Camping Essentials, What Do I Need To Get Started

If you are new to it, figuring out what camping essentials you need to get started can be a bit overwhelming. I think the BEST First Step is to decide what kind of camper you are going to be.

Are you going full mountain man and bringing the family along? Will this be 2 or 3 weekends a year because you now have a kid in Scouts? Did you tag along with a friend and decide this is what you want to do every weekend now?

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No matter which type of camper you plan on being, the list of camping essentials you need to get started isn’t really that long. It may seem overwhelming but in reality there’s just a few basics you need to get your first trip under your belt. The rest is just add on creature comforts.

3 Top Camping Essentials

If we take a look at any decent survival show, Survivorman with Les Stroud being my favorite, the host will tell you its just 3 things you need. Water, Shelter, Food. It really is that easy.

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For the Mountain Man you are going to need a way to purify the water you collect from a stream. On second thought, you are going to need a way to collect it from a stream, then a way to purify it.

The Mountain Man has a few options here. You can get yourself something like a Lifestraw. We actually have two of these in our Day Hiking pack as a Just In Case. We used them when we backpacked Yellowstone and it is WAY easier than trying to figure out how to capture, boil, then cool water in an emergency.

camping essentials

You literally just put the filter end in any water you can find, and drink it through the other end. I know that may sound like not the brightest of ideas, but the filter is tight enough to remove any and all bacteria that would make the water unsafe to drink.

Another option is to have a light weight campfire pot or even a percolator. I chose to carry the percolator in my back country pack, because there was no way I was going without coffee no matter how far from civilization we were going to be.

You can dip it into a lake or stream to fill it, then bring it to a boil on your camp fire to kill any bacteria that may be in it. For an added bonus, you can use to to make yourself some Pine Needle Tea if you aren’t feeling well. (What’s pine needle tea you ask? Read on and find out!)

camping essentials

For the rest of the first time campers out there, odds are, you aren’t going to be far from a water faucet. There is no need to pack 30 gallons of water for every person for every day you’re at a campground.

You can usually get away with a gallon jug or two in your cooler, and just refill it as needed from the spigot at your campsite or from the sink at the nearest rest room.


Every camper needs a decent tent. I honestly recommend staying away from the super fancy ones and keeping it simple. The more flaps, and doo-dads and things it has, the more stuff that has a possibility of breaking.

You want something light weight, water proof, and easy to set up. The tent we use is big enough for the 3 of us and our dog to all fit in at a campground. It is also small enough and light enough to be used as a back packing tent. Setting it up is literally as easy as dump it out of the bag and pick up the center.

Let me tell ya, if you are just getting into back pack camping, a tent that sets up that easy is going to come in really handy. The last back packing trip we went on, we were sweating in the sunshine and less than 30 seconds later it was downpouring.

camping essentials

Don’t forget to bring a season appropriate sleeping bag and a bed roll for sleeping. Believe it or not, most of your heat loss at night will be into the ground you are sleeping on. Properly insulating yourself is going to make a big difference on how well you sleep.

camping essentials

Camping Food

This section is probably the one we will hear the most flack about. Let’s be honest here, we don’t all eat the same stuff. My Cajun buddy Corey isn’t packing the same thing my Montanan buddy Vaughn is. And I will guarantee I’m bringing different stuff than both of them from the Jersey Shore.

Sure there will be stuff that is on all of our lists, like burgers and dogs. There’s is nothing wrong with keeping it simple on your first few trips out. If you are campground camping you have even more options than the Mountain Man does.

Your biggest hiccup is going to be cooking. Do you pack a small camping stove or plan to cook over the fire. Pro Tip: Don’t forget the utensils for either one like we did our very first camping trip.

camping essentials

For back pack camping you are going to want high calorie, high protein. We have done everything from ordering a box of MRE‘s and splitting them, to making our own Just Add Water meals for Yellowstone.

Again your biggest hiccup is going to be cooking. If you plan on doing just add water meals in your camping pot, did you remember to bring matches or a lighter? Even if you did, did you get caught in that downpour right before you got to camp and now they’re soaked? Make sure to have a flint and steel as a backup.

On that same note, now you’re cooking in the rain. This is where the MRE’s came in handy. Just a cap full of water into the cooking pouch to activate it and heat up dinner while sitting in the tent out of the rain. (Just make sure you aren’t in bear country if you do)

We have run into both Black Bear in Yellowstone and Grizzly in Glacier while hiking in the back country. If you are going to be in bear country, best to carry a can of bear spray just in case.

camping essentials

Now I know there are many many more variables here. The focus here was for the Very First Timer, who may not know what they absolutely need to get started and doesn’t have a limitless budget. These few items, along with a good attitude can turn any extra weekend, into family fun and memories.

See you on the trails…

Oh, I almost forgot. Pine Needle Tea…

Pine needle tea has actually turned into a favorite evening back country camping treat at the end of the night. It’s also super high in Vitamin C too.

What you want to do is grab a few fingers of needles from a pine tree. Pull the needles off. Take any of the brown where they attach to the branch off.

Put all of your greens into hot boiling hot water and let them steep in it for a bit, just like you would with a tea bag.

Now remove the needles and drink in the nice hot pine needle tea. One thing we have learned is that all evergreens have a different flavor. Don’t believe me? Try it, then let us know which one you like the best over on our facebook page!

Now, if you’re thinking about completely checking out of reality and joining the Full Time RV crowd, you should read our article on How To Sell Everything And Hit The Road.

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