37 Camping Essentials to Bring With You

Bring these items and you’ll camp well without having to load up the whole household.

We have all seen those campers that bring everything, including the kitchen sink. On a camping trip on the East Coast of Africa, I met an elderly couple that had arrived with a 5 ton Bedford truck, driven by their driver/butler/general factotum, a 4×4 vehicle and a ski-boat.

The back of the truck was fitted out with a proper double bed like you would have at home complete with duvet, night frill, side tables and bed lamps.

There were fridges and freezers and a generator to run them in the “kitchen” tent, a full china dinner service, and a kitchen sink that was connected to a water tank and a small gas bottle under a tree, so they had warm water for washing the dishes. There were 4 other tents for the children and the grandchildren, plus a large gazebo for evening gatherings.

Because these people came camping for three months at a time the woman brought pots of growing herbs and freshly pulled beet and carrots that were planted in rows behind their campsite so they had fresh vegetables.

The campsite was far from fresh supplies, but it was on the shores of the Indian Ocean and fishing was good, they had meat in the freezers, and a full supply of dry goods.

How do I know so much about their arrangements? We arrived after dark with a new tent we had no idea of how to put up. (First rule of camping always put your new tent up first at home.)

The husband came across to help us, but we were battling in the dark with only a torch so he said, “Sleep in one of our tents – our kids and their families aren’t arriving for three more days – everything is ready, the beds are made up and we’ll sort out your tent in the morning when it’s light.”

After a good night’s sleep and a slap-up breakfast with all the trimmings where the china dinner service was used we did sort out our tent; and spent the rest of our short camping trip socializing with the extended family when they all arrived.

Not everyone wants to camp this way – it almost like moving house! But we do want to make ourselves as comfortable as possible with as little as possible.

Many items serve more than one purpose and these are the ones you want on your list of 37 mandatory camping items. Many are specifically designed for camping – lightweight, foldable/collapsible/inflatable and above all sturdy, because being outdoors many items take punishment not meted out in a home environment,

Water, food, shelter – what comes first?

If you’re in a warm area water is most important followed by food, but where the weather can turn nasty and cold, hypothermia will kill you before thirst – in just 20 minutes or so.

Bear in mind the temperatures you’ll be camping in when planning, and whether it’s for a couple of days or a couple of weeks.

Who is this list aimed at?

This list is for the average family going camping for a week, so you will find a few items here that the lone survivalist could well do without.


bivvy bag

1. Something to sleep in and on

What you choose will suit your age (older bones seem to feel hard ground more than younger bones) and your camping style. If you have to carry everything in a backpack then the bivvy like this could be the answer.

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The Tact Bivvy is made from Mylar, a material used in space, and will keep you warm – it weighs in at just 6 ounces and fits in the palm of your hand.

If you can pack a vehicle and trailer then choices are wider – a sleeping bag, a camping blanket, a sheet in hot weather, the Australians have a swag, a blow up mattress, or just a roll up sleeping pad. Some people insist on a stretcher and foam mattress, for glamping.

the Coleman Dome tent

2. Something to protect yourself and your gear from the elements

The bivvy-style sleeping bag that can store some essentials is the answer if you’re carrying everything in a backpack, plus you’ll need a tarpaulin you can sling between trees if it rains, or for shade.

If you have a car, then take along a lightweight modern tent made to suit the environment – whether it’s for Himalaya type cold or Sonoran desert heat.

A hammock or a blanket on the ground under the stars sounds idyllic, but many seasoned campers know that insects and dew can send you scuttling for that tent that has gauze netting, a built in ground sheet, and zips that close tight so you get no nasty surprises like scorpions under your pillow, and you wake up dry, with no itchy mosquito bites.

camping pillow

3. A Pillow

It’s amazing what a difference even a small pillow can make to a night’s sleep. Yes, I have forgotten a pillow on occasions and folded up towels and jackets are not as comfortable!


