Whether you’re headed out on your next back country or front country camping trip, it’s important to be prepared. Like with any trip, it’s best to avoid over-packing or under-packing, and try to find the happy median of bringing only what you need.
To ensure you have the best camping experience possible, it is important to have good quality, reliable gear that will enhance your safety and comfort in any wilderness you may find yourself camping in. Let this article be your guide to ensure you have the camping essentials needed for your next adventure in the outdoors.
First things first, you must have a sturdy shelter to protect you from the elements. When choosing a shelter that will best suit your camping needs, there are a few key questions to ask yourself: What time of year will I be camping the most? What are the lowest temperatures I will be exposed to? And will I be able to carry my equipment?
With tents, there are different grades of durability and strength so it is important to assess your camping needs. Here are some factors to consider when buying a tent for camping:
- Cotton/Polycotton: durable, breathable, but often heavier and needs a weathering period to become waterproof
- Nylon: lighter, thinner material which is manufactured with a coating for waterproofing and UV protection, but will wear down faster with long exposure to the sun
- Polyester: can last longer in the sun, thicker and more durable than nylon, but less breathable if not manufactured with breathable coating
Frame and design:
Tents suited for extreme and varied terrain and conditions: 4-season, convertible, geodesic & semi-geodesic, hiking or backpacking tents
These tent designs have stronger fabric, are more ergonomically designed for the elements and can have additional features such as a rainfly, footprints, vestibules and sturdier poles.
Tents suited for families and more space: A-frame/ridge, modified A-frame/ridge, dome-shaped, tunnel/tube shaped, or pyramid tents
Compared to the sturdier designs from the first list, these tents are easy to pitch and offer more space, but are not as durable or hearty against the elements.
When camping in the outdoors it’s important to have a tent that is portable, can withstand the elements you’re camping in, gives you the space you need, suits your camping style, and within your price range (of course, without sacrificing durability). Do check out review of the best mountaineering tent to guide you on your choice.
For instance, if you’re more of a back country camper, look for lighter designs that don’t compromise durability against the weather and terrain. The weight of the tent material and poles can add up so be sure to check the weight of any camping gear you buy to ensure you are able to carry it all.
Although lightweight backpacking tents can be pricier, they are worth the investment. For front country campers space, and comfort might be a higher priority especially when adventuring with children. Some people might ditch a standard tent shelter altogether and find that a tent hammock or tarp tent suits them just fine. Again, it’s all about your personal camping needs.
The two essential pieces of overnight gear worth investing in are a sleeping bag and a sleeping pad. The same questions you asked yourself in the shelter section also apply to overnight gear. First let’s start with sleeping bags.
Factors to considering when buying a sleeping bag:
#1 Temperature rating
When looking to invest in a sleeping bag for your camping trips it is important to assess the temperature range of the places you plan to visit and the season you’re looking to camp the most frequently.
There are three ratings to consider:
- Summer season (10oC and higher)
- 3-season (-5oC to 10oC)
- Winter (-5oC and lower)
#2 Insulating material
- Pros: quick-drying, insulates even when wet, non-allergenic, better in damper climates, better for those on a budget
- Cons: loses warmth with time as the filling becomes compacted
- Goose/duck down
- Pros: lightweight, compresses easily, durable, lofts better than synthetic, works best in cold, dry conditions
- Cons: more expensive, does not insulate well when wet
#3 Shape and fit. Most sleeping bags come in different lengths so take note of the dimensions to make sure the sleeping bag you buy fits you appropriately. Mummy style bags are used more for backpacking since they provide maximum thermal efficiency and less weight. Wider mummy bags or semi-rectangular ones give you more comfort but they are often bulkier and weigh more than narrow mummy bags. Other factors to consider when investing in a sleeping bag include: zipper compatibility, hoods, draft collars and stash pockets
Factors to consider when buying a sleeping pad:
- Foam sleeping pads: they come in different textures and thickness which offer durability. However, they are often bigger and bulkier than inflatable pads, not making them the easiest to pack away.
- Inflatable pads: they can be self-inflating or be manually blown up. Their overall thickness and material are better against rain or moisture, but they do run the risk of being punctured. Unlike foam pads, they can roll up to be very small and compact, and in most cases more lightweight.
