The Camping Gear List

If you are planning to take the family camping this summer, the first decision you will have to make is what to bring with you. Just Google™ camping list and you will get in excess of 50 million different opinions on exactly what it is that you should be taking and, while most of this advice is probably okay, a lot of it (even at some big-name outdoor companies) is written by freelance writers who may, or may not, have any actual camping or backpacking experience.

REI Halo (left) and Zen bags

REI Halo (left) and Zen bags

Any camping list is going to vary depending on whether you are car camping (carrying all of your gear in a car) or backpack camping (carrying all of your gear on your back).  If you are carrying everything on your back then weight is a primary factor in your gear selection and you can justify the premium price that you will pay for lighter gear.  For example, an REI® Halo down-fill bag weighs just under two pounds and is $250. An equivalent synthetic bag, like the REI Zen, is less than $150 but weighs over three pounds.

A sleeping bag is part of the core set of camping gear that you will spend the most money on:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Camping Stove
  • Ice chest

The ice chest is only for car camping, but the rest of this gear is available in lightweight versions that are more suitable for backpacking. Of course, you could go with backpacking gear even if you are car camping, but it will cost a lot more money and you will be giving up some comfort. There is a huge difference, in both cushion and warmth, between a ¾-inch thick foam sleeping pad (10 oz.) and 3-inch thick insulated foam and air sleeping pad (6 lbs. 10 oz.).

Camping gear list - sleeping pads

Therm-A-Rest™ Z Lite™ vs. DreamTime™ sleeping pads

In addition to the core set of gear you will also need a set of cooking gear for preparing meals and cleaning up:

  • Matches and lighter
  • Fire Starter / Tender
  • Garbage bags
  • Paper Towels
  • Wet Wipes
  • Dish Soap
  • Coffee pot or tea kettle
  • Sauce pan or dutch oven
  • Cooking Oil for Treating Cast Iron
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Frying pan or griddle
  • Hot Pads or Mitt
  • Plates, bowls and cups
  • Knives, forks and spoons
  • Spatula, ladle, paring knife
  • Large Sealable Bags for Food Storage
  • Large Table Cloth (many picnic tables are 8-feet long)
  • Wash tub
  • 5-Gallon Drinking Water Container
Camping Gear List - JetBoil camping stove

The JetBoil Helios packs inside its own cooking pot

Of course, if you are backpacking then size and weight is a primary concern. Instead of packing pots, pans and a stove, there are integrated cooking systems like the Helios™, from JetBoil®, that packs inside its own cooking pot.

Likewise, there are a number of small, integrated plates, mugs and utensil sets from companies like MSR® that will save weight and space in your pack. The final list of gear that you will need for camping is for safety and comfort items:

  • First aid kit
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Toilet paper
  • Towels
  • Pillows
  • Small ax or hatchet
  • Small broom or whisk broom
  • Camp chairs
  • Extra Batteries
  • Notepad and Pencil
  • Soap, Shampoo and Shower Shoes
Camping Gear List - NEMO Fillow

The NEMO Fillow backpacking pillow weighs just 10.8 oz.

Some of the items on this camping gear list may sound a bit overkill, but even if you are backpacking it is nice to be comfortable at the end of a long day. Companies like NEMO™ make lightweight pillows that can add the little extra bit of comfort to a night’s sleep in the backcountry.

When you are trying to save weight and space, multiple-use tools are essential. A Gerber® Back Paxe™ weighs just 19 oz. and can be used to chop firewood, stoke the campfire and pound tent stakes. Note that this camping gear list is not meant to supplant the backcountry essentials, like water and food, that everyone should carry with them. A printable copy (PDF format) of the camping gear list is available for download How to use an ice chest

  • Assemble a First Aid Kit for Family Camping
  • How to make your own campfire starters
  • 27 thoughts on “The Camping Gear List

    1. Iv always felt that when looking to purchase camping equipment or outdoor supplies you should always opt for quality. I purchased a Vaude packbag nearly 15 years ago and its been all around the world but it still is in just as good condition as when i bought it.

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    4. Nice camping gear list. I recommend always making a list when planning to go camping. It just helps to remember the essential things other than tent, sleeping bag, and campstove. Maybe you need to dig the airbed mattress out of the closet, or you have the cast iron dutch oven tucked away for safe keeping, how would the camping trip be complete, without your dutch oven cobbler for dessert? So again thank you for the reminder of the camping list.

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    7. My kids are at that great age that they want to go camping. one question that I have is what size of sleeping bag should I get them? I don’t want to spend the money on a kid bag but if it makes them enjoy it more, then it will be worth it. I want to buy just one and would like it to be an adult bag, will that hinder the camping experience?