4. Water

Depending on how long you stay in an area you may choose to bring in a supply of 5 liter bottled water containers or a 10 liter container for getting fresh water from a spring or tap– as long as you have something at the site for drinking, brushing teeth, washing hands, washing dishes etc. It’s a bonus if you have a tap at your campsite but not all places have this luxury.

sawyer mini

5. Water Purification System

Just a little container with enough household bleach for your trip at 1 teaspoon to 5 liters of water will kill most pathogens.

It’s not ideal, but beats getting cholera or any other nasty disease from impure water. The Sawyer water straw is a lightweight solution.

6. Flour

It’s up to you what type of flour you choose – whether it is gluten free, stone ground, white or brown, wheat flour or a alternative as long as it can be used to thicken soups and stews, make camp bread, flat bread, pancakes or flapjacks.

7. Long life milk or powdered milk…

…for coffee, tea, making flapjacks, putting on cereal/granola in the mornings.

8. A Raising Agent

Soda bicarbonate or baking powder or powdered dry yeast – whatever you choose for bread making or maybe a bit of both – some for bread and some for flapjacks.

9. Meat

The amount will depend on how carnivorous the campers in your family or group are. If you have a freezer to take along with you make sure the meat is ready frozen so the gas or electric freezer doesn’t have to work too hard on cooling everything down.

If you’re taking a fridge or cooler box that plugs into your car for a couple of days camping, have the meat vacuum packed to help it last a little longer, and make sure it is cold before packing the fridge or cooler box.

10. Salt and Pepper

Even if you take no other seasoning at least ensure you have a salt and pepper mix to season food. Dried herbs and spices can be pre-mixed in tiny containers for the amount of meals you plan on eating while camping to save space.

11. Coffee/Tea/Juice

Most people cannot start the day without a cup of coffee or tea – it just ensures everyone is in a sweeter mood. Is this mandatory? Perhaps not. If you drink none of these beverages, then substitute a drink of choice or opt for water.

12. Sweetener

Whether it sugar, syrup, or an artificial sweetener make sure you have some for the flapjacks, and the coffee and tea and for cereal in the mornings – unless of course everyone in the group goes completely sugar-free in which case it isn’t mandatory

13. Cereal/ Granola Bars

For energy when hiking or as a quick meal a bowl of cereal or a granola bar or two in backpack help alleviate the munchies with their mix of grain, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, packed with energy.

14. Carbs

A pack of dry pasta, maize meal, rice, or cous cous – it doesn’t matter as long as you have some carbs.

15. Fresh Vegetables

Butternut or pumpkin, potatoes and onions travel well, and last well. Items like eggplant, lettuce, and tomatoes don’t travel well. You can live without them for a couple of days.

16. Canned Goods

When you’re camping you don’t have the time to spend hours preparing meals so cans of butter beans, chick peas and so on come in handy. It’s best however to look for cans with the ring pull top when shopping for camping supplies – if the ring pull fails you can always use the multitool to prise the can open.

17. Fats and Oils

Whether its coconut oil, peanut oil, or sunflower oil you need a little for frying, or you can go without oil and use butter or margarine that can be used to spread on freshly baked bread and for the odd bit of light frying.

18. Fresh Fruit

Apples and oranges travel well – avoid strawberries, nectarines and other soft fruit as they can quickly get bruised and spoil.

Equipment and Utensils

three maglite flashlights

19. Flashlight

Choose a robust versatile flashlight – they can be used for signaling, lighting the way, identifying threats. Headlamps while seemingly useful shouldn’t be used alone – the flashlight is better as you can direct the light and hold it fairly still if you are making repairs to a vehicle or equipment – the headlight doesn’t work as efficiently.

Choose a flashlight with an on/off switch you can easily locate by feel in the dark – There is nothing worse than fiddling around trying to feel for the switch when something is approaching stealthily, and you’re not sure if it wants to eat you.

20. A Good General-purpose Knife

This can help you with anything from filleting a fish, chopping vegetables, to repairing stuff.

21 Camp Stove

You can chop wood and build a fire each day, or take along a small gas cooker. For campsites that have electricity on site, a small electric two-plate stove can be used.

22. Small Chopping Board

For filleting the fish you have caught, to preparing meat, chopping vegetables, cutting bread – it doesn’t have to be big, just 15×20 cm is sufficient. Some cooler boxes come with a chopping board attached to the lid.

