Camping is a highly personal experience, and every outdoor adventurer brings to it his or her own strengths, weaknesses, needs and desires. This means that you will probably want to bring along a different set of items than your buddy when heading out on your next trip. For example, you may want to bring along your camera, while your companion would prefer to bring a book.
But your equipment list won’t differ entirely from that of your partners — there are a half-dozen or so things that every camper will need to bring. There are also a few items that are necessary for the group but needn’t be carried by every individual member of the party.
We’ll cover both types of equipment below – those things that should appear in every camper’s pack, and those things which should be divvied up between the members of the group.
Items Every Camper Needs
For the most part, you’ll need these things no matter where you are heading or how long your trip is scheduled to last. Because you’ll use these items on each and every trip, it is always wise to prioritize these things when allotting your camping-gear budget.
➡️ Sleeping Bag
A sleeping bag will keep you warm while you’re sleeping out in the elements, and they’ll cushion your body a little bit too. Most campers elect to bring a sleeping pad too, but this is not absolutely necessary, particularly if you are the type that can sleep anywhere.
Most campers will also be using a tent, but extreme campers may prefer using an enclosed or bivvy-style bag, which will protect you from rain and snow. These are rarely as fun for recreational campers, but they can actually keep you warmer than a traditional tent in extreme conditions, and they obviously help you free up pack space and eliminate a lot of weight.
➡️ Water Bottle
Decades ago, camping websites books would list a canteen among the items every camper must bring, but in the 21st century, campers have a number of better options. Canteens make water taste kind of funky and they have narrow mouths, which limits their flexibility. You can’t, for example, cook soup in them very easily.
Instead, most modern campers bring along a wide-mouthed plastic bottle. Often called “Nalgene bottles,” because they were originally produced by a company of the same name, these bottles are now made by a variety of manufacturers. There are differences between the various models, so be sure to think carefully about your choice and be a discriminating buyer.
Every camper should have a flashlight on his or her person. Flashlights are not only imperative for safety reasons, but they’re also good for your sanity – sharing a flashlight is no fun at all. Try to select a small, lightweight flashlight that has an easy-to-activate switch, fits comfortably in your hand and pumps out plenty of lumens.
Some campers like to bring along a headlamp, but you’d be wise to bring a flashlight too, as they excel in a variety of ways that headlamps do not. For example, it can be difficult to hold a headlamp steady for a lengthy period of time.
A good multitool is one of the most important things in any camper’s pack. They are the Swiss army knives of modern outdoor enthusiasts. Multitools give you a way to carry several different tools in one convenient and relatively light package.
Even the simplest of multitools will usually feature pliers, screwdrivers, scissors and a knife blade, while the more elaborate models will include everything but the kitchen sink. As with almost every other camping-gear decision, you’ll have to balance the competing forces of weight and luxury, so consider your needs carefully when making your choice.
➡️ Survival Kit
A small survival kit should be one of the first things every camper packs before a trip. It should contain the essential items you’d need to survive, should a worst-case scenario unfold during your trip.
Some campers prefer to purchase commercially assembled survival kits while others prefer to create their own custom survival kit themselves. Either approach is fine, as long as you are sure to include everything you need. Check out our guide to making your own survival kit, if you are so inclined.
Items Every Camping Party Needs
In addition to the things each individual needs, each camping party needs several items that can be shared among the members. Obviously, if you are camping alone you’ll have to carry each of these items yourself, while large parties will be able to spread the weight of these items among the members.
Tents are shared by two campers, but large tents can accommodate up to 5 or 6 people. This means that you’ll have to adjust the number of tents in your group to match your space needs.
Note that it is not necessary for any one person to carry the entire tent, as you could split it up into its component pieces if you like. This way, you could carry the rainfly and poles, while your companion carries the main tent shell.
➡️ Water Purifier
You should never drink untreated water while camping, as even the purest of mountain streams can carry a variety of nasty pathogens. Just a sip from the wrong creek could ruin your trip and have you heading to the emergency room. There are a variety of ways to treat water, but most campers will find that a water purifier is the most convenient and effective solution.
