The first time I went camping I had visions of the scene in The Parent Trap where the twins are trying to get rid of their stepmother. You know, where they push her out into the lake on her air mattress while she’s sleeping.

This is what I thought Tyler was trying to do to me. Get rid of me by taking me on this camping trip.

We got there after dark, there were bugs that looked like they came straight out of The Lion King, and my sleeping pad was sub-par.

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But when I saw that sun come up the next morning and the light reflecting off the river, I was hooked.

sunset behind the trees on the Pigeon River
This was the sunset view on the Pigeon River from our campsite at Fox Fire Riverside Campground in Hartford, TN.

A camping trip does take a good bit more prep work than your typical vacation but it’s totally worth it. I’ve put together a list of all the tent camping essentials that you might need so you’re not scrambling to try and figure it all out the night before.

This list focuses on all car camping essentials so you definitely don’t want to use it if you’re going backpacking. I would hate to see how heavy that pack would be.

Camping Gear for the Campsite

The campsite gear is truly a list of your tent camping essentials. Meaning these are the ones that you really don’t want to leave at home or you’ll be sleeping out under the stars. Literally.

Tent

Obviously for tent camping you’ll need a tent. For most climates a three season tent is fine and you’ll need to make sure that your tent has a rain fly.

If you’re car camping, your tent won’t need to be super compact or lightweight so any regular three season tent that’s large enough for all your people is fine.

When looking at the size of tent to buy a two person tent is large enough for one person and their gear or two people, a three person tent is large enough for two people and their gear or three people and so on.

A good quality tent will last you for a few seasons so make sure to invest wisely.

Check out the reviews for the 2-person NEMO tent and the 2-person Mountain Hardware tent.

A Tent is set up with a picnic table, camping chair, and fire pit with a fire going. All of the necessary tent camping gear.
You can see most of our tent camping essentials here. This was at Grandfather Mountain Campground.

Tarp/Ground Cover

You’ll need something to go under your tent to make sure that if it rains the water doesn’t pool up under you. This can be done with a large tarp or you can buy a dedicated ground cover.

The tarp should be laid out where none of the edges are showing outside of your tent under the rain fly.

This all-purpose tarp will work just fine, it’s cheap, and comes in multiple sizes.

Table

A table is helpful especially if you plan on cooking most of your meals. Some sites already have a picnic table so make sure that you check before you pack one.

Otherwise a folding lifetime table works just fine.

Campsite Chairs

A good camping chair is completely underrated in my opinion. After a long day of outdoor adventures you don’t want to sit in an uncomfortable chair around the fireplace.

Find a chair that is comfortable and you love to sit in and a bonus if it’s compact. I love my Sunset Chair by Helinox.

Being compact isn’t a huge deal when everything gets thrown in the car so that doesn’t have to be a factor. I also love the outdoor foldable rocker chairs.

Need some ideas on where to camp? Check out these top places to camp on the East Coast!

Sleeping Gear

sunrise view beyond a cliff with tent camping essentials in the foreground
These are the views I’m after when I go camping.

This gear will make or break your camping experience. If you don’t have good sleeping gear and aren’t getting a good night’s sleep you won’t be happy.

Or maybe that’s just me, I don’t know. I’m assuming other people are a grouch when they don’t get any sleep either.

Sleeping Bags

A few things to think about when buying a sleeping bag are how cold will the weather be, what shape bag would you like, and what material.

You should purchase a bag that is rated at least 10° colder than the weather that you plan on being in. The ratings on the bag mean they will keep you alive at that temperature – not comfortable.

If you don’t plan on sleeping in super cold weather, you can also buy a rectangular sleeping bag and lay it out over your sleeping pads then take a quilt or fleece blanket for your top layer to sleep under.

If you want to think about sleeping the traditional way though, you’ll need to figure out if you want a rectangular or a mummy sleeping bag. For colder weather a mummy bag is best but rectangular gives you more room.

The two materials you can buy are down or synthetic. There are pros and cons to each material and REI goes into detail about both.

I’ve been using this Marmot mummy bag and am loving it so far. Mine is bright blue instead of purple. NEMO sleeping bags also have great reviews.

