Camping Essentials and Supplies

Avatar Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: March 23, 2020
Camping Essentials and Supplies

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There are a lot of camping supplies that you may think you need on a camping trip. I am going to list a lot of things in this post that you may need. The items in bold I feel are the most critical.

Keep in mind that some items are most suitable for longer trips or times when you are going to be far away from amenities or town.

If you are car camping at a campground like a KOA, then it is less important to have every little thing. On the other hand, if you are camping somewhere that takes 4 hours to hike into, it is more important to plan out your gear carefully and consider if you have enough supplies to be safe and healthy if you get stuck out for an extra night. Matt and I always take extra food.

You will notice a lot of bear defensive items on this list. Bears are a major problem when camping in western North Carolina and they are flourishing in small towns and cities. I advise anyone that lives in an area with a known wildlife population to consider what they need for protection. For example, in the North Cascades of Washington state, where I grew up, mountain lions were a bigger problem than bears. In fact, they put up barriers and fencing at the schools to protect kids at recess.

People do not hunt as much as they used to and wildlife in many areas is experiencing a surge in population due to the easy access to food that people throw out.

Leroy and me at Little Bear Trap. Haywood County, NC

Nice To Have But Not Required

  • Notebook and Pen, waterproof write in the rain paper and pencil can be nice in some cases.
  • Entertainment items such as a radio or deck of cards
  • Camera for capturing memories and recording interesting things

Good gear may cost a bit but it will stand the test of time and be there for you when all the cheap stuff has long been thrown in the trash.

Matt and I went fishing the other day and camped out overnight. We started talking about how long we had been using some of the gear that we had. Here are some of the stand out examples of how good gear will be with you for a long time.

My stuff sack-14 years old

Matt bought me a stuff sack for my clothes and sleeping bag my senior year of college and it still looks new even though I have used it a lot. This bag went to Alaska with me and came back and there is still not a stitch that is out of place. I remember thinking when he got it for me that he paid too much for it and that it seemed thin. Appearances can be deceiving. Good thin fabric that is waterproof and tough costs and that is something I just did not know at the time.

Matt’s stuff sack -20 years old

The common looking black stuff sack that Matt has is 20 years old. It is a little faded, but it still has no major signs of wear that would make us consider replacing it. He got it when he was 16 for camping. It is made of fairly thick material and holds his sleeping bag and extra clothes with ease.

Matt’s Therm-O-Rest- 18 years old

This camping mattress was bought by Matt in the UK when he went on a trip in 2001. He was tired of not having some padding when sleeping in places like hostels. It has since developed a leak and we plan on replacing it but 18 years and a lot of extended trips is a lot of use to get out of a single camp mattress. The surface looks fine. The leak may be patchable too but we have not checked it out.

Sam’s REI Sleeping Bag- 25-30 years old

I got my goose down sleeping bag at a flea market or garage sale for $10 when I was 19. It might have been on a trip out to Washington between semesters of college. It has been so long I forgot. I know that it looked vintage when I bought it. It was probably made in late 70s or sometime in the 80s. I would say the 80s is likely. I am still using it. If I replaced it I would need to spend quite a bit to get similar quality and weight.

Start with a basic car camping trip if you are a camping beginner or trying to get your family involved that has little or no experience.

It is easy to get discouraged if you try to start out with a major expedition or a hiking trip that requires major endurance. You will have a better time and it is more likely that others in your family will like camping more and show greater interest if you plan something simple and fun. You can get to the tougher trips later on.

Plan trips based on age and abilities of everyone that is joining in.

Just getting outdoors and camping and learning whatever you can is a positive thing. If you have older members or the family or if anyone has a disability, there are things that you can do to make it more comfortable. Car camping with inflatable mattresses or purchasing a small camper can make it possible for everyone to get in on the fun and spend time together as a family. Even if it is just something small that accommodates those that need it and everyone else is in tents, it is a way to include every one. Campers can be purchased for less during the winter or off season.

Buy local maps of wilderness areas, national forests, parks, etc, and plan out fun and interesting trips.

National Geographic has an excellent map series that is sold at every major outfitter or so it seems. These maps are inexpensive, tear proof, waterproof, and very detailed. Matt and I have used these a lot on trips and they have always served us well.

