Camping Must-Haves: 31 Essential Camping Gear Items

Our list of camping must-haves ranges from kitchen essentials to a few extra fun things to have for your outdoor adventure. Whether you're enjoying a backyard campout or embarking on a week-long journey into the wilderness, don’t forget to bring along these essential camping items!

Jolanda Lapegna Avatar
Written by: | Reviewed by: Kieran James Cunningham
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Planning a camping trip can be an exciting prospect, but the nuances of preparing and packing can often overshadow the anticipation. There’s a balancing act in ensuring you have all you need to transform the wilderness into a cozy, comfortable retreat, while not overburdening yourself with unnecessary gear.

In this article, we navigate the intricate landscape of ‘camping must-haves’ to ensure your next outdoor adventure is as seamless and enjoyable as the picturesque landscapes you explore.

Regardless of when and where you’ll be camping, there are a few important camping essentials that we highly recommend to help make your trip as relaxing and fun as possible. Then there are additional items like camping chairs, games or an air mattress that take your camping trips to the next level!

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What Must-Have Camping Accessories Should You Take?

If you’re getting ready for camping season, then we recommend the following as the most important camping essentials for outdoor enthusiasts to take.

  • Tent
  • Tent Stakes
  • Sleeping Bags
  • Sleeping Pad
  • First Aid Kit
  • Water Bottle
  • Water Filter or Water Purifier
  • Map and Compass
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug Spray
  • Knife
  • Headlamp or Flashlight
  • Camping Stove
  • Cooking Set & Cutlery (or Sporks)
  • Collapsible Sink
  • Towels
  • Matches/Lighter
  • Camp Shovel
  • Trash Bags
  • Fire starter
  • Weather appropriate clothing
  • Toilet paper

1. Tent

The most must-have item for any camper is a good camping tent. For regular campers, there are plenty of great camping tents to choose from, but we highly recommend the REI Co-op Wonderland. If you’re a first-time camper or want to keep things simple, try a pop-up tent. Pop-up or instant tents have their poles pre-attached, making set-up quick and beginner-friendly. 

Check out the super easy-to-assemble Quechua 2 Seconds tent for car camping.

2. Tent Stakes

Tent stakes are necessary to maintain your tent’s shape and keep it firmly fastened to the ground when pitched. In rainy conditions, tent stakes also prevent the tent from flapping and help it shed rain. Our favorites are the MSR Ground Hog Stake Kit, you can also buy them individually here.

Make sure to double and then triple-check you have all the tent stakes you need, and bring extras just in case. Remember to bring your tent’s footprint as well! 

3. Sleeping Bags

A good sleeping bag is another of the “big four” must-haves for camping. As you’re catching Z’s in your tent, the only thing separating you from the cold, hard ground will be your sleeping bag and pad. Do your research and invest in the best model you can afford. We recommend a 3-season sleeping bag such as the R.E.I. Co-op Magma 30

4. Sleeping Pad

If you want to enjoy a good night’s sleep when tent camping, be sure to add a sleeping mat or pad to your list of must-have outdoor gear. Not only will a pad add extra comfort, but it will also insulate you from the cold ground. 

For a no-fuss option, opt for a lay-flat, foam pad. However, an inflatable sleeping pad such as the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite makes for a comfier choice, albeit with the risk of it puncturing.

5. First Aid Kit

Every camper should carry a first aid kit of some description. Blisters, cuts, bug bites… anything can happen during a trip in the backcountry, so you’ll need to be prepared. Buying a ready-made first aid kit takes a lot of the guesswork out of building your own kit, but you still might want to add your own personal touches.

Most kits don’t take up much space, so you have no excuse! We love the ultralight and waterproof Adventure Medical Kit .7.

6. Water Bottle

One of the most obvious must-have camping accessories is the humble water bottle. A stainless steel water bottle comes in handy for all sorts of tasks from making coffee in the morning to bringing water along on your hiking trips.

The Klean Kanteen TKWide water bottle is our choice for our camping capers. It simply does what we need it to, keeps hot stuff hot, and cold stuff cold, and does it well.

For longer trips, you’ll want to bring some gallon jugs for easy access to H2O at your campground.

7. Water Filter Or Water Purifier

Water is a must-have on any camping trip, and even if you’re staying at a campground with potable water, it never hurts to be prepared. You should always assume every source of water you pass is undrinkable and purify or filter it before drinking. These devices are available in various forms, from water pumps to straws and tablets


8. Map And Compass

The best camping accessories to bring on any trip are a map and compass. Although one hopes to never need these essential pieces of navigational gear, you’ll be happy to have them if you do! If you plan to consistently be using a compass we love the Silva Ranger 2.0 for its accuracy.

