Are you a first-time camper? If so, you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed by all the different camping gear and gadgets currently available on the market. Even seasoned campers will find themselves questioning what they need and whether the latest gadget is worth their investment. To help you find the best equipment we have already written multiple guides, such as for the best camping chairs, or the best camping tents.
Ranging from the more elaborate world of ‘glamping’ with all the comforts of home to a more basic camping experience with a backcountry hike into a remote campsite, there are options for everyone. However, even the most basic camping trips will require some necessary gear to make it a safe and fun trip for all involved.
We have put together a basic camping checklist to get you started! This list includes the necessary items for a car camping trip, including both the must-have essentials and a few additional ones to improve your camping experience.
Packing for Your First Camping Trip? Here’s A Basic Camping Checklist to Get You Started!
The first and most important item that you will need when camping is some form of shelter. Tent camping is a popular starting point for new campers since it involves a much lower investment than an RV or travel trailer.
If you are going car camping, don’t worry about the weight or packed size of your tent. Instead, focus on choosing an option that is easy to set up and will offer enough space for you and your family to sleep comfortably.
Each tent will state a sleeping capacity. However, reconsider purchasing the bare minimum. Following an industry standard, these capacity ratings are based on how many single sleeping pads can fit into a tent.
For example, a 6-person tent can accommodate 6 single sleeping pads. It doesn’t consider any other potential space requirements like walking room between beds, larger air mattresses, or space for your gear.
Coleman 8 Person Skydome Tent
- Roomy interior fits 2 queen-sized air beds with 20% more headroom than traditional dome tents
- Quick pitch design sets up in under 5 minutes
- WeatherTec weather protections system to keep water out
Tarp and Rope
Most tents will be waterproofed to some degree. However, experienced campers will tell you that you shouldn’t always trust this. After all, no one wants to wake up after a rainy night to find themselves sleeping in a puddle. Tying a tarp over your tent will keep you safe during the night, while a second tarp can be used to create a cooking and dining space that’s protected from the sun and rain.
To set up a tarp effectively, you will need a tarp, rope, or paracord and tent pegs to help anchor your tent against wind. This video from MEC and Parks Canada shares how to set up a basic tarp step by step:
The size of the tarp that you need will depend on the size of your tent. You want it to be large enough to fully cover your tent, protecting it from the elements, without being so large that it is difficult to accommodate on your campsite. IF you have a tent that measures 10 ft x 10 ft, you will need to choose a larger tarp. Some sizes that would work perfectly for this tent would be those measuring 16 ft x 16 ft or 16 ft x 20 ft.
REDCAMP Waterproof 4 in 1 Multifunctional Camping Tarp
- Available in a wide variety of different sizes
- Lightweight and compact design with convenient drawstring pouch
- Suitable for a sun or rain shelter, ground cloth, picnic blanket, and more.
Sleeping Bag and Pillow
Your sleeping bag is going to directly impact your ability to enjoy a good night’s sleep, especially when it comes to providing you with the ideal temperature for your trip. Look up the expected temperatures for your trip. The temperature rating on your sleeping bag should be lower than the lowest nighttime temperature, but not by too far. Bringing a winter-rated sleeping bag on a summer camping trip can leave you feeling uncomfortable and overheated.
Choosing between a rectangular sleeping bag or a mummy-style sleeping bag will depend on your personal preferences. Rectangular sleeping bags offer more room for you to stretch out, while mummy-style sleeping bags are a good choice for those that like to be tucked in tight while sleeping.
VENTURE 4TH Lightweight Warm & Cold Weather XXL Sleeping Bag
- 3-Season sleeping bag suitable for 30 degrees Fahrenheit to 70 degrees Fahrenheit
- Lightweight design only weighs 4.4 lbs
- Extra wide and long size accommodates campers up to 6’8”
Mattress or Sleeping Pad
In addition to your sleeping bag, your air mattress or sleeping pad can significantly impact your comfort at night. There are many different options available depending on your sleeping preferences. There are many types of sleeping pads, including air mattresses, double-high air mattresses, self-inflating pads, foam pads, and inflatable insulated pads.
