So you’re heading out on a camping trip with the family. Do you have everything you need? Do you have these things on my list of 12 essential camping items?

The more you know about camping, the better prepared you will be. This isn’t the expert guide to pack for camping, but it’s an essential list for the average family that’s heading out to the campsite. Here is my list. Check it out.

12 Essential Camping Items
1) Tent
Tents are the main item in most people’s arsenal when heading out to camp. Whether it is for a single person or a whole family, you want it to be large enough, so you’re not sleeping on top of one another.

When choosing a tent for camping, you want to pay close attention to the actual dimensional size of the tent, rather than the per person tag. It does not know if you are a large person or a small child. A four-person tent barely fits my two of my tweens inside with all their gear.

Rule of thumb is if you are going to sleep four, don’t get a four-person tent, get the next size up or larger, depending on your circumstances. I know that when we go camping, we have a queen size air mattress, duffel bags for each person, the baby’s bag with all her diapers, and what have you.

A tent’s primary purpose is to create a microclimate that allows the person that is going to sleep in it be as comfortable as possible. So help yourself out and get a decent tent that will not puncture too easy, rip from pulling on the zipper too hard, or fall from a strong gust of wind. There are many decent styles and brands out there. Just do a little research, and I’m sure you’ll find exactly what you’re looking for.

More: How to Camp in the Desert

2) Sleeping Bag
Picking a great sleeping bag can be a daunting task when you go to an outdoor store. The so many different styles, colors, and ratings to choose from that it makes it difficult if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

Picking the right sleeping bag is very important depending on what kind of camping you’re going to be doing. If you’re planning to do summer camping only, lightweight sleeping bags will be just fine. If you plan on doing some hunting and you need a warm weather bag, then that’s the way you have to go.

Most sleeping bag manufacturers have the same ratings.

Summer Season Reading – which is comfortable at 35 degrees Fahrenheit and higher

Three-Season Bag – which is over 10 degrees Fahrenheit up to 35 degrees Fahrenheit

Cold Weather – which is usually from 10 degrees Fahrenheit and anything lower

Often, when picking a sleeping bag, you want to choose one that is the stage lower than what you’re going to be camping in. You never want to get stuck out there and get cold.

There are four styles of sleeping bags.

Regular rectangle shape – which most people had as they were growing up. They have a canvas outside, and a plaid inside and are comfortable honestly. But, they are super heavy.

Semi-rectangular – called a barrel-shaped. They are tapered towards the legs, and they offer a little bit better efficiency than the old bulky rectangle bags, but they still have a room for the most part.

Mummy Style – they are very lightweight and compact. Many people have trouble with these because they’re so tight that they never can get comfortable and are the more restrictive.

Double-wide – where you and you’re significant other can get inside together. If you have a young child, they could probably jump in there with you too. If you buy two of these things, you could have a comfortable night on a king size air mattress. Most of the time, it’s too hot honestly.

3) Fire / Fire Starter
So fire is a valuable commodity when you’re out camping, but it is not always acceptable and permitted, especially in the summer months. At least where I live in the Pacific Northwest, but it’s still nice to have. I’m not going to get into any survival techniques or what’s the best fire starter or anything like that. I am just going to list a couple of styles of fire starters, and we will go from there.

A more primitive style and survivalist style is the wood friction fire bow drill, fire plow, or fire saw. I don’t have any experience using any of these, and I don’t plan on it unless it’s an emergency, then I’ll try my best. But I don’t see that happening I always have lighters and strikers.

Next is flint and steel or striker. You know the kind where you take a sharp object, and you scrape it along the flint and light tinder. A fun way to teach your children how to get a fire started honestly. The last camping trip, my boys, played with those things for a couple of hours trying to get the fire going. It was pretty fun to watch.

You also have the magnifying glass fire starter situation. Which if you grew up in the 80’s and 70’s you probably know all about that. Use the magnifying glass with the sun glaring down through it and angle it down onto a piece of wood or piece of paper to get it lit. It works pretty well actually, as long as it’s sunny out.

Good old matches if you use matches. You’re going to want to have a waterproof container to keep them in. If you have any rain or your kayaking or boating and drop them in, you’re screwed.

Then you got your refillable butane lighter. You can buy a pack of six from Walmart for a couple of bucks. It’s great! To go through, by a box to throw them in your camping gear, and you’re all set. Another thing about these, you do not want them to get wet, or they’re useless.

