Camping is supposed to be both relaxing and fun at the same time, but it can actually be overwhelming and stressful if you aren’t sure what to bring. If only someone could help you with the best camping must-haves.
This is where we come in. We came up with a list of the top camping must-haves that will hopefully ease your troubles. A good list is essential because you cannot just go to the quick mart and get whatever item you didn’t pack when you are out in the woods.
We hope our list of camping must-haves gets you excited about camping and makes it a bit less intimidating for you. We will try to keep it simple and make this an excellent list for the average weekend camper and not the Bear Grylls type of camper.
The tent is probably the most obvious but important item on our list of camping must-haves. Your tent can absolutely make or break your camping experience and make your trip fun or a nightmare your kids will never forget.
Your tent needs to be appropriate for the weather and conditions that you will be camping in. For example, will it be warm enough, will it be adequately ventilated, and can you set it up with reasonable effort?
It also needs to comfortably sleep all your campers. Finally, I suggest doing a test run at home setting up your tent, with the whole family helping so everyone can see the process. This way, you can check for tears or missing parts and truly see how big the tent is.
An instant tent is the way to go if you have a family. It takes a lot of the stress out of camp setup. When our kids were little, they actually could set up our instant tent by themselves (mostly). They were so proud of themselves. One of our favorite instant tents is the Coleman Cabin Tent. For more great instant tents click here.
A good tent usually comes with a rainfly, but if not, you would want to bring a waterproof tarp. You also might need a tarp for other things, like a rain cover over your picnic table or camping gear sitting outside.
Everyone in your camping group will need some type of sleeping bag, and there are many options depending on needs, climate and budget.
If you plan on camping frequently and may run into cold weather, I highly recommend spending a bit extra to get a really quality sleeping bag.
Look for a quality all-weather sleeping bag that will work for the majority of your camping adventures.
Also, consider if you want sleeping bags that zip together, this is nice for snuggling and keeps both of you warm and toasty.
I don’t think we had actual sleeping pads for camping when I was growing up. But, boy, was I missing out. We usually slept on blankets, which are bulky to pack and not that helpful for comfort.
Sleeping pads get you off the ground and are easy to pack because they might be inflatable or roll up small. Some of them are self-inflating; some may come with a pump too. Most sleeping pads will be much better at keeping you dry and less of a bulky mess like blankets.
The barrier of a sleeping pad between you and the ground will also help keep you warm at night. Mentally, I just like knowing that I’m a few inches off the ground. I tell myself the spiders cannot reach me then.
Portable tent heater
I cannot say enough good things about having an excellent portable tent heater for your camping adventures, especially if you have kids.
Once we got a tent heater, it totally amped up our camping game with the kids. They love crawling into a nice and warm tent, and so do I, to be honest.
With a propane portable tent heater, you will need to ensure it is placed in a safe spot where it won’t get knocked over. It also needs to be positioned by a vent so you can have proper safe airflow.
Look for a portable tent heater with a tip-over safety shut-off switch and a low oxygen safety shut-off sensor. And be sure to bring enough propane to last the majority of the night. It’s no fun to wake up shivering and realize you are out of propane.
A simple lantern is a must for camping, for many reasons, and won’t cost much at all. We have had the same propane lantern for about 20 years. It works like a champ.
Most basic lanterns just involve a 1-gallon propane tank and are either a push ignite, or you may need a lighter. They also create a nice ambiance around your campsite and are super helpful if playing board games or cards at the picnic table during the evening.
We have headlamps for everyone in the family, and this is super important for many reasons. First of all, the kiddos love to have anything that is their very own personal gadget for camping.
They love independence, and it helps you keep track of them when it gets dark outside. Headlamps come in many sizes and are specifically designed for kids; they are colorful and simple to use.
The best part of having a headlamp is for the middle of the night treks to the creepy dark outhouse. Unfortunately, you cannot hold a flashlight and take care of business at the same time. You just can’t; don’t try it.
