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A camping list is essential. Forgetting crucial items and only realizing it when you’re setting up camp in the dark is not a good feeling. I still use my camping checklist for every single trip.
Or, perhaps you’re a new camper and don’t know where to start. I know how intimidating REI or Amazon can be and how overwhelming the prices are if you’re starting from scratch. So, let me break it down for you.
From these lists below, there are things you absolutely should have and then some fun extras. Note this is for car camping—not backpacking—and weight does not matter, so long as it all fits in the car.
The lists are broken down into categories to help you easily navigate, shop, and plan. We’ve also created a printable camping list that you can download.
Table of contents
- General camp items
- Kitchen camp items
- Bonus camp items (not necessary but some convenient/fun additions)
Printable camping list — download the PDF
General camp items
This one’s fairly obvious. Don’t let the tent overwhelm you. In general, everything REI makes is high quality, pretty affordable, and comes with a great return policy (return it in any condition within one year—no questions asked).
REI’s tent options—like most everything they manufacture—are durable and not too costly. The Half Dome 2 is my go-to tent for two-person camping. Take a look at the various size options and weather protection to find the right one for you. Or, better yet, head into an REI near you and talk to an expert associate.
A few tent accessories are also important. Don’t forget a footprint to protect the bottom of the tent (it’s much easier and cheaper to repair a footprint than repair or replace a whole tent) and stakes in case it’s windy (and a mallet makes this part easier).
REI Co-op Half Dome 2 Plus Tent
Like the tent, you’re going to want to poke around and do some research, read reviews, etc. There are tons of brands offering all sorts of sleeping bags. A few things to consider when buying a sleeping bag:
- Synthetic or down? There are pros and cons to each.
- Pay close attention to the temperature rating. You want a sleeping bag that’s rated to the weather you will be camping in. It’s much easier to unzip and let some air in than piling on extra layers trying to keep warm.
- If you camp a lot with your significant other, perhaps think about getting two bags that zip together.
- If you do mostly car camping, I highly suggest a nice blow-up mattress. Hey, why not?
REI Co-op Down Time 0 Down Sleeping Bag
A sleeping pad is essential for comfort and warmth on cold nights. Again, there are tons of options out there—depending if you want lightweight for backpacking, ultra-thick for a luxurious sleeping experience, or a straightforward, simple sleeping pad that’s still durable and gets the job done. There are sleeping pads that inflate themselves when you unroll them and those that require blowing up.
Therm-a-Rest is a reputable brand with lots of options. This is their most popular model.
This is pretty much mandatory unless you’re comfortable sitting on the ground, which I think it’s safe to assume that most people over the age of 13 are not.
Even the best campsites might have a picnic table that’s stuck into the ground, leaving you with limited seating configurations. If it’s a cold night and you’re not close enough to the fire, well, that’s no good. Bring a chair and sit where/whenever you please.
Pack your cooler with food for enough meals (we usually cook breakfast and dinner and do something light for lunch that doesn’t require cooking), drinks, condiments, ice packs (essential for prolonging the coolness) and ice.
Pro tip: keep the ice in the bag—or get a second bag of ice—to use for drinks so you’re not scraping dirty ice out of the bottom of the cooler into your vodka soda.
In general, the more expensive the cooler, the better it will keep contents cold. However, all that extra insulation will start to take away from food storage space.
Find the right balance for you… enough space for everything you need, and enough insulation to keep it cold for as long as you need.
While it’s not necessary, a cooler light can be handy when trying to fish out treats after the sun sets.
This lantern just may be my favorite piece of camp equipment. I used to have a big, heavy old-school-style battery-powered lantern. While not as stylish, I prefer this Luci because it is 1) cheap 2) solar powered and 3) inflatable, so when it’s not in use, it packs down very small. Great investment. You will use it every night to eat in the dark, clean up, prepare s’mores, everything.
Headlamps are handy if you’re setting up camp in the dark, going pee in the middle of the night, etc.
The SpotLite 160 is Black Diamond’s newest headlamp. It’s also the lightest, smallest, and most compact headlamp, with a waterproof body.
Having a box or plastic tub set aside with all your go-to camping essentials will drastically cut down on prep time before your next camping trip. I store mine in the basement, so most of the smaller items are already together and ready to go.
