Bring these items and you’ll camp well without having to load up the whole household.
We have all seen those campers that bring everything, including the kitchen sink. On a camping trip on the East Coast of Africa, I met an elderly couple that had arrived with a 5 ton Bedford truck, driven by their driver/butler/general factotum, a 4×4 vehicle and a ski-boat.
The back of the truck was fitted out with a proper double bed like you would have at home complete with duvet, night frill, side tables and bed lamps.
There were fridges and freezers and a generator to run them in the “kitchen” tent, a full china dinner service, and a kitchen sink that was connected to a water tank and a small gas bottle under a tree, so they had warm water for washing the dishes. There were 4 other tents for the children and the grandchildren, plus a large gazebo for evening gatherings.
Because these people came camping for three months at a time the woman brought pots of growing herbs and freshly pulled beet and carrots that were planted in rows behind their campsite so they had fresh vegetables.
The campsite was far from fresh supplies, but it was on the shores of the Indian Ocean and fishing was good, they had meat in the freezers, and a full supply of dry goods.
How do I know so much about their arrangements? We arrived after dark with a new tent we had no idea of how to put up. (First rule of camping always put your new tent up first at home.)
The husband came across to help us, but we were battling in the dark with only a torch so he said, “Sleep in one of our tents – our kids and their families aren’t arriving for three more days – everything is ready, the beds are made up and we’ll sort out your tent in the morning when it’s light.”
After a good night’s sleep and a slap-up breakfast with all the trimmings where the china dinner service was used we did sort out our tent; and spent the rest of our short camping trip socializing with the extended family when they all arrived.
Not everyone wants to camp this way – it almost like moving house! But we do want to make ourselves as comfortable as possible with as little as possible.
Many items serve more than one purpose and these are the ones you want on your list of 37 mandatory camping items. Many are specifically designed for camping – lightweight, foldable/collapsible/inflatable and above all sturdy, because being outdoors many items take punishment not meted out in a home environment,
Water, food, shelter – what comes first?
If you’re in a warm area water is most important followed by food, but where the weather can turn nasty and cold, hypothermia will kill you before thirst – in just 20 minutes or so.
Bear in mind the temperatures you’ll be camping in when planning, and whether it’s for a couple of days or a couple of weeks.
Who is this list aimed at?
This list is for the average family going camping for a week, so you will find a few items here that the lone survivalist could well do without.
1. Something to sleep in and on
What you choose will suit your age (older bones seem to feel hard ground more than younger bones) and your camping style. If you have to carry everything in a backpack then the bivvy like this could be the answer.
Quick disclosure: If you visit a link in this article and then you buy something, I may earn a commission. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. You can read my full disclosure here.
The Tact Bivvy is made from Mylar, a material used in space, and will keep you warm – it weighs in at just 6 ounces and fits in the palm of your hand.
If you can pack a vehicle and trailer then choices are wider – a sleeping bag, a camping blanket, a sheet in hot weather, the Australians have a swag, a blow up mattress, or just a roll up sleeping pad. Some people insist on a stretcher and foam mattress, for glamping.
2. Something to protect yourself and your gear from the elements
The bivvy-style sleeping bag that can store some essentials is the answer if you’re carrying everything in a backpack, plus you’ll need a tarpaulin you can sling between trees if it rains, or for shade.
If you have a car, then take along a lightweight modern tent made to suit the environment – whether it’s for Himalaya type cold or Sonoran desert heat.
A hammock or a blanket on the ground under the stars sounds idyllic, but many seasoned campers know that insects and dew can send you scuttling for that tent that has gauze netting, a built in ground sheet, and zips that close tight so you get no nasty surprises like scorpions under your pillow, and you wake up dry, with no itchy mosquito bites.
3. A Pillow
It’s amazing what a difference even a small pillow can make to a night’s sleep. Yes, I have forgotten a pillow on occasions and folded up towels and jackets are not as comfortable!
Depending on how long you stay in an area you may choose to bring in a supply of 5 liter bottled water containers or a 10 liter container for getting fresh water from a spring or tap– as long as you have something at the site for drinking, brushing teeth, washing hands, washing dishes etc. It’s a bonus if you have a tap at your campsite but not all places have this luxury.
5. Water Purification System
Just a little container with enough household bleach for your trip at 1 teaspoon to 5 liters of water will kill most pathogens.
It’s not ideal, but beats getting cholera or any other nasty disease from impure water. The Sawyer water straw is a lightweight solution.
