bare minimum camping gear

Keep It Simple; A Beginner’s Guide To Minimum Camping Gear

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I can give you a quick article filled with several gadgets and gizmos for camping and promise that they will make your experience “this” much better. That doesn’t help you. The fact is, it’s not that simple. What I mean is, your preferred camping method will determine what accessories and gear you need, or don’t need.

For example, if you prefer to tow a travel trailer and camp in an RV park or State Park, the bare minimum camping gear you need will be totally different from someone who prefers primitive camping.

view from inside a tent

Shopping for camping gear, especially for a beginner, can become overwhelming very fast. If you have searched Google for camping gear, there is no doubt that you have been inundated with article after article of “Top 50” or “Must-Have” posts. There are some of those on this site as well.

This article is different. I want to strip it back down to the very basic, minimum camping gear that will get you through a weekend of camping, without all the fluff.

Let’s jump in…

What Are The Different Types Of Camping?

If you ask 10 people what the different types of camping are, you will probably get 10 different answers. Some folks believe that the only “true” camping is to rough it deep in the back country while eating tree bark and bathing in a river.

That might have been the case decades ago, but with advances in technology, camping can be a comfortable and rewarding experience.

We are going to explain 5 of the different types of camping that we have the most experience in and the most basic, beginner camping gear for each.

  • Tent Camping
  • RV Camping
  • Car Camping
  • Backyard Camping
  • Cabin Camping

As you can see, the different types of camping will require a completely different set of camping gear. For the camping purist, a simple tent and multi-tool might be all they need to enjoy a few nights in the wilderness.

On the other hand, someone who prefers the comforts of an RV might prefer a comfortable chair and a set of patio lights while sitting under their awning enjoying a drink.

Bear in mind that some of this basic camping equipment can be used for more than one type of camping. For example, the minimum gear you might use for tent camping can also be applied to backyard camping, or car camping. You may be a beginner now, but as time passes you will eventually try out other types of camping and expand your gear along the way.

Tent Camping

Tent camping, by the very definition, is sleeping in a tent. And this type of camping is where most people begin their camping lifestyle. In fact, you might remember family camping trips when you were young that involved pitching a tent.

When it comes to minimum camping gear, you only NEED a few things. All the rest of the gear you see online are add-ons for you to expand your gear list.

bare minimum camping gear

There is no reason to go out and spend hundreds to thousands of dollars on camping gear if you are a beginner. You can easily wind up broke, with a garage full of useless gear that you only use once or twice a year. Plus, you may have some of these items in your home already.

Stick to the bare minimum gear at first. Then, if you enjoy tent camping, or any other type of camping, add to your gear as you see fit.

Minimum Tent Camping Gear

Below is a list of the basic, bare bones camping gear you need for tent camping. Keep in mind that you can borrow or rent this gear if you are on a tight budget.

  • Tent – When choosing a tent, there is no need to spend $300 for your first-time camping when a less expensive tent will suffice.  Don’t buy a tent based on the number of people it says it will sleep. Look at the actual dimensions. Be sure to read our Tent Buying Guide for more details.
  • Sleeping Bag – A basic sleeping bag is all you need if you want a little bit of comfort in your tent. If you are going to be hiking or packing your gear, look for a sleeping bag that is lightweight and within your budget.
  • Non-Refrigerated Food – When packing for your camping trip, be sure to bring plenty of food that doesn’t require refrigeration. Things like beef jerky, trail mix, or dried fruits are both lightweight and will keep you fed for the weekend. Check out this article by Take The Truck called Over 100 Camping Food Ideas That Require No Refrigeration.
  • Flashlight or Headlamp – When it comes to seeing after dark, don’t skimp. Sure, you could pick up a $3 flashlight at the nearest convenience store, but it may not work as well as you hoped. You will want to get something that is reliable, inexpensive, and rugged.
  • Matches or Lighter – Unless you have a flint, you will need to bring a lighter or a box of long matches for building a campfire.
  • Water – Most experienced campers will not haul water with them because of the weight. However, as a beginner you will more than likely be tent camping in a primitive camping site at a State Park or other maintained campground where water is readily available.

