The 16 Essential Camping Items, According to Eater Editors
From an easy-to-set-up tent to an utterly indispensable Very Big Spoon
Less might be more, but when you’re camping, the opposite tends to be true — at least in terms of your comfort at the campsite. For supposedly being all about a simpler, more natural style of travel, camping involves a shit-ton of stuff. To help sort through which stuff is key, and what’s just a bulky perk, we asked a handful of Eater staffers who double as camping enthusiasts to share the key pieces of equipment that have made their camping lives a breeze, from an instant tent to solar-powered fairy lights to a sleeping mat that feels like a hotel bed.
A quick tent: Coleman Cabin Tent with instant setup
Don’t get me wrong — I am (or was) an extreme camper, so much so that I didn’t ever sleep in tents. Just a tarp, a sleeping bag, and the stars. But as a full adult person with children and various anxieties, I now require shelter for our camping trips, and the best one I’ve found is this Coleman “cabin” style pop-up tent that requires zero engineering or architecture degrees or really much futzing at all. It’s also tall, so I can fully stand up in it (great when getting dressed), and it springs forth in minutes. Bonus: It’s easy enough to set up that it gets frequent use at home as a quick playtime fort for the kids. — Lesley Suter
A versatile sleeping bag: North Face Cat’s Meow 22 sleeping bag
If you’re looking to do some basic to moderate level camping and need a good, warm, lightweight sleeping bag, the Cat’s Meow by North Face is a good option. The fabric isn’t thick, like an old-fashioned sleeping bag (you’ll want a pad to lay down underneath), but it is cozy and fully zips up over your head if you like that trapped-in-a-bear-suit, Midsommar feeling. — Brenna Houck
A sleeping mat: Exped MegaMat Duo 10 sleeping pad
Recently I’ve been loving my car camping mat, the Exped MegaMat Duo 10. It’s the new sleeping Cadillac for your old, worn back; the dusty winner in sleeping well after camp dinner; the one I hold aloftest as being the softest. (Note: Duo is intended for two people, and fits perfectly between the tire wells of my Subaru Forester for in-car camping; single-person versions are also available.) — Farley Elliott
A floor mat: Adventure Mat foldable rubber mat
Camping in the desert or on the beach is dreamy, but it’s also gritty. Enter: the adventure mat. I’m not sure how many true adventures call for a mat, but it has an ingenious folding design that keeps the upper side clean, offers a safe place to put on shoes, and helps trap sand on its way into your tent. — Meghan McCarron
A portable gas stove: BRS ultralight stove
It’s the tiniest thing, and comes in at under $16 on Amazon, but it’s sturdy enough for solo hikes, fits literally anywhere, and hasn’t given up the ghost yet (and when it does, I’m happy to score one for another $16). — FE
A bigger but still portable gas stove: Coleman 2-burner propane stove
For when you need more than one pan going at a time, or a little more stability for that heavy cast iron, it’s time to bring in the (slightly) bigger guns. The gold standard camping stove is a Coleman two-burner stove, and I won’t disagree. But take it from me and test your connections before you head into the wilderness to avoid discovering any surprise kinks (and thus, not heat) miles from home. — LS
A cooler (or coolers): Igloo Flip and Tow 90-quart cooler
If you don’t have the stomach to splurge $400+ on this cooler that’s more of a mini-fridge, then this very large, very sturdy, very wheelable cooler from Igloo will hold everything you need and keep it cold for several days at one-gazillionth the price of other fancy military-style options — all while doubling as a bench or even a prep table. We can’t not recommend some of the smaller (read: less expensive) Yeti coolers for things like drink ice or a few “must stay ice-cold” perishables. — LS
A multi-tool: Classic Swiss Army knife
I remember when I got my first Swiss Army pocket knife for Girl Scout camp in the mid-1990s. It was shiny and red and came with fun little tools beyond the sharp cutting instrument. Unfortunately, I lost that one, but when I could afford it I went back and bought another one. Call it nostalgia, but it’s handy in a pinch if you need a corkscrew and always useful for whittling marshmallow sticks. — BH
A collapsible camp sink: Tiawudi 2-pack collapsible sink
Sorry, but you have to do the dishes while camping, and having the right equipment makes a huge difference here. These collapsible plastic sinks are big enough to fit a whole plate or pan for scrubbing, and fold up for packing — and because you don’t want your dish station blocking the views. — LS
A folding dish rack: Bamboo dish drying rack
Again, doing dishes is the actual worst, but a little bamboo dish rack folds flat and lets those cute enamel plates dry in the open air, and makes your kitchen set-up feel more, well, kitcheny. — LS
A prep table: Wuromise outdoor folding picnic table
Surface area is your friend while camp cooking. You need a place to chop, do dishes, set up your stove, and just generally do all the cooking. If there’s a large enough picnic table at your site, great, but having an extra, lightweight folding table will give you a lot more to work with and leave the main table free for crucial card-playing. I like this one that includes under-table storage for all your cooking bits and bobs. — LS
A really big spoon: 12-inch enamelware spoon
If you’re already going for a maximalist camp kitchen, don’t forget the serving (and stirring) utensils, especially a big spoon — bonus points if it’s pretty. Mine is a white and blue speckled enamelware spoon, sort of like this one, that I bought at the gift shop at Capitol Reef National Park. — MM
A lantern: Luci Original inflatable solar light
Somebody gifted two of these little LED lanterns to me a few years ago, and they’ve come in handy more times than I can count. The design is nifty in that they’re lightweight and can be flattened down to the depth of a few sheets of paper. Not to mention they give off plenty of light in an enclosed space like a tent, and recharge with the power of the sun. — BH
Some mood lighting: Mpowered Luci solar string lights
If you’re setting up camp for a couple days, it really makes a difference to give it some homey touches, especially when it comes to light. Rechargeable fairy lights are often sold for tents, but they also punch way above their weight when it comes to creating good vibes around the fire pit. — MM
A headlamp: Black Diamond Spot 350 headlamp
One of the main reasons I go camping is for the inky-dark, star-studded nights, but I am a soft, modern human who only knows how to stumble through said inky dark. A headlamp is an essential safety tool to toss in your pack for a long hike, but mostly you’ll use it for trips to the bathroom or reading a book around the fire, and you’ll be very grateful you have it for both. — MM
And finally, easy nature access: America the Beautiful pass
It’s $80 a year and gets you into any national park, onto forest land, BLM land, etc. It’s a net good for the park services overall because it front-loads them with known income, it encourages you to get outside, and it helps you skip lines and save money at busy parks like Yosemite. — FE
Some other clutch items:
Jars: Great for presoaking oats and beans, but also storing leftovers, and can double as a cup, candleholder, salt well, and all-purpose vessel.
Zip-top bags: It’s ironic how useful these are while camping, with how terrible they are for planet Earth. Silicone ones are more eco-friendly, but also take more cleaning. You decide.
Plastic cutting boards: Wood is more, er, woodsy, but plastic is light and easy to clean. The thin roll-up ones are even better.
Dish towels: You’ll want to dry off that cast iron so it doesn’t rust, and have something to wipe your hands when they get covered in ash and grill juices.
Foil: Truly the camping superstar.
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Rachel Jung with Rayco Design is a graphic designer, illustrator, and adventure addict creating her passions within the outdoor culture.