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Every Piece of Camping Gear You'll Need for a Comfortable Set-Up

From solar-powered lanterns to tents and tarps. 

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Camping is one of the best ways to experience America’s public lands, which cover roughly 840 million acres (that’s more than one third of the country). That’s a lot of space to get lost in, and bringing the right camping gear is essential. Whether you’re a mud-caked expert or a keep-it-comfy beginner, having the best camping essentials will help make your trip unforgettable. Or at the very least, bearable.

Understanding which sleeping pad will keep you warm in Glacier National Park or what sun protection is essential for a trek into the Grand Canyon can take hours of painstaking research. The good news? We did the hard work for you. Below, we sift through the top-rated camping must haves for car campers and backpackers alike. From tents that can withstand any weather to sleeping bags offering next-to-home coziness, here are the key pieces of gear you need to pack for your next outdoor getaway.

This article has been updated with new information since its original publish date. Additional reporting by Megan Spurrell and Madison Flager.

A camping tent

The affordable starter tent

Kelty Tallboy tent

If you’re not looking for anything too big, or want to keep the camping confined to your backyard, an affordable starter tent from Kelty will do the trick. At less than $200, this four-person sleeper (which comes in a roomier six-person size for $240), is a great deal without feeling like a budget option. Plus, the 70-inch height means less ducking for most. We suggest taking off the rainfly for dry nights—that mesh top means unobstructed views for stargazing in bed.

Stoic Madrone 4 tent

Another great budget option, Stoic's Madrone tent is easy to set up and can last for years, Amazon reviewers say. The mesh top makes it another stargazing-conducive option, though the included flysheet will keep water from leaking in on rainy nights.

The do-it-all crossover tent

REI Co-op Arete ASL 2 tent

Tents are usually split into two categories: backpacking tents, which are small, lightweight, and meant to travel in your pack, and heavier car-camping tents, which are designed for drive-in camp spots (or backyards), and often have more features and interior space. But if you plan to do a little bit of both? Go for a crossover tent, like REI’s Arete ASL 2 tent. The two-person tent is built for use in all four seasons, and has a high enough ceiling to sit up in, with a peak height of 43 inches. Plus it weighs just under six pounds, which is lightweight enough to carry on shorter backpacking trips, and won't take up much room when thrown in the trunk of a car.

The luxe tent

Snow Peak land Lock tent

Looking for a spacious and feature-rich tent that can fit up to six people (or four with plenty of room to spare)? Check out Snow Peak’s Land Lock tent. This shelter is designed to provide cabin-style comfort in any weather, with a durable, 150-denier polyester fly that can withstand rain, wind, and harmful UV rays, plus a mesh inner lining that offers bug-free ventilation and views. The tent also boasts two large doors, four windows, and plenty of interior pockets and hooks for storage and night lights. Whether you’re camping with your whole family, a big crew of friends, or your dogs, the Land Lock Tent is a glamping beast that, like all of Snow Peak’s gear, is designed to go the distance.

The ultralight backpacker’s tent

Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2 Solution

If you’re looking to escape the car camping crowds and venture into backpacking this season, stepping up your gear game with an under-four-pound tent is crucial. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2 was just revamped with an eco-friendlier solution dye that provides better UV protection while reducing harmful manufacturing chemicals. The tent has a semi-freestanding design that makes it easy to set up and take down (even when you’re suffering from hiker hanger), plus two doors and 28-square-feet of floor space that offer room for up to two trekkers or a solo traveler who’d rather keep their gear inside. The Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL 2 is an ideal fit for backpackers traveling light and green. Want even more space to spread out? Nab the Tiger Wall UL 3 for trips with Fido or rain-free indoor pack stashing.

Find more tent recommendations here: The Best Tent for Every Kind of Camper

A sleeping bag

The only sleeping bag you’ll ever need

The North Face One Bag sleeping bag

If you’re spending the night in your backyard, or are a once-a-summer kind of camper, most sleeping bags will do the trick. But if you want a bag that’ll give you the freedom to camp year-round, with the comfort of 700-fill-power repurposed down, then you want “the one.” The North Face’s One Bag is a 3-in-1 system that can be altered depending on the climate—think of it like those zip-off pants that turn into both capris and shorts. For summer nights when temperatures stay above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, stick to the thinner outer layer; in higher altitudes, or shoulder seasons, use the removable middle layer. Double up with both layers, and you’ll be covered in temperatures as low as five degrees. With a color-coded system and zipper, transitioning the bag is easy as can be. You can even repurpose layers you don’t need as a fireside quilt, or extra padding beneath you.