Sleeping pads come in all different lengths, thicknesses and sizes, so when investing in a sleeping pad think about your camping comfort needs, weight you’re willing to carry and weather that you will be enduring.
Sleeping pads are not only a good idea for added comfort, but also help keep you warm and dry. They offer an added layer of insulation between you and the ground, and can help keep you dry if by chance water pools under your tent or if condensation becomes a problem.
Before going on any camping trip it is important to assess the water situation at your destination(s). This will help you prepare how much water you will need to bring and whether you need a means of filtering water. Disposable water bottles are not recommended since they can be easily forgotten and increase waste in the nature spaces we love to camp in.
So make sure you bring along your favorite water bottle which you can refill from a water bladder or with filtered water from the woods.
On shorter camping trips a water filter may not be necessary if you have the ability to carry the appropriate amount of water on your back. Your best bet would be multiple water bottles, a hydration pack or a small water bladder to refill your bottle. Some front country camp sites may also have potable water which can relieve some stress on having an appropriate water supply.
For backcountry camping trips, it’s important to research the water sources available throughout the duration of your trip. You might have to bring all of the water necessary to last you the whole trip, in which case you need to find a water bladder big enough to suffice.
But in places with running creeks and streams, it’s a good idea to bring a water filter to save you the weight of lugging around all the water you might need for the next 4+ days.
There are many different kinds of water filtration tools, so be sure to research one that you feel the most comfortable using and one which fits your camping lifestyle. Some of the different water filtration tools include: gravity filters, pump filters and UV lights. Campers might also bring chemical water treatment tabs or drops to also eliminate viruses in the water.
Emergency Supplies (First Aid Kit, Tarp & Rope)
Emergency preparedness is essential when camping, because depending where you are, an ambulance may not be within a 20 minute radius. Having some basic supplies will help you deal with emergencies on site or give you the ability to make quick repairs.
Important supplies to have in your first aid kit:
- Blister treatment
- Various sizes of adhesive bandages
- Gauze pads
- Adhesive tape
- Disinfecting ointment
- Nitrile gloves
- Pen and paper
Make sure to keep your first aid kit stocked according and check expiry dates periodically. Before going on a camping trip, make sure that your first aid kit is stocked up enough to account for the number of people in your group.
A tarp is an essential piece of emergency camping gear because it can act as a dry shelter and also an emergency blanket for anyone who might be experiencing hypothermia. They come is various sizes and materials, so depending on how much weight you’re willing to carry you can find a tarp to fit your camping needs.
Rope is also important as an emergency supply since it has many uses in the outdoors:
- Hanging up tarps
- Essential to hang your food bag where it won’t be taken by wildlife
- Good for structural repairs on tents and backpacks
- Handy to have if you need to set up a clothesline to hang wet gear
Means of Cooking
Unless you’re foraging for all of your food or eating a strictly raw diet, having a means of cooking is important for survival. If you are relying on fire to cook your meals, having fire starter is not a bad idea. You can bring fire starter from home (candles, dryer lint or cotton balls) or consciously harvest bark shavings and dry twigs.
However, having a portable camp stove and fuel canisters ensures that you will have cooked food throughout your camping trip. Camp stoves come in a variety of styles and sizes depending on your camping needs.
You can get anything from a Coleman camping stove to a small, compact MSR Pocket Rocket stove commonly used for back country camping trips. Fuel canisters also come in a variety of sizes, anything from 4oz to over 16oz. Make sure you find the appropriate canisters for your camp stove since fuel canisters can come in various threading, fuel composition and weather performance.
What’s important is packability and ensuring that you’ll have enough fuel for the whole trip. For front country camping, where you don’t have to lug around your gear far distances, you could invest in a larger two-burner camp stove.
If you plan to do a lot of back county camping it’s best to invest in a compact and lightweight stove that won’t take up a lot of room in your backpack. Make sure to plan out how many times you plan to use your camp stove throughout your camping trip to ensure you bring enough fuel.
A Good Knife
Knives are arguably the most essential and versatile tool to bring on any outdoor excursion.
