Camping Equipment: The Gear & Supplies You Need

Assembling the equipment you’ll need for an upcoming camping trip can be daunting.

While it’s fun to shop for gear and dream up dozens of different ways to organize all of your camping equipment, you’ll also have to actually break out the credit card and start buying stuff at some point.

Unfortunately, that can be mentally and financially draining (particularly if you’re new to the camping game and don’t yet have anything).

But we’re going to try to make all this as easy on you as possible.

Obviously, we’ll list all of the things you’ll need for your first backpacking trip. But we’ll also talk about a few things you may want to bring along, even though they’re not strictly necessary.

And while we’re not going to give any advice or deep info on, say, water bottles, we will dive into packs, tents, and other gear in detail.

Before We List the Camping Gear You’ll Need, We’re Making Five Assumptions

There are an endless number of ways to approach camping, and they all have their time and place. But for our purposes, we’re going to make a few assumptions:

#1 You’re Going Backpacking

There are a number of different types of camping, and that’s the first thing we need to address, as this will influence your gear list in several ways.

For some, “camping” means fueling up the RV, packing the fridge full of delicious stuff, and bringing plenty of creature comforts along.

But when others say they’re going “camping,” they mean climbing up a mountain, pitching a tent on a sheer rock face, and rigging an anchor at night to make sure they don’t, you know, die.

Both of these extremes represent perfectly wonderful ways to enjoy the natural world, but when we say “camping,” we mean something between these two extremes.

We’re talking about backpacking trips, in which you’ll be heading out into the wilderness, carrying everything you need — and very little you don’t — on your back.

Image from Pixabay.

If you’re heading on some type of extreme camping trip, you likely already know the specialized gear you need. On the flip side, if you’re just going car camping with the fam, go ahead and bring along everything you think you may need — there’s no reason not to.

But for those who’re planning a backpacking trip, read on.

#2 You’re Going Camping for Two or Three Days

Once you have a few camping trips under your belt, you’ll probably decide that two-to-three-day excursions are not really worth the effort. You’ll probably prefer going for four or five days at a time, and you may even decide to try your hand at marathon-style trips that last for weeks.

But because you’re new to camping, you’ll want to keep things pretty short and sweet.

This will not only help you ease in to the activity gently, but it also ensures that you won’t suddenly realize on the second night of a five-day trip that camping really isn’t your thing.

So, most beginners are wise to start with weekend-long trips — and this is the trip length we’ve kept in mind when designing this gear list. Three day weekends are ideal, but you can still have a blast on a standard, two-day weekend.

#3 You’re Going Camping with One to Three Other Adults

Image from Unsplash.

Camping with your kids can be a blast, but if your younglings are coming along, you don’t want to go backpacking — at least, not until you have a bit of experience and know the kids will have a good time.

Instead, go car camping or RV camping, rather than trying to haul everything you (and your kids) need on your back through miles of wilderness trails. Your kids probably won’t be able to carry all of their own gear, and they will also require a lot of extras to keep them happy and entertained.

Similarly, camping with a bunch of people can be fun, but it will change things up a little from a packing and organizational perspective.

For example, you’ll likely be splitting up some of the community needs (a water purifier, a camp stove, and so on) among the group. You’ll also have to take into account the impact a large group will have on the wilderness. Things like bathroom issues, tent space, and personality differences will have an influence on your gear decisions.

All of this is to say, we’re talking about going camping with a friend, spouse, partner, or a small group of friends.

#4 Minimalist or Extravagant: We’ve Plotted a Middle Course

Different backpackers prefer different overall approaches. But they tend to occur along a spectrum.

At one end, you have backpackers who don’t mind carrying a heavier pack in the name of luxury. These campers may opt for fresh foods over dehydrated meals, or they may bring along digital devices and fishing gear.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have backpackers who are so weight conscious that they opt for chopsticks over traditional eating utensils to save an ounce or so. They’ll just put their boots on when they go relieve themselves in the middle of the night rather than bringing along a pair of camp shoes. And they’d never dream of extravagances like camp showers — they’ll just bathe in the ice-cold creek (if at all).