You’ll probably want to bring a purifier for every two members of your group. Aside from the redundancy benefits of multiple units, they’ll save you time too — it can take a while to pump a single liter of water, and time always seems to move slower when you’re thirsty.
➡️ Camp Stove
You can cook on an open fire, but this is usually a lot more trouble than it’s worth. Additionally, campfires are prohibited in many locations, particularly west of the Rockies, where wildfires are a perpetual threat. This means that you’ll want to bring along a camp stove whenever you go camping.
You’ll also need to bring along fuel too, and this will typically take up more space than the actual stove. As with water purifiers and tents, you’ll probably want to bring along one stove for every two campers. This will make it much easier to cook larger quantities of food than a single stove would.
➡️ First Aid Kit
While some campers will choose to include a few basic first-aid supplies in their survival kit, every camping party should have a well-stocked first-aid kit. Although you can certainly pack as much as space permits, the following items should be considered mandatory:
- An assortment of bandages
- Topical pain-relieving lotion or gel
- Antidiarrheal medication
- Antiseptic wipes
- Triple antibiotic ointment or cream
Additionally, you’ll want to bring along any prescription medications you’ll need during the trip. Make sure to pack your first-aid items in a good carrying case to keep everything together and organized. If possible, select a brightly colored bag, so it is easy to find in an emergency.
A first-aid kit can be used for several people; you’ll just need to adjust the quantities packed to reflect the size of the group.
➡️ Mess Kit
Every camping party needs a mess kit so that you can prepare, cook and serve food. A typical kit would be comprised of two sets of minimal flatware, a couple of pots or pans, two cups and two plates. However, there are plenty of variations on the theme and plenty of options in the marketplace.
Mess kits aren’t really life-or-death equipment, so you can pack like a minimalist or a gourmet chef, depending on your desires. You may consider a mess kit an individual item, or you may try to get away with a single mess kit for four people – either way will work.
It’s also important to consider the type of food you’ll be making when planning out your mess kit. Many commercial camping foods can be prepared in and eaten from the bag, which will eliminate the need for individual plates. But on the other hand, you’ll need plenty of pans and individual plates if you want to make pancakes and bacon for breakfast.
If your camping party is to have any chance of reaching its intended destination, you’ll need a good map to help you get there. A good map is even useful when you are hiking along well-marked trails, as it will allow you to determine how far you’ve traveled (and more importantly, how much farther you’ll have to travel to reach the campsite).
Digital maps – such as those displayed on your phone or tablet – are an intriguing option for modern campers, as they can provide a wealth of information that isn’t provided by paper maps. They also provide value from a safety context, as you can use your phone to contact help in an emergency.
However, digital devices present problems too. They are much heavier than a paper map is, and they are dependent on a good signal – something that is rare in the wilderness. Accordingly, it is probably wise to bring a paper map along too, as a backup.
Your Pack; Your Gear; Your Decisions
Every camping trip is different, so you may need to tweak this equipment list to account for the local terrain, wildlife, climate or laws of your destination. Accordingly, no list – including the one above – should be considered exhaustive and foolproof. You must always plan your trip carefully to ensure you have a good time and remain safe while enjoying the great outdoors.
However, the items listed above do represent the primary supplies and tools that you’ll need to ensure most of the memories you’ll make will bring a smile to your face.
Additionally, some campers are willing to endure rougher conditions than others. We compiled this list for the “typical” camper, who wants a reasonable amount of comfort during the outing. Ultralight campers and survival-minded minimalists may scoff at a tent, but the typical weekend camper will likely have a much better time if sheltered from the elements.
Conversely, car campers and those for whom camping must include access to bathrooms and showers will probably want to double or triple the length of this list. And as long as you’re driving up to your campsite, there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
Did we leave anything out that you consider to be critical for camping? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue. Let us know what other items you always pack – whether they are personal or group needs.