The 13 Essentials You Need Camping

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In the summers as a kid we would always go camping every weekend in Wisconsin. My parents always knew what to bring and never forgot anything. The reason why we always had the necessities for camping is that they used a check list. This camping list was written in pencil and stapled on the back of an old chip box.

Essential camping is having everything you need when you go camping. Make sure to bring some kind of shelter, water, and food. A tarp and rope are the simplest for shelter. Then freeze-dried food is best to keep things light. Lastly, make sure you have a water jug or bottle for hydration.

Below is a list of the major items you will want to bring camping along with fun items as well. I’ve even included different types of camping checklists to be downloaded near the bottom of this post. There are 4 different types of ways to camp that I made checklists for.

  • Hiking
  • Tent
  • Popup
  • RV/Trailer
campsite with trailer, fire pit, and other camping items.

Tent or a Camper

Having a place to sleep is essential when you are camping. If you don’t have a tent or a camper you can also bring a tarp and rope to create a tent with a nearby tree (you can also find large sticks) to help you warmer at night and other elements that mother nature may give you, such as rain.

This is also a great video on 15 different types of shelters you can make from a tarp.

Sleeping Bag or Blankets

To stay warm at night, yes even in the summer, it’s ideal to have at least blankets to sleep with. Using a sleeping bag is more convenient in my opinion. With a sleeping bag, your heat will stay close to you as you sleep especially in a tent. If you are sleeping in a tent having a pad is really nice too. To learn more about how to increase the warmth of the pad, check out my post on Increasing R-value in sleeping pads.

Having a good pillow is also essential for a good night’s sleep. You could use a soft piece of clothing if absolutely needed.

Fire Wood and Fire Starters

Ideally, you will want to use wood that is native to the area you are camping in. A lot of campgrounds will have firewood for sale. Matches and old newspaper or some kind of kidling will be needed to start the fire. You need to have small items to burn before you burn large logs of wood. You can also find fire starters, such as waterproof fire sticks, for kidling that will easily start on fire and stay lit.

If you have a charcoal grill, having lighter fluid will be needed as well.

Food & Water Camping Items

Growing up we always had 2 coolers, one for beverages and one for food that needed to stay cold. The food cooler had our milk, eggs, and meat. My mom often would pre-cut all the veggies before we left. For the items that didn’t need chilling, we kept them in grocery bags in our pop-up camper or the car.

There were also 2 large jugs for water. We either filled the jugs at the camping location or at home, it all depended on if the location had drinking water. This water would be used for dishes or brushing our teeth, or if we just needed to rinse something off.

If you need some meal ideas for a camping food list, check out my post on 14 of the Best Kinds Of Food For Camping.

2 blue coolers next to a camper

Pots & Pans with Cooking Utensils

If you plan to cook a warm meal you will need these items, unless the place you are staying at has a grate over the fire and you will only use the grate. Along with needing pots and pans to cook your food with you will also need a way to eat your food. So also bring food utensils along with plates or bowls.

Outdoor Stove

Having an outside stove is very useful if you want to save your firewood or if it rains and you can’t cook your food over the fire. You can find small or large camping stoves. Check out this post that compared 10 camping stoves to get an idea of what you can get.

Clothing for the Weather

Being able to dress in layers is key when you are camping. Even if it’s during the summer, it’s a good idea to bring pants, especially at night to help keep the misquotes away from you. Having a raincoat is a great thing to bring as a just in case item. If you have a spot to go swimming, make sure to bring a swimsuit as well.

If you have the extra room, it’s never a bad idea to bring an extra set of clothes for one day. You never know what may happen and one of your outfits may get too dirty to finish wearing for the rest of the day.


tiki torch with a boy swinging in the background

At the minimum have a flashlight on hand and have backup batteries for it. Another lighting that doubles as a way to keep bugs away are tiki torches. While camping we would always light these up around the campfire. Lanterns are also great to have camping instead of always needing to hold a flashlight if you sitting at the picnic table playing cards with others.

Candles are also great to use. My mom has filled a bunch of candles on a through away sheet pan and lights it at night. She often places this near the door of the camper.

Camp Chairs

Having a comfortable chair to sit around the campfire with is a need in my book. I have a bad back, so I’m not about sitting on a hard tree stump or a possible hard dirt ground. One of the chairs that I love folds up nicely that you can put into a bag and carry. Another favorite of mine is the Lounger Chair where you can lean back and be supported. My uncle has a director chair. I always thought it would be uncomfortable, but I was rather surprised and I liked it when camping with them.

2 boys sitting on a large blue camping chaire
Enjoy camping on a huge chair!

Trash Bags

No matter where you go camping, you will need to take out your trash. Make one trash bag for recycling and one for garbage. Trash bags are also nice to put your dirty clothes in as well. Another fun tip in case it rains and you forgot a raincoat, you can make one with a trash bag.

Bathroom & Toilet Items

Every time I pack my bathroom items I think about my morning and night routine. While camping I may not wash my hair, especially if it’s just for the weekend. In this case, I wouldn’t need to bring any shampoo or conditioner. Having a good bar of soap along with a towel are 2 good basic hygiene items. A toothbrush and toothpaste are items to pack.

First Aid Kit & Book

Some basic items to have in your first aid kit are bandaids, gauze, burn relief cream, medical tape, scissors, gloves, antiseptic cleaning items, main relievers such as Acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. Check out this post for more details on what to have in your first aid kit.

Camping Tools

A few tools that will help you around the fire would be wood tongs to be able to move the logs in the fire. An ax will also be handy if you need to make smaller pieces of wood for starting the fire. Hot pot holders are always a great idea when cooking over an open fire.

A hammer will come in hand along with some stakes if you need to secure anything into the ground, such as a tent or a tarp over wood to keep it dry.

A few other basic camping tools are rope, clothes pins, and a broom with a dust pan.

Fun Things to Bring Camping

Think about what you enjoy doing at home that requires no electricity. Or maybe there are things that you can’t do at home but can while you camp.

  • Deck of cards for card games
  • Board Games
  • Books or Magazines
  • Sports balls: soccer, football, tennis
  • Ladder Golf
  • Golf Clubs and balls
  • Canoe or Kayak
  • Bikes
  • Music Player
3 people playing cards on a table outside
Playing cards with family is one of my favorite activities. I’m on the right in this photo.

What Not to Bring Camping

  • Perfumes and cologne. These items will attract unwanted mosquitos and bears. Purchase an unscented deodorant for this reason as well.
  • Clothes that you care about.
  • Glass Storage Containers
  • Electronics
  • Jewelry

Printable Ultimate Camping Check List