Camping must-have essentials

5/18/2023 | Hints and tips | Hájek Petr | Reading time: 16 minutes
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Probably everyone imagines something different under the term "luxury camping". And since the demands differ according to age, place and length of stay, so to make a universal list of needs is very difficult. The average family with children and older members must have enough comfort and "nature" at the same time. So what could a specific list look like for such an adventure?

Each of us has seen a campers who just takes everything, including a kitchen sink. On a camping trip on the east coast of Africa, I saw an older couple who arrived with a five-ton truck from Bedford controlled by their driver / servant and inside was really everything including a 4 x 4 car and a boat.

Camping with friends by the lake 

Camping usually requires a considerable volume of organization, happiness, and coincidence. The more people, the less the chance of agreement. Within the family, these issues we can usually eliminate, as pensioners and children have always time ...

When the back of the truck opened, a normal double bed (as you would have in your bedroom) appeared, including duvets, night stands and lamps.

There were also refrigerators and freezers + generator to run them. In the kitchen tent there was a complete Chinese style cutlery set, a kitchen sink, which was connected to the water tank and a small gas cartridge for water heating. There were four tents for children and grandchildren, plus a lot of space for evening sitting.

Because they came to camp for three months, they planted their own carrots and other vegetables to make it fresh. They also brought growing flower pots.

The camp was far from the fresh supplies, but it was on the coast with the Indian ocean, so it was possible to fish. They had meat in the refrigerators and were also supplied with dried foods.

How come we know so much about their arrangement? We arrived at a new place at night and with a new tent that was not yet tried, so we struggled with it a little (the first rule of camping - always try the new tent somewhere!).

So the man of their family came and offered a help : " You can use one of our tents, our children and families will not be here sooner than in three days. Everything is ready and your tent can be built tomorrow". 

After a good night sleep and very good food that we enjoyed using already mentioned Chinese style cutlery set, we could finally finish our tent and even after that we spent more time with their complete family during our short trip. 

Not everyone wants to camp in a similar grandiose style, because it's really like moving a house. Simply, most people want to be as comfortable as possible with the means they have, or even better , with a minimum of things.

Many things from our list have more than one purpose, so exactly these are the things you want to have in this list of 38 camping essentials. Many of them are designed for camping: they are lightweight, foldable, telescopic, „inflatable“, … but most importantly, they are durable, because these things will face a lot during outdoor use. 

Water, food, shelter – what comes first ? 

When you are in hot climates, the most important thing is water, followed by food. But if the weather is miserable with terrible cold conditions, the hypothermia might strike first - 20 minutes or so may be enough. 

When you are planning your camping trip, think about the conditions as well as the length of your stay. 

Who is this list for ?

This list is aimed at a regular family that goes camping somewhere for a week, so there is certainly a number of things of which the average survivalist will (very rightly!) think they are useless and can make it without them. 

I. Sleeping 

1. Something for sleeping 

Your selection reflects your age ( older bodies might feel everything more intensively) and camping style. If you have to carry everything in your backpack, then a good choice is a lightweight sleeping bag from modern cosmic materials.

Tactical sleeping bag ticks all the criteria for modest person, but when you have a vehicle, you can go for more. Proper sleeping bag, camping blanket as well as warm blanket, inflatable sleeping mat, but even ordinary sleeping mat. Anything you like, just take it. 

2. Something to protect from the elements  

When you carry everything in your backpack, the answer is lightweight backpack plus a tarp that work as protection during rain but also as a sun protection.

When you have a car, you can take bigger tent appropriate for your conditions (Himalayas will require different tent than Sonora desert). 

Although the hammock and the blanket sounds romantic, most people know that insect and morning dew might interrupt your sleep and you will want tent anyway. The tent often features mosquito net plus it is equipped with zippers and groundfloor which ensure no unpleasant encounters - you will wake up dry and without insect bites. 

3. Pillow 

It may sound unbelievably, but even small pillow can make a difference in the luxury of your sleep. Of course, you can use blanket or jacket, but you are loosing comfort we are talking about

II. Nutrients 

4. Water 

Depending on how long you stay in the area, you can take in basic form approx. 4.5 liters of bottled water per person per day. They can be used repeatedly (even though they shouldn´t, so whoever is afraid of health, use rather a dedicated water plastic canister from something harmless).

It can always be refilled from the local source of drinking water, so you have both water for brushing your teeth as well as for dishes and basic hygiene. When you have water and a shower in the camp, it is certainly a bonus, but it is not always a rule. 

5. Water purifications systems 

If you don't have specialized tools for this, you can use some harmless chemical (today easily available on the internet including instructions, the dosage is usually 1 teaspoon per 5 liters, etc.) to make your water healthy. It usually doesn't make its taste better, but it's certainly better than bringing some disease from your vacation.

