Buying new camping gear can be overwhelming.
This is especially true if you’re a new camper buying your first set of gear.
Before you spend your hard-earned money, make sure you know which camping supplies are essential – and which are more like luxuries.
Today, I break down the types of camping gear every camper needs plus a few of my favorite non-essential camping accessories.
* This camping gear list is tailored to dispersed camping, although most items work just as well at developed campgrounds.
Related Post: The Best Gifts for Dispersed Campers
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My Favorite Camping Essentials for Dispersed Camping
These are my top dispersed camping essentials. I never go camping without these items. If you’re a newbie, start with these necessities and build from there. The right gear makes dispersed camping much more enjoyable.
The North Face Wawona 6 Tent
A very tall and spacious 6-person tent with a huge vestibule for sitting out of the rain.
I’ve used a lot of great tents over the years…
I started with the now discontinued Diamond Brand Freedome 2.5 Tent before replacing it with the Poler 2+ Tent.
Both of these were great tents but were a little on the heavy side. This isn’t a huge deal for dispersed camping near a vehicle, but I wanted a tent that could also be used for backpacking.
My current all-around tent is The North Face Stormbreak 2. It’s slightly smaller than my Diamond Brand and Poler tents, but is lighter and packs down smaller.
The Stormbreak 2 is the perfect size for one adult and a dog. But it can comfortably fit two adults and a dog when needed. It hits the sweet spot in terms of quality and affordability (i.e. it’s a great value tent).
Recently, I’ve also added The North Face Wawona 6 Tent into the mix. Although I don’t take it on every trip, it’s super nice to have if I’m camping with friends or camping in the winter.
I absolutely love the Wawona 6. It’s super tall with near vertical tent walls to make for even more room. Plus, the huge vestibule is a great place to stash dirty gear or even sit on rainy days.
I strongly recommend the Stormbreak 2 for solo campers and couples while the Wawona 6 is one of the best tents for larger groups, including families.
Kelty Cosmic 20 Sleeping Bag
A lightweight mummy-style sleeping bag that keeps you warm in temperatures down to 32°F and below.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of a quality sleeping bag.
Although a budget model will likely get the job done for summer camping with warm nights, you absolutely should invest in a better bag if you also plan to camp in spring or fall.
I’m currently using the Kelty Cosmic 20 Sleeping Bag year round. It’s a phenomenal “no frills” bag that doesn’t break the bank but is still light enough for backpacking trips.
The Cosmic 20 is the perfect warmth for chilly nights in the fall and spring. I’ve used it down to about 32°F and stayed plenty warm, but I wouldn’t trust it to keep me warm much colder than that. In the summer, I keep the bag unzipped or sometimes sleep on top of it.
For winter camping, I also throw a couple wool blankets into my truck. They’re a little pricey, but I love Pendleton blankets for dispersed camping.
I can’t recommend the Kelty Cosmic 20 enough for anyone that wants a relatively affordable sleeping bag for dispersed camping or staying warm at the campground.
Exped MegaMat 10 Sleeping Pad
An oversized “sleeping pad” that’s extremely comfortable and very warm. Perfect for tent camping or sleeping in the back of a vehicle.
Upgrading to the Exped MegaMat 10 has been a total game changer.
At 4 inches thick, it’s seriously so comfortable that it’s hard to even call it a sleeping pad. Not only is it mega comfortable, but it also provides a ton of insulation from the ground on cold nights.
I use the MegaMat 10 in the back of my pickup truck and in my tent. It will fit into the back of the majority of passenger vehicles. It does cost a pretty penny, but the price is well worth it in my opinion.
Exped also offers a double-wide version of this sleeping pad, the Exped MegaMat Duo 10, which is perfect for couples or solo campers who just prefer a bigger sleep surface.
The Exped MegaMat 10 might just the single best piece of camping gear I’ve ever used. It’s seriously that comfortable.
Learn More: My Exped MegaMat 10 Review
RTIC 45 Quart Cooler
A premium cooler with a rotomolded design, 3-inch insulated walls, and a freezer-quality sealing gasket to keep your ice colder for longer.
