Buying new camping gear can be overwhelming.
This is especially true if you’re a first-time camper buying your very first set of gear.
Before you spend your hard-earned money, make sure you know which camping supplies are really necessary – and which are more like luxuries.
Below I break down the camping gear that every camper needs plus a few of my favorite non-essential camping accessories!
Note: This isn’t an exhaustive camping gear list. For a list of everything you need for camping, check out this camping checklist.
Related Post: Best Camping Gifts for 2021
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My Favorite Camping Gear for Dispersed Camping
Here are some of my top camping essentials. If you’re a newbie, start with the necessities and build from there. The right gear definitely makes dispersed camping more enjoyable.
The North Face Stormbreak 2 Tent
An affordable 2-person backpacking tent with two doors and a full-coverage rainfly, ideal for 3-season camping.
Some dispersed campers sleep inside their vehicles (whether that’s an RV, van, or a passenger vehicle) – everyone else needs a tent.
The best tent for you depends largely on size/capacity and seasonality. Since you’re likely dispersed camping near your vehicle, tent weight doesn’t matter as much as it does for backpacking.
Although I don’t have any personal experience with rooftop tents, they’re increasingly popular in overlanding circles thanks to their convenience and security. A rooftop tent is perfect if you prefer to sleep up off the ground.
For new campers, Ozark Trail tents are hard to beat. Their quality is definitely inferior to the tents mentioned above, but they’re a super cheap way to try out camping without forking over the big bucks on an activity you might not end up liking.
Kelty Cosmic 20 Sleeping Bag
This lightweight mummy-style sleeping bag keeps you warm in temperatures down to 32°F and a bit below.
A quality sleeping bag is perhaps even more important than a good tent for dispersed camping.
The most important factor to consider is temperature rating. A sleeping bag’s temperature rating dictates the lowest temperature at which the bag will keep the average user warm.
Know, however, that temperature rating isn’t standardized across brands. And that’s not to mention how differences in metabolism, what clothes you wear to sleep, and sleeping pad insulation effect warmth from person to person.
Personally, I recommend a sleeping bag rated for about 10° to 15° Fahrenheit under the coldest temperature you expect to encounter while camping.
When it’s warmer, simply unzip the bag a bit to let it breath. When it’s colder, zip the bag up all the way (you can also add a sleeping bag liner for an additional boost in warmth).
As for my go-to sleeping bag, I’m currently using the Kelty Cosmic 20. It’s a relatively lightweight (2 lbs 15 oz for the regular length version) mummy-shaped bag. I’m very pleased with its performance so far. I’ve stayed plenty warm on cold nights with temperatures hovering around freezing.
Prefer a sleeping bag with a bit more room? The Kelty Galactic 30 is a great choice. It’s an awesome rectangular-shaped sleeping bag that’s perfect for spring, summer, and fall dispersed camping.
Men’s, women’s, and kid’s models are also available as are double sleeping bags which can fit two sleepers (The North Face Eco Trail Bed Double 20 is a solid two-person bag).
Just like with tents, buying a sleeping bag from Walmart is a great budget option. Ozark Trail sleeping bags are super affordable, although I only recommend them for mild summer camping (even if the bag is rated for a colder temperature).
The great thing about dispersed camping near your car is weight isn’t an issue – I always bring a few wool blankets (they’re pricey, but I love Pendleton blankets) in the spring, fall, and winter for extra warmth.
Yet another option is to buy a tent and sleeping bag bundle. REI currently offers two: the REI Co-op Backpacking Bundle and the Kelty Discovery Camping Bundle. Both come with a two-person tent, two sleeping bags, and two sleeping pads.
NEMO Switchback Sleeping Pad
A durable closed-cell foam sleeping pad with tall nodes for more comfort plus heat-reflecting film for better insulation.
A sleeping pad provides extra comfort as well as some additional insulation from the cold ground.
Personally, I prefer a closed-cell foam sleeping pad over an inflatable air pad. A foam pad isn’t quite as comfortable (they’re usually a lot less thick), but they do provide vastly superior insulation over most inflatable models.
Closed-cell foam sleeping pads are also more durable. You can drag them around camp without a worry. You can even use yours as a makeshift camp chair. And, even if it does get torn, you can still use it (which you can’t with an inflatable pad that’s losing air).
I’m currently using a NEMO Switchback for backpacking and car camping. It’s held up extremely well over the past couple years. It’s pretty darn comfortable, especially if you’re a back sleeper.
