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This Beginner Camping Essentials Checklist Will Make Your Next Trip Epic

WriterAubrey McShan
10 min read

Camping is a great way to connect with nature, strengthen relationships, develop new skills, disconnect from technology, and find inspiration. Most importantly — it’s lots of fun! Whether you’re a complete beginner camper or if it’s been a little while since you’ve visited your favorite campsite, you should know these things before you buy new gear:

  • Where and what season do you plan to camp?
  • Will you need to drive or hike to your campsite?
  • How long do you plan to stay?

Want to take this checklist on the go? We created a downloadable checklist. Print it out, and use it as your in-store shopping list or as your reminder of what to pack before you head out!

Campsite Gear

You may not be able to bring home with you when you explore the outdoors. However, you can create a safe, comfortable space with the right campsite setup. Here is everything you need to make sleeping under the stars more relaxing:


When you buy a tent, size up larger than the total number of people in your family or party. You’ll be able to enjoy a more spacious sleeping experience while also usually getting a higher peak. This gives you more space to move around, store equipment, and dress. You can also look for a few extra features like extra doors or privacy screens.

Expert Tip:

Hiking several miles to your campsite? Just remember, you’ll have to haul your tent too. A lighter-weight option may be more beneficial. Check out our tent buying guide for more tips.

Footprints (or Ground Covers)

Footprints, also known as ground covers, protect your tent floor from damage caused by rocks, twigs, and general use over time. A footprint spans the size of a tent floor. They best prevent water from pooling under your tent and can also add up to money saved long-term since they are cheaper to replace than tents.

Sleeping Bag(s)

A rectangular sleeping bag is the roomiest and most comfortable for casual camping. There is no need for a super snug shape unless you are backpacking. We recommend a three-season one because it is a flexible option to camp for most of the year. A lightweight bag may be plenty warm for your needs if you plan to camp only in the summer.

Cot, Air Mattress, or Sleeping Pad

Tired Texas Heeler Sleeps on a dog cot outside under a blanket

Cots, air mattresses, or sleeping pads are the best options when you don’t want to sleep on the ground. Each option offers different sizes, weights, and portability options. Pack a repair kit should you need to fix a leak once you arrive when you plan to camp on a rocky campsite with an air mattress.

Lanterns, Flashlights, + Headlamps

Multiple lighting sources can help you to see and navigate around your camp at night. While you can’t go wrong with a classic flashlight, a headlamp helps free up your hands while cooking or setting up tents or cooking stations at your campsite. Lanterns provide a steady, ambient light. Just don’t forget to pack plenty of charged batteries for all your lighting options.

Expert Tip:

We recommend electric lanterns (rather than gas) for their low noise, long battery life, and low fire risk.

Other Shelter + Sleeping Gear for Your Campsite

  • Tent peg mallet
  • Tent fan(s)
  • Tent whisk and dustpan
  • Tent poles and stakes
  • Air pump
  • Camping pillows
  • Sunshade or screen house
  • Multi-tool
  • Duct Tape
  • Tent-pole repair sleeve
  • Tent repair kit
  • Seam sealer
  • Utility cord
  • Gear Loft

Kitchen + Food Prep Gear

There are several ways to cook at your campsite. Always remember to bring plenty of food and water on your first trip. It’s better to over-prepare before you leave home and make adjustments the next time you camp. We suggest a minimum of two gallons of water per person per day when car camping. That amount allows each person enough for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and personal hygiene.


Have one cooler for raw and uncooked food and a separate one for drinks and other items. Doing so eliminates the risk of raw food bacteria transfer. Don’t forget to keep your cooler under a shaded area or umbrella out of direct sunlight.

Expert Tip:

To ensure your food and beverages are stored at the correct temperatures, it is essential to pack your coolers correctly.

Camping Stove

Breakfast in front of the tent in the morning

Cots, air mattresses, or sleeping pads are the best options when you don’t want to sleep on the ground. Each option offers different sizes, weights, and portability options. Pack a repair kit should you need to fix a leak once you arrive when you plan to camp on a rocky campsite with an air mattress.

Tables + Chairs

Even if your campsite has picnic areas, bringing your own table and chairs means more flexibility and room for supplies. A simple, foldable table or two and chairs will do the trick and are easy to pack.

Dishes, Utensils + Cookware

Use either disposable or reusable plates and utensils when you car camp. Bring a set of dishes and utensils per person plus one extra should you need it. The following items round out our recommended dishes and cookware essentials:

  • Sharp knife
  • Cutting board
  • Relevant cookware (dutch oven, frying pan, tongs, spatula, etc.)
  • Two bins (one for washing and another for rinsing)
  • Percolator or French press for your morning cup of joe

Expert Tip:

When packing for your next camping trip, remember that it’s important to pack everything safely and securely. Food contaminants can quickly ruin a stay outdoors, and human food can easily disturb animals’ diets when not properly stored away.

