What to Pack for a Camping Trip: An Ultimate Guide
Camping is one of the best ways to get outside, enjoy some fresh air and explore the world. That’s why something like 40 million Americans do it every year! And while camping can undoubtedly give you an unspoiled view of some of the most amazing sights in the world—see the unbelievable vistas at these campgrounds overlooking the Grand Canyon, for example—it does come with a tradeoff.
When compared to exploring your destination via hotel or vacation rental, camping requires significantly more preparation and effort. You have to think about every component of living, from shelter and bedding to cooking gear and emergency supplies. That means that thoughtful preparation and packing are key to ensuring that your journey is safe and enjoyable.
A Worthwhile Endeavor
So it might go without saying, but camping is work. Is it worth it? There’s no question that this tradeoff is worthwhile. The fact of the matter is that there simply isn’t lodging available in many of the most beautiful places in the world. (Last we checked, there were no Airbnbs at the top of the Rockies or the bottom of the Grand Canyon, at least not yet). If you seek solitude, relaxation and access to the most stunning, awe-inspiring scenes on the planet, then you must be willing to pitch a tent!
The thrill of being outside and soaking up the open air and natural beauty is one of the greatest pleasures in life, and you’ll feel accomplished after preparing for it on your own. But don’t stress about prep because we’re here to help with this comprehensive packing list. As your go-to resource for adventure-ready silicone rings, we know a few secrets to making every outdoorsy outing a success.
Camping Packing Checklist
Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned pro, a camping checklist is your best friend when prepping for an excursion. Even the most experienced campers occasionally leave behind a bungee cord or backup batteries, so it’s important to check—and recheck—your camping list before heading out.
When it comes to camping prep, there are a few different schools of thought and options to consider, depending on your specific needs. Ultralight camping or backpacking involves bringing only the basics—a tent, sleeping bag and a few other essentials you can fit in a backpack. This is the way to go if you are hiking or paddling up to your site and won’t have a car to stash your gear.
If you’re going camping in an RV, trailer or a tent with a drive-up site, you have the distinct advantage of using your vehicle for storage, so you don’t have to be as particular about what you bring. In the checklist below, we’re covering the basics for those who have a little room to spare in the trunk or backseat.
Shelter and Bedding
Tent. We know it’s a hassle, but we always recommend setting up your tent in the driveway or backyard before your trip to ensure that all pieces and parts are accounted for. The last thing you’d want is to hike out to your site, only to discover that you’re missing a stake or pole.
Ground cover tarp. Do you need a tarp under your tent? Not necessarily, especially if you’re going ultralight. But a ground tarp can definitely provide some benefits, like protecting your tent from damage and keeping it dry.
Sleeping bag and bedding. Getting a good night’s rest is crucial, so make sure you have a warm, comfortable sleeping bag and bedding options that keep you warm to a temperature below what you’re likely to encounter. You may also want to pack a sleeping pad and pillows.
Extra blankets. Smart campers know you can never have enough blankets. Wool blankets are still the gold standard, thanks to their ability to wick away moisture and deter bacteria that can make your blankets stink. Oh yeah, did we mention that they’re pretty dang warm, too?
Lighting. The best camping memories happen after sundown. Lighting up camp is important to helping you enjoy your surroundings and navigate camp safely. You need to pack multiple different types of lights (see list below), all of which should be LED. LEDs last a lot longer, so you’re less likely to get stranded in a situation without light.
- Flashlight, including a shake or solar flashlight as a backup
- Clip lights to hang inside your tent
- Headlamp for safe fire-starting
- Lanterns for tabletop or hanging lighting
- Glow sticks to keep track of kids and pets
- Backup batteries for all lights
Chairs and a table. Check and see if your site has a picnic table before packing. If it doesn’t, you’ll want to pack a small folding table for eating and food prep. Comfy camp chairs are a must for sitting around the campfire!
Clothes and Personal Items
Clothing. Camping is all about layering up! Pack moisture-wicking layers, including a base layer and a warm shell you can put on or take off as needed. To stay organized and keep your gear dry, use dry bags in your backpack.
- Base layer
- Packable rain jacket
- Warm coat
- Rain poncho
- Neck gaiter
- Sun hat
Hiking boots. You’re only as good as your best pair of hiking boots. A pair of comfortable, protective hiking boots is crucial if you plan to venture beyond your campsite. In the summer, you may be able to get away with rugged hiking sandals. Just make sure to pack extra socks for nighttime.
Silicone ring. Always leave your precious jewelry at home and swap out your metal bands for silicone rings. These are way less fragile, so you won’t have to worry when getting your hands dirty. They’re also lightweight, durable and safer than standard rings when handling tools.
