The Ultimate Camping Essentials List for First Time Campervanners
Having been campers for most of our lives, we thought that we already had most of the camping essentials that we needed for our new VW campervan adventures. Turns out we were wrong! We discovered on our first overnight trip in our campervan that there were a few extras that we needed to pack in. Forgetting an essential item can be a real pain and we realised that a camping essentials list might be handy for people embarking on their first camping adventure in a campervan (and it also covers pretty much all essentials for camping too).
We have done all sorts of camping from wild camping through Africa to luxury camping in the Gorges du Verdon, but we are still relatively new to the campervan world. We’ve taken a few trips and have been building up our ultimate camping essentials list to make sure we are fully prepared and don’t leave anything behind. Well, there’s always something we miss, but this list covers the essentials (and a few more nice to haves to make your camping experience more comfortable).
We were gifted some of these items but they are all items that we personally picked. Where something has been gifted, we have highlighted this with [AD] .
Camping essentials for the campsite
If you’re travelling with a family, you will need more indoor space than just your campervan. We recommend a drive away awning. The awning can reserve your pitch while you explore the local area, you can put your stuff in the awning while you are sleeping in the van and it’s good to have an additional camping shelter in case of rain.
We bought our Vango Noosa Low awning from Outdoor World Direct. It is one of the small to mid sized awnings and uses poles instead of the newer airbeam structure which also means it is a bit cheaper. It is a good size to fit all of our belongings in and our family of 4 can also sit comfortably around a table in the case of bad weather.
If you have a reimo rail, make sure to buy the Vango driveaway kit so that you can easily attach the awning to your van. Top tip – when driving away, put a marker behind the back wheels so that you can easily line up with the awning when you return. This will save you a lot of time trying to get back into the right place to re-attach the awning.
Pop up camping tent
If you decide against an awning, you might want to consider a simple pop up tent for extra room and somewhere to shelter in case of rain so that you’re not all cooped up in the van. There’s also the option of a standalone tent if you don’t want an awning. The Quechua inflatable tent is a great option.
Your campervan may come with a table as standard, but consider whether you are really likely to eat all of your meals inside your van. We have actually taken our table out of the van and just use our camping table. Having a folding camping table will give you much more flexibility and it’s so much nicer to eat under the shade of a tree on a warm day or in your awning on a rainy day than in your van.
We have the Vango Granite Duo 120. The table is just the right size for a family of 4 as it can actually sit 6 people but we like to have the additional space to fit 4 adult sized plates with room for a couple of dishes. It packs down flat and weighs just under 6 kg.
[AD] Folding camping chairs are definitely a camping essential. There are lots of different types but not all are created equal. We have the Outwell Sevilla chairs which pack down into 88 x 13 x 13 cm and each weigh 3 kg. These lightweight camping chairs are really comfortable and well made and hold up to 125 kg which is more than some of the cheaper camping chairs can support.
You can also get smaller kids camping chairs if you prefer but our kids love snuggling into these ones.
Camping electric hook up
You will need to have a good length camping electric hook up cable. We recommend a 25m cable to give you the most flexibility. Whilst most campsites in France seem to use the 3 pin system, some still use the older 2 pin system. To be prepared for this, you can consider getting adapters if you are travelling to Europe.
You will need to make sure you have the correct camping gas bottle for your van. The standard is the Camping Gaz 907. The initial cost is quite high because you are essentially leaving a deposit for the bottle, but each bottle thereafter should be around £35. It can be exchanged in most European countries.
A collapsible bucket has so many uses. We use it to collect waste water from sink drainage. It can also be used as a night time toilet or you can take it to the beach. It folds down almost flat.
You may want to consider a nightlight as it will be almost pitch black at night with the blackout blinds. If there are any wakings in the night or the kids need to climb down from the campervan roof, it is easier to have some low level light. There are a few different options.
It’s a good to have a portable camping lantern that you can use on your table if eating outside in the evening or to place in your awning. We went for the Duronic Hurricane which provides great light output and is charged by winding up a handle, so you will never run out of power. The kids love powering up the light!
A head torch is good for night time trips to the toilet and the kids love to play with them to make shadow animals or read in bed.
Mosquito repeller lamp
Your mosquito repeller can double up as a lamp. We bought the Outdoor Revolution Lumi mosi mosquito light which can be recharged by USB.
If the ground is dry and hard, you will need a mallet to drive in the tent pegs.
Camping essentials for the kitchen
[AD] You can boil your water in a pan for your tea or coffee but when you’re using that pan to cook fragrant food like curries or a chilli, we find it taints the taste of the hot drink. We’re not purests, but a separate kettle is a nice to have. With this in mind, we prefer the Outwell collapsible kettle for easy storage. It collapses down to a really small, compact size. It boils quickly and makes about 3 cups of tea.
Most campervans are kitted out with a 2 hob gas burner so it is not essential to have an additional camping stove but if you are cooking something particularly spicy or heavy, you might want to do this outside. We opted for the Von Chef electric frying pan and went for the 30cm diameter which is big enough for us but if you need a bigger one, it comes in a 43cm diameter size too. It has come in so handy, making anything from sausages to pancakes.
