We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. Please see policies for more information.
So many people are looking to camping as their first choice of travel lately. If you are new to camping, or just don’t have a ton of gear and wondering what you really NEED to go out for a weekend definitely check out this list!
Jared and I both have different camping experiences as kids but were both active in the outdoors. Our first camping experiences together were fairly early in our relationship (we’re high school sweethearts) so we have quite a few trips under our belts. We wanted to put together a list of things that we think are definite needs for camping. You may be surprised at how short the list actually is. The fact is, you can have a fun weekend away without getting ALL the bells and whistles. If you decide you’re going to make camping a regular thing, check out this post that lists out some of the extra things we added to our gear collection to make camping a more comfortable experience.
What You Absolutely Need for a Successful Camping Trip
Keep in mind these our our personal suggestions. Jared LOVES to be prepared, Allison would go out on a whim whenever a friend asked without a thought as to what to bring for emergencies so this is a mix of us both.
- Somewhere to sleep/shelter – you really don’t need a tent if you have room to sleep in your vehicle or want to try sleeping in a hammock. Most people want the whole tent experience though so start with a camping trip in mild weather (we like when the lows are in the 50’s the best) so you aren’t too worried about heaters and all that. When looking for a tent, look for something that says it will sleep double the amount of people you actually want to sleep in it. Tent math is a weird thing lol! Here are a couple of good options to start with 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 or this is a decent price on a set that includes many things we’ve listed below.
Another thing to consider is if you think you’ll want a cot or sleeping pad. They make some cool bunk bed cots for kids that could also come in handy in hotel rooms if you travel a lot or you could just go with a simple sleeping pad to make your sleep a little more comfortable.
- Bedding – sleeping bags are an obvious choice (get one that works for the temperature you’ll most camp in) but if you have an air mattress, cot, or sleeping pad, you can always just bring sheets/blankets from home. The space-saving bags that you don’t need a vacuum for are great for reducing the size of pillows/blankets from home to save some space!
- First Aid / Emergency Kit – often overlooked but a MUST is a first aid kit and emergency kit. You can build your own or buy an inexpensive one like this. Either way, you should definitely have some first aid basics on hand. An emergency kit should have a water filter straw or bottle in it. We also add bug spray to ours.
- A Plan for how you’re going to go to the bathroom – check out this post for all your options, just make sure you have a plan BEFORE you go!
- Food, a way to prepare it, and something to eat it from – camp food doesn’t have to be complicated. You could buy ALL backpacking meals/MRE, make sandwiches or anything cold that’s ready to eat, or you can plan to cook some meals while you’re camping. It’s all preference, how often you’ll camp, and how many new supplies you’re willing to buy. There are many meals you can make over the campfire, you can get a camp stove, or you can buy a simple all-in-one tool like our favorite a Skottle! We’ll be getting into lots of favorite recipes to share here so stay tuned or sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss any!
If you are preparing food you’ll want to make sure to pack a table. If you already have a folding table you can pack that, or get one that folds up smaller specifically for camping/picnicking.
You’ll likely have some food with you that will need to be kept cold so you’ll want an ice chest with plenty of ice. You don’t need a top of the line one but we do recommend getting a similar one, they last so much longer than the traditional ones and you’re sure to use it often.
- Fire – if there are no fire restrictions where you’re camping (be sure to look those up before you go) don’t forget to bring something to start AND PUT OUT your fire. Typically even in “dry camping” there will be a fire ring but you can also purchase an inexpensive portable fire pit, or even a propane fire ring that can be used even during some fire restrictions for the full camping experience.
- Water and extra water – always bring more water than you think you’ll need. You can get your own re-usable containers or buy the 2.5-gallon jugs for easy dispensing into your bottles. We bring a container of water for washing up or emergency needs and then have a bucket underneath to catch the water. This is perfect for putting out a campfire.
A way to store & remove your trash – this is pretty simple but you’d be surprised at how many people forget about this little detail. Bring plenty of trash bags! I like a good heavy duty lawn bag and you can just tie it onto anything in the area like your car, a tree, etc. Make sure to put it in the car overnight to keep critters out of it. You can also purchase a pop-up bag or one that hangs on the car to hold the bag.
- A plan on how you’ll contact someone in an emergency – don’t overlook safety, especially if you aren’t sure if you’ll have cell service, make sure someone knows where you are and when you’re supposed to be back just in case.
- Map of the area – we’re so used to having a map on our phones but if you want to be extra cautious make sure you have one downloaded for offline use. This will help you find more camp spots if your plans change or just be beneficial in case of an emergency.
- Portable charger – keep your devices charged even if you’re unplugging for the weekend.
- Light – several flashlights (we love these), headlamps are fun for kids, or lanterns (propane, LED etc.) will definitely come in handy. Fun tip: if you put a headlamp around a 1-gallon plastic jug of water with the light facing in, it creates a great soft light for the tent if you don’t have a specific tent light.
- Chairs – camp chairs that fold up to be used for eating, resting, sitting around the campfire…
- Bear Spray – if you’re in an area with bears, bear spray or your preferred form of self-defense is always recommended.
- Coffee – if coffee is a necessity for you you’ll want to make sure to bring some instant coffee and have a way to heat up water. We use this little trail stove and this french press that works and stores great.
Tips on Deciding What to Buy for Camping
Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding what to buy for your basic camp setup:
- How often do you think you’ll be going camping or is this just a one or two time thing
- What will the weather USUALLY be like
- Will there be cell service where you camp (you can usually get info on that when searching for campsites online, if not check it out before you go)
- Will you or can you use the supplies in any other situation
If you’re new to camping and worried about how you’ll sleep because of noises or snoring or something, try bringing a travel white noise machine and/or tent fan.
If you have a bigger budget definitely go for the good stuff that you think will make your camping trip more comfortable. You can also always try out a cheaper version of a product and if you find it useful upgrade when you’re ready and then pass down or sell the old one.