Increase length of trips as your skill level goes up

It can be fun to take a longer trip into the bush or even just stay out car camping or similar for a longer period of time than the typical weekend trip. As you gain experience, you will get more comfortable being out for longer lengths of time.

Of course some people decide that they are just not into camping for more than a few days and that okay. In fact, it is good to realize your limitations so that you can take them into consideration when addressing how you would deal with prepper situations such as bugging out or simply having to stay in the woods for a week or at a shelter during a long emergency.

Camping or hiking with at least one other person can make it more enjoyable because you can share some gear and supplies so that each person doesn’t have to carry as much weight.

Stoves, water filters, bear canisters, and more can be shared. While I think everyone should have their own personal water filter, a group or a couple that is hiking or backpacking could share a single filter, especially if the trip is not that far from other people or is just for a single night.

Even a small camp stove is fine for 2 people. Consider what you can share when planning a trip with anyone else. Just remember to double check each other to make sure that someone didn’t forget to pack something or that you assumed the other person packed something. You don’t want to get out in the bush and find out no one packed a stove, tent, or water filter!

The Beauty of Boat Camping

A canoe or small John boat can make camping a lot nicer because you can pack more gear regardless of how strong you are and how far you can walk with a 40 lb pack on your back. Matt and I used to have a canoe, but we found it was just too slow to be safe on many of the lakes that are used heavily by powerboats and pontoon style party barges.

You can fit a lot in a canoe though and they are inexpensive to own. A small flat bottom John boat with a 10 hp or larger motor can make it very easy to get around a lake and explore. We plan on getting a boat like this one day so we can explore the 400 miles of shoreline at Lake Fontana. There are so many neat areas and ruins on the lake.

If you are near a lake created by a dam, then you may find some very interesting history and places you can explore. The town of Proctor was abandoned after the Tennessee Valley Authority decided to build Lake Fontana but you can go explore where it used to be.

A boat allows you to take a power center so you can have electricity and blow up air mattresses for luxury camping. For those that are not into a big hiking trip and that want to still get a bit off the beaten path, a boat is worth considering.

Camping In Winter Vs. Summer or Spring

Camping during different seasons can be fun but you are probably going to want to start out with a trip during the warmer months of the year. Winter camping requires thicker and heavier gear and some people simply don’t like to do it.

It is very important to realize that hypothermia is a concern year round in many places.

It will sneak up on you.

It is always a good idea to dress in layers and to avoid cotton as a base layer. If you get wet then make an effort to get dry fast. People get hypothermia even when temps are 70 degrees Fahrenheit. One situation where this can happen is walking in wet clothes after getting wet in a mountain stream or swimming in cold water.

Here is a link to my post on avoiding hypothermia that details what to look out for. The signs of hypothermia can be hard to see if you don’t know the subtle signs of the first stage.

Remember that kids have a smaller mass and get cold faster. They also burn calories fast and that can make it harder for them to stay warm. Always pack extra food and ready to eat snacks to encourage a good caloric intake.

Consider group camping trips with other families or friends. If you know others that have more experience than you then you may be able to learn a lot and have a good time.

A lot of avid campers and hikers like to show others how to do things and it is a good way to gain skills. If you are a bit cautious about getting out into the woods for the first time, it can be reassuring to have a friend with you that can offer support and guidance.

There may be outdoor groups that meet in your area if you don’t know anyone or if you are new to an area. Local outfitters or prepper groups can help you find others to get out into the woods and learn with.

Set reasonable goals for your trip and realize that tv can make things look a lot easier than they are. Don’t be too hard on yourself or others in your group.

There are so many prepper tv shows and books out there that make it seem like you need to always be hardcore when getting out into the woods or that skills and endurance are easy.

Remember that all those shows you see on tv are heavily edited and that people have massive behind the scenes support teams. It is easier to be confident in the bush when you know that you have a full medical team and a helicopter evacuation at your fingertips the minute things get bad.

Some of you may already know that I do not watch any prepper or survival shows on tv or online. Youtube is different. On Youtube there are a lot of people that have private channels and are not trying to play it up for national television. I am not saying everyone on Youtube knows what they are talking about but you can learn a lot more than by watching a Hollywood scripted show.

Just getting out and camping is an accomplishment in itself. Try to learn something new or do something that makes you think on each trip. That is a reasonable goal.

