Essential Camping Gear Check List: Must Haves & Cool Outdoor Supplies
Cool Camping Gear & Supplies for your 'Must Have' Checklist
I have a theory that everyone 'should' enjoy camping. I mean, what's not to like? Spending time outdoors, soaking up the sun, getting away from the rush, stress and technology of our daily lives, it's all great. When people say they don't like camping, it's usually because they've had a bad experience, and that is often because they weren't prepared.
To avoid being wet, cold, uncomfortable, miserable or hungry on a camping trip, it's advisable to plan ahead and make a plan. A 'must have' camping gear checklist can help you pack the essentials and be prepared for most outdoor situations. Different campers will have differing checklists, and it's often a matter of opinion. In any event, planning ahead is always a good idea when staying outdoors for days on end.
This article is written with that in mind. I've compiled a must have list of camping supplies focusing on cheap but effective gear to keep you safe, dry, warm and well fed. I'll list the essentials, and if you think I've missed anything I'd encourage you to remember that you're wrong. Kidding, of course! Please leave a comment at the bottom and leave your personal suggestions, I welcome the feedback!
PS. There IS an actual checklist you can use, it's at the bottom of the page!
Compiling your Essential Camping Gear Checklist
Every list of 'essential' camping gear is different. That's because they're written by different people from different parts of the world. I live in rainy Vancouver, and so my list will probably be a lot more oriented towards the possibility of rain. If you live in Arizona, your list might be slightly different. That said, they have a few things in common.
Planning for Weather / Elements: All good camping gear master check lists have weather contingencies. That usually means rain gear, but in hot weather climates it might include sun and dust protection. I usually lump bug and pest protection in this category too, since it's a factor in most wilderness areas.
Planning for Food Prep: Unless you plan to fast for a weekend, most campers take a great deal of care to plan for food. Since foraging is iffy at best, you should plan to carry in everything you'll be eating for the trip. And all good must have camping gear checklists include prep as well, meaning how you'll cook and serve your meals.
Planning for Sleep / Comfort: You shouldn't expect your camping trip to be as comfy as a featherbed, but it can be reasonable if you plan correctly. Your outdoor camping gear should include shelter and warm bedding.
Plan for Emergencies: This is the one I'd emphasize the most. No one expects to be caught in an emergency situation, so people seldom bother planning for contingencies. In a list of must have for camping, don't neglect safety and signalling gear, especially if you'll be traveling off the beaten track.
Shelter: A Must Have for Overnight Camping
Of all your pieces of essential outdoor camping gear, I sincerely hope that shelter is high on that list. Unless you're an experienced woodsperson and can build a lean-to, I'd recommend the obvious choice: a tent.
Tents these days are incredible. They're light and extremely portable, and many of the single person styles snap together in seconds. Gone are the days of the hour-long tent assembly that we all dread. Most of the parts are composite materials that are tough and light.
When looking for a tent, don't be tempted to skimp. A tent from a good brand may be more expensive, but it will often be more waterproof, intuitive and easy to assemble.
Another thing that a quality tent has is aerodynamics. An aerodynamic tent redirects wind and keeps the occupants much warmer and the tent itself firmly attached to the ground in a storm. Don't forget to bring along your tent pegs, high winds can be dangerous.
Pictured to the right is a good quality water resistant tent for two people, a great addition to your checklist of essential camping gear.
Sleep / Comfort: A sleeping back is an essential piece of camping equipment
It may seem like an obvious item, but many people neglect the sleeping bag when planning their camping adventure. They'll use the same old bag they have used for 20 years, despite the holes and patch jobs.
Did you know that low ambient temperatures significantly impair your body's ability to sleep? It's true! And if you don't get a proper amount of rest, you're going to have a miserable time on your camping trip. A good sleeping bag keeps your body at an optimum temperature in colder weather. In hotter conditions, you can always zip it open.
I'd advise you to bring a sleeping bag that's not too bulky (so you can pack it easily), but also warm enough to give you a restful sleep even in cold temperatures.
The bag to the right is a 'cocoon' style, which means it's more fitted to the shape of your body. That means there's less air in the bag, and you stay warmer as a result. It's rated down to as cold as 20 degrees Fahrenheit!
Regardless of the one you choose, a comfortable and warm sleeping bag should be top priority on your essential camping gear must have checklist.
Heat / Cooking: A fire starter / camp stove are essential camping gear
You never want to be camping without a means to create fire. It's a key facet of outdoor living, and it's something man has been doing for millennia. I'd strongly recommend that you pack a means to create fire in your outdoor camping gear, it's essential.
