The Ultimate 'What To Pack for Camping' Guide
Need some packing guidance for your next camping adventure? We've got you covered!
When the heat breaks and the trees start to change into vibrant colors for the autumn, many people get ready to start packing their things and take off to do some camping.
But what do you bring with you on a camping trip? You may think that you’ve got a good idea of what you need for a camping trip, but once you get out in the wilderness you’ll want to make sure you don’t come up short of something. It’s a long drive back to civilisation to pick it up!
If you need an answer to the question, “What do I bring camping?”, you’ve come to the right place! This camping checklist has everything you might need for a stay in the woods, as well as some things you might not have thought of before.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- THE CAMPING ESSENTIALS
- Camping Tent
- Sleeping Pad or Cot, Pillows, Blankets, and Sleeping Bags
- Cooking Gear (Stove, Pots and Pans, Plates, and Utensils)
- Cups, Mugs, Water Bottles, and Thermos
- Cooler and Ice Packs
- Pocket Knife
- Cleaning Supplies
- Toilet Paper
- Other Toiletries
- Change of Clothes
- Flashlights and Headlamps
- First Aid Kit
- OPTIONAL CAMPING ITEMS
- Miniature Broom and Dustpan
- Weenie and Marshmallow Roasting Forks
- Folding Table
- Pair of Flip Flops or Beat Up Sneakers
- Kids Toys For Camping
- STP Device
- Shake-to-Activate Hot/Cold Packs
- Final Thoughts
THE CAMPING ESSENTIALS
This section of the ultimate camping packing list is the things you don’t want to be without if you’ll be sleeping outside for a night or two. Some of these things might feel obvious, but what’s obvious to one person might not be for another. It’s always good to be prepared, no matter how experienced you are. Let’s unpack this ultimate camping packing list!
Something to sleep in is top of the list of things you need to have when you go camping. Some people just take hammocks, but many hammocks are a bit finicky and don’t come with shelters. Tents are by far the easiest camping shelter to set up. Not to mention they keep the bugs out.
Make sure to keep in mind the climate when you’re planning a camping trip. If you’re camping during a colder month, you’re going to want an insulated tent. If it’s likely to rain, your tent should be waterproof. You can often find a tent with both of these features, and it might be best to spring for the more expensive but higher-quality tent than to trust a basic pop-up.
Sleeping Pad or Cot, Pillows, Blankets, and Sleeping Bags
The sleeping bag is a pretty classic camping staple, but a lot of people don’t think to bring a bedroll or pad to lay it on. This was the bane of my existence when my parents tried to take me camping as a child. Even if you’re trying to rough it in the great outdoors, there’s no reason to lose sleep because of an uncomfortable bed.
A sleeping bag just on the tent floor is going to feel more or less as though it is directly on the ground. Putting a pad underneath it is a fantastic addition to your camping gear. It will help prevent soreness and stop you from getting a rock in your side in the middle of the night.
You’ll also want to be sure that the sleeping bag you get will hold up to the weather you’re likely to be facing when you take your camping trip. Spring for a good one if it’s likely to be cooler, and consider investing in a thermal blanket as well.
Don’t forget your pillow also! Being able to curl up in your sleeping bag and sleep without feeling the rocks is ideal, but it can be a real downer to get that far and realize you don’t have anything good to rest your head on. You can find pillows specifically for camping that are easy to pack and won’t take up a lot of space on your camping checklist.
Cooking Gear (Stove, Pots and Pans, Plates, and Utensils)
By definition, camping has you spending the night in the woods. At some point during your camping adventure, you’re going to get hungry, and roasting marshmallows isn’t going to keep you going the entire time you’re out there.
Before you leave, create a meal plan, and bring what you need to cook them. Bring a small camping stove, something battery-operated, or a miniature grill. Many campsites have outlets that you can use for that sort of thing as well but have a plan for how you’re going to power your stove if it’s electric.
Don’t forget that, once you make the food, you’re going to need something to put it on and something to eat it with. You’ll also want cutlery. If it’s something that’s going to be too hot to hold in your hands, plates are a must. If you’re bringing canned foods, make sure to bring a can opener.