Budgeting for good camping supplies

I know that I listed a lot of things in this post. I want to clarify that some can be shared so everyone in the family doesn’t have to have all these things for a simple overnight trip or car camping. It is possible to go to a campsite that you can drive to and never cook over a fire or even sleep in a tent if you have a camper cover on a truck or a vehicle large enough to sleep in.

For those just starting out and on a budget I advise just picking up a single item at a time as you can afford it. Watch out for items on eBay or at flea markets and yard sales. As I said before, my sleeping bag was used and it is still going strong. Just make sure to clean items well. Lysol or similar will kill germs and any bugs that are lurking. Personally I have never found second hand items to be that nasty but it could happen.

Shopping for gear out of season is another great way to save money. I get really nice outdoor clothing for 70% off or more by shopping out of season and sometimes settling for last years color or style. LL Bean, Cabelas, and more have clearance sections that are worth browsing when you have a little extra cash to throw at preps and camping supplies.

Ways to Reduce Weight In Your Pack

Some of the ways you can reduce the weight in your pack involved spending more or sacrificing some comfort or luxury. Here are a few methods that come to mind.

Use a hammock style bivy instead of a tent and sleeping pad

amazon product
This hammock style bivy weighs just 2.5 lbs and is rated for two people. As with any tent or sleeping bag, check the dimensions to make sure it will accommodate your body type.

You can save a lot of weight and space in a bag and possibly reduce your cost a lot by using a hammock bivy that has a roof on it. For added protection you can have a small tarp and paracord for rigging over head. This also keeps you off the ground and warmer. You can get a bivvy that is big enough for two people.

The Flying Tent shown below gets a lot of good feedback from customers but it costs $250. With tents, it seems like you get what you pay for a lot of the time so if you are serious about getting out a lot, at some point you will want to spend the money for a good tent.

amazon product

Take freeze dried foods

I know that freeze dried foods are expensive but they definitely reduce weight and many of them taste very good. If you add up the cost, it is really not that much more than what a lot of people pay for convenience food they eat all the time at home and it is far cheaper than eating out.

Buy lightweight synthetic clothing that keeps you warm and dry and doesn’t get smelly or gross as fast

While you don’t want to be caught out without enough clothing to stay warm and dry, you also don’t want to pack so much that you are carrying stuff you don’t use. Pick items that you can layer and that are made of quality fabrics that are antimicrobial and dry well. I bought a Columbia dress made of a special fabric that resists stains, doesn’t get stinky, and dries fast.

I suppose it was made for going from the trail to a restaurant or something. All I know is that I can fit it in my fist when balled up and it is a dress that goes past my knees. While I know a dress is not necessarily the best camping or trail item, it does show what a difference good fabric can make.

Consider a goose down sleeping bag

For maximum warmth and weight, I have found it hard to beat goose down. It is not inexpensive, but it sure lasts and doesn’t weigh down your bag.

Think about how much your water filter weighs

Water filters vary a lot in weight. I know that a difference of half a pound doesn’t sound like a lot to some but 8 oz here and there can really add up when packing a bag. My Hydro Blu gravity fed water filter holds 10 Liters of water and weighs just over 8 oz while my Katadyn Pocket weights nearly a full pound and I have to pump the water.

This water may look pristine but there is no way I drink water out in the bush that has not been filtered. It is really easy to fill the Hydro Blu bag and have water for a full day for two people. The bag is used with an inline filter such as a Sawyer Mini. No pumping water required so you can get more fishing time in on your trip!

Do you have anything you would like to add? Did I miss any essential gear? Please share in the comments below!

Samantha Biggers can be reached at

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2 Responses to “Camping Essentials and Supplies”

  1. Whenever I hike or camp, which I do mostly by myself with my dog, (like your picture) I take my Garmin inReach satellite communicator and GPS. It’s a personal emergency device that hangs on my belt and will send a signal to emergency responders if something happens to me like a fall, broken bones, lost in the woods, animal attack, etc. All I have to do is press the button! It gives me the confidence to hike wherever I want to because who knows what will happen to you in the woods. They are well worth the money!

  2. If it is made in titanium, buy that. If you can’t afford to buy it in titanium new, then buy used something else and save up to buy titanium. I haven’t found anything I’d ever wish I’d not had the titanium version. Which is why you almost never find titanium anything used for a bargain.

    Avoid cotton.

    Avoid blues, many bugs including black flies, very much enjoy blue. And avoid shiny or metallic looking fabric.

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