Another alternative to consider is a portable camping bbq that can double up as a wok like a Cadac Safari Chef.
A sharp knife is a must if you’re going to be preparing your own food. In addition to a sharp knife for the kitchen, you might want to consider a camping knife like a Swiss army knife for any odd jobs. Depending on the one you get, it may also double up as bottle opener, tin opener and have scissors.
[AD] Sea to Summit collapsible bowls are great for mixing salads or serving bowls of pasta. The XL bowl collapses down for easy storage and the base can be used as a (small) chopping board.
[AD] We love the Vango 4 person bamboo set as it is made from highly sustainable and eco-friendly material. It’s very lightweight and stylish. Note that if you love black tea, the mugs will stain!
Camping water carrier
A water carrier with a spout is ideal so that you can easily refill your campervan. You don’t need anything too big because it’s not a great idea to carry too much water around in the campervan and you also don’t want it to sit for longer than 24 hours in the campervan tank because of harmful bacteria.
Miscellaneous small kitchen items
Chopping board (if you don’t get the Sea to Summit bowl with built in chopping board or you need a larger one)
(We would include tin opener and bottle opener here is you haven’t got a Swiss army knife)
Camping essentials for the bathroom
With new regulations and changes to some campsites for the 2020 season, some campsites are not opening up their facilities and so require you to have your own toilet and shower facilities.
We didn’t want to go for a sophisticated portable camping toilet system like a Thetford Porta Potti because we didn’t want to deal with all of the chemicals (and also they are pretty large) so we opted for a very simple collapsible bucket system for night time emergencies.
Normally we wouldn’t class a shower as an essential item but with some sanitary blocks closed due to government guidelines, you may want to have an alternative option. We opted for a USB rechargeable pump shower which can attach onto the side of the van and pumps warm water from a bucket of water. A 14L bucket of water (we use our Gorilla tubs) should give you around a 2 minute shower. There are simpler systems like a hose that attaches directly to your water tap and out through the window (although that would give you a cold water shower) or a solar shower bag.
These pack away into small carry bags and are perfect multi purpose towels for the beach (sand resistant meaning you don’t bring half the beach back with you) or bathroom (they dry really quickly). We use Dock & Bay towels.
What you pack in your toiletries bag is a personal choice so the only thing we would say here is that where possible, try to choose eco-friendly items that are not harmful to marine life. We also like to use biodegradeable Aqua Wipes in case we can’t have a shower.
First Aid Kit
We have a helpful Travel first aid kit post if you need inspiration on what to include in yours.
Camping essentials for the bedroom
You can argue that sleeping bags are not essential as you may prefer to take your own bedding, but when space is an issue, we look for lightweight sleeping bags that can pack down into the smallest size possible.
[AD] We use the rectangular Jack Wolfskin Re Blanket +5 which is made from recycled materials. It opens up into a blanket or can be zipped together with another one to form double sleeping bags if you prefer.
[AD] For kids sleeping bags, we are using Jack Wolfskin Grow Up Star for our eldest (aged 7 and 130 cm) and the Jack Wolfskin Grow Up Kids for our youngest (aged 5 and 115 cm). We love these sleeping bags for kids because they have a zipped section at the bottom which allows you to extend the bag as your child grows.
Miscellaneous camping gear
These are great for keeping everyone’s clothes separate and can store easily under the bed. We are huge fans of packing cubes and use them on all of our travels. They have their own handle and are like a mini suitacase.
[AD] We have the Osprey Packing Cube bundle. The cubes are really well made and hold a lot of stuff. They fit nicely under the bed in the campevan.
Multi-purpose storage boxes
We love using the 38L Gorilla tubs for storing food and other items. They fit nicely on the back seat when travelling and are easily lifted out and stored in the awning while camping. They can also be used for washing clothes and dishes (and children if they’re small enough!). We use the smaller 14L size to carry dishes to the sanitary block and they also come in handy at the beach. If you’re not using them, they stack neatly inside each other for compact storage.
Note that campsites do not always have plugs for the sinks which is why a tub like this is good for the dishes or laundry.
We take our travelling washing line with hooks on each end to hook between trees. Make sure to have eco-friendly detergent. We also find that a Gorilla tub is handy for doing the washing in if you don’t have access to campsite facilities.
Bat and ball, football, card games, colouring books and pens, table tennis bats (especially if going to France).
In addition to the mosquito lamp, we make sure to pack bug spray and mosquito bracelets.
We take our reusable water bottles with us everywhere and they are especially useful when camping when you don’t want to fill up the whole water carrier.
Small dustpan and brush
This may not sound very exciting but it is probably one of the most important items in our equipment list, especially if you’re staying on a sandy campsite. There’s just no way to keep sand out of the van if you have little ones going in and out and there’s nothing worse than sand in your bed. This tiny set stores easily and is really effective at getting rid of the sand before bedtime.
Day bag / backpack
Check out our holiday packing tips post for more helpful general packing tips. HAPPY CAMPING!
See our handy camping checklist below for all your camping essentials.