In a nutshell, the above items are the very basic gear you NEED for a weekend camping trip. As you progress, you will add items here and there to your camping gear based on your individual needs.

Car Camping

Car camping gives you the opportunity to explore more places than tent camping. In addition, you can expand your camping gear because you will have an easier way of transporting it. When you are car camping, you essentially use your vehicle as a basecamp.

Many of the items listed above for tent camping will overlap into the basic car camping equipment. Plus, if you need some additional comforts of home, you can easily pack them in the trunk of a car or bed of a truck.

car camping with mountain view

Your vehicle also doubles as a suitable shelter if you have reclining seats, or in the case of a truck, the bed. If you have neither, pitch the tent you have from your tent camping gear.

Minimum Car Camping Gear

When we started car camping, we found out fast that it is very easy to overpack. Even today when we take our travel trailer camping, we tend to take things with us that we really don’t need.

Just because you have room to store more gear doesn’t mean you have to pack it. Below is a list of the very basic car camping gear that you will need.

  • Vehicle – I know, I know. This one is a given. You can’t go car camping without a vehicle, right?
  • Sleep System – If you will be utilizing the bed of your truck, bring blankets from home, a sleeping bag, or an air mattress. A pillow is a good addition as well.
  • Water – Since you won’t be lugging gallons and gallons of water into the woods, keep two gallons of water, per person, per day.
  • Food – You can pack non-perishable items or meals you can cook over the campfire. If you bring perishable foods, you will need a cooler.
  • Cooler – A basic ice chest will work fine. I bet you have one stuck on the shelf in the garage.

When it comes to other items like camp chairs, hammocks, or fishing gear, decide if those items are a want or a need. Sure, camp chairs are comfortable, but a stump or a log can be used for free.

Backyard Camping

It’s not hard to turn your backyard into a camping oasis with some imagination. The best part is the money you save in fuel and campground fees.

In addition, you have a nice, hot shower and clean toilet right inside the door when you need to go. The other types of camping above might require you to use the campground showers, or the woods.

a backyard requires minimum camping gear to enjoy

Backyard camping is the best place to start for beginners. First, it’s REALLY close to home. Second, it gives you a chance to try out any new camping gear before you get to the campground.

Minimum Backyard Camping Gear

This type of camping requires very little basic gear, and the best type of camping for beginners on a budget. Although the location may not be an exotic mountainside retreat, the main goal is to spend the night outside.

A shelter can be as simple as a tarp draped over a rope tied between two trees. Blankets from the back of the sofa or off the beds inside can make a very comfortable pad to sleep on.

Get your imagination going. Do you remember building “forts” in your room as a kid? It doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.

Minimum Backyard Camping Gear

All you need is a place to lay down for the night. Having a small campfire is a nice addition for roasting marshmallows or cooking S’mores, and with the money you save on fuel and fees, you can splurge on a few items.

  • Shelter – Like mentioned above, a basic tent or something as simple as a tarp can be used for a shelter.
  • Imagination – This one is totally free. If you have children, make sure you get them involved. They still have a very powerful imagination.
overnight camping in a tent

Cabin Camping

As we progressed through life, and aged, sleeping in a tent or a vehicle became less desirable than it was when we were beginners. That’s life. It gets harder to get off the ground and your body lets you know the next morning that sleeping on the floor of a tent isn’t such a good idea anymore.

Cabin camping became our go-to for getting out of the house for the weekends. We have camped in cabins that were nothing more than a screened shelter, all the way to cabins that were like a hotel room in the woods.

So, when it comes to basic, minimum gear for cabin camping, check what amenities are available before packing.

Minimum Cabin Camping Gear

We always made sure we had a few essentials for when we arrived at the cabin for the weekend.

  • Food – If your cabin rental includes electricity and a mini-fridge, perishable foods can be stored in there without the need for a cooler.
  • Bedding – Make sure you bring your pillow, sheets, and a blanket for the night. While some cabins supply these, we have always taken our own.
  • Toiletries – Bring your own towel, wash cloth, soap, and any other toiletries you use every day. Again, while these items may be supplied, we always bring our own.

