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Spotlight: 11 Essentials Every First-Time Camper Needs

Knowing what to bring when camping can feel daunting, but this list can distill down what you should bring for that trip this summer.

If you've never been camping before, you might not be sure what to expect on your first camping trip or what to bring along. A quick Google search will flood your computer with hundreds of “necessary” camping gadgets, but which of these are actually required?

To help you weed through your options, here’s a list of the 11 essentials every first-time camper truly needs.


You'll want a quality tent for your camping trip so you aren’t exposed to the elements. Getting doused by a midnight rainshower or eaten alive by mosquitos is the quickest way to turn you off of camping forever.

Before making a purchase, consider the number of people who will be in your tent. Single person tents are incredibly cramped, even for one person, so consider those reserved for backpackers who need ultralight tents.

A good rule of thumb is to take the number of sleepers and add one to determine an optimal size. So if you’re camping with your cuddle-buddy, go for a three-person tent. If you’ve got a family of four, upgrade to a five-person tent.

It’s also a good idea to stick to reputable brands. It’s tempting to go with a cheap tent on Amazon, but if there’s anything you should splurge on, this is it. A good tent will last you for years -- maybe even decades -- so it’s a worthwhile investment.

Sleeping bag

Okay, maybe the tent isn’t the only thing that’s worth splurging on. You’ll never enjoy camping if you can’t get a good night’s sleep, so your sleeping bag is a critical component.

The main thing to consider when purchasing a sleeping bag for camping is what kind of weather you're going to be camping in. If you're camping in warmer summer months, opt for a lightweight one-season sleeping bag so you don’t overheat.

For cooler weather in spring and fall, make sure you purchase a sleeping bag with a temperature rating that fits the weather in your area. Most brands offer a great variety of options with specified temperature points, though you can also eyeball it by looking for three-season sleeping bags.


Many people will opt for an inflatable air mattress while camping. Cots are a great option as well, or you can join the hammock-camping craze and spend the night swinging between the trees. Ultimately, it comes down to what’s going to make you the most comfortable.

If you do go for an air mattress, just make sure you bring the pump. You'll also want to double-check that your campsite has electrical access. If not, your pump will need to be compatible with your vehicle's cigarette lighter.


It gets dark in the wilderness, so be sure to pack plenty of lighting. Include a lantern for the tent, a few flashlights for late-night bathroom strolls, and a headlamp that offers hands-free use.

Cooking supplies

One of the most convenient items to pack for camping trips are mess kits. These contain all the utensils, plates, cups, and cookware you could possibly need. They're also very durable and are made from outdoor-friendly materials.

In addition to the mess kit, you’ll also need a way to cook your food. That means a camping stove for most people, or you can harness the power of your campfire with a fire grill plate that you can place directly over the fire.

Finally, be sure to bring your own supply of cooking water. You may be able to find water near the campsite, but chances are it’ll be unsafe and require treatment before cooking or drinking.

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Campfire materials

What’s a camping trip without a campfire?

Start by taking the time to research the conditions where you’ll be camping. Some campgrounds ask you to bring your own wood, while others prefer you stick to local wood that you can either buy locally or collect around the campsite. And let’s not forget about places where campfires are completely banned during fire season, in which case you definitely don’t want to risk a run-in with the park rangers.

Regardless of where you get your wood, come prepared with matches and lighter fluid to get the fire started. If you prefer a lighter to matches, it’s better to use one with a long torch rather than pocket-size Bics or Zippos to avoid burning your fingers.

You can also pack a large scarf or a small blanket to carry wood gathered from the camping area. This will cut your fire-prepping time in half.

Insect repellent

Even if you're camping in the fall or winter, you'll be exposed to insects. Bring three different types of repellant to make sure you’re covered.

First, you'll want a standard bug spray to protect your body. Second, invest in a bug-repelling lantern or candle for your campsite. These come in handy during mealtimes.

Third, purchase bracelet repellents. These don't always work the best, but they're great for kids who are hard to spray.

Rain tarp

Check to make sure your tent includes a rain tarp. Even if there isn't a chance of rain during your trip, the weather can change at any moment. You don't want to be caught without this essential piece of equipment. If a tarp isn't included, you can purchase one separately.

It’s also smart to bring an under-tarp or “ground cloth” for your tent. This will prevent any excess moisture from the ground leaking into your sleeping area. It will also keep the bottom of your tent from tearing. A standard tarp from your local hardware store will work just fine.


Camping can be exhausting, so you'll want a place to rest during the day. There are several options for seating, and which one you choose really depends on your preference and what kind of space you have for packing.

Hammocks are compact and can be hung anywhere, making them a great source of seating. Many people camp solely with their hammocks, so you can use it for sitting and sleeping.

Other people prefer to bring lawn chairs in addition to their tent. There are also inflatable furniture options you might try on longer camping trips.

Water containers

Camping involves a lot of physical activity. That means a lot of sweating and an increased risk for dehydration. Make sure you have plenty of water bottles on hand, both disposable and reusable.

You may also want to bring a couple of gallons of distilled water for washing and sanitizing if your campsite doesn't have restrooms.


It’s difficult to only pack food that doesn't need to be chilled, snd there’s no guarantee your campsite will be within a reasonable distance of a convenience store. That’s where a cooler with ice can help, making it easy to keep your perishables safe during your camping trip.

Coolers are a pain to haul around, so be sure to check how long the walk is from the parking area to your campsite. If you’re lucky enough to park right next to the site, any cooler will do. If there’s a walk, consider switching to a backpack cooler or at least something with wheels.

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