A small portable propane camp stove will be your best buddy while camping. You may be thinking, what about cooking over the fire, though? Of course, you can cook over the campfire, and you must have a campfire for s’mores, but a camp stove heats up much quicker.
When you get up early in the morning, with the cold air and the dew still around your campsite, a camp stove will get you that much-needed morning cup of joe.
Also, a camp stove is efficient for other things, like heating up water to wash your face or washing cold little dirty hands.
It is also nice for cooking up instant rice, oatmeal, eggs, baked beans, canned veggies, or a hotty toddy. Just be sure to bring extra propane tanks so you don’t run out of propane in the middle of your trip.
Unless you really want to get blisters from frantically rubbing 2 sticks together to make a fire, you need to bring some matches, firestarters, and a lighter.
Since you won’t be taking your refrigerator along with you on your camping trip, you will need a cooler to keep all your food from spoiling. Opt for a cooler that is a bit bigger than what you may think you need. The reason is for all the ice that is needed to stay cold for multiple days.
If it gets warm during the day, it is tough to keep food cold for several days. Also, ice is the only way to have nice cold drinks, and with all the physical activity of hiking and exploring, you will want to have cold drinks.
Metal water bottles
Metal water bottles are great for camping because they keep the cold drinks cold and the hot drinks hot.
While camping, you don’t have the luxury of just popping your cocoa or coffee in the microwave for a quick reheat. So this is where having a metal water bottle comes in handy.
Sitting around the campfire in the evenings is one of the best parts about camping, but you need a really comfortable camp chair to totally enjoy this.
Camp chairs come in various sizes with different bells and whistles. You just need to find what is right for you.
Ideally, you want to look for a camp chair that reclines back, has good back support, and is lightweight and portable. It is also a must to have some type of drink holder or fold-out table on the side of the camp chair.
While sitting in your camp chair, you want to be able to have a place to set your drinks, books, and smores fix-ins down. You don’t want to set these things down in the dirt next to you, you will probably kick it over, or bugs will help themselves.
First aid kit
First aid kits are a huge must while camping, and the first time you don’t have one, you will be sorry you don’t.
I like to just make my own first aid kit with the things I know my family might need. Then, I just put it all in a large zip lock bag labeled clearly for all. Also, make sure all family members know where it is at when you get your campsite set up.
In our first aid kit, I usually have big and small bandaids, antibiotic cream, hydrogen peroxide, some gauze or cotton balls, ibuprofen and Tylenol, cough syrup, tweezers, an antihistamine for allergic reactions, anti-itch cream, simple CPR instructions.
Walkie-talkies are super handy and pretty vital if you are going to do any type of exploring out in the woods.
Many walkie-talkies will track your location and have GPS, which is really helpful if you take a wrong turn. In addition, walkie-talkies allow you to have 2-way communication without relying on cell towers, making them the perfect camping gadget.
Nobody likes getting bit by bugs, and there can be lots of bugs in the woods, so it’s a good idea to bring along some bug spray. We keep it out on the picnic table as a reminder to all of us to put it on every day if the bugs seem extra hungry.
Click here to read about natural ways to keep bugs away.
When you are camping, you spend the entire day outside, increasing the chances of sunburn. Even if it isn’t warm weather, you probably will be in the sun more than you realize if the sun is out.
Mess kit and cookware
Be sure to bring some type of camping mess kit and cookware for all the gourmet meals you will be having on your camping trip.
Look for cookware that is durable, lightweight packs down reasonably small, and fits your needs. It is convenient to have color-coded cups so family members do not mix them up.
Remember the small things too, like utensils, maybe a kettle and a way to clean your dishes. Also, a can opener, a ladle, any serving utensil you may need.
Water for drinking and washing
Bring plenty of drinking water. If you run out of drinking water, you really could be in a bind. We have a separate 5-gallon jug of water just for brushing your teeth, washing your face, and cleaning up dishes.