Check with the campground or cabin rental agency prior to packing for your weekend. Adjust your camping gear by the amenities that are offered.

For example, the “hotel in the woods” had a full bathroom, two full-sized beds, microwave oven, mini-fridge, and yes, a TV.

On the other hand, the screened shelter type cabins we have camped in had nothing more than electricity, a water spigot outside, and a picnic table.

RV Camping

When you upgrade to your first travel trailer or camper, the minimum camping gear expands drastically. If you are on a strict camping budget, don’t buy a new RV, buy used from a private seller. You stand to save thousands of dollars and your rig won’t depreciate as soon as you drive off, like a new one does.

Equipping a camper can get costly unless you think outside the box. Of course, there are certain items that are a “must-haves” and other gear that is “nice to have”. For beginners on a budget, be very careful when buying camping gear for your RV. Add certain “wants” as you go.

following the unwritten rules of RV camping

As a beginner and weekend RVer, do you really need that RV GPS or a cell phone booster? No, you don’t. Unless you are RVing full-time, or long-term, most of the RV essentials will be of little to no use to you.

Because we are weekend RV campers, we know firsthand what gear is essential for a weekend camping trip away from home. We have made the mistake, more than once, of buying useless products because we thought they would make our experience better. All it did in the end was cost money and add to our collection of overpacked gear for a short trip.

Minimum RV Camping Gear

The list below is a stripped down, bare minimum list of gear you will need for your camper. Keep in mind that this list is geared toward the occasional RV user, like weekend warriors. Full-time or long-term RVers will have a significantly longer list of essential gear because their rig is their primary residence.

I also didn’t include things like towels, toiletries, bedding, or food and kitchenware. Most people are aware they will need basic dishes for eating or utensils for cooking, etc. This list is mainly for set-up and dumping waste tanks, which you will NEED to do, even after a short weekend.

  • Level – You will need to make sure your camper is level. There is no need to go out and buy a high-end electronic leveling system as a beginner. A simple torpedo level out of your toolbox works just fine.
  • Sewer Drain Hose – If your RV didn’t come with one of these must-haves, you’ll need to invest in one. I would suggest not skimping here. Afterall, if there is a leak or if your hose fails, you are going to have a nasty mess on your hands.
  • Drinking Water Hose – You will need to invest in a quality fresh water drinking hose to hook up at the RV site.
  • Water Filter – In addition to the hose, an inline water filter will keep any contaminants from entering your water supply from aging water lines.
  • Water Pressure Regulator – Some older RV parks and campgrounds have no way of regulating water pressure. An inexpensive pressure regulator can save you tons of money by preventing your water lines from bursting from too much water pressure.
  • Surge Protector – Your new, or used, camper can be plugged into shore power without a surge protector. However, failing to use one may result in serious damage to your electrical system in the event of low voltage, high voltage, or current spike.
  • Stabilizer Arm Pads – You can pick up a pack of stabilizer pads for around $20 or less. But, if you are tight on a budget, blocks of wood do the same thing, in a pinch.
  • Wheel Chocks – Wheel chocks are a very important part of your basic RV gear. These will help keep your rig stay put while you’re parked.

I could list another 50 things that would make your RV camping experience more comfortable, or more enjoyable. However, these other items are not needed to spend the weekend at the RV campground. Over time you will find certain items that you simply can’t live without. That’s great. It’s part of the RV camping way.

In Conclusion

Camping is one of our favorite ways to spend the weekend getting away from it all. It gives us a chance to decompress and get a breath of fresh air. When you are just starting out on your camping journey, keep it simple, have fun, and enjoy spending time with the ones you love.

Don’t get overwhelmed at the thought of spending hundreds, or thousands, of dollars just to go camping. In the end, all you need is some very basic gear, a sense of adventure, and the willingness to get dirty.

If there is anything I missed in these lists, please feel free to leave a comment below and let us know. What are your very basic camping essentials?

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