Personal care items. Don’t forget to pack a personal toiletry kit with everything you need for bathing and hygiene. One good way to make sure you have packed everything you need is to go through your standard morning and bedtime routines and make sure everything is accounted for.
- Pads, tampons or menstrual cup
- Eyeglasses or contacts
- Prescription medications
- Lip balm
- Baby wipes
Sun protection. Sun protection is needed when you’re spending a lot of time outdoors, even if it’s overcast or your site is shady. Make sure you pack plenty of UV protection—sunscreen, UPF clothing, sun hats, sunglasses, etc.
Bug repellent. Unfortunately, the bugs can be pretty brutal when you’re in the woods, especially at night. Pack citronella candles and bug spray.
Tech. Your gadgets are totally optional. If you’re aiming for an off-grid, disconnected experience, we support you! If you do plan to bring your phone, remember to download music, maps, local information, recipes, etc. so they can be accessed without cell service.
- Bluetooth speaker
Wallet and personal items. You probably won’t need it in the middle of the woods, but don’t forget your wallet. Pack your ID, some spare cash and a credit card or two just in case.
Food and Kitchen Supplies
Food and water. Pack enough food for everyone in your group for the entire trip. Look for calorie-dense canned and dry goods that fill you up and save space. For dinners, pre-marinate meats and pre-chop veggies (stored in the cooler) so you can toss them on the grill or cast iron pan for a quick meal. Be sure to pack enough water, too—the recommendation is a gallon of water per person per day.
Coolers. Notice we said coolers with an S! If you’ve got the room, consider packing one cooler for your beverages and one for your food. Knowing how to properly pack a cooler can help you out a ton!
Non-electric coffee maker and coffee. Just because you’re in the wilderness doesn’t mean you have to go without your morning coffee! There are many different ways to brew without electricity, with some of the most popular options being the French press and percolator. Ultra-compact and user-friendly drip coffee makers are a great option, too.
Camp stove. For those who plan to travel via car to their site, a camp stove can be quite a convenient amenity to have on hand. These are typically gas-powered and provide full-sized burners so you can whip up different kinds of meals, just like you would at home.
Camp grill. Prefer to cook over an open fire? Check with the campground to see if the fire pits come with grill grates. If not, pack one. You could also pack a mini charcoal grill if you’re not big on cooking over the pit. A spatula and cooking tongs will come in handy, too.
Cooking utensils and essentials. Cooking is a big part of the fun on camping trips, so make sure you have what you need to make tasty, nutritious meals without weighing down your pack too much.
- Pots and pans
- Cast iron pan
- Cutting board
- Bottle opener
- Can opener
- Aluminum foil
- S’mores and hot dog skewers
Dinnerware. Don’t forget your dinnerware! Disposable paper or plastic can be convenient, but pack reusable camp dinnerware for a more eco-friendly approach.
- Coffee mugs
- Serving spoons
Cleaning supplies. One of the most fundamental rules of camping is to leave no trace. That means leaving your site exactly how you found it, with no debris or litter and as little disruption to the natural habitat as possible. The right cleaning supplies can help you keep your site pristine!
- Sponge or scrubber
- Dish soap
- Camp sink
- Dish towels
- Paper towels
- Trash bags
- Sandwich bags
- Hand sanitizer
General Camp Supplies
Fire supplies. Everyone loves gathering around the campfire at night, so make sure you have exactly what you need for a safe, controlled blaze. Always check with the parks service to make sure it’s safe to have a fire.
- Stormproof matches
- S’mores accoutrements
Emergency supplies. It’s generally a good idea to have a small emergency kit at camp. You can purchase pre-bundled emergency kits with supplies or build your own for relatively cheap.
- Water filtration device
- Water purification tablets
- Emergency flares
- Emergency whistle
- Rain ponchos
- Just-add-water meals
- Tent repair kit
- Sleeping bag repair kit
- Rope and bungee cords
- Emergency blanket
First-aid kit. It’s inevitable. There will be a bug bite, a bee sting or a scrape when you’re exploring the wilderness. Buy a compact, pre-made first-aid kit that contains essential first-aid supplies as well as some key over-the-counter medications, such as antacids and pain relievers.
Multitool. Your multitool is one of your best assets when camping. Choose one that has a straight and serrated knife plus tools like pliers, wire strippers, scissors and a file. Some of the best multitools even come with handy extras like a bottle opener and can opener!
Always Be Prepared
The first rule of wilderness survival is, of course, to always be prepared. Not only is this tenet important to keeping you alive in potentially dangerous circumstances, it’s also important to helping you enjoy the experience as well. And at the end of the day, that’s what camping’s all about! By taking time to thoughtfully pack before your trip, you can ensure that you’ll be a happy camper the entire time.
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com
Sorn340 Studio Images/Shutterstock.com