GAME CHANGERS: The Camping Essentials Checklist For 2023

From basic to boujie, we’ve compiled a list of our camping top tips and best bits of gear to help you adventure better this summer

Feature type Spotlight

Read time 8 mins

Published Jul 24, 2023

Hannah Mitchell BASE Digital Writer Hannah is a Lake District-based journalist and all-round outdoor lass with a particular fondness for rock faces.

Picture this: A day-long hike in the breathtaking fells of the Lake District, the wild Scottish Highlands or the stunning South West Coast path, with nothing but your trusty hiking boots, your adventure buddy of choice and a backpack for your tent and essentials. You enjoy a well-earned picnic tea or a pint at the local pub as the sun sets and then it’s on to your camping spot – either wild or otherwise – for a night of blissful sleep under the stars. It’s easy to see why camping is good for you.

Back to that backpack though. What exactly are the essentials when camping?

Here at BASE we’re all about helping you adventure better, so we asked around our team of adventure addicts and camping aficionados for their top picks of the items that have proven to be game changers time and time again when spending a night outside. From keeping food cold to making your morning coffee, keeping your furry friend comfortable when camping with dogs and avoiding an achey neck in the morning, we’ve assembled an essential camping kit list, plus a few of our best camping hacks, to get you prepped for a night in the great outdoors that’s unforgettable… in the RIGHT way!

© Kevin Ianeselli/Unsplash

© Bradley Gossett/Unsplash

The Bare Necessities

It’s a fact, camping is good for our mental health. The connectedness to nature, simplicity and character-building nature of a stint of roughing it in the outdoors are now well documented to help us feel happier and more fulfilled in our day-to-day lives. But of course, looking after ourselves, other campers and importantly, the landscape itself, is super-important for us all to continue to benefit from camping. Before we hit on the specifics and our favourite bits of kit, there are a few things that every camper needs to know, and a handful of essentials that you really don’t want to leave home without. We’re talking the less-than-exciting but potentially life-saving stuff that should absolutely be on your packing list.

As an absolute minimum, consider this your pre-adventure checklist of things you need to think about before going camping:

Safety First

Ok, we don’t want to sound like your mum here, but considering your own personal safety is paramount. Gen up on the stuff you need to know by checking out the numerous online resources, let someone know where you’re going if you’re planning on going alone, and have a plan in place for if the proverbial hits the fan!

Be A Kind Camper

Consider your impact on the environment you plan to camp in. If you want to have an open fire, why not consider an ‘almost wild camping’ site that has designated fire pits, drastically reducing the potential for environmental damage and wildfires. Know how and where to deal with your own waste (more on that later), and carry your rubbish out with you.

…And A Good Neighbour

While we’re at it, think about your impact on other campers, people and wildlife that inhabit the same area. Don’t impact on others’ views or the peace and quiet of the area (sub woofers in nature aren’t cool, kids), and say ‘hi’ to your fellow tent-dwellers, we’re a community after all!

Pack Light, Pack Well

Especially if your camping trip is combined with a long hike or a decent walk to your campsite, your back will thank you for keeping your kit as minimalist as you can bear. That said, don’t skimp on the stuff that is going to keep you warm, dry and protected from the elements, nor on a first aid kit and other safety essentials you may need for any activities you have planned.

 

Sleeping Essentials

There’s nothing to put a downer on a night outdoors quite like waking up with an aching neck, cold feet or a midge-eaten face.

Sleeping needs and comfort levels vary from person-to-person, and what you take largely depends on if you’re planning on a tackling different activities en route to your camp spot, or if it’s just a short stroll from the car. Weight and pack space can really dictate how many Z’s you can anticipate catching on a camping trip, but we’ve pulled together a few things that might just help!

Tent, Hammock or Bivy?

For fast packing, those who really like to get back to basics or for adventures on two wheels, sometimes a decent bivy bag or hammock is all you need, and there are some innovative versions of these available that add a little extra comfort, such as Ticket To The Moon’s Mat Hammock. For first-timers, a tent is probably a good shout as this will offer you better protection and warmth, but the lighter and better quality the tent – the more you can expect to pay. Any of these things can be a big investment if you’re not even sure you’re into camping yet, so it’s worth exploring borrowing options such as Rab’s rental scheme, or Kit UP, which is a community scheme that’s a really great way to find local folk with gear to loan.