Closed-cell foam pads are significantly less expensive than many of the other options on this list, and you will never have to worry about holes and leaks during your trip. However, many people find that they aren’t as comfortable. They are also low to the ground, which can make it difficult to get up in the morning for some campers.
On the other hand, double-high air mattresses offer a more comfortable sleeping experience and a higher surface. They will need to be pumped using a built-in pump (needing either batteries or an electrical connection) or a separate air pump. If they do develop a hole, you will need to do some repair work to help the air mattress hold air effectively for the remainder of your trip, or you will be sleeping on the hard ground. They cost more to purchase, and you may need to replace them more often due to damage.
Intex Dura-Beam Series Airbed with Raised Pillow
- Queen size mattress supports up to 600 lbs
- Powerful internal pump inflates the mattress in approximately 3.15 minutes
- Mattress is raised 16.5 inches off the floor to make it easier to get in and out of bed
Air Pump (if needed)
If you do choose an air mattress, check if it has a built-in air pump. If not, you will need to pack one. Campers staying on a site with electrical access can choose an air pump that can be plugged in. For those staying on a more rustic style of the campsite with no hookups, there are battery-operated options available.
A good camping air pump will provide you with a variety of ends to accommodate different jobs (such as your air mattress and pool floats for the lake) and can also be used to effectively deflate your items for easy packing.
Coghlan’s Battery Powered Air Pump
- Powered by four D-size batteries requires no electrical hookup
- Three adapter nozzles ideal for air mattresses, pools, towable boats, inflatable furniture, and more
- Maximum PSI pressure rate: 0.42
There is no denying that you want to be comfortable at night sleeping, but don’t forget your comfort during the day as well! Your camping chair is a versatile item while camping, creating a space to sit around the campfire, an extra chair during dinner time, a place that you can kick back and read, and more.
To choose the best camping chairs for you and your family, there are a few basic factors that should be considered. It includes the maximum weight capacity of the chairs, their stability on a variety of different surfaces, and the comfort of the chair itself. If you are shopping in person, many stores specializing in sporting and outdoor gear will allow you to try sitting in the chair before making a final choice.
KingCamp Oversize Padded Camping Chair
- Padded surface and steel frame supports up to 300 lbs
- Embedded cooler bag, armrest cup holder, goblet holder and large back pocket
- Extra wide seat provides more space and comfort than similar folding camping chairs
Whether or not you need to pack a camp stove will depend on your comfort while cooking over an open fire. However, it is recommended to always pack some sort of cooking option as a backup if necessary.
For those that want something small and easy to pack, backpacking stoves offer a single burner and a portable design. For car campers, a larger camping stove will provide multiple burners to prepare meals easily. They are usually designed to be set up on a picnic table. However, some will come with the option of a stand to free yourself from the need for a picnic table. There are also camp stoves available with a built-in grill
The most important factor to consider as a new camper heading out on your first car camping trip is your style of cooking. Do you need additional burners to tackle multiple items at once? Do you prefer grilling your food barbeque style to using a frying pan? There are no one-size-fits-all options for cooking at camp. Instead, there are many different camp stove products to accommodate the needs of every type of camper.
Coleman Gas 2 Burner Camping Stove
- Adjustable burners for precise temperature control and cooking power up to 22,000 total BTUs
- Constructed from rust-resistant aluminum with a chrome-plated grate for easy cleaning
- Pressure-control technology for consistent cooking
Dishes and Cooking Utensils
In addition to a camp stove, you will also need to bring cooking utensils, pots, and pans for cooking. A standard car camping stove will allow you to use household pots and pans, making it easy to find and purchase items that you enjoy using. Cast iron pans are very popular among campers as they can be used on a camp stove, barbeque, or cooking directly over the fire.
Keep in mind that you are going to make dishes at the campsite during your trip. Large pots may be easier to cook with at home, but they take additional storage space and are harder to clean at camp.
For dishes, consider choosing aluminum or plastic options to avoid the risk of breakage during travel. While you need to pack enough food for everyone in your camping group, avoid packing too much extra as it will simply add unnecessarily to your gear. As long as you clean your dishes after each meal, which is best practice to avoid visits from local wildlife, you don’t need to bring several extras.