Sleeping Pad

Finding the right sleeping pad can make a heck of a difference in your camping experience. I’m all for roughing it and sleeping in the woods but I’d like to be comfortable while I do it.

Some would say I’m a weenie. I’ll take it.

There’s a wide range of sleeping pads from ones that are compact, ones made from memory foam, self-inflating, etc. The list goes on.

By far and away the best sleeping pad I’ve found is the Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Self-Inflating Sleeping Mat.

I am sure there are other good ones (and even better ones) out there, but this one blew me away the first time I tried it.

Did you know that motorcycle camping was a thing? Photo courtesy of my Dad from when he and my Mom took their motorcycle to the Florida Keys!

Quilt/Fleece Blanket

You can use a blanket a few different ways. The first is like I’ve already described – if you want to lay your sleeping bag out and use a blanket as the top cover.

The next is you can sleep in your sleeping bag like normal and use the quilt or blanket for additional warmth.

As long as it isn’t a really nice blanket you can use it outside while you’re at the fire if it’s supposed to get really cold at night. I would only do this with an old blanket as I’m funny about my blankets getting dirty.

I love the patterns on these cute blankets.

Pillow

You don’t have to bring a pillow because you can actually use the bag that your sleeping bag comes in. When you stuff it with clothes it works just fine.

If you want to be super comfortable though then you can bring your pillow from home or they make inflatable camping pillows that are pretty nice.

If you want to try out the inflatable pillows you can check the reviews here.

Camp Kitchen

Cast iron pan and pot on top of a grill with some steaks. A few of the tent camping essentials.
My kind of camping meal!

I had no idea how much fun cooking was when you go camping. There are so many fun camping recipes to try and getting everyone involved in the cooking process makes it even better.

Camp Stove/Grill

When you are car camping you can carry a much larger camp stove than if you were backpacking. My husband uses the same one that his Dad used when they would go on camping trips together.

It’s a Coleman and has held up incredibly well. Another go-to that we use is a Weber charcoal grill. It’s small and perfect for two people.

You want to think about what type of fuel you’ll want to carry around with you because that determines what you can cook on.

Some people love cooking over the campfire but that just takes too long for me. I get hangry easily.

The new models of the Coleman 2-burner stove are reasonably priced and hopefully will last you forever too. Of course, you can’t go wrong with the Smokey Joe.

Fuel

Like I said, the fuel is important because it determines what you will bring to cook on. Make sure you also have plenty of fuel especially if you’ll be far from a store.

A few different fuel types are gas, propane, charcoal, or a mix of propane and other fuels like butane. There are pros and cons to each and REI does a great job of explaining how to choose between the fuel types.

Dutch Oven or Cast Iron Pan

Tyler won’t go anywhere without a cast iron pan. Until I met him I actually had no idea how useful cast iron was.

A dutch oven or regular cast iron pan comes in so handy while camping because it cooks evenly, is easy to clean, and doesn’t stick when you get the pan hot enough.

The key is having the pan hot when you put your food in it.

They are so versatile as well. You can literally cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner in it. Truly a handy piece of cookware to have around.

When it comes to cast iron I think Lodge is the only way. They make a sturdy and durable dutch oven. If you plan on cooking something messy then don’t forget the liners. They make cleanup much easier.

Spatulas

We love bringing along a good metal spatula. It’s tough to cook when you forget this one. Make sure to bring one that you can use with your cast iron and on a grill.

We like bringing a large spatula that will work for hamburgers or steaks but also work for cooking eggs in the mornings.

Check out this foldable spatula or take the whole grilling kit.

Reusable Plates & Utensils

The easy thing to do is pick up a pack of paper plates and plastic utensils when you go on a camping trip. However, the best thing for the environment is to get a reusable set of plates and utensils.

We are really trying to think about our environmental impact and create less waste and recycle where we can.

There are some great utensil kits that pack up pretty small and easily stackable plates. You can also buy the whole mess kit set that comes with a plate, bowl, utensils, and sometimes a cup.

If you have trouble keeping things together then get a clear plastic bin and keep all your camp cookware in it. When you’re ready to go camping you just toss that in the back of the truck or car.

