Tent Camping in Woods

Camping for Beginners: Essential Camping Gear Checklist & Guide

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What should I bring my first time camping? What are the most important things to bring camping? Essentially, are you wondering how to go camping for beginners?

Regardless if you’re looking for summer camping essentials or year-round camping gear, we know you have a lot of questions, and rightfully so!

Your first time camping can be a bit overwhelming, but no worries! We have a great guide on camping gear for beginners, some camping tips, and a handy camping gear checklist, which you can download for free at the bottom of this guide!

We love the great outdoors and are so excited to help you prepare for your next camping trip! So no matter if this is your first time camping or the first camping trip you’ve been on in a while, we have you covered.

We’ve tent-camped and RV’d camp around the U.S. many times and will give you our take on the best camping gear for beginners just below.

Alright, let’s get to planning a camping trip!

Camping for Beginners Gear Guide

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Camping For Beginners Doesn’t Have To Be Expensive

First things first, start small and keep it simple. Don’t feel like you have to buy brand-new, expensive, top-of-the-line camping gear.

Let’s make sure you like camping first before we do all that. Sound good?

For your first time camping, a low-barrier way to enter the camping and outdoor world is to borrow gear from friends or family. In addition, borrowing camping gear is a super cost-effective way to try gear and, above all, see if you like it.

If your friends and family are not the camping type, you can look at renting camping gear through REI or looking through their used camping gear to see what discount deals you can find!

While renting and buying used may not be as cost-effective as borrowing free camping gear, it’s a great place to start, test the waters, and learn about the types of camping gear and brands out there.

Camping does not have to be an expensive hobby or vacation. And above all, cost should not be a reason not to enjoy the great outdoors.

We’ll talk about some camping gear hacks just below!

5 Most Important Things to Bring Camping + Some Hacks

Before we even get into the camping for beginners gear list, there is one thing you need to know. Not every item in the below guide is needed.

Yes, you read that right.

However, there are some things you just can’t get away from. In our opinion, there are 5 items every camping beginner needs that can’t be substituted or replaced.

  1. Camping Tent
  2. Sleeping Pad / Mattress
  3. Bug Spray/Sunscreen
  4. First-aid kit
  5. Food & Water
Wild Camping in Idaho's White Cloud Wilderness

Don’t get us wrong, certain camping gear just makes life WAY easier when camping. However, if you are on a budget, some gear for camping is just nice to have or can easily be swapped in for items you may already have at home.

For instance (THE HACKS!):
  1. A camping headlamp is SO nice, but your flashlight at home is a great substitute.
  2. Same for a camping chair. While fantastic for campfires, you can use a stump, fallen tree, or the campsite picnic bench for sitting on vs. buying a camping chair.
  3. Camping pots and pans are nice for cooking with, but if you are fine packing and using your own personal pots, pans, and cutlery, go for it.
  4. Sleeping bags pack light, but if you don’t want to invest in one, you can bring blankets, sheets, and pillows from home.
  5. You can forgo the camping stove if your campsite has a grate over the campfire or grill and you are comfortable cooking over an open flame. Or, just opt to back sandwiches or food that doesn’t require any cooking. This may be the most challenging item to leave behind, but if it’s only for a few days, anything is doable, right?!

Our main goal is to get people outside enjoying our beautiful planet! So, if you’re looking to not invest in a lot of camping gear or just don’t feel like spending the money, the above hacks are some budget-friendly camping options you can consider!

Oh, and if you’re going with a group, divide and conquer your food and camping gear among the group! Breaking out the cost over the group definitely is another budget-friendly way to go camping!

Ok! Ready to get to the camping for beginners camping list?

Read our guide on how to plan a camping trip like a pro!

1. Camping Tent

The obvious first step in camping gear for beginners is a tent. It’s best to plan ahead a little when looking at camping tents. What do we mean by that?

  • Plan on doing any camping where you’ll have to hike to get there? Consider going the lightweight tent route. The lighter weight tent, the less heavy your backpack will be. And everyone likes that!
  • Planning to grow your family or bring friends along? What about your pet? You might want to invest in a 4-person, 6-person, or heck, an 8+ person tent if you’re planning a lot of group or family trips!
  • Are you looking to make camping a lifestyle and camp year-round in all four seasons (i.e., snow and winter)? Then we suggest looking into a four-season tent.

Now, those above bullet points are just some suggestions to ensure you get the most value and use out of your tent.

By doing a little forward-thinking, you’ll allow yourself to get a tent that will fit only your future needs but your current comfort levels.

PRO TIP: Most tents are only rated on a per-person basis. Meaning sleeping space per person and nothing else. The per-person rating does not assume gear for that individual. If you would like extra space to house some of your belongings in your tent, you may need to size up depending on what you want to fit in the tent.

