Back to Basics: Must-Have Camping Gear for Safety

July 11, 2016

Camping is a classic American tradition that remains as popular as ever, as more than 40 million people camped in 2013. And even though many campers – especially younger ones – are bringing technology, gadgets and specialty gear into the outdoors these days, it’s always a good idea to focus on the basics. This must-have camping gear list doesn’t include unique gizmos and devices. It’s all about what you actually need for a fun and safe adventure.

camping gear

10 essentials of camping gear

Every camping gear list should begin with the internationally recognized basics for safety and survival in the outdoors, the so-called 10 essentials. Even if you’re just going on a day hike, take enough food, water, first-aid supplies and equipment on this list to survive an unexpected night or two in the outdoors.


Your barrier against the elements, this one is on the 10 essentials list and is one of the most obvious of camping supplies. Shelter can be many things: an RV, popup camper, tent, hammock, tarp or bivvy. Be sure to consider the conditions you’ll be camping in. In a driving rain, you may prefer the surrounding floor and walls of a tent instead of being under a tarp.

Sleeping bag

A lot of options here, but the main job of the sleeping bag is to insulate your core. Today’s bags are filled with either synthetic insulation or treated down feathers. Synthetic fill is less costly, but many times it is heavier or bulkier than down. Down delivers great warmth for its lighter weight and is highly compressible, but the price tag can be considerably higher in some cases. Then there is shape to consider. Rectangular bags are great for those who need extra room, while mummy-style bags are the thermally efficient choice. Manufacturers will include a comfort rating on the bag or on the tags. Choose the bag that will best keep you warm for the conditions you are likely to face.


Longtime favorites are the lantern and flashlight, but many campers are very active at night and need both hands to complete camp tasks. Here’s where headlamps shine. Today’s headlamps usually offer multiple modes (wide beam, narrow beam, red mode for night vision, etc.). Check the packaging for battery life information in each mode so you have an idea how long you can expect it to last. Bring extra batteries. However, there are some solar-powered options these days as well. And don’t forget, the good, old campfire is a great source of light and comfort, so bring flint and steel, matches or other fire-starters.

Cooking gear

If you’re out long enough, you’ll tire of granola bars and GORP (good ole raisins and peanuts). A hot meal is almost always welcome at the end of the day, so you’ll need cooking gear. Today’s camp stoves range from briefcase-sized, two- and three-burner models to tiny, single pot stands screwed onto the top of a fuel can. Each will deliver heat. You need to decide if you are just boiling water to rehydrate meals or are you making something that requires more simmering control. When it comes to cookware, backpackers usually go with a single, lightweight pot, while real car camping gourmets break out cast-iron skillets and Dutch ovens.

Adventure clothing for camping gear

Let’s start with this basic outdoors premise of adventure clothing: Avoid cotton. It holds onto moisture, which saps heat from your body, potentially leading to hypothermia in some situations. Go with lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking fibers. Staying dry usually means staying warm. Conditions changing. Use the layering system. Add or subtract layers as needed. So if the day starts out chilly and rainy, you’ll likely wear a down insulating jacket under a rain shell. As you warm up and the rain ends, shed the appropriate layers to maintain your comfort.

Camping is always more enjoyable when you are comfortable and safe. Much of that comes from having the right equipment. So don’t “rough it” when you don’t have to.