What to Bring


Water is the most important survival need, and a rule of thumb is to drink 2 liters of water a day or more, especially if you are in very hot climates. If you're staying in a frontcountry campground, filling up a water jug is one of the first things to take care of when you arrive. You need water to drink, cook, and clean. In the backcountry, selecting a camping spot near a water source is important.
  • A collapsible water jug takes up less space, but you sacrifice a bit of durability.
  • A hard-sided jug can be more durable but takes up more space.
  • Bring refillable water bottles for personal use.
  • If you're bringing a cooler and carrying weight isn't an issue (frontcountry camping or backcountry camping in a boat or raft), freezing a few gallons of water in a plastic container can help keep your things cold for a bit. Then simply let it melt if you need more drinking or cooking water.
  • If you are in the backcountry, you will need to filter or purify the water you drink and prepare food with. Bring a water filter, water purification tablets, or boil your water.
A jug of water and four water bottles sit on a picnic table
Water is essential for life.

NPS Photo / Mackenzie Reed


Food preparation and cleanup is part of the rhythm of life. Meal planning is important when you're camping, you'll want to make sure you brought enough because it may be a long way to the grocery store, especially in the backcountry! You'll also want to make sure the foods you brought are light enough to carry, if you're hiking, and easy to prepare. So what are some ideas of what to bring?
  • Focus on dry foods like rice and pasta. You'll save space and weight, plus you don't have to worry about keeping them cold. This also helps to reduce odor when cooking, which is an important consideration in bear country.
  • Food storage is important. You don't want that essential ingredient to roll under a car seat while you're rummaging through your things, so staying organized and keeping everything contained will help you out a lot. What's more, keeping things clean will prevent animals from getting into your food. If you're frontcountry camping, you might want to bring a cooler to store refrigerated items, and you'll also want to have a container for the rest of your food to keep things organized. Backcountry campers may need to use a waterproof bag to hang their food. If you're staying in bear country, you may need to make use of a food storage locker in the campground. Check with your park for specific food storage policies.
  • Pack foods that come in packages you can flatten, such as plastic bags or boxes, rather than jars and cans. That will save weight and space.
Crumpets cooking in a cast iron skillet
The type of camping you select will often determine what food you bring with you.

NPS Photo / David Restivo

Shelter and Bedding

Camping involves setting up a home away from your home. You will need shelter and bedding to rest your head.
  • Tent - Tents come in many sizes and shapes. Dome tents are popular because they offer the most interior space with the least amount of material, which saves weight if you're backpacking. If you're purchasing or renting a tent, keep in mind that a two person tent means there is room for two people to sleep inside, not two people and all their gear or pets. But in order to save in space and carrying weight, it's usually wise not to bring more tent than you need.
  • Hammocks - Some campers prefer to sleep in a covered waterproof hammock. This saves weight and space, but you may be out of luck hanging it if there are no trees around. Also, many parks do not allow you to tie ropes to trees. Please check park regulations before bringing a hammock.
  • Sleeping pad - Before you unroll your sleeping bag, you'll want to lay down a ground pad to provide some cushion under your body, but, more importantly, to keep moisture from accumulating beneath your body. This will rob your body of heat and you'll be cold. Foam pads are the most inexpensive solution, but they're bulky and not terribly cushioned. Air mattresses can be more comfortable but usually require an air compressor to inflate. Pads that are a hybrid foam and air offer the best of both worlds.
  • Sleeping bag - Sleeping bags come in various shapes, sizes, thicknesses, and materials. Use a sleeping bag that fits your personal comfort needs, size, and that matches the temperature and weather conditions for your location and time of year. An alternative to a sleeping bag is to use 2-3 blankets.
  • Pillows - They are a bulky luxury item, even if you're car camping. To save space, try bringing a pillowcase and fill it with some of your extra clothes.
  • Rain/sun shelter (optional) - Some car campers like to bring a pop-up shelter or dining fly that can protect their dining area from sun and rain, and for some models with screened walls, insects. Many frontcountry campgrounds do not allow you to tie ropes to trees, but if you can, you can use a rope and tarp to create a rain shelter or wind screen.
  • Tip - Before turning in for the night, change into dry clothes. You'll be much more comfortable!
  • Tip - If it's really cold outside, you might be tempted to stick your head into your sleeping bag to stay warm. While this might be comforting at first, breathing inside your sleeping bag introduces a lot of moisture, which will make you feel even colder in the long run.
A man unrolls a sleeping bag inside a tent
You will need shelter and bedding for your home away from home.

NPS Photo / Kent Miller

Cooking Supplies

If you love cooking in camp, here are a few basic supplies you should consider bringing with you. You may want to be selective in the supplies you bring with you in the backcountry -- not everything will fit in your backpack or be light enough to carry. Many of the supplies below can be found in a backpacking version that is smaller and lighter.
  • Knife
  • Cutting board
  • Flipper or tongs
  • Cooking grate
  • Skillet Pot (1-2)
  • Camping stove (propane or white gas) + Fuel
  • Cups
  • Plates
  • Silverware
  • Tip - camping mess kits are handy; they can be used for personal cooking and eating. They typically assemble into a tidy package for compact storage, and contain a plate, skillet, small pot, and cup.
Colorful tableware and utensils on a picnic table
Cooking supply examples.

NPS Photo / Mackenzie Reed

Cleaning Supplies

Camping can be a dirty activity! You will want to keep a clean camp, even if you are outdoors.
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Scouring pad
  • Wash basin (3 basins, one for soap, one for rinse, one for sanitizing)
  • Paper towels or rags (Pro tip: Microfiber rags are very absorbent and lightweight)

Personal Hygiene Products

Just because you're camping doesn't mean you have to be a caveman (unless you want to be). Personal hygiene is important.
  • Small bar of soap
  • Washcloth and small towel
  • Toothpaste, toothbrush, floss
  • Feminine hygiene products

Last updated: July 2, 2024


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