23. Mess Kit

You get the multi ones – fold out spoon, fork and knife, or take what you prefer as long as you have something to stir your coffee, eat cereal, cut your meat and get food into your mouth without having to use your hands – although you could cook the way many people in Arabian and Africans countries do and make a stew: with flat breads that you tear into pieces to mop up the stew – no washing up other than the stew pot!

24. Drinking Utensil

Pack a lightweight stainless steel water container with a screw top you can carry on day hikes. Avoid plastic – it’s an eco disaster, can split, and isn’t good for your long–term health.

This can also be used for coffee and other liquids. The screw top keeps bees out of drinks so you don’t end up getting stung on the lip as often happens when you drink out of a can.

25 Stainless Steel Dish

That serves as a plate, bowl, and for food prep.

26 Pot or Pan

Decide what you will mostly be preparing – stews or barbequed meat with a pot for your rice or side dish of vegetables. Or do you intend frying most of your food? Then a skillet would be better. If there are a number of people in the group you will need both.

27. Matches in a waterproof bag or a lighter

It is amazing how many campers forget this essential item. Using two sticks and some tinder can take a while and may be the only solution if there are no other campers in the vicinity. A cigarette smoker in the group can always be relied on to have matches or a lighter.

28 Fridge/cooler box

It depends how long you will be camping and what facilities there are. Some campsites have electrical power points on site so you can plug in a small electric fridge. If there’s no electricity you can use a gas freezer/fridge.

If the trip is only a couple of days, then a thermo electric cooler box that works off your car cigarette lighter point, or even a quality cooler with ice bricks will last. It all depends on the ambient temperature of where you are camping.

The hotter it is the more important it will be to have a gas or electric system for cooling. No one likes warm beers!

29. Fold-up Table

No matter how many tables you take it’s quite amazing how the camp tables fill up with ‘stuff’. Taking at least one table means food preparation doesn’t have to be done squatting on the ground, it’s a place for family to gather for drinks and evening snacks, to lay out the meal, to play board games and prepare fishing traces and equipment away from the sand.

30 Tomahawk or Axe

…for chopping wood, protection, slamming in tent pegs, making furrows to channel rainwater away from the tent, clearing the campsite or creating a makeshift shelter if something happens to your tent. This saves taking a spade, or a hammer.


30. First aid Kit…


  • a couple of bandages,
  • plasters/plaster tape
  • scissors – to cut the tape, remove clothing in case of a broken bone/ burn
  • antiseptic
  • gauze
  • tweezers – I prefer a sewing needle as often a splinter gets under the skin that tweezers can’t get at – you have to pry open the entry point with a needle if it has slid in sideways and there is no point protruding.
  • antacid
  • anti diarrhea medication
  • an anti-inflammatory
  • betadine for wound cleansing
  • topical gel for pain relief
  • a sealed sterile burn dressing – with gas and open fires it amazing how often you need this,
  • and any other personal medications you need.

31. Map – either a paper one or on your cell phone.

If you don’t have a car charger and/or cell reception the digital isn’t going to help much. Paper maps can be bulky and liable to water damage, but a cell phone can also be subject to water damage.

Personally I prefer the type of map handed out at national parks marking the trails if on a day hike.

32. Bag or backpack with personal toiletries, and changes of clothing.

33. Sunscreen with a high protection factor…

…and apply even in cloudy conditions, as you can still burn.

34 Drimac…

…a jacket that doubles as a mac to keep out the rain – with a hood.

35 Camp Chair

Sitting on logs or the ground can get very tiring. Fold-up camp chairs, especially the ones that keeps the night breeze from chilling your back, are a bonus.

36. Insect Repellant

You don’t want malaria, or to suffer from itchy bites and rashes.

37. Toilet Roll

Aside from their usual use they can be used to wipe up spills, as a serviette, to blow noses, and dry hands.

Making a plan if you forget something

If you forget any one of the 37 items on the list you will survive, but certainly won’t be as comfortable as you would like to be. Leaves instead of toilet paper – hmmm…

As for paracord – you should have your paracord bracelet on your wrist at all times anyway.

