41 Essential Camping Supplies
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I go camping at least once a year with my wife. Here is the essential gear I suggest you take while camping.
This list is better for car camping. You can adjust it as necessary for backpacking.
If you are tent camping, this is a given.
According to SFIA which tracks what equipment people buy for camping, wholesale sales of tents were $383 million dollars in 2018. You can read more here.
But you should consider bringing a tent even if you are renting a cabin in the woods, I think you should consider bringing a tent along. In particular, if you have kids. You can pitch the tent in the yard. This can be a place to hang-out while the kids play outside. And the kids can sleep in it to so they can feel like they’re roughing it.
You can check out our guide on buying a tent.
Tents can help keep you dry but they’re not going to keep you warm. That is the job of a sleeping bag. Mummy bags will keep you warmer but a rectangular bag will be less restrictive. Always pay attention to the temperature rating. And buy a bag that’s rated for at least 10 degrees colder than you expect to camp in.
We also have a guide on how to choose a sleeping bag here.
Sleeping Pad Or Cot
A sleeping bag alone is not enough to keep you warm. You need a sleeping pad as well. A sleeping pad will also be more comfortable than just sleeping on the ground. You may also prefer to sleep on a cot. A cot also gives you more storage room in a tent because you can put stuff under the cot.
The simple tarp has many uses while camping. You can use it as a footprint under your tent. It can protect your camp kitchen from the rain. And if necessary can be turned into an improvised shelter.
When I created my home “survival kit” for Y2K, one of the first things I bought was a tarp because I knew if I needed to bug-out, I could always find a place to sleep with a tarp.
Swiss Army Knife Or Multitool
On your average front country camping trip you are unlikely to need your full camping knife because we will be carrying pre-made stuff. But it’s always good to have a pocket knife with a folding blade like a Swiss Army knife or a Leatherman multitool.
Useful for opening packages, cutting fishing line, impressing the kids by starting a fire with a Ferro rod or whittling to pass the time.
Plus the tweezers in the Swiss Army Knife are useful if needed for First-Aid.
You’ll need light to see in the dark. A headlamp is better than a flashlight because you can keep your hands free. You can also wrap a headlamp around a clear plastic water bottle and place it in your tent. This will add a cozy feeling as you turn in for the night.
A tactical flashlight is a very bright flashlight. It will have a lot of lumens. Often over 1000. Besides making it very easy to see at night. A tactical flashlight should temporarily blind any critter or human that means you harm. Allowing you a chance to get away.
Flashlights and headlamps and maybe even your lanterns will all need batteries. Make sure to bring along enough for your trip in the correct size.
Lanterns are also a camping staple. The cast light over a larger area. You can put them on a picnic table or hang them from a hook in your tent. If you’re going to put a lantern in your tent make sure it is an electric lantern. You can get a lantern in either gas or electric form. I also keep a self charging LED lantern in my kit.
Scissors are an underrated item to carry on a camping trip. Well a good knife is useful, scissors might be more valuable. You will spend a lot of time opening things like prepackaged foods where scissors are easier to use and safer.
Full Tang Knife
Do you want to be fully prepared then bring along a full tang camping knife such as Mora Garberg Carbon or KA-BAR. They are better at certain tasks such as splitting wood and they can take much more abuse than your pocket knife.
Another item to carry in your camping kit is a folding saw. A folding saw is useful when you need to process larger limbs into smaller limbs for firewood or other bushcraft tasks.
A backpack is also useful to bring on a camping trip for packing your clothes and rain gear. you can also use it as a day pack for any hiking you do on your camping trip.
Camping gear companies employ magicians to fit their tents and sleeping bags in their original packaging containers. Save yourself the headache and heartburn of trying to re-pack your gear into the original packages. Instead use large duffel bags to carry your gear.
Paracord was the rope created by the military to hold parachutes. It’s lightweight and very strong. And has a lot of uses around camp such as helping to hold your tarp up as a rain fly over your kitchen area.
