Whether it’s a weekend fishing trip, a cross-country journey, or any other outdoor adventure, having the right gear will make the entire experience more enjoyable.
While you can’t bring all the amenities of home with you, “roughing it” doesn’t have to be primitive or miserable. Bringing some of the best camping gear into the woods will help ensure that you enjoy the great outdoors while staying comfortable, well fed, dry, and warm.
The best camping gear has to be durable, packable, and convenient to use. It shouldn’t take up a bunch of space in your vehicle or an entire day out of your trip to set up. However you like to camp, it’s important to remember that simplicity and functionality are absolutely key.
This list will help you put together a kit of the best camping gear for your wilderness adventures. You’ll find essential cookware, comfortable seating options, and gear to help beat the weather. These necessities will help you tackle a weekend outdoors, breathe some fresh air, and get away from the hustle and bustle in comfort.
- BEST OVERALL: Sleepingo Double Sleeping Bag
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Vont 2 Pack LED Camping Lantern
- UPGRADE PICK: CORE 9 Person Instant Cabin Tent
- BEST CAMPING STOVE: Coleman Gas Camping Stove Triton+ Propane
- BEST CAMPING COOKWARE: Stanley Base Camp Cook Set for 4
- BEST BUG CONTROL: Sahara Sailor Camping Lantern with Bug Zapper
- BEST CAMPING COT: REDCAMP Folding Camping Cots for Adults
Basic Types of Camping Gear
Curating a collection of the best camping gear can go in a few directions. There is gear for deep-woods camping, car camping, and backpacking. This list includes the essential gear you’ll need to get back to nature. It’s less about gadgets and electronics, and more about just getting out under the stars.
The first essential piece you’ll need is some form of shelter. Shelter comes in so many forms, including tents for the ground, truck bed tents, camping hammocks, and campers.
In most cases, basic tents work very well. Unlike the tents of the past, modern tents are easier to set up and break down. Today’s models also have better waterproofing. You can get them in several sizes, from footprints just large enough for one person to sleep in to huge family-sized models. These bigger tents often have sleeping wings, central “living” spaces, and awnings.
You might also consider an additional covered space like a screen room or canopy. A screen room provides a bug-free space for food and relaxing, while a canopy can provide some shade on a sunny summertime campsite.
It’s a good idea to keep some extra tent stakes on hand, as well. They’re easy to lose or forget, and accidentally driving them into a rock can break them.
If you don’t sleep well on your camping trip, it can be hard to enjoy yourself. Having the right gear can help.
At a minimum, you’ll need a sleeping bag to keep warm and cozy overnight, even in the summer. Most sleeping bags have a temperature designation to describe the lowest temperature they’re suitable for. Grabbing a zero-degree temperature bag for a fall trip is probably fine, but you might overheat if you use it in summer.
Pairing your sleeping bag with an inflatable or expandable camp pillow will help as well. You can also purchase an inflatable or foam sleeping pad to place underneath your sleeping bag for a little cushion and insulation.
If you’ve got the room and the budget allows, a sleeping cot can do wonders for your sleep. They’re comfortable and hold you up off the ground, enabling you to avoid sleep-stealing rocks and roots.
Clothing and Footwear
Having the proper clothing and footwear on your trip will go a long way toward keeping you comfortable. You’ll want rugged clothing that packs easily and dries quickly. Pants and shorts made from technical materials like ripstop nylon and polyester are ideal. They’ll be comfortable and breathable, dry quickly, and provide some protection from the sun.
In cooler temps, you might consider bringing a high-quality hiking jacket. From down-filled packable jackets to fleece half-zip sweaters, a hiking jacket should keep you warm (but not too warm). However, it needs to be light enough to not weigh you down on the trail.
Sturdy footwear is a must-have. Trail running shoes and hiking boots will ensure you have plenty of grip and support for knocking around the campsite or for serious treks. Pair them with a pair of hiking socks (typically a wool-blend), and your feet will stay warm, even if they get damp.
Relaxing around the site is one of the most enjoyable parts of camping. To do it properly, you’ll need some great camping furniture. Having a few nice folding camp chairs is a great start. They’ll give you a place to park it after a long day on the trail, and they pack up easily. You can find them with features like built-in footrests, cupholders, and coolers.
