Looking to get outside and into the wilderness but don’t know what gear you need? Start here.
By Kaitlyn McInnis
Traveling isn’t just about the destination. Carry On is our series devoted to how we get away in the digital age, from the choices we make to the experiences we share.
Whether you’re planning to cross the country in a camper or you prefer an old-fashioned tent in the great outdoors, we can all agree that there are some camping essentials that will get you through an adventure in the wilderness.
You could spend hours intricately planning out the most magnificent camping itinerary, but without the right gear, a great trip into the wilderness can go south pretty quickly. However, that doesn’t mean you necessarily have to go out and purchase the entire outdoors store, either. It only takes about a (figurative) handful of great gear to ensure your trip goes smoothly.
While you probably already have a decent flashlight and portable charger kicking around, you might want to consider investing in the campground basics; like a decent camp stove and firetop coffee percolator, for example.
Sure, there are hundreds of dollars worth of innovative camp gadgets out there that might be tempting to pick up, but you’re better off investing in the basics before going all out on flashy accessories and spending any extra cash filling up your cooler with craft beer and camp snacks.
From a utility-first portable camp stove, to one of the highest rated (and least expensive) sleeping bags on the internet, this list of the best basics will help ensure your wild adventure goes off without a hitch.
How to pack for camping in different seasons:
While camping is all about getting back to the basics and appreciating nature, there’s a lot to take into account when packing for a given season. Whether you’re braving the elements or you much prefer camping in the heat of the summer (we don’t blame you!), you’ll always want to pack ample sleeping and cooking gear.
In the colder months, especially if we’re talking sub zero temperatures, you’ll probably want to consider swapping your thin nylon tent and sleeping bag for more thermal options. There are a wide variety of four-season tents that sport a thicker outer layer, but you’ll also want to look out for a sleeping pad with R-value of 4 or more as well as a sleeping bag rated at least 40°F lower than the coldest temperatures you’re expecting.
If you’re planning on camping in the springtime, come equipped with rain appropriate gear — even if the forecast looks sunny. You’ll want to double check that your tent is rated all-weather, and even if it is, we suggest bringing an extra tarp to help absorb any unexpected moisture in the ground. Consider picking up a rope for hanging clothes to dry should you get caught in any unexpected drizzle.
Summertime is arguably the easiest in terms of packing. Whether you’re opting to sleep under the stars or prefer the comfort of a tent, don’t forget warm clothes and a decent sleeping bag just in case the temperature drops in the evening. Otherwise, sunscreen, a hat, and moisture wicking clothing should do just fine.
How to pack for hiking camping vs. car camping:
If you’re physically carrying your gear on your back rather than toting it in the trunk of your car, you’re going to want to streamline your supplies as much as possible. No matter how cool or innovative a piece of gear can be, we promise you’ll be wishing you left it in the store once it’s weighing you down during your hike. Consider purchasing lightweight materials like down feathers over synthetic material and a flexible water bladder over a plastic or glass bottle. If you’re hiking in the summer, picking up a simple poncho is a great way to avoid the weight of a cotton jacket.
What to look out for when buying camping essentials:
When you’re considering what to bring for a trip into the wilderness, think about the necessities above all. Sure, there are tons of cool gadgets out there that would be nice to have, but your trunk (or rucksack) will be filled to the brim before you know it, and all those nice-to-have products will just weigh you down and make unpacking even more of a hassle.
When you’re picking up the essentials, it’s important to consider what your intentions are. Do you plan on camping frequently, or is this more of a one off or semi-annual trip? If you’re an avid camper, it’s worth investing in top-of-the-line gear that will serve you for years to come. Of course, the price tag will reflect the higher quality supplies, but you’ll only have to purchase your gear once.
If you’re not entirely sold on the idea of recharging in the wilderness just yet, opt for budget-friendly items or consider renting higher ticket gear from your local outdoor supplies store — many places have tents, sleeping bags, and other essentials available for rent.
Whether you’re a seasoned camper or you’re heading off on an outdoor adventure, here are seven pieces of the best camping essentials to get your packing off to a strong start. From the highest-rated tent on Amazon to the most durable Bluetooth speaker available, we’ve got your bases covered.