The Perfect Pad

You’ve got a roof over your head (or not), now you need the perfect pad or sleeping mat. There are an overwhelming number of options available, each one with their own merits and warmth levels depending on what you’re after (Exped even make a DOUBLE mat). Inflatable mats are lightweight and easy to stash, but they can puncture. If you’re planning on sleeping directly on rough or sharp ground, a slightly more robust, self-inflating mat or even a foam folding mat might be a better bet. For campers on a budget, foam folding mats are an affordable option that’s available from most outdoor stores. Sure, they’re bulkier than other types of mat, but they concertina and can be strapped to the outside of your pack for carrying, AND if you’re not bothered about having a mat beneath your feet, you can trim a section off with scissors to lessen the bulk!

 

 

 

Beat The Bugs

Don’t leave home without a decent insect repellant! Creepy crawlies are part and parcel of camping, but if you want to keep the hungrier beasts at bay, a liberal application of a decent repellant like Smidge can work wonders. For areas like Scotland where the midge situation in summer tends to range from ‘uncomfortable’ to ‘biblical’, a head net is highly recommended! A Scottish insider tip is to try using Avon Skin So Soft, which contains Citronella and apparently does the job of keeping the blighters off… We can’t confirm or recommend this however, so we’ll leave it up to you to try!

Optional Extras

Let’s be honest, stuffing a jacket under your head just isn’t the same as sleeping on a nice, soft pillow. If you’re prone to neck pain, utilising a little of your packing space to accommodate an inflatable pillow might just be the best thing you do. They start pretty cheap for a basic pillow, and range into flocked and flannel versions for a premium night’s sleep. Some even have a foam or thermal core!

Let’s be honest, stuffing a jacket under your head just isn’t the same as sleeping on a nice, soft pillow

© Jack Sloop/Unsplash

Hot Drinks Kit

Arguably one of the key elements to waking up happy, equipment for brewing up in the morning is something every tea or coffee fan should carry on their camping adventures. Whether you’re content with a basic teabag or sachet of instant, or you prefer a more luxurious start to your day with loose leaf or an aeropress, many outdoor brands now make super-lightweight and compact equipment that’ll see you leaping out of your sleeping bag ready for another big day on the trail (even after a dodgy night’s sleep).

equipment for brewing up in the morning is something every tea or coffee fan should carry on their camping adventures

How do you make coffee while camping? Obviously, the key to making any standard of morning brew is boiling water, so a camping stove of some sort is a necessity. From there on, you’ve got options to cater to every weight allowance and pack size, and for every hot drink type. As with anything that emits intense heat or has a flame, be sure to check local restrictions on the use of stoves and barbecues, never have open fires other than in designated areas and keep an eye on them at all times – especially if there are kids or dogs about.

Now, on to the fun stuff… here’s a few of our favourite ideas for hot drink connoisseurs, from basic to boujie!

Jet Boil Stash

A no-frills, fuss-free and super lightweight stove that’ll happily cater for solo campers or pairs. Use it with its own, integrated lightweight pan for boiling water alone for teabags and instant coffee, or if you like a little more battery power in a morning, chuck a percolator on top!

French press travel add-ons

A handful of brands have these nifty little additions available as add-ons to their existing camping cups, including the Alpkit BruKit Press, Primus French Press Accessory and JetBoil’s Silicone Coffee Press. What’s really cool is that these also work with loose leaf tea, but do ensure that the press fits your model of stove before you buy.

A good old-fashioned tea strainer

Sounds obvious, but if you’re partial to a pot of tea rather than a PG tips at home, a standard metal tea strainer that you can pick up from most homeware stores can be a worthwhile addition to your camping pack (just don’t forget your stove and cup… and the tea). The mesh, closable kind is a lightweight and compact option that’s also mess-free, or if you’re short on time, Camelbak make an add-on strainer that works with most of their flasks for a tea fix on the go.