While bringing along a map and compass is a good start, make sure you know how to use them before your next trip. 

9. Sunscreen

Sunscreen is a must-have camping accessory no matter what season you’re camping in. Always practice sun safety during any outdoor activities and make sure you bring sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. 

10. Bug Spray

Nature is full of insects and critters that can curb your campsite fun, so insect spray is a must-have camping accessory in buggy locations. All-natural products like lemon balm and citronella are good, but always have a heavy-duty backup just in case. 

Camper spraying bug spray on himself
Bug bites are the bane of any camping experience, bug spray will help avoid this fate, or at least minimize it!

11. Knife

If you’re frontcountry camping or staying in your RV, a good knife is useful, but not really a must-have. If you’re out in the backcountry, it’s an absolute necessity. Knives are good for food preparation, first aid, and even self-defense. A basic pocket knife will work in a pinch, but consider upgrading to a more serious blade like the lightweight Gerber StrongArm Fixed Blade Knife.

12. Headlamp Or Flashlight

All it takes is one bathroom break in the pitch-dark woods to realize how important a headlamp or flashlight is when camping. A headlamp makes a convenient choice since your hands will be free for other tasks like meal preparation (and, of course, peeing…!). Remember extra batteries too! 

As far as hand flashlights go we recommend the output and versatility of the Nitecore MH23 USB Rechargeable Flashlight which make it the perfect companion for camping.

13. Camping Stove

Unless you plan on eating sandwiches and jerky for the duration of your trip, a camping stove is a must-have camping essential.

Choose a model that’s portable and easy to set up and you’ll never go without your morning coffee fix. For the most convenient option, choose a camp stove that runs on gas. The MSR PocketRocket 2 ticks all these boxes and is our top choice for camping and backpacking.

14. Cooking Set & Cutlery (Or Sporks)

A cooking set and cutlery are essential camping items if you plan on staying for a few nights and making your own meals.

Whether you’re camping for a night or longer will determine whether you need a single pot, or multiple pans and a cast iron skillet. Plan your menu ahead of time, and this will help you decide which cooking times you should take.

Bringing along a proper cooking set and cutlery is not only useful but also turns any basic camp cooking into a fancy affair. Go for sporks instead of forks and knives to save on space.

15. Collapsible Sink

While it’s not essential, a collapsible sink is one of the best camping accessories to help you save on clean-up time washing dishes after meals. When not in use, a collapsible sink doubles as a convenient place to store your dishes and cutlery, as a cooler for drinks, or as a washbasin for your hands. 

Related reading: to make sure you always have clean water on hand, bring a collapsible container to store your H20.

Collapsible bowl and kitchen camping accessories on a tailgate
Multi-functionality is the name of the game for all the best camping accessories

16. Towels

If you’re planning to partake in some swimming or other water sports when camping, microfiber towels are essential items. Microfiber towels such as the REI Co-op Multi Towel Lite are affordable, super-absorbent, fast-drying and more effective than cotton or terry cloth towels. 

17. Matches/Lighter/Fire Starter

No matter what camping adventure you’re heading on, matches or lighter are must-haves in case of an emergency. A butane lighter is the best option, but a packet of matches will do as well. Just make sure you buy waterproof matches or that you store them in a waterproof container. 

Man starting a campfire with his tent in the background
Although starting a campfire is possible without them, having a lighter or matches with you is far more convenient

18. Camp Shovel

A camp shovel is an essential tool that will help you set up your camp faster and can come in handy for several other tasks around your campsite. While mainly used for digging catholes, many models, such as the TentLab The Deuce, feature a serrated edge to help you cut wood. Choose a shovel with a 3-way folding design and you’ll be surprised at how compact it becomes. 

19. Trash Bags

Trash bags are must-have camping accessories for all campers who wish to adhere to leave no trace behind at your campsite. Bring a trash bag to carry out all your garbage, including biodegradable compost like banana peels and apple cores. 

20. Weather-Appropriate Clothing

Whenever you go camping, you must have appropriate clothing, period. Bring clothing that will match the range of weather you expect to encounter. Sudden cold weather and no means to keep warm can make for a disastrous camping trip.

21. Toilet Paper

Never go camping without your own supply of toilet paper – while most campsites have toilets, don’t count on them being fully stocked.

Which Optional Camping Items Should You Consider?

If you’ve got extra room, then car campers may consider taking some of the following items to make their trip more fun.