It’s easy to use • Can grill, boil, cook • Charges your tech
The surface area can be small depending on what you’re cooking
Small and easy to use, it’s an ideal option for those who don’t want to build a full fire pit — it’s also a lifesaver for anyone who can’t deal without a charged smartphone.
Small, easy to pack, and simple to use, it’s an ideal option for campsite cooking — plus it can charge your phone.
5 x 5 x 8.3 inches
When living without electricity for a few days, making a game plan for meals is super important. You need a quick, easy, and realiable way to cook, otherwise you’ll be forced to live on PB&J and granola all weekend.
The BioLite CampStove is great for turning out relatively simple meals during a quick weekend in the woods.
A crackling log fire is picturesque and makes for a great boomerang for Instagram, but sometimes, it can be more trouble than it’s worth — especially if it’s your only means for cooking dinner in the wild. The fully integrated Biolite Campstove system allows you to easily grill, cook, and even boil your dishes without struggling to keep the fire going. What’s more, the smokeless wood flame actually generates electricity as it burns, so you can charge up your phone while getting your chef on.
The Grill top (sold separately) can fit up to four burgers at once, and the stove can boil water for your coffee in less than 4.5 minutes. The best part? It’s able to burn any renewable biomass, including sticks and twigs.
It keeps ice cold for over a week • Easy to transport • Heavy duty and durable • Great colors
Very heavy, even when empty
You get what you pay for with the YETI Tundra and in this case, it’s the highest quality, most durable cooler on the market. Just remember to lift with the legs — it weighs just under 50 pounds empty.
YETI Tundra Haul Wheeled Cooler
You get what you pay for with the YETI Tundra and in this case, it’s the highest quality, most durable cooler on the market.
28.5 x 19.5 x 21 inches
A high quality portable cooler ensures your brews stay crisp and your perishable food stays well away from wildlife.
The YETI Tundra Haul Portable Wheeled Cooler was made to keep your perishables cold for over a week, and to keep prying bear paws from stealing your goods. It sports extra-thick two inch walls for unparalleled ice retention and a rotomolded construction, which makes it virtually indestructible — even if a bear or raccoon does sniff out your supplies.
Ideal for car camping due to its obvious weight, this model of YETI cooler comes equipped with wheels so that you can easily drag it into the campsite.
Low price makes it a no-risk investment • Leak-proof • Packs down into a very portable bag • Easy to set up
Not appropriate for extreme weather • Smaller than it seems
If you’re gearing up to take a casual camping trip on a warm summer weekend, this is all you really need. However, if you’re looking for a tent to bring camping throughout the seasons, it may not be the right one for you.
Coleman Sundome Tent
Great for beginner campers and ideal conditions, this Coleman tent packs down small and is easy to set up.
108 x 84 x 59 inches
A summer-ready tent is a great way to test the waters before investing in a more expensive all-season alternative.
With nearly 10,000 reviews on Amazon, the Coleman Sundome Tent is very well-loved by campers and festival goers, largely due to how easy it is to put up and take down. This summertime tent is a great option for those who are casual campers. The welded corners and covered seams promise to keep water out, so you’ll wake up dry no matter how rainy or humid it is. What’s more, the Sundome boasts big windows and ground vents, which help push warm air up and out so you don’t get too sweaty throughout the night.
It holds up well in rougher conditions • Can brew up to eight cups of coffee at a time • Lifetime guarantee
Percolator insert is quite thin • Lid doesn’t line up perfectly
Despite its entry level price tag, the enamelware percolator holds up well and doesn’t require more than one piece of equipment.
Who says you have to skip your morning cup of coffee when you’re sleeping under the stars? Not us. The GSI Outdoors 8 Cup Enamelware Percolator touts everything you need to make a great coffee on a wood stove or fire and is built from heavy-gauge steel with a speckled enamel finish, which makes it wildly durable.