Your camp kit should have all the small miscellaneous camping necessities so you can easily and quickly load it into the car when you’re ready to start packing, such as:
- first aid kit
- tarp (ya never know)
- hand sanitizer/wipes
- bug spray (and back up!)
- ear plugs
- personal toiletries like toothbrush/paste, deodorant, TP, etc.
- certain “kitchen” items you reserve for camping (see below)
Kitchen camp items
A lot of these products are fantastic, but they aren’t quite necessary, especially if you’re just starting out.
Here is what you do need to get going in the camp kitchen department. Leave everything in your camp kit so it’s always packed and ready to go.
Nalgene (and water)
Nalgene water bottles are built tough to withstand outdoor use. They’re essential.
Bring about two gallons of water per day that can be used for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth, washing hands if needed, washing dishes, etc.
Do not be the person that grabs five gallon jugs of water on your way to the campground. Help cut down on plastic and fill a collapsable five-gallon container from home before leaving town. Earth thanks you.
There are a lot of options for camp kitchenware. These durable plastic fork-on-one-side-spoon-on-the-other are great. You know which is yours based on the color, and they’re pretty cheap.
Whether you buy a ready-made kit like this or pull everything together on your own, you’re going to want everything in here: towel, cutting board, spoon, spatula, tongs, salt and pepper shakers, sponge, and dishsoap.
Pots & pans
Whether you’re cooking over the open flame in a fire pit or using a camp stove, I suggest getting dedicated pots and pans that will only be used while camping. They will inevitably get dirty, and you can easily store them in your camp kit, so you never forget them. They’re also lighter weight and more compact, folding into themselves for easy storage.
Pro tip: rub olive oil on the bottom of the pots and pans to keep them clean if cooking over an open flame!
Coffee is a camp (and life) essential. It’s the best way to start the day.
I like the French press for camping and the AeroPress for hiking and backpacking.
Kitchen camp list
Along with your general camp items, go ahead and stash some go-to kitchen items in your camp kit. These non-perishable items stay in my camp kit year-round so I never leave anything behind.
- dish towel
- small cutting board
- trash bags (1/day or get a reusable one)
- small and large ziplock bags
- a sponge (in a ziplock)
- biodegradable dish soap
- Clorox wipes
- nonstick tin foil
- nonstick cooking spray
- paper towels
- wine/bottle opener
- can opener
- marshmallow roasting sticks
- tablecloth + clips
- salt, pepper and seasoned salt
- fuel for the lighter and fuel for the cooking stoves
Extra camping items
While that covers the bare necessities, there are some fun extras I also highly recommend.
Hammock & straps
Some folks prefer to cook over open flames on the provided grill and fire pits at campsites, but portable stoves can come in handy. If you want to pull over on a road trip to cook up something, or when you just don’t feel like getting a fire going, considering it takes considerably longer than firing up this bad boy.
A backpacker’s “stove” that comes in handy when you’re camping to quickly boil water for coffee. I’m talking under a minute.
Some outdoorsy folks are anti-music and want to enjoy the splendors of Mother Nature and get lost in their thoughts without interruption. I am sometimes like that, too. Other times I like to (softly) jam out to some tunes and will bring headphones on hikes and a portable speaker for camp. Just keep the volume at a respectful level, of course. This durable UE Boom is a popular choice for $90. When I’m not camping, it sits in my shower.
Portable charger for your devices
Depending on how long you’re out, you may not need to charge anything. I leave my phone in airplane mode and only use it for photos and music. If it’s a multi-day trip, a charger’s nice. This is a highly rated and affordable option.
These are great for going camping with groups when picnic table space is limited or you want to pull over and have a picnic or cook anywhere outside of the campsite.
If you’re headed somewhere wet, you do not want to be stranded without proper protection. This could mean a tarp for camp, umbrella for using around camp, or a rain coat and pants for hiking or camping. And of course, a rain fly for your tent.
I don’t own one of these, but sometimes I sure wish I did.
Miscellaneous camp necessities
I added this to my camping list after one too many times pulling up to a full campground or thinking we had reservations when we didn’t.
You will likely need it for wood at the campground, and sometimes to pay for a site. It’s good to carry extra cash though, as you never know if/when you may need it.