Camping Checklist: 15 Items to Always Bring

Camping is an enjoyable recreational pursuit and a valuable prepper skill at the same time, and one that you would be well served to partake of.

man camping in the woods
the woods somewhere in Ohio

Camping allows you to get out into nature and disconnect from the stresses and static that are so attendant with modern life.

It is a great way to recharge your batteries, but it is also a necessary task if you are ever forced to bug out as a direct consequence of an SHTF event.

Camping proponents from various schools of thought all have their take on what “real” camping is and what it isn’t, but generally we are referring to moving into a wilderness area on foot carrying what supplies you need with you on your back or sourcing them from the surrounding area.

Sure, it is possible to camp using an RV or your vehicle as a base, providing many of the same amenities that you have at home but in my opinion, this does not capture the true spirit of camping.

Heading into any natural environment entails a certain amount of risk without proper camping knowledge, and whether or not you are going out for an overnight pleasure jaunt or an extended, multi-day expedition there are some supplies you simply should not leave home without, no matter what. Below is a list of 15 items that you should always have with you when camping.

1. Water

Water is an essential survival resource that you cannot afford to be without while in the wilderness. You can survive for weeks without food but only a couple of days without any water.

Even before a couple of days is out, you’ll be so badly debilitated from dehydration that you’ll find it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to put in the work necessary to survive. Trust me; a death by dehydration is absolutely grueling.

The obvious solution to this survival requirement is simply to have water on hand at all times.

A large water bottle or canteen will get you started, but remember that since water is so heavy you won’t be able to carry all of it that you’ll need on foot. Plan on acquiring more water from natural sources while you are out. That brings us to…

2. Water Filter

If you are going to be refilling your water supply from natural sources you’ll want a water filter to make it safe to drink.

Modern, compact, high-efficiency water filters are nothing short of marvelous and are capable of removing every trace of debris, dirt, and nasty, invisible germs from the water you find turning it clear and refreshing in the process.

There are way too many filters on the market to even begin listing them here, but there is a variety, and a price, to suit every requirement.

Some units act like an oversized straw that will allow you to drink directly from any water source while others screw in or integrate with your container and filter as you collect the water.

Everyone has their preference, and both are viable, the important thing is that you have one.

3. Flashlight or Headlamp

If you have never been camping before you’ll probably be pretty surprised to see just how dark the world is when you are away from civilization.

Being anywhere near a large settlement greatly increases the overall ambient levels of light, even in the middle of the night, compared to the remote wilderness.

The darkness hides many dangers, not the least of which is the simple danger of becoming disoriented or tripping over something that you can’t see.

Prevent this unhappy and unfortunate occurrence by investing in a quality flashlight or headlamp and bringing along some extra batteries.

Flashlights, as a rule, are more versatile and have greater throw range than headlamps, but headlamps don’t require hands, obviously, and work best as close-range utility or navigational lighting.

4. Outwear, seasonally appropriate

Probably the single, biggest mistake I see people make when camping is forgoing the inclusion of appropriate outerwear to keep themselves warm when temperatures drop.

You might live in a temperate zone in the middle of summer, but that doesn’t mean that conditions cannot change such that you could be at real risk of hypothermia.

Nightfall always sees the temperature decrease, and if you get wet or soaked with sweat from perspiration and then have to put up with even a gentle breeze you’ll be shedding heat like crazy.

Don’t risk it, since exposure is statistically the single biggest killer of people who find themselves in an outdoor survival situation.

Even compared to running out of water, exposure kills very quickly, and as little as a couple of hours when conditions are just right, or rather perfectly wrong. A warm jacket and headgear might make all the difference in a survival situation.

5. Fire-Starting Kit

Probably the most fundamental tool that you won’t rely on when camping, or in an outdoor survival situation, is that of fire.

Fire has done so much for mankind that it is no wonder that it is central in virtually every myth from every age around the world.

Fire keeps us warm, provides light, cooks our food, chases off predators and, not for nothing, gives us a much-needed mental boost when we are in the middle of a hostile and unforgiving wilderness.

