Others will tell you exactly what to bring, maybe even recommend brands. I'm going to cover things at a much higher level, with a few specific tips.
The basic requirements of camping match the basics of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs:
- Physiological needs (food, clothing and shelter)
- Safety needs (hope for the best, plan for the worst)
- Self Actualization (you're doing this to have fun, right?)
If you're going camping you're going to need to provide yourself with food, clothing, and shelter.
The three main factors are:
Weight: The lighter the food, the easier (and more) you can carry. Water is the largest source of weight in food (1L of water is 1kg of weight) and often readily available (in lakes, rivers, taps, and faucets), so many campers use dehydrated food when weight is an issue. Tricks to avoid the issue of weight include car camping, using a boat, or having food prepared/delivered by others.
Quantity: It sounds silly, but can you imagine running out of food? You need to make sure you plan enough food for all of your meals. Always err on the side of caution, you're going to be exerting yourself! With practice you can bring less. The longer your trip, the bigger role food plays in your trip, so start with a simple overnight trip and work your way up.
Preparation: How you prepare and eat your food will govern how simple or complicated your camping trip is. The easier it is to prepare your food, the happier you will be. The less waste you have after, the less hassle you'll have. This is why there's a whole industry around ready-made food in pouches. The simplest options require the addition of hot water. This abstracts cooking down to the art of boiling water. Do you have the tools to do this?
Staying dry and warm is your main goal. Protect yourself from the elements appropriately. Be aware of the weather around you, realize that conditions can change, that temperatures drop in the evenings, and that altitude impacts temperature. Layers are the key to success: Too cold? put on another layer, Too hot? Take a layer off.
Cotton is the worst material for this as it does not keep you warm when it is wet, and takes forever to dry. Synthetics dry quickly but don't always offer the best warmth. Wool works well in hot and cold weather and takes a while to dry but stays warm when wet. Footwear is just as important.
Open-toe shoes are a bad idea, support and comfort are more important than anything else. Wear wool socks instead of cotton socks and you'll decrease the chances of having miserable feet (I've seen hundreds of army recruits with mangy feet and blisters because they wore sport socks in their army boots, learn from their mistake!)
Shelter: there are many options. If you're providing your own shelter, then start with a tent (for shelter), a sleeping bag (for warmth), and a mattress (for comfort).
If you buy or borrow a tent, take the time to put it together and take it apart at home once so that you understand how to do it under ideal circumstances. When you get to your camp site the first thing you do is put up your tent. Clear the ground of rocks and sticks before you lay your tent. Keep the doors closed to keep out bugs and rain. Keep your tent away from the camp fire. Keep your tent away from the intersection of two glacial rivers (brrr!). If it's raining, avoid touching the walls of your tent, once water goes through, it keeps coming through. Don't forget to dry out your tent at home, or else it will go mouldy.
You can avoid using a tent (and carrying it) by renting a hut or cabin. The advantage here is you may not need to bring certain things (tent, mattress, cooking supplies, utensils, be sure to confirm in advance from the location, not second hand).
Sleeping bags are either synthetic (cheaper, warm but don't pack down as well and wear out over time) or down-filled (more expensive, pack down well, last longer). People will tell you that a wet synthetic bag is warmer than a wet down bag, but a wet sleeping bag sucks so much you won't care what it's made out of. Start cheap and work your way up. Realize they have a temperature rating and that the comfort level is always about 5 degrees off.
- Make a plan. I'm going to such and such a place using this trail, cooking dinner, having a camp fire, and coming back the next day in time for lunch.
- Tell people where you are going, who you are going with, and when you
are supposed to get back. Be specific! Give them license plate
numbers and car models.
- Know who the emergency contact numbers are
where you are going (guess what, 911 doesn't work everywhere, is
there a park warden number? Put it in your phone! Don't assume your
phone will work!).
- Bring a map. If the map is not drawn to scale, get one that is (grumble grumble). Know how to read the map.
- Know your limits. How far can you walk in an hour? Okay, now do it with hills and 15 kilos on your back.
- Bring lots of water.
- Bring a first aid kit. Get familiar with how to use everything in the first aid kit before you leave. Put a lighter and an energy bar in your first aid kit.
- Find out what the local dangers
are: do you need to bring bear spray? Are the octopi poisonous? Is
it tick season? Is it leech season (not a threat, but a nuisance)? Should you have started taking malaria pills seven
days earlier? Do you need to bring avalanche gear? Do you have to
worry about bacteria in the water?
- Bring a flashlight with new batteries. Headlamps are great because they keep your hands free.
- If you're using hiking poles, wrap a few meters of duct-tape around each pole, now if ever a boot splits, a binding breaks, a strap fails, a tent leaks, or a leg requires a splint you've always got something to bind it with.
Why are you camping? To enjoy the wilderness? To sit around a fire? To see a sunrise or sunset? To get away from others? To get closer to others? To challenge yourself? Figure out why you want to go camping, and make sure you set everything up so that you can accomplish that goal.