The best sleeping bag for kids

REI Co-op Kindercone 25 kids' sleeping bag

To make sure kids sleep through the night, REI’s Kindercone is a solid option. It’s relatively inexpensive, an important feature in anything kids will grow out of, but it’s also warm enough to be used from spring through fall, and provides ample padding for a great night’s sleep. And, in case you are still worried they’ll grow out of it too soon, REI has planned for that too: The stuff sack, which makes for easy storage, can also be repurposed to cinch the bottom of the bag, helping you adjust the length as your kids grow. Keep in mind that it’s a bit bulky for backpacking, and best suited for drive-in and at-home use.

A beginner's set 

Kelty Campground Kit

If you're not ready to invest in something heavy-duty, Kelty's Campground Kit offers a great inexpensive option that'll make those first few camping trips a whole lot comfier. The bundle comes with a sleeping bag built for temperatures down to 40 degrees, plus a self-inflating air pad to layer underneath. Both pack up into a shared duffel for easy storage, and weigh 5.6 pounds altogether.

An ultra-warm upgrade

Sea to Summit Ascent 0-Degree Down sleeping bag

Sea to Summit’s Ascent 0-Degree down sleeping bag is an uber-warm sleeping bag that can handle the toughest cold weather camping (or simply keep those of us who run cold toasty). This baby is filled with high-quality, 750-fill-power UltraDry Down (certified to the Responsible Down Standard) that provides excellent insulation and compressibility, and it has a water-repellent treatment that protects it from moisture. The Ascent AcIII also offers a unique zipper system and anatomically-shaped footbox that allows you to adjust the warmth and ventilation according to your preference. Unzip for extra airflow, or close it up for extra coziness. Best of all, a compression sack is included to ensure that your sleep kit doesn’t take up too much space in your pack.

A sleeping pad

A three-season foam mat

Therm-a-RestZ Lite SOL sleeping pad

Sure, they say sleeping on the ground can be good for your posture—but that doesn’t mean you need to feel every pebble and twig underneath you. No matter where you’re camping, throw a sleeping pad under your sleeping bag and it’ll be that much easier to fall asleep. While inflatable versions raise you off the ground, they can be bulky and costly, and an accidental puncture can ruin your trip. Consider a lay-flat pad, like the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol. It is less than an inch thick, yet durable enough to last for years, and lightweight to carry. For frequent campers, we recommend upgrading to the brand’s fabulous NeoAir XLite pad.

An insulated inflatable pad

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm NXT sleeping pad

The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm is a cozy, mattress-like sleeping pad for campers who don’t mind that crunchy potato chip bag crinkling sound in exchange for ultimate warmth and comfort. This pad uses advanced technology to trap radiant heat and reflect it back to your body, making sure you’re as comfortable in a snowstorm as you are on a summertime romp. Plus, it inflates quickly with a pump bag that doubles as a stuff sack, and it deflates lightning-fast with a simple valve. Weighing in at an impressive one pound for the regular size, Therm-a-Rest has proven with the NeoAir XTherm that it is possible to pair lightweight specs with a four-season pad and sleep soundly in any weather.

A great kitchen set up

A cooler

Yeti Tundra 45 hard cooler

Whether you’re spending a night at your local river and just want to keep your six-pack cold, or need to refrigerate essentials on a multi-day stay at a national park, Yeti’s Tundra line will do the trick (it doesn’t look bad parked on the porch at home, either). These durable coolers are heavily insulated, and have a freezer-quality gasket and form-fitting lock system to seal it completely shut, keeping out even triple-digit heat. We love the “45” size because it’s reasonable to throw in your trunk, but can fit a few days worth of food for a family of four. That said, the options range from the day trip-friendly “35,” to the mid-sized “Haul” on wheels, to the gargantuan “350,” an 82 gallon-holder best reserved for fishermen and pitmasters.