Marmot Limelight 3P Camping Tent
What Tent Do We Use?

We have the Marmot Limelight 3-person tent (pictured above) and love it! However, this is not the tent we started with. We didn’t take our above advice/suggestions 🙂

We started off with a more cost-effective 4-person Coleman Tent, followed by borrowing REI’s Half Dome Tent from friends for our camping trip to Havasu Falls, before eventually buying our Marmot Limelight 3P.

So why did we land on our Marmot Limelight 3-Person tent when there is only two of us?

We like to go a little bigger in tent size. We LOVE the extra room it gives us to store our clothes and other camping gear, which is great for when it rains! And, of course, our dog, Huey! He has to have some room too 🙂

PRO TIP: Set your tent and the rest of camp right when you get to camp. Setting up a tent and getting your campsite organized in the dark is zero fun and will take much longer. Also, if you’ve never set up a tent before, practice at home before your trip and give it a once over to make sure everything works and there are no holes.

2. Sleeping Pad For Camping

One of the major wins of any camping trip is a good night’s sleep. A proper sleeping pad or mattress is the key player in allowing you to get a good night’s sleep.

  • Sleeping Pad: Great for folks looking for something compact and lightweight
  • Camping Cot: If you don’t want to mess with inflating your sleeping pad, a cot is a great way to get cozy and comfy when camping.

What do we use? It honestly depends on what kind of camping we are doing 🙂

When we first started camping, we brought the air mattress we had lying around at home. And it was perfect! We could hook it up to the car and inflate it within seconds.

However, since we’ve started hiking and backing into campsites more, we invested in Big Agnes Sleeping Pad (pictured below) as they are a great lightweight option to carry on hikes.

Big Agnes Sleeping Pad for camping

Regardless of your camping gear choice for sleeping, either of the above options will keep you off hard, uncomfortable ground, keeping you warm when camping in the chillier temps.

PRO TIP: Make sure whatever option and size you go with, the dimensions fit your tent interior. Oh, and make sure you test your sleeping pad and air mattress before camping. We’d hate for you to discover a hole.

3. Sleeping Bags for Camping

Another camping gear essential is a sleeping bag. When choosing a sleeping bag, looking at temperature ratings is a great place to start.

  • If you plan to do winter camping, you’ll need to have a sleeping bag (0° and lower) that can withstand the cold conditions.
  • If you’re looking to camp at moderate temperatures, a sleeping bag for summer (+30° and higher) is your best bet.

From rectangular sleeping bags to the mummy, you have a few shapes to consider. The wider the sleeping bag (rectangle), the more space you’ll have. The small the sleeping bag (mummy), the less space you’ll have and the warmer it’ll keep you.

Whatever option you go with, make sure you like the fit and it’s comfortable for you.

PRO TIP: If you want to leave your personal pillow at home, an inflatable camping pillow is a great alternate option to bring with you camping to round out your camping sleeping system.

4. Headlamps & Lanterns

Think of these as your upscale flashlight. Once you use a headlamp, you won’t return to a flashlight!

Headlamps are PERFECT for campsites!

They allow your hands to be free to easily make dinner or walk to the shower house or grab a beer from the cooler, a headlamp gives your hands the freedom you never knew they needed.

An excellent addition to your camp lighting is a lantern. Hanging a lantern from the inside of your tent for extra light or around your cooking area a lantern gives you some additional light that we promise will come in handy.

Black Diamond Moji + Lantern

5. Camping Chairs

A surefire way to ruin a first-time camping trip is comfort! If you’re not comfortable, it’s going to make it hard to enjoy your time outdoors.

Aside from having a proper sleeping setup, a camping chair for you to lounge in is just as important!

From lightweight camping chairs you can take wherever you go (i.e. hiking or backcountry camping), or a comfy rocking camping chair, a good place for you to rest your butt is important.

A quality camping chair is a perfect setup for roasting marshmallows, telling stories, and just enjoying the company around those nightly campfires. And who doesn’t like a night around the campfire?!

6. Cooler for Camping

The best part about this essential is you probably already have one. Our only tip is to ensure your cooler has enough space for your perishable items and to keep your beverages and food cold for a long time!

For us, we like a cooler that has loads of insulation, like Yeti Coolers.

Going this route takes the worry out of ice melting quickly and having to constantly make an ice run to ensure your food and drinks stay cold.

YETI Tundra 65 Cooler

7. Camping Stoves

Something that can make or break any camping trip is food. So, it’s super important you come prepared, which is why a solid camp kitchen, like camping cooking stoves and cookware, is one of our biggest camping tips for beginners.