Both ends of this philosophical spectrum have merit, but for our purposes, we’ve charted a middle course.

We’ve included all of the things that are undeniably unnecessary, but we’ve also included a few ways to cut gear corners to save some weight and space.

#5 You’ll Also Need to Make Adjustments as Necessary: You Are Responsible for You

Image from Unsplash.

Aside from narrowing down our focus in the ways discussed above, you’ll need to be ready to make adjustments to the gear recommended below.

You may, for example, have special needs or desires we can’t possible foresee.

How are we supposed to know you want to paint landscapes while camping? How could we have known you need a knee brace anytime you walk farther than the mailbox?

Similarly, camping is a different experience in different places. We’re primarily talking about camping in the eastern half of the U.S., which means you’ll generally be camping in a forest of some variety.

But if you’re heading out in to the Sonoran Desert or trekking through Patagonia, you’re going to encounter different challenges.

Open fires may be completely prohibited in fire-prone areas out west, meaning that you may as well leave the camp grill cover at home, as you won’t be making a campfire at all. Or, if you’re setting up camp at the bottom of a glacier, a water purifier may be unnecessary.

And on the flip side, there are things you may need we don’t list below.

Planning to camp in an avalanche zone? You’ll obviously want to have some emergency safety equipment on hand (you may even be legally required to do so). Planning to reach your destination via canoe? Well, you’ll need a canoe, and we don’t include that on our list, either.

The point of all this is that we’re providing you with nothing but a starting point. The list below contains just about everything you can reasonably be expected to need on the trip, but you simply must think through all the possibilities, and make adjustments as necessary.

Camping is all about self reliance — and that starts with gear acquisition.

Basic Camping Gear & Supply List

Image from Unsplash.

With all caveats in place, we can get to the list. We’ve broken it down into several different categories — you can just click on the category to learn more about the associated items.

The Big Three: Pack, Tent and Sleeping Gear

These three things represent the crux of your backpacking equipment. There’s no reasonable way to get around these needs, and because you’re just dipping your toe in the camping waters, you’ll likely have to buy them all.

But don’t worry — these things aren’t as expensive as they once were. You can likely get entry-level versions of all three of these items for about $200.

  • Backpack
  • Tent (and a tarp or ground cloth)
  • Sleeping gear (bag, pad and pillow)

Secondary Storage for Camping

You’ll keep most of your gear in your pack or lashed to the outside of it. But that doesn’t mean you will just stuff everything inside — you’ll actually want to have some smaller storage bags to help keep all of your gear organized.

This means you won’t have to empty your entire pack just because you want some raisins. It also means that — should an emergency occur — you’ll be able to find your first-aid kit and safety gear quickly.

  • 1 Daypack or fanny pack
  • Several stuff sacks or compression bags
  • 1 or 2 dry bags
  • Several trash bags
  • Several sandwich bags

Safety Equipment and Logistic Items

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There are several things you’ll want to bring along to ensure you remain safe and that you’re prepared for any problems or emergencies that arise.

And this not only includes complications that occur while you’re on the trail, but also while you’re driving to and from the trailhead.

Accordingly, we generally recommend that you pack all of these things in a single place, which is easy to access at all times. Essentially, any time you’re changing locations, you’ll want these items within arm’s reach.

In fact, you’ll probably want to just keep all of these things in a dry bag, which is easy to access while wearing your pack. And you’ll probably want to keep with you in the front seat while driving.

  • Cell phone
  • Car charger
  • Solar charger or extra battery
  • GPS
  • Compass
  • Trail map
  • Permits or licenses
  • Wallet with ID, credit card and cash
  • Personal information, ICE contact info or any other important information
  • Two-way radios or walkie talkies
  • Whistle

Camping Clothing

Clothing is bulky, and it will represent a lot of the weight in your pack. So, it’s important to think critically about the garments you’ll be hauling up the trail.

