Camping Essentials: What you need for a successful camping trip

By Alex Eaton •  Updated: 03/03/23 •  14 min read

I wouldn’t recommend cooking out of a coffee kettle. But during a camping trip in the mountains outside Leadville, Colorado that’s exactly what I did. While unpacking for dinner I realized I’d left all my pans at home, leaving me no choice but to cook where I steep. Even though I can look back and laugh now, the experience lead me to document all my camping essentials from top to bottom to make sure it didn’t happen again. I prefer my morning coffee to taste like coffee and not last nights veggies and sausage. 

As I put together that list I realized there’s a lot more than just gear that goes into a camping trip. There are many aspects of planning I take for granted when I prep for a weekend away. So I wrote it all down, and today I’ll share more than 20 years of camping experience to help you have a successful trip.

In this guide we’ll cover:

One reminder before we dive in: this guide is focused on car camping in campgrounds, but I’ll note specific changes for dispersed camping and backpacking throughout to show you how things change for different types of camping. Let’s get to it!

C.A.M.P.S. – 5 groups of must-have camping gear

CAMPS acroynm spelling comfort activities meals poo sleep with tent image

An easy way to remember everything you need is with the acronym C.A.M.P.S. This is how I run through what gear I need for every camping trip whether I’m backpacking, car camping, or dispersed camping. It’s an easy mental check to make sure you aren’t forgetting anything vital. The gear we walk through in this post will be organized by C.A.M.P.S. to show you how it works in reality. 

Comfort—Includes clothing, tools, and everything you need to deal with the particular weather during your trip.

Activities—What do you like to do while camping? I like hiking, reading, and photography so I always have a list of those particular items to bring. Maybe you like music or fly fishing or card games. This area is highly specific to you. 

Meals—What will you eat and how will you cook it? This includes both camp kitchen supplies and cooking ingredients. Most importantly, it also includes water.

Poo—Everybody hurts poos. Depending on where you’re camping your needs for going to the bathroom and general hygiene will vary. But don’t worry, this doesn’t need to be stressful and we’ll walk through what you need no matter the situation.

Sleep—This includes your tent and sleep systems, the core of your campsite. 

When I think through CAMPS I am asking myself questions for each area while I check through my gear. How and what will I eat? How will I sleep? How will I go to the bathroom? What are we doing this trip? It makes everything easier to think through. Add in a checklist and you’re sure to be the one in your group letting your friends borrow gear instead of the other way around. 

The camping essentials list

Grab our checklist and use it as a template to customize your own packing list over time. Camping is personal, so this should act as your starting point not the final word. 

I personally use this checklist in an Apple Note when I pack for every trip. Some people like physical paper, but I find this to be easy and simple since I can use the checklist feature and mark gear off as I go. For your convenience, I’ve got three ways you can use our checklist here. Download the PDF above, use the interactive checklist below and bookmark this page for use later, or you can copy and paste the interactive checklist into an Apple Note for yourself using this Google Doc. Use what works best for you!


Includes clothing, tools, and everything you need to deal with the particular weather during your trip.



Hygiene & More


What do you like to do while camping? I like hiking, reading, and photography so I always have a list of those particular items to bring. Maybe you like music or fly fishing or card games. This area is highly specific to you, so some ideas are included to get you started. 


What will you eat and how will you cook it? This includes both camp kitchen supplies and the ingredients itself. Most importantly, it also includes water.


Depending on where you’re camping your needs for going to the bathroom and general hygiene will vary drastically. If in a campground with toilets you may just want extra toilet paper and hand sanitizer. If you’re dispersed camping with no toilets available you need to have a plan for your poo. Either pack it out or bury it using LNT principles (6 inches) – check regulations where you’re camping as some places don’t allow burial.


How will you sleep? This mostly includes your tent and sleep systems. 

Camping info to know before you go

camping under trap with dogs during rain
A good example of using a tarp as a backup plan for rain

Before we start packing there is some key information you should have decided. 

  1. Campsite—Where are you camping? Do you need a permit, or a reservation? Check the bottom of this post for resources on how to find a good campsite.
  2. Money and ID—Cash is king at many campgrounds. Have cash, card, and your ID on you just in case. 
  3. Backup plan—What will you do if bad weather hits? If you’re dispersed camping, where will you go if spots are taken?
  4. Leave No Trace principles. Know them and use them.
  5. Campfire regulations—Are you allowed to have campfires where you’re going? What are the rules around firewood? Often you’re not supposed to bring firewood with you from home due to insects and diseases that can spread. 

