The time of year is upon us where it’s time to head outdoors and get a little taste of nature that has eluded us through the winter. The popularity of camping, hiking, and backpacking grow steadily and companies supplying gear are more plentiful than ever.
It’s great to have options but so many options only makes matters more confusing. To clear the water a little, we put together this article as a guide on the best camping gear essentials - what you need to know heading into this camping season.
Table of Contents
- Best Camping Gear Essentials
- Tents & Shelters
- Camp Cooking and Dining
- Camp Clothes
- Safety and Survival Gear
- Camp Essentials and Extras
- Final Verdict
Best Camping Gear Essentials
Tents & Shelters
No part of your camping experience is more important than the shelter you choose. This is as much for safety as it is for your enjoyment! Even summer nights can get chilly without a good place to stay. Here are the most popular options for shelters this season:
An important note on picking a camping tent is not to go by the number of people staying with you but with the size you need. Most tents count a 2x6 foot space as being one person. If you have a lot of gear or want some extra room, go with a bigger tent.
1 Person or Solo Tent
If you are a backpacker or just want a place all your own in the backcountry, there is no better way than a solo tent. They are small, lightweight, and the modern options offer great protection and comfort no matter where you camp.
If you are after a solo tent, you want to try to get one that has good storage options like pockets and maybe a gear loft. Having a covered vestibule area is also a good option. Mostly what is going to tip the scales is the overall weight and packed size. These are key with any good solo tent.
2 Person Tent
If you want a little more space, a two-person tent is a great way to go. You can split the weight among two people and get by carrying next to nothing. You can also choose to stay in one alone for the extra space. A 2 person tent is a great option for a solo camper who is staying put for a few days.
Solo tents are still mostly judged by weight and size. These are often made for backpacking couples but are a good choice for those with pets or who need a bit more space for gear. While they are not as common as other tent sizes, there are enough brands available that you will have a choice in what you want.
3 Person Tent
This is still a rare tent size, possibly one of the rarest. Many people who are sleeping three to a tent will go with a 4 person tent that is easier to find and has more room. Where a three-person tent comes in handy is for couples with a child or pet they want to take along.
Most 3 Person tents are a little heavy for backpacking but are great for shorter hiking trips. Size is a key decision to make for a 3 person tent. More room is always appreciated and most people with a 3 person tent have some other agenda than staying in it overnight. Popular with rock climbers, fishermen, and hunters.
4 Person Tent
This is one of the most popular tents on the market. They are great for small families and work well for a couple with extra gear. Most will fit everything you need and have more features than smaller tents. The largest models are often cabin style and are very popular in the current market.
Space is a key decision with a 4 person tent, whether it’s for a family or a couple on an extended stay. You also want gear storage room. Most 4 person tents can fit a queen air mattress which is nice for car camping. Weight is an issue so these are not often used for backpacking or extended hiking trips.
6 Person Tent
As we move into the realm of larger families or those people who want a lot of indoor space when they are camping, the 6 person tent is a great option. It’s still small enough to carry shorter distances but large enough to keep from feeling crowded.
Though there are dome style tents in a 6 person size, most of the really popular models are cabin style. They allow a little more room and are easier to move around in with higher ceilings. Many have extra features and storage areas. Some even have covered porch areas.
8 Person Tent
As you get larger, tents get more complicated with more features. Picking a large tent can be a challenge with so many to choose from that are so different. Plan around your family size and the room you need. Then you can consider all of the extras.
The 8 person tent often has plenty of extras from storage areas to porches and even whole rooms netted off. These are a great option to enjoy those outdoor evenings without the bug problem. Some even come with built-in lights or other high-end features.
10 Person Tent
Nearing the maximum size of tents, the 10 person is nearly as large as they come. There are a few 12 and even 16 person tents but they are usually cumbersome and almost always expensive. For those that need extra space, 10 is about the best it gets!
A 10 person tent should be picked based on overall size and features. Usually you will have plenty of storage room and enough floor space for 2 air mattresses. Many will have screen rooms or porches. If you want the most possible space, this is where you get it!
