What is the Right Order in which to Buy Camping Gear?

Camping & Hiking expert Hannah K. overviews camping essentials and comfort items and the order in which she would buy them.

Photo by Scott Goodwill
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First off, is there a “right” way to do anything? Maybe, I don’t know. When it comes to camping gear, there are the 10 essentials, which we will break down a little later, and then there are comfort items. I highly suggest getting the 10 essentials before any comfort items. So let’s dig a little deeper into camping gear and the sequence I think is the “right” way to purchase it.

The 10 essentials, in no particular order, are: navigation, sun protection, first aid, lighting, knife, fire starter, shelter, food (extra), water (extra), and clothes (extra). Now, before you go camping, I highly suggest having some form of all of these things. But, if you have a trip a few months away, and are buying item by item, here is the order I would buy them.

The Essentials

1.) Sleep System

For your sleep system, I would start with a sleeping pad and sleeping bag, or quilt. These items will keep you warm and help you avoid hypothermia or getting frostbite on those toes (yay). To choose a sleeping bag temperature rating, I generally suggest 10 degrees lower than the coldest it will get any given night. So, if you are planning on camping in 30°F weather, get a 20°F bag. The Marmot Trestles Eco Bag is a great 20°F bag that will keep your toes warm.

Sleeping pads have an R-value, which measures the performance of insulation in reducing heat loss/transfer. An R-value under 2 is great for summer and warmer temps. I am a cold sleeper and generally just cold, so I suggest an R-value of 3 or higher for three-season camping trips.

The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad is one of the best on the market. It weighs 12oz, is 2.5in thick, and has an R-Value of 3.9. You can’t really go wrong with it.

2.) Shelter

After finding the right sleep system, I would then focus on a tent, bivy, or hammock. Tents are very personal and there are so many options out there. Finding the perfect one for you may take time and has the potential to be the most expensive thing on this list. I am a tent camper, but for those who use hammocks and bivys, the same rules apply.

I personally use the Nemo Hornet 2 Person Backpacking Tent. It is extremely lightweight for my needs, just over 2lbs, and is large enough for me, my dog, and our gear! This three-season tent is pricey, but made with durable materials to make it last through all my crazy adventures.

3.) Food & Water

After a shelter, I would gather extra food and water. These and things you don’t really need to buy if you have the items at home. Bringing extra canned beans, peanut butter, bread, and other snacky items are great in case you decide to stay an extra day.

Same with water, always bring extra water! Always!

4.) Clothes

Bringing extra clothes is necessary as well. Warmer layers for night and early mornings, extra socks in case they get wet in a stream, and clean undergarments are useful to have in case it starts raining, you take a dip in a river, or any other reason. A warm layer like a nano puff, such as the Cotopaxi Fuego Hooded Down Jacket, is a light but warm and fashionable layer to bring along.

5.) Fire Starter

Camping is great and fun, but can also be tiring. When you finally get to camp, starting a fire may not be the most important thing on your mind. But it should be! If you aren’t having luck rubbing two sticks together (lol) bring a fire starter along. It will help you get it started, and that fire will keep you warm and allow you to cook some delicious campfire mac n cheese or pizza.

A sparking campfire in a stone pit at a campsite in a forest
Photo by Timothy Meinberg

6.) First Aid Kit

If you choose not to buy one, assemble whatever medication you take on a daily basis or think you may need. Ibuprofen is always a good thing to bring along, as well as some allergy medication. Stick some bandages, scissors, and duct tape in there too. Duct tape will always come in handy. This Adventure First Aid Kit is large enough for families and has everything you need.

7.) Sun Protection

For those warmer days, a sun hat is great to keep you cool and keep the sun off your face. Always bring sunscreen, and wear it everyday. A hat and some glasses are also great additions. This Outdoor Research Sun Hat and these Forecast Optics Jan Sunglasses will keep your skin safe and eyes protected.

8.) Navigation

I think most people would put navigation higher and in some cases it should be. However, if you are just going camping for the weekend, all you really need is directions to the campsite, which can be found on your phone or a local map. In these cases, you won’t really need anything more serious. For backpacking or backcountry camping, a GPS is necessary.

9.) Lighting

Heaving a headlamp and lantern are great for when the sun sets and you don’t have electricity to plug in your lamp. If you only want one, opt for the headlamp. Having a hands-free light source is useful for when you need to do dishes, go to the bathroom, or set up your tent in the dark (not a fun task). This Black Diamond Astro 250 headlamp is simple to use and very efficient. This Black Diamond Moji Lantern is small enough to throw in your backpack and strong enough to light up your tent so you can read before passing out under the stars.

10.) Knife

For camping, I personally don’t see a reason to bring a knife. However, many people do! It is useful to cut and is an added safety feature that many like to have. I prefer to bring small scissors in my first aid kit that also do the job of a knife.

Before you go camping, have some form of these 10 items. They are crucial to your health and safety, and will also allow you to have a better time outdoors if you are still getting used to sleeping outside.

Comfort Items

A map, hiking boots, red jacket, black backpack, camera, compass, journal, and camera on the ground
Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse

1.) Guitar and other Musical Instruments

Having a guitar to play around the campfire is iconic. I don’t think I need to convince anyone of that.

2.) Beer

Alcoholic beverages, beer, or any of these fun cocktails, when consumed safely, can add a lot of fun to your camping trip.

3.) Pillow

When I go backpacking, a pillow isn’t something I choose to bring. But when you’re camping and throwing all of your gear in a car, adding a pillow is a nice touch. Using a backpack or jacket also works, but a pillow always helps me sleep better.

4.) Extra Blanket

Extra blankets are not only great for warmth, but add coziness and a touch of home everywhere you go. I use them to sleep, sit around the campfire, and keep me warm on longer car drives.

5.) Book

Not everyone likes to bring a physical book. You might prefer to bring an eReader instead. I’m not one for looking at screens too much (I say as I look at a screen), so I prefer a physical book. There is something about the smell of a book that smells like history and I love that. I like to bring a book to read for when my food is cooking and to help me sleep better!

Did I miss your favorite comfort item? Do you have a different opinion of what piece of gear to buy first? Hit me up through my profile and let me know, and as always, let’s chat about all things outdoors.

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Written By
Although I've been hiking for most of my life, I didn't start backpacking and camping until college when I joined the University Outdoors Club at my school. My first backpacking trip was ambitious, the Batona Trail in the Pinelands in New Jersey done in two days. To do that, we had to walk a maratho...

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