Self-reliance is the name of the camping game. You have to be prepared for unexpected obstacles.
This means you have to be able to fix stuff that breaks. And to be clear: Stuff. Will. Break.
Bet on it.
In fact, broken gear — the most common obstacle you’re likely to face — happens enough that you shouldn’t even call it unexpected.
In addition to fixing broken gear, you’ll also need a few tools for run-of-the-mill camping duties. You can hammer tent stakes in the ground with a rock, but an ax or mallet will work better.
All of this is to say you need a collection of tools for camping.
As with most other camping gear, you can just buy a pre-assembled kit full of tools for camping, complete with a fancy little carrying case. But we actually think it’s usually a better idea to put them together from scratch.
We’ll explain everything you need below.
Tools for Camping: A Complete List
We’ll share the basic list of tools for camping you’ll need below, and then talk in greater detail in the next few sections.
But before we get to the list, remember that — as with most other components of your backpacking gear — you can and should tailor your camping tool kit to suit your needs.
Just consider this a good starting point. Add things that you’d like to and leave out things you’re relatively sure you can do without.
Also, if you’re a car camper reading this, go ahead and bring everything you think you could possibly need — you don’t have to worry about weight. The same would go for RV campers or anyone else who’s trip doesn’t involve a long hike.
- Extra batteries and bulbs
- Small broom and dustpan
- Small clamps or clothespins
- Two to three types of cordage
- Bungee cords
- Safety pins
- Small sewing kit
- Tent-pole repair sleeve
- Vinyl repair kit
- Repair kit for air mattress
- Duct tape
Having laid out a basic camping toolkit list, we can dive into a bit more detail to help you select the best tools for your needs and establish a bit of a budgetary hierarchy — simply put, you’ll want to spend more cash on some of your tools for camping than others.
And because some of these items form natural groups, we’ll discuss a few of these camping tools and supplies together.
The Core of Your Camping Toolkit: Knife, Multi-Tool & Flashlight
The first three things to consider when assembling your tools for camping are your knife, multi-tool and flashlight. These are the tools you’ll want quick access to, and you’ll likely want to spend the bulk of your camping toolkit dollars on these three items.
These tools are so important that we’ve covered them in depth in other articles. But we’ll break down the basics for each here.
The Most Important Tool for Camping: Your Camping Knife
A handful of campers may forego a proper camping knife when assembling their tools, and instead rely on the knife in their multitool.
But we think this is a pretty bad idea.
For starters, the knives included in many multi-tools are rarely of especially high quality, and they’re often difficult to sharpen. And regardless of the knife’s quality, it will almost never be large enough to perform some tasks safely or easily.
You basically have two options for camping knives. You can use a folding, “pocket knife” or you can opt for a knife with a fixed blade. Both present different strengths and weaknesses, and neither option is ideal in all circumstances.
If you are interested in saving as much weight and space as possible, you’ll want a folding knife.
With only a 3 to 6 inch blade, it won’t be ideal for things like carving large sticks, cleaning big game or fighting off polar bears, but it’ll work just fine for smaller tasks. And the vast majority of the time you reach for your knife during a typical camping trip, it’ll be for some kind of small and simple task, like cutting fishing line or opening dinner.
Just be sure to select one with a locking blade. Non-locking blades cannot be used safely for anything remotely “pokey.” You can only use the blade to cut or slice things. But if the blade locks securely into place, you can use the point of the knife for umpteen purposes.
Other campers are less focused on weight and space savings, so they opt for a fixed blade knife instead (still others, prefer to bring one of each, which is always worth consideration).
Just resist the urge to bring along more knife than you need. Most medium-sized fixed blade knives are more than sufficient, and this will prove more convenient in the long run.
Also, be sure to check the relevant laws and regulations for the area in which you’ll be traveling — many municipalities place strict limits on things like blade length and the manner in which a knife must be carried.
A Camping Multi-Tool: Your Multi-Purpose Problem Solver
Multi-tools have really revolutionized camping toolkits over the last few decades. In the old days, you’d have to put together kits containing a variety of tools — few of which were intended for life on the trail.
But now, you can just pick a good camping multi-tool and call it a day.
If can be overwhelming to pick the best model for your needs, given the litany of options on the modern market, and we’ve discussed the finer points of multi-tool shopping before.
So, we won’t go into great depth here.
Suffice to say, you’ll want to select a camping multi-tool that comes with all of the tools you’re likely to need, is easy to use, and weighs as little as possible.
A Camping Flashlight: An Indispensable Tool for Camping
It’s easy to forget how much we rely on artificial lighting in the modern world. And many first-time campers are shocked at the amount of time they spend with a flashlight in their hand while on the trail.
So, always be sure to prioritize your flashlight shopping decisions when assembling your tools for camping. We’ve written about flashlight selection in detail before, so we won’t reinvent the wheel, here.
Just make sure that you prioritize the light’s brightness and ergonomics. Weight may be a consideration for serious ounce-counters, but the average Jo or Joann heading out into the wilderness will be better served by concentrating on the first two criteria.