Your dishes can be disposable if you want, but if they aren’t, remember that they’re going to get dirty. If that’s the case, you’ll probably want to bring along something for washing dishes. You’ll also need somewhere to put them that won’t make a mess of your gear. Dirty dishes and leftover food will attract animals, so having storage and cleaning supplies is essential.
Coolers, Fridges and Ice Packs
Beverages are an important part of camping. A cooler will keep them somewhat chill; most soda isn’t any good warm. If you’re going to bring beer or anything else requiring a bottle opener, make sure to pack one of those, too.
If you're planning on a longer trip you could also consider an electric camping fridge. This will save you the trouble of melted ice and wet food items over a couple of days. Of course it requires a power source which is usually your vehicles battery, but for the trouble of that it's usefulness is second to none!
Some of the food you pack may need to be kept in the cooler or fridge as well. If you’re planning on roasting sausages, for example, and don’t want to get sick, make sure to keep them at a good temperature. A cooler can also be a good place to store leftovers.
Cups, Mugs, Water Bottles, and Thermoses
It’s vital to ensure you have enough water for your trip. If there are refillable water stations at the campsite, it’s a good idea to have cups available. A personal drinking container for everyone on your camping trip is generally a good idea.
If you’re going to be out in the wilderness, make sure that you bring enough drinking water or a high-quality water filter so that you can stay hydrated. You should drink at least two liters of water per day to avoid dehydration, so you must know where you will be getting drinking water.
You never know when you’ll need a trusty pocket knife, but you’re sure to find some use for it. Left something in the packaging and realized too late that it has plastic on it? A pocket knife can help with that. Got something tangled up in an old bit of rope and need to cut through it? A pocket knife has got you covered!
It can also get into places that a pair of scissors usually can’t, and it’s easier to stow away than a pair of scissors. Find one that you’re comfortable with and can open and close safely. You can even get pocket knives that have multiple tools, like screwdrivers and bottle openers, if you want an all-in-one solution.
It’s generally polite to clean up after yourself when you’re out in the woods. You want to make sure you have trash bags at the ready. Wet wipes are a bonus, especially if there aren’t bathrooms nearby.
Make sure you have paper towels and at least one sponge. Spills can be a big pain in the rear if you aren’t ready for them, especially when it isn’t an easy matter to fetch something to use to clean them up.
If you choose to take soap with you, it should be biodegradable. You don’t want to bring something into the woods that is toxic to the flora and fauna.
Wet wipes are a godsend. They have a cleaning solution and water in them already. You can just pull a few out and unsticky whatever you’re trying to clean quickly and easily. This is good for sticky fingers, as well as wiping up any dishes that you might want to pack back up to take home with you when you don’t want them getting everything else dirty.
This one is easy to forget when you’re planning a camping trip, but it is essential. Even when you’re out in the woods, you’ll need to use the bathroom sometimes. Using your hands isn’t an option, and you don’t want to be that fool that thinks it’s a good idea to wipe with poison ivy and gets a rash where no one wants to have a rash.
You can easily avoid an embarrassing scenario by bringing a couple of rolls of toilet paper with you. Some companies even make reusable cloths for the same purpose, which you can store and wash later.
Unless you’re going out in the middle of nowhere, most campsites have a shower area that you can go to get cleaned off. Those shower areas generally do not include soap, however, so you should also consider bringing your usual toiletries with you.
Small bottles of shampoo and conditioner, little bars of soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, and that sort of thing are all excellent to keep in mind for this kind of excursion. If you want to take the simple route, there are plenty of 3-in-1 shampoo/body wash/conditioner options.
Change of Clothes
Make sure you have enough clean clothes to last you the trip. You can probably manage to wear the same pair of pants the entire time, but it’s still good to have another pair in case you spill something on them.
A good pair of jeans can last for days without starting to become an inconvenience, but if the weather is likely to turn hot you’ll want shorts to change into and you aren’t going to want to sleep in them.
Bring enough shirts for every day, plenty of clean underwear, and never underestimate the importance of socks while you’re out there roughing it. You lose most of your heat through your feet, and even the hottest places in the world can get very cold at night, so extra pairs of socks are a plus.
It’s also wise to make sure you have hats and gloves if it’s going to be cold. While you lose a lot of body heat through your feet, you also lose a lot through your head and hands. Even during the summer, the woods can become dreadfully cold once the sun goes down, and you’ll need to be prepared to stay warm.