It’s up to you what type of flour you choose – whether it is gluten free, stone ground, white or brown, wheat flour or a alternative as long as it can be used to thicken soups and stews, make camp bread, flat bread, pancakes or flapjacks.
7. Long life milk or powdered milk…
…for coffee, tea, making flapjacks, putting on cereal/granola in the mornings.
8. A Raising Agent
Soda bicarbonate or baking powder or powdered dry yeast – whatever you choose for bread making or maybe a bit of both – some for bread and some for flapjacks.
The amount will depend on how carnivorous the campers in your family or group are. If you have a freezer to take along with you make sure the meat is ready frozen so the gas or electric freezer doesn’t have to work too hard on cooling everything down.
If you’re taking a fridge or cooler box that plugs into your car for a couple of days camping, have the meat vacuum packed to help it last a little longer, and make sure it is cold before packing the fridge or cooler box.
10. Salt and Pepper
Even if you take no other seasoning at least ensure you have a salt and pepper mix to season food. Dried herbs and spices can be pre-mixed in tiny containers for the amount of meals you plan on eating while camping to save space.
Most people cannot start the day without a cup of coffee or tea – it just ensures everyone is in a sweeter mood. Is this mandatory? Perhaps not. If you drink none of these beverages, then substitute a drink of choice or opt for water.
Whether it sugar, syrup, or an artificial sweetener make sure you have some for the flapjacks, and the coffee and tea and for cereal in the mornings – unless of course everyone in the group goes completely sugar-free in which case it isn’t mandatory
13. Cereal/ Granola Bars
For energy when hiking or as a quick meal a bowl of cereal or a granola bar or two in backpack help alleviate the munchies with their mix of grain, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, packed with energy.
A pack of dry pasta, maize meal, rice, or cous cous – it doesn’t matter as long as you have some carbs.
15. Fresh Vegetables
Butternut or pumpkin, potatoes and onions travel well, and last well. Items like eggplant, lettuce, and tomatoes don’t travel well. You can live without them for a couple of days.
16. Canned Goods
When you’re camping you don’t have the time to spend hours preparing meals so cans of butter beans, chick peas and so on come in handy. It’s best however to look for cans with the ring pull top when shopping for camping supplies – if the ring pull fails you can always use the multitool to prise the can open.
17. Fats and Oils
Whether its coconut oil, peanut oil, or sunflower oil you need a little for frying, or you can go without oil and use butter or margarine that can be used to spread on freshly baked bread and for the odd bit of light frying.
18. Fresh Fruit
Apples and oranges travel well – avoid strawberries, nectarines and other soft fruit as they can quickly get bruised and spoil.
Equipment and Utensils
Choose a robust versatile flashlight – they can be used for signaling, lighting the way, identifying threats. Headlamps while seemingly useful shouldn’t be used alone – the flashlight is better as you can direct the light and hold it fairly still if you are making repairs to a vehicle or equipment – the headlight doesn’t work as efficiently.
Choose a flashlight with an on/off switch you can easily locate by feel in the dark – There is nothing worse than fiddling around trying to feel for the switch when something is approaching stealthily, and you’re not sure if it wants to eat you.
20. A Good General-purpose Knife
This can help you with anything from filleting a fish, chopping vegetables, to repairing stuff.
21 Camp Stove
You can chop wood and build a fire each day, or take along a small gas cooker. For campsites that have electricity on site, a small electric two-plate stove can be used.
22. Small Chopping Board
For filleting the fish you have caught, to preparing meat, chopping vegetables, cutting bread – it doesn’t have to be big, just 15×20 cm is sufficient. Some cooler boxes come with a chopping board attached to the lid.
23. Mess Kit
You get the multi ones – fold out spoon, fork and knife, or take what you prefer as long as you have something to stir your coffee, eat cereal, cut your meat and get food into your mouth without having to use your hands – although you could cook the way many people in Arabian and Africans countries do and make a stew: with flat breads that you tear into pieces to mop up the stew – no washing up other than the stew pot!
24. Drinking Utensil
Pack a lightweight stainless steel water container with a screw top you can carry on day hikes. Avoid plastic – it’s an eco disaster, can split, and isn’t good for your long–term health.
This can also be used for coffee and other liquids. The screw top keeps bees out of drinks so you don’t end up getting stung on the lip as often happens when you drink out of a can.
25 Stainless Steel Dish
That serves as a plate, bowl, and for food prep.
26 Pot or Pan
Decide what you will mostly be preparing – stews or barbequed meat with a pot for your rice or side dish of vegetables. Or do you intend frying most of your food? Then a skillet would be better. If there are a number of people in the group you will need both.