  • Roasting Sticks
  • Games
  • Hammock
  • Solar Shower Bag
  • Power Bank
  • Battery-Powered Fan
  • Camp Chairs
  • Tarp
  • Cooler
  • Portable Coffee Maker

1. Roasting Sticks

Roasting sticks are a great optional add-on when camping. What would camping be without roasting some s’mores over the fire pit? Don’t feel limited to the beloved chocolate + marshmallows combo either, roasting sticks will allow you to cook all sorts of delicious stuff, from hot dogs and bacon to loaded kebabs and even toasted sandwiches. 

Toasting marshmallows over a campfire
What’s better on a camping trip than toasting marshmallows over a campfire?

2. Games

Camping games are a great way to keep you and your camping crew entertained. While camping is all about relaxing in nature, it’s also a great opportunity to have some fun with your family and friends. Make the most of your time away from the screens by packing lots of fun games like outdoor checkers, bocce balls, or glow-in-the-dark playing cards.

3. Hammock

There’s no better way to laze around your camp than relaxing in a hammock. Compared to traditional tents, hammocks are compact, light, and simple to set up. They also double as a comfy bed!

The Original Blackbird hammock from Warbonnet has most definitely got our seal of approval, having won our top hammock prize for several years running now!

4. Solar Shower Bag

With a solar shower bag, you can enjoy a nice hot (or at least warm) shower right at your campsite. All you need to do is leave the bag in the sun for a few hours to heat the water. Many come with accessories that turn the bag into a real home-like shower experience. Perfect after a long sweaty hike!

5. Power Bank

A portable power bank ensures you never have to deal with the dreaded cell phone low battery symbol whilst out in the sticks. A power bank such as our recommended option the Anker PowerCore III Elite 25600, will keep all your devices charged like smartphones, GPS devices, and cameras. Choose a solar-powered model and all you need is a bit of sunlight to power your stuff. 

6. Battery-Powered Fan

Do yourself a favor and bring a battery-powered fan for your next warm-weather camping trip. Depending on the breathability of your tent, it can get pretty warm inside, so a battery-powered fan will be a lifesaver in hot conditions. 

We love the long battery life and high performance of the Geek Aire Rechargeable Outdoor Floor Fan.

7. Camp Chairs

If you’re car camping, make sure to bring along a camp chair or two. Your back (and backside!) will thank you.  If you plan to do some cooking, a camping table isn’t a bad shout either!

For our favorite smallest, lightest, and most easily packable camping chair check out the Helinox Chair Zero. If you plan on backpacking yet desire a little comfort along the way then this chair is a must!

8. Tarp

Even if you have a waterproof camping tent, you should still bring a tarp for extra protection. Choose a tarp made from rugged ripstop nylon and you’ll be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws your way. 

If you want something lighter, yet still waterproof, try out the Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp Shelter.

9. Cooler

If you are camping for more than a night, a cooler is less optional than necessary. can help store food, keep it lasting longer and double as a small picnic table. If you’re camping in bear country, then some models are designed to keep critters away from your food.

If you are looking for a long-term investment for your family outings then the YETI Tundra 65 Cooler is the way to go.

10. Portable Coffee Maker

When you’re camping in the backcountry, bring along a portable coffee maker and enjoy your usual hot coffee in the morning, right from your tent. Enjoying a few of your favorite home comforts makes the experience that much better!

Man in hiking boots pouring coffee into metal mugs
Coffee, the elixir of life, and in some quarters most definitely a camping essential

Don’t Forget Those Camping Necessities!

That’s it! Now you know all the camp essentials you’ll need to truly enjoy your next camping trip.

Remember, your list of camping must-haves might end up looking a bit different depending on your destination, the season, and whether you are car camping or backpacking! Use our camping equipment list as a starting point to help you prepare for your next trip. 

If you’ve got questions about campsite equipment and gear, we’ve got answers! Feel free to ask any questions below and remember to share this article with all your pals.

Last update on 2024-05-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Jolanda Lapegna Avatar

Jolanda is a full-time writer and life-long outdoor enthusiast. Growing up on a small island off the Eastern Canadian coast, she spent most of her childhood hiking, swimming and fishing in the Atlantic ocean.

After a short stint in the corporate world, Jolanda quit her day job to write full-time and check out what lies beyond the Canadian shores. Ever since, she’s been hiking, biking and kayaking her way across 11 European countries and counting.

Jolanda currently lives in the beautiful, Tuscan countryside. When she isn’t hanging out in the woods or at the beach, you’ll catch her foraging for mushrooms and truffles with her truffle-dog, Red.

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