4) Food
Unless you’re a pure survivalist, and out to fish and catch your food for the weekend for your family, you’ll need to bring along some food. It would be fun to fish and find all your food, but, I think it would be tough, and not a thought-out process. My family always packs food, and we pack a lot of it. We usually end up cooking it all up on the last day and eating it. Or we bring it back home if we still have ice in the cooler.

Here are my food essentials when camping:

hot dogs



pork ribs


chocolate bars

graham crackers

sausage for breakfast


If you buy enough of these products, you will have meals for every day you are at the campsite, At least if you’re only out for the weekend. After a few days, you probably would end up getting tired of it if you’re there too long.

My Favorite Campsite Meal
I cook the pork with some potatoes the night before in a cast iron dutch oven. Just drop it right down into the coals. I let those pork ribs cook up nice and tender to eat them if we want for dinner. Then we have some left over for the morning. We chop them up, scramble some eggs, and throw it in a pan. Just let it cook. Put some cheese over the top and there you go, you got yourself some camp hash.

And then of course for the kids, you always have your s’mores over a campfire before bed. It’s very messy and especially if you have a little one, but we can handle the mess to see the smiles on their faces.

5) Water
Water is the most important element in the world. So on a camping trip, of course, you need to have an adequate amount of fresh drinking water. If that’s coming from bottled water or 7-gallon freshwater tank that you filled up from your bathtub at home, it doesn’t matter as long as you have it.

What I usually do is I have two seven-gallon jugs I bought from Walmart with the spout on the inside. Until you need it, then you spin it around and stick the spout on the outside. You can figure that seven gallons last a family of four for two days with cleaning dishes and washing hands, brushing teeth all that kind of stuff. Then you have your other seven for drinking water, boiling for cooking, etc.

Nowadays, they have an assortment of backpacking water filters that you carry around with you. You can put water inside these water bottle filters, suck them up through the straws, or pump it into your water bottle with a carbon filter. I don’t know a lot about them honestly. I know that they’re out there and they are trendy among the hikers.

Here are a few ways to clean your water – pump filters, purifiers gravity filters, ultraviolet purifiers, bottle filters. Squeeze filters, straw style filters, chemicals, and then boiling. I recommend boiling everything that you are going to drink from the wild.

6) Cooking Supplies
If you wanted, you could go to the outdoor store and spend over $1,000 for just a minimal amount of cooking supplies. There are double cooking stoves, there are single burner cooking stoves, and there are jet boilers now.

We use a stove for breakfast. A double burner propane stove. I have a little cheap one I think I paid 40 bucks for. We also have a cheap little cookware set that comes with a couple of cups, plates, bowls, utensils, a boiling pot, and a small frying pan. The kids usually use that to cook up some hot dogs, or they make some water for tea or hot cocoa. You name it; it works great for them.

I prefer to cook with our cast iron. We have a griddle that we can use on both sides, that is awesome. It can cook everything from steaks to fish to pork loins. Everything you can think of, we can cook on it. We also have a 9-inch skillet pan and a dutch oven. Honestly, with these and some foil, that is all we need to cook whatever type of meal that we are going to make when camping.

So for years, I used metal spatulas, spoons, and forks that we had in our camping gear. And I would use that to cook all the food, and it was fine. I noticed I was starting to get specs of cast iron in my food because I was scraping the pan so hard. I decided to switch over to wood cooking utensils. They seem to work fine.

We have bought all the kids their own multi utensil multi-tool. It comes with a spoon, fork, can opener, and a butter knife. It will break down so they can have just the fork or just a spoon. They’re pretty cool, and they’re relatively cheap. I think I paid like eight or nine bucks for each one and they each have their own color. It’s pretty awesome.

7) First-aid
First-aid kits are so important you wouldn’t believe. The worst thing that could happen is your young child is running and slips or trips and hits her head on the picnic table or the fire ring. Or even worse, accidentally falls into the fire and you’re stuck with nothing to help her, nothing to cover the wounds. I’ve been there, and it is disheartening.

What we have are two Walmart pre-made first aid kits that we throw in the camping gear.  We also have some elastic bandages, bug spray, and extra-large stick-on bandages. I also added some hydrogen peroxide, Neosporin, diaper rash cream, anti-itch cream, and some calamine lotion.

