“Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.” (Dave Barry)
You gotta love Dave Barry’s humour, but camping is one of our favourite pastimes, and we’ve gathered a lot of camping equipment and experience over the years.
We started out with a tiny pup tent – one that you couldn’t even sit up in – and very basic camping gear. We upgraded to a larger tent with sides – we could sit up! Next was a small dome tent, followed by a large dome tent that we could stand up in – so luxurious.
As our family grew to four, plus two medium-sized dogs, so did our tent size – and the amount of equipment. When we grew older, and our children went off on their own camping trips, we decided to buy a campervan, an old 1986 Ford Travelaire. We still spend most of our time outside the camper, but packing up is so much easier.
Following is a (long) list of all the things you could take with you to make your camping trip comfortable and fun. If you’re going backpacking to a wilderness site, you absolutely will not be able to take all the things listed below! You’ll have to make do with a small tent and few less “glamping” items…
Basic Camping Equipment
Obviously, you need a tent – or some type of shelter – whether it’s a pup tent or one for the whole family. There’s a wide range of tents to choose from. Check out our post How to Choose the Perfect Tent to help you pick one that’s right for you. Tent designs include the basic ridge tent (no standing up in these), cabin tents, various-sized dome and geodesic tents, quick-pitch tents (great for the lazy camper), inflatable, tunnel, and pod tents, large family tents, trailer and folding camper tents, and tepees.
On the other hand, maybe you are a hammock camper who likes to hang out in the trees. Some people like to sleep out in the open or under a lean-to, while others just have to have a fully equipped RV.
Anyhow, if you decide on a tent, make sure it’s large enough for all the people who will be sleeping in it. If you have children, you’ll need twice as much room as you think! Even more important, make certain that it’s waterproof and durable – and don’t forget the poles and tent pegs!
Another consideration is wind – we’ve had a wet tent blow down on top of us in the middle of the night a few times. Pegging your tent down securely is a must! You should have extra pegs and lots of line. By placing your tent close to trees, you will be able to secure it to trunks and branches.
A tarp is crucial for keeping the rain off the campsite – and it seems to rain at least once during every camping trip. It will also shield you from the hot rays of the sun. We have a tarp that’s big enough to cover a tent and a good portion of the campsite.
If your tarp is set up properly, you’ll be able to cook, sit outside, and enjoy a campfire – all in the pouring rain – and all the campers without tarps will be green with envy as you enjoy the rainy day.
Make sure you check out our post “The Best Way to Set up a Camping Tarp”.
Axe or hatchet, saw, knife, and fire starter:
First of all – don’t forget matches! If you’re going to have a fire – and what’s camping without one – you’ll need a good short-handled axe or hatchet to split your firewood into easy-to-light kindling. Make sure it’s sharp and the head is fastened securely. You can use it to drive your tent pegs into the ground too…
*HINT: Make the wooden handle of the axe swell and fit tightly into the head by soaking it in water – so it doesn’t fly off into someone’s tent while you’re hacking up your firewood.
We try to make sure we have lots of old newspapers for starting the kindling. If you forget, Old Man’s Beard is an excellent replacement. It’s a greenish lichen that loves to grow in old fir and spruce trees. Look for dead branches with green, hairy stuff growing on them and break off small pieces – it’ll ignite quickly, even in the rain.
A sharp knife will come in handy for cutting rope, and you’ll probably want to cut hot dog and marshmallow sticks too.
Sleeping Bags, Pads and Pillows:
You’ll want to be comfortable and warm in your tent, so you’ll need a good sleeping bag, and for extra comfort, an air mattress or sleeping pad. And, of course, a pillow! Not everyone needs a pillow but I do, I’m spoiled. I always bring my favourite pillow with me.
The basic square sleeping bag gives you room to move your feet and can be zipped together with another square bag so you can snuggle up against your partner. This is my favourite type of sleeping bag.
Mummy bags are tapered toward the bottom to help keep warm air inside and close to your body – some are designed for use in sub-zero temperatures. But, you can’t zip these together – what fun is that? 🙂
You can get sleeping bags that let you move freely inside. These are called sleeping pods or barrel-shaped bags and are ideal for people who toss and turn in their sleep. They are half as wide as they are long providing lots of leg room.
Sleeping bags have different temperature ratings, so you can choose whatever grade you think you’ll need. You can also choose right or left-hand zippers, women’s bags, children’s bags, double-size, different types of insulations, whether or not you want a hood, a pocket, or a pillow. There are so many choices!
Mattresses and pads come in several forms: air mattresses (some self-inflatable), foam ground pads, and bubble pads. Some people use thick foam slabs, which are comfortable and warm, but very bulky.
I prefer the self-inflatables, as they take up less room, you don’t need a pump, you can buy them in different sizes, and they come with different R -values (insulation thickness) for warmth.
