Bright red dome tent pitched on idyllic sand dunes
Bright red dome tent pitched on idyllic sand dunes | Photo: Getty

This isn’t going to be an “X Camping Products You Can’t Leave the House Without” sort of article. That’s really not our style. We had a look at some other camping essentials articles online and had a bit of a giggle. You can take a whole load of things camping if you really want to. “Tent carpet for a spot of luxury” was one of our favourite camping essentials. Camping chairs, clothes lines and folding tables also made it onto the list. We guess they could be essential in a certain type of camping, but certainly not the kind we had in our heads. Usually the kind that involves carrying everything on your back.

6 Seriously Essential Camping Essentials

But we realise that might be a narrow-minded view of camping. Not everyone wants to lug all their camping equipment around on their back. So we thought we’d go back to the very basics and work upwards, adding layer upon layer of luxury until it can’t really be called a camping essential any more. Tent carpet, we’re looking at you.

1. Camping Essential: The Tent

“Hmm,” we thought. “What are camping essentials?” Well, a tent is pretty essential. If you don’t have a tent you aren’t camping, you’ve just fallen asleep on the floor. Yes, yes, we hear you all you crazy bivvy-bag owners, but if that was camping they wouldn’t have invented the word bivvying. Same goes for hammocks: cool, but not necessarily camping. Plus, as we all know, camping is intense (in-tents, geddit? Oh, never mind).

Some things you’ll want to look out for in a tent are:

  • Is it waterproof enough for your camping trip?
  • Is it windproof (and will the wind break the tent poles)?
  • How big is it? Too big and you’ll be freezing at night. Too small and it’ll be a bit of a squeeze.

Great, that’s camping essential number one sorted. Now whatever you do, if you pitch your tent with the intent to sleep in it, you’re camping.

Wild camping in the Lake District.
Wild camping in the Lake District. Photo: iStock | fotoVoyager

2. Sleeping Bag

With that in mind, a sleeping bag is pretty essential. Most people intend to get some sleep in their tent – although whether they actually manage it is another question altogether! You’re not obliged to sleep. If you want to have a one person party in your tent all night, that’s fine by us. But you’re going to get quite chilly without a sleeping bag.

Even if you’re in a really hot place – like the Sahara or something – it gets cold at night. It’s well worth checking what the average night time temperature is of the place and time of year you’ll be camping. You might be quite surprised how cold it gets. Plus it will help you pick the right sleeping bag for the job. Unless,, of course, you are in fact camping indoors (which defeats the point Dave!). Then it won’t get cold and you should just pull a duvet in, make a pillow fort and be done with it. We’re all adults here.

Demonstrating a sleeping bag and roll mat… we kind of recommend you sleep in the tent though!
Demonstrating a sleeping bag and roll mat… we kind of recommend you sleep in the tent though! | Photo: Getty

3. Roll Mat or equivalent

If we’re calling sleeping bags essential, we probably ought to put a word in for the humble roll mat. These vary from a thin roll of foam to a luxurious inflatable mat. Although it may not seem like much, the extra insulation between you and the floor of your tent really helps to keep you warm. This is especially true if you’ve gone with a down sleeping bag. It’s easy to compress the down underneath you, allowing the cold from below to seep through.

Of course, that’s really only the beginning of camping mattresses. If you don’t have to carry it, and your tent’s big enough you could take a camp bed. Or a full on air mattress (it’s basically a Thermarest, right?) or a water bed. Your options are endless. Anything that will keep you warm and off the ground will do nicely.

4. Food and Drink

What else? Well, food is pretty essential. You could just stuff your face before you leave the house, pop out for a night under canvas and head home for breakfast. That’s kind of like the equivalent of an espresso shot of mid-week camping. But could we tempt you to a drop of hot chocolate during your night under the stars? Even if you make it beforehand and pop it in a flask. There’s something very lovely about sitting outside your tent with a mug of warm drink, gazing out into the sunset.

A gas stove in action on a camping adventure
A gas stove in action on a camping adventure | iStock: frantic00

If you’re cooking dinner, you’ll need a camping stove and all the things that come with it: fuel, lighters and a spoon. The day you forget your spoon and have to squeeze your dinner out the boil-in-a-bag is a sad one. You’ll need to bring enough food to stop you from going hungry too, maybe including breakfast. Or the number of a really committed pizza delivery guy. “Yes, we’re a little hard to find. Would you like an eight figure grid reference?”

5. Clothes

Well, clothes are pretty important in all situations. Except, we suppose on nudist beaches. But since, in most cases, you’re unlikely to go anywhere without them, clothes have sneaked their way into being a camping essential. Kind of by default. Still, you may as well bring clothes that are useful for camping in. You know, like warm ones and ones that keep you dry. We really recommend layers here: micro-fleeces, fleeces and a great big snuggly jacket on top. And something to sleep in that isn’t any of those things, in case they get wet. A merino top and bottoms baselayer set works well, plus a spare pair of dry socks.

A man in a puffy blue jacket in front of mountains
Wrapping up warm, even if it is sunny! | Photo: Getty

3 Less-Essential Camping Essentials

Right, we think that covers the absolute essentials of what you need to call an activity camping. You’ve got somewhere to sleep, something to sleep in and enough food and drink to see you through. Depending on how and where you are camping, there are bound to be other things you’ll have in your rucksack. For example, your bag might be full of hiking equipment or kayaking equipment.

These next items are things that we think people still might call essential, but you can definitely manage without. It might be less fun or less comfortable, but you’ll survive.

1. A Headtorch

A woman using a headtorch.
What using a headtorch for camping really looks like. | Photo: Getty

It’s always helpful to shine some light on the situation when camping. Many people will arrive at a campsite, pitch up and do everything in the light, then turn in when it gets dark. Wild campers don’t do this. They arrive as it’s getting dark (or possibly well after it’s already dark) and put their tent up under the cover of night. In this situation, it’s really helpful to have a headtorch. Firstly so that you can see and secondly so that you’re not wasting a hand holding the light up. Trying to fiddle around with tent poles whilst holding a torch is a massive faff.

2. A Watch

We think that you might not have seen this one coming, but hear us out. When you’re camping somewhere remote, you cannot beat a bog standard watch for telling the time. Sure, your phone can probably tell you but you probably want to save its battery by having it turned off overnight. If you get a digital watch, it can even wake you up in the morning too. Allow yourself to disconnect for a while.

3. The Ability to Make a Pillow

A woman using a rock as a pillow, looking out on the great outdoors.
If you don’t have a pillow, you could always use a rock like this person. | Photo: Getty

There seems to be a bit of a taboo in the adventure world when it comes to pillows. No self-respecting adventurer is going to take a pillow camping – and unless you’re going car camping, we don’t recommend you take one with you off your bed. But, there is no denying that having a pillow dramatically improves the quality of your sleep.

So what to do? There are several nifty ways to make pillows out of things that you’ll already have with you camping. Some people use a drybag part-filled with air to rest their head on. Others bunch up all their clothes to make a pillow, or you can even buy tiny, down camping pillows. But here’s a good trick to make a pillow out of your clothes:

  1. Take a fleece and turn it inside out, but leave the arms inside. Then do up the zip right to the top.
  2. Stuff a down or belay jacket inside the fleece, from the bottom. Don’t forget to take everything out the pockets!
  3. Tie a hair tie around the bottom end of the fleece, trapping the poofy jacket inside.

Voila! You have a pillow. You can adjust the stuffing – and how close to the end of the fleece the hair tie is – to give you a harder or softer pillow.

Ready to go camping? Check out our adventure holidays and wild camping adventures from trekking and hiking to kayaking across the world.