Right now, I’m using the RTIC 20 Quart Cooler for short solo trips and the RTIC 45 Quart Cooler for longer solo trips or short trips with friends.
RTIC coolers like these are very similar to (and a bit more affordable than!) the very popular Yeti coolers.
Although investing in a “premium” cooler has been well worth it for me, any old cooler does the trick for short weekend camping trips. The standard budget-model Coleman cooler is a great choice for those who only camp a couple times a year.
Much more important than the model you go with is using your cooler correctly. Specifically, keeping it closed as much as possible and storing it out of direct sunlight.
I don’t have personal experience with them, but electric coolers, like the Dometic CFX3-25, are becoming more popular in dispersed camping circles, especially among full-time boondockers, serious overlanders, and van dwellers.
Coleman Classic Propane Stove
A simple yet effective two-burner propane camp stove with built-in wind-blocking panels.
I can’t recommend the Coleman Classic Stove highly enough. It’s a simple, seemingly bulletproof two-burner propane stove that doesn’t break the bank.
I just retired a Coleman Classic after over 10 years of heavy use. It was still working like a champ, but I wanted to buy a newer version of the same model to see if it still performed just as well – and it did and does.
Other camping stoves, like the Eureka Ignite 2-Burner Camp Stove, have much better heat control and temperature adjustability, but the Coleman is just so darn rugged and simple that I can’t bear to make the switch to another model.
My Favorite Camping Accessories for Dispersed Camping
You don’t explicitly need the following gear for dispersed camping, but it does make life a lot easier. I slowly added these items over time, but now I’d never want to go dispersed camping without them.
Ozark Trail 6-Gallon Water Jug
A simple, reliable “jerry can” for water storage with a comfortable handle and an easy-pour spout.
Most dispersed campsites don’t have access to potable water, so you’ll need to bring your own.
Of course, you can always use disposable plastic bottles or jugs from the store, but I much prefer bringing dedicated water storage in the form of the Ozark Trail 6-Gallon Water Jug.
Another option is to bring a water filter or purifier. I’m a huge fan of the MSR Guardian Purifier which I use on backpacking trips and extended dispersed camping outings.
Recently, I’ve also been eyeing the LifeSaver Jerry Can. It combines just under 5 gallons of water storage with a built-in water purifier. There’s even an optional shower attachment. I’ll let you know if I ever end up pulling the trigger on it!
Portable Power Station
Jackery Explorer 500 Portable Power Station
A 518 watt-hour portable power station. Ideal for powering small appliances and charing your devices.
A portable power station is super nice to have on extended dispersed camping trips.
I personally don’t have much need for power beyond charging my smaller devices (phone, satellite communicator, etc), so I’ve been perfectly happy with the Goal Zero Yeti 150.
Unfortunately, this small but powerful portable power station is no longer made. For a device with a similar capacity, the Jackery Explorer 240 is a great choice.
Ryan, one of our writers, currently uses (and is a big fan of) the Jackery Explorer 500. This is the perfect sized portable power station for the vast majority of dispersed campers.
I’ll likely upgrade from my Yeti 150 to another portable power station soon. Most likely it will be the Explorer 500, but I might go for the Jackery Explorer 1000, so I can also use it as a home emergency generator during power outages.
Yet another option (one I don’t have any personal experience with) is a DIY portable solar power system. I highly recommend checking out Gnomad Home’s awesomely detailed guide on how to install a campervan solar electrical system if a DIY system interests you.
Learn More: My Goal Zero Yeti 150 Review | Ryan’s Jackery Explorer 500 Review
Portable Solar Panel
Goal Zero Boulder 50 Solar Panel
A 50 watt portable solar panel with a built-in kickstand to charge your portable power station.
Most portable power stations can be charged via a standard wall outlet, car charging port, or solar panel.
Right now, I use the Goal Zero Boulder 50 to charge my Yeti 150 power station when camping. It takes between 6 and 10 hours for a full charge (depending on the weather).
Most of the time, you can charge one brand’s portable power station with another brand’s portable solar panel, although it’s easiest to opt for a panel and station from the same brand since each company seems to use a different connector type.