Gallon Jugs of Water

People underestimate how much water you need for a camping trip. Always bring more than you think you should.

If you are front country camping then it isn’t as big of a deal, but running out of water without a store nearby can be dangerous.

You can also bring your own water purification system whether that is the LifesStraw or the purifying tablets.

Camp Food

The fun part! I love figuring out what we are going to eat. If you need some inspiration be sure to check out The Adventure Bite and Fresh Off the Grid for camping recipes.

We usually pack a cooler with sandwich meat, eggs, bacon, and condiments as the basics. Then we’ll also bring bread and then some Clif Bars for snacks.

All that’s left is what you plan on eating for dinner. If you bring along your dutch oven, then you can also make some delicious desserts pretty easily.

Clothes & Personal Items

Camping gear and hiking boots spread out over a pad.
Invest in a good pair of hiking boots and you won’t regret it!

I won’t expand on these too much as it’s all pretty standard for any trip you take. You just need to make sure that you bring clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty.

Hiking/Outdoor Clothes

When I go camping I always pack leggings, quick-dry shorts, and t-shirts. I’m obsessed with this Lululemon tank and these shorts right now. If it’s cool then make sure to pack plenty of warm clothes and a jacket.

During the summer it’s always good to bring along a bathing suit. For colder months bring toboggans, gloves, and scarves.

Since you’ll have plenty of room in your vehicle for clothes might as well be over-prepared.

Headed camping in cold weather? Check out how to plan a winter camping trip!

Pajamas

Always bring other clothes that are dedicated to sleep in. You wouldn’t want to get your everyday clothes wet and then have to sleep in them.

This is usually just an extra set of t-shirt and shorts for me or thermals in the fall or spring.

Socks

Bring PLENTY of socks! It is so important to keep your feet clean and dry. I love the crew cut socks with my hiking boots and Darn Tough has some fun patterns.

If your feet get cold at night then you may want to bring some extra socks to sleep in as well.

Underwear

Another basic necessity. Don’t forget underwear and girls bring plenty of sports bras. Personally, I like to bring a little more than one pair per day.

Hiking Shoes

I was a hiking shoe skeptic. For a long time I was just too cheap to buy a pair of hiking boots.

Let me tell you though – I bought the Merrell Moab 2 boots last summer and am a converted believer.

Hiking boots give you so much more support and stability when you’re walking over uneven ground. Well worth the price paid in my opinion.

Toiletries

If you don’t have a toiletry bag already put together then I highly recommend that you make one. Mine is as simple as a quart Ziploc bag.

I keep shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap, shaving cream, and hair mousse all in this little bag. They are all travel size and whenever I go anywhere I just toss that in my backpack.

One reason I love car camping is there are typically shower houses at most campgrounds. I love being able to take a hot shower each morning.

Miscellaneous Camping Gear

Some things just don’t belong in a category. Nevertheless, they are important too.

Toilet Paper

If you are camping in one of the areas that don’t have a bathhouse then it’s important to bring your own toilet paper.

Probably a good idea to bring it anyways and you’ll want to store it in a resealable bag or container so it doesn’t get wet.

First Aid Kit

You never know what could happen so it’s always nice to be prepared. You can either make your own first aid kit or buy one that’s premade.

Keep this with you at all times so if you go out on a day hike from camp or anything else just make sure to toss it in your pack.

Portable Charging Bank

Yes, some people think you should completely disconnect while camping. However, I like to have my phone in case of an emergency and to take photos.

A portable charging bank comes in handy if you don’t have good service all day which can quickly run the battery down or if you have to use your phone for GPS or something like that.

Check out this portable power bank if you need one for your next trip.

Daypack

I am a huge fan of The North Face backpacks. Mine is an aqua blue color that I used in college and now it’s basically my adventure bag.

I’ve had this thing since 2013 and it’s still going strong. You can find the Borealis backpack at this link but they don’t have the bright blue color anymore. Shame.

My traveling backpack that I purchased for my trip to Europe is the Osprey Farpoint 40L. I am equally as impressed with it but I just haven’t had it quite as long.

The 40L wouldn’t make a good day pack, but anything by Osprey is quality. Something like the Daylite or the SirrusⓇ 24.