Optional Lighting Equipment: A Lantern and Headlamp
If you want to take a minimalist approach, you can absolutely get by with nothing more than a high-quality camping flashlight. But campers who’re interested in comfort and convenience will often find that some additional lighting gear makes for a better time.
And that essentially means bringing along a headlamp or lantern (and, of course, some will opt to bring both).
A Camping Lantern
A really good lantern will light up an entire campsite (especially if used alongside a campfire), but really good lanterns are expensive (and often heavy). In practice, most campers end up with a lantern that’s great for playing cards inside a tent, but rather poor for helping you assemble a tent for the first time in the dark.
And now matter how good your lantern is, you’ll also have to lug the energy source for your lantern. This will either mean batteries or fuel, and neither are light.
All that said, lanterns definitely have their place — especially for car campers.
Lanterns may have somewhat limited value for some, but headlamps, on the other hand, are pretty helpful tools to drag along with you.
Often, you’ll find it necessary to simultaneously use your hands to do something and hold your flashlight. Sure, you can do the whole hold-it-under-your-chin thing or hold it in your teeth (ew — do you have any idea how dirty your hands get while camping?).
But a headlamp completely eliminates this problem.
Some campers like to opt for purpose-built headlamps, and these often produce the best results. Many can be adjusted to point in different directions, and a standalone headlamp serves as a capable backup, should your regular flashlight break.
But, if you’re really trying to save every ounce possible, you can simply purchase a strap that’ll hold your regular flashlight by your head. Just be sure to remember that you’ll be using your regular flashlight twice as much (give or take), so account for any extra batteries you’ll need to bring.
Don’t Forget Extra Bulbs & Batteries
Bringing extra batteries for your flashlight is a no-brainer. The question is, how many do you need? You obviously want to bring enough, but batteries are one of the densest items you’ll be bringing, and their weight adds up quickly. So, this isn’t one of those times to just go with the overkill approach.
If you don’t mind sacrificing a set of batteries in the name of packing efficiency, just slap a fresh set of batteries in the flashlight, note the time and turn it on. Don’t worry about how long it takes for the batteries to die completely — you only care about how long it takes them to start dimming or flickering.
Once armed with this little piece of knowledge, you can extrapolate and plan accordingly (just be sure to stick to the same brand of battery you used for the test).
But while most campers will know to bring extra batteries, many novices fail to consider backup light bulbs. In truth, lightbulbs don’t fail that often (and some types are exceedingly unlikely to fail during a trip). However, a backup lightbulb or two neither costs nor weighs a lot, and it’s a good idea to be prepared for this kind of rare issue.
Think of it as low-risk, high-reward.
Big Tools for Camping: Your Axe, Shovel & Saw
These three items are certainly not mandatory, but many campers like to bring them along for the convenience and comfort they can help provide. By the virtue of their sheer size, you may not be able to keep some of these items in your proper toolkit, but they still squarely fit within the toolkit category.
A Camping Axe: A Heavy, But Helpful Tool for Camping
In the past, a camping axe was viewed as mandatory camping equipment, but as campers have become better stewards of the lands they enjoy, the axe has fallen out of popularity a bit. Gone are the days when campers would engage in the wholesale collection of live wood to build various campsite amenities. Now, campers are keen to employ a light touch and leave nature as they found it.
However, there are still several uses for a camping axe, and even the most ardent environmentalist should consider bringing one on future excursions.
For example, a camping axe can be invaluable for chopping firewood. Even if you restrict your firewood gathering to branches and logs that are already dead and sitting on the ground (as you should, to the extent possible), you’ll often find it necessary to hack sticks and logs into manageable lengths.
You can use a camping saw for this (more on this tool in a bit), but an axe is the far superior tool for this job. Further, a good camping axe can function as a mallet for hammering in tent stakes and similar tasks. You can even use one to dig a hole in a pinch.
Also, if you’ve never used an axe before, be sure to familiarize yourself with some of the important safety guidelines you’ll want to follow. You may cut yourself with a knife, but you could straight-up maim yourself with an axe.
A Shovel: A Camping Tool of Convenience
A camping shovel is a surprisingly useful piece of equipment and many novice campers fail to consider all of the myriad ways in which a shovel can be used.
Heavy shovels can be used mallet-style to hammer in tent stakes, while those with anything approaching a sharp edge can often serve admirably for chopping kindling. They’re great for stirring fires and moving coals, they often make it easier to move hot cooking gear, and strong ones make good levers.
And, obviously, they can be used for digging holes. This will prove useful when trying to dig a latrine, prepare a fire pit (or a fancy outdoor oven, if you’re feeling adventurous), or find a potable water source close to a stream.
Just be sure to fill in any holes you dig while at your campsite, lest the next group of campers end up twisting an ankle (or worse) due to a hole you left behind.
