REI Half Dome tent pitched on grass near tree

The Best Tent Camping Gear for Outdoor Adventures

“Ah ha!” I exclaimed, discovering my lost hiking pants in my “tent camping bag.” A clear sign that it had been too long since I last adventured on an overnight. Many things in life can get in the way of spending nights in nature (in my case mold remediation, COVID, and a partially torn ACL conspired to keep me at home). Being organized with the best tent camping gear shouldn’t be one of them.

By creating a “tent camping” bag or bin, you set yourself up for the opportunity to get into the woods at the drop of a hat. When my friend and I found a night that finally worked for both of us, the car was packed and ready to go within 30 minutes, leaving more time for us to be out in the wild.

Over the years, I’ve honed my list of what I consider to be essentials, along with a few luxuries, to keep me comfortable at camp. Each person customizes their list over time.

Here’s mine, refined over hundreds of nights spent outside and divided into three categories: sleeping, eating, and cleaning.

Brown and blue bag used to pack all tent camping gear
Tent Camping Bag (Jane Cullina/TREKKN)

Outdoor Gear for Sleeping


There are myriad styles of tents that you can choose from and a number of characteristics to keep in mind when making your selection. Here are some key features to consider when shopping for a tent:

  • Weight
  • Roominess
  • Durability
  • Airflow
  • Ease of Assembly
MSR Hubba Hubba tent pitched on grass near woods
My MSR Hubba Hubba tent (Jane Cullina/TREKKN)

These are some features that I love about my two-person MSR Hubba Hubba:

  • One pole does all the work, making it a cinch to erect.
  • There are doors on each side, so both parties can have an easy way out if they need a middle of the night pee break.
  • The mesh siding creates a well-ventilated interior climate with bonus star gazing capability on clear nights.
  • Add-ons like mesh pockets by the head and foot of the tent and a loop to hang lights from above make it functional without going overboard on the extras that increase weight.
  • It’s light enough that I’ll still take it along on solo camp trips, but easily fits two adults comfortably.

That said, if you’re car camping, you might look for something with a little more space, since weight is less of a factor. The REI Half Dome 3+ fits a queen size air mattress and is roomy enough for the whole family—or a very spacious solo camp with plenty of headroom.

REI Half Dome tent pitched on grass near tree
REI Half Dome Tent (Jane Cullina/TREKKN)

Outdoor Sleeping Pads

When it comes to sleeping pads, I love a fully inflatable one. They take a little more time to blow up than the self-inflating kind, but you’ll get a cushier, often warmer, pad underneath you.

My Top Choice

My top choice is the ThermaRest NeoAir XTherm, although for my next purchase, I’ll go with something wider (like its cousin the Therm Max).

Features to Consider

Here are some factors to consider when choosing the best sleeping pad for your outdoor adventures:

  • Weight. Will you be trekking long distances with the pad (keep it light!) or using it mostly for car camping (go cushy!)
  • Warmth. Pad manufacturers often provide information on a pad’s level of insulation, denoted by its R rating. So you can select one that’s most appropriate for the typical climate of the areas where you most adventure. If you’re looking for a 3-season pad, target an R value of at least 3-5.
  • Width. A wider pad allows for ease of turning throughout the night, but a narrower one saves space and weight.
  • Length. Many pads come in varying lengths to ensure that you’re cushioned from head to toe, no matter your height.
  • Type of Inflation. A self-inflating pad will require less effort to inflate but take up more room in the pack. I recommend getting a pad that has either a hand pump or a pump sack so that you don’t get light-headed from the effort and you’re less likely to be sending water vapor into the interior of the pad with your breath.
  • Durability. The most dependable sleeping pad will be one made of foam, with no possibility of puncture; if you go for the comfort of an inflatable pad, always bring along the included repair kit just in case.

Related Reading: Top Sleeping Pads for Camping & Backpacking

Edge of blue hammock in wilderness
Jane Cullina/TREKKN

Sleeping Bags

Sleeping bags are perhaps my favorite piece of camping gear—cozying up in one after a day spent outdoors is a recipe for instant happiness.

My top pick for three-season camping is the Nemo Riff.

