Since we moved back to California, we’ve been camping pretty regularly. Camping is the best way to break with your daily routine and explore areas of nature that just wouldn’t be accessible from a hotel. It can take awhile to acquire all the right camping gear, I’ll be honest, but lucky for you, I’ve done the work for you by creating this camping gear list.
Camping was certainly made easier by heading out with friends whose gear complemented ours. I’ve created an overview of my must have camp gear – it might seem like a lot, but after camping a few times, I’ve found that all of these items have made our camping trips much more comfortable!
Tip: I keep a big plastic bin in my garage filled with all the small(er) camping items I need to bring and items I might forget. That way, packing to go camping is a breeze. I just throw the box into the car along with the big items, and we are on our way!
In this post, you’ll find tips on what to bring camping, and must have camping gear. So, let’s dive in!
P.S. if you’re looking for great places to camp in California, check out these posts:
- Camping at Pinnacles National Park
- Tahoe Camping: Explore the hidden Sierra Buttes
- Castle Crags State Park in the magical Shasta wonderland
- Visit Mammoth: 10 things to do in Mammoth Lakes
Camping supplies list
What to bring camping…the basics
- Sleeping bag: When it comes to camping necessities, a sleeping bag is right up there at the top. If you’re getting ready to buy your sleeping bag, you’re going to want to put a bit of thought into it. Where are you planning to camp? How cold does it get there? You’ll want to make sure that any sleeping bag you buy is going to keep you warm in the areas where you’ll camp.
- Tent: When you buy your tent, do yourself a favor and double check that it is waterproof. Chances are, it is, but I’ve camped with friends in the rain who didn’t have a waterproof tent, and let’s just say they didn’t have a nice night. If you’ve never bought a tent before, think about how many people will be sleeping in it before you buy. Bigger might seem better, but if you’re alone or a couple, you’ll get cold easily in a big tent. Stick to the appropriate size!
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Walking amongst the giants. So many people think of palm trees when they think of California, but did you know we also have the tallest trees in the world? . In April we camped in the redwoods for a few nights and spent the afternoons walking through the forests and trying not to step on banana slugs. As you can tell it might have been a bit chilly! . . . . #findyourpark #optoutside #redwoods #savetheredwoods #california #rei #alltrails #visitcalifornia #timeoutsociety #lonelyplanet #lpfanphoto #passionpassport #beautifuldestinations #doyoutravel #travelmore #girlswhohike #girlswhotravel #adventureenthusiasts #letsgo #globe_trotter #earthpix #outdoors #nikon #northerncalifornia
- Sleeping pad: Besides your sleeping bag, the sleeping pad is one of the most important items you’ll bring, and is at the top of the camping essentials list. Which one you buy really depends on how high or low maintenance you are (honestly). I have a backpacking sleeping pad (although I only go car-camping), and I’ve slept on it for four nights in a row with absolutely no problems. It inflates in less than a minute, you can blow it up yourself, and it takes up virtually no space.
- Pillow: A pillow is one of the items I tend to forget the most, doh! I typically just bring a pillow from home, but there are specific camping pillows if you’re feeling fancy.
- Tarps: A tarp under your tent will help keep you warmer at night, since it will keep the ground moisture away from your tent. Trust me, you need one. They are cheap, so there’s no excuse not to have one. We actually bring a couple of them just in case it rains and we need to construct a make shift canopy.
Things to bring camping… so you can eat!
- Cook stove: A camp stove is one of the basic camping items, and you don’t need anything fancy. I have this one from Coleman which works just fine. It has two burners, and is easy to clean.
- Propane: Speaking of stoves, you’re going to need to fuel them somehow, so make sure you put propane canisters on your list of things you need for camping. We typically go through at least one per trip, so make sure you have two with you when you head out just to be sure.
- Lantern: One of the best parts of camping is chilling at the campsite at night, so if you want to see what you’re doing, i.e. cooking, you’re going to want to bring a lantern with you. You’ll also need a propane tank for this, so make sure you plan ahead! (you can also buy batter powered lanterns, but those are heavy and you’ll have to bring size D batteries…
- Cooking kit: I got this cooking kit from my wedding registry on Amazon and it is perfect. Everything fits into this compact holder, and includes a cutting board, knife, rice paddle, spatula, scissor, tongs and a ladle. Oh, and it includes the ever important wine bottle opener, which is always a must have on any camping gear list.
- Mess kit: Sure, you can bring paper plates and plastic cutlery and just throw them away at the end of every meal, but I prefer not to since that isn’t very good for the environment, and I find myself trying to cut back on single-use plastic as much as possible. Invest in a mess kit with plates, bowls, coffee mugs, and silverware. Sure, you have to clean these up, but they are much better to use!