Here are a few helpful resources on how to use one brand’s solar panel with another brand’s portable power station:
- How to Connect Third-Party Solar Panels to Goal Zero Yeti
- Connect a Goal Zero Solar Panel to a Jackery Power Station
- How to Use Renogy Panels With Jackery Power Stations
Another option is a small portable solar charger or portable power back if you only plan to charge your phone while in the field. These small, lightweight devices are also ideal for backpacking.
Learn More: My Goal Zero Boulder 50 Review
Garmin inReach Mini 2 Satellite Communicator
An updated version of the inReach Mini with standard two-way messaging, GPS location, and emergency SOS feature as well as improved battery life, quicker GPS acquisition, and a new user interface.
My Garmin inReach Mini is my single most important piece of camping gear I own.
It immediately became a staple on all of my dispersed camping trips as soon as I bought it a few years ago.
In addition to an SOS feature which sends your exact GPS coordinates to a 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center, the inReach Mini makes it easy to communicate with friends and family back home.
It’s best used to send pre-set messages (with your GPS coordinates) to pre-set contacts, although you can also use it to send custom text messages while in the field (no cell service required).
You can also receive text messages (two-way messaging), track your location online, and much more. The device utilizes the Iridium satellite network which ensures 100% coverage anywhere on Earth with no gaps or fringe areas.
As a frequent solo camper, the peace of mind that my inReach Mini provides (for both me and my family) is well worth the somewhat hefty price tag – you really can’t put a price on safety!
An updated version of the inReach Mini, the Garmin inReach Mini 2, is now available. It boasts all the original’s best features as well as improved battery life, quicker GPS acquisition, and a new user interface.
* Do note that the inReach Mini and inReach Mini 2 require a paid monthly subscription to use (even the SOS feature requires this).
Learn More: My Garmin inReach Mini Review
My Favorite Camping Extras for Dispersed Camping
In addition to the must-haves (and extras) above, there’s a bunch of camping gear I only sometimes bring on my dispersed camping trips. It’s far from essential, but can certainly be nice to bring along.
Sea to Summit Pocket Shower
A 10-liter solar shower with adjustable shower pressure so you can take a hot shower anywhere.
A solar shower is definitely nice on longer dispersed camping trips.
I’ve tried out a couple different models in the past and the Sea to Summit Pocket Shower stands out as my favorite.
It packs down super small (small enough for backpacking) and holds 10 liters which is enough for two people to shower with if you’re conservative with your water use.
Reliance Luggable Loo Portable Toilet
A simple bucket-style portable toilet with a comfortable toilet seat and odor-proof snap-on lid.
You certainly don’t need a portable toilet for dispersed camping.
But, when you’re miles from the nearest toilet, using one certainly beats burying your waste in a cat hole or packing it out in a WAG bag.
I’m a big fan of the Luggable Loo for its simplicity and effectiveness. It’s little more than a 5-gallon bucket with a snap-on toilet seat and odor-blocking lid. But it works very well and costs just $20.
I personally just use normal extra-strong garbage bags in my Luggable Loo, although Reliance does sell special Double Doodie Waste Bags with Bio-Gel made specifically for camping toilets.
Each of these waste bags contains a gelatin powder that solidifies liquid waste and masks unpleasant odors.
In my opinion, a portable heater is a must for cold weather camping.
Although I’m also a big fan of the Mr. Heater Little Buddy, I recently upgraded to the Mr. Heater Portable Buddy for my winter dispersed camping outings.
It’s a compact yet powerful propane heater that radiates either 4,000 or 9,000 BTUs per hour depending on the setting.
It has several built-in safety features, including an oxygen depletion sensor and accidental safety shutoff, so you can use it in enclosed spaces without worry.
Learn More: My Mr. Heater Little Buddy Review
Need More Help?
The camping gear listed above is my personal favorite gear for dispersed camping…
But, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you. There’s a ton of great gear out there – and everyone’s needs and preferences are different – so I encourage you to do research beyond my suggestions.
Let me know if you’d like to know more about any of the gear on my personal list above. Or, if there’s a specific piece of gear you’re just dying to get our opinion on, shoot me a line and there’s a good chance we can work it into our review budget!
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