Flashlight/Head Lamp

These are game-changers when you arrive at camp after dark. If you don’t have a flashlight or headlamp then you are really out of luck.

They come in handy when walking around camp after dark like getting in your tent or if you need to walk up to the bathhouse.

Make sure you bring some extra batteries with you too.

Fun Things to Bring Camping

A hammock between two trees, tent, and fire pit on a campsite. These are the tent camping essentials.
Our camp setup at Fox Fire Riverside Campground. I love my Eno Hammock!

None of these items are really “essentials” but they enhance the experience. So why not bring them?

Bluetooth Speaker

This is great for when you’re all just hanging around camp or fixing dinner. A little background music is always good.

I would only bring a speaker that’s waterproof just in case it randomly starts to rain and especially if you are near a lake or river.

Do be mindful of other campers. If you are close by to other sites then this may not be the best idea. Don’t disturb other people’s peace.

We have this JBL speaker and it’s fantastic. Waterproof, good sound quality, and plenty loud.

Hammock

I LOVE hanging up my Eno hammock when we go camping. It honestly may be one of my favorite things.

It’s so peaceful just to hang out and read or take a nap. These are great to throw in your daypack for a hike as well. Take a picnic and you’ve got the perfect spot to eat lunch.

Games

Games can be fun to bring for any downtime in the afternoon or even after dinner when you’re sitting around the campfire.

A few fun ones are cornhole, ladder ball, giant tic tac toe, or Jenga games. These can just add a little bit to the experience.

Stargazing App

One thing we’ve had a lot of fun with lately is a new stargazing app. It’s called SkyView and when you open it up on your phone and point it at the sky it shows the constellations you are looking at.

What’s neat is that the constellations are almost shown as art work in the app.

Picnic Blanket

I am a huge fan of packing sandwiches when you go out on a hike and eat somewhere scenic. 

You’ll want somewhere to sit though and if there’s nowhere to hang up your hammock you can throw out a picnic blanket. These are also useful if there isn’t a picnic table at your campsite.

A generic outdoor blanket like this one will work well.

Is there anything else fun that you consider in your tent camping essentials?

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This list of tent camping essentials will help you easily plan out your tent camping checklist! Don't leave home without this camping gear for your trip. The list is centered around car camping so it's best for folks who plan to car camp. #camping #carcamping #tentcamping #campinggear

16 Comments

  1. I love the article and camping. A few favorite things I have found is a drawstring backpack for shower stuff because you can hang it on hooks in the bathhouse. Solar garden lights near the tent and glow sticks for inside night light. Extra shoes and water shoes are a must. I always use water shoes in the showers. Lastly I love to cook foil pack recipes on the grill. Happy camping ❤️

    1. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment Pam! 🙂 Glad you liked it and you have wonderful suggestions yourself.

  2. A very useful post. You have accumulated some really good pointers and tips for campers. Bookmarking it for my future camping expeditions. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I’ve done quite a few road trips with a campervan but I have yet to actually camp out in a tent, so thank you for sharing these great tips!

    1. Ahh and I would love to take a trip in a campervan! Tent camping is super fun though. Highly recommend trying it!

  4. Such a useful list! I’ve just spent a week camping in Tasmania & I’m so glad I took a good quality tent so I stayed dry in the rain . Also a good insulating sleeping mat to keep out the cold & a cosy sleeping bag help so I slept well!

  5. Great camping tips and list! One of my fave items I recently started bringing camping are solar-powered lights. Camping is so fun and it’s super important to be prepared, so this list is perfect!

    1. Oh yes! I’ve seen the little solar-powered lanterns. Those are perfect for a camping trip. 🙂

  6. Love the Parent Trap reference. I can’t wait to go camping . Such a great list of camping essentials .

    1. Haha glad you liked it! Hope you get to go camping soon!

  7. I’ve always fancied the idea of camping but haven’t had much experience – and wow! I’ve severely underestimated the preparation that goes into these things. Like this is literally the first time I’m hearing about a tarp!

    1. I was very surprised the first time that I went! It’s definitely something that takes a bit of prep work.

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