Woman and child  sitting near tent

Camping Essentials

Before you wander into the woods, take a moment to make sure you have the essentials. This step will help keep you safe when things go awry.

Packing the Ten Essentials, even on day hikes, but especially when you’re camping in the backcountry, is a great thing to do. You’ll probably only use a few, but if something goes wrong, you’ll be glad you’re carrying the most essential things.

The original list of Ten Essentials was established by The Mountaineers, a U.S.-based organization for climbers and adventurers, in the 1930s. It was to help people prepare for emergencies in the outdoors. Over the years, the list evolved into systems, instead of individual items.

Read On For The Ten Systems You Should Take With You Every Time You Camp.

Quechua Compass

1. Navigation

Bring a map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon or satellite messenger. You’ll need a topographic map and the ability to read it and a compass to go with your paper map. 

If you bring GPS or smartphone with a GPS app, make sure you have enough battery life for your trip. An altimeter is useful for finding elevation and tracking your progress and location on a map. Lastly, bringing a personal locator beacon or satellite messenger can be helpful should you need to send for help.

Onnight 100 version 3 headlamp

2. Headlamp

Finding your way through the dark of a campsite is important, so always carry a light, even when going on trips to the bathroom. Headlamps are ideal because they give you two free hands so you can cook dinner or hold your trekking poles. Don’t forget to add in extra batteries!

Sunscreen spray IP 50

3. Sun Protection

You should bring sunscreen, sunglasses or goggles and sun-protective clothing. Forgetting sun protection could mean sunburn or snow blindness on your trip and health problems in the long term. Protecting your skin and eyes is very important, even in the winter months.

First Aid Kit

4. First Aid

Make sure you bring along a first-aid kit. Buying a pre-made one can help if you’re unsure of what you need, but personalizing your own can be useful if you’re going into situations where you might need more antibiotic cream than bee-sting medication. 

Remember, the length of your trip and number of people going will change what you need in your kit. You’ll want to take blister care and insect repellent too.

Camping Knife

5. Knife

Knives are such a great tool for camping. They’re good for gear repair, food prep, first aid and making kindling. Every adult in a group should have a knife. Also included in this system is a gear repair kit--usually with items like cordage, duct tape, fabric repair tape, zip ties and safety pins.

Camping Stove

6. Fire

Bring things like matches, a lighter, tinder and a stove. If you’re taking matches, make sure they're waterproof or stored in a waterproof container. If you’re going into camping areas where there are no trees (like alpine condition or snow), you should bring a stove for heat and to create water.


7. Shelter

While you’ll probably have your tent if you’re camping, a shelter could be a light emergency bivy if you’re just heading out on a day hike. No matter where you go in the great outdoors, you should have some kind of shelter that can protect you from wind and rain in the case that you’re stranded on the trail.

Camping food

8. Extra Food

You should bring food beyond what you absolutely need. Usually packing an extra day’s worth of food is a good idea. That will help if your trip goes on too long, in the case of an injury or bad weather. You’ll want to make sure that your extra food does not require cooking and has a long shelf life--things like energy bars, nuts, dried fruit or jerky.

Water bottle

9. Extra Water

Carry water beyond the bare minimum. As a start you should carry at least one water bottle or a water reservoir. When you start your trip, fill up your bottle or reservoir from a good source.

Camping clothes

10. Extra Clothes

Weather can turn quickly, so you should always bring more clothing than you expect to need. When packing, think about what you might need if you have to stay out and still for a long time in the elements.

You’ll want to tailor the items you take for each system to the trip you’re heading out on. Perhaps on a day hike you’d take a map, compass and personal locator beacon but not your GPS or altimeter. No matter what you decide to bring, take into account weather, difficulty, duration and distance to help.

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