You get the point – you want to make sure that you’re fully prepared for anything that might happen. Don’t forget the Aloe Vera for burn injuries. They do happen especially if you cook a lot of marshmallows and hot dogs. The end of the stick is burning hot and will burn finger while they are pulling off the food. This is very common.

8) Warm Clothes and Rain Gear
Living in the Pacific Northwest, you start to understand that the weather will be sunny one minute and then rain the next. You always want to make sure and pack warm clothes, even if it’s a hundred degree day. By the time the sun goes down behind the mountains or the trees, the temperature is going to drop 20 to 30 degrees. The wind us going to pick up, and you are going to be chilly and cold. Always pack a sweatshirt and always pack rain gear. Bring a pair of shoes, don’t pack a pair of flip-flops because you will get cold.

I have a light set of rain gear that I pack in with my gear for my wife and me. The kids all have their own cheap stuff from Costco that we have packed away and use if we need to during the Fall and Spring. I always carry a heavy duty top and bottom set. They’re fairly warm, and I wear them when I’m fishing.

9) Light / Lantern
When camping, you don’t want to get stuck out there without any lighting. You want to make sure and have enough propane for your propane lantern and enough batteries for your battery lights as well. If you decide to have battery lanterns or lights out there, that is.

Have propane lanterns, and carry extra Mantels in case they get wet. I do prefer the Coleman brand for my lanterns, my tents, and cooking gear. We just haven’t had good luck with anything else. If you decide to go the battery powered headlamp and lantern style gear, that’s great; you need to carry many batteries because they do go dead very fast. The best place I found to buy lighting is Amazon and Costco.  Costco sometimes has a three-pack of the small lanterns that collapse. I own them myself, and my kids love them. They hang them the inside of their tents. You can close them, so it’s like a little night-light. They’re great!

I also think that having four or five headlamps in your gear is an excellent idea for late-night bathroom treks and walks down to the water. We have a telescope that we like taking with us, and it’s good to have those headlamps with us so we can turn them off and on to see what we’re doing when we’re tuning in the stars.

10) Knife / Hatchet
This is probably my favorite essential just because I have had it for such a long time. Of course, you need to have a Leatherman Wave. I’ve had mine for 20 years, and it has everything on it that you need.

Then you have to have a hatchet for cutting firewood into kindling. It doesn’t matter on the brand name or anything. Just be sure it has a sturdy handle and durable, broad backside. That way you can use it to pound on your steaks as well.

If you have the chance to pick up small firewood saw, get one.  A saw will cut the time to gather wood in half. I was lucky enough to find a kit that had the hatchet, a bowie knife, and a saw all in one, so I bought it. I will have a review on that very soon.

11) Toiletries
When it comes to toiletries, make sure you pack light. You need the essentials.

Think carefully about how much toilet paper to pack. Think about how long your trip is and how many in your group. You want to be sure to pack enough so that you do not run out! If you do run out though, there are other options out there, leaves for one.

If you decide to stay in a campground, then most likely you will have a toilet in there. Hopefully, the Rangers take care of it because there’s nothing worse than a nasty, smelly outhouse toilet in a campground that everybody uses.

If you want to spring for a couple of items, you could purchase a campsite shower hooked to a campsite sink. That way you can wash right inside your campground. Use your own seven-gallon jugs to gravity feed the shower of course. Soap up right there, no one would be the wiser.

12) Navigation
Navigational items like a compass and map should be a part of your camping gear. You don’t want to leave them in your camping bag. You need to take them with you when you are going on walks and hikes. If you don’t keep them with you, then they are useless. They are in case you need them to get yourself out of an unfortunate predicament in case you get turned around.

This is a huge one – there are places to go in your local area to learn how to use read a map and to learn how to use your compasses. I suggest doing that. Maybe you and your significant other go or you and your children, whatever. Just make sure that you learn how to use it. It will come in handy someday. You always know which way you’re going.

So that’s my list of 12 Essential Camping Items. I do not know if you want to use this list or not, but it is a good list to go by. It hits all the primary marks. What you don’t want to happen as you get to your campsite and realize you forgot one of these items. They are all critical to having a successful camping trip.

So go out, have fun, and relax. If you follow this list, you won’t have anything to worry about. Everything and all things will be covered.

Have fun. Enjoy. Relax.

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Hi, Dennis and Shelly Jackson here, we are the faces behind Campsite Planning. We are parents of 4 great kids and a little dog. And we are sharing some of our experiences with the site. I hope you enjoy and please do not hesitate to contact us for any reason.


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