If you need to start a campfire there is nothing more reliable than a standard BIC lighter. Bring at least three. And keep one in your pocket. About the only conditions a lighter won’t work is if it’s below freezing. But if you keep the lighter in your pocket it should keep it warm enough for it to light. And contrary to popular belief if you drop it in water, it is possible to still get a light. All you need to do is shake out the water. And blow into the opening to flush out any other remaining water. And then it should light.
Cotton Balls Soaked In Vaseline
Cotton balls soaked in Vaseline are one of the most reliable ways to get a fire started. They’re easy to catch a spark off a feral rod or a lighter. And they will burn for several minutes. Giving you enough time to catch your kindling on fire. You can keep several in an old medicine bottle.
Steel Water Bottle
Bring along a steel water bottle. Make sure it is a single walled bottle. The double walled insulated water bottles like a Yeti cannot be used to boil water in. Because they might explode. But you should be able to use a steel water bottle directly in the campfire to boil water for emergency.
Steel Cup That Nests With The Water Bottle
Bring a metal cup that can your bottle can nest in. This too can be used to help cook. Such as pour in a packet of Ramen noodles or oatmeal.
Don’t forget to bring along a mess kit. This could be a traditional steel kit that you could also use for cooking over a fire.
Or if you’re car camping, you could bring paper plates and plastic cutlery like a picnic.
Or you could have fun with this and use a frisbee. I remember using frisbee on many Boy Scout trips.
Also don’t forget your own spoon, knife, and fork.
This way you don’t have to resort to curving a spork out of an old 2-liter soft drink bottle (note in the South we will call these Coke bottles. Regardless of the brand of soft drink was in the bottle).
Gas Stove And Fuel
While we all love campfires, you still want to bring along a gas stove with fuel. There are three important reasons for this.
One reason is that a gas stove is faster and easier to boil water with. As discussed in our article on how to boil water, a campfire is just too much work just to boil water in the morning. Save a campfire for big meals.
A second reason is that you might be camping during a burn ban. And during a burn ban you won’t be able to light a campfire.
And the third reason is that you might not have any wood to burn. In particular, here on the prairie or in the desert, there might not be enough wood around to burn.
One of the best benefits of car camping is the ability to take a cooler. You will want a cooler to keep foods and drinks cold while camping. Invest in a quality cooler that will hold its temperature for several days. While there are tricks to keeping things cold such as putting frozen water bottles in the cooler instead of ice, one of the best things to do is to bring multiple coolers. Put all food in one cooler. And drinks in another. Because the fewer times a cooler is opened, the longer it will stay cold.
If you are camping at a traditional campsite, it should have easy access to potable water. However, it’s always a good idea to bring along a water filter as well. If it’s your family, I would bring along a pump like the Katadyn.
This is because it’s better suited at producing larger quantities of water quickly. Otherwise, for personal use, pair a Sawyer mini with a Smart-brand water bottle. There’s nothing special about the bottle, other than it’s typically larger than other brands.
Portable USB Charger
Phones, rechargeable headlamps, and other gadgets require recharging. And even if you are camping to avoid talking to people, your phone is most likely your camera too.
Thus bring along portable chargers.
There are several solar-powered models now. But as Dixie from Homemade Wanderlust points out, if you’re deep in a forest, you might not get enough sunlight for the solar chargers to work.
Of course, if you’re car camping, in the worst case, you could use a car charger.
Baby Wipes and Toilet Paper
Camping doesn’t stop the go.
One of my friends is a retired SEAL. And as he points out, nobody enjoys wiping their butt with sand.
So make sure to bring along toilet paper and baby wipes so you can keep yourself clean.
Compass With Magnifying Glass
This is another emergency piece of kit. If you get lost and need to navigate back to safety, a compass is essential.
And you want a compass with a magnifying glass in it.
The magnifying glass helps you read maps with small print.
A magnifying glass can help you remove splinters and ticks.
And a magnifying glass can be used to start a fire.
Any DIY person knows the value of duct tape.
And this is true for camping.
But don’t get the generic grey duct tape. Get Gorilla tape.
This stuff is much stronger and stickier than traditional duct tape.
And can be used as an emergency fire starter.
Whistle And Signal Mirror
This is also for your emergency kit. A whistle is louder and requires less energy to use if you need to signal for help.