Flashlights and Headlamps
Do not make the mistake of thinking your cell phone will be enough light in a pinch. It won’t be, first of all, and second, it will just make the phone go dead faster. Bring a flashlight! Campsites generally aren’t lit and you will need them to find your way around at night.
Headlamps can be a good solution because they allow you to find your way without taking up one of your hands. You can also buy a light bar to set up around your camp for extra illumination. Light is one of those things we all take for granted at home, but you’ll need to take care to remember it out in the woods.
Remember to pack extra batteries in case a device goes dead. This is especially true if you don’t know how long the battery will last on your device. You don’t want to be in the woods without a light source or radio, and there’s no way to be sure that anyone will be willing to share once you get out there.
First Aid Kit
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s an item that people often forget. Most people assume that they won’t run into any trouble out in the woods. However, it’s easy to get a bump or scrape in the great outdoors, so having a well-stocked first aid kit can help prevent infection and keep minor injuries from becoming worse.
OPTIONAL CAMPING ITEMS
Now that we’ve gone over the essentials, here are some things that are nice to have, but won’t ruin your entire adventure if you forget them.
Miniature Broom and Dustpan
These often come in combination with one another. People will be coming in and out of your tent and accumulating a lot of dirt and debris. A small handheld broom and a dustpan can make that clean-up a breeze, but it’s a non-essential item.
Weenie and Marshmallow Roasting Forks
It’s possible to sharpen a stick and skewer your food, but it’s also very convenient to have forks that don’t let the heat scorch your fingers. You can use roasting sticks to cook food over a fire, but remember that you’ll have to wash and store them afterward.
Some campsites already have a table, but not all of them will. It’s good to bring a folding table if you have room for it. You’ll have a place to set up your things for meal time and extra storage to keep your belongings off the ground.
Pair of Flip Flops or Beat-Up Sneakers
If your campsite has somewhere to swim or you’re planning on using the showers, it can be good to have a pair of shoes you can slip on and off easily. This will protect your feet from whatever is clinging to the floor in the shower area, as well as the grass and bugs outside.
If you plan on wading in a creek at any point, an old pair of sneakers can be perfect. You won’t ruin your current shoes and will still protect your feet from sharp rocks and pinching crawdads.
Kids Toys and Games for Camping
If you're traveling as a family and have small children, taking a few toys with on your camping trip is a good idea. There's nothing worse than a bored child while you're trying to enjoy nature. It will also provide them with a sense of comfort and familiarity in an unfamiliar environment and this helps them to feel more relaxed and have fun during the trip.
Additionally, toys can be a great way to keep children entertained during downtime, such as while waiting for a meal to be prepared or during a rainy day. Having toys also allows the kids to engage in imaginative play, which can boost their creativity and problem-solving skills.
Aside from toys one can also pack games and activities. Board games and especially different printable camping themed games are a great way to get the kids (and adults!) out and exploring the wilderness. Most games can be adapted to suit a more adult group too, or the other way around.
Furthermore, bringing toys and games along can encourage children to bond with each other and the adults on the trip, leading to a more enjoyable and memorable experience for everyone.
For those who come equipped to stand and pee, you can go ahead and pass this one up. If you’re out in the woods, it can be incredibly convenient to just stand and go without finding a place to squat. Squatting can be dangerous with unfamiliar flora around, so you may want to invest in a stand-to-pee device, especially if you’re deep in the woods.
It might be a little bit awkward to think about now, but when you’re actually in the woods and need to use the bathroom, you’ll be thanking yourself for it when you don’t have to walk across the campsite to the port-a-potties just to take a leak.
Shake-to-Activate Hot/Ice Packs
We talked a little bit about how cold it can get in the woods at night and how hard it can be to warm back up once you’re cold. It’s a good idea to bring some packets you can shake up and use to generate heat. They are safe to tuck into your gloves and put in your pockets to help warm yourself back up once you’ve gotten cold.
You can also find cold packs that do the same thing, which may be a good idea in case of injury. They don’t take up a lot of room in your bag and may save you from disaster.
There are so many things you might consider taking with you going on a camping trip. With a little preparation and attention, you can ensure that your camping trip will be a success, no matter what you run into out in the woods. Good luck and have fun!