Prefer an inflatable model? I’m a big fan of the REI Co-op Trailbreak. It’s an affordable self-inflating sleeping pad with decent insulation and enough cushion for side sleepers.
A useful trick (which I often employ) is to use an air pad on top of a closed-cell foam pad for a one-two punch in comfort and insulation.
If you’re car camping, you might even have enough room to bring an actual folding mattress (the single size of the Milliard Tri Folding Mattress is amazing) along.
Folding mattresses like those from Milliard are also a great choice for sleeping inside a vehicle (whether it’s a van, pickup truck bed, or back of an SUV).
RTIC 20 Quart Cooler
A robust premium cooler with a rotomolded design, 3-inch insulated walls, and a freezer-quality sealing gasket to keep your ice cold for longer.
Although “premium” coolers like those from RTIC and YETI are well worth the cost, especially on longer trips, any old cooler does the trick for short weekend outings.
The Coleman Xtreme Cooler is a great compromise between a budget and a premium cooler. Even the standard budget-model Coleman cooler gets the job done for weekend campers (or use a cheap cooler for beer and your higher-end cooler for food).
But, 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 the sun.
If possible, pre-chilling your cooler (even keeping it in the coolest part of your house the night before your trip helps), using block ice rather than ice cubes, and freezing food and drinks (when it makes sense) will help any cooler stay colder for longer.
An electric cooler, like the Dometic CFX3, is yet another option. But, because of their hefty price tag, these are better suited for full-time boondockers and van dwellers as well as serious overlanders.
Do note that an electric cooler requires a power source. Think the 12-volt plug in your car or a portable power station (we discuss these in more detail below).
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’ve had my Coleman Classic for over 10 years and it still works like a champ. Although each burner is adjustable, it’s quite difficult to adjust the temperature on these stoves (especially if you need to simmer something).
Recently, however, I upgraded to the Eureka Ignite 2-Burner Camp Stove. It’s more expensive than the Coleman, but it’s much easier to adjust the temperature of the burners (even to a simmer), plus it comes with a push-button ignition.
Although dispersed camping typically doesn’t come with the same space/weight restrictions as backpacking, you certainly can use a single-burner backpacking stove like the Jetboil Flash Cooking System (my favorite) or the MSR PocketRocket 2 Stove if you prefer.
Water Storage (and/or Water Filter)
Ozark Trail 6-Gallon Water Jug
Simple, reliable “jerry can” water storage with a comfortable handle and easy-pour spout.
Most dispersed campsites don’t have access to running water.
Of course, you can use water bottles or jugs of water, but I prefer dedicated water storage in the form of the Ozark Trail 6-Gallon Water Jug.
Another option is to bring along a water filter or purifier. Use yours solely with a water bottle or to filter enough water to fill your water storage jug.
In my opinion, the MSR Guardian Purifier is the best of the best when it comes to camp water purifiers. But it’s very expensive and better suited for backpacking (versus car camping).
Recently, I’ve 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.
My Favorite Camping Accessories for Dispersed Camping
A lot of camping gear you don’t explicitly need does make life a lot easier. These camping accessories are worth investing in after you get the basics out of the way, but you certainly don’t need them on your first couple of dispersed camping trips.
Sea to Summit Pocket Shower
A 10-liter solar shower with adjustable shower pressure so you can take a hot shower anywhere.
On weekend trips, I usually skip showering altogether (or just take a dip in a river or lake to wash off). But, on longer trips, I really appreciate using my Sea to Summit Pocket Shower.
I almost always camp quite remotely, with no neighbors around to see me, so taking a camp shower is no big deal. But, if you plan to use a solar shower in a developed campground, it’s nice to have a portable privacy shelter like the Kelty Blockhouse.
Near the very top of my list for dispersed camping accessories to try out is the Yakima Road Shower.
It locks to your vehicle’s roof rack and delivers pressurized water for easy showering and washing off dirty gear. It heats up on its own (via the sun) during the day. It comes with a stick-on thermometer so your next camp shower is the perfect temperature.
It’s also possible to make a DIY car-top solar shower for a fraction of the price of the Yakima Road Shower.
Reliance Luggable Loo Portable Toilet
A simple bucket-style portable toilet with a comfortable toilet seat and snap-on lid so you can easily “take care of business” while dispersed camping.
It’s completely possible to go poop in the woods without a toilet.
Just dig a cat hole (make sure it’s 200 feet from any trails, water sources, or campsites and you dig at least 6 inches deep) or, better yet, pack out your waste (basically using a dog bag for humans).