 

Camping With Canines

For many of us, our best adventure buddy comes with four paws and a waggy tail. Rain or shine, they’re always up for an adventure, and when it comes to camping, they can be really useful for keeping you warm at night!

Joking aside, camping with your dog can be one of the most rewarding ways to spend a weekend, and many campsites are happy for furry tag-alongs to stay, if wild camping isn’t your jam. In both cases, there will be areas and instances where your pooch needs to be kept on a lead for their own safety or that of wildlife and livestock, and you’ll need to go well prepared with poo bags! Being mindful of your dog’s welfare in hot weather is crucial, and it goes without saying that you should never leave your pup alone in a hot tent. Here are a pawful of our tried and tested gear and ideas for making camping with dogs that little bit more comfortable for both of you:

Adventure harness

All-terrain dogs need tough gear! A sturdy, well-made harness is a must-have if you’re planning on covering a lot of ground. Many brands make harnesses with a handle so you can help your four-legged friend over stiles and other obstacles, and you can even get models which allow for your dog to carry their own kit in the side pockets, perfect for camping. Check out Ruffwear for a really extensive range, from rated safety harnesses and trail running harnesses, to cooling harnesses for hot days.

The Three B’s

That’s bowl, biscuits, bed! While we’ll leave the biscuit choice up to Fido, a lightweight sleeping set-up can be a great alternative to having a squirming, damp dog sharing your sleeping bag with you. Try a dog-specific, packable sleeping bag for wild nights and thru-hikes, or for a more plush alternative for van camping, YETI’s Trailhead bed is super-comfy and easy to clean. Likewise, if you’re happy with a heavier load, YETI’s Boomer bowls are robust and stylish (and you can even get yourself a flask to match). For a more compact option, a collapsible silicon bowl like this one from Dogs Trust is a smart solution with a carabiner to clip to your pack (or theirs), and GoOutdoors sell a soft nylon bowl with drawstring closure for storing dry food.

© Hoang Nguyen/Unsplash

Scoop it up, pack it out

Clearing up after your dog, either on a campsite, on the trail or in the wild is key to keeping the outdoors enjoyable for everyone. Poo bags are of course, an essential, but swinging a plastic bag full of poo for hours on end isn’t ideal when you’re enjoying a long hike with your best friend. A super-simple solution is to bag it up, double knot, and pack it away in a strong, sealing food container that you can simply stash in your pack until you reach a suitable disposal point. We recommend the ones with snap locks on all four edges!

Feeling a bit squeamish? This method of waste disposal is actually now widely considered to be the most considerate and environmentally friendly for humans too, given the number of campers now exploring the wild!

Which brings us neatly to our next game changer…

© Halie West/Unsplash

© YETI

When Nature Calls

One poo in the wild? Not too bad. Two poos in the wild? A tad smelly perhaps, but that’s not all…

Post-covid, outdoor activities like wild camping saw a huge surge in participation – which is wonderful news for everyone that is now making the most of time outside and the mental and physical benefits it can bring to us all. But with greater numbers of people embracing their wild side, it is no longer environmentally sustainable for us all to be doing our business out there too! Humans generally consume processed foods that contain substances not found in nature, traces of these substances often remain in our poo, and they can negatively impact the soil, flora and fauna, or make their way into natural waterways, ultimately causing harm to the landscapes we love.

Gone are the days when digging a hole was the way to ‘go’, and ideally you should be carrying your own waste out with you when wild camping or hiking, with burying your waste as a last resort. We all know that when you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go, so here are a few of our top tips for responsible number two’s:

The ‘Wag Bag’

WAG stands for Waste Alleviating Gel, and its primary purpose is to solidify and neutralise human waste so that it can be disposed of in a rubbish bin. There’s no trick to it, you simply ‘go’ in the bag and the NASA- developed gel (yep, that’s space-standard toilet tech!) does the work for you. Then, seal it (paper and all), double bag it and drop it in the bin when you reach one. As with the dog poo method mentioned above, we recommend a strong, sealable container too for added reassurance, especially if you’ve got a way to go before you reach a bin.

