Whether you’re heading out for a quick hike or an overnight trip in the wild, you’re going to want to have the tools you need to thrive outside. We've compiled a list of all of the most essential gear for outdoor adventures. It's always best to stick to the essentials, as a heavy pack can put a damper on your plans. Follow this list and you’ll be ready to enjoy a journey into nature.
First-Aid Kit and Emergency
If you’re heading outdoors, you should have a well-stocked and up-to-date first-aid kit and other emergency supplies on hand. We also recommend that you have basic first-aid knowledge. Consider taking a CPR course and brushing up on other essential first-aid procedures before you head off the beaten track. A first-aid kit is going to be your first line of defense in the case of accidental injury. Band-Aids, bandages, gauze pads, medical adhesive tape, Neosporin, Tylenol, and antihistamines should always be stocked and ready for use.
Basic supplies include:
- Sterile bandages
- Adhesive tape
- Butterfly stitches
- Rolled gauze
- Antibiotic ointment
- Plastic bags
- Antiseptic and wipes
- Hydrogen peroxide
Make sure to bring along all of the most essential first-aid items. You can purchase a compact prepackaged first-aid kit at your local drug store. Just make sure to restock and replace supplies after each use, and add any extras that you think you may need.
You’ll also want to bring along your prescription medicines. While you never plan to be stuck for a few extra days, you should pack additional doses just in case. Don’t forget hygiene essentials. Toilet paper, towels, soap, toothbrushes, and toothpaste are things that we often take for granted until they’re no longer accessible. A few extra essentials you won’t want to forget are sunscreen and bug repellant.
Clothing and Outerwear
Your clothing choices should correspond with the weather and climate where you will be adventuring. Hot weather requires cool, water-repellent, sweat-wicking clothing. It’s always a good idea to bring along a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and sun-resistant clothing, as these will shield you from the sun and help you avoid uncomfortable burns. While it may be tempting to don shorts and short sleeves, you may want to ensure that you have something covering you from your head to your ankles. Sun and bugs can wreak havoc on exposed skin.
In cold weather, you’ll need a coat, hats, gloves, wool socks, ear muffs, etc. Most outdoors experts recommend that you dress in light layers. This way, you can remove or add clothing according to the weather and temperature. However, you should bring along a good quality coat for frigid temperatures. A coat or jacket with down filling will keep you warm, and you can find one that comes with removable pieces for extra versatility. Make sure the material is waterproof in case you encounter rain or snow.
You'll also want to plan your footwear according to your plans. Hiking boots or sturdy shoes are a good option for backpacking and hiking adventures. Durable water shoes are a reliable alternative for canoe- and kayak-based adventures. Always pack extra socks, as you’ll want to change out of wet socks before walking.
Consider the difficulty and duration of your trip as well as the forecasted weather before determining what you will wear and what extras you will pack. If you are backpacking, remember that you’ll be carrying your gear, so you don’t want to overpack.
Nonperishable, dry food is your best option for an outdoor adventure. Cans of beans, peanut butter, dry cereal, crackers, bread, pasta, and other dry foods are the least likely to go bad during your trip. If you plan to bring along fresh food, prep it ahead of time. This will save you time and frustration when cooking at a rustic campsite or in the wilderness. Plan your meals in advance to ensure that you have all the necessary gear and ingredients. Always bring along a little extra food to ensure you don’t run out.
If you’re driving into your campsite, you have more freedom with your food choices. Those that are backpacking into a site or going off-grid must act strategically when adding dry goods to their packs. Opt for calorie-dense foods, such as nut butter and beans. Remove store-bought goods from their packages and transfer them into small, airtight containers. This will help you eliminate excess bulk and avoid premature spoilage.
Don’t forget the H2O
In order to prevent dehydration, it’s crucial to bring a large water jug. This will enable you to move and dispense water for cooking and drinking. While water quickly adds up in terms of weight, you should still always bring along more than you plan to consume. There are also collapsible containers that can make traveling easier.
Cooking and Eating Gear
Don’t leave home without your cooking and eating essentials. A foldable propane stove and camping pots and pans set the stage for easy camp cooking. Keep in mind that while campfire cooking is always enjoyable, it is not always safe or legal. If you are going to cook over open flames, you’ll need reliable firestarters, including matches, lighters, and tinder.
You’ll also want to make sure you have enough propane and matches to get those flames going. A single 16-ounce propane tank usually contains enough fuel for an entire weekend of cooking. If you’re heading out for more than a few days, you should bring a 4-pack of small propane canisters.