27. Matches in a waterproof bag or a lighter
It is amazing how many campers forget this essential item. Using two sticks and some tinder can take a while and may be the only solution if there are no other campers in the vicinity. A cigarette smoker in the group can always be relied on to have matches or a lighter.
28 Fridge/cooler box
It depends how long you will be camping and what facilities there are. Some campsites have electrical power points on site so you can plug in a small electric fridge. If there’s no electricity you can use a gas freezer/fridge.
If the trip is only a couple of days, then a thermo electric cooler box that works off your car cigarette lighter point, or even a quality cooler with ice bricks will last. It all depends on the ambient temperature of where you are camping.
The hotter it is the more important it will be to have a gas or electric system for cooling. No one likes warm beers!
29. Fold-up Table
No matter how many tables you take it’s quite amazing how the camp tables fill up with ‘stuff’. Taking at least one table means food preparation doesn’t have to be done squatting on the ground, it’s a place for family to gather for drinks and evening snacks, to lay out the meal, to play board games and prepare fishing traces and equipment away from the sand.
30 Tomahawk or Axe…
…for chopping wood, protection, slamming in tent pegs, making furrows to channel rainwater away from the tent, clearing the campsite or creating a makeshift shelter if something happens to your tent. This saves taking a spade, or a hammer.
30. First aid Kit…
- a couple of bandages,
- plasters/plaster tape
- scissors – to cut the tape, remove clothing in case of a broken bone/ burn
- tweezers – I prefer a sewing needle as often a splinter gets under the skin that tweezers can’t get at – you have to pry open the entry point with a needle if it has slid in sideways and there is no point protruding.
- anti diarrhea medication
- an anti-inflammatory
- betadine for wound cleansing
- topical gel for pain relief
- a sealed sterile burn dressing – with gas and open fires it amazing how often you need this,
- and any other personal medications you need.
31. Map – either a paper one or on your cell phone.
If you don’t have a car charger and/or cell reception the digital isn’t going to help much. Paper maps can be bulky and liable to water damage, but a cell phone can also be subject to water damage.
Personally I prefer the type of map handed out at national parks marking the trails if on a day hike.
32. Bag or backpack with personal toiletries, and changes of clothing.
33. Sunscreen with a high protection factor…
…and apply even in cloudy conditions, as you can still burn.
…a jacket that doubles as a mac to keep out the rain – with a hood.
35 Camp Chair
Sitting on logs or the ground can get very tiring. Fold-up camp chairs, especially the ones that keeps the night breeze from chilling your back, are a bonus.
36. Insect Repellant
You don’t want malaria, or to suffer from itchy bites and rashes.
37. Toilet Roll
Aside from their usual use they can be used to wipe up spills, as a serviette, to blow noses, and dry hands.
Making a plan if you forget something
If you forget any one of the 37 items on the list you will survive, but certainly won’t be as comfortable as you would like to be. Leaves instead of toilet paper – hmmm…
As for paracord – you should have your paracord bracelet on your wrist at all times anyway.
On a trip to a remote area in Africa, my husband forgot the tent poles for our pop-up caravan – his priority had been the boat and fishing equipment!
There was stunned silence when we discovered they weren’t there, but within a short while he found a local carrying a bundle of long straight branches on his head, intended as firewood, and bought the bundle from him with the arrangement that after our three week camping trip he could have them all back anyway.
Then, using his axe my husband shaped the ends until they fitted into the slots on the side of the caravan, and used paracord to tie the other poles as uprights to the poles above so the side tent fitted over well enough.
A few day later a couple arrived, set up their small tent then came to ask for help – the man had cut himself on the rocks while diving, and they had no first aid kit, so while husband patched up the diver his girlfriend, looking at our tent, said wistfully – “You’re so organized here”, and then wondered why I burst out laughing. She understood when I showed her the tent “poles”.
Always check off items on your list as you pack
Never assume that because you used an item on the last camping trip it will still be in its place in the trailer or container. So often things washed, cleaned, or repaired, then go back into the normal household instead of into the camping gear.
Non-mandatory items make life more fun
The aim of this list is to make camping reasonably comfortable with just a few items. There are lots of non-mandatory items that will make life a whole lot better and more fun – like games to play in the evening around the campfire, a book to read, a camera, sketchbook and pencils, and a cricket or softball bat, or frisbee for some impromptu games.
And let’s not forget the beers or a chilled glass of wine to round off the evening, while you swap campfire stories and the kids roast s’mores.