You might also consider some camping tables for a place to put a book, radio, or a cold drink. Be sure to choose tables that are lightweight and pack easily.
While maybe not your first thought when it comes to camp furniture, a durable camp rug can help keep your tent free of dirt and dust. Camp rugs enable you to clean your shoes before entering the tent, minimizing the mess.
There’s nothing quite like a great camp meal after a long day on the trail or swimming in the lake. The best camping cooking gear will allow you to prepare gourmet meals far from any actual kitchen.
Starting with the basics, you’ll want some cookware, dishware, and utensils. Many sets come with just about everything you need, so it’s worth shopping around and finding the right kit.
There are plenty of options when it comes to actually cooking the food. You can use a basic fire-pit grill grate that stands over a burning fire. You can also find folding camp grills and collapsing camp stoves, which allow you to cook with more easily-controlled temperatures.
Cleaning up is just as important, as you don’t want critters sneaking onto your site and picking through your garbage. Be sure to pack some trash bags for waste, and be sure to designate some for recyclable items. Keep environmentally safe dish soap on hand for cleaning pots and pans.
Finally, food storage is a consideration. A well-insulated cooler is important if there’s no concern for keeping the campsite light and mobile. With a bit of ice, you’ll be able to keep drinks and food cool enough for several days.
Whether it’s for relaxing or because you heard a bump in the night, proper lighting is important on a camping trip. Setting up some string lights or LED lanterns will illuminate your site, helping you avoid trip hazards like roots, rocks, and tent cords.
Equally important as site illumination is a rugged flashlight. You should have something that you can take into the woods in the middle of the night should the need arise. Also, if there’s an issue with the tent after dark, like a tent pole slipping from its proper place, a flashlight will help you identify and fix the problem quickly. You might even consider a headlamp so you can work hands-free.
Leaving the comforts of home behind means you’ll have to figure out how to stay clean and comfortable. While a little dirt is entirely acceptable, you need to remain healthy when out in the woods.
If your tent is staying put, you might consider a camping toilet. While not the most pleasant thought, having a place to relieve yourself will allow you to stay comfortable and avoid odors and messes. These toilets use microbes to break down waste and prevent offensive smells. Keep in mind that you’ll have to dump them in an approved dump station, however.
If you’re not using a camping toilet, you’ll still need to keep some toilet paper on hand. RV and boat toilet paper breaks down quickly in camping toilets, but also in a “cat hole” (the hole you’ll dig to relieve yourself in, preferably off the trail).
A portable camp shower can provide a big boost in comfort as well. You can find solar-heated models that will provide warm bathing water as opposed to frigid water from a hose or creek. If privacy is a concern, be sure to purchase a surround.
Roughing it requires a hands-on approach to comfort. Since you can’t just flip a switch or twist a thermostat dial, you’ll need some tools to help set up your camp and keep it running.
When it comes to staying warm, you’ll need some specific tools. A sturdy hatchet and camp saw can help collect firewood, while a box of matches, flint, or a lighter can make starting your blaze a snap.
A great pocket knife helps, as well. From shaving strips of wood for kindling or cutting ropes, or fixing equipment that fails on your trip, a multitool is almost a necessity. Find one with a strong knife, pliers, a pair of screwdrivers, and a small saw for the best functionality.
Keeping some spare batteries at the ready can be a great idea as well. Flashlights, radios, and lanterns can tear through batteries, so stock up on them before you head off the beaten path.
Beyond a good flashlight, there are some other things you should keep in your camping gear to help stay safe. The basics include sunscreen, bug spray, and a comprehensive first-aid kit. The kit should include burn cream, antibacterial cream, bandages, chemically activated ice packs, athletic tape, and tweezers. Pain relief and antihistamines are also important.
As far as wildlife goes, there are few items you might want to keep in your pockets or backpack. A bear banger, which is essentially a shotgun shell without the deadly projectiles, can scare large animals away. Bear spray is also particularly effective, as it’s really just long-range pepper spray.