I'd also suggest that you plan ahead for how you'll be preparing your meals. Will it be over a campfire? Will the meals be all pre-cooked? Or will you be using a small camp stove to prepare dishes?
I won't go into detail on camp stoves, because I've already written a detailed article here. If you're going the camp stove route, I recommend reading it!
If you're planning to cook over the fire, that's great too. But make sure to think through how you'll cook, whether you'll need pots pans and utensils, and whether you have a way to create the fire in the first place.
Matches and lighters are great, but if they fail, you might be out of luck. For that reason, consider getting a strike fire starter. It's not dependent on an external igniter, and it is super portable. Keep it in your outdoor camping gear kit and you'll always have a backup way to make a spark. It's a must have for your camping gear.
If nothing else, plan ahead to your meals and decide on a strategy before you leave the house.
Weather / Elements: Plan your camping gear checklist around rain
Rain has a nasty way of showing up when you're least prepared for it. It can make you cold and miserable. In extreme cases, it can cause hypothermia and become dangerous. Staying dry in wet weather while camping is a serious thing.
There are now foldable rain jackets made out of PVC. They aren't exactly chic or comfortable, but they beat the heck out of being soaked, especially if you're out on the trail with no shelter in sight. They fold up to a very small size, so you can stash them in a bag, backpack or purse without really noticing it's there.
The rain poncho to the side is laminated, easily folds up to fit in your backpack, and it can be laid out flat to be used as a mat to sit on, or as a small overhead shelter in a pinch. It even has grommets for just such a purpose. It's thicker than it looks.
I'd also recommend packing at least one tarpaulin along with you. You can hang it up in wet weather so you can at least sit outside your tent if it's pouring outside. Overall, I'd suggest planning your must have camping gear checklist around wet weather. Even if it doesn't rain, at least you hedged your bets.
What About Emergencies? Essential Gear for your Camping Trip
Emergencies are a bit tougher to plan for. It's hard to predict that something will go wrong, so you're best off to have warm clothing, good shelter, plenty of food and a great way to signal your whereabouts to the outside world.
There are a few ways to do this. First off I'd recommend that any checklist of must have camping essentials contain a signal whistle for each person on the trip. There's no excuse not to, they're inexpensive to purchase and easy to carry around. A signal whistle can help locate anyone who is lost, and it's a pretty unmistakable sound that carries for miles.
A signal mirror is another inexpensive camping gear item that can help people find you. It's especially useful for attracting the attention of search and rescue aircraft and helicopters. You'll likely not have to use it, but you'll appreciate it if you do.
A water purifier is a good thing to have also. You may be stuck with a tepid water source, so a filter straw could really save your life.
An emergency kit can be fairly useful, as long as you're familiar with how to use the items inside. They typically contain bandages, a compass, an emergency blanket and many other useful items. If you're going to bother to pack it along with you, familiarize yourself with the kit and how to use the items inside (for example, the fishing gear won't do you any good unless you already know how to bait a hook).
My Big Essential Camping Gear Check List:
OK, here's my personal checklist when I go camping. Feel free to leave a comment if you see anything essential that I'm missing. I'm not going to include food items, I'll let you figure that out on your own!
(Please note that I'm a fairly 'back to the basics' type camper, so you won't see things like oven mitts and plastic utensils on this list. That doesn't mean they're bad, I just tend to go minimalist)
__ Tent and tent pegs
__ Tarpaulin (folding)
__ Rain poncho
__ Several waterproof bags for electronics
__ Sleeping bag (cocoon style)
Cooking / Fire:
__ Fire starter (striker)
__ Waterproof matches
__ Portable camp stove
__ Fuel for stove (canister)
__ Pot / Utensil set (folding)
__ Plastic bags (for garbage)
__ Water canteen / thermos
__ Water purifier (straw style)
__ Camp soap (for dishes)
__ Paper towel / TP
Miscellaneous Tools / Gear:
__ Hatchet / hammer (for cutting wood, tent pegs)
__ Pocket knife / multitool (because they're awesome, duh!)
__ Twine / Rope / Bungee cords
__ Flashlight (wind up / solar)
__ Compass & Map
__ Bug repellant & Sunscreen
__ Signal mirror
__ Emergency whistle (one per camper)
__ First aid kit
__ Emergency kit (as described above)
__ Comfortable hiking shoes (waterproof)
__ Thick socks
__ Hat or cap of some kind
__ Prescription medication (be sure to bring a few days extra just in case!)
Always let a friend or family member know where you're headed, how long you'll be gone, and when you should be expected back. If you're planning a hike or climb, be sure to give someone a map of your route. That way if something were to happen, they'll be able to locate you.
Thanks for reading!