Camp Like an Expert: The Ultimate Camping Packing List
A Great Camping Trip is All About Preparation
Getting away from it all and going camping in the great outdoors is guaranteed to be a relaxing experience. Right? Only if you pack all of the camping necessities. You don’t want to find yourself up a creek without a paddle — or, more specifically, in a campsite without tent poles or matches.
Make sure your camping trip goes smoothly and stress-free with our essential camping packing list.
Camping Necessities 101: What to Bring Camping
Let’s start with the basics. Obviously, you need a tent, but if you’re a novice camper you might not know all the specific bits and bobs that can make a camping trip run smoothly. Leave unnecessary items at home with the kitchen sink and just take the essentials.
Here is a general camping supplies list broken down into three key areas. This includes all camping essentials and is a great starting point for your packing.
Camping and Sleeping Area
Most tents come bundled up with all the equipment they need so everything is conveniently in one place. Even so, make sure to check your tent bag to make sure all the tent poles, pegs, guy lines and the rainfly are there.
Before you head off, it’s always a good idea to put up your tent for a trial run, to check over the equipment and make sure there is no new damage, mold or missing items. It’s also a chance to practice if you’re not familiar with how to put up and take down the tent! Just don’t leave your tent pitched unnecessarily — UV light will shorten the lifespan of your tent.
This four-person tent will provide plenty of space for your trip. Of course there’s always the opportunity to upgrade to something more expensive and durable, such as the following:
- Black Diamond Skylight
- Kelty Orb 2
- Columbia Lost Lake Tent
- Coleman Sundome (great if you liked the Columbia Squall Ridge tent)
- Coleman Exponent Helios X2 (great if you liked the Coleman Ascend tent)
A Ground Tarp
Using a ground tarp will ensure you don’t wake up in a puddle if it happens to rain on your trip. Of course you still want to make sure you don’t set up your tent in an area where water will pool, but sometimes it’s tough to find a spot totally free of run-off.
If you can’t find a tarp that matches the dimensions of the bottom of your tent, buy one that is larger. Then fold any excess edges under the tent to prevent dew and rainwater from collecting and running underneath your tent and seeping through.
An Extra Tarpaulin
This is worth its weight in gold if the weather is wet and you need to throw up another shelter. It’s also great for spreading out on damp ground when picnic time rolls around.
A Sleeping Bag for Everyone
Check the warmth of your sleeping bags and make sure they are appropriate for the weather in your destination. You won’t enjoy your trip if you are sleeping in a bag designed for 32 degrees Fahrenheit if the temperature dips to 23 overnight. A waterproof sleeping bag with a warranty is ideal.
If you already have a sleeping bag but it isn’t waterproof, you can always invest in something like the Equinox Bivi, which will keep your sleeping bag warm and dry.
Sleeping Pad or Roll for Each Camper
If you plan on taking air beds or inflatable mattresses, don’t forget the pump! An alternative is bringing foam pads or even self-inflating sleeping pads that are compact but will save you from any sticks and rocks.
You don’t need one per person, but at least two can make your campsite much more comfortable.
Headlamps, Flashlights, and/or Lanterns
You’ll need at least one per person. Headlamps are by far the best option as they are hands-free and often come with different settings, so you can adjust the brightness of the light to suit the setting.
Rope can come in handy for almost anything — throwing up an impromptu clothesline, tying together anything that breaks, or stringing up a lantern.
A Few Old Newspapers
Getting a fire going out in the wilderness can be challenging if you’re not an experienced outdoors person. To make life easier, pack some old newspapers to use as kindling. Any leftover newspapers are also great for laying down on the floor of your car to stop too much dirt being tracked inside.
When it comes to packing clothes, always go with less rather than more. Camping is a minimal experience, so you don’t need fresh clothes every day. You’ll have so much other gear to take with you, you want your clothes to take up as little space as possible. As a rough guide, try to take only one or two items from each category of long-sleeved tops, t-shirts, sweatshirts, pants and shorts.