When you’re looking for a new sleeping bag to buy, consider the following:

  • Temperature Rating. If you’re not likely to do deep winter camping, but want the flexibility for fall and spring camping trips, I recommend selecting a bag rated at 15 degrees. If you’re more of a summer (or tropical) camper, a lightweight summer bag can pack down to the size of a Nalgene and lighten your load.
  • Material: Down will maximize your warmth to packability ratio. However, it’s important to keep it dry at all times, because water will remove all its insulating power. Synthetic bags are often more affordable.
  • Length: I’ve made the mistake of ordering both a too short and too long bag in the past. You want that goldilocks spot right in the middle, where you have enough room to comfortably move around but you’re not swimming around in extra cool air.

Other key items for the nighttime:

  • Pillow: While I’m a fan of the stuff sack plus clothes pillow, if you want a little more structure, there are some great options like the Thermarest Compressible Pillow and the inflatable Exped Mega Pillow.
  • Headlamp: I recommend an option that includes a red light option to help you maintain your “night vision,” like the Petzl. Recently, I also discovered the benefits of using a LED Neck Reading Light, which I was gifted for indoor use, but works great around the campsite because the light points down, so you’re not blinding your camping companions when you look at them

Related Reading: How to Select Your Ideal Sleeping Bag

Camp Cooking

Cooking at camp is a necessary, but also lovely component of a camping journey. It’s a chance to bring in creativity, to make sure you’re fueled for your adventures, and to create something together with your campmates.

Having the right cooking accessories can make it even better. If you’re cooking over a fire, you’ll need slightly different gear than if you want to use a stove. As with all outdoor gear, there are many options, but some research and testing will help you make the right decisions for your camping style.

San Rafael Wildnerness trail near river
San Rafael trailhead in Los Padres National Forest (Jane Cullina/TREKKN)

Cooking Gear

Do you want a stove that does double duty for car camping and backpacking? Or are you willing to commit to something heftier for the car trips?


Things to consider when shopping for camp cooking gear include: size, the amount of heat output, and wind protection.

My Favorite Camping Stove

I personally love the MSR Pocket Rocket because it’s absurdly small, quick to set up, and, thus far, proven to be extremely reliable. You can’t carry the pressurized butane canisters on an airplane, but they are typically easy to procure at outdoor gear, sporting goods, or even convenience stores closer to your trailhead when you’re traveling.

Related Reading: A Short List of the Best Camping Stoves You Should Consider

Outdoor Cook Box

For your cooking utensils, your best bet is pieces that have all metal so that plastic components won’t burn, like this set from TOAKS (corrosion resistant and weighs less than six ounces) or this pot from MSR.

And don’t forget your pot holders (I’m attached to my homemade versions created with hot loops—they’re small and light but hold up well – perfect for camping!).

For eating, you can, of course, bring any non-fragile dishware, but I prefer to have a dedicated bowl and spork. I use a Nalgene 16-ounce storage container with a lid, which is great for letting food like oatmeal or instant noodles sit and cook off the stove, or for keeping leftovers if you don’t quite make it through the meal.

Other things to keep in your cook box:

Related Reading: Best Water Filters for Hiking

Campsite Clean Up

Finally, the least glamorous part of camping: the clean up. In this category, I think of both cleaning up after meals, and cleaning up after I do my “business.”

Don’t leave home without these items:

  • Dish Soap and Sponge. Be sure to get biodegradable soap to lessen your impact
  • Dish Rag. A dish rag can come in handy for many uses.
  • Kitchen Sink. Bring a collapsible kitchen sink to make it easier to wash dishes away from fresh water sources and to strain and scatter your gray water afterwards. The Sea to Summit camp sink stands on its own when filled with water, then collapses when empty.
  • Toilet Paper. Also bring disposable bags or another way to carry it out if you’re not near toilets.
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Poop Shovel (Trowel). Bury your waste. Be sure you dig a cat hole at least 200 feet (70 steps or more) away from any fresh water sources, hiking trails, or campsites.
Collapsible bag used as an outdoor sink
Collapsible outdoor kitchen sink by Sea to Summit (Jane Cullina/TREKKN)

You’re Ready for Outdoor Camping Adventures

Keep all your camping things together in a plastic bin, mesh duffel, or other container. With everything in one place, all you need to do is grab the box, remove anything you don’t need for each particular trip, add appropriate clothes for the climate, and pack your food. You’re ready to get out there lickety split!

Don’t forget to clean and dry everything when you get home so it’s ready for your next adventure!

Do you have any additional items that are must-haves for your tent camping adventures? Let us know in the comments section below.

Happy Camping!

Light brown tent pitched under trees
Jane Cullina/TREKKN

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