Before going camping, there’s probably one big, hairy question on your mind. “What the heck do I bring?!” Head to any outdoors store, and you’ll find a million different camping essentials and items you could bring with you on your trip. Between the portable heaters, titanium sporks, and super-powered flashlights, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the options.
The truth is that you could bring all of this gear…IF you’re using a tow truck to get you to the campsite. The purpose of this article is to help remove confusion and show you the most crucial items to focus on. Instead of worrying about all the gear you can buy, start with packing the three pieces below. Then, once you’ve got the essentials down, you can think about bringing that spork you might need on the trails.
The basic camping essentials
What you need to pack will vary on your camping location. If you are headed to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in early spring, your packing list might look a little different than if you were headed to another national park. But there are camping essentials that you will always need, no matter your destination.
#1 – Tent
Hands down, the most essential item to bring with you is a tent. A tent will protect you from the rain, keep bugs out of your face, and help you sleep better at night. It’s truly the bedrock of your camping experience.
Make sure you get a tent that’s suitable for your camping trip. Tents differ by what weather they’re built for, and how many people they can fit. Both of these factors are critical, but choosing the right size is super important. You don’t want to bring a 4-person tent when you’ve got a group of eight. You’ll be packed elbow-to-elbow!
#2 – Sleeping Bag
Next up is your sleeping bag. You’ve got a tent to protect you, now it’s time to stay warm. No matter where you are, temperatures drop at night. Even if you’re comfortable during the day, you’ll want to bring some extra layers for sleeping at night. That’s where your sleeping bag comes in.
Like a tent, a good sleeping bag is fit-for-purpose. That means it’s designed for the temperature you’re sleeping in and constructed with your size in mind. You don’t need an XXXL sleeping bag if you’re only five feet tall, but if you’re a big fella like me, make sure you pick up an oversized bag.
#3 – Compass
You’ve pitched your tent, your sleeping bag is unrolled…but do you know where you are? Okay, maybe you can open up your iPhone and tell Siri to show your location. However, this only goes so far. Siri doesn’t work when there’s no cell service, so you’ll have to get creative.
That’s where your compass comes in handy. Although it might seem old-school, a compass is a tried-and-true method for finding your direction, and ultimately navigating your way home. On top of that, compasses are lightweight, affordable, and easy-to-use. There’s really no excuse not to have one.
If I had to sneak in one more piece of gear into our list of camping essentials, it’d be a quality firestarter. Fire can help keep you warm, prepare meals, illuminate your campsite, and help people find you in rescue situations.
Contrary to popular belief, a gas station butane lighter isn’t the best way to start a fire. Pick up a flint firestarter at your local outdoors store so that you can ignite a campfire no matter where you are. If that sounds like a headache, stormproof matches are a great option due to how user-friendly they are. Just make sure you know the basics of how to start a fire before you head out on your trip!
At the end of the day, camping gear can be overwhelming. But, focus on the three items outlined above, and you’ll have a great camping trip. Good luck!