Silverware is important, but buying a box of plastic forks and spoons can be wasteful and bad for the environment. Invest in some three-in-one camping utensils, as each piece features a spoon, fork, and knife. You’ll need one of these for each member of your camping party. Reusable flatware, including bowls and plates, also makes outdoor eating more enjoyable. Enamel-coated stainless steel pieces are a great choice, as these tend to be lightweight yet indestructible. Don’t forget durable cups and water receptacles (coffee mugs, water bottles, etc.) for every member of your party.
If you plan on straying from camp for more than a few hours, it’s a good idea to carry a water bottle with a built-in water filter or a submersible water filter. This will enable you to safely consume water from untapped sources - just be sure that the product you use is capable of removing waterborne particulates.
If you’re planning on cooking over an open flame, you’ll also need some stainless steel tongs, aluminum foil, and/or a grilling basket. Bring an axe; you can use this to trim up dead logs and kindling for the fire.
There are plenty of tinned foods that are loaded with protein, vitamins, and flavor, but you’re not going to reap their benefits without a can opener. Consider purchasing one with a built-in bottle opener and corkscrew if you’re planning on consuming wine or beer during your adventure. You’ll also want a flexible cutting board and an all-purpose knife at your disposal. If you’re heading out on foot, be sure to secure your knife in a protective sheath.
Don’t forget dish soap, sponges, and towels. You’ll need to clean and dry your cooking gear before you return it to your pack as food scraps attract animals, bugs, and mold. Plus, not many people want to eat a meal off a dirty plate.
Gadgets and Other Gear
You’ll never regret bringing along a camera for pictures and videos - but always make sure to store your electronics in waterproof bags. If you’re unfamiliar with the local flora and fauna, a wildlife handbook can also prove to be indispensable; you can use it to forage for local edibles or avoid potentially dangerous plants and animals. There are also plenty of useful bushcraft guides that are small enough to jam in the extra pocket of a backpack.
While you may have become accustomed to using your cell phone for directions, it’s always a good idea to bring along a compass and a paper map. These rudimentary navigational tools do not rely on cell towers, satellites, or electricity. A compass aligns itself with the earth’s poles to offer precise navigational information. A laminated paper map is much more likely to survive the elements than electronic devices such as a cell phone - plus it doesn’t rely on batteries.
A handheld GPS uses satellites to provide you with real-time location and weather information. This essential piece of navigation gear will help you get to your destination. You won’t have to worry about cellular dead zones. Moreover, you’ll be able to get potentially lifesaving alerts and updates from the NOAA. It’s always wise to bring along an extra set or two of batteries. This way, you’ll be able to power up your GPS long enough for it to get you to and from your destination.
A camping knife or multi-tool is one of the most useful pieces of gear that you can carry. A multi-tool is a condensed and travel-friendly toolbox. You can safely pack one without worrying about purchasing or packing a range of tools.
It’s also a great idea to bring along a length of nylon cord. Rope is one of the most basic yet most useful tools you can bring on a camping trip. You can use it to hang wet clothes, keep food away from predators, rescue a fallen hiker, and much more. You can strap the extra cord onto the outside of your backpack or opt for a more premium product, such as a survivor belt, which doubles as a piece of paracord and other survival tools.
Headlamps and Flashlights
A headlamp or flashlight is an essential piece of gear for anyone who plans on heading out past dusk. Be sure to use a light that offers adequate power and battery life. Bring along extra batteries to ensure that you are never without light!
You’ll also want to bring along a cooler and ice for any perishable food and drinks. While you’re at it, make sure you have a backpack that’s large enough to accommodate all of your gear. If you’re heading out on the water, an inexpensive dry bag will help you protect your gear from moisture. A well-made dry bag is fully submersible, meaning you can attach it to the outboard of your watercraft.
Shelters and Sleeping Essentials
If you’re planning on staying out overnight, you will need some form of shelter and sleeping gear. Inflatable mattresses, sleeping pads, and sleeping bags are lightweight and durable. Make sure that you choose a sleeping bag with a suitable temperature rating. Don’t forget the pillows. You can bring one from home or opt for a more hiking-friendly inflatable variety.
Vehicle-based camping enables you to bring along a few extras, such as cots, chairs, tables, and hard coolers. Make sure that you have all your car camping essentials. If you’re driving into a campsite, you can usually afford to bring heavier, larger gear. That includes large tents, screen houses, and more.
Don’t underestimate the danger and unpredictability of the great outdoors. Most experienced backpackers will recommend that you bring along a light emergency bivy or a tarp and some rope. This sort of lightweight shelter can be a lifesaver in the event of adverse weather or trail-based emergencies.
Planning a thrilling outdoor adventure doesn’t have to be complicated. Make sure to pack this list of essential gear, and you’ll be ready for whatever nature throws your way. Above all else, enjoy being in the wilderness and make sure you leave the areas you visit cleaner than you found them!