This camping staple can withstand up to 1000 degrees F and won’t scratch or chip if it gets dropped on the ground during transport. What’s more, the percolator boasts a lifetime guarantee, so even if it does somehow get chipped or scuffed up, you know that you’re covered.
Waterproof • Extremely durable • Relatively lightweight • Charges your phone
Some report losing battery longevity after a few months • Not great for hiking
While the Outdoor Tech speaker does come with a premium price tag, the overall style, durability, and sound quality make it a desirable speaker for throwing in a backpack or beach bag for long lasting tunes in the wild.
Outdoor Tech Bluetooth 4.0 speaker
Waterproof, durable, and with great range, this Bluetooth speaker is an ideal companion for campsites.
11 x 6 x 3.5 inches
A happy medium between quality and practicality, this portable Bluetooth speaker by Outdoor Tech will blast your tunes and charge your phone at the same time.
Keep the partying going all night long with the dual portable Bluetooth speaker and powerbank from Outdoor Tech. This handy gadget is completely waterproof, weighs in at just over two pounds, and boasts over 110 decibels. You’ll get a huge 32-foot range and 7500 milliamps of battery power with 16 hours of play time. What’s more, this speaker can also charge the average smartphone up to three times.
Ideally suited for an established campsite, we wouldn’t recommend this speaker for hiking, as there is no clip to attach it to a bag.
Can support up to 300 lbs • Extremely compact and lightweight • Comfortable and roomy
Legs could be more durable • Small pieces that hold the chair together are easily lost
Although you do have to be somewhat gentle with this chair, you won’t find a more comfortable or compact chair for the price point.
Therm-a-Rest Quadra Chair
Comfortable and super compact, it’s a superb option for this price point.
12 x 5 x 12 inches
This is certainly not your dad’s rusty old lawn chair. The Therm-a-Rest Quadra Chair is slick, comfortable, and packs down to the size of a wine bottle.
If you’re sick of stiff, squeaky lawn chairs that take up too much space and offer nothing in the comfort department, consider picking up the Therm-a-Rest Quadra Chair. This innovative chair can be stored away in a backpack, while still offering hammock-style support for up to 300lbs. Like the lawn chairs you’d see at bonfires and soccer games, the Quadra Chair sports mesh side pockets so you can keep your drink, phone, and whatever else you need handy at all times.
Super compact • Keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer • Comes in a variety of colors and styles
It’s not technically made for four seasons • Might be too short for those over 6 feet
The MalloMe is the highest rated sleeping bag on Amazon for a reason — its overall quality and durability makes it a great option for occasional campers and wilderness enthusiasts alike.
MalloMe 3 Season Camping Sleeping Bag
Its overall quality and durability makes it a great option for occasional campers and wilderness enthusiasts alike.
9.5 x 12 inches
31.5 x 86.6 inches
The highest rated sleeping bag on Amazon will keep you warm and dry for the duration of your trip.
With over 1,000 five-star reviews on Amazon, the MalloMe Camping Sleeping Bag is obviously doing something right. When you’re looking for a sleeping bag, it’s best to opt for something that works for three to four seasons for warmth, can be compressed for easy storing and packing, and, of course, is comfortable enough to make you want to crawl in. The MalloMe checks all the boxes and then some.
Our pick is the model with drawstring headrest, since this will help to extend the camping season and keep in heat, but MalloMe also makes a square setup that can be zipped to a companion bag, perfect for couples.
Made from very high carbon steel • Ambidextrous design • Small and easy to pack
Scuffs easily when dropped
Made from the highest quality material, this is a knife that will last you for years, especially if you ensure it’s well taken care of.
Benchmade Griptilian Folding Knife
A well-made knife is a must for camping and this one will last you for many years to come.
Believe it or not, a quality pocket knife will get you out of serious camping binds every single trip.
Simplicity meets unmatched function with the Griptilian Folding Knife by Benchmade. Ideal for pretty much anything — from cutting twigs for the fire to quickly opening the marshmallow bag when making s’mores —this utility knife is a must-pack for even the most experienced campers. The knife is fully ambidextrous and boasts 154CM steel, a textured grip, and glass-filled nylon for next level durability.