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10 Camping Essentials You Can’t Afford to Leave Behind

When I go camping, I like to be prepared. Not only do I take stuff like a tent and a sleeping bag, but I also take less essential things like ingredients for s'mores or a good book. However, sometimes, I like to keep packing as basic as possible, and after a bit of experimentation, I've narrowed the list down to ten essential items.

Lakeside camping in Oregon (photo: Brooks Rice)
Lakeside camping in Oregon (photo: Brooks Rice)

Keep in mind that these are just my personal picks; yours could be a lot different, depending on your preferences, familiarity with the campsite, and other factors.

And, of course, you don't have to stick with just ten essential items; these are just the things that I've decided I can't do without on a camping trip.

Before we dive in, note: I've decided to leave out obvious things like food and toilet paper since I use them whether or not I'm camping.

Camp Gear

1. Top-notch Cooler

I usually plan my camping trips for at least four days, sometimes longer. This means I need a cooler that can last at least as long, plus handle the occasional bump or scratch along the way.

After checking out the options, I read a Lifetime Cooler review and decided that this was the brand for me. It's been a great asset so far and always keeps my food and beverages cold.

Lifetime cooler
Lifetime cooler

2. Portable Water Filtration System

Rather than bringing water with me, I prefer to save space and pack a portable water filter instead.

I've used filtered water bottles and straws with great results (a.k.a., I stayed hydrated and didn't get sick).

If you aren't familiar with water sources near the campsite like I usually am, I recommend getting a high-powered filter that removes various contaminants.

Some people would prefer to bring drinking water they can trust, which is understandable; in my case, I get water from a freshwater spring and filter it as an extra precaution.

3. Source of Light

A campfire can provide some light, but it won't extend very far, and you definitely shouldn't take it into your tent!

Bring a headlamp, lantern, or flashlight, and spare batteries, just in case.

I prefer a flashlight that's large enough to be stood up on a table and that can also be tied to the roof of my tent if I need hands-free illumination. I also bring a backup source of light, usually a headlamp.

Campsite (photo: Hichem Meghachou)
Campsite (photo: Hichem Meghachou)

4. Protective/Extra Clothing

I try to time my camping trips between rain storms, but sometimes nature has other plans.

Even if there isn't a drop of rain or a bit of cold in the forecast, I still bring clothes suitable for both conditions.

It's never anything fancy, just a waterproof jacket and two spare changes of warm clothes.

This might not seem very important, but this simple step could prevent a ruined camping trip or even hypothermia.

5. Campsite Cooking Setup

Just because I'm camping doesn't mean I have to live on granola bars and protein powder.

I like to eat like royalty when I'm camping, and that requires a couple of cooking gear essentials.

If I'm not in the mood to mess with cooking over an open fire, I'll bring a camping stove that runs on a small propane canister.

Regardless of my heat source, I'll bring my trusty cast iron skillet and a spatula.

6. First-aid Kit

A first-aid kit isn't something I typically need to use, but I'd rather have one and not use it than need one and not have it.

Plus, I've been able to use my first-aid kit to help out other campers who didn't bring theirs.

I always make sure it contains the following items:

  • Gauze
  • Antibiotic cream
  • Anti-itch cream
  • Adhesive
  • Emergency whistle

7. A Multi-tool Knife

Multi-tools (photo: Andrey Matveev)
Multi-tools (photo: Andrey Matveev)

From Swiss Army knives to Leatherman multi-tools, many great options are available.

I generally bring a knife that has the following features:

  • A knife blade
  • A saw blade
  • Pliers
  • A bottle opener
  • A can opener
  • An awl

If there's some camping-related task I can't complete with these tools, it probably isn't crucial.

8. Rope

This item doesn't appear on many camping essentials lists, but for me, it's just as important as anything else.

I use it to help make temporary wind-blocks if I'm having trouble starting a fire or just annoyed by the strength of the wind.

I use it to hang towels, clothes, or equipment so I can spread out a little. Once, I even had to tie my tent to a tree so it wouldn't blow over in the middle of the night.

I grew up in the country, using rope for any and every little thing; you might disagree, but for me, it's a camping essential. 

9. Source of Fire

If you like camp cooking as much as I do, you'll need a way to get a fire going. I usually go with matches (always carried in a waterproof container), but some people prefer lighters.

Regardless, always bring extra! Few things can put a damper on your camping trip like needing a fire and being unable to make one.

10. Sleeping Setup

This is cheating a bit since I'm treating the tent and the sleeping bag as one “essential.”

I've always considered them two sides of the same coin. They're what shelter me at night and what I usually ignore during the day.

Even though I only require them at night, they're absolutely non-negotiable for a pleasant camping trip.

I like to bring a well-insulated sleeping bag in case the temperature unexpectedly drops and a roomy, well-constructed, and waterproof tent.

The Takeaway

If I could name more than ten essentials, I could go on and on about nifty things to bring while camping. However, if you want to keep it simple, I'd recommend these for your next camping trip.


This story is brought to you in partnership with Cooler Finder.

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