The drinking straw is light, but nothing for families, it is more for solo adventurers.

6. Flour

It is up to you what type and whether it will be gluten-free, white or dark, wheat, rye..As long as you can use it for thickening of soups and sauces, it is good enough. You can also make camping bread, pancakes, buns and omelettes from it. 

7. Regular milk or powdered milk 

It will be excellent in your tea, to make buns, for breakfast cereals...

8. Yeast 

Yeast are ideal when traveling, but baking powder works too. You can use it for making a bread for example. 

9. Meat

Its bulk depends on the fact how big meat eaters you are. If you have a fridge, make sure you put the meat there already frozen, so your fridge doesn't have to strain too much. 

If you are going to connect the refrigerator to your car, have the meat prepared in advance, deep frozen and vacuum sealed, so it lasts even longer.

10. Salt and pepper 

Even if you have no other seasonings, salt and pepper are enough to spice up the food. Seasonings and herbs can be prepared in advance into the small containers in the amount you need. 

11. Coffee / Tea/ Juice 

Most people do not start their day until they get their morning elixir. Either way, it usually ensure their better mood. Is it necessary ? Not really, you are on vacation, but you can always change it to something else, perhaps just good old water. 

Cooking in a pan on a campfire 

The longer you are camping somewhere, the more dishes and raw materials you need. It may not even be complicated, but even for ordinary porridge or mash you need couple of things : fire + wood + matches, dishes, butter and flour, a pinch of sugar or honey, water,...

12. Sweetener 

It does not matter whether you use sugar, syrup or artificial sweetener, make sure you have something for your pancakes. You can of course add these to your coffee, tea... If sweet stuff is not your thing, sweeteners are not really important. 

13. Cereals / Granola bars 

They are good when you need fast-acting carbs on the go. It's ideal as a quick meal for someone during their lunch break. For healthier version, you can mix nuts, dried fruit and seeds according to your taste.

14. Complex carbohydrates 

You can add spaghetti, noodles, rice or other complex carbs to your list. They have versatile use, for example as a side dish. 

15. Fresh vegetables 

Onion, potatoes, beets, carrots, leek, tomatoes, …anything you like. All these can last couple of days or a week, which you can not say about salad. Some things simply needs to be consumed sooner than the others. We can be without them, but at the same time, we can not still eat only noodles and canned food. 

16. Canned food 

When you're camping, you usually don't have time to spend hours and hours preparing food, so it's often better to take some canned foods: „goulash“, beans, corn and peas... All this may come to your taste

Easy open cans are usually better than sometimes lenghty and more difficult way using your knife which you also have to clean afterwards.

17. Fats and oils 

For frying you will always need some oil or fat. You can use coconut oil, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil...but never use olive oil for frying as it can cause cancer. You can use butter (milk fats are digested differently than animal fats) or lard. Both of them can be used not only for cooking. 

18. Fresh fruit 

Some of the fruit, such as apples and lemons, is very good traveling, while the others - such as strawberries or nectarines - not as much. This type of fruit can rot easily.

III. Equipment and tools 

19. Flashlight 

Select a robust and universal flashlight. They can be used for signaling, lighting of you way, identification of threat, … Even know the headlamps are useful, you should not use them exclusively. Standard flashlights are better as they offer larger beam distance and can be better held in your hand. 

Choose a model with on/off switch that can be easily found even by touch in the dark. There is no worse feeling than when you are sleeping and you can not find switch on your flashlight while someone (or something) is slowly coming...

20. A good multi-tool 

Good multi-tool/knife will help you with everything and anything. From filleting a fish to cutting vegetables and repairing your items.

21. Camping stove 

If it is your cup of tea, you can chop wood and built a camp fire several times a day, or you can pack a small camping stove. In camp sites, where they have electricity, you can also use electric camping stove. 

22. Small chopping board 

You can use it to fillet a fish, prepare a meat, for cutting of vegetables and bread … And it does not have to be big and and thick,15 x 20 cm is more than enough. These boards can sometimes be part of camping dinnerware sets. 

23. Camping cutlery set 

It does not matter whether you choose separate folding pieces or sporks, as long as they are good to stir your soup / coffee / tea. They are of course also important for the eating itself.

Or you can cook as they do it in some African and Arab countries : by using a bread for eating and wiping of your pot. All you need to is final cleaning of your pot, but no need for cutlery. 

24. Camping drinkware 

Pack either stainless steel or glass set. Avoid plastics: it is an ecological disaster already and they are not good for your health anyway, as they are released in the form of nano-particles and micro-parties.

