What are the 10 Essentials of Camping?

camping checklist

Did you know that over 7.2 million households have started camping in the U.S. in the last five years? According to the 2019 North American Camping Report, this brings the total number of campers to a new high of 78.8 million.

When going on a weekend camping trip, there are certain things you need to take with you. I’ve put together this list of the ten essentials for camping – most of them are useful for backpacking and hiking too.

I like to focus on survival items, but I’ve also added a few things to this list that you just need to have even if everything goes smoothly.

It’s important to always plan for the worst-case scenario, in case your trip ends up lasting longer than originally planned. Not everyone is aware of some of these ten essentials.

No matter what, always take extra than what you have on your camping checklist.

Consumables

Consumable goods such as food and water are extremely essential. You should take extra of everything, just in case. This way, if you get stuck camping for longer than planned, you’ll be covered and won’t have to worry about these basic necessities.

Water

Two liters of water per person for each day camping should be enough. This is just for drinking and does not include water that you’ll need for washing hands, brushing your teeth, etc.

You need around 8 ounces of water per day for brushing teeth, and an extra 16 ounces just for handwashing.

Also, if you think you’ll be doing a lot of walking or some form of exercise, especially in the heat, then you should add another 16 ounces.

The hotter it is, the more water needed because you’ll be sweating all the water out. You can get dehydrated even if you’re just sitting and doing nothing since it all depends on the heat.

Especially if you plan to use water to make tea or soup, you should take an additional 24 ounces.

If you think it’s necessary, you could always invest in getting a water filter to keep with you for camping.

Food

When it comes to what to eat on a camping trip, this entirely depends on your own personal preferences and diet.

Having said that, you should still take food that won’t spoil quickly. Take whatever you’d like with you that will last the number of days your camping, and extra.

Make sure that you have food such as nuts, trail mix, dried fruit, and high energy bars.

The way you store your food is extremely important. This is even more important if there are bears, or other sorts of animals, where you’re going camping.

If you’re concerned about animals, then only take food that doesn’t have a strong odor and are high in calories like rice and pasta. Also, always take food out of its original package and store it in plastic containers and/or bags instead.

Be very aware of leaving any crumbs behind and remember that bear-resistant containers only work when they’re closed and locked.

If you camp in bear country, do extensive research about this because there are certain things you have to do differently. For example, food shouldn’t be kept inside your tent and must be hung at least 100 feet off the ground. Otherwise, you’ll wake up to find a bear trying to get in your tent.

Orientation & Navigation

It’s essential to be able to orient and navigate yourself. Having a compass handy is never a bad thing. Just in case you get lost, you’ll be prepared. Make sure that you know where you are and which direction you came from once you’ve set up tent.

A compass isn’t the only thing that can help in this situation; a map is also great. Get yourself a map that is easy to read, and up to date. Together, the compass and map will make it impossible for you to lose your way.

Also, there are some compasses that are made with sighting mirrors. This is so that you can use the sunlight to flash a signal for helicopters or rescuers.

Alternatives

Instead of, or as well as, a map and compass you could take a GPS device. There are some that are designed specifically for outdoor use so that they are more durable and weather resistant. You will need to rely on batteries for this though, and it would be wise to keep extra on you.

Another alternative is an altimeter watch. They use a barometric sensor in order to measure air pressure and provide GPS data.

Illumination

Flashlights, lanterns, and LED headlamps are great sources of illumination. Don’t just take one, you should always have multiple. This isn’t just so that each person can have some light when it’s dark, but also in case one flashlight or lantern is faulty and doesn’t work.

Honestly, you’re better off with battery or solar powered ones, so that you don’t have to rely on electrical power. For everything that needs batteries, always take more than you need.

Remember, plan for the worst. In an emergency, your phone could have run out of charge. Even if your phone hasn’t died yet, using the flashlight drains its battery life and would cause it to die anyway.

The last thing you want is to be stuck in the wilderness, at night, and unable to see.

Sure, you’ll probably have a campfire, but fire can only produce light for about six feet in any direction. If you’ve lost something small and need to find it, a campfire won’t be any help to you.

Think about when you need to use the bathroom as well. Wandering off blindly isn’t a good idea.

LED headlamps are very useful because they are hands-free, and you can do other tasks like cooking while having the light shine wherever you look.

