What are the 10 Essentials for Camping?

By Suzanne Wiley

There are plenty of people who find the thought of camping intimidating. Much of that fear is of the unknown. There are so many variables to consider when venturing in the outdoors. If you’ve never gone camping before, you don’t really know what to expect, nor the first clue what to pack!

Don't be intimidated by camping! It offers plenty of health benefits, is a budget-conscience way to get away and can be enjoyed by the whole family.
Camping is safe, fun and relaxing with many positive health benefits.

Does camping require a lot of expensive gear? Budget makes many hesitate to take the leap and join a group going camping. I’m here to tell you that camping doesn’t require a lot of expensive gear and it isn’t scary in the slightest. In fact, camping and spending time outdoors has scientifically proven health and mental well-being benefits for children and adults alike.

The Mental and Health Benefits of Camping

  • Fresh air means extra oxygen which increases our serotonin levels and lowers stress
  • Camping requires mild to moderate exercise which lowers blood pressure
  • When you remove screen time, you can increase your creativity by 50%
  • The sun provides us Vitamin D preventing heart disease, dementia, stroke, diabetes and more
  • Being outside levels out our melatonin levels reducing depression up to 71%
  • Spending time connecting with nature improves our immune system, as much as up to 30 days even just after 3 days of camping

There are risks involved—usually minor burns, scrapes and cuts, bug bites and stings, sprains, bad weather, a leaky tent or faulty equipment—but it’s nothing you can’t handle without a little pre-planning. Camping is an incredibly safe activity and most incidents are caused because campers and hikers are ill-prepared, over-confident, don’t know their equipment or careless.

There is a slight learning curve for camping. From knowing your equipment to meal planning and prep. Your first few camping trips are perfect trial and error opportunities for you to figure out what works best for you and your crew. Therefore, I encourage all beginner campers to start out car camping as opposed to walk-in or primitive camping. Car camping gives you plenty of room to compensate for failures.

When picking out a tent, always buy a size larger than the amount of people sleeping in it. For example, a two-person tent will not fit two people plus their stuff
Always buy a tent bigger than how many people it says it fits. A four-man tent is better suited for two adults.

In short, primitive or walk-in camping means you must hike to a camping spot which offers no facilities carrying everything with you. Car camping offers an established campsite where you can park your car either right at or at least very near. Car campsites usually have a tent pad, fire ring and often a picnic table and grill. Some even offer running water and electric hookups. Car campgrounds will most likely also have restrooms and bathhouses within walking distance of your campsite.

For more on the different camping types, click here.

Car campsites, whether private or public, usually have a ranger, security or caretaker on site in case of emergency. They also provide a chance to test your gear in a more controlled environment, help you find your comfort level, as well as figure out what skills and gear you lack for a successful and fun trip.

The 10 essentials when car camping does vary from other styles of camping because weight and space isn’t an issue. This means you can pack extra food and comfort items because you can store stuff in your car and don’t need to carry it all in a backpack. Many car campers take larger camping stoves, air mattresses and camp furniture. However, these aren’t necessary for even car campers.

Here are 10 camping essentials:

  1. Shelter
  2. Bedding
  3. Fire
  4. Food and water
  5. Lighting
  6. Tools
  7. First aid kit
  8. Layers
  9. Sanitation
  10. Camp chair


Man in a hiking hammock suspended in the trees in the woods
Sleeping in a hammock is better for the environment than pitching a tent.

The first time I went camping without shelter was also my last. On a fall repelling retreat with my summer camp, our camp director decided it would be nice to sleep under the stars. In theory, this is nice. In reality, it rained. We moved into the school bus for the rest of the night—none of us getting a good night’s sleep. Though it’s not imperative you use it, you need some type of shelter to shield you from the elements. A tent also provides comfort for those who fear bugs, wild animals and other things that go bump in the night. Your shelter could be a tent, hammock with a tarp over it or a lean-to.