But while that’s a bit of a challenge, there is an upside here (particularly for beginners): As long as you have a good pair of hiking boots, you can likely make do with the clothes you already have.

Sure, there is a ton of high-performance, purpose-built outdoor wear you can buy, but clothing is one of the places where you can often save money, when first assembling some camping gear.

A pair of jeans, for example, will definitely weigh more than a pair of top-notch synthetic outdoor pants, but you don’t have to spend any money on the jeans in your closet.

  • 1 set of underwear for each day plus 1 spare
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 sweater, hoodie or light jacket
  • 1 warm coat
  • 2 or 3 lightweight shirts
  • 2 or 3 pairs socks
  • 1 hat for warm weather
  • 1 warm hat for cold weather
  • 1 pair of nimble gloves
  • 1 pair long underwear
  • 1 bandana
  • 1 pair slip-on shoes for use around camp, while wading in water, etc.
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 pair of sunglasses
  • 1 rain gear set (jacket and pants)
  • 1 pair of hiking boots

Cooking Equipment, Food & Drink

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In practice, you’ll likely keep your food, water and cooking gear in separate places, but it makes sense to talk about them collectively.

You could write a book about the subject of feeding yourself on the trail, but because you’re likely new to backpacking, we’re going to keep things as simple as possible. You’ll have plenty of time to learn how to make pancakes and bacon for future trips.

This means we are primarily recommending that you simply buy dehydrated meals specifically designed for campers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Dehydrated meals are far easier to cook than conventional foods while camping — you basically just boil some water, mix everything up and start stuffing your face. This kind of simplicity will free you up to focus on other things during your initial few trips. And honestly, good ones are actually pretty tasty.

You’ll want to bring along some snacks and ready-to-eat foods too. These will help keep your body fueled and spirits high while on the trail, and they’re also nice to have in an emergency.

Image from Unsplash.

You’ll also need some cooking gear. And once again, different backpackers approach cooking gear differently.

Some bring along everything including the kitchen sink (well, kind of), while others try to make do with a single pot, a pair of chopsticks, and maybe a spoon.

But like we mentioned earlier, we’re plotting a middle path for you. We’re trying to keep the cooking kit streamlined, but we’re not worried about helping you shave off an ounce or two by skipping the eating utensils.

Finally for this gear module, you’ll need some type of water purifying technology (never drink untreated water — it’s just not worth the risk) and a method for storing treated water.

  • 1 to 2 dehydrated meals per day
  • 1 to 2 large snack bags per day (trail mix, nuts, chocolate, etc.)
  • Small container cooking oil
  • Salt, pepper, and any other spices want
  • Coffee, tea or hot chocolate
  • Sugar, creamer, honey, etc.
  • Drink mixes
  • Condiments
  • Water bottle or canteen
  • Collapsible 5-gallon water container
  • Water purifier
  • Emergency water tablets
  • Matches, lighter or fire starter
  • Stove
  • Fuel for stove
  • Grill rack
  • Portable coffee maker
  • Paper towels or napkins
  • Pot scrubber
  • Cutting board
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • 1 mug or cup per person
  • Eating utensils
  • Cooking utensils
  • 1 large pot
  • 1 medium pot
  • 1 frying pan
  • 1 bowl per camper
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • Cooking oil or non-stick spray
  • Bottle opener, can opener, corkscrew
  • Dishwashing basin  
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Sponge
  • Dish towel
  • Mixing bowl
  • Potholders/oven mitts

Tools, Repair Kit, and Similar Items

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Hopefully, your trip will go splendidly, everything will work correctly and nothing will break. But you must be prepared to repair stuff that does. And this means bringing a repair kit, as well as some basic tools (which you’ll need whether or not anything breaks).

