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The Ultimate Camping Gear Guide

A successful camping trip starts with packing the right gear to help you brave the elements. But if your equipment list is spartan and you’re only focused on what will help you make it through the weekend, you’re doing it wrong. A few creature comforts will make your time outdoors that much more enjoyable, and many are available at a reasonable price. This list includes gear and apparel we’ve tested ourselves and use on our own trips, as well as items from brands we trust that we’ve researched and evaluated from afar. Throw them in your trunk, and your trip will already be off to a good start.

Related: The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist | The Ultimate RV Camping Gear Guide

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s especially important to check the local regulations at your destination before you leave. Most public and private campgrounds are open but continue to operate on protocols to mitigate spreading the virus. Face masks are required in the majority of places—including at all federally managed parks and lands—access to buildings and facilities is limited in some areas, and programs or services might not be available. While you’re there, consider saving trips to popular trails or other attractions for future visits to avoid crowds.

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Family Tent

Coleman 6-Person Skydome

Coleman’s Skydome series improves upon its classic dome tent by adding steeper walls to raise the headroom to six feet, in the case of the six-person model. Even with the added height, it was easy to pitch—one end of each main support pole is fixed to the tent body. At camp, we connected the pole segments, slid the disconnected ends into their opposite corners, and secured the tent body to the poles with snap-on clips. Inside, you and your brood can stretch out across 85 square feet and rest easy knowing the fly and tarp-style floor will shut out rain showers like they did for us.

More: The Best Camping Tents

Two-Person Tent

Decathlon 2 Second Easy

The Easy, which earned our 2020 Gear of the Year award, is the kind of tent that’s not intimidating to use if you’re just getting into camping. And in all likelihood, it will make more experienced campers at the next site over think twice about their more complicated rigs. That’s because the pre-assembled tent pops up and breaks down fast by pulling on two handles or pushing two buttons, respectively. We also liked the fly’s light-blocking fabric that let us sleep past dawn, even if it did mean sacrificing some airflow inside.

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Sleeping Bag

Kelty Tuck 40

If we hadn’t known the price before we tested it, we might have assumed the Tuck costs twice as much as it does. The spacious shape allowed us to sleep in a variety of positions and still stay warm. The hood and draft tube felt like luxurious touches on a sub-$100 bag. Plus, the zipper placement, which runs across the width of the bag at the shins, lets you create a foot vent for dumping heat. For kids, we recommend the REI Co-op Kindercone 25.

Two-Person Sleeping Bag

Big Agnes Dream Island 15

More frontcountry bed than two-person sleeping bag, the synthetic-insulated Dream Island 15 is purpose-built for couples. Big Agnes ditches the standard nylon liner fabric for a less technical cotton blend that’s much more like your sheets back home. Both sides of the bag have a close-to-full length zipper, so you can use it like a blanket if you don’t feel like sealing the whole thing. The built-in pad sleeve fits two 78- by 25-inch models.

Sleeping Pad

Sea to Summit Comfort Plus Self-Inflating

You’ll hardly notice the rocky terrain underfoot with Sea to Summit’s Comfort Plus Self-Inflating sleeping pad, which impressed us enough to earn an Editors’ Choice award. The 3.1-inch thick polyurethane foam mat has triangle-shaped chambers within to reduce bulk and weight while still providing ample cushioning. A nonslip grip pattern on the bottom kept us from sliding around our tent all night.

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Pillow

Klymit Drift Camp Pillow

We never thought a pillow would be partially responsible for our stoke ahead of car-camping weekends. Then we slept on the Drift. Shredded memory foam creates a 5.5-inch-thick platform to rest your head on that we found to be plush yet supportive. The ripstop polyester side of the reversible case repels water and dirt. Turn it inside out, and jersey cotton offers next-to-skin softness.

Camp Lighting

Mpowerd Luci Solar String Lights

Festive and functional, this solar-rechargeable string light set spans an impressive 18 feet, so we could actually illuminate a large swath of ground with it. Granted, the bulbs didn’t throw their combined 100 lumens of light far beyond that patch. Complete your setup with BioLite’s powerful and easily portable BaseLantern.

More: Best Camp Lights from Lanterns to Smart Lights

The 15-inch curved hickory shaft on the Tarnaby offers leverage for light-duty campground tasks, like making kindling and driving tent stakes into the ground. The 1.3-pound Swedish steel head is designed to maintain its sharp edge and, when not in use, is protected by an included leather sheath. 