If you are unclear on what we mean by a cabin tent, it’s a tent that usually has more vertical walls and a higher roof. It will look much more like a small cabin when erected than the normal dome style tent.
You can get cabin tents for as few as 4 people but the maximum goes up as far as 12 or 16. If you are taller or want a tent you can move around in, this is the tent you want to go with. Price ranges go from affordable to very expensive. Size and budget can be a huge factor in what cabin tent you want.
Nothing is as frustrating as having to set up a complicated tent after a long trip. This is where the Pop-Up tent comes in. These range from very easy to set up all the way to automatic. Some go up in as little as 10 seconds. If you have traveled a long way, having a quick set up tent is a feeling you can’t explain.
Most pop-up tents are fairly light on features to keep their weight and size down. A pop-up model will always pack down larger than a standard model made for the same number of people. Sure, it’s a tradeoff but one that may very well be worth making. They can be quite cheap but get expensive fast with premium brands.
Roof Top Tent
If you have the right vehicle and want to change up the way you camp, a rooftop tent or truck tent are perfect options. They get you off the ground, set up in minutes, and are among the most comfortable options out there. Models can fit trucks, SUVs, Jeeps, and some mini-vans.
The fit is always the most important factor in deciding what tent you need. Not all tents fit all vehicles. After that, weight and set up are usually top considerations. Most of these are comfortable and roomy so that is a final factor. If you want something different, these are a great option!
Nothing beats a good night’s sleep and when you are out in nature, very little is more important. The number one complaint from non-campers is they are uncomfortable and sleep poorly. We are here to rectify that and help you get the sleep you need for a day’s adventure.
Sleeping gear is best thought of as a system and to better look at it, we will look at it in layers, starting with what keeps you off the ground and working up to those extra comforts that you may want to consider.
There are a few options of what you sleep on that can make a difference.
The air mattress is one of the most popular options and done correctly, it can be quite comfortable. It’s also the easiest way to get a large sleeping surface for more than one person in a small, portable package. This is the perfect option for families.
With an air mattress, you want to look at size first to make sure you get enough room. Next, you probably want something with a flocking on the top to prevent sliding. Other considerations are thickness of the mattress and pumps for inflation.
A folding cot is a great option for one person. There are even a few that are wide enough to sleep two. The downfall is their large size and weight but they do get you off the ground and provide a lot of support and comfort.
Size is key when picking out a camping cot. Not only its size when folded but the overall size when set up are important factors. Weight is often a concern. There are no cots that are good for lightweight travel. These are usually reserved for car camping.
A sleeping pad is one of the most portable and lightweight options. Some work like a mini air mattress and self-inflate for more comfort. If you want something packable this is one of the best and most popular options.
With a pad, the more you pay the smaller they are when packed. This can be very important for backpackers and hikers. Most pads are quite comfortable but look for those with that little extra foam padding. You also need to pick one of an appropriate size for your body.
The camping hammock has become one of the most popular options lately. They have a lot of the same strengths as the other options. With a hammock you are off the ground, well supported, and have a system that packs down small.
There are a few negatives to hammocks as well. Not everyone finds them comfortable for one. More importantly, you need trees for a hammock to work for you. Not all campsites will have a place to set up a hammock readily available.
A good sleeping bag is a ubiquitous piece of camping gear. They are warm, provide extra padding, and often pack down relatively small. They are the most popular option by far and about the only option for backpackers and hikers.
A sleeping bag is best selected on temperature rating first. It’s always best to get one made for cooler temperatures than what you will be camping at. The next trait you want to select on is how small it packs down and how little it weighs.
You can use most any blanket for camping but some are better than others. Ideally, a camping blanket should be low weight and not too bulky. It should be made of a quick-drying fabric that wicks away moisture. Stain resistance is always good too.
Selecting a blanket is much like selecting a sleeping bag. You want something warm enough but that packs down small. These are best for cooler summer nights though there are a few that can go down to lower temperatures and still keep you comfortable.
