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21 Must-Have Camping Essentials

21 Must-Have Camping Essentials

I can vividly remember going camping as a Girl Scout growing up in Northern Illinois. There was something so adventurous about purposely trudging out into the wilderness to survive off-grid for a few days. I loved sitting around the campfire roasting potatoes and marshmallows, telling scary stories and singing songs. I’ve never forgotten the lessons I learned while camping in Illinois, from which camping essentials to pack to how to start a fire.  

Now, I’m a mom with three girls and a Girl Scout leader, and camping is something I look forward to each year with my girls. So far, I have only cabincamped with my Girl Scouts, but tent camping is next on our to-do list. I can’t wait to teach my girls how to prepare for and enjoy a weekend off-grid in the wilderness.  

As I get ready for a Spring camping trip with my middle daughter’s Brownie troop, I’ve made a list of camping essentials and emergency preparedness items to make our trip a success. With these camping essentials in the back of my SUV, I will feel as prepared as I can for a weekend away with 15 8-and-9-year-olds! 

Camping Essentials for Your Campsite  

  1. A strong, sturdy tent. The size of the tent you need depends on how many people you plan to have sleeping with you. Make sure you bring a tarp to lay underneath the tent to prevent ground moisture or rain from seeping into your tent. If there is rain in the forecast, be sure to bring an extra tarp to throw over top of the tent.  
  2. A camping cot. If you are someone who has trouble getting comfortable sleeping on the ground while camping, consider a camping cot. These aluminum structures are sturdy yet lightweight and don’t require any kind of set up or power source the way an air mattress might. It’s an easy, quick solution for sweet dreams under the stars! 
  3. A warm sleeping bag. Even warm days can give way to chilly nights, so be sure to pack a sleeping bag that will keep you warm! Sleeping bags are easy to pack and transport because they roll up quite small and are lightweight.                                              
  4. portable cooler. Keep all of your perishables and drinks chilled in a portable cooler. Even better if it’s on wheels for easy transport! 
  5. A camp stove. This one is optional as many campsites come with a grill or a fire pit over which food can be roasted. However, this is a great item to have on the off chance that your campsite doesn’t have a safe area to light and contain a fire. 
  6. Lanterns and flashlights. Once the sun sets on your campsite, you will need a flashlight to help you get around. Lanterns are great to keep at the campsite to illuminate your space, and flashlights can be taken away from the campsite to help find places like a spot to use the restroom. Don’t forget extra batteries for the flashlights! If you are on the market for a new lantern, consider a solar-powered one, so you don’t need to rely on batteries to keep them charged. 
  7. Folding/camping chairs. These portable chairs allow you to sit around the fire after a long day and hang out in comfort. They can be easily packed back into their carry bags and transported to the next site 
  8. Bear spray. This one definitely depends on where you are camping. We won’t need this on our Girl Scout trip this Spring, but, if youre camping in an area where bears have been sighted, this is a crucial item to have.

Personal Camping Essentials 

  1. A pocketknife. This jack-of-all-trades tool can fit in a pocket or backpack and can be used for removing splinters or cutting tangled ropes or cords. Keep one on you to serve a variety of purposes! 
  2. Deodorant wipes. It isn’t always easy to find a spot to shower when youre camping, but deodorant wipes can help you feel fresh even when you aren’t able to get fully clean. 
  3. Headlamp. My girls convinced me to buy these for their second year of summer camp, and they have been one of their most-used accessories. Keep your hands free during long hikes or trips to the restroom while carrying bags of toiletries by wearing a headlamp. 
  4. Water bottle with filter. Keep a water bottle on you at all times so you are properly hydrated in any weather. Even better if youre able to bring a filtering water bottle so you always have access to clean water wherever you are. 
  5. Waterproof matches. These small but powerful must-haves are an important camping essential. Waterproof matches will allow you to light a fire anywhere, even if you get caught in the rain or drop your bag in water, to garner warmth. 
  6. First-aid kit. Lots of small mishaps can occur when camping. Keep a fully-stocked first-aid kit with you at all times to help with blisters, cuts, bruises or worse 
  7. Bug repellant and sunscreen. Make sure you carry plenty of bug spray and sunscreen with you to prevent unwanted camping souvenirs such as bug bites and sunburns! 
  8. Lots and lots of socks. I don’t think anything is worse than cold, wet feet! I can remember my Girl Scout leader telling me in 4th grade, I don’t care how many pairs you’ve already packed. Pack double that amount. I would wear two pairs to sleep at night in October in southern Wisconsin and wake up and they would be wet from night sweats. I was so glad I packed about 10 pairs for two nights. I always had dry, warm socks to put on. 
  9. A small backpack for hiking. You’ll want to have your hands free on hikes but will still need items such as your bottle of water, your first aid kit and so on. Bring a small backpack and make sure it is compact and lightweight so youre able to walk for a long time comfortably.  
  10. Portable chargers. You’ll want to make sure your cell phone is always charged in case of emergency, and you may not always be able to leave it in your car to charge it. Bring a back-up battery that is fully charged to bring with you hikes. You can also purchase a larger portable powerbank at a camping store that can power more than just cell phones (think air mattresses, fans, etc.). You can even purchase solar-powered phone chargers. What a great gift for the camper in your life! 

Extra Camping Essentials for a Fun Trip 

These items may not be requiredbut they sure are fun to have to help make memories with your camping buddies! 

  1. Fishing gear. Theres nothing like casting your line into a body of water and seeing what you can catch. Don’t forget fishing poles and bait. 
  2. Bikes. If youll be camping at a large campground, bikes make for easy transportation and a great way to explore the area. Mountain bikes are great for trails. 
  3. A deck of cards. Relax in the evening around the campfire and play some old-fashioned card games for fun! We love War, Go Fish, Old Maid and Crazy 8s! 
  4. S’mores or other treats. Nothing says camping like toasting marshmallows. You can even find gluten-free, sugar-free and vegan versions these days.  
  5. With the 21+ camping essentials above packed up and ready to go in the back of your car, you are sure to have a great time at your next camping trip. Nothing recharges the soul like a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of daily life!

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About The Author

Stephanie Jarrett

Stephanie Jarrett is passionate about all things: family, parenting, travel, and budget-friendly tips. As a Texas-transplant and girl mom of three, she’s a resident expert for, Pearachute Kids, Hawaiian Falls, OKC Tourism Board, Livie & Luca, Mox Shoes, Arlington CVB, many more. When she isn’t on a road trip with her three girls, exploring museums, parks and more, she’s probably curled up on the couch with the latest NYT bestseller and a glass of red wine. Follow her adventures in Dallas/Fort Worth and beyond at

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