Home ReviewsTravel Products Camping gear for beginners: What you need for sleeping, cooking and hanging out

Camping gear for beginners: What you need for sleeping, cooking and hanging out

by Jan Schroder
dog in back of packed car

As a newbie camper, I knew two things. 1. The right gear would make the difference between a delightful trip and a I’ll-never-do-that-again experience. 2. I didn’t know what the right gear was.

Along with the hundreds of tips I received for my first camping trip, I got dozens of suggestions about camping gear for beginners. The #1 item suggested? An air mattress.

Check out our essential gear guide for first-time campers, which includes sections on sleeping and hanging out, food and cooking, and personal hygiene. 

We also included a few items just for fun as you could argue we didn’t really need the color changing wind chimes.

Camping Gear You Need for Sleeping and Hanging Out

One of my biggest concerns as an inexperienced camper was getting the right gear for sleeping comfortably. And I really hate being cold so needed to make sure I had whatever I needed to stay warm.

My husband had an old tent, but it’s one of those pup tents that you slide your body into like you’re crawling into a cave. That wouldn’t do for the both of us.

We needed one I could stand up in to change my clothes and room to keep our stuff inside. I also needed a sleeping bag. Chris had one air mattress, but recommended having a back-up in case something happened to our first one. Good idea.

Unlike Chris, who shuts his eyes and is asleep in .2 seconds flat, I always read before I go to sleep. This caused problems when we were first married. At first he tried to change my life-long habit and asked why I couldn’t just stop reading every night. When my are-you-insane look clued him to the fact that wasn’t going to happen, he put a pillow over his head and grumbled that I’m a “really loud page turner.”

I still can’t figure out how I will sit up in bed to read at night. Then I remembered that in college I had a kind of pillow we called husbands, that has two arms to support you in bed. But I didn’t want to carry a big heavy pillow around. I started to Google “blow-up husbands” then caught myself just in time. Do you really want to see those results?

Our course a good camping chair is a must. Select one that suits your needs as they come in varying heights.

At my brother’s recommendation I also got a head lamp. It gets way darker out in the woods than it does in Atlanta, Georgia and I wanted to be able to see hands-free at night.

We needed a lantern but had one that I believe was from my daughter’s Girl Scout days, many years before so needed new ways to add light.

We knew we’d have cell reception but how to keep our iPads and phones charged up? Chris bought a large power charger that also powers the pump for the air mattress we slept on. It’s one of the more expensive purchases but well worth it for all the uses we will have for it.

I also got a clothesline so we could hang towels and anything else that may need to dry.

man under stars at White Tank Campground

Looking for a campsite? See our related story for places that include vineyards, farms and national parks: 2 Ways to Find Your Dream Campsite/Yurt/Cabin/Farm Stay

6-person camping tent

This Kelty Sequoia tent comes in 4- and 6-person sizes for $329.95. It also comes in a moss/smoke color combination.

sleeping bag

This lightweight oaskys sleeping bag is designed for temperatures from 35~50 Degrees and it’s just $27.99.

queen-size air mattress

This queen-size air mattress comes with a high-speed pump for $69.99.

power charging station

The Jackery Portable Power Station Explorer 160 for our air pump and charging phones and iPads, $149.99.

adjustable camping clotheslines

2-pack rope adjustable clothesline for hanging towels and drying clothes for $8.99.

Vont head lamps

2 pack of Vont bright head lamps with adjustable strap: $13.99

camping lantern

A battery-powered camping lantern with four modes for $20.99.

Coleman camping chair

Coleman portable camping chair with 4-can cooler, $35.74.

LED tent lights

LED tent lights come in a four-pack for $12.99.

Dream Comfy

Keep warm with this cozy Dream Comfy wearable blanket that comes in seven colors. One size really does fit all, $39.99.

Camping Gear for Beginners: Food and Cooking

This may be the area I knew least about when it came to camping gear for beginners. How do you cook without electricity? And how do you keep your food cold?

I gave Chris a Yeti portable cooler for Christmas and we have loved it. It’s been on several trips with us and it holds a lot yet is so easy to pack in the car and carry wherever we are going. And it keeps ice for days.

We pondered the purchase of a larger cooler that would hold ice up to four days and found a more affordable substitute for the Yeti. Chris declared it a worthy addition to the household.

Chris has a two-burner propane stove that addresses one of my main concerns about camping – having hot coffee in the morning. I found a little gadget to help with making pourover coffee.

On his previous camping trips at the lake Chris had forgotten utensils. I’m trying to cut down on our use of paper products so we ordered a silverware kit.

While they may not fall into the category of camping essentials for everyone, plastic wine glasses are on my list. We already had plenty of plastic wine glasses but if not I would have gotten a new set to take. I am trying to cut down on throw-away plastic items so we got a utensil set.

We had purchased a small camping table for our previous visits to the lake and have also used it for Friday afternoon neighborhood cocktail parties.

Yeti hopper cooler

The Yeti Hopper cooler has been one of our best purchases. $439.99.

Coleman cooler

Coleman 54-quart cooler keeps ice up to four days. Color pictured is $166.77; other colors start at $70.39.

plastic wine glasses

Vivocci unbreakable wine glasses hold 20 ounces, a set of 4 is $24.95.

12-piece mess kit for camping

12-piece camping kit with wine opener and plates. $24.99.

camping table

ALPS Mountaineering Eclipse Table comes in three colors for $44.99.

2-burner Coleman gas camping stove, $56.44.

Gear to Buy for Personal Hygiene

I’m an outdoorsy type but do enjoy a real bathroom. This was an area I really wanted to get right when selecting items for a guide for camping gear for beginners.

It doesn’t bother me to go a few days without a shower. But I knew I’d want to be able to wash my face and maybe take a quick rinse. So we got a portable solar-powered shower and figured we could hang it on the dock to warm the water during the day. There is also the option of full body wipes.

I also don’t have any concerns about peeing in the woods. But I’d always envied men their ability to pee standing up, plus there is always the danger of poison ivy when you’re squatting in the woods. If we camped on the dock I didn’t want to wander off into the dark by myself. So I found an item that lets me pee standing up. It sounds strange but it will come in handy.

To wash our hands, clean our dishes and wash any clothes I got biodegradable soap to be environmentally safe.

The lake water is pretty clean and I won’t mind using it to wash my face at night. I got a collapsible bowl to put water in for this purpose and anything else we may need a bowl for.

This solar shower holds 5 gallons and has a shower head, $18.14.

Biodegradable wipes, 30-count for $11.49.

Sierra Dawn Campsuds can be used for your dishes and in the shower. $12.00.

pStyle device for women, $11.99

Camping Gear Just For Fun

We couldn’t resist a few fun items to throw in with our camping gear. Who can resist adorable socks? And why not create a festive atmosphere with some color-changing wind chimes?

Color changing solar power wind chimes, $22.99.

I hope you enjoyed our list of camping gear for beginners. Did I leave something essential out? Let me know and I’ll buy it for my first trip.

– Jan Schroder, Editor-in-chief

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