For more on camping shelters, read these following posts:


Your camping bedding could be a cot, air mattress, foam pad or sleeping bag. When I’m car camping, I just take sheets and blankets from the house and my regular pillows. A tent broom and dustpan and keeping your shoes outside in the tent’s vestibule will keep things dirt free. It is very important to check the weather forecast before heading out. This will help you pack. If temps fall at night, you will want warmer pajamas and more blankets. Chemical hand and feet warmers will keep you toasty, too.


Warmth, cooking, socializing, S’mores—a campfire serves many purposes. Bring more firewood than you’ll think you’ll need, a fire starter (matches, lighters, flint and steel,) and tinder (something to start the fire like drier lint, Vaseline-soaked cotton balls, lighter fluid, etc.) When I camp, I don’t cook every meal over the campfire, so I always bring my Coleman camping stove and two canisters of fuel.

Food and Water

Remember, you will need water for drinking and washing up. If you are lucky enough to have a water spigot at your campsite, you can fill up a large water cooler and use it for both drinking and washing up. Otherwise, pack at least one gallon of water per person, per day for drinking and basic sanitation. I like to take two coolers with me—one for food and one for beverages. That way if meat leaks, you still have uncontaminated ice in your cooler for drinks. Another thing I like to do is prep meals as much as possible at home. This cuts down on trash at the campsite and saves cooler space.

For easy camping recipes, click here.


You can do everything you need to do with a traditional camping lantern, but they require plenty of fuel to keep them going all weekend, can cause a fire hazard and shouldn’t be used in your tent. I recommend a variety of light sources—like a handheld flashlight, battery-powered lantern and a headlamp.

To read more about camping lights, click here.


The 12 Survivors machete has a full-tang blade and paracord-wrapped handle
A machete is useful when camping.

Nothing’s worse than getting a meal ready to cook and a good fire going to discover you forgot a spatula, fork or tongs. Believe me, I’ve been there. When meal planning, create a checklist of all the kitchen and campfire tools you’ll need to avoid forgetting anything.






This includes:

  • Cast iron skillet or other material safe to put directly on a fire
  • Good cutting knife
  • Hatchet or ax
  • Eating utensils
  • Cooking utensils
  • Plates
  • Cups
  • Fire poker
  • Fire shovel
  • Heavy-duty oven mitt
  • Cutting board

First Aid Kit

First aid kits from 12 Survivors are designed for campers and hikers.
Your first aid kit should include bug spray and sunscreen.

Your first aid kit should be packed with customized treatments for accidents most likely to occur on a camping trip. These are minor cuts, scrapes, burns and sprains. You’ll also need bug repellent, sunscreen, stomach medicine and anti-itch ailments for bug bites and stings and poison ivy and poison oak.

For more on camping first aid and how to create a first aid kit, read these following articles:


There are no stupid questions, especially when you’re just starting out, including ‘what should I wear when camping?’ Thousands of Americans ask “what to bring camping” because it is actually more important what type of clothing you pack than you think. The right clothing not only keeps you warm and dry but also protects you from the sun and bug bites. Choose layers that are easy to remove or add in moisture-wicking fabrics. Pack extra socks, a jacket, rain gear or a waterproof outer layer and a beanie, scarf and gloves if it is going to get cold. Learn from my mistakes by reading this article when the weather fluctuates.


Cleaning up after yourself is just as important camping as it is at home…maybe even more so. Leaving out crumbs and sticky residue and not securing your trash or food will attract bugs and critters. In bear country, this is a huge safety concern for not only campers but also the bears. Walk your trash to the dump every evening and wipe down cooking and eating surfaces. Pack all food away in the car and secure the cooler lid with a bungee cord or keep those in the car overnight, too. Bring trash bags, cleaning wipes or spray, paper towels, soap and a table cloth.

Camp Chair

A lightweight, folding camp chair will make many of your camping activities more comfortable. You can sit close to the campfire, fish, watch the kids play, eat or simply sit back and enjoy a cold one.

Do you think I’ve left any crucial item out of the list? What’s on your camping essentials packing list? Tell me in the comment section.

For a complete camping packing list, click here.