To control the number of personal items you need to pack, limit yourselves to one bag per person, or one bag between two for children under 10 years.
Packing quick-dry or light athletic wear is handy for camping. You can easily wash it out and dry it over a tent line to make your clothes last longer. Light, athletic fabrics are also breathable (so they don’t get too smelly too fast) and they can be easily packed into small spaces without becoming crumpled. Activewear is generally equally comfortable for energetic activities and lounging about the camp.
As well as your clothes, make sure you bring:
Wet Weather Gear
A reliable raincoat is an essential part of any camping list. Even if the forecast is for sunny weather, you don’t want to take the risk of being caught outdoors without waterproof gear. That makes for a surefire way to have a miserable experience.
Wool — especially merino wool — is one of the best materials for camping. As a natural fiber, it is moisture-wicking, temperature-regulating, odor-resistant and breathable. Wool socks are sure to keep your feet warm and cozy. If you happen to have forgotten your wet weather gear, there’s nothing quite like having a warm and dry pair of socks at the very least.
If you’re planning on doing activities in the surrounding area such as hiking, you should also make sure to have the right hiking socks to prevent blisters and discomfort. Socks are more important than you might think!
The essential camping footwear. You can wear them around camp comfortably (especially important if there are prickles in the grass!) and they are also handy if you don’t want to go barefoot in the communal showers.
Just be aware of any hazards that may be indigenous to the area you’re camping in. It’s not recommended you wear sandals in tick-ridden areas, for example. Flip flops are great for slipping on when you need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but not as great when you are sitting around the campfire exposed to biting insects.
A scarf can keep you warm on cold nights, double as a beach wrap if you want to go swimming and triple as a picnic blanket if need be!
You might be washing in a stream or a shower that drains directly into the surrounding earth. No matter what the facilities are like, campers should always respect the natural environment and leave it pristine for the visitors who pass through after them. Take natural soaps and shampoos so you can stay clean without adding chemicals to waterways, and biodegradable toilet paper.
You can even find natural sunscreens that you can safely wear in rivers and streams without damaging aquatic life.
A First Aid Kit
Include plenty of band-aids, insect repellent, antihistamine cream for insect bites, after-sun lotion and anti-septic salve for any cuts and scrapes. Don’t forget any prescription medications.
A Small Pack
It’s usually a good idea to bring a small pack that you can use on day trips or short walks. You never know what you might need when you are away from camp! A pack is perfect for carrying water, snacks, a first aid kit and extra sunscreen.
Although this guide is largely meant for car camping, many of the same gear applies if you were to go backwoods camping or backpacking. The only difference is the need to invest in lightweight gear you can carry in a pack. In this case you will need to trade out a small pack for a large one.
Do some research about what pack is best within your price point. The main thing you need to know is whether you want an internal or external frame pack. Most prefer internal as they are more lightweight.
A Deck of Cards
After dark or in the event of rain you’ll want some form of entertainment to make sure you’re all happy campers!
Don’t underestimate the glorious luxury that is a hot meal while camping. It’s worth taking all the kitchen gear you’ll need to create culinary masterpieces. This list covers the basic equipment you’ll need for whipping up meals, but not the food itself. It’s easy enough to come up with that yourself — just make a list of what you would like to eat for each meal.
Then do as much food prep as you can before leaving home, such as chopping vegetables or marinating meats.
Cooking Pots and Pans
If you have a stove, you can probably get away with bringing the pots and pans you use at home. But if you want to do some cooking over the fire, it might be worth investing in some alternate cooking gear that you don’t mind getting dirty.
Plates, Mugs and Bowls
Picnic gear works great for this to ensure you don’t break anything.
A Camp Stove
Including fuel and a lighter or matches. If you know you’ll have firewood available, you can cook directly over a fire but it is a slower and more labor-intensive process.
Knives, forks and spoons are obvious. Just as useful are tongs, a spatula and a serving ladle.
