The essential camping checklist

Camping hero image
Gareth Watkins,-Production Editor

Whether you’re a complete novice or a seasoned veteran, here’s the essential guide to everything you need for a summer camping adventure

Camping in the Great British Summertime: the gentle coo of wood pigeons in the trees, the wave of laughter from a distant party and the angry shouts of a thousand dads tangled around unruly tentpoles. It’s a love-hate relationship that we Brits have with camping. You either live for it, heading for the hills at every opportunity, or you do your best to avoid it all costs, making the odd exception for festivals or a glamping pod whose sheets have a better thread count than the ones at home. 

With the past year-and-a-bit being what it was and with things looking uncertain for foreign travel this summer, camping is experiencing a major moment. According to travel agent Cool Camping, bookings are up by as much as 500% in some parts of the UK with sales of camping gear also soaring. ‘Camping sales have more than doubled this year,’ says Maggie Kokkori, Partner and Assistant Buyer, Sports. ‘This is up 117% on last year and that’s off the back of a record-breaking season, which was up 219% on 2019.’

As more of us head for the great outdoors, we’ve put together a checklist of the essentials you need to prepare for a camping trip. Whether you’re testing out life under canvas for the first time, or are already a wild camping expert, here’s a handy guide and some helpful tips that will help you deal with anything the summer can throw at you.

The tent

The first rule of survival in the wild – find shelter. Whether that’s a fully kitted out yurt or your own trusty tent, you need protection from the elements. As tents come in a myriad of varieties, the first question you need to ask is: ‘What size do I need?’ To answer, take the number of people and add at least two more to accommodate bags etc. So for 4 people you would need a 6+ berth tent.

You will also need to factor in what you are using the tent for. Are you going off grid so will need to carry the tent on a backpack? Are you just going to a festival? Will this be a weekending tent that you'll need to put up and take down quickly? There are many styles, from pop-up to inflatable, tipi and tunnel to dome and geodesic, so you’ll need to do a bit of research.

Alternatively, there are plenty of companies across the UK who will hire out tents and even pitch them for you, if you want to try before you buy.

The bedding

Nothing is better than a comfy night under the stars but that can be easily ruined by a rogue stone under the groundsheet or not enough coverage from the night’s chill. If you want maximum comfort, then you’ll want an airbed, but if space is at a premium, a sleeping mat will do.

In terms of bedding, sleeping bags are super-portable and often have a wealth of handy features – the Vango Radiate even features built-in heating making it ideal for any season. Just make sure you have something to support your head. Veteran of many camping trips, digital editor Maggie Westhead advises taking your own pillow from home: ‘It’s a small slice of luxury and you’ll get the same level of support as you do at home, guaranteeing a good night’s sleep.’

The cooking

Camping is one of those things that really brings out the kit nerd in people and the culinary experience dials that up to a high heat. Whether you want to cook up a Heston-level tasting menu, or just fry up a couple of bangers, you’ll find options for both.

Then there’s somewhere to sit. Camping chairs are a must and so potentially is a table if you need space for prep or eating on laps just won’t do. Finally, you’ll need a cool box to keep your food (and, just as importantly, your drink) chilled.

The camping capsule wardrobe

The clothes you take on a camping holiday haves to fulfill many functions and cope with many eventualities. You need items which are as versatile as a Swiss army knife, are able to cover a couple of jobs and can work in both searing heat and torrential rain. A hoodie is a failsafe for all the family, working as a layer for the beach and by the fire of an evening. A lightweight waterproof jacket or mac is another must-have and sandals, flip flops (or Crocs for the kids) are easy to slip on and off when hopping in and out of tents.

With the changeable British weather, womenswear editor Ali Taylor recommends layering, so you can add or take away as the weather changes. With that in mind, try taking a couple of T-shirts, cotton vests and long sleeve jersey tops. ‘I think a casual loose-fitting dress is a good idea, as you can easily throw it on with wellies if needed, but it’s also easy to wear and comfortable,’ Ali adds. ‘Go for overalls or dungarees if you don’t fancy the dress options. These are also handy for pockets to up the practicality factor. Jean shorts are also good with everything – you have to show willing with the weather after all.’

For men, it’s all about the accessories. No one wants a claret-faced sunburnt dad wincing in front of the barbecue, so a hat of some sort is essential. Then you can indulge any outdoorsman fantasies with as much technical clothing as you can fit in your bought-for-the-occasion backpack.

For the kids, make sure you have enough basics, so plenty of T-shirts, shorts and underwear. Swimming costumes are obviously an essential as are plenty of warm options such as hoodies and trackie bottoms.

Also try and give them as many home comforts as possible, such as comfy PJs (even though it’s summer they might still need their cosy winter option), their cuddlies and some games and activities in case there’s a wet afternoon to be filled. Finally, make sure the tablets are fully charged before you leave otherwise you might find a mutiny on your hands.

Everything else

As any former SAS member will tell you, to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail, especially in extreme conditions where things can go from fine to… well, really not fine very quickly. And while you’re not quite on a special mission, it will be the little things you miss that might become a big problem.

As a bare minimum we’d suggest:  cutlery, a light source (lanterns for the tent, a torch or head torch for nighttime trips to the loo), a lighter for the BBQ, sunscreen, charging pack, a dustpan and brush to tidy up, an eye mask, and a bottle opener and corkscrew. Basically think about the details and try to ensure that all bases are covered.

Plus, for a magical final flourish, take some fairy lights and bunting and let the kids decorate the tent (this also helps locate your spot in a busy campsite). Get the prep right and you’ll enjoy a glorious trip without ever feeling like you’ve missed out on home comforts.

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