10 Camping Essentials for First-Time Campers

Camping is one of the most natural, relaxing, and beneficial activities for your body and mind. Suppose you’re looking to find something to help you reset and escape the hustle, bustle, and stress of our screen-promoted, plugged-in lifestyle. Camping is among the best ways for you to disconnect and reset from an otherwise digitally overloaded life.

We’ve compiled a list of 10 camping essentials to help break down the barriers for those of you first-time campers. Camping experiences can be quite enjoyable with little gear, but some items will make or break the overall experience.

Here are 10 must-have camping essentials to bring with you

If you’re a first-time camper, your essentials include a tent, sleeping bag and options, cooler, first aid kit, food, water, lighters/matches, cutlery/bowls, stove, and toiletries. Below we will discuss specific needs that you will need to address with each of these necessities, what to look for with each, and answer some lingering questions you might still have about camping.

1. Camping Tent

Camping Tent in the Woods

One of the most important things you need when traversing the outdoors is shelter. Since we aren’t planning on doing anything crazy, Bear Grylls-level outdoor excursions, you will need to purchase a tent.

One of the first things you have to consider is how many people are going. If it’s just yourself, you can simply find a two-person tent. If you have 5 people going, you should consider a 5-person tent or even something a little bigger for storing equipment and bags.

There are several different types of tents out there for those who are more avid campers, but as an article structured for those who are beginners, I would suggest just a simple dome tent. These types of tents are common and can be easily picked up from Amazon or a local Walmart or Target.

Just make sure you check how many people you need to fit in it and whether or not it’s water-resistant.

2. Sleeping Bags, Mats, Cots, etc.

Sleeping Bags in a Tent

If you walk into any sporting goods section, you will see many different options when it comes to camping and sleeping. A few of these include blow-up beds, cots, and sleeping bags. The thing is, no matter if you decide to use a cot, a blow-up bed, or opt for a sleeping mat, you will want to have a sleeping bag.

Sleeping bags are pretty versatile. You can open them up to make a huge blanket, which is good if you’re sharing the quarters, or zip it up just to fit yourself inside. This aspect is more of a preferability thing. You can certainly try the option with one sleeping bag and use it as a huge blanket to start with.

The second side is opting for what you will be sleeping on. If this is your first camping, you are most likely not sleeping on a hard floor or surface every night. Sleeping mats can help soften things up and can be pretty comfortable. They also fit inside your sleeping bag.

Sleeping Mat Being Rolled Up

Another possible option is a blow-up bed. This currently is one of my favorite things to use when camping. You get the comforts of a regular bed, and unlike the ground, it’s not so hard on your body. Things to consider include how many people accompany you on your trip, as you will need to get one or more than one depending on the number.

The third option would be a sleeping cot or air mattress. These can be popped up pretty easily and keep you from having to lay all the way down on the ground. They also fold up quite nicely and remain compact and easy to travel with. Sleeping cots are a great option for people with difficulty getting up off the ground or older people with medical issues.

3. Cooler or Ice Chest

Group Carrying a Cooler on Beach

If you’re planning on camping, you’ll need to pack some food and water with you and keep it at the appropriate temperature! Having a trusty cooler on hand will help to solve this problem. For the most part, you don’t need anything super special, and there are a crazy number of options here.

If you plan for your trip to be relatively short (within a 1-2 nights stay), you can get by with a standard small cooler that will easily fit in your vehicle. There are even styrofoam coolers with lids at your local grocery stores that work well for this in the event you want to dispose of it for whatever reason.

If you’re looking for something more permanent to use for camping, picnics, and other outdoor ventures in the future, consider a basic Coleman insulated cooler. Of course, you can find much larger and more advanced feature-packed coolers that have wheels, compartments, drain spigots, and more.

As long as the cooler is properly insulated and will hold the food necessary for your trip, this is nothing to sweat over. Just make sure everything fits in it and that it fits in your vehicle!

4. First Aid Kits

Man Holding a First Aid Kit

A must for any trip! A basic first aid kit with burn ointment, bandages, tweezers, and an antiseptic like Neosporin will do the trick. If you’re planning to do some hiking, something to add to your kit would be moleskin, just in case you get any blisters!

It’s easy to overlook this item, but it’s also quite easy to just order one of these first aid kits. It never hurts to have an extra first aid kit hanging around the car, as we’re all prone to take a spill every now and then. This is especially true if you have young children around!

5. Food

What some people assume when it comes to food is you have to eat the food in the camping section that’s packaged like military-grade MREs. This is an incredibly wrong assumption! You can eat real food when you camp!

Some of the best things you can grab are individually packaged chicken, tuna, and a pouch of rice. Make sure, though, to read the packaging before choosing! Try to find things that only require water to cook, if, of course, you’re not bringing any milk.

Yes, you heard me correctly, if you aren’t bringing milk! You can bring cold food if you want. It’s a complete misconception that you can’t possibly bring cold food when you go camping. You do have a cooler, after all!

