Camping is arguably the ultimate exercise in not leaving important things at home – tent poles, sleeping bags – there are lots of items that can instantly ruin your trip if forgotten. However, there’s also a host of brilliant little items that can really boost your camping enjoyment, or at the very least leave you with enough time to relax and take in all that glorious scenery.
Read on for these ultimate camping essentials, and to discover the one item you should never, ever forget to pack. But first, let’s run through some of our favourite camping cheats for packing your gear correctly, choosing the best place to pitch up, and, um, why flip flops are the ultimate campsite footwear.
Camping essentials: clever hacks and tips
Our top camping tip is also one of the cheapest: buy a newspaper. They can be stuffed into damp hiking boots to speed drying, and are ideal for lighting fires if you’re lacking natural materials. They can also be drafted in as a last-ditch bit of insulation in a real survival emergency.
Another camping hack is to pack everything into as many separate colour-coded drybags as you can afford/face dealing with. Not only does this keep your sleep stuff and base layers dry and separate from your outdoors clothes, the colour-coded bags mean you can grab the right items quickly and easily.
For example, you could use green drybags for day wear, blue for sleep wear, and so on.
Drybags can also be used to keep things separate that just don’t mix well, like toiletries and food.
Another camping tip is to think about wind direction when choosing your pitch. Ideally so the wind isn’t blowing directly in the door of a geodesic tent or across a tunnel tent, which will gently collapse. You also need to think about sunrise – if there’s a north facing shadow to pitch under, you’ll get a few more minutes of cool snooze before the inferno begins early morning.
Finally, think about your feet. Especially if there’s plenty of hiking taking place during your camping trip. If that’s the case, pack some ‘camp slippers’ or a pair of flip flops that you can change into to walk comfortably around the campsite. This will also give your swollen feet a chance to breathe. Oh, and if there’s one thing you’ll really, really love come the morning, it’s clean and dry hiking socks, so pack a pair or two. You can even wear them as mittens at night if you get chilly in the tent.
Camping essentials: the one thing you should always pack
We have no doubt that this will be a hotly contested item. After all, ‘the one thing you should always pack for camping’ varies depending on the type of camping you do and how long you’re going for. For some of our team, a luxury camping pillow is The One. For others, it’s a do-it-all camping knife. But there is one item we all universally agreed upon…
A portable charger. That might sound obvious, but these are a godsend around the campsite for keeping your phone and other tech charged. Yes there’s usually a plug socket to be found somewhere on site, but these get very busy. And anyway, who wants to sit in some random room minding their precious phone of an evening?
With a wireless power bank you can juice up your phone or action camera, for example, in the comfort of your tent while you sleep.
There are loads of these on the market, but the GoalZero Sherpa 40 is an excellent choice, knocking out a decent 12,000mAh and 4.8A USB combined outputs. It’s ideal for charging pretty much anything that uses USB-C, micro USB, or Lightning connectors.
Pair that with something like the OneAdaptr Twist, and all your car and campsite power problems will be resolved in one neat little package.
Camping essentials checklist: car camping
Car camping is probably one of the most luxurious ways to holiday outdoors, as you stuff every home comfort imaginable into your car then deck out your tent upon arrival. Big camping coolers, high-rise inflatable camping beds, and extendable camping tables fit for an al fresco banquet… There’s no end to the camping equipment you can buy for car camping holidays.
That said, and especially if you have a small car, there are some absolute essentials that you should always take with you when car camping. In no particular order these are:
- A camping tent well-sized for your group
- Warm sleeping bag for spring/autumn camping or a lighter sleeping bag for summer camping
- Camping bed, either a cot or an inflatable
- Pillow (one from your bed is fine)
- Camping stove for making hot drinks and food
- Camp cooking set, ideally with cutlery
- Camping lantern to read and play cards by
- Head torch for finding your way to the toilet block at night
- Earplugs to block out noisy camp neighbours
- Portable charger for your gadgets
- Camping chair/s
- A water-resistant picnic blanket
- Flip flops for walking around the site
Camping essentials checklist: wild camping, backpacking
Unlike those trips when you’re travelling to a campsite via car, you’ll want to travel as light as possible when hitting the trail and carrying your gear on your back. As well as the essentials such as a sleeping bag and roll mat, adding in some extra small comforts goes a long way to helping you relax after a long day on the trail…
- A hiking and backpacking tent
- Buff neckwarmer and face cover
- Roll-up or inflatable camping mat
- Backpacking rucksack (45-60L is ideal here)
- Peaked hat
- Reusable water bottle that filters river/puddle water
- Sunglasses (category 4 if you’re exploring in the mountains)
- Sunblock – these small roll-on sticks are great for topping up
- Lightweight sleeping bag for adventurers
- First aid kit (ideally with Compeed blister plasters)
- Flip flops, again to let your feet breathe after a long day
- Trowel, loo roll and hand sanitiser in a drybag
- A lightweight ereader for reading in your tent before lights out
- A mini camping lantern to illuminate your tent
Camping essentials: 7 handy items to take on your next trip
1. Victorinox Spartan Swiss Army Knife
The classic bottle/tin opening, bread-cutting wonder-tool. A genuine ‘lifesaver’ in pocket form, this is an inoffensive yet excellent camping knife meets multi-tool for every minor camping food-related duty. It’ll also come in rather handy for odd jobs around the tent, or if you’re out on the trail and collecting kindling for a fire. This Spartan PS lends a matte tactical look to proceedings into the bargain.
2. LifeStraw GO
You’ll probably have a water bottle already, but this one is different in that you can use it to drink water from streams, rivers and even puddles. That’s because it’s a water filter bottle capable of removing up to 99.999999% of bacteria and 99.999% of parasites.
It’s the ultimate gadget for backpacking, hiking, camping and survival situations, as it means so you can fill up your water bottle in the wilds and drink safely whenever you need to.
3. Jetboil Flash Java Kit
Just because you’re in a tent doesn’t mean you should have to go without great coffee, and the Jetboil Flash Java Kit is one of the best portable coffee machines for espressos outdoors. A simple coffee press that fits into Jetboil stoves, the Flash Java Kit gives you fresh coffee with ease. It’s even been revamped to make cleaning it easier.
4. ENO Lounger DL Chair
ENO are well-known for their hammocks, and this camping chair is essentially what happens when you add legs to a hammock. Enormously comfortable, portable, and with two leg positions (fold flat for beach use, for example), this robust but comfy portable seat is a camping classic in the making. One to sink into and savour when the sun is setting on the horizon.
5. Goal Zero Crush light
Light up the night and party! There are precisely four million camping lights on the market, but this ingenious design punches well above its negligible weight. Packing down almost flat, the crush light expands into an attractive lantern that can be hung inside or outside your tent, the latter being a good choice to charge the integrated solar panel on sunny days. With a 35-hour runtime and a max output of 60 lumens, this will be a winning addition to your camping kit for many holidays to come.
6. Quechua Hiker’s Camping Pan Set
This camping cooking set is genius. It comprises everything you and three camping or multi-day hiking trip buddies need to eat and drink outdoors: four bowls, four mugs and four sets of cutlery. Plus, a frying pan with a collapsible handle, a saucepan with fold-down handle, and a lid that doubles as a strainer. We’ve been using ours all summer and wouldn’t go camping without it now.
7. Sea To Summit Ultra Sil Dry Sack
As mentioned earlier, dry sacks are a brilliant way to keep different types of clothing and camping accessories separate. The Ultra Sil Dry Sack comes in a variety of colours, so you can colour-code your dry sacks by item type. They also come in a range of sizes, from XXS up to a whopping 35L, which we’d use more as a camping duffle.