But putting together this gear requires some thought. There’s a ton of wiggle-room with your tools and associated items, as many work in multiple ways. And some will even eliminate the need to include things from other categories.

For example, if you bring a multi-tool or Swiss Army knife with a set of good tweezers, you can skip the tweezers in your first-aid kit.

So, as always, use your judgement to arrive at the perfect gear list for your needs.

  • Knife
  • Axe
  • Saw
  • Shovel
  • Duct tape
  • Flashlight  
  • Headlamp  
  • Lantern
  • Extra batteries and bulbs
  • Multi-tool
  • Repair kit for air mattress
  • Small clamps or clothespins
  • Two to three types of cordage  
  • Bungee cords
  • Safety pins
  • Small sewing kit
  • Candles
  • Tent-pole repair sleeve
  • Vinyl repair kit
  • Small broom and dustpan

First Aid & Toiletries

Because you’ll be in a remote area, it’ll be challenging to secure medical attention if you suffer an injury or fall ill. Accordingly, a first-aid kit should always be considered mandatory.

Serious problems (such as extensive cuts, broken bones or severe food poisoning) will obviously force you to just head for safety or call for help. Your trip will be over, and you’ll need to get the assistance you need. However, you’ll want to bring some supplies to help ensure you remain stable while seeking help or waiting for rescuers to arrive.

Additionally, you want to be prepared to overcome minor injuries or illnesses while on the trail, so you can remain comfortable and avoid having to cut your trip short. This includes things like small cuts, minor sunburn, bug bites or run-of-the-mill tummy troubles.

You’ll also want to bring along some basic toiletries and personal hygiene items.

This includes the kinds of things that’ll help you feel human and keep your trail-induced funk from offending your companions so much that they leave you in the middle of the night.

Image from Unsplash.

There’s a little bit of overlap between first-aid supplies and personal hygiene stuff, so we discuss them together below.

  • Bag for first-aid supplies
  • Prescription medications
  • 2 to 4 doses pain medications
  • 2 to 4 doses antihistamines
  • 2 to 4 doses antacids
  • 2 to 4 doses antidiarrheal
  • 1 pair latex gloves
  • 1 roll adhesive tape
  • 4 packs of sterile gauze
  • 1 bottle hydrogen peroxide
  • 1 bottle alcohol or alcohol wipes
  • 1 bottle antibacterial ointment
  • 1 small bottle burn ointment
  • 1 small bottle Aloe vera
  • 1 large piece of moleskin
  • 1 pair of small scissors
  • 1 pair of nail clippers
  • 1 small mirror
  • 1 pack assorted adhesive bandages
  • 1 pair tweezers
  • 1 emergency cold pack
  • 1 Ace bandage
  • 10 cotton swabs
  • First aid manual
  • Eye drops
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Menstrual and urinary products
  • Toilet paper
  • Lip balm
  • Sunscreen
  • Wet wipes
  • Small mirror
  • Brush or comb
  • Towel
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Deodorant
  • Cosmetics
  • Portable camp shower
  • Spare glasses or contact lenses
  • Razor

The Complete Backpacking Gear List

Image from Unsplash.

We always want to be helpful to our readers in every way possible, so we’re including the full list below. You can also just download this Google Doc if you like.