Naturally, you’ll always want to include a fire starting kit in your camping gear. Much effort and ink have been spent discussing virtually every permutation of what makes the ultimate fire-starting setup.

Generally, a couple of cheap but reliable lighters, an alternative fire starter like a ferro rod, and some hot-burning tinder are sufficient so long as you can find some usable fuel in the surrounding area.

6. Hiking Boots or Shoes

It drives me crazy and furthermore is more than a little depressing. I’m referring to people who wear inappropriate shoes or other footwear out into the wilderness.

I cannot count the number of people who have trotted out into the woods or elsewhere wearing flip-flops or some other contrived, fashion-forward footwear when they should be wearing functional boots or shoes that will protect their feet both from unstable terrain and from the many hazards that lurk on the ground.

There has been more than one legitimate survival situation developed because someone was out on a pleasurable excursion in easy country but injured their foot, and so was unable to move or was unable to move at anything faster than a snail’s pace.

You don’t want either to happen to you, so make sure you wear lightweight, quick drawing but tough hiking boots or trail shoes whenever you head out camping for real.

7. Knife

Talk to any seasoned outdoorsman, hunter, guide, or camper and ask them which tool they are completely unwilling to leave behind during their travels, and they will likely tell you that it is their field knife.

The camping knife, field knife, survival knife, bush knife, or whatever you want to call it is another elemental tool that is well worth the wait and space in your pack when you head out camping.

More than anything else, the knife will help you accomplish the many chores and tasks that you’ll have to attend to in the wilderness and around camp, and just as importantly it can also serve as a formidable weapon when push comes to shove or shove comes to antler if you take my meaning.

We don’t need to get into all the details right now, but you’ll never go wrong with a compact, stout fixed blade knife, and a sturdy secure sheath to keep on your belt.

8. Space Blanket

Space blankets, also called emergency blankets, are those crinkly, silver, or copper-colored giant foil blankets you often see wrapped around people at the scene of an accident or disaster.

The reason you see them is that first responders carry them, and the reason that first responders carry them is the same reason you should carry one when you are camping: They are ultra-compact, ultra-lightweight, and can keep you surprisingly warm despite their next-to-nothing mass.

Space blankets accomplish this more or less the same way that wrapping some hot food in foil helps keep it warm after it’s been cooked.

The reflective, metallic surface of the space blanket bounces infrared radiation, that’s heat energy, back at your body that would otherwise be lost to the surrounding atmosphere.

Pretty neat, if you ask me and these devices are so affordable and so effective they always deserve a place in any camping pack.

9. Ground Pad

Whether or not you prefer to use a sleeping pad without camping, if you even need one, a ground pad is an essential item.

Why? For starters, and in almost every instance you will find the ground to be pretty damn uncomfortable to rest on, full of irregular depressions and protrusions, roots, rocks, pebbles, jabby sticks, twigs, and all sorts of other detritus that will make getting meaningful rest difficult or impossible.

It will also keep your body out of direct contact with the ground which always acts like a giant heat sink and can chill you, especially in cool weather.

Your ground pad can be a solid, rollup piece of dense, springy foam or an inflatable type that you blow up using lung power or a tiny, included pump for the purpose.

Both have their proponents, and both kinds have their advantages and disadvantages, but the important thing is that you have one.

10. Bug Spray

Bug spray is a non-negotiable inclusion in a camping kit, as far as I’m concerned. You might think mosquitoes, biting flies, and other aggravating critters are intolerable when you’re trying to enjoy some cocktails on the back patio with friends.

Believe me, you have never experienced the infernal misery that is the teaming cloud of biting insectoids it seems to be present in every corner of untouched wilderness.

It stands to reason you will want a can of bug spray so you don’t get covered with welts and lose your mind from aggravation.

There are lots of good bug sprays on the market, but generally you will want to use one that contains DEET as they are the most effective against the most voracious and potentially dangerous biting critters.

If you are worried about odd chemicals being absorbed by your body, you can also make use of all-natural formulations that seem reasonably effective.