Find more cooler recommendations here: 12 Coolers You Can Take Anywhere, From Your Backyard to the Beach

A two-burner camp stove

Camp Chef Everest 2X High-Pressure Stove

Sure, your dad’s old Coleman might get you there in a pinch, but Camp Chef has upped the in-camp kitchen game with their high-pressure Everest model. This stove has two powerful burners that deliver 20,000 BTUs each, enough to boil water in mere minutes and simmer stews to perfection. It also comes with a match-free ignition system that sparks the burners with the push of a button. A three-sided windscreen protects the flames from gusts on stormy evenings, and the entire thing packs up with a locking lid and easy-carry handle so you can venture to your next campsite with zero headaches. Looking for something a bit smaller and more portable? The MSR PocketRocket 2 Mini Stove Kit is another great option for space-saving campers.

A packable cooking set

Sea To Summit X Set 21

Whether you’re living the van life, festival frolicking, or heading out to car camp with the kids in tow, you’ll want a packable, easy-to-clean cooking set for everything from cowboy coffee to late night mac and cheese. With Sea to Summit’s X-Set 21, you don’t have to sacrifice limited trunk space or functionality to cook in comfort. This cooking set includes a 1.4-liter pot, a bowl, and a mug that all flatten for easy storage. Each piece is made with flexible food-grade silicone up top and lightweight, heat-distributing aluminum down below. Double up or pair with the Alpha Cookset 2.2 if you’ve got extra room or have more than two campers in tow.

A kitchen utensil kit

GSI Destination 24-piece kitchen set

Rather than grabbing silverware and pepper grinders from your kitchen, pack a ready-made kitchen set with all the essentials you need as part of your camping gear. This GSI Destination kit has 24 pieces, and is designed to work for a family of four. You’ll find folding tools, like a spatula and serving spoon, prepware like a cutting board and cheese grater, two condiment containers, salt and pepper shakers, and four full cutlery sets. Heads up, you’ll need to pack a can, bottle, and wine opener separately (but for that, you can get away with grabbing the ones you use at home).

Fire starter

Ooni premium natural firestarters

While most campsites will have grills or fire pits at the ready, you'll need a natural fire starter to get dinner going. Ooni's are made from wood shavings (with no added chemicals), and work with wood pellets, wood, or charcoal.

Find more camp kitchen recommendations here: The Best Cooking Gear for Camping Trips

Creature comforts

A bring everything duffel

Patagonia Black Hole MLC

Patagonia’s best-selling Black Hole MLC line (which is the maximum legal carry-on size for those of you who don’t constantly fret over airline restrictions) is the perfect, one-size-fits-all duffel that doubles as a backpack. Worried about organizing your delicates? The 45-liter MLC boasts enough pockets to keep even the most type-A traveler satisfied, no packing cubes needed. Made from burly water-resistant 100 percent-recycled TPU laminate on the outside and 100 percent recycled body fabric, this bag is proof that even bomber gear can be earth-conscious.

A portable solar charging station

Goal Zero Yeti 500X + Nomad 50 Solar Generator

Let’s face it: Even the most seasoned hikers and campers like to charge their cameras on the go or curl up in their tent with a Kindle classic or iPhone movie binge. Goal Zero makes harnessing solar energy to keep your devices charged and at the ready a cinch, with no noise and no harmful fumes. Full of diverse port options (think 12V, USB-C, and wall-style plugs) and a charge controller to help protect your precious electronics, the Yeti 500X can charge most laptops 10 times, most smartphones 42 times, and keep string lights powered on for days. Add to that the rugged, water-resistant Nomad 50 solar panel, which is lightweight and easy to move around camp, and you’ll be ready for a multi-day off grid adventure.

A stylish ground blanket

Tarpestry Rugged Outdoor blanket

Whether you're camping, picnicking, or lounging at the beach, Tarpestry’s rugged outdoor blankets offer durable and water-resistant ground protection with vibrant, eye-catching designs. Brighten up your tent’s patio or keep the dust down outside your van rental with artful, UV-treated fabric that’ll bring a pop of style to an otherwise humdrum camp. You can easily attach these tarp-blanket hybrids to trees and poles, or simply stake into the dirt using the reinforced grommets on each corner. Measuring 7.5 by 4.5 feet, Tarpestry’s “Rugged” designs come in at only four pounds, making them a perfect portable living room you can pack up and take anywhere.