A Dish-Washing Tub, Dish-Washing Liquid and a Sponge or Brush
You can take a purpose-built collapsible camping sink or just a basic plastic tub. Some campgrounds even have dish-washing stations — you’ll need to check before you go. Either way, make sure you have everything you need to stay on top of dishes. Leaving dirty plates lying around your camp is likely to attract ants and other insects, or even rodents.
A pro tip is to bring steel wool — there’s nothing worse than scrubbing the burnt remains at the bottom of a pot for an hour just to get it clean.
You can use foil to cook almost anything in your fire or over your stove, plus use it to cover any food leftovers.
A Kitchen Knife and Cutting Board
Pack a good Swiss army knife and you’ll be able to use it for most kitchen duties. The add-ons almost always come in handy as well (how many people remember to take a corkscrew along with their bottle of wine?!). Plus, foldable knives are much safer to transport.
These can help you clean everything from plates to your child’s runny nose — you’ll always be glad you brought them. Here’s a great tip: bring along a wire clothes hanger as well, so you can hang a roll of paper towels off it somewhere in your campsite and be able to grab one at any time.
Moist towelettes are another great idea, making it easy to clean up spills or quickly sanitize your hands while preparing food.
Trash Bags and Resealable Bags
These are key to keeping your campsite clean and organized. Resealable bags are also essential for keeping toilet paper dry.
A Packet of Wooden Kebab Skewers
Keep the kids happy by roasting marshmallows or hot dogs.
How to Pack for a Camping Trip
Once you know what you need, the next hurdle to clear is organizing it all and packing all the items on your camping gear list in a way that you won’t lose anything essential (like your mind!).
These tips can help the packing process go smoothly.
- Packing each category of items (kitchen, camping gear, personal items and so on) together in the same box or bag helps keep everything organized and can save you spending hours looking for the matches.
- Storing your kitchen and camping gear inside clear plastic storage boxes makes it easy to keep track of what is where. They will also help to keep everything dry and safe from being crushed or knocked around during the trip. Stackable bins can also slot neatly into the back of your car.
- Your tent bag and sleeping mats can usually fit inside one large tote bag, so they are conveniently in the same place when you need to set up sleeping quarters.
- Use soft-sided duffel or tote bags for clothes and personal belongings. Packing cubes can help you keep these bags in order and make it easier to find things. When stuffed with soft t-shirts or other clothing they can also act as makeshift pillows, saving you from packing any!
- Here’s a kitchen packing hack: store utensils in a toiletry bag. It will help keep them clean and it’s easy to hang from a branch for easy access.
- It’s helpful to have a set of kitchen utensils that you use exclusively for your camping trips. This way, you can keep aside cutlery, plates, cups and cooking gear that you don’t mind getting damaged or lost (in a worst-case scenario). You can also keep them pre-packed and ready to go. Instead of running around the house trying to find enough spoons for everybody the night before you leave, a “trip ready” tote will save you time and stress when it comes to packing camping essentials. You can include your dish-washing liquid and sponges, paper towels and utensils, and even basic seasoning such as salt and pepper in your pre-packed kitchen bag.
- When you pack your cooler, try to arrange the food by meal so it will be easy to get to what you need when you need it.
- Do some research ahead of time. Know what facilities your campsite has, so you know exactly what to pack. For example, if there is no safe drinking water available, you’ll need to pack a water filter or purification tablets. You’ll also need to check the weather so you can pack extra wet weather gear or swimsuits accordingly.
Keeping Your Car Organized During a Camping Trip
You’ve assembled everything you need and managed to condense it into several reasonably sized bags and boxes. The next challenge is loading everything into the car in a way that will keep it all organized and accessible.
The golden rule of packing your car for a camping trip is “last in, first out.” It’s pretty straightforward. Hang onto the things you’ll need first, such as chairs and your tent, and pack them last. Your bags with clothes, kitchen gear, sleeping bags and mats can go into the car first, as you won’t need these until you already have your camping area set up.
Pack anything you might need during the trip — sunscreen, insect repellent or raincoats — in the front of the car for easy access.
Now that you know what you need and how to pack it, there’s only one thing left to do — get out there and enjoy an epic camping trip!