But, doing your business in a portable camp toilet is much more pleasant. I’m a big fan of the Luggable Loo, which is basically just a 5-gallon bucket with a snap-on toilet seat and odor-blocking lid.
You can always make a DIY camp toilet, but at just $20, the Luggable Loo is a no-brainer (in my opinion).
I personally use normal extra-strong garbage bags in my Luggable Loo, although Reliance does sell special Double Doodie Waste Bags with Bio-Gel made for camping toilets (each contains a gelatin powder that solidifies liquid waste and masks unpleasant odors).
Portable Power Station
Goal Zero Yeti 150 Portable Power Station
An easy-to-use portable power station with several charging ports and a comfortable carry handle. Recharge with a wall outlet, car outlet, or solar panel. Ideal for smartphones, laptops, and other small devices.
I’m currently using the Goal Zero Yeti 150 for dispersed camping out of my truck.
It’s the perfect portable power station for charging my MacBook and other small devices, like my smartphone and satellite messenger.
You can actually check out my full review of the Goal Zero Yeti 150 here – I break down everything you need to know about it for dispersed camping.
Although I’m quite happy with the Yeti 150, I recommend something a little smaller or larger, depending on your needs, for most dispersed campers.
If you just want to charge small USB devices, a portable power bank, like the BioLite Charge 80 PD, is a much lighter and more affordable option than the Yeti 150.
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.
Portable Solar Panel
Goal Zero Boulder 50 Solar Panel
A 50-watt portable solar panel with built-in kickstand to charge your portable power station or portable power pack.
You can charge most portable power devices 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 in the field. It fully charges my Yeti 150 in 6 to 10 hours (depending on cloud coverage).
Just make sure that the solar panel you buy is compatible with your portable power device (adapters are usually available for non-compatible models).
When looking at solar panels for camping, don’t confuse them with solar chargers.
A solar panel can’t charge devices on its own – you have to use it to first recharge a battery pack which you then use to charge your devices.
A portable solar charger, on the other hand, is made to directly charge small devices via the energy from the sun. Most are also capable of charging small USB power banks, like the Goal Zero Flip 12.
Garmin inReach Mini Satellite Messenger
A palm-sized satellite communicator with two-way messaging, GPS location tracking, and emergency SOS feature.
My Garmin inReach Mini has quickly become a staple on my dispersed camping checklist after I bought it a little over a year 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 is ideal for communicating 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.
Garmin also offers a slightly more interactive satellite messanger (with more buttons and a larger, more detailed screen) in the Garmin inReach Explorer+.
Do note that both the inReach Mini and inReach Explorer+ require a paid monthly subscription to use (even the SOS feature requires this).
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!
ENO SingleNest Hammock
An affordable single-person hammock for relaxing at the campsite (hang straps sold separately).
Do note that ENO hammocks don’t come with a suspension system out of the box. You need to buy hammock straps (like the ENO Atlas Suspension System) separately.
In my opinion, ENO hammocks are best for lounging – not for sleeping in overnight.
If you do want to sleep in a hammock while camping (rather than inside a tent), I recommend a camping hammock with an asymmetrical design. The Hennessy Hammock Explorer Deluxe) is an awesome choice.
The Explorer Deluxe comes out of the box with a suspension system, large rainfly, and built-in bug net.
Other Camping Gear Resources
We always buy all the gear we test ourselves – and never accept free products, sponsored posts, or paid reviews – to give you the absolute best reviews possible.
But we’re a small team. And we’re just getting started.
If you’re looking for gear reviews on products we’ve yet to test out, we strongly recommend checking out Outdoor Gear Lab.
They’ve long been my go-to for in-depth gear reviews whenever I’m in the market for a new product (although I do think their side-by-side comparison rating system can use some work).
We’re not affiliated with Outdoor Gear Lab in any way – I just wanted to give them a shout-out as thanks for years of objective advice
But, in all honesty, your best bet for unbiased reviews and opinions on camping gear is most likely a camping forum. I’m a big fan of various camping subreddits like r/CampingGear. I also check customer reviews on REI when it’s time to pull the trigger on something new.
I’m a firm believer that the more information and opinions you get before making a purchase, the better, especially when plunking down a big old chunk of change.
If there’s a specific piece of equipment you’re dying to get our opinion on, shoot me a line and there’s a good chance we can work it into our budget: firstname.lastname@example.org