Sleeping cots are popular as well – an air mattress or pad with legs. We upgraded to an inflatable bed on a stand after many years of sleeping on the ground – a real treat!
If you have a blow-up air mattress, don’t forget the pump! We’ve taken turns blowing them up with lung power more than once… You can buy hand-powered or battery operated pumps – some plug into a power outlet in your vehicle.
*HINT: If you buy a sturdy air mattress, you can use it at the beach or lake to float on.
Coolers and Water Containers:
You can choose from hard or soft coolers, coolers on wheels, electric coolers that plug into a power outlet in your vehicle, some have straps for carrying on your back, others are collapsible…just make sure the one you buy has plenty of room. We have two coolers – one for food, one for drinks.
Whatever cooler you pick, make certain it will keep things cold! It’s worth the extra cost to have a good, well-insulated cooler. There’s nothing more disappointing than putting ice in your cooler and a couple of hours later you find that it has melted! I like my beer cold and expect the cooler to do its job all day and night!
Choose a cooler that seals securely. We woke up one morning to find all of our food strewn across a hillside. Raccoons figured out how to open the cover clamps. They even drank our milk! They didn’t drink our beer though – I guess it was too hard for them to open…
You will use a lot more water than you think! We carry, at minimum, a 20-litre (5-gallon) water jug with us – you can’t always get fresh drinking water where you camp. Make sure your container is big enough to keep you supplied, especially if there is no drinkable water on site. I also bring a small, insulated jug that keeps my water cold on hikes. Collapsible water bags are great for filling at the campsite and take up very little room.
Camp Stove, Grill, and Coffee Pot:
We do a lot of cooking over the campfire, so a grill is a must-have item. We’ve recycled old BBQ grills and oven racks, but you could purchase one made from stainless steel. You’ll need a wire brush for cleaning it – our dog used to clean ours if we didn’t keep an eye on him.
A propane camp stove is great for fast cooking. We’ve always used Coleman stoves with two burners – our son likes to use a Coleman naptha gas stove which is an excellent choice as well.
The first thing we do in the morning is light the camp stove and put the coffee pot on! Actually, my husband does this – I like to sleep in. A good coffee pot is a necessity in our camp. We have a 10-cup, stainless steel percolator – I couldn’t go camping without it. Nothing compares to sitting by a campfire, enjoying a cup of freshly perked coffee…watching the sun rise over a lake…I wish I was camping right now.
Lanterns and Lights:
You don’t want to be caught in the dark, so a propane or naptha-gas Coleman lantern is a good choice for your campsite. They are bright enough to light up a large area, and you can hang them anywhere. They come in various sizes – the double-bag models are the brightest.
*WARNING: If you plan to use a gas lantern in an enclosed area, don’t become a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning! Ensure that you have enough ventilation!
You’ll also need a flashlight or headlamp for walks around the campground in the dark, for in the tent at night, and you’ll definitely need one for that late-night trip to the outhouse! We’ve written a post on Choosing the Perfect Flashlight to help select a good, durable torch.
Make sure you bring extra batteries, fuel, and lantern mantles – moths love to get inside the glass dome and destroy the delicate mantle, so stock up on them.
Candles – pack lots of candles in case you run out of fuel and your flashlight batteries die – or for a romantic evening…
Miscellaneous camping equipment:
• Don’t forget a first aid kit!
• Pots, pans, utensils, cups, and towels.
• You’ll need a wash line, so take lots of heavy twine and learn a few knots. Please! Do not cut your line and leave pieces hanging in the trees!
• Bathroom supplies – soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, etc.
• A big container or two to store all your stuff – make sure it’s waterproof.
• A container to wash your dishes – and maybe a few clothes – camping is dirty if you have fun.
• A shovel if you go wilderness camping with no outhouse or bathroom.
• Bug repellent! Lots of bug repellent.
• A patch kit for your inflatable air mattress.
• A small broom or whisk to clean the tent.
• Tongs and foil for cooking over the campfire.
• Bear bangers, whistles, air horns, etc. if you are camping in bear or coyote country. Make sure to hang your food high in a tree or put it inside your vehicle – never in your tent!
Optional camping items:
Folding camp chairs, hammock, folding table, tablecloth, small cutting board, extra blankets, rain gear, extra clothes, hiking boots, cards and board games, fishing gear, bikes, canoe or kayaks, duct tape, etc. etc…
And, you can never have too much food.
If you have children, you need something to keep them occupied at the campsite – other than video games. Our kids were happy with simple things. For example, we’d take a cardboard box, prop one end up with a stick, tie a long string to the stick, put some peanuts under the box, and wait for a squirrel to take the bait – pull the string and catch the squirrel! I don’t think they ever actually caught one, but they spent hours having a great time trying.
You may need a truck and trailer if you buy all the camping equipment on this list, but whatever kind of camping trip you go on – one night, a weekend, or a week-long excursion, do as the Boy Scouts do and “be prepared”!