Odoland 39 pcs Camping Cookware Mess Kit for 6
- Includes 2 pots, 1 frying pan, 1 kettle, 6 stainless steel dishes, 6 cups, 6 cutlery sets, 4 cleaning clothes and 1 large size carry bag
- Non-stick Teflon coating for easy cleaning and durability
- Foldable handles save space for portability
Before you start packing for your trip, take the time to research whether your campground or park offers potable water. You should also look at current restrictions to find out if there is a boil water advisory in place or any other similar concerns regarding the quality of the water available. It will allow you to pack appropriately to ensure that you get enough water to stay hydrated without the risk of getting sick from drinking unsafe water.
For many campgrounds and maintained parks, potable water will be available on site. It means that you will need to bring a water jug that can be filled and brought to your site for use. If you are camping somewhere without access to water, consider filling your water jugs at home. Take the number of people and pets camping with you into consideration when deciding how much water you will need to bring.
Campers planning longer trips or tight for space to pack additional gear can also consider purchasing a water filter or purifier designed for use in outdoor travel. It will allow you to gather water at your campsite without worrying whether it is potable, filtering it effectively to remove contaminants. Clean drinking water is an important part of safe travel!
Reliance Products Aqua-Tainer 7 Gallon Water Container
- Rigid rectangular container for easy storing and stacking
- Hideaway spigot for reliable on demand water dispensing and easy transport
- Five-year warranty against manufacturer’s defects
While some campers can take advantage of the electrical hookups at their campsite, bringing along a small apartment-size refrigerator to keep their food cold, this isn’t always feasible. Instead, a high-quality camping cooler can be used to store your food safely and effectively for an extended time.
Coolers come in a wide variety of sizes, from small portable to large family-size options. You want something large enough for the food and drinks and the ice necessary to keep it cold.
Look at the rating assigned to each cooler in terms of how long ice will last. These ratings are merely a guideline, so they shouldn’t be taken as complete facts, but they will help you to assess which coolers can be trusted for longer trips. That being said, you can always add ice to a cooler, allowing it to stay cold longer.
Coleman Rolling 50 Quart Xtreme 5-Day Cooler
- Insulated lid and extra wall insulation keep ice up to 5 days in temperatures as high as 90 degrees Fahrenheit
- Heavy-Duty wheels and telescoping handle for easy portability on any terrain
- Molded lid with cup holders can be used as a seat when closed, supporting up to 250 lbs
First Aid Kit
If there is one item on this list that is often overlooked but should be made a top priority, it’s a fully stocked first aid kit. For car campers, your vehicle will be close at hand throughout your trip, meaning that this could double as your vehicle’s first aid kit. We never know when an accident will happen. Are you prepared to take steps to keep your family safe?
If you haven’t already taken a first aid course, this is a great time to consider it, especially if you travel with children. It will help you assess whether your first aid kit contains everything and learn how to use it properly before the first responders reach your location.
No one wants to spend their time thinking about emergencies. After all, we don’t want to see our loved ones hurt. But the reality is that we can take all possible steps to prevent injury and still have something go wrong. It’s better to be prepared and not need it than to find yourself ill-prepared.
EVERLIT 250 Pieces Survival First Aid Kit
- Durable, portable, and water-resistant military-grade EMT bag
- Features popular survival gear including a 3-mode tactical flashlight, multi-function paracord bracelet, flint stone, knife, saber card, 2 glow sticks and a rain poncho
- First aid kit is fully stocked, exceeding OSHA guidelines for a single family or a group of friends
Next Steps to Prepare for Your Camping Trip
After you have invested in all the necessary gear for your camping trip, it’s time to consider the little things that may add to your experience. It is going to look different for every camper. Solar lights can add to the overall appearance of your campsite while making it easier to see where you’re going at night. Many campers use a tablecloth on the picnic table for a fun decoration and a clean surface for cooking and eating.
Don’t forget there is no one way to camp. As long as you are taking steps to protect the natural environment, the options are endless. Don’t be afraid to add your style to your trip, and have fun!
Do you have any additional questions about our camping checklist or camping for the first time? Let us know in the comments below.