Optional Kitchen + Food Prep Gear

  • Ice/ice substitutes
  • Grilling tools
  • Grill rack
  • Grill fuel (propane or charcoal) and/or firewood and ax
  • Matches/lighter/firestarter
  • Potholders/pot lifter
  • Can opener, bottle opener, or multi-tool
  • Spices/seasonings, cooking oil, and condiments
  • Mixing bowl(s)
  • Food storage bags/containers for leftovers
  • Bear bags
  • Plastic wrap/aluminum foil
  • Trash bags
  • Napkins
  • Tablecloth + clips
  • Biodegradable dish soap
  • Pot scrubber/sponge(s) and dish towels
  • Paper towels

Hygiene + First Aid Gear

Campsite hygiene is just as important as anywhere else! Don’t leave home without plenty of toilet paper, soap, hand sanitizer, and a small bath towel just in case the campground doesn’t have well-stocked bathrooms. Sunscreen, insect repellent, and a first aid kit are all must-haves, too.


A portable emergency radio helps when severe weather rolls in. Radios are essential when you lose cell service. This Life Gear Stormproof Crank Radio Light even has an emergency siren for added safety.

Sunscreen + Insect Repellent

Father puts sunblock on his son while camping in the woods

Sunburns and bugs make it hard to have fun. Keep the bugs and sun at bay with a good sunhat, sunglasses, and UPF clothing. Cortisone or aloe vera can help relieve sunburns and stubborn itches.

First Aid Kit

All first-aid kits should have the essentials! Usually, pre-packaged kits come standard with the bare necessities — but it’s never a bad idea to upgrade, take out, or add where you feel you have the need to. We recommend stocking your camping first aid kit with the following:

  • Bandages of various sizes
  • Gauze pads/roll
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Antibacterial creams and/or ointments
  • Pain/anti-inflammatory medicine
  • Antacid
  • Tweezers and eye drops

Expert Tip:

A great habit to get into when you regularly camp is to inspect your first aid kit, replenish anything low in stock, and throw out expired items. It’s a great habit to build before each camping trip, so you’re covered in most basic emergencies, bruises, or cuts.

Other Hygiene + First Aid Gear

  • Bath towels
  • Quick-dry/microfiber towel
  • Camping toilet with replacement bags or sanitation
  • Menstrual products
  • Prescription medications
  • Baby wipes
  • Mirror
  • Brush/comb
  • Spare eyeglasses/contact lens supplies
  • Earplugs
  • Portable camp shower
  • Tissues
  • Trowel (if no toilet on site)
  • Preassembled emergency gear/survival kit
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Waterproof matches or lighter (reserved specifically for emergencies)
  • Flint + steel with firestarter (reserved specifically for emergencies)
  • Trekking poles
  • Emergency whistle
  • Emergency blanket
  • Duct tape

Clothing + Footwear

Always check the weather forecast before packing! It's also a good idea to plan out your activities, too. Having extra clothes is never a bad idea. Avoid moisture-trapping cotton. Instead, pack moisture-wicking layers like merino wool, nylon, or polyester. Hats can keep the sun off your face and out of your eyes.

Expert Tip:

Planning a hike? Learn all about the best materials, layering strategies, and more. We wrote a guide to help you know what to wear for hiking!

Rain Gear + Warm Clothes

Bring insulated jackets when it is cold out. The weather can often be unpredictable. Packing a waterproof layer for rain can save a camping trip! Layers are the best camping strategy year-round.


Wear a pair of sturdy shoes (suited to the terrain of your specific campsite) for exploring and pack a comfortable pair of slip-on shoes for hanging around camp and late-night bathroom runs.

Other/Optional Clothing + Footwear

  • Dry bag for storage
  • Moisture-wicking underwear
  • Quick-drying pants/shorts
  • Long-sleeve shirts (for sun, bugs)
  • Lightweight fleece or jacket
  • Socks (synthetic or wool)
  • Sleepwear
  • Long underwear
  • Gloves/mittens/warm hat/bandanas
  • Water shoes

Additional Must-Have Camping Gear

Tourist's survival kit and camping tent in autumn forest

Bringing a credit card or cash and your identification for emergencies is a good idea. How you plan to spend your time and campsite remoteness are important factors. Keep a list of what you packed for your first trip and what you used or wish you had or hadn’t brought to adjust for your next time out.

  • Navigation tools (compass, maps, and/or a portable GPS)
  • Field guides and binoculars
  • Book/reading material
  • Portable speaker
  • Cards/games
  • Empty backpack and/or fanny pack
  • Shovel
  • Rope and/or wire
  • Rechargeable battery pack
  • Hammock
  • Mosquito net
  • Carabiners

Have Fun Out There!

Camping is more than grabbing a tent and sleeping bag. You may need less than what we have laid out in this guide. But predicting your needs to spare yourself from last-minute runs when you’re already in the middle of nowhere is never a bad idea! Here are a few of our best camping tips:

  • See if your campsite has gear reserve options for bulkier or heavier items, like chairs or kayaks

  • Have a plan (and appropriate supplies, like an emergency rain poncho) for if the weather shifts

  • Make sure your vehicle has the appropriate emergency supplies, like a spare tire and air compressor

  • If possible, practice setting up and tearing down your gear before arriving at your campsite

  • Always, always, always let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back

Still have questions? Print out our checklist, and head to your local Academy Sports + Outdoors. A team member can help you gear up with the camping essentials you need for your next adventure.