First Aid Kit

Adventure Medical Kits Sportsman 200

Don’t get caught in the field without a first aid kit. The Sportsman has enough bandages, moleskin, and medication for a four-day excursion, and labeled, injury-specific pockets make finding the tools and supplies you need a cinch. For a portable day kit, choose Lifeline’s Trail Light Dayhiker. It weighs a scant 2.7 ounces and includes a nice variety of supplies for treating maladies like headaches, blisters, and bee stings.

Water Bottle

Nalgene Sustain

Nalgene doubles down on eco-friendliness with its new Sustain collection. Still lightweight, durable, and BPA-free, the bottles are now made with 50 percent recycled content. The 32-ounce is large enough for a few hours of exploring and comes in 11 colors. And because not every campsite has a spigot in close proximity, don’t forget to pack a reservoir to keep with you.

The Ignite Plus still reigns supreme in our camp stove testing on account of its massive cook surface—large enough for two 12-inch pans—and excellent simmer control. Boiling water takes a bit longer, but not burning dinner makes it worth the wait.

Fuel Gauge

Bernzomatic Fuel Gauge

Our tactics for determining how much fuel was left in a propane tank used to be time-consuming, unreliable, or both. Now, we power on the Bernzomatic, clip the device to an open canister, and look at the approximate measurement, displayed on screen in quarter segments. (Jetboil also has the JetGauge specifically for backpacking canisters.) For long trips, skip a standard-size 16-ounce fuel canister for Ignik’s Gas Growler Deluxe, a 1.2-gallon refillable tank.

Cook Set

Stanley Adventure Full Kitchen Base Camp

Cook up a feast with this 21-piece set from Stanley. It has plates, bowls, and sporks for four people, as well as a 3.5-liter pot, a seven-inch frying pan, a cutting board, a dish rack, and utensils. Everything nests and locks together for unfussy carting from your car to campsite and back.

Cutlery

Toaks Titanium 3-Piece Cutlery Set

Sporks have their time and place (backpacking, for instance, when dehydrated grub is commonplace). But for car-camping trips, dig into your meal with proper utensils. This full-size set can endure rugged settings thanks to its titanium build.

Don’t be fooled by its retro look—this 12-ounce, lightweight mug is no relic from the camping days of yore. MiiR installs vacuum-insulation and a lid to keep drinks hot or cold for hours. We also like the comfortable handle and the lid’s tight-fitting seal, which prevents dribbles and leaks.

Coffee Maker

GSI Outdoors Glacier Stainless Percolator

The nine-cup version of this percolator is large enough for you and your crew to get your caffeine fix. The stainless-steel handle has a silicone grip so you can safely pour a cup when your coffee is done brewing. For freshly ground beans, use VSSL’s new Java coffee grinder.

Cooler

Igloo EcoCool Latitude Roller

Today’s thick-walled, hard-sided coolers let you buy ice Friday and still bring some home with you on Sunday. Igloo’s new EcoCool series—the first hard coolers made with recycled plastic—is no exception. The 60-quart Latitude promises up to five days of ice retention and has wheels and an extendable handle so you can move it around more easily. 

Tablecloth

Coghlan’s Picnic Combo Pack

Add a homey touch to your alfresco dining with this affordable tablecloth set. The vinyl fabric is easy to clean and stays in place thanks to six steel clamps.

Trash Can

Coghlan’s Pop-Up

Don’t be the person who leaves their campsite trashed. Best case scenario, you’ll be pissing off the campground staff or the next group of visitors. Worst case, your scraps pose a threat to wildlife. Avail yourself of this pop-up trash can that folds flat for transport and storage and extends into a 30-gallon bin with handles and a zip top.

Lighter

UST TekFire LED Fuel-Free

This lightweight flameless lighter, powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, uses an arcing electrical current to light things on fire. The rubberized exterior is easy to grip, and an LED light on the bottom makes for a useful flashlight in a pinch. The wrist lanyard combines three feet of paracord with an equally long tinder thread. Of course, it can’t hurt to have a few waterproof matches stashed away just in case.