  • Backpack
  • Tent (and a tarp or ground cloth)
  • Sleeping gear (bag, pad and pillow)
  • 1 Daypack or fanny pack
  • Several stuff sacks or compression bags
  • 1 or 2 dry bags
  • Several trash bags
  • Several sandwich bags
  • Cell phone
  • Car charger
  • Solar charger or extra battery
  • GPS
  • Compass
  • Trail map
  • Permits or licenses
  • Wallet with ID, credit card and cash
  • Personal information, ICE contact info or any other important information
  • Two-way radios or walkie talkies
  • Whistle
  • 1 set of underwear for each day plus 1 spare
  • 1 pair of pants
  • 1 sweater, hoodie or light jacket
  • 1 warm coat
  • 2 or 3 lightweight shirts
  • 2 or 3 pairs socks
  • 1 hat for warm weather
  • 1 warm hat for cold weather
  • 1 pair of nimble gloves
  • 1 pair long underwear
  • 1 bandana
  • 1 pair slip-on shoes for use around camp, while wading in water, etc.
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 pair of sunglasses
  • 1 rain gear set (jacket and pants)
  • 1 pair of hiking boots
  • 1 to 2 dehydrated meals per day
  • 1 to 2 large snack bags per day (trail mix, nuts, chocolate, etc.)
  • Small container cooking oil
  • Salt, pepper, and any other spices want
  • Coffee, tea or hot chocolate
  • Sugar, creamer, honey, etc.
  • Drink mixes
  • Condiments
  • Water bottle or canteen
  • Collapsible 5-gallon water container
  • Water purifier
  • Emergency water tablets
  • Matches, lighter or fire starter
  • Stove
  • Fuel for stove
  • Grill rack
  • Portable coffee maker
  • Paper towels or napkins
  • Pot scrubber
  • Cutting board
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • 1 mug or cup per person
  • Eating utensils
  • Cooking utensils
  • 1 large pot
  • 1 medium pot
  • 1 frying pan
  • 1 bowl per camper
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • Cooking oil or non-stick spray
  • Bottle opener, can opener, corkscrew
  • Dishwashing basin  
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Sponge
  • Dish towel
  • Mixing bowl
  • Potholders/oven mitts
  • Knife
  • Axe
  • Saw
  • Shovel
  • Duct tape
  • Flashlight  
  • Headlamp  
  • Lantern
  • Extra batteries and bulbs
  • Multi-tool
  • Repair kit for air mattress
  • Small clamps or clothespins
  • Two to three types of cordage  
  • Bungee cords
  • Safety pins
  • Small sewing kit
  • Candles
  • Tent-pole repair sleeve
  • Vinyl repair kit
  • Small broom and dustpan
  • Bag for first-aid supplies
  • Prescription medications
  • 2 to 4 doses pain medications
  • 2 to 4 doses antihistamines
  • 2 to 4 doses antacids
  • 2 to 4 doses antidiarrheal
  • 1 pair latex gloves
  • 1 roll adhesive tape
  • 4 packs of sterile gauze
  • 1 small bottle hydrogen peroxide or iodine
  • 1 small bottle alcohol or alcohol wipes
  • 1 small bottle antibacterial ointment
  • 1 small bottle burn ointment
  • 1 small bottle Aloe vera
  • 1 large piece of moleskin
  • 1 pair of small scissors
  • 1 pair of nail clippers
  • 1 pair tweezers
  • 1 small mirror
  • 1 pack assorted adhesive bandages
  • 1 emergency cold pack
  • 1 Ace bandage
  • 10 cotton swabs
  • First aid manual
  • Eye drops
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Menstrual and urinary products
  • Toilet paper
  • Lip balm
  • Sunscreen
  • Wet wipes
  • Small mirror
  • Brush or comb
  • Towel
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Deodorant
  • Cosmetics
  • Portable camp shower
  • Spare eyeglasses or contact lenses
  • Razor

We don’t even mind if you copy and paste it elsewhere — just give us credit and link to this page.

It’s all about sharing information and learning from others!

***

That list can look pretty daunting, but it’s really not that bad.

Aside from a few key items that most beginners will have to purchase — a tent, sleeping bag, backpack, water purifier and stove — you’ll likely be able to piece together the rest by rummaging around your house.

And for that matter, there are plenty of things on the above list that you could leave off. Just check out the page for each category to check out some of the arguments for and against different items, as well as some workarounds and alternatives you may want to use instead.

But now that you know everything you need, it’s time to learn how to organize it all of that camping equipment.


Featured image from Unsplash.

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