Fire Starters

Camping just isn’t the same without a campfire. Fire is great for cooking and staying warm. Even more importantly, it doubles as a signal in the case of an emergency.

Most people just take a cigarette lighter with them or a box of matches. With matches, you should get waterproof ones or keep them in a waterproof container.

A fire starter kit is really handy, especially in wet conditions.

Ideally, you should have at least two methods that you can rely on to start a fire.

In the case that you need a fire started quickly, it might be a challenge to find what you need right away. It doesn’t hurt to take something you can use as kindling, such as a newspaper or dry bark. These should also be kept in a waterproof container.

Medical Kit

You never truly know when you might need a first aid kit. For most people, the worst thing that ever happens when camping is a small cut from a sharp branch or thorns. Unfortunately, worse things can happen and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

When hiking it’s more common than you’d think for a sprained ankle to occur. Scrapes are just as common and, depending on how severely you’re bleeding, a bandage is very convenient.

Plus, being able to disinfect a wound before covering it up helps a bunch.

Repair Kit & Tools

When camping you should always have a repair kit with you for your tent.

Even if you’re just hiking, and don’t have a tent, it’s important to keep a couple of tools on you.

Tent repair kits usually contain seam seal which helps make the tent more waterproof. They also have patches and needles to repair tears, duct tape, scissors, and more.

The more remote you camp, the more important a repair kit becomes.

As for tools, at the very least you should have a pocket knife. A knife can be useful with food preparation, making a fire, trimming rope, cutting a fishing line, sharpening a stick, repairing gear, etc. The list for uses a knife provides are endless, and these are just a few of them.

I prefer to keep a swiss army knife on me when I go backpacking and camping because you never know when you might need it. It’s come in handy multiple times when I needed to improvise because I had an issue with my tent. 

Emergency Shelter

I always say that everyone should own some type of emergency shelter because they truly save lives. It is essential in case you get lost, stranded in bad weather, and/or injured on the trail. They are very light and compact, so there really is no reason not to keep one with you.

Emergency shelters are made with insulation so that even in freezing temperatures you’ll be able to retain heat. In hot conditions, the shelter can be reversed so that heat is being deflected away from you.

They are very versatile. Usually, they can be hung by a rope (or even a stick if need be) between two trees. In the case that this isn’t an option, you can simply use the shelter as a blanket or sleeping bag.

These shelters are usually bright orange, or some other very visible color so that you can easily be spotted by rescuers.

Weather protection

Whether it suddenly gets scorching hot or freezing cold, you should be prepared either way.

Sun protection

Sunscreen, sun-protection clothing, and sunglasses are essential.

You need sunglasses of good quality to protect your eyes from the sun’s rays and potentially damaging radiation. The same UVB rays that can burn your skin can also cause the development of cataracts in your eyes. 

Sunscreen is obviously necessary to avoid sunburn and pain. SPF 30 is recommended for camping, and the formula should block both UVA and UVB rays.

Sun-protective clothing does not only include hats. Some clothing have an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating that indicates how effective an article of clothing is against UVA and UVB rays.

Keep that in mind when you choose which clothes to take along with you.

Cold weather

Even when it seems like a lovely day out, the fact is weather is unpredictable and can change suddenly.

Take extra clothing with you such as a thick jacket, an insulating hat (e.g. beanie), gloves, and extra socks. A waterproof jacket would be ideal, in case you get wet. Not being able to change out of wet clothes is really bad, because you’ll lose body heat very quickly.

Don’t forget that your limbs are very important to keep warm, so what kind of tops and pants you have can make all the difference.

Communication Devices

Everyone is always prepared to go camping with a fully charged mobile phone and its charger. Many don’t realize that this isn’t really enough.

I think that I’ve made it clear enough by now, that you should never rely on something that requires electrical power. If you are betting solely on your phone and the battery runs out and you aren’t able to charge it, you are screwed.

Whistles are perfect for this scenario. It’s another item that weighs little to nothing and could save your life.

If you haven’t already bought an emergency shelter for yourself, then go straight for a survival kit because these usually have a whistle included.

Personal Locator Beacons are another way you can send a signal. PLBs can determine your position and send a message via satellite for help.

Tent

A tent is a given since you can’t camp without a tent, but there’s a reason it’s here at the bottom.