Similar stuff can be used for preparation of your tea or coffee with the lid providing protection against spillage and annoying insects. Drinking from the can may be too risky sometimes ( for example wasp nest along with children around drinking sweet lemonades).

25. Stainless steel round plates dish  

It can be used for preparing of food, as a pot-lid, plate or for emergency water boiling. 

26. Pot or pan 

Decide before traveling, what will you be preparing the most - soups or perhaps barbecue sauces?Will you need pot for rice and vegetables ? Or will you be frying a lot ? Then pan will be better. The more people ,the higher chance you need both. 

27. Waterproof matches and lighter  

It is ridiculous, even shocking, but countless campers forget this very basic thing! If you have a smoker nearby, you are fine as this person definitely carry lighter or matches.

People camping by the campfire 

Camping can be either traditional trip with backpacks, when you carry everything on your back, or you can use vehicle - campervan, etc. It can be of course mix of both, also depending on people and their experiences.

28. Portable refrigerator/cooler 

This depends a lot on how long you will be camping and what the campsites and your vehicles can offer. Some of them have electricity so you can use electric cooler. If the electricity is not available, you will need to use a device with another power source.

Usually, 12V refrigerator, which you can connect in your vehicle, is fine. Even traditional use of ice will work if there is no other option. It all depends on conditions and possibilities.

The warmer conditions, the more important it is to have a gas or electric cooling system, because no one likes cold beer ! 

29. Folding table 

No matter how many tables you have in the campsite, we guarantee that they tend to be literally overcrowded. When you bring at least one folding table, even food preparation does not have to be in sitting position or on the ground. This table will be also used for family meetings, whether it is dinner, lunch or playing some board games. You can of course use it for example when preparing bait for fish, etc. 

30. Axe, hatchet or machete 

For chopping wood, hammering tent pins, preparing wood for fire or for digging a trench around your tent. They can also be used for removing of greater vegetation from your campsite or when building an emergency shelter. 

IV. Personal items 

31. First-aid kit 

You can buy already prepared first kit or you can prepare it yourself, either way, it should contain following : 

  • fabric bandages 
  • plastic bandages 
  • scissors
  • antiseptic (iodine, etc.)
  • sterile gauze
  • tweezers 
  • needle 
  • somethinfg for diarrhea, inflammation, sickness, etc. 
  • gel for wounds 
  • gel for burns 
  • other medicaments depending on needs 

32. Map

You can use traditional paper map (ideally in waterproof case) or maps in your smartphone. However, if you do not carry extra charger, your digital map may not be so useful soon.

33. Backpack / bag 

Backpack or bag for extra items such as spare clothing or items for personal hygiene. 

34. SPF protection (lotion, spray, etc.)

It can be used anywhere and anytime as you can be sunburned even in winter or when it is cloudy outside. 

35. Windbreaker jacket / poncho 

A jacket that will serve as a protection from rain thanks to the hood.

Poncho turned out to be so good that every army in the world prefers it.

36. Camping chair 

Sitting on the ground or on tribes becomes annoying and tiring over time, so pack a few camping chairs. A chair with lumbar support is almost perfect as you will find out soon for yourself.

37. Insect repellent

It protects from a chance to get malaria or other possible diseases. 

38. Toilet paper 

Besides the obvious use, we can also use it as a paper towel for cleaning of spilled stuff for example, as well as it can be used as a paper handkerchief. 

Camping gear - map, binoculars, camera...

When you are traveling, do not underestimate the photo documentation for later memories. Nature also gives people time and space to devote to their hobbies. 

What if you forget something ? 

If you forget any of these items, you will survive, but you will certainly not be as comfortable as you would be with all the mentioned things. For example, instead of toilet paper you can use some leaf and so on. 

As for the paracord, you should carry it on your wrist all the time. 

On one trip, one guy forgot about the tent pins for a caravan, as his priority was fish, boat and fishing rod.

After the first shock he managed to get similar items from natives. The agreement was that in three weeks they were his again. Then he used Paracord to secure it as good as possible. 

Then another couple arrived, built a small tent, and after a while they came for help, because the guy cut his hand and they forgot a first aid kit. Then he said enviously how we were not well organized. And he didn't understand until he saw the pins.

What is the point ? Always put items away as if you put them in your car/ backpack... Simply, create a habit of packaging that didn't disappoint you and then follow it. 

Just because you used something during your last trip it does not mean it will be automatically in your campervan for this trip as well.

Unimportant things make life more fun…

The goal of this list was to make camping adequately comfortable with only a few things. There are also other, less important things you can take. Someone likes to play basketball or baseball while others like to read or taking picures...

And let's not forget well chilled beer and wine. Aftera all, you are on your vacation ! 

Hájek Petr
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