There’s nothing quite like the feeling of going on a camping trip and realizing—after you’ve reached your destination and probably after you’ve set up camp—that you’ve forgotten some vital or useful piece of gear back at home. Without proper preparation (like a check list), it can be easy to forget some handy piece of equipment. It can be inconvenient, downright troublesome, or in some cases, even dangerous. Before you take your next trip into the great outdoors, consider prepping a “mini-bug out bag” with these camping essentials so you’ll be wilderness-ready.
First Aid Kit
Minor injuries, like burns, scratches, cuts, or even bug bites are fairly common to experience on a camping trip, even more so if you’re active instead of just lounging around the campsite all day (not that there’s anything wrong with that). And should the worst happen and a serious injury befall you or one of your companions, having a decent first aid kit could make a critical difference in providing first-line treatment before proper medical assistance can be reached. There’s a good reason this is the first item on our list—it’s arguably the most important.
If you’re handy with a bow drill, chances are you won’t need a lighter, matches, or a flint and steel to start a fire, but even the most experienced Eagle Scout will admit that starting a fire (especially in damp or rainy conditions) is just a lot easier if you’ve got a ready source of flame with you. Without a fire, you’ll have no way to cook food or boil water, and your nights are going to be a lot colder. Though there’s a lot of satisfaction in starting a fire without any tools, consider that something of a hobby, and don’t risk not being able to get a good source of light and heat going. You can even buy waterproof matches and leave them in your camping kit, just so you’ll always be able to get a fire started quickly and easily.
Rope or Cord
Even if you’re not a veteran knotsmith, rope or cord is incredibly useful when camping—and knowing how to tie a basic assortment of knots makes it even better (if you don’t know how to tie a handful of basic knots, consider learning how—it’s a great skill to have). Whether it’s to make a clothes line, to hang food on a high branch out of the reach of marauding animals, to create a shelter, hang a rain fly, or for emergencies (like pulling someone out of the water or up a steep incline they may have fallen down), rope is a camping must-have. Don’t go camping without at least one—several would be better.
You can put one under your tent to protect it and give it a basic barrier from the cold, damp earth, and of course you can hang one over your tent to shed rain away from your gear. You can—if you have a spare—even use it to haul gathered firewood back to camp. Tarps have a myriad of different uses, so be sure to bring at least one—and consider bringing a few. They’re lightweight, require limited space, and are sure to make your camping trip a little bit easier.
A Reliable Light Source
Whether you’re making a late-night bathroom trip or sneaking out of the tent for a midnight snack, you’ll need a reliable source of light—and more than one isn’t a bad idea. Whether you opt for lanterns, flashlights, headlamps, or all three, you should always have a good light source in your camping kit. Always keep fresh batteries or plenty of fuel on hand as well, and be sure you can get to your light source easily without having to unpack a bunch of stuff in case you need to set up camp in the dark.
Maps and a Compass
Everyone with a smartphone has GPS, but smartphone batteries run out. Getting lost in the wild without a reliable method to find your way back to camp—or to help—is a really bad idea. Get a good orienteering compass and be sure to have up-to-date maps (and it’s a good idea to laminate or otherwise water-proof them).
Spare Clothes & Wet Weather Wear
Even the sunniest forecast can be wrong, and the weather can change on you surprisingly fast. You don’t want to be stuck without rain gear or an extra set of clothes you can put on if the temperature unexpectedly drops (or you need to swap out wet clothes for dry).
Pocket Knife or Multitool
Whether you’re partial to Swiss Army Knives or Leatherman tools, this is an absolute essential that takes up almost no space and has a multitude of uses. With a couple of good knife blades, a saw, an awl, scissors and whatever other useful feature your weapon of choice might provide, you’ll have a handful of important camping tools right in your pocket.