      Thanks
      Aaron

      • One thing to remember when camping about your little ones is to keep them stoked on the experience and having their very own anything is pretty key! Another piece of advice would be that you more than likely would want to get a bag that fit your children now with perhaps just a bit of grow room, you see the only warmth that a person gets when camping is created by their own body and the more space in a sleeping bag to heat the longer it may take if it can be heated at all!

        I would check craigslist or outdoor gear shops for returns, I know that REI has garage sales where you can get gear super cheap. Also look for used gear shops, you’ll be surprised at what quality stuff you can find super cheap. Oh and if you are concerned about a sleeping bag being used, there are plenty of great products to allow you to thoroughly clean your gear in your home washing machine. Products like Nixwax are pretty nice for at home gear cleaning. Just be sure and identify the materials in the gear so you don’t shrink it!

        Along with the first bit of advice I would like to add that allowing a child the responsibility to carry their own gear can speak volumes to not only to them about the fact that you trust them but it also shows them the value in being a part of the team, I know that my 4 year old is constantly wanting to help and this is a great way to allow them to be a part of the team.

    8. We are preparing for our very first family camping trip this weekend.(My husband and I have not been able to go camping since 2004, so I am very excited) My children are young (2 and 5) so I want to be as prepared as I can be. Recently we purchased a backyard fire pit and have been making hot dogs and smores with it. We discovered at our local Wegmans some AWESOME marshmallow sticks…they look like GIANT thick toothpicks and clean very easily so they can be used multiple times. I really like them because they are long enough that my 5 year old isn’t too close to the fire, and Mommy or Daddy doesn’t have to go searching around in the woods for a good shaped stick any more. They come in packs of 4. I’m excited to bring them with us. Also, a must have for my family is a battery operated fan for the tent, great for keeping the tent cool in the summer. Thanks for the awesome site..with ALL the great posts.

    9. Two things are a must have is mosquito repellant and anti-inch product. I have learned that taking the Dryer Bounce Fabric Sheets work wonderful at keeping mosquitos away so put a few sheets inside the tent and at its opening. Something about the scent of the fabric sheets that keeps bugs off! Also, if you do get bit up, instead of itching, take your toothpaste and put it on the mosquito bite (be generous but not crazy). Sounds silly but it works wonders. It works better than anything on the market. Happy Camping

    10. Let me add a must have for cold weather camping: a neck warmer. Found a great one from a company called nodzzz. I even wrapped my little dog in it!

    11. Good call, Eric – I use the hatchet, but I should add some verbiage about pounding tent stakes with it. There have been a few times I’ve had to use a claw hammer to get them out of the ground, too.

      Lori – we’re the same way, it seems like we’re always refining our list.

    12. i am always refining my list, culling anything we don’t use and, of course, looking for that ultimate piece of gear that improves the camping experience exponentially. ;^)

      Lori’s last blog post..camping with kids

    13. You definitely hit all the most important items Dan! I would like to include a small rug for outside the tent – it sure helps with cutting down the “stuff” that gets tracked in.

      Happy Camping!
      Sandy

    14. Deb – it’s hard to go back to roughing it 🙂

      MK – good list! We cook with aluminum foil on almost every trip and we’re just getting started with our new dutch oven.

    15. No kiddin’ on all those camping (and backpacking) lists out there! And I’ve done it too, quite a bit, I must admit. Generally, though, I think it’s more about the good ol’ “ten essentials” to begin with, whether backpacking or car camping, and then whatever else you want (and can carry, either on your back on in your vehicle) to be comfortable. Obviously, with car camping, you can pretty much bring the kitchen sink. We just bought some of those foldable camping chairs after going without for YEARS. Sitting around the campfire just got a whole lot more comfortable. And the egg-crate foam pad we cut to the shape of our tent is swwwweet! After all this cushy car-camping lately, we’re going on an extended backpacking trip pretty soon, and I’m sure we’ll feel the difference when we get up in the morning.

      Deb’s last blog post..A Short Walk Turns Into A Long Night

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    17. Very timely post for me. My sweetheart Stephanie and I are taking our golden retriever Molly camping over the weekend, our first camping trip since last summer.

      We’ll be camping somewhere on a little dirt road in the forest within about three hours of Mount Shasta. We haven’t picked our destination yet — I’m trying to figure out how high we can drive without getting stopped by snow.

      John Soares’s last blog post..The 20 Crucial Tips for Writing Great Multiple-Choice Test Questions

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