There are some specially made pillows that pack down small and do a good job of replicating how you sleep at home. Though these are often neglected, it’s a good idea to consider one for the best night’s sleep possible.
You can use most any pillow for camping but the best ones are the packable ones. How small and light is often the number one option to consider. It should also be made of a material that dries quickly. If you get a good one, it will improve your camping experience.
Camp Cooking and Dining
Eating has always been a center point of camping. Whether its s’mores, hot dogs, or a pre-pack meal, you need a way to prepare it. A few extra utensils are always handy to have around and make every meal a little more pleasing.
You also likely want a way to transport your food and drinks while keeping them fresh. Having a way to get your morning started right is a good idea. With modern camping gear, your dining experience in the woods can be even better than what you do at home.
Likely the first challenge with camping is getting everything to your site and storing it in a way that it doesn’t spoil. Fresh food while camping is an amazing experience! We can’t forget your favorite drinks either, be that a few cold beers or a can of soda.
Coolers come in so many sizes and with different amounts of time that they can hold ice before it melts. Price is always the determining factor so look at something that fits your needs and how long you plan to stay outdoors.
There are many varieties of camp stoves from those made for one to those made for a family. Some run on compressed gas while others use alcohol or wood for a fuel option. While gas may be one of the best cooking methods, it’s also one of the most expensive. Wood and alcohol are much more affordable.
Pick your camp stove based on size first. If you need more than one burner to get your meal done right, make sure you have that available. If you want something small and portable, the smallest camp stoves are only a little larger than a deck of playing cards.
If you are lucky, you may score a campsite with a grill. There is no food like grilled food, especially when camping. If you don’t have one at your site, bring your own! There are a number of foldable and collapsible grill options that make this possible.
Most grills are made to set up above a campfire. To do this, most have fold-out legs but some collapse completely into a small package suitable for backpacking. If you have a love for grilled foods, check out a few options. They tend to be far more affordable than most camping gear.
While the cookware you use at home could work well for camping, there are options that are more specifically suited to the activity. These can be the large cast-iron pans that are very popular for family outings to collapsible models that fold away for easy transport.
Weight and size are critical when selecting camping cookware. The lightest can weigh under a pound for a decent sized pot. Conversely, a cast-iron Dutch oven can weigh as much as 16 pounds. Pick what you need but keep an eye on how much it weighs and plan ahead on how you will deal with it.
There is a lot to cover with utensils. It could be everything from your fork and spoon to spatulas and other cooking implements. Even chop-sticks are becoming a commonplace item for the camp dining table. And you can’t forget a good knife.
Plan ahead with what you need and if you have the space, take a few extras. Spoons and forks are the most commonly needed extra but an extra knife will never go amiss. If you are frying or grilling, a good spatula, grill fork, and tongs are a great idea!
Camping Coffee Maker
It’s just not the same in the morning without a cup of coffee. There are a few ways you can accomplish this. You could go with the boiling water, add instant coffee method but why when you could simply get a great, portable coffee maker designed for camp use.
The camp coffee maker market is full of options depending on what you want. You could go with a simple percolator and get it over the fire. A more modern way is to go with a battery powered or propane powered coffee pot much like what you use at home. If you want the maximum swank, you can also get a French press. It's all up to you!
While your standard outfits for the outdoors should do fine for camping, there are a couple of items that deserve special mention. For the rest, go with what is comfortable to you and the conditions you will be camping in.
A couple of notes on regular clothing: You do want clothing that wicks moisture well and dries quickly whenever possible. You should always bring at least one extra set of clothing past what you think you will need. This is just in case of bad weather. For the specific items:
While we have our normal hiking footwear to get us to camp and on our daily adventures, it’s a good idea to have a specific pair of shoes just to wear around camp. This is a matter of convenience but has implications for your foot health.
You want your camp shoes to go on and off easily and be able to deal with being wet. They should be just what you use around the campsite when you are doing the daily tasks. These are not hiking or distance walking shoes.