On a trip to a remote area in Africa, my husband forgot the tent poles for our pop-up caravan – his priority had been the boat and fishing equipment!

There was stunned silence when we discovered they weren’t there, but within a short while he found a local carrying a bundle of long straight branches on his head, intended as firewood, and bought the bundle from him with the arrangement that after our three week camping trip he could have them all back anyway.

Then, using his axe my husband shaped the ends until they fitted into the slots on the side of the caravan, and used paracord to tie the other poles as uprights to the poles above so the side tent fitted over well enough.

A few day later a couple arrived, set up their small tent then came to ask for help – the man had cut himself on the rocks while diving, and they had no first aid kit, so while husband patched up the diver his girlfriend, looking at our tent, said wistfully – “You’re so organized here”, and then wondered why I burst out laughing. She understood when I showed her the tent “poles”.

Always check off items on your list as you pack

Never assume that because you used an item on the last camping trip it will still be in its place in the trailer or container. So often things washed, cleaned, or repaired, then go back into the normal household instead of into the camping gear.

Non-mandatory items make life more fun

The aim of this list is to make camping reasonably comfortable with just a few items. There are lots of non-mandatory items that will make life a whole lot better and more fun – like games to play in the evening around the campfire, a book to read, a camera, sketchbook and pencils, and a cricket or softball bat, or frisbee for some impromptu games.

And let’s not forget the beers or a chilled glass of wine to round off the evening, while you swap campfire stories and the kids roast s’mores.

camping essentials Pinterest

8 thoughts on “37 Camping Essentials to Bring With You”

  1. omg that is a long and overloaded list, so much extra stuff, looks suited to “Car camping” and half that would not be pactical to carry in a pack (like pillow and camp chair). i have camped many times, and if you count the conditions of my homestead to be camping then i have been camping every night for the last decade.

    my “light” camps back in the mid 2000s were much simpler, i had an army ponch, that was my ground sheet to sleep on and under the stars, and my tarp for shelter and my rain gear (would sleep sitting upright against a tree with it on, use an extra whatever as a horse collar pillow). laying down i used one of my boots as a pillow. wore plain clothes with long pants and shot sleaves and a broad brim hat with a mosquito headnet as needed, and gloves. had a fixed blade belt knife (an old boning knife by old hickory knives), carried a couple candles and a lighter. a 1lb tomato sauce can modified with baling wire as a bail to cook over a fire, or an msr stow away pot on top of a triangia alcohaul stove. a nalgene bottle, would boil water or use a hand pump filter. small first id kit with some bandaids, a razor, some duct tape, and a couple asprin. a bandanna, wool socks, hiking boots (like timberland chicordas) my pack was a small satchel bag. and i carried something that cooked fast like quinoa or fast cooking boxed sides and added whatever i found on the trail to it. also oatmeal. everything was light and quick to cook and fit in a light pack and i could cover 20+ miles a day in the mountains without being bogged down and could cover a lot of ground fast and light. even my large expiditions were fast and light and just added things like a wool blanket, extra socks, more food, and extra water bottle and sometimes fishing tackle or a shotgun. the only time i ever saw anyone take a pillow along camping was when it was out of their car at a koa or state park. don’t mean to sound mean or anything, but with all my experience i find some of these things to be added fluff.

    • even times when i had a bed i never really used a pillow, as a kid i slept on the floor after i outgrew the toddler bed (terrible family), all i had was a filthy blood stained pillow (bleeding nose a lot), and i didn’t have a bed till i bought a house in a tax auction and found one in it back in 2001 and an old feather pillow, then when i moved out in 2008 the bed was damaged and i just slept on the floor again at the next house i had and used a rolled up blanket as a pillow or whatever was handy, then i moved into a camper and abandoned that house to the bank in april 2011 and slept on the campers couch with the same rolled up throw blanket as a pillow, and spent the winter and next few years (on the canadian boarder) in a 10×14 tool shed with a wood stove and folding cot and that same rolled up blanket and a pile of whatever blankets i could find at a thrift store for cover and matress. only got another bed when i built a new cabin in 2015 and got a pull out couch for $40 off craigslist, then i finally got a pillow when i hand sewed one from an old curtain someone threw out (found a bag of them on the curb while out on my bike) and cut up any old shirts i had that were saved for rags and stuffed it. though it got filthy after a few years and i thew it in the doghouse and the first time in my life i had a new pillow was when i got one a year ago at dollar general. the horse collar ones i camped with were usually just a rolled up extra shirt i carried for an extra layer if i needed it. the whole take a pillow camping just sounds off

