comfortable. Then your mid-layer- which what you usually see on the outside (pants, shirt). If it’s cold, you may want a fleece to keep you warm and then a shell that is waterproof to keep you dry.
- Footwear – Wear appropriate footwear to the activity you will be participating in. Hiking needs sturdy footwear if your terrain is rough or rocky. A sturdy boot like the Soloman Men’s Quest 4d is amazing on rocky ground. Softer terrain might call for a lighter hiking shoe like the Merrell Men’s Moab. Either is going to be better than going out in flip-flops or tennis shoes.
- Socks – Have at least one pair per day based on the activity of good hiking socks. These are important for keeping your feet dry and blister-free.
- Something to sleep in – Many people think that they should just sleep in their clothes when they are out camping. You can, but it’s much better to get into clean, dry clothes for sleeping. This includes a fresh pair of socks(weather depending) that you haven’t worn all-day because they will keep your feet warmer.
- Camp shoes – After wearing boots all day, it’s good to peel those off and slip into something more comfortable. Plus this helps your boots air out. I usually have a cheap pair of waterproof crocs for just this purpose.
- Swimwear – Don’t miss the chance to go swimming if you can.
Yet another one of the most important camping essentials is water and you will probably use more than you think for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. A buddy and I went camping for a two-night trip and we used all that was stored in the 5-gallon water container I brought with us.
It was warm and we were walking around all day, but if you add cleaning dishes from cooking and hygiene in there, it goes pretty fast. Make sure you have at least a good initial supply to last everyone a couple of days.
Additional water essentials
Make sure you also bring containers to drink out of that are reusable. You want something like a good Nalgene bottle for each person that can double as their hiking water container and their camp cup.
Additionally, I always bring a water filter, especially if I am remote and depend on finding wild water to drink. I have tried several filters, but a gravity-fed water filter is my favorite. It’s simple, fast and there are no moving parts to break or batteries to replace or try to remember to charge.
A good quality sleeping bag is one of your best investments in terms of sleeping comfort when you are camping or backpacking. These are also important to consider for your bug out bag and for contingencies where you have to sleep somewhere else temporarily.
Our kids used sleeping bags for sleepovers all the time and I’ve always had these in case we lost power in the winter and needed some extra warmth.
Sleeping bags come in different shapes and sizes and temperature ratings. The temperature ratings should be taken with a grain of salt, but give you a general idea of the level of insulation they contain.
I recommend getting a high-quality sleeping bag for the temperature rating you will be in during your camping trip. Be sure to check the forecast before you leave and err on the side of caution. Personally, I’d rather be a little cool in my bag and wear some good baselayers as opposed to being too warm and sweating all night.
That being said, you don’t want to go on a camping trip in the winter with nothing but a lightweight summer sleeping bag.
Sleeping Pad/Air Mattress
Now that you are nice and toasty in your sleeping bag, you want to be comfortable too if you are camping on the ground. In addition to providing a cushion for your back and hip bones, a good air mattress can also insulate you and keep you warmer.
On our first backpacking trip we all carried the cheap foam pads you can get at any camping store, but we quickly found out that they weren’t very effective. Also, they are bulky and take up a lot of space so we opted for quality air mattresses that cost a little more, take up much less space but are so much better for sleeping on.
I even pack these air mattresses when I am sleeping on a cot in my tent for extra glamping comfort.
Lighting – Headlamps/Lanterns
Even in situations where you have electricity you always seem to need more light at night. Virtually all the camping our family does is remote so you have to bring your light with you.
I have several options for light because of redundancy primarily, but it’s a convenience also. Each person has their own LED headlamp. I prefer these to flashlights since they are hands-free and always point where your head is looking.
Additionally, I have two types of lanterns. The first is a good Coleman propane lantern (1000 Lumens!) and these are very bright. The second are battery-powered LED lanterns and these are extremely bright also and are even better suited for indoors during a power outage where you don’t have to worry about an open flame or fumes.
Just make sure you have batteries or propane on hand for both lighting options.
First Aid Kit
Injuries happen and you should have a decent first aid kit in your camping essentials to take care of minor incidents. There are many kits available but most are glorified band-aid boxes.
To be really prepared for your next camping trip, make sure you have a really good wilderness medical kit in your supplies and then augment it with items like tourniquets, blood stoppers and any medications your family might require like Epi-pens, inhalers or prescriptions.
A hatchet might seem like overkill on a regular camping trip if you are just going to a managed park, with showers and all the amenities but as a survival item, a good hatchet is hard to beat for its usefulness.
Hatchets can be used to split your firewood into smaller pieces to make starting your campfire easier. If you are in a more remote area, they can also chop up deadfall into smaller pieces that can more easily fit in your fire ring. The backside can be used as a hammer to drive your tent stakes into the ground.