For your time around camp, its good to have a general purpose towel for the many uses you can apply it to. There are many companies making specific camp towels that are very affordable and absolutely indispensable.
The key features of a camp towel over a standard towel is how small they pack and how quickly they dry. These are excellent for cooling off in the summer, keeping sweat out of your eyes, and can even be used to cover your head if it’s too sunny out.
Safety and Survival Gear
For those extra needs on primitive or backwoods sites and a little extra safety, its good to have the gear you need to get things done. Some of this is just common sense like a water supply but other items are too often left behind.
The point of this section is to highlight the extras that will make your camping more comfortable most of the time but if things go bad, they can keep you safe and healthy. Don’t neglect any of these items you may need. They create a well-rounded camping kit.
You always need a good knife for a variety of reasons. This could be the normal food prep stuff and opening packages or it could go a little further. There always seems to be rope that needs to be cut and wood shavings to keep a fire going.
A good camp knife should be sharp and robust. A kitchen knife won’t do everything you need. A good, durable folding knife may work but a better option is for a good fixed blade knife. You can get as elaborate as you feel you need.
If you are camping at a primitive site, you may need to clear small trees and split firewood. This is the time you need an axe to do the work. Honestly, there are a few times you will probably need a full sized axe but when the time arrives, you will be glad you have one.
A camping axe should be medium sized for portability. You don’t need a Paul Bunyan double bit axe to get most tasks done. Just a good serviceable tool that isn’t too heavy for you to use safely and effectively.
If you think an axe may be too much for your needs, a good hatchet is a perfect compromise. It may lack the power you will get with an axe but it can do most of the same tasks. It will take just a bit longer.
With a camp hatchet, you need something small and light. Having a sharp, keen edge is more important with the smaller tool than it is with the axe. You can get a large variety of sizes, weights, and materials. Most of which are of decent quality.
For camping, sometimes you need to clear a few branches or trees out of the way. You may need to cut down some firewood. A good folding camp saw is an affordable and indispensable tool around camp.
There are a few different styles but often the most successful are those that fold like a pruning saw. These are small, lightweight, and usually very effective at cutting. You can also go with a bow saw design which are a little easier to use but are more costly and pack larger.
Water Containers for Camping
You need a source of water near camp. Something more than just a water bottle. This will be used for many tasks around the camp in addition to drinking water. You need water for dishes, cleaning, and maybe even bathing.
You can get a variety of collapsible water storage devices. Most of these are very affordable. This is a need most people neglect but if you want an efficient camp. Keeping a couple of gallons of water right at your tent is just a good idea.
Water Bottle for Camping
For your more personal water needs, you do need to have a good water bottle. This is mostly for drinking but a water bottle can be an indispensable piece of kit for many needs.
You can get plastic or metal bottles. Both have their strengths and weaknesses and there may be a time you want one of each. Plastic bottles are very light and convenient to carry. Metal bottles can be used to heat water and even for some cooking tasks.
Camping Water Filter
A good water filter is necessary for any trip that is not at a fully equipped campground. If you are going into the backcountry, don’t even consider going without a good way to get clean water. There are a variety of types to suit every need.
You can get filters that are personal for one person or filters that are high capacity and can provide water for a whole group. Prices range from very little to quite expensive. The main thing to look out for is how effective they are at cleaning contaminants out of the water.
Fire is one thing that every campsite needs. Getting fire can be very easy with the right materials and conditions but it can be much harder if your wood is wet and things are a little less than perfect.
A good camp lighter should be able to deal with getting even damp wood going with the right skills. A normal pocket lighter just isn’t going to cut it. You need special gear to make sure you get the fire you need for cooking and the general cheer of a campsite.
Spotlight for Camping
There are a lot of uses for lights when camping and we are going to cover all the possibilities but first, you want a light with a little power. A spotlight or searchlight can come in very handy for seeing what’s around you and providing plenty of light in an emergency.