It’s also a good idea to keep a water filter or water purification pellets on hand to ensure you’ll have potable water—which is much more important than food in a survival setting should your trip take a southerly turn.
Navigation and Communication
If you’re planning on heading into the backwoods, it’s important to keep some emergency communication equipment on hand, as well as some navigation tools. A whistle, compass, and topographical map are the bare minimum. Be sure to understand how to read a map and plot a course if you’re heading into remote territories.
Also, a personal locator beacon will allow you to send up a red flag should you get into particularly hot water. These electronic beacons alert authorities to your location and send help. Coupled with a good handheld GPS (separate from your phone) will help ensure you arrive at your planned destination and back home safely.
What to Consider When Choosing Camping Gear
There are some things to keep in mind when choosing the best camping gear. The different types of camping, as well as your location, will have a lot to do with choosing the right gear for your trip. Before you hit the trail, keep these things in mind.
“Camping” is relative. Some folks consider sleeping in a 35-foot trailer with a queen-size mattress camping. Others need to enjoy the wind making the trees sway from the rugged comfort of their camping hammock to feel like they’re away from it all.
Basic camping in a state or private campground doesn’t require the same type of gear that deep woods, remote camping does. If you’re able to pull your car or truck right up to your campsite, you don’t need to worry about keeping things lightweight and backpackable.
When hitting the trail and setting up a new campsite every night, your gear has to remain minimal but functional, sturdy but lightweight. You’ll want to forgo camp chairs and grills, packing a lightweight hammock and fire grill grate instead.
Comfort vs. Essential Gear
The classic case of need vs. want. Planning your trip requires you to think about what you actually need versus what you want, and if you have room for extra creature comforts.
It’s entirely possible to make it through your camping trip without a radio or camp games, but if you have the room in your vehicle, and you can drive right up to your site, you might consider bringing them.
However, if you’re backpacking, space and weight are at a premium. Instead of that radio, you might choose a GPS. In lieu of camp games, a puzzle book or novel might be a more logical trail companion.
The idea is to weigh out the extras that provide comfort and decide if you have room for them. Never trade essential gear for comfort gear.
Access to Amenities
Your location will have a lot to do with what you need to keep on hand. Staying in a campground with a camp store requires far less planning than hitting the trail on foot, planning stops at general stores on the map along the way.
Staying in a campground usually provides easy access to showers and firewood, so staying clean and comfortable shouldn’t be an issue. On the trail, however, scrounging for firewood may be necessary. You might also have to bathe in a stream or fill a solar shower to stay clean.
Access to food and water is equally as important. If you’re camping close to a town or grocery store, you won’t have to plan quite as much for an emergency like running out of food or drinking water. If you’re backpacking along remote trails, however, you better have a backup, like some granola bars and a water filter.
Also, consider your access to a toilet so you can plan on what you need to bring with you, such as a camp toilet and toilet paper.
Length of Trip
Determining how long you’re staying in a campground or how much ground you’re going to cover over the course of your trip is important. If you’re staying on a remote site for a day or two, a cooler of food and water should suffice. When staying out for a couple of weeks, additional planning will be needed.
Likewise, a weekend backpacking trip will require planning, as far more supplies are required when tackling an entire state park on foot over several weeks.
The sum of it is this: Longer trips require more gear and supplies. Either plan to bring it with you, or plan out stops throughout your travels to resupply.
Number of People
The number of people in your party significantly impacts planning for your trip, particularly with supplies and amenities. If you’re headed out with one other person, you won’t need a lot of gear—which is great, because there won’t be a lot of shoulders to help carry the load.
When heading out with a large group, more gear is a given, but you can divvy up the burden so each person carries an equal amount of the load. You might bring one large tent for everyone, or go with smaller tents for privacy and solitude.
One of the best parts about camping is planning the trip. Part of planning is taking the season, temperature, and changing weather conditions into consideration.
While fall is a beautiful time to hit the woods, it can get very cold and uncomfortable, depending where you live. If you’re heading out for some fully immersed leaf-peeping, be sure to bring warm clothes, sleeping bags, and a quality tent. Fall is a great time to think about upgrading from a sleeping pad to a cot, if you have the room.