There are a lot of important factors that you have to take into consideration the type of tent you take. I’m going to touch on some of the most essential features you need to keep in mind, before you pack up a tent and set off.

Size

Having a tent of the right size doesn’t only affect the comfort of everyone, but it can greatly affect the hiking part of your camping trip.

Taking a tent that is too small will obviously influence everyone’s sleep because it won’t be comfortable. On the other side of the spectrum, if you take a tent that is too big, you’ll be carrying all that extra weight for nothing. It’ll just slow you down, so make sure you open the tent up before you go on your camping trip. This way there won’t be any surprises after you’ve already left.

Don’t forget to consider the height of the other campers.

As a rule of thumb, each person needs about 30 square feet of space inside the tent.

Apart from that, you also must consider how much gear each person has. You want a tent that has enough space to keep everyone’s gear inside, but there’s still enough space left over so that everyone can sleep comfortably.

Of course, you can keep your gear outside of the tent, but you need the possibility to keep everything inside in case of rain or strong wind.

Weight

The last thing you want is your tent to weigh you down. Even more so if you prefer to hike and backpack before you settle and pitch your tent.

Obviously, the larger a tent is then the heavier it will be. Make sure you’ve checked all of your options, and choose a tent that is worth the weight for its features.

Keep in mind what kind of poles and stakes the tent needs. You want ones that are a good balance between light and durable. Aluminum poles are usually the best ones, but they are heavy.

Shape

There are all sorts of different shaped tents. The most common ones are dome or cabin.

Cabin tents tend to be more spacious because the walls are straighter, whereas dome tents have curved walls.

Yet again the height of the campers comes into play here. Taller people don’t usually enjoy dome tents because they can’t stand up and walk around as easily. Cabin tents almost always have more head space.

Material

Be aware of what material the tent you’d like to get is made of. Polyester and nylon are both great materials because they are very water resistant.

If you know you’re going to be camping in the cold you need a four season tent. Otherwise, three season tents are a good way to go.

A carry bag is needed for the tent. Even though most tents come already packed in one, the material might not be water resistant enough.

Tents that don’t dry properly can get mold and mildew in the long run, which in turn ruins the tent. Hence why the carry bag’s material matters.

Bedding

Alright now that we’ve gone through the shelter part, don’t forget what you’re actually going to sleep in inside the tent.

There are multiple options for bedding; air mattresses, sleeping pads, and sleeping bags just to name a few.

Foam pads are a better option than air mattresses because they provide comfort without as much hassle.

Consider the weather conditions, especially how low the temperature drops at night.

As a tip, don’t take pillows with you. It’s much more resourceful to just take pillow cases and then fill them with clothes.

Bonus

These aren’t exactly essential items, because it won’t make any difference in a life or death matter, but they are great things to have with you that will only make your camping trip better.

Toilet paper

Even if you’re going to a campground where they have bathroom facilities, they often run out of toilet paper.

You don’t want to end up using bark or leaves as a substitute, because then you’ll just end up with a chapped backside which makes it painful to sit.

Always take a garbage bag with you when you go camping, so as not to hurt the environment by leaving behind TP.

There’s always biodegradable toilet paper as well. This doesn’t mean you can forget about the garbage bag though; you’re still going to need it.

Cooking & Cleaning Supplies

Depending on what you plan to eat, you might need a chopping board, tongs, cups, plates, and cutlery. Only you know best exactly what you do need, I can only provide a few examples.

As for cleaning, get some biodegradable soap, a wash basin, and some rags or paper towels. That’s pretty much all you need to clean up. Microfiber rags are the best option because they are both lightweight and very absorbent.

Personal Hygiene

Your toothbrush, toothpaste, a bar of soap, and towels are what you definitely need if you can take them. If you like to use floss, take that as well as long as you have the room to spare.

Ladies, don’t forget feminine hygiene products.

Bug Repellent

There are several different ways you can repel insects – the most common being sprays or creams.

Very useful to have, because you can’t predict if there are going to be loads of bugs trying to bite you.

Cooler

A good cooler of the right size is necessary. Even if you only take food with you that doesn’t need to be kept cold, you might want to keep the water in there at least.

When it comes to the when you are wanting to choose your checklist I recommend using an interactive checklist like this one. Also for even more ideas check this article.

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