Fire Starter

InstaFire Popular Mechanics Packets

Sure, it’s cool to ignite your fire with a ferro rod. But we’re not judging if you reach for a quick-starting flammable fire starter instead. That’s usually our move. This package comes with 22 lightweight packs of the wood, mineral, and paraffin material. Just pop one in your fire pit, light a match, and your fire will get going in a matter of seconds.

Roasting Sticks

Ajmyonsp Marshmallow Roasting Sticks

It’s not a camping trip without the s’mores. Each of these five telescoping stainless-steel sticks extends 32 inches to keep your hands safely away from an open campfire as you roast hot dogs, brats, or marshmallows.

Headlamp

BioLite Headlamp 750

A headlamp provides hands-free lighting, which is helpful if you’re racing daylight to set up camp or preparing dinner as the sun sets. This rechargeable unit has four brightness levels, including the 750-lumen burst mode, and eight light settings. The beam stretches a respectable 427 feet down a dark road and won’t gradually dim—like most lamps do—with the help of Constant Mode. If flashlights are more your speed, try the Streamlight PolyTac X USB.

Paracord

Bengku Outdoor 550-Pound

Paracord’s versatility makes it a worthwhile addition to your equipment list. Use it to create guy lines for your tent fly, as a clothesline, or even as a shoestring if your laces wear out. Just as with duct tape, you might not know exactly what you’ll need it for, but when the time comes, you’ll be happy you have it.

Sunscreen

Coppertone Pure & Simple SPF 50 Mineral Lotion

When you’re playing outside all day, it’s that much more important to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays. Most zinc oxide sunscreens are costly and take some muscle to rub in, but this formula goes on easy and doesn’t feel greasy, oily, or tacky on your skin. Plus, the mineral formula is safer for you and the environment than traditional chemical sunscreens.

Bug Repellent

Thermacell Rechargeable Mosquito Repeller

Mosquitos can ruin a camping trip, but this battery-powered Thermacell device creates a 20-foot protection zone so you can sit unbothered. Turn it on to heat and release the scent-free repellent, which lasts up to 40 hours. Keep ticks and other bugs away on day hikes with Sawyer Picaridin Lotion.

Soap

Campsuds in Nalgene Bottle

Toilet Paper

Coghlan’s Toilet Tissue

Some campground bathrooms are better maintained than others. Stay on the safe side by packing extra TP. This pack comes with two 150-sheet rolls that are small enough to fit in your pocket or pack.

Dry off after a dip in a mountain lake or a shower back at the campground with PackTowl’s Personal Towel. Available in four sizes, it’s made of lightweight microfiber that absorbs up to four times its weight and dries quickly. A Polygiene treatment keeps the funk at bay.

With its 3.6-inch blade, the Bona Fide is well-suited for light-duty outdoor tasks like whittling roasting sticks. The pocket knife also has a clever tool-free disassembly system, so we could give it a thorough cleaning when it needed it. All we had to do was slide the button on the aluminum handle up and to the left to release each side from the blade, then reverse the steps to put it back together. Multitool fans, choose the Leatherman Signal, which has a firestarter, a whistle, and a saw among its 19 tools.

Storage System

Plano Sportsman’s Trunk Medium

This 68-quart rugged storage bin can hold all of your camping gear and tools, with room to spare. Secure it before you hit the road using the tie-down attachment points. Back home, the molded grooves make it stackable if you need more than one.

Hiking Pack

Osprey Talon 22

Buy Women’s

Stay comfortable no matter how much you’re carrying or how far you’re going with the redesigned men’s Talon and women’s Tempest day packs. Both feature Osprey’s new AirScape back panel that has an injection-molded frame sheet with sections of raised foam, which distributes weight across the body and increases breathability. The 22-liter pack pulls double duty thanks to bike-ready features, such as the helmet attachment toggle and light loop.

Dog Harness

Ruffwear Switchbak

Available in four sizes, the Switchbak is padded and mesh-lined for your pooch’s comfort. It adjusts in five spots for a secure fit and has two small pockets for stashing waste bags or treats. Plus, the reflective trim and light loop help you spot Spot well after dark.

More: Adventure-Ready Dog Gear

Chair

GCI Outdoor Kickback Rocker

The Kickback impressed us enough to earn top marks in our camping chair test. The seat height was comfortable for our 6-foot-2 and 5-foot-5 testers, and they both appreciated the gentle rocking motion created by the pistons on the back legs. And it’s got a cup holder and phone pocket on the armrests. For a more portable place to lounge, consider a hammock.