They can cut through any foliage on the trail, provide you with firewood and kindling, or cut clothing needed as a bandage for any first aid emergency. Whether you use your knife to cut food for your next meal or branches for your next fire, always make sure your knife is sharpened before taking it out into the woods. See our article review of the best camping knife to help you with good choices.
Camping mess kits are designed with the outdoors in mind. They consist of camping pots and/or pans and basic utensils (spoon and fork, or spork). They are meant to be lightweight, versatile and easy to carry, unlike the regular kitchenware you might have at home.
They come in a variety of pieces, sizes, and different materials, but all are built to provide you with basic cookware for the outdoors. Your group size and camping style (front country versus back country) can help you determine what kind of mess kit you want to invest in. Some folks might ditch the pots and pans altogether and bring aluminum foil instead to cook their food in.
Bringing a headlamp, flashlight or packable lantern is essential to help you navigate around in the dark. Headlamps are a great investment since they are hands-free, small and lightweight. Some models even have a strobe mode or red light option to conserve battery power.
While not hands-free, flashlights can have powerful beams for signaling, which can be helpful for emergency situations. If you’re camping with other people it’s important that everyone has their own light source to ensure that everyone can navigate safely in the dark. For any light source it’s recommended to bring extra batteries for every camping trip.
Lighter and/or Matches
Having a lighter or matches gives you the ability to start a fire more quickly than say rubbing two sticks together. Having fire starting abilities is essential for any camping trip to help you stay warm or to create a signal fire in case of an emergency.
If you bring matches make sure you store them in a water-tight container or find waterproof matches. Bringing extra lighters wouldn’t hurt as well since they can act as an emergency light source.
Appropriate Clothing and Footwear
Before any camping trip you need to assess where you’re going to know what to bring. In order to be prepared for the elements you must assess temperature, weather and terrain.
Basic camping clothing and footwear include:
- Quick dry underwear
- Base layers
- Hiking pants and/or shorts
- Mid layer fleece or hoodie
- Waterproof jacket
- Insulating head warmer
- Wool socks
- Sturdy hiking boots (breathable and waterproof)
For clothing it is recommended that the materials have a high degree of wicking power. Instead of cotton, try investing in polyester or merino wool clothing for their quick dry properties. It’s also important to bring extra layers of clothing for unexpected exposure to the elements.
Extra socks are also smart to bring so that you have an extra pair to change into if your other socks get soaked from sweat, puddles, rain or snow. Your footwear can make or break your camping trip so make sure you find a pair that fits you well and ones that are intended for the seasons and elements you choose to camp in.
In any outdoor situation it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. Area maps are compact and handy to have for any camping trip.
For wilderness back country camping, it’s more essential to have a map along with a GPS and/or compass. Being able to orientate yourself is essential in order to find your way to base camp in the event you’ve wandered too far into the woods.
On any outdoor excursion it is important to take responsibility for your garbage. Not all places you camp at will have garbage bins at your convenience, so it is important to follow the pack-in-pack-out principle when camping.
Not only are garbage bags important to have when dealing with waste, but can also help you in the event of a rain storm. They can act as an emergency rain poncho, rain cover for your backpack, or as a mini shelter if hung up on some tree branches.
And last but not the least, food. Not only is it essential to have the right gear and the right amount of water when camping, but having the proper nutrition is also key.
Some factors to consider when packing food include:
- Carbohydrate and protein content
- Cooking time
- Length of camping trip
- Proportioning for self or group
During your camping trip, make sure to store your food appropriately. Check if where you’re camping has a food cache, bear pole, or if you’ll have to safely hang your food in a tree. You wouldn’t want to cut your camping trip short in the event that wildlife gained access to all of your goodies. For the most nutritious and convenient hiking snacks, see our article on this topic.
Always remember that prior to investing in gear or packing for your next camping trip, you need to assess several factors: your camping style; camping season; duration; and the weather and terrain you’ll be experiencing at your destination(s).
Self-assessment, research and preparedness are key to any camping trip, and investing in essential camping gear will ensure that you, and anyone else you’re with, will all turn out to be happy campers. And now that you have a better idea of the camping gear you’ll need for your next wilderness adventure, you’re well on your way to get packing and out to explore the outdoors. For the best family tents you can rely on, see our review of top products for more options.