Minimalist Camping Essentials

Our family loves to travel. We also love to camp. We love being outdoors, meeting like-minded people, and having quick access to nature for the weekend. Our family has tent camped, which I grew up loving as a kid, and we have had a pop-up camper, which we also really enjoyed.

When the kids and we were younger we enjoyed tent camping but found it lacking. It was difficult for my husband to sleep well with a past back injury, and bringing a bigger dog with us was out of the question in a tent. We desired the ability to go more often and not always need a dog sitter, so last spring we sold our tent and sized up to the pop-up.

Having a pop-up was great. We loved renovating it, learning all there was to know about them and making them it home-like as possible. We made quite a few friends in the loving and welcoming pop-up community. With covid putting a damper on traditional travel, we were so blessed to have found a camper to use at all. We had a blast on the trips we took over the summer and we got excellent sleep. Check! However, our popup still lacked a toilet and the ability to comfortably bring our 80-pound boxer on trips. When we purchased it, it was what we could find and afford at the time so we have no regrets about the purchase. We have become more confident towing and know we love camping as a family so we are ready to move on to bigger things.

Since we are clearing out our pop-up and getting ready to sell, I felt it would be timely to reflect on what we brought with us, what we used and didn’t, and what we are going to move over to the travel trailer. Our sell and donate piles are being made! We hope your find this list helpful, if you are planning your Spring camping gear (tent, camper, or other).

I try to be as minimal as possible when packing, only bringing what we will need and actually use. With three kids and two dogs, plus all our food for the weekend that’s a good bit in itself to prep and remember. I don’t want to be bogged down with a lot more _stuff_. This list might be more than you need or want, especially if you are just a single person or small family, but It’s what we found useful for maintaining comfort and having a fun time on the road.

One of our favorite camping spots, right next to the playground at Defeated Creek.

Clothing – I bring each person ONE outfit for each day we camp, something to sleep in, and a backup outfit in case they need extra layers or need to change clothes. Denim is super forgiving and can often be worn a few days in a row without washing. My husband often brings convertible pants so he has pants in the morning when it is colder and shorts in the afternoon when it warms up. Inclimate weather will need additional items but for summer camping – you can get by with much less.`

  • Underwear
  • Tee Shirts
  • Pants or shorts, depending on the weather
  • Sleepwear
  • Weather gear like a windbreaker, rain jacket, hats, scarves, mittens, if needed
  • Pullover/hoodie or coat, depending on the weather
  • socks (one extra pair is usually handy).
We keep all of our clothing in our popup in Sterilite bins. Each person gets a drawer for their clothes. There is a drawer for kitchen items, toiletries, and one for snacks.

Bedding – Sleeping bags, or sheets and blankets, and a pillow for each person/bed. A blow-up mattress, pad, or cot if you are tent camping.

Cooking Gear

  • Something to cook on. Unless you are a raw vegan or plan to only eat sandwiches and cereal while you are out, you will likely want something to cook your food on. There are lots of options for this, including cooking directly over a fire so I won’t try to cover them all, but I can tell you what we have tried and what has worked best for us. When we tent camped we had a camp stove with pots and pans. When we bought our pop up, we upgraded to a Blackstone griddle. I wanted even less stuff to keep up with so and the griddle was great for that because it eliminated our need for cooking pans. We bought the 22 inch griddle, since we are larger family, also use it at home, and because it has dual burners which offers more even heating. We LOVE it and actually parted with our home grill since it wasn’t getting used anymore.
  • Nesting camping pot set – we can boil water or warm beans or pre-cooked sides directly on the griddle with these.
  • Spatula
  • One Good Knife – I like a medium-sized santoku since they are sharp and versatile, This one is our favorite for camping since it is so cheap but they are very sharp and easy to maneuver.
  • A bowl and plate, fork, and spoon or spork for each person.
  • An oven mitt
  • Cooler
  • ziplock bags for leftovers
  • Bottled water, Jugs of water, or a way to filter water. When we tent camped we used large jugs of water and filled these before leaving home. For our Pup, we have a filter for shore water and also bring our Berkey for drinking water.
  • Refillable water bottles. We never leave home without our Hydroflasks.

Food – Some of our favorite camping foods are the meals we make at home most often and what is easy to make, without a ton of prep. I tend to marinade and do a lot of the prep at home, to save having to do it at the campsite.

  • Dinner – Steaks, Fajitas, Smash-burgers, Grass-Fed hotdogs, crockpot chili, tacos.
  • Breakfast – yogurt with granola, breakfast bars, Eggs, and sausage or bacon. Lots of families like to do pancakes, instant oats, cereals, etc.
  • Lunch – We stick to what is super easy, often just Leftovers, salads, and sandwiches.
  • Snacks – Fruit, chips, veggies, easy to grab, or pre-prepped items. Most of our snacks we plan to take on the go, like for hikes, boating, and time at the beach so think ahead to the activities you might be doing and if you will want snacks while you are there.
  • Cooking oil, Salt, pepper, and other spices (or you can season everything in the meal prep stage at home and just bring a little salt on the trip if desired)
A backpacking hack of wrapping up just a few feet of duct tape, is a great way to save weight ans space while still being feeling prepared.