Blanket

Rumpl x Dakine NanoLoft Puffy

Snuggle up by the fire with Rumpl’s cozy NanoLoft Puffy Blanket. Made with synthetic insulation and recycled materials, it’s water-repellent, machine-washable, and stuffs down for portability. Rumpl offers the one-person blanket in many patterns, but we like the earthy sage of this Dakine collaboration. For a picnic, choose the NEMO Victory Blanket, which is larger and has a convenient waterproof backing.

Polarized sunnies don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Goodr’s original model magically fits a lot of different head sizes comfortably and won’t bounce even if you’re bounding down the trail. With 13 lens and frame color combinations available, you can tailor your choice to fit your style.

Binoculars

Nocs Provisions Standard Issue 8×25

Spy birds and other wildlife from afar with these affordable binos. The ridged exterior lends a good grip, and eight-times magnification provides a closer look. And, at less than 12 ounces, they won’t weigh you down.

Field Watch

Timex 40mm Expedition Scout

The Expedition Scout offers basic timekeeping in a dependable package that’s water-resistant down to 50 meters. The average-size 40-millimeter brass case is paired with a nylon strap. And after dark, you can still see the time thanks to the Scout’s backlighting function. For the data lovers out there, try the Suunto 7, which elegantly integrates everyday smart features into a fitness-oriented GPS watch.

Power Bank

Goal Zero Yeti 200x

This five-pound charging machine is great for weekend warriors. The Yeti 200x holds 187 watt-hours of power to quickly juice up your phone, laptop, tablet, camera, and other devices. And just like all that tech, the Yeti has a rechargeable battery. Power up at home in four hours or in the field with a compatible solar panel.

Hiking Boots

Merrell Moab Speed

Buy Men’s

Merrell retooled its best-selling Moab—a clunky boot by today’s standards—into the light and agile Moab Speed. A thin mesh-and-TPU upper replaces the leather-swathed one, and a new midsole lends a spongier ride. The 10.9-ounce shoe tackled technical passes with aplomb, thanks to a new outsole with ground-grabbing four-millimeter lugs.

More: The Best Waterproof Boots, Tested

Hiking Socks

Wigwam Syncroknit Axiom Mid-Crew

Our feet often get the raw end of the deal when hiking and trekking. Show them a little love with the Merino wool-blend Axiom, available in five heights from no-shoe to crew. Drop-needle construction reduces stitching throughout to create a foot-hugging, secure fit, while padding at the ball and heel add comfort.

More: The Best Hiking Socks

Hiking Shirt

Patagonia Capilene Cool Trail

Buy Women’s

Patagonia’s Capilene collection has gained fans for its soft yet capable wares. The recycled polyester in this tee is slightly heavier than the popular Cool Daily shirt, so it can stand up to untamed woods and more intense activity. Plus, an anti-odor treatment keeps you fresh. For even more funk-fighting power, choose Smartwool’s Merino 150 Base Layer Short Sleeve.

The mid-rise Alana pants have just as much stretch as our favorite pair of leggings. Credit to Prana’s new ReZion material that’s lightweight, water-resistant, and made with 95 percent recycled nylon. The zippered thigh pocket secured our phone, and the cuffs rolled up for water crossings and hot days. Men will find similar features in the $79 Alameda pants.

Jacket

Houdini Mono Air Houdi

Buy Men’s

The comfortable and slightly stretchy Mono Air, made from Polartec’s second-gen Power Air recycled fabric, is less polluting than other fleeces. The polyester’s tiny bubble wrap-like baffles shed five times less microplastics than other fabrics and boost warmth. That has made it the perfect active layer for above-freezing temps. For colder weather, layer up with Fjallraven’s Expedition Pack Down Hoodie.

Rain Jacket

Patagonia Torrentshell 3L

Buy Women’s

The Torrentshell sports a hydrophobic membrane that’s built to last. The fully recycled nylon shell has a microfleece lining at the neck for added comfort, and a small visor graces the end of the hood for extra protection.

Face Mask

Outdoor Research Essential Face Mask Kit

Wearing masks outside is less crucial than it used to be, but in some instances, it’s still a good idea. For those situations and trips inside gas station bathrooms or visitors’ centers, we like the relatively breathable Essential Face Mask. The ear loops and nose wire are easy to adjust, and there’s a filter pocket when we want extra protection.

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