You have a few options when it comes to camping stoves.

2-Burner Camping Stove

In all honesty, a two-burner camping stove is perfect for any first-time camper. It’s easy to operate and a familiar cooking device that you can easily whip up breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

You can use your pots and pans or invest in new camping cookware. Oh, and if you’re needing some camping cooking inspiration, a camping cookbook is a fantastic place to start!

You can go as simple or extravagant as you want. Just remember, the fewer the dishes, the less you have to clean up 🙂

Eureka Ignite Plus 2-Burner Camp Stove

Jetboil Flash Cooking System

If you’re looking for something lean and mean, then a Jetboil is for you.

A Jetboil Cooking System is perfect for those camping minimalists or those looking to go backcountry camping.

The system allows you to boil water in seconds. Once the water boils, add the boiling water to any freeze-dried meal of your choice. After the water is added to the freeze-dried meal packet, you let the meal cook for 15-30 minutes, and BOOM, you have a hot and ready meal you can eat directly from the bag.

The Jetboil is an easy, lightweight, mess-free cooking setup, and we love ours.

Oh, and if you are looking for recommendations, here are some of our favorite freeze-dried meals.

Jetboil Flash Cooking System

PRO TIP: Whatever camping stove you choose, make sure you have some propane tanks for it!

8. Camping Cookware (Pots, Pans, Utensils)

When you plan to cook while camping, you must bring everything with you. What do and we do mean everything?

From camping pots, pans, and utensils, a camp cook set is a great way to buy all your essential camping gear in one swoop. A set like the one below comes with the pans, plates, and utensils you’ll need to chow down on some scrumptious camping meals.

Stanley Camping Cook Set

Are there any coffee lovers out there?!

We never go camping without some freshly roasted coffee grounds. So, a coffee maker is a must in our camping kitchen arsenal.

You can go the coffee percolator route or, if you’re looking for something you can take in the backcountry (i.e. hike to your campsite with), an Aeropress is for you. Both are great options for making a hot cup of coffee, no matter where you set up camp.

PRO TIP: Check out our custom-designed camping coffee mugs, The Adventure Mug! Bonus, coffee mugs can double as bowls 🙂

9. Camping Toiletries

Outside of packing the more obvious items like a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, brush, face wash, hair ties, etc. You should consider adding a few other toiletry items to your camping gear list, especially if you’re camping for more than a few days!

Quick Dry Camping Towel

The key to a good camping towel is having it be quick to dry. By having a quick dry towel for camping, you’re able to use it more frequently, which means you don’t have to pack the big, bulky towels making quick dry towels a space saver and one less thing you have to bring multiple of.

Regardless if you’re using these to dry off from a swim, a shower, or just wipe some sweat away, a quick dry towel is a great camping companion.

Sea to Summit Tek Towel

Camping Shower or Camping Body Wipes

Don’t get us wrong, we totally respect the weekend warriors who don’t need to shower when camping. Right on!

However, if you’re camping longer than a weekend and there is no shower house in sight, we have a few camping tips for beginners on how to shower while camping.

The easiest option is to bring along some wilderness body wipes. Simply use a few wipes to get the grit and grim from the day off your body. You may not feel 100% refreshed, but we promise you’ll feel better than you did dirty.

PRO TIP: We always bring face wash when camping. There is something about using cold water and a good face wash that will make even the dirtiest people feel clean. Wipe down the rest of your body with the wilderness camping wipes, but do yourself a favor and actually wash your face. You’ll feel a million times better!

The second option is a shower bag. It won’t be close to luxury, but you’ll feel amazing afterward. Put on a swimsuit and hang the shower bag from the tree, and vualá, you have a camping shower.

And, of course, the third option is to just jump into a nearby river, lake, or stream to get the dirt off 🙂 Just be sure the water is clean and leech free!

Eco-Friendly Shampoo, Conditioner, & Body Soap

Speaking of showering and getting clean, if you plan to use the above camp shower (or something similar), make sure you use products that are safe and kind to the environment for your soap, conditioner, and shampoo.

When showering or washing dishes, please do so at least 200 ft away from a water source. Being a good steward of the land while camping is of the utmost importance. Remember that.

PRO TIP: Remember to follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles when camping and enjoying this planet of ours. You always want to leave your site better than you found it.

10. Camping Gear for Saftey

Last but certainly not least safety while camping. Keeping yourself, your group, and your pets safe while enjoying the outdoors is SO very important. The below will cover skin protection, protection from water (yes!), and animals!