  2. We have a slightly divelopementally challenged guy that likes to go camping with us, but has expected others to feed, shelter, and take care of him (at no cost). We are working at breaking him of this. This list is a great started for him.

    Thank you.

  3. I laughed quite hard at your ‘camp mates’ get up, talk about luxury camping! DH says I pack way too much when we camp (we either camp with our pop up camper or a tent, if we have the popup we have a lot more ‘stuff’ that stays in it permanently (dishes/pots and pans/silverware, FAK, and so on, when tent camping I have to grab those kind of things out of the popup and pack in the van). We camp at places that have hookups, or not, so that affects how we prepare and what needs packed (ie, if there’s water available, I don’t need to bring as much, if electric is available we don’t necessarily need the portable solar/battery backup, etc.)

    Nemoseto, I have sleep issues (likely apnea), and I cannot sleep without some type of pillow no matter where I am. I have used extra clothes, towels, etc., but prefer to bring along my pillows from home when camping. If we were having to hoof it, that would be the one luxury I couldn’t afford to bring along, but again, would need to use extra clothing or something.

    Like JP mentioned, I think this is a good basic starter list for someone who’s not familiar with camping themselves. We have to keep in mind that there are readers here of all skill levels, from novice to ‘old hand’. I consider myself an ‘old hand’ when it comes to camping, but I am certainly a ‘novice’ when it comes to having to really rough it and live off the land/stealthily.

    • in that case you may find an inflatable pillow useful. they are very uncommon but do exist (like backpacking wine, wine sold in boxes like a pint of milk, lighter and less breakable than a bottle but very expensive) i used to see all kinds of gimmicy luxury stufff like that in bakpacke magazine, its not about hiking per sae but more like a huge ad platform dumb people pay to read (smart ones read in a library, i wish i still lived near one) i recall seeing some expensive high end infltable pillows, still not practical for true camping and roughing it, but if its for some medial condition then it has its place.

  4. 1st dear wife & i motorcycle camped with a trailer made from a cartop carrier. Propane barbeque & one burner campstove, 2 folding lawn chairs, 3 person tent the type with fiberglass hoops. Shopped for dinner about 3pm, no refridge required altho the next year we added a small cooler to the trailer tongue. Always brought 2 std size pillows each.

  5. When I was a Scout leader, we had what was called “Cub Camping.” Since families often came along with their Cub Scouts, folks often brought everything including the kitchen sink. Actually, Cub Camping was a lot of fun for the boys, and for most of the families. There were plenty of experienced campers to help the newbies. My #2 daughter was a pro at setting up tents, any kind, even in the dark. She was known as the “tent diva.”

    When the kids moved up to Boy Scouts, camping was a little more rustic as families didn’t come along. Venturing Scouts could get really primitive. My #2 daughter has had a one-person tent for years, since her Venturing days and still uses it as a Venturing adult leader. She has a bigger tent for when her and her boyfriend go camping, but they still go pretty light on the gear as they often have to pack it in from where they parked their car.

    I’m too broken down for a lot of that primitive camping now, but the military gave me plenty of experience.

  6. We never tent camp, we had a family cabin that was built in 1936, and had a 1880’s wood stove and a fireplace, made out of river rock. Our refrigerator, was the river that ran by the cabin, and Coleman coolers, to keep ice and the hot dogs cold. It was fun going each year at least 10 days up to two weeks, we washed and brushed our teeth at the river and used old tea kettles to keep hot water on the stove, those are days and times, I’ll never get back but will never forget either.


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