Another Helpful Tool for Camping: A Folding Saw
Probably the least important of the three big tools in your camping toolkit, a saw can nevertheless be helpful on the trail. Whereas an axe can quickly and crudely chop a large log in half, a saw is the better tool for doing so with anything approaching precision. It’ll also be far safer to use — particularly in places with unsure footing.
However, modern backpackers tend to be much gentler on the habitat than their early predecessors (thankfully so). This means that they’re less likely to engage in the wholesale collection of nearby (sometimes living) branches for use in various types of camp furniture. And this, in turn, means camping saws aren’t seen as the necessary items they once were.
Nevertheless, some campers will find them useful enough to justify the additional weight and space they require.
One last thing: If you’re going to go to all the effort of lugging a camping saw with you on your next trip, be sure to learn how to sharpen the blade. You’d be amazed at how quickly a saw blade will become dull and how much this will affect its performance.
Camping Toolkit Supplies: Stuff to Fix Stuff
Now that we’ve discussed all of the primary tools in your camping toolkit, we can talk about something equally important — the supplies you’ll bring along. Essentially, these are the things you’ll use to fix other things.
Most of these are very affordable (bordering on free), and few weigh very much at all. So, feel free to stock up on some of these items, as you’re unlikely to end up burdening yourself very much by stowing extras in your pack.
As with every part of your camping gear, be sure to tweak things to suit your needs. But here are some of the basic items you’ll want to bring:
- Duct tape: It’s cliché to point out the value of duct tape, but there’s a reason it’s heralded as the end-all, be-all of repairing things — it just works. So, we’ll skip a lengthy explanation of its value and instead provide one tip for bringing duct tape on your next camping trip: If possible, remove the cardboard tube in the center of the roll. This will help reduce a bit of unnecessary (if pretty insignificant) weight and make it easier to pack. If that’s not possible, try to flatten the roll to make it easier to store.
- Two to three types of cordage: Duct tape aside, no other supply in your toolkit will prove as valuable as cordage. The uses of cordage are pretty obvious, so we won’t spend time listing them. Just be sure to bring a few different types of cordage to cover all your bases. This includes a bit of twine or heavyweight fishing line, some leather cord, and a general purpose rope will suffice in most cases.
- Small clamps or clothespins: Clamps or clothespins are fantastic for hanging things up around camp, holding things in place while you try to fix them, or even keeping pack compartments closed when a zipper breaks. Some can even be helpful for holding small items that are hard to grip with your fingers.
- Bungee cords: Bungee cords are not strictly necessary, but they’re very useful for strapping things to your pack or keeping items bundled together. Just be sure to keep weight in mind when selecting your bungee straps, as you’ll typically find that relatively small cords are more useful than heavy-duty versions.
- Safety pins: There’s simply no reason to leave safety pins out of your camping toolkit. They’re not only fantastic for making repairs to clothing, sleeping bags, packs, and a variety of other things, they can also be used for a million small “pokey” tasks that will arise on the trail. They can even be used to remove splinters in a pinch (just be sure to sterilize the pin first). Try to bring an assortment of sizes along to be prepared for a variety of different issues.
- Small sewing kit: Honestly, if you’re willing to just use a bit of duct tape or some safety pins to keep your clothes together until you get back to your car or patch up a hole in your pack, then you don’t need to bring a sewing kit. But, they’re very helpful for making proper repairs if you are willing to invest the time into sewing while on the trail.
- Candles: Candles aren’t mandatory, but the first time your lantern breaks on the trail, you’ll wish you just threw one or two in your pack. Additionally — and perhaps more usefully — candles are much better tools for lighting campfires and cooking stoves than matches or lighters. Plus, candle wax is often helpful for a variety of repair jobs, thereby providing additional value.
- Repair kit for air mattress (vinyl repair kit): If you bring along an air mattress, you’ll certainly want to pack a repair kit. It only takes one stick, sharp rock, or pokey thing in your pack to render it useless. A bit of duct tape may work in a pinch, but a proper repair kit costs next to nothing and doesn’t contribute a meaningful amount of weight to your pack.
- Tent-pole repair sleeve: While many of the supplies listed here serve multiple purposes, a tent-pole repair sleeve is a fairly unique item that won’t help for much other than repairing broken tent poles. However, because there aren’t many other good ways to repair a busted tent pole (which will render your tent more-or-less useless), it is imperative that you stick one in your camping toolkit.
Finally, it’s important to remember that you’ll want to bring along any tools or supplies you may need to repair the miscellaneous items you bring camping.
Bringing a guitar? You’ll probably want some backup strings and picks. Hauling an old-school film camera with you? You’d better throw some extra film in your bag. You get the idea.
Putting together a camping toolkit certainly isn’t the most exciting pre-camping activity, but it is an important one. You simply don’t want to find yourself miles from civilization, staring at a broken piece of gear with no way to repair it.
What kinds of things do you keep in your toolkit that we left out? Are there any tools or supplies you’ve found particularly helpful to bring? Let us know in the comments below!