Odds and Ends

  • Toilet Paper
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Soap
  • Paper towels
  • Some sort of storage tote or bags to keep all of your tools and odds and ends
  • Flashlight or lantern
  • Some sort of fire starter. We loved our torch that attaches to a small propane tank but matches and a stick lighter would also work.
  • A small roll of duct tape. *I bring about 5 feet rolled into a circle. It is great to have on hand and doesn’t take up as much space as a whole roll.
  • A table cloth for the picnic table (you never know what the person before you put on the picnic table (I’ve heard about people putting their sewer hose on them, gross!)

Nice to have but maybe not _essential_.

  • Folding chairs – most camping spots give you a picnic bench to use, and there is always the ground if you have a lawn blanket, but folding chairs are nice to have for relaxing around the camp fire at night.
  • Tiny broom – great for sweeping out your tent or camper
  • Floor mat for wiping feet before entering tent or camper
  • A camping rug or mat for outside your tent. We actually use Mexican blankets that we already owned for picnics and soccer games. They fold up small and are machine washable and cost about $5 each. They keep the dirt down and make it feel more like home. Our toddler likes to play on them and our dogs lay down on them. lots of campsites are gravel so having a rug or blanket down can make a site a lot more comfortable.
  • Extra kitchen goods: Cutting board, folding table for meal prep (necessary if you do not have a picnic bench at your campsite) a small bin for washing dishes, a can & bottle opener, strainer for pasta and washing veggies, Coffee maker, coffee, and mugs.

Pop Up specific tools

  • A level – We used these stick on levels and attached them to the front and side of the camper rather than bringing stick levelers with us.
  • Something to level with – we used and love our ball leveler since you don’t need to pull forward and back onto leveling bricks. You park and then put the leveler around one side of the tire, and then adjust until the camper is level. It’s a time saver for sure! You can also uses the lego brick type levelers, Anderson levelers, or even just cut pieces of wood, just be sure to bring them with you whenever you travel.
  • a small bag of tools
  • emergency blankets – we used these to block the sun on the bunk ends of our camper.

Tent Specific tools

  • Stake mallet
  • sleeping bags and mattress

Other nice to have items, depending on your situation

  • Stuff for the kids – bikes, games, bubbles, chalk, walkie talkies, balls, sticks for smores, etc. None of this is essential, but if it is your first trip out, the more you have to help them transition the better. If your kids are accustomed to lots of games or TV time at home, having things to encourage outdoor play can save morale until they make some friends and see all there is to love about camping. We want our kids to have a blast so that they will want to camp again. We try to make them as comfortable as possible. We also bring some tech, in case it rains, and for campground quiet hours, so they can unwind before bed.
  • Stuff for the baby – diapers, wipes, extra changes of clothing, feeding items, stroller, trike.
  • Safe sleep space items (pack and play, snuggleme/dock a tot, bed rail, or other ways to keep the baby safe at bedtime. We have a blow-up bedroll for travel and it’s been excellent.
  • High chair – we have a high chair for travel that we always keep in the van, It has a tray and we never have to worry about borrowing one, worrying about cleanliness, or needing to “pass the baby” during dinner. It has been amazing to have camping. We set it up at the picnic bench and leave it set up the whole trip.
  • Leisure activity equipment – bikes, fishing gear, life jackets, swimming essentials, hiking equipment. If you are into those things, likely you know what you need to bring for them 🙂

Pet items – Pets can have a blast camping. But be sure that you know your pet well and determine if bringing them is the right decision. Dogs with a dog or human aggression should always be left home or boarded. Dogs that bark a lot will probably spoil yours and other campers fun, so consider leaving them or plan ways to limit their barking. We were at a campground once where a man’s dog wined most of the day and it really put a damper on our experience and the dog was clearly not enjoying themselves. Dogs should always be kept on some sort of leash or tie-out, regardless of how well behaved they are. Also, consider what activities you will be doing on your camping trip and what you will do with your pet when you are doing them. Lots of trails, beaches, and public spaces do not allow pets and some campgrounds are more pet friendly than others. Do your research first. Some campgrounds do not allow pets to be left unattended in campers and leaving them alone in a tent would not be safe. That means one person from your party will always need to stay with your pet(s).

  • Water and food bowl – we have collapsable bowls that we leave with our camping gear but any bowl will work. Just be sure it has a wide flat bottom or it can get knocked over easily and make a mess.
  • Tie-out cable & stake (You don’t have to have a stake, the tie-outs can be attached to anything but we like the stake for portability and use even when there isn’t a tree or bench to use, it can also keep the pets from being underfoot)
  • Harness – this is a much safer, more comfortable, and secure way to keep your dog close than a collar around the neck.
  • Dog Food – I did forget this once and we had to make a special trip to find food that wouldn’t upset their stomachs. Camping is not the time to switch your dog’s food or you could end up cleaning lots of messes and trying to walk them in the middle of the night when they get an upset stomach.
  • Biodegradable Dog waste bags – always clean up after your pet.

I hope that you find this list of camping essentials helpful. Happy Camping!


Disclaimer: Any products recommended in this post were purchased with our own money. Nothing in this post sponsored. The items above include affiliate links, if you make a purchase with that link a small percentage will be given to us to help support our blog expenses.

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