If you plan on bringing cold foods, keep them stored roughly around the middle of your cooler to keep them cool. We typically bring sausage links for sausage dogs, milk, eggs, or bacon. Basic seasonings are also important to pack, as salt and pepper go a long way.

Don’t forget the smores ingredients!

6. Water

Staying hydrated is one of the most important things, as you are going to be outside for the extent of your trip. You also have to be able to clean your dishes, cook your food, and bathe yourself. This is why it’s one of the essentials!

Considering the importance of staying properly hydrated and maintaining good health during your camping trip, some individuals even opt for IV treatment in Los Angeles or other suitable locations, as a proactive measure to boost their hydration levels and immunity before embarking on their outdoor adventure.

When we go, we typically fill the cooler with bottles of water to make sure we have cold water on hand. We also bring a gallon or two of water specifically to use for cleaning, dishes, ourselves, and cooking. This is all done to make sure we have enough water.

Pro Tip: Freeze a few bottles of water the night before! When you put them in your cooler, they will keep your cold bottles cold but will also slowly thaw out so that you always have cold water.

7. Lighter, Matches, Flashlights

You can never go camping without building a fire! This is why you keep a lighter or matches with you!

When camping, there are several cool options out there, but for a beginner, the usual lighter or matches will do perfectly fine, but if you want to yield on the safe side, you can always pick up a waterproof lighter.

As campgrounds don’t have any lighting of their own other than your campfire, don’t forget to bring flashlights or lanterns!

Flashlights are best for when you’re walking around your campsite and need to illuminate certain directions. When you’re in your tent, though, a lantern-type light or a hanging light is best.

My tent has a small plastic hanging area on the ceiling, and I have this puck-like light that hangs from the ceiling of my tent that has 3 different modes, bright, dim, and a small nightlight.

Pro Tip: Check the batteries the night before and be sure to bring extras just in case.

8. Cutlery, Bowls, Frying Pan

Having the appropriate cutlery, let alone a proper frying pan for camping, is essential, especially if you want to prep your food properly. A basic pre-seasoned cast iron skillet can be your best friend when cooking abroad. They’re super easy to cook with and tolerate outdoor conditions quite well. Not to mention, they’re super easy to clean.

Regarding cutlery, basic forks, knives, spoons, paper plates, and napkins are simple enough to grab at a local store. Just make sure you’re packing enough for everyone and taking into consideration all meal and snack times. If you’re brave enough to bring your own, you can do that, but know that you’re putting them at risk of being damaged or lost in transit!

If your meals are going to require a bit of prep, you would be better off grabbing the stove-safe utensils from your home or if you’re worried about them getting damaged while camping, buy a cheap spatula and tongs to use while cooking. Nothing here has to be expensive as long as it works!

9. Grate or Stove

Food Cooking on a Grate Over Fire

There are a few different ways to cook food on your camping trip. Of course, you can cook things on an open fire, and it’s made a lot easier when you have a metal grate to cook upon. You can put pots, pants, and other things on this directly. There’ll be some cleanup, but that’s expected.

Alternatively, you can always buy a more reliable camping stove if you don’t feel comfortable cooking it over a fire. Camping stoves are pretty easy to use.

Choosing a stove depends on who and what you’re planning on cooking. If you plan on feeding many people, you would want to opt for a more heavy-duty camping stove with multiple burners.

  • If only one or two people are going on this trip, then there wouldn’t be a need for something so heavy-duty! One or two people would do well with a 1 burner option stove.
  • If you were feeling a little more adventurous, you could try using a portable bottle-top stove instead, as it’s lightweight and easy to store.

Pro Tip: Don’t walk out the door without bringing the proper fuel for your stove!

10. Toiletries

This one is all too common but necessary, as I don’t think any first-time campers want to be in a position to wipe with leaves. Even the sound of it is a little uncomfortable. To make things feel a little more homely, make sure you bring toilet paper, deodorant, paper towels, and garbage bags.

These basics will make your camping experience manageable and hopefully that much more enjoyable.

Additional Tips for Your First Camping Journey

  1. Practice camping at home first! This is a great dry run to ensure things go smoothly as you camp.
  2. Don’t forget any batteries you might need for your lanterns or fuel for your stove!
  3. Freeze a few bottles of water! When you put them in your cooler, they will keep your cold bottles cold but will also slowly thaw out so that you always have cold water.
  4. Condition your cooler. You might not have heard of this before but put ice in your cooler the night before you go camping. This will bring the cooler temperature down to that of the ice and help the ice stay longer.
  5. Don’t forget bug repellent and sunscreen, especially in the spring and summer seasons.
  6. Have fun! Camping, in general, is a learning experience; as you camp more, you will figure out your preferences more as you go. This is just a simple list to help guide you in the right direction.


Camping can seem daunting, but it is easy to start! This list is just a starter list. A lot of camping is just being in the situation and finding out what you need. Don’t be too upset if you find something is missing; improvise the best you can. That’s part of the fun of camping.