Be sure to check the weather report before you leave, but plan for the worst anyway. Many remote locations don’t benefit from accurate weather reports, and some elevations can create their own weather conditions. If there’s even the slightest chance of inclement weather, bring gear to survive it (like rain gear and extra clothing).
Also, consider how close to nature you may be camping. If there’s a chance you may have a run-in or two with wildlife, keep the right gear on hand. A rope for hoisting food into a tree will help prevent a bear from stealing your stash of marshmallows and Hershey bars, but might only be necessary off the trail.
Also, squirrels are notoriously mischievous, so you should consider cleaning up all of your gear at the end of the day. Otherwise you might find your favorite camp fork tucked away in the canopy of an oak tree.
Safety and Risk Factors
Heading out into the woods, regardless of the camping accommodations, is always a bit riskier than a pampered life indoors, but the experiences are worth the risk. However, preparing for those risks is essential.
As mentioned earlier, a good first-aid kit is a must-have. You need to be sure that you can handle a medical situation if it arises, whether it be a scrape, bee sting, or twisted ankle.
Also, you can mitigate your risk by preparing. You’re far less likely to suffer hypothermia in a well-suited sleeping bag than bundled in a few blankets on the ground. A sturdy pair of hiking boots will prevent slips and falls and support your ankles better than a pair of flip-flops.
Keep factors like these in mind to ensure your trip goes as smoothly as possible.
Our Top Picks
If you need some help gathering the gear to head back to nature, check out the following list. These recommended camping products might be what you need when the rivers or mountains are calling.
If you’re not sleeping well while camping, you’re not going to enjoy the trip as much, but the Sleepingo Double Sleeping Bag helps ensure that you stay warm, cozy, and comfortable when the nights turn cool. This sleeping bag will keep you warm down to a chilly 32 degrees, and the waterproof outer liner will ensure that you stay dry. Inside, you’ll find a soft, 210 thread-count liner.
The Sleepingo Double Sleeping Bag measures 87 inches long by 59 inches wide, providing plenty of room for a couple. You also can separate this bag into two shells and use them as individual sleeping bags. The Sleepingo rolls up and stores in a 15- by 12-inch bag weighing less than 6 pounds for a small but important companion on a cross-country trip when vehicle storage is at a premium.
Vont’s 2-Pack LED Camping Lanterns solve plenty of campsite darkness issues. These lanterns use 30 LEDs each to produce a bright, 360-degree pattern of light. With these lights set up, they can illuminate rocks and roots that you might otherwise trip over, or set up a late-night camp on a leg of your trip that took a little longer than expected. They’re also waterproof, so you don’t have to worry if you forget to bring them in before the rain falls.
Each light uses three AA batteries, though they’ll need to be purchased separately. When you want to lower the light, the LED housing slides down toward the base of the lantern, shutting off the lights when pushed down all the way and condensing down to just 4.8 inches tall.
If you like the idea of being able to spread out and get comfortable, the Core 9 Person Instant Cabin Tent is worth a look. Even though it is large, at 14 by 9 feet, the CORE tent sets up in less than 60 seconds, thanks to its preassembled frame. The easy assembly takes away much of the frustration of tenting. It can hold two queen-size air mattresses.
The tent comes with standards like a rain fly, tent stakes, and a carrying bag, plus it features a room divider and enough headroom in the center for a 6-foot, 6-inch adult to stand up. It has a zipper closure, zippered windows, and a port through which you can run an extension cord. The 68D polyester shell is wind- and water-resistant, keeping you warm and dry when the weather isn’t cooperating.
If you like to camp (and cook) in style, check out the Coleman Gas Camping Triton Propane Stove. This compact, tabletop stove will help you enjoy hot meals at camp. The dual-burner stove has two adjustable nozzles to help you dial in the perfect temperature. It uses small, 1-pound propane tanks (available here on Amazon) to provide plenty of heat for camp chili, pots of coffee, or delicious breakfast omelets.
The fold-out wings act as splash guards, catching grease so it won’t splatter onto your table. It has an easy-to-clean chrome surface and folds up into a compact 23 inches by 14 inches by 6 inches, taking up very little space when it comes time to pack up camp.