Gear: Creating your camping kit

When looking at gear try to think about what your overall outdoor needs and hopes are. Since I enjoy backpacking just as much as car camping, I buy backpacking gear and use it for both. I would rather have one item I can use instead of two versions. This doesn’t work for everything, cooking equipment for example, but when I can I use one piece of gear across all types of camping. 

To start, I’d recommend making sure you feel good about your sleeping and cooking systems first, everything else you’re more likely to have a version of at home. The essentials list below has some recommendations, look at them with this in mind: Get outside first with what you have, then upgrade what matters. For example, I upgraded my tent, sleeping bag, and coffee setup because those items get used a lot and make camping a better experience for me. But my trusty cast iron pan gets used at home and out camping, because why have two? Over time you’ll learn what gear matters to you and what you should spend on.

Camping supplies most people forget (and how not to!)

My coffee kettle cooking experience told above shows what happens when you forget gear. While I like using some items for both home and camping, this might be a good argument against that. Let’s talk a bit more about common gear campers forget and the two main ways to never forget anything again.

The most commonly forgotten items are the small accessories or items you use both at home and while camping. Forgetting an item can create hilarity, but also stress you don’t need during your escape from city life. Here are a few items I’ve forgotten on trips in the past to make sure to have in your kit:

  1. Extra batteries for battery powered devices
  2. Fuel for camping stoves.
  3. Lighter or matches (campfire or your camp stove)
  4. Headlamp
  5. Cooking oil, pans, spatula, and spices.

There are two main ways to reduce forgetfulness. First, is use your camping essentials checklist when packing. The second is a piece of gear I recommend to be at the very top of your list, which is a camping storage box. A camping box is a beautiful piece of gear, serving as tote, cutting board, chair, weight, and more. It’s the quiet, reliable foundation on which your kit is built. All the small items you’ll use when you go camping should go in here and stay in here. You should look for a box with a minimum 14 gallon capacity. Any smaller and you’ll struggle to fit your bigger items in like your kettle alongside everything else. 

I recommend the Rubbermaid Actionpacker due to its size and durability. You’ll use this box for years. Growing up, we used Rubbermaid Roughneck Storage Totes (18 gallon) from the garage. These work great too, and lasted many years before they would split or break handles from weight and rough use. It’s difficult to find a single Roughneck tote for sale online, but head to any home improvement store and you should be able to find them or a similar product. 

Find a place to camp with these resources

There are a multitude of options when it comes to car camping from national parks, to BLM land, to private campgrounds. Below is a list of resources I’ve used to find campsites in the past. Many are focused on a specific type of camping, but its worth spending some time with multiple of them to find your favorite or which one works best for your region. 

Camping essentials for women

While some items specifically for ladies are included in the checklist above, it’s worth sharing a dedicated list of items for women here. Everything on this list is recommended by the experienced mountain guides and outdoorswomen who I’ve adventured with for years. Their setups are dialed in and built from experience. Thanks to their packability, these items are all great for backpacking just as much as car camping too.

Camping essentials for your dog

campsite with dog laying on blanket

I wouldn’t dare go on a camping trip without my pup Scout. We’re at our best exploring the mountains and outdoors together, but there are always considerations to make when bringing your pup along. First, make sure where you’re camping allows dogs and know the regulations for the larger land you’ll be camping on. National forest and BLM land is typically more relaxed, but if you’re in wilderness areas or set campgrounds there will likely be leash laws. Once you’re set on that, packing is actually easy. I apply the same CAMPS system to Scout to make sure I never forget anything. I’ve also included a special dog section in the checklist you can download. 

Onwards and outwards

Camping is the best way to unplug from daily life and reset. I hope this guide makes it easier for you to take your next camping trip and make it a successful one. 

If you used this guide to go camping, please email us at [email protected], we’d love to hear all about it. If you think something is missing from our checklist or this guide email [email protected]

Alex Eaton

I'm Alex, the founder of Lore. My life outside started with camping trips in southern Indiana as a kid, and has taken me across the world. My goal is to give you the tools and confidence you need to pursue the outdoor life you want.