A camping chair

Kelty Low Loveseat

One of the perks of car camping: You can really recreate the comfort of your own backyard out in the woods. Case in point: Kelty's mega-popular camp furniture. The two-seater rolls up into a fairly compact padded storage bag and weighs about 15.5 pounds, with a weight capacity of 400. Each side has its own armrest and cup holder, too.

Coleman camping chair

For campouts at home and on the road, camping chairs are essential. And whether you use them to sit around the fire and tell stories, or simply unwind in after a long day of hitting the trails, you’re also going to need one per person (everyone will tire of sitting on the ground or perching on sleeping bags sooner or later). For a good mix of comfort and durability—and the prerequisite of an attached cupholder for your water bottle or beer—pick up a few Coleman camp chairs. While, sure, there are more modern renditions, this roomy classic is widely loved for a reason, and has handy side pockets for sliding in a phone, hand wipes, sunglasses, or whatever else you need to store.

Yeti TrailHead camp chair

On the other end of the spectrum: Yeti's TrailHead model, which is basically the Cadillac of camp chairs. It is super comfortable, and gigantic, meaning it's best for car campers, and frequent ones at that. If you're looking for an outdoorsy gift to give the family member who's always planning their next camping trip, this might be it.

A lantern

Goal ZeroCrush Light

There’s nothing like the cozy flicker of a campfire, but sometimes you need a little more light. For middle-of-the-night bathroom trips or better visibility for after-dinner card games, pack a portable lantern the whole family can use. The Goal Zero Crush is a winner in our book for two reasons: It’s solar-powered, so you can leave the batteries at home and feel better about your carbon footprint, and it collapses into a flat disk when not in use for easy packing. We also love that it emits a warm light, rather than the harsh white light of LED lanterns. Simply throw it in the sun during the day, then let it illuminate your campsite at night.

A camping pillow

Therm-a-Rest compressible pillow

It’s too easy to forget a camping pillow when throwing your sleeping bag and pad in the trunk. But on a multi-night getaway, scrunching a sweatshirt behind your head gets old fast. The compressible pillow from Therm-a-Rest, made of soft foam padding, packs nice and small but expands for full-size comfort once you’ve set up camp (you can even repurpose it as an in-flight pillow down the road). And, unlike inflatable camp pillows, you can forget about any annoying squeaking as you toss and turn.

A headlamp

BioLite330 headlamp

Novice campers often forget or forgo headlamps, but we consider the hands-free light an essential. They are incredibly useful for cooking in the dark, evening trips to refill the water jug, or late-night repairs. For backpackers, they can be a lifesaver—and true safety tool—for dusk and dawn hikes as well, or early morning runs before the rest of camp wakes up. The Biolite Headlamp 330 is our pick: It’s incredibly lightweight, has a slim profile, and has several lighting modes including a flood light, red light, and strobe. It can also last for 40 hours on one charge, and the removable battery pack is rechargeable with a micro-USB cable. It comes in two colors: a soothing teal, and an easy-to-spot marigold yellow.

A tarp

Kelty Waypoint tarp

Another car camping accessory you may want to add to your gear closet: a tarp that offers more coverage for dinnertime or hanging by the campfire. This one attaches to most vehicles, and its sturdy pole means you can leave it up overnight, allowing for continued coverage from the sun, rain, or wind.

Gear bags

Marmot Camp Hauler bag

If you're camping with a big group you're likely to have a lot of stuff, from outdoor gear to base layers in colder months, to snacks. Use Marmot's Camp Hauler bag to store clothing in your trunk, carry in groceries or camp kitchen equipment, or just collect all those odds and ends you're bringing over to the campsite (bug repellent, daypacks for afternoon hikes, etc.). Side and interior pockets help keep you organized, while padded straps and haul handles make it easier to carry heavy loads.

A first-aid kit

Mountain Series adventure medical kit

Every home should have a first-aid kit, and every camper should have one that’s ready to take on the go. The Adventure Medical Kit, designed for two adults for two days, is an upgrade on your basic Band-Aid and Neosporin, in an easy-to-tote, compartmentalized bag. Inside, you’ll find everything you need for cuts, scrapes, and blisters, alongside a first aid book that is crammed with information on treating outdoor-related injuries. Serious backpackers might choose to add other essentials over time, but for most casual campers, it has everything you could need.

Looking for more outdoor gear? Check out our guides to the best hiking boots for women and men and the best hiking backpacks.