- One pot, one pan: Pots and pans can be so easy to forget while camping, but please don’t forget them! We like to bring a cast iron skillet with us. Although it is super heavy, it is super easy to clean with just hot water and a paper towel.
- S’more stick: You’re not always gonna find that perfect stick for roasting marshmallows. Bring your own!
- Cooler: A cooler is as crucial to camping essentials as a tent or cook stove. Don’t forget to continually refresh your ice to keep your perishables (and your beer!) cold
- Can opener: Ah, the oft overlooked can opener. Having beans with your hotdogs? Better remember that can opener. Nothing is more pathetic than trying, and failing, to pry open a can.
- French press or percolator: No need to forego coffee when camping, just bring along your french press or percolator, and wake up to a hot cup of joe in the morning.
- Lighter: Oh giver of warmth and food! Don’t ever forget a lighter! You’ll need it to start your ever important campfire, light your stove, etc. This is one of the most important items to bring!
Camping necessities to make you more comfortable
- Fire starters: I have to admit, we haven’t always had much luck with fire starters, and pinecones are honestly the best kindling around. That said, I always find it handy to have fire starters with us, just in case we have trouble getting our fire going.
- Camp chairs: We got these backpacking camp chairs as a Christmas present and we love them! Not only to they barely take up any room in our car, but they are also super easy to deconstruct and put back in their pouches. And, they are surprisingly comfortable! These are on our list of must have camping gear.
- Head lamp: Is there a better invention than the head lamp? Well, probably, but head lamps are a must-have for me while camping. They keep your hands free and are bright as hell. If a headlamp isn’t on a camping gear list, I wouldn’t trust it, although, truth-be-told, you’ll look a bit dorky. Don’t bother using the flashlight on your cell phone, the head lamp is your friend!
- Water jug: I have to admit, I stole this idea from my friends with pride. I STRONGLY recommend bringing a water cooler with you – this is especially handy at campsites with vault toilets and only a few faucets. We fill up the water jug and keep it at our picnic table, and use the water to wash our hands, brush our teeth and clean off fruits and veggies. If you’re at a place with vault toilets, it is really nice to get a chance to actually wash your hands.. trust me, this is one of the best camping tips I’ve ever gotten!
- Hand soap: Well duh, don’t forget soap if you’ve got your water cooler.
- Hand sanitizer: Always handy for those times when you can’t wash your hands and need clean hands in a pinch.
- Bug Spray: Mosquito bites can really put a damper on camping. Keep those pests away!
- Citronella candles: We bring citronella candles or coils with us when we camp for a little extra help in keeping the mosquitos at bay.
- Sponge: For washing your dishes, of course. We just keep a giant pack of sponges, like this one, in our camp box.
- Dish soap: Enough said
- Trash bags: Plan on bringing at least four to cover your bases while camping over 2-3 days.
- Paper Towels: Oh duh, I almost forgot. Bring those too, to clean up the little messes. Yes, this list of things needed for camping even includes the most basic items!
- Power bank: If you’re out camping for a few days, chances are you won’t have much access to electricity, which I honestly love! But, it can be handy to have a power bank.
- Firewood: You wanna stay warm? You’re going to need firewood! Make sure the wood you buy is local, you never want to bring invasive pests in by purchasing your firewood somewhere else in advance.
What to bring on a camping trip… to make it more fun
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The light hit our chill spot at the campsite just perfectly 👌 . . . . . #optoutside #outdoors #lonelyplanet #california #westcoastexposures #visitcalifornia #adventureenthusiasts #activenorcal #mytinyatlas #lostsierra #graeagle #beautifuldestinations #wonderful_places #alltrails #norcalroam
- Hammock: I LOVE our camping hammock. There is something about swinging between a couple of trees, next to an alpine lake that just feels like heaven, which makes it a must on my camping gear list. Do yourself a favor and buy one.
- Slack line: My husband loves to practice his balance on a slack line, and it is the perfect camping activity. Trying to slack line barefoot in the forest always makes me feel like a hippy… and I like that!
- Portable Speaker: Although I often camp in areas with no cell service, I like to play my downloaded music from Spotify Premium over bluetooth on my JBL speaker. Music sets the campfire mood.
- Giant Jenga: ok, so this will take up a bit of extra room in your car, but it is so worth it! Technically this isn’t jenga, it is “Tumbling Timbers,” but it is a great game to play while having a beer.
If this list just isn’t enough for you, check out my list of the best gifts for hikers.
Did this post help you plan your camping gear list? Let me know in the comments below!
By the way, some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Gabby is a native (Northern) Californian who spent the majority of her 20’s living the expat life in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, exploring Europe and beyond. 27 countries later, she’s relocated back to her home base in California where she explores her passions for the travel and the outdoors.