11. First-Aid Kit

A first-aid kit should be an automatic inclusion in any wilderness excursion. There is ample opportunity to get injured while out and about, camping or not, and a first aid kit can prevent a minor injury from turning into a major problem.

Remember, the risk of infection is a far greater risk, and much more likely, out in nature than it is in our clean, tidy, and sterilized society.

A passable first-aid kit will have supplies for treating minor boo-boos and illnesses and also a few things for more substantial injuries.

Band-aids, antiseptic wash, first aid tape, individually packed doses of medication for various ailments, liquid stitch or super glue, burn cream, bug and sting treatment, tweezers, moleskin, rolled gauze, and ace wraps will take care of most problems.

12. Duct Tape

Duct tape is the butt of many jokes and gags since you can apparently do anything and make anything with it, but this nearly mythical reputation is actually well deserved.

Duct tape can be used to:

  • craft needed tools
  • repair your equipment
  • prevent blisters
  • craft your knife into a spear
  • stop a leaky tent from ruining a good night’s sleep
  • hold together a blown-out backpack
  • keep a damaged flashlight functioning

Truly, there is no end to the problems that can be solved by duct tape.

But, not all duct tapes are created equal. The quality of the fabric backing and the stickiness of the adhesive means everything, and for a wilderness survival situation you want more of both.

You should definitely invest in the more expensive brands of duct tape for inclusion in your camping kit.

My favorites are Gorilla brand duct tape and T-Rex tape. Note that you can wrap the length of this tape around a thin object like your flashlight to reduce its overall size and weight in your pack.

13. Ziploc Freezer Bags

You might have done a double take at seeing this inclusion on the list but we are taking Ziploc freezer bags with us not for carrying delicious leftovers into the field, though they can do that too, but instead because they are a supremely useful piece of gear to have and also a worthy piece of a survival kit.

Heavy-duty zipper bags can be used to keep gear dry, keep messy items from contaminating the rest of your gear, or even hold water reliably in a pinch when you need to carry more with you.

It is even possible to cut one open and fashion it into a wound dressing or chest seal for penetrating injuries. Pretty cool if you know what you are doing.

You would be wise to invest in genuine Ziploc brand freezer bags with the traditional, clicky zipper strips instead of that strange slider that never seems to work as well. These really do hold up and will go the extra distance when you need them to.

14. Tarp

A tarp is another one of those sublimely multi-purpose pieces of gear that you will wonder how you ever got on without once you start taking it camping with you.

A common, sturdy tarp can be used for all kinds of purposes, including fashioning into a shelter as a tent or bivouac, a ground cover, a windbreak, a sunshade, a privacy screen, and even a rain catcher. That is a lot of capability for a single piece of lightweight gear!

As with so many items on this list the devil is in the details. You want a heavy-duty tarp that is durable, water-resistant, and packing strong, sturdy grommets but not one that is so heavy it will weigh you down.

You might not be able to find one that fits the bill at your local hardware store, so order one if you need to and you’ll be glad you have it.

Consider getting one that is brightly colored, or at least brightly colored on one side so you can use it as an emergency signal if you get into a jam.

15. Cordage

A sizable roll or hank of cordage is another one of those items that you truly cannot get along without when camping. You’ll use cordage to set up and secure your tent or tarp, hang things from nearby trees, craft tools, and all sorts of other endeavors.

You are limited only by your imagination and your skill with knots, so consider this your call to action to start brushing up on your not tying skills.

Everyone has their favorite cordage, but chances are you’ll wind up carrying some variation of paracord, that supremely strong and ubiquitous string that is all the rage and every sphere of outdoor activity.

This is with good reason, as paracord provides an excellent cross-section of extraordinary strength, versatility, and modest cost, but if you want to reduce bulk and don’t plan on doing any life or death maneuvers with it you can use an accessory cord to much the same effect.


Camping is always a worthwhile excursion and you can make sure you are prepared for an enjoyable, meaningful, and safe outing by taking along the right gear.

The items included on the list above represent some of the most universally useful things that any camper could want, no matter the situation.

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