Now, each camping gear for safety may not be applicable for you and your upcoming trip, but it may be applicable for the next 🙂

  • Bug Spray: You’re in the great outdoors, after all. Protect yourself from those pesky bug and their bites.
  • Sunscreen: You’ll be spending all day outdoors, so protect that skin of yours! Dermatologists recommend 30 SPF +, so lather up, baby!
  • First Aid Kit: Cuts, scraps, and blisters happen. Better safe than sorry! Pack that First Aid Kit.
  • Water Filtration System: If your campground has potable water, skip this! However, if you are camping at a dispersed campsite where you’ll be getting water from streams or lakes, you’ll need a water filtration system to ensure you are drinking safe water. As always, please avoid using single-use-plastics and use reusable water bottles while camping and just throughout life too 🙂
  • Bear Gear: If you are camping in bear country, understand bear spray, hanging food from a tree (via rope and carabiners; we put our food in a waterproof bag and hoist it up!), or bear-proof canisters when your campsite doesn’t provide “bear boxes” is a MUST.

Nice To Have Camping For Beginners Gear: A Hammock

A nice-to-have item for camping, but technically not an essential camping gear item, would be hammocks.

Hammocks are a perfect addition to get a little added level of comfort to your seating arrangements. Be it taking a nap or just wanting to lounge and read a book, adding a hammock to your camping gear list could elevate those lazy days around camp.

ENO DoubleNest Hammock

PRO TIP: Don’t forget to buy the hammock straps too!

Misc. Camping for Beginners Gear Not To Forget

Let’s not forget about a few miscellaneous items that we always make sure to bring with us on any camping trip.

The camping gear listed below are things that can easily be forgotten but make a world of difference when camping, so be sure to pack them!

  • Deck of cards – For some fun around the campfire fun.
  • Bluetooth speaker– Let’s face it, music makes everything better.
  • Knife – For wood, making food, and anything else you may need to cut.
  • Lighter (or matches) – For starting campfires or your camping stove.
  • Portable Charger – To charge your phone.
  • Repair tape (or duct tape) – To fix unwanted holes in a tent or air mattress.
  • Rope – Great for hanging items like wet clothes, bags, etc.
  • Hand Sanitizer – No one likes germs, even when you’re camping.
  • Fire Starters – Let’s not have making a fire be hard.
  • Folding Table – Great for extra space, especially if you don’t have a picnic bench at your campsite.
  • Sleeping Mask – The sun shines bright in the early morning through your tent.
  • Hanging Toiletry Bag: The organized compartments allow you to operate in and out of easily. Plus, with a hanging toiletry bag, you can hang your bag from a tree, your tent, or the shower house without worrying your things will get dirty.
  • Toilet paper – Campgrounds can run out.
  • Bottle Opener/Wine Opener – You’ll want this for beer or that bottle of wine.
  • Pet Gear: If you’re bringing your pet camping, make sure their items are packed and accounted for!
Camping underneath a star filled sky in Utah

The Don’t Forget Kitchen Camping Gear Items

Don’t forget some essentials that will help you with cooking and cleaning up when camping!

  • Camping Kitchen Set: We LOVE our GSI kitchen set! It comes with spice holders, a cutting board, a knife, some utensils, and a washcloth/sponge, making it a perfectly compact camping kitchen on the go!
  • Knives – If you have a nice set of knives at home that you don’t want to bring camping, this outdoor knife set is perfect for chopping and food prep.
  • Food Storage Containers – You’ll need a place to store/keep any leftovers. Whatever you use at home (as long as it’s not glass) is totally fine!
  • Spatulas/Grilling Tools: Don’t forget any aluminum foil or grilling tongs/spatulas if you need any of these items for the meals you cook while camping!
  • Cleaning Dishes – Bring a small bucket or container that you can quickly fill with water to suds up your dishes to clean them.
  • Sponge & Towels – You’ll need something to clean your dishes with. Just make sure you use eco-friendly soap.
  • Trash Bags – Make sure you leave your place clean.
  • Spices/Cooking Oils/Sprays – You don’t want the food to stick to your camping pots and pans, and you don’t want to forget those tasty and flavorful spices at home!

Camping For Beginners Free Camping Gear Checklist

Feeling good?! You should be! Whether renting your camping gear or deciding to purchase new or used camping gear, use our FREE camping gear checklist below to prepare for your first camping trip!

Free downloadable camping gear checklist

PIN IT FOR LATER – Camping For Beginners!

Beginners guide to camping pinterest pin

For more travel tips, guides, and awesome travel shots, be sure to poke around our site and follow us on Instagram @wanderingstusPinterest, and Facebook. Oh, and if you have any questions, let us know in the comment section. We’re happy to answer. Or, just leave us a positive note!

Happy Travels,

– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stus)

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