This method is the industry standard in national parks in the US, and there are a good number of shops this side of the pond selling these handy little packs which usually include a sanitising hand wipe and loo roll too.

 

Gone are the days when digging a hole was the way to ‘go’, and ideally you should be carrying your own waste out with you when wild camping

© Denny Muller/Unsplash

Hand Sanitiser

Sounds obvious, but even on campsites this can be handy to have when soap is in short supply! It’s a quick and easy way to clean up and can be kept in your toilet supply stash. In the wild of course, soap or handwash should never be used in natural waterways as they are harmful to wildlife and habitats. The same goes for shampoo and shower gel, so if you’re opposed to going without, a campsite with showers might be a better option – otherwise, embrace your natural niff, it’s all part of the adventure, right?

For Wild Weeing

For those who usually wee sitting down, a SheWee can seriously alleviate the awkwardness of squatting in front of strangers when you’re on exposed terrain. They take a bit of getting used to, but once you’ve mastered the technique they really can be a game changer, especially for folks with mobility issues who might find squatting down difficult. Likewise, for folk who need to wipe after they wee, ensure you have ample paper on hand plus a zip-lock bag to carry it out in (no one wants to see white streamers festooning the fells), or try an anti-microbial pee cloth like a Kula Cloth for a reusable option that comes in some pretty funky colours too.

The Last Resort

If you’re really caught short with no other option, the best thing you can do with your poo is bury it. A lightweight trowel such as Tentlab’s aerospace-grade aluminium model or Sea To Summit’s collapsible nylon trowel will work far more effectively than a stick or your shoe – just remember to go 60m away from any water sources, dig a hole at least 15cm deep (being mindful of plants and wildlife you might disturb) and that toilet paper and wipes MUST be packed out, not buried.

© Outdoor Provisions

Fuelling and Cooling

There’s nothing worse than a grumbling tummy when you’re halfway up a hill. Equally, sweaty cheese and warm beer are a total no-no if you’re trying to enjoy a relaxed weekend of van camping. Staying adequately fuelled on your adventures isn’t just about comfort, it’s really important to maintain your energy levels out on the hills or trails, especially in challenging weather conditions!

If you’re just out for a fastpacking one-nighter, forgoing a camping stove can save weight and an array of snacks and pre-prepared meal could be just the ticket. If it’s still warm, well, bonus. For the more discerning camper, van-lifers or those after a more luxurious campsite setup, a decent cooler for your charcuterie board and bottle of plonk might be more your style.

Here are a few of our favourite bits and tips for a good feed on the go, whether you’re a minimalist backpacker or a flashy camper:

Snacks, snacks and more snacks

Aiming for an FKT? Lightweight, energy-dense snacks that you can grab from your pack and eat on the go are the way forward. Outdoor Provisions make tasty AF nut butters that can be eaten as they (slurped straight from the fully compostable packet) or smothered on another edible vessel! They’re more convenient than trail mix and taste a damn sight better too.

Keep your cool

A quality cooler that’ll see you through a whole weekend can be a god send. The YETI Tundra is a super rugged cooler with removable trays that’s the perfect size for a family mini-break (or just for a couple of six packs), or for a lighter, more portable option, check out the new Hopper Flip which is an excellent picnic addition. They’re not cheap, but they’re built to last!

Feed the beast

For a quick and convenient meal solution, a pre-prepped dinner (or perhaps some overnight oats?) stashed in a rugged vacuum jar might be the game changer for you. Leave the stove at home, a quality storage container like Stanley’s Classic Legendary Jar will keep your meal hot or cold for up to seven hours, and with a spork attached to the side, you’ll never have to use a credit card/tent peg/toilet trowel to eat your soup ever again!

And so concludes our first ever instalment of Game Changers – and we want to hear what you think!

What’s your favourite game changing item in your outdoor arsenal? Got an outdoor life hack we need to hear about? Any activity, any brand, tips, tricks and everything in between… let us know!

OR perhaps there’s something you want to hear more about? Maybe it’s tips for adventures with kids, bikepacking hacks or reviews of the toughest jungle gear on the market. Slide into our DMs on Instagram or drop us a line by hitting the button below:

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