Sometimes camping can be a little nervous and having a light with good power and distance is a great way of relieving that stress. It can also be a good way to signal for help if you have problems. And let’s face it, sometimes you just need a whole lot of light.
For a more central and communal light, nothing beats a good lantern. These have been a camping stable for as long as there has been camping. They are often more powerful than the light you get from a fire and are portable.
You can get lanterns that run off batteries which are good. You can also get lanterns that run off of compressed gas. These often run for much longer and shed decent light. Both have their place and are often well worth the cost.
Having a light that is hands-free is so useful when doing tasks around your campsite. This makes the headlamp a very important addition. You should have one for every member of your camp.
If you need to fix your tent in the dark or are trying to do any maintenance task, a headlamp is your best friend. They are also great for navigating after dark if you are hiking. Probably the best use is when you have to give in to the call of nature after dark.
Though all of these lights are great, a good flashlight is still a great tool to keep around. They can serve many of the purposes of the other lights, just not as well. They are more versatile if you get a good one.
It's hard to head on a camping trip without a flashlight. They are more powerful than most headlamps but still have plenty of power. They may not make the best spotlight but they will do the task. Pick up a small flashlight, they are cheap and a great tool to have.
Camp Essentials and Extras
There are a few other things you may want to consider when you head out camping. These may not be important for every camping trip but will come in handy on occasional trips. Some are more for fun while others are great for specific types of camping or camping in specific locations.
Most tents come with tent stakes but sometimes they just aren’t up to the task. They may also get lost or broken. It's always a good idea to get some good quality stakes and take a few extra. This will make sure you can keep your tent in order even in bad weather.
A camp chair or two will never go amiss. There are a variety of styles with varying levels of portability and comfort. Some are quite cheap and well worth the cost and weight. Having a good, comfortable seat will always be appreciated at a campsite.
Whether it’s for longer hiking trips using your camp as a base or for getting to your camp in the first place, you need a decent pack. They are even good for storage and keeping your gear together.
If you are camping from a car and have extra space to spare, a portable table is a great idea! Combined with our chairs, you can have a comfortable place to share a meal. A table also provides a good place of food prep and the many other tasks you need to do around camp.
Depending on how you feel about doing your business in nature, having a portable toilet may be a good idea. No one seems to think about how they will take care of natures call until they are out there and you are stuck.
If you are camping in the heat, a tent can get very warm during the day. If you want to be indoors or take a nap, it’s like being in an oven. Getting one of the best tent fans can save you from this plight and provide a little air circulation when you need it.
If you are planning on an extended stay, you need to think about hygiene. This is not only for your health but your popularity with your fellow campers. Part of being in nature is embracing the natural life but you can stay clean while doing it.
Kayak for Camping
If you are camping near water, having a kayak can be great fun. It's also an exciting way of getting to a backcountry site. Prices range from affordable to very high end but a good kayak is worth a lot and leads to a lot of enjoyment around the campsite. Maybe even get two.
For any number of reasons, having a shovel at camp can be a good idea. This can be used to dig a fire pit or create your own privy. You won’t need a shovel every time but it's hard to do without one when you need it. Folding camp shovels are quite affordable and very handy to have around.
Outdoor Fire Pit
Fire safety in the woods should be a paramount consideration. We need to protect our woodlands and keep our fires contained. If you aren’t camping at a site that has a fire pit, consider getting a folding fire pit for your next camping trip. Some even have accessories that will make your cooking tasks easier.
If you have the right kind of tent and are camping in the cold, consider a heater. Most of these are powered by propane and can be a lifesaver in cold environments. These are not a good idea in a nylon or poly tent but many canvas tents do fine with them. A powerful one can even be used outdoors and do well.
Camping can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. You can take just enough to fit in a backpack or enough to fill a large car. The whole point is to have a good time and enjoy nature. Many of these items can make mundane tasks easier and leave more time for the recreation you are after.
You may not need them all but a few of these should help you out this camping season. Whatever makes camping more fun is well worth including in your best camping gear essentials list. Just make sure you have a way to get it all to your camp site.