If you’re interested in solo camping, here’s a checklist to help ensure you’ve packed everything you need! This gear can vary a little bit depending on how long you are out camping, the weather, and your camping style.
But overall it’s all here. Let’s jump on in.
Essential Items Beginners Need To Camp Solo
A Camping Backpack
You’ll obviously need something to carry everything in. Most backpacks nowadays fall into external or internal framed backpacks. These frames help the backpack maintain its shape and help distribute the carrying load so it’s not too bad on your back and shoulders.
With external frame packs, you can actually see the frame supporting the bag. And even use it to carry more gear, like a sleeping bag, pad, or tent. Whatever may work best on the outside. These packs also generally have a bunch of pockets for extra organization. External frame packs are typically more budget-friendly compared to internal framed packs.
With internal frame packs, you can’t see the frame…it’s internal. This helps improve the balance of the bag and it doesn’t take up much space. It’s more streamlined. This also helps make the packs lighter weight. A trade-off though is that they are typically more expensive than external frame bags and don’t have many pockets or organizational options.
There are frameless packs but these are used mostly by hikers and campers really looking to shave weight on their trip. The rest of their gear is typically pretty lightweight and the load-out has been refined over many years, trips, or with overall experience. Without a frame, the pack will lose shape and not be able to support a heavy load as effectively as an internal or external frame, so it’s best to save those for later down the road after a few trips.
55L-65L is a good range for beginner backpacks. This will allow for carrying all your necessary gear, food, and water for a few nights camping.
Definitely don’t forget this important item. A sleeping bag will keep you nice, warm, and cozy at night.
There are many different types of bags out there: down or synthetic filled; mummy-style shape (tight) or rectangular; a single person or double/twin size. Choosing what type of bag is best for your needs will depend on how long the trip will be and what temperatures you’ll encounter in the area where you’re going.
Be sure to check the sleeping bag’s temperature rating. 40-degree sleeping bags are pretty common for warmer months. Once you start getting closer to fall though, it might be best to have a sleeping bag rated for lower temperatures.
Synthetic sleeping bags are great to start off with. As they are a little more budget-friendly and can still hold heat if it gets a little wet. The tradeoff though is that they can be heavier and bulkier than the more expensive down sleeping bags.
Down-filled sleeping bags are lighter weight and compress really well simply because they use down feathers to keep you warm.
But the trade-off here; is that once this particular sleeping bag gets wet, it won’t retain warmth because all the feathers stick together. These bags are also more expensive.
Another super important item here for your solo camping needs. Tents are great for setting up a safe haven from the elements, giving you some privacy and of course providing you a nice little cozy place to sleep.
The size of your tent is important because you want to make sure it’s big enough to accommodate you and possibly your gear. Most solo campers go for a one or two-man tent because they pack smaller and weigh less in their backpack.
I like one-man tents when camping by myself. There is typically enough space for me to keep a few items with me near my head that I may need throughout the night. Like a water bottle, headlamp, book, and clothes for tomorrow. I’ll keep the rest of my gear outside the main section of the tent but under the rain fly in the vestibule.
Most tents come with a rain fly to keep you dry but you should also check to see if it comes with a footprint. This helps provide a little extra protection for the bottom of the tent and gives you another layer of protection from water or moisture. I’ve had to purchase footprints separately for most of my tents.
Another essential item for camping. There are a few different kinds of sleeping pads, but overall their primary purpose is to provide comfort and insulation from the cold ground.
Two of the more popular sleeping pads are inflatable sleeping pads and closed-cell foam sleeping pads. Each has its pros and con.
Inflatable Sleeping Pad
The inflatable ones are easy to pack, lightweight, and compact making them perfect for quick trips with light packs or long hikes with heavy loads. They provide a little more insulation than foam sleeping pads in cooler temperatures and they are great for side sleepers.
They do typically cost more than foam pads, and they also run the risk of getting punctured and deflating in the middle of the night. Most comes with little repair kits, but that might not be the most enjoyable thing to be doing when you should be sleeping.
Closed Cell Foam Pads
Closed-cell foam pads are a lot more durable, can be pretty lightweight & generally pretty cheap. The downside is the lack of cushion which may make it more difficult to sleep on your side. They also don’t pack as well as inflatable sleeping pads. I have to carry mine on the outside of my pack.
It all comes down to preference though. I have both and find each comes in handy. If my backpack has a lot in it, I may use my closed-cell pad on the outside of my pack. While if it’s a one-night trip and I want to sleep really well, I’ll use my inflatable pad.
During winter months, I may even use both for extra insulation and comfort.
Super important here. And I could write a whole other post on this but will keep it short and tidy here. The amount and type of food you bring really comes down to personal preference, the type of camping you’re doing, and how long you’re out.
If you’re solo car camping or maybe you have a campsite with your car super close. You can go bring a lot more food than if you had to carry everything in your pack for a day or two. The type of food you bring also determines if you’re going to have to cook the food and/or bring extra water to boil for the food.
Mountain House Meals and other freeze-dried food taste great and have a lot of options to choose from, but you will need to account for the extra water needed to prep these foods.
I prefer to bring along dry food, or foods that I can grab at a 71 1 or convenience store. Might not be the healthiest option around, but peanut butter M&Ms are very filling and provide a lot of energy while out in the woods. Other items include peanut butter wraps, crackers, trail mix, protein bars, tuna packages, and beef jerky.
For the water part of this, that also heavily depends on the location and length of the trip. If you’re at a campground, it’s likely they’ll have a good source of water. But if you’re camping off-trail or in an area without any public facilities it’s a good idea to bring what you need with you.
Or you can use a filtering system so you don’t need to carry a ton of water to start off with. I like the Sawyer water filter. It’s a small, easy-to-use, lightweight filter that works well and lasts a long time with proper cleaning after use.
A lot of my solo camping is on the Appalachian Trail so I aim to either stay at or at least stop at shelters when I need water. Most of them have good water sources nearby so I can use my filter to refill them.
Personal first-aid kit
Being prepared for what could potentially go wrong is always super important. This includes being ready to deal with blisters, bug bites, bee stings and whatever may come your way.
Duct tape is another important item that should be mentioned here. It has countless uses such as repairing your gear in a pinch, reducing rub on hot spots like your heels, or even labeling gear if that’s your thing.
Lantern or headlamp with extra batteries
A light source for night hiking, setting up shop at night, or just getting around at camp. You should definitely not leave the house without one of these.
I carry my headlamp even if it’s just a day hike. You never know when you’re gonna need it.
I really like the Black Diamond Spot 400 model. It’s small, lightweight, has a few different light modes, and is really bright.
Knife and/or multitool
A knife or multitool is always essential for camping. Anything from cutting up food for a meal or using the pliers to holding onto a hot pan/lid while cooking over a fire. Even though much of my food doesn’t need much prep I feel naked when I don’t have my knife, even if I go a weekend without using it.
Extra clothing layers, rain gear, and warm clothes for nighttime
Another section that could be its own blog post, is clothing! I’m a firm believer that you should never go camping without some sort of extra clothing and rain gear.
My extra clothing is typically what I wear around the camp and/or sleep in. I also carry a lightweight jacket with me as well. Rain gear or at least a hiking poncho is important because you never know what the weather will be like when you’re camping.
Matches (in a waterproof container)
You never know when you’ll need matches in an emergency situation or just want to hang out by the fire for the night.
You may even want to carry some sort of tinder or starting aid like these fire sticks to help get the fire going.
Lighters could also work, but the same applies here, keep them dry.