And a signal mirror can be seen for miles away.
Hopefully, you will never need them but you will have them if necessary.
This is a type of fire starter. It’s short for Ferrocerium rod.
Ferrocerium is a type of metal that when exposed to air, combusts.
And you use the rod by scraping it with a piece of metal, usually our knife.
The metal scrapes so that it exposes the Ferrocerium to the air and this creates sparks. Your BIC lighter contains a tiny Ferro rod and the metal spinner, scrapes against the rod to create sparks to ignite the fuel.
Bumps and scrapes are going to happen while out camping. So make sure to at least bring along some Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment and alcohol wipes.
You can also bring along some basic medications such as aspirin, Tylenol, Advil, Benadryl, and anti-diarrhea.
You can purchase a First-Aid kit or just bring stuff from home.
Bring along clothing appropriate for the weather. And make sure to dress in layers.
You want to bring along a couple of changes of clothes. While you don’t have to worry as much about doing laundry on a camping trip.
But if you get wet, you want to make sure to change clothes.
And bring along clothes for sleeping. This way if you’ve been hiking all day and got wet, you can sleep in something dry and warm.
Always pack rain gear. Ideally a rain jacket and pants. This doesn’t have to be expensive. I know of people who have hiked the entire Appalachian Trail using the cheap gear they found at Walmart.
Because you can always patch holes with Gorilla tape :).
At the very least, make sure you throw in some ponchos in your pack.
6 MIL Contractor Bag
Bring along several 6 MIL (this is not millimeters) contractor bags.
They are essentially heavy duty trash bags for the construction industry.
The bags are cheap and ultra-portable. And can be used for many things besides trash.
A 6 MIL bag can be fashioned into a poncho, a sleeping pad, a cot (as long as you have some branches and basic lashing skills) or even an emergency shelter.
Bring along some board games to play to pass the time. In particular, when it’s raining too hard to go hiking or fishing.
Though, if you do have rain gear plus your fishing bait and tackle, it’s often a good time to go fishing when it rains.
If the sounds of the wilderness spook you. Or the neighboring campsite are partying. Or you partner snores. You can bring along a pair of ear plugs to sleep soundly.
Bear Bag Or Canister
If camping in bear country, keep your food and toiletries secured in a bear bag or canister. Even your car is not a safe spot.
Read this article about all of the amazing things bears will do to get to your food.
If you are car camping and you hear a bear (or more likely racoons) wandering through your campsite, your car’s panic alarm is a useful tool to scare them off.
Bear spray is not hippy spray. At least one study I have heard about, bear spray was 95% effective in stopping a bear charge. However, not every place will allow bear spray - so check the local regulations.
Sunscreen And Insect Repellent
You’re going to be outside. Make sucre to bring along sunscreen because nothing is worse than trying to setup camp with a sunburn.
And you need to bring along insect repellent. Spray or lotion with DEET can be placed on your body but will destroy gear.
Permethrin is insect repellent that can be applied to clothing. You can either apply it yourself or buy clothing that has been pre-treated. The biggest difference that I’ve heard is that self-treating it allows it to be used for 6 washes before needing to be reapplied. While the pre-treated will stay on for 60 washes.
I know some people are nervous about DEET. But you have to personally factor what you believe the risk is for DEET exposure on your camping trip vs picking up an insect disease like Lyme disease.
Wasp And Hornet Spray
Hopefully, there’s not going to be any nests at your campsites. And check with the local rules about using it in the campsite if there is.
These are sometimes called space blankets. They’re small, lightweight blankets with mylar coating. They will reflect 90% of your body heat back to you. Or you can make shade from them by reversing them if summer camping.
XXXL Orange 100% Cotton Shirt
I picked this tip up when I took my first survival course via Dave Canterbury on Udemy.
While you never want to wear cotton as a base layer because it retains moisture.
A 100% XXXL cotton orange shirt has many potential benefits in a “survival” situation.
You can wear it as a way to be spotted by rescuers.
You can tear it up and use it as an emergency bandage.
You can fashion it into a sling or splint.
And you can even take your knife and scrape off material to make tinder for a fire.