Can you do all of these camping chores with a really good survival knife? Yes, but not as easily as with a hatchet. For camping essentials and general preparedness, hatchets are a wise investment.
Getting wet while you are on a camping trip can be a fun experience, but if you are cold and wet, hypothermia can set in quickly. Unless you stay inside the entire time (and that defeats the purpose of camping) you run the risk of getting exposed to rain.
But that should never dampen your spirits (pun intended) when good rain gear is so readily available. For me, I bring a rain jacket and a waterproof hat to keep the rain off, never rain pants but I would in the Northwest if rain was called for a majority of the time.
I keep a lightweight rain jacket for the summer and a hard shell that is waterproof in the winter so that I have options.
Nothing is quite like eating a nice hot meal outdoors especially after a long day of hiking in the woods. How people prepare their meals varies across a wide spectrum. You could have the gourmet cooks who bring steaks and wine to the minimalists who barely have more than trail mix.
Whichever your preferred style of looking at how you prepare your camping meals, chances are you are going to need heat. Yes, you could use a fire to cook your meals, but that is a separate discipline usually with much sturdier cookware like cast iron skillets.
For most, either a propane camping stove or a simple burner and fuel to heat water for dehydrated food or coffee and perform basic tasks like warming soup are the top choices. I have both and choose depending on what type of trip I am taking. Naturally, the big stove doesn’t go on backpacking adventures but if I am car camping, the Coleman propane stove is on my camping essentials list.
Unless you plan on eating dehydrated meals out of the bag with only a spoon, you will need some kitchen gear as part of your camping essentials.
- Cooking pots – You need to cook your camping food in something.
- Frying pan – Can be lighter weight style depending on use.
- Eating/Cooking utensils – Big Spoon, Spatula are nice.
- Bottle opener/Corkscrew – Easily the most purchased item and camping stores.
- Plates/Bowls – Buy camping bowls, wash, and reuse.
- Mugs/cups – Plastic works, but a titanium camping mug is nice for coffee and lightweight enough to use when you are backpacking too.
- Cutting Board – It beats using a bowl
- Camp Sink – Makes cleaning camping dishes so much easier and will waste less water.
- Pot scrubbers/sponge – You will thank me later.
- Paper towels – A lot better than relying on wiping your hands on your pants.
- Seasonings – Even salt and pepper can make most meals just a little better.
Coolers have changed in some pretty substantial ways over the years. I remember when my grandparents would visit, they had a metal cooler they kept food and drinks in as they traveled the 7 hours to our house.
Now, primarily plastic injection molded coolers are all the rage. The do have a much higher price tag though which they justify by saying they keep the food colder longer.
I have an RTIC 65-liter cooler that I use that I know keeps beer/food/ice for up to 5 days with two bags of ice. This is comparable to a Yeti 65 cooler at a cheaper price (on sale) and Whichever camping cooler you choose, make sure you don’t forget this camping essential.
The older you get, the more you appreciate a good chair. When I was younger, I could sit or sleep pretty much anywhere but now I like a little more comfort and support. Camp chairs are probably a staple at most homes now, we bring them out at ball games or family events, but they can be easily forgotten.
Make sure you have a camp chair for each person because at some point everyone will want to sit down in their own camp chair.
You may think you can just set your stuff on the ground or a log at camp, but a camping table is well worth the weight and cost. For food preparation, eating around, brewing coffee or playing cards, you will appreciate a good stable surface to set your stuff on.
Modern camping tables are lightweight and collapse down to a small size so they don’t take up a lot of space but offer good value.
These camping essentials probably need no explanation but you will miss them if you don’t remember to pack them in your camping gear.
- Toilet Paper
- Hand Sanitizer
- Lib balm
- Poop Shovel
- Earplugs – It’s quiet in the woods and these are handy if you are with a snorer.
Bug Spray/Insect Repellent
Nothing can ruin nature faster than the little pests that love to hang around water. I personally am some type of mosquito magnet so when I think of camping essentials, I want to be devoid of mosquito bites at the end of my camping trip.
Some people aren’t affected, but for me, I prefer bug spray with DEET and one that doesn’t go on greasy. I know that the chemicals in the spray aren’t ideal but in the summer my only other option is to be covered head to toe. I’d even probably use a mosquito head net over my head.
Most campsites I have been to will have firewood for sale, assuming you aren’t under a burn ban like we had in some places last summer. That may work for you as long as there is someone available to sell it to you and the prices aren’t crazy high.
If you can’t rely on deafall, then bring your own firewood with you so that you can sit around a nice fire in the evening.s
Last but not least, you can’t forget the needs of our furry companions if you take them with you on your camping trip.
- Pet Bed or blankets
- Long lead – tie them up in camp but give them room to wander.
- Bowls for water and food
So there you have it! Our list of camping essentials. Did you see anything we missed? Please let me know in the comments below.