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Essential Camping Gear Check List: Must Haves & Cool Outdoor Supplies

Updated on August 5, 2015
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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!

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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)

Shelter:

__ Tent and tent pegs

__ Tarpaulin (folding)

__ Rain poncho

__ Several waterproof bags for electronics

Sleep Gear:

__ Sleeping bag (cocoon style)

__ Pillow

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

Emergency Gear:

__ Signal mirror

__ Emergency whistle (one per camper)

__ First aid kit

__ Emergency kit (as described above)

Clothing:

__ Comfortable hiking shoes (waterproof)

__ Thick socks

__ Hat or cap of some kind

Other:

__ 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!

Poll Time!

How often do you go camping?

See results

What would you add to my 'camping must haves' list?

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    • profile image

      RM 7 months ago

      Also should add a tarp. It's great to set up a large one over tent to give extra waterproofness and also have it extend out over front like a porch in case it rains so your not stuck inside.

    • Camp And Grill profile image
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      Henry Williamson 2 years ago from Canada

      Hi Chrissy, you bet! Added, thanks!

    • profile image

      Chrissy 2 years ago

      Love your list, only just found it!

      Can I add something please? Don't forget any medication you may take on a regular basis. And take enough for a couple of extra days, in case of delays at the end of your holiday.

    • profile image

      Teresa 3 years ago

      Ductape

    • LJ Mikels profile image

      LJ Mikels 3 years ago from Las Vegas, Nv

      Good article. The best purchase we've made to date is our E-Z up awning to put over the picnic table. It's not an essential, and a tarp would do, but it's nice to have the convenience of it. It prevents us scurrying around, putting food and such away when it starts to rain. We even pulled it over the campfire so we could sit around the fire in the rain. Thanks for the good info!

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      Henry Williamson 3 years ago from Canada

      Hi pctechgo, what kinds of animals are you worried about? It depends. In general, I'd say prevention is the best protection: don't leave out food scraps at night, and stay in designated camps. Bear spray is effective if you're in bear country, but they won't bother you unless they think you have something they can eat. For the most part, bears are scavengers.

    • pctechgo profile image

      pctechgo 3 years ago from US

      What would be good protection to bring to deter wild animals away? I guess that would depend on the camping grounds, but is there any good suggestions for protection? I admire those who manage well in camping conditions - know what to do and what not to do and know it well.

      Thanks for the informative hub.

    • Camp And Grill profile image
      Author

      Henry Williamson 3 years ago from Canada

      D'oh! This was even in my prep notes and somehow I missed getting it in there! Thanks flyfishmaine, good call!

      Yes you should always let people know where you're headed and when you'll be back. If it's a hike, it's useful to give a friend the map of your route.

    • flyfishmaine profile image

      Richard Scott 3 years ago from Presque Isle, Maine

      Very useful. You mention planning for an emergency is a little harder to do and that is correct. If I may be so bold, I suggest you add one thing to your emergency gear list (even thought it is not actually gear).

      Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return. If that emergency happens people will know when and where to start looking.