You will use a camping shovel more than you think. Use it to dig a trench around your fire pit and mix around the coals, dirt, and water when you are putting your fire out at night.
And the ugly truth is that a shovel is pretty important for digging a hole when you go number 2 out in the woods. So bury your business, please.
A camp saw is quite affordable and something you will surely need to build your campfire. Camp saws come in many styles, like hand saws, bow saws, and pocket chainsaws.
Click here to view our favorite camping saws.
All good adventures require an excellent multi-tool to help you in any odd situation you didn’t foresee happening. For example, a multi-tool can help you during dinner prep, cutting some rope, and many other tasks.
Stakes, rope, clamps
Bring extra stakes for your tent or if you need to stake down a tarp. You always need some type of rope when you are camping. It comes in very handy. Clamps serve many purposes but are great for keeping the tablecloth on the table.
Camp towel and washcloth
Camping towels are so much better than just a regular towel. They are quick-drying, super soft, lightweight, and pack down small. Also, with the many different colors camp towels and washcloths come in, everyone in the family can have a different one.
Be good to mother earth and bring along some biodegradable toilet paper. Usually, these types of toilet paper are also ok to use in outhouses.
Don’t ever assume that the campsite will always have enough toilet paper in the outhouses. You don’t want to discover this the hard way.
Camping games are fun for both adults and kids alike. You can have tons of fun with good old-fashioned games when you are out in nature.
Games that are easy to pack are best, like dice games and card games.
Also, collapsible cornhole, soccer, and volleyballs are fun to bring camping. Frisbee and smash ball are also some of our family favorites.
A hammock that can be hung between two trees is a relaxing way to spend the afternoon while camping. When our kids were little, they would play hide and seek and disappear in the hammocks. Click here to see one of our favorite hammocks on Amazon.
Book, coloring books, paper, and crayons
Camping is a great time to get back to basics, and that can start with a good book. Reading in the early morning hours before the rest of the family is awake is one of my favorite parts of camping.
Coloring books, paper, and crayons are great things to take camping. They bring out the creative person in all of us that has been dormant. It is such a relaxing pastime to color in a coloring book, and your kids will enjoy it more than they admit.
Over the years camping with the family, we have learned so much about making the adventure s’more fun and less stressful. So here are some of our favorites; hopefully, they are helpful to you too.
Get yourself some large, clear plastic bins to keep things somewhat clean and organized. It helps to keep dirt and bugs out of clothes, and the bins are easy to stack up out of the way.
When the kids have a designated bin off all their stuff, it helps keep track of things. For example, when they ask, where is my sweatshirt? You can remind them to look in their bin.
When packing for your camping trip, I have the kids put their own stuff in the bin. If it doesn’t fit in the bin, it doesn’t get to go.
We also have a kitchen bin with cookware, mess kits, paper towels, dish soap, camp towels, picnic table cover, and other kitchen-related items. I have a list of the items in the bin taped to the lid to know what is really there.
I always take paper and a pen with us camping to write down any forgotten item and then put it in the bin before the next outing.
Bring along some hand sanitizer and some of your own biodegradable toilet paper too. The outhouses tend to run out, and you don’t want to experience this.
Our family tradition that is special and takes priority once our campsite is mainly set up is a bouquet of wildflowers and forest foliage.
Maybe this sounds funny, but my kids and I love to go hunting for beautiful flowers, weeds, whatever and put them in our recycled plastic juice jug. We cut a plastic juice jug in half several years ago, and this became our camping vase.
It’s a sense of home to have a vase of flowers on your picnic table. We have even had other campers comment on how cute it is. I smile just thinking about it.
We sure hope this post about camping must-haves will be helpful for you. Over the years, you will come up with several things to add to the list of camping must-haves, and it will change over time to fit your needs.
My final camping tip is to remember to take deep breaths while unpacking, do your best to relax, and truly be in the moment. Take in the fresh air, be lazy and let your kids get as dirty as they want to.
Please reach out to us with any questions and remember to Camp S’more, Worry Less.