Sometimes it can be tough to cook a delicious meal while camping, but the Stanley Base Camp Cook Set can help. With 21 pieces of cookware, it should be simple to prepare a variety of hot fireside meals that up to four people can enjoy. In this kit, you get a 3.5-liter pot, a 7-inch frying pan, spatula, serving spoon, and cutting board, making meal prep a snap. When it comes time to eat, it’s easy to see how four plates, bowls, and sporks to help fill your belly after a long day on the trail.
This kit also includes a heat-resistant trivet and a dish-drying rack. All of the pots and pans are stainless steel, which makes them durable and easy to clean. The entire kit fits inside of the pot, while an included bungee cord holds the lid shut for easy travel.
If you’re looking for a camping lantern that provides light but also keeps the bugs off your bag, the Sahara Sailor Camping Lantern with Bug Zapper might be worth a look. This lantern uses built-in rechargeable batteries that you can juice up with the included USB cord. The lights have three modes to allow you to throttle your battery life for conservation purposes. The flashlight and lantern mode both provide 300 lumens of light, while the SOS mode will attract help if you need it.
The bug zapper collapses inside of the lantern, allowing you to pull it out when it gets buggy, but tuck it away and save battery life when the bugs subside. This lantern is drop-tested and water-resistant, making it rugged for camping trips and other outdoor pursuits.
Sleeping on the ground can be uncomfortable, and there’s no shortage of bugs and crawling critters in the woods. If you like to get off the ground when you head to bed, the REDCAMP Folding Camping Cot is a great choice. This cot measures 75 inches long, 28 inches wide, and 15 inches tall, large enough for all but the tallest adults. It has a 500-pound weight capacity too, though the cot weighs only 17 pounds, so it is plenty portable.
When packed up, the REDCAMP cot measures only 41 inches long, 9 inches wide, and 7 inches deep, fitting into a car’s trunk without issue. It also has a pocket on the right side of the bed to hold a book or your phone.
FAQs About Your New Camping Gear
Now that you know what to look for in the best camping gear, you might have other questions that you hadn’t thought of before. Here is a collection of the most frequently asked questions about camping gear. If you don’t find the answer you’re looking for here, you can contact your gear’s manufacturer and speak to their customer service department.
Q. What are 10 essentials for camping?
The 10 most important things to have with you on a camping trip are:
- Navigation tools (compass, map, GPS)
- Nutrition (food, granola, snacks)
- Hydration (water, filter tubes or pellets)
- Sun protection (UV-resistant clothing, sunscreen)
- Insulation (warm clothing, temperature-appropriate sleeping bag)
- Lighting (headlamp, lantern, flashlight)
- First-aid supplies (bandages, ice packs, aspirin, antibacterial, antihistamine)
- Repair supplies (tools, duct tape, cord for lashing)
- Communication devices (phones with extra battery packs, two-way radios, personal locator beacons)
- Shelter (tent, camping hammock, even your car)
The proper gear really depends on the situation. Summer camping might not require heavily insulated clothing, and campground stays don’t normally require GPS or personal locator beacons.
Q. What should you not bring camping?
There are certain things you shouldn’t bring camping. For one, anything that becomes dangerous when broken should stay home, like glassware or mirrors (aside from a signaling mirror). Also, other than essentials like GPS and phone, most electronics should stay behind. Also, certain scents in perfumes and hair products actually attract bugs, so you might consider leaving them home as well.
Q. How do you pitch a tent by yourself?
Most modern tents are very easy to pitch by yourself.
- Spread the tent out on the ground.
- Stake the corners into the ground.
- Straighten poles and slide them together.
- Insert through the pole sleeves or clips.
- Place the pole ends in their appropriate pockets to create tension and raise the tent roof.
- Use tent cords to create tension on the tent fabric.
Q. What is a 3-season sleeping bag?
A sleeping bag labeled as 3-season means it will keep you warm in all but the coldest temperatures in winter, while not baking you alive as you sleep in summer.
Q. Is a sleeping pad necessary for camping?
“Necessary” is relative, but in most cases, a sleeping pad will improve your sleep tremendously. In colder temps, it can add a layer of insulation between your sleeping bag and the ground.