The Ultimate Camping Packing List
There is nothing that gets me stoked like hearing about people going camping and getting out in the backwoods. Though I grew up camping with my family, I am always shocked to hear about friends (who grew up in cities) who have never gone camping before!
Waking up in a tent is just good for your soul. The freshness of the morning dew, the pure silence in the air, the smell of brewing coffee mixed with pine trees, using cast iron on an open fire to grill bacon, washing your stinky armpits in the lake; this combination of things can heal any ailment.
I recently converted a 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee into a back country camper, and I had the opportunity to really think about everything I could possibly want or need to have a successful, yet minimal camping trip. I personally think I’ve created the ultimate camping packing list, and wanted share it!
Everybody’s ultimate camping list is going to look a little bit different on your needs, wants, and of course the location that you go.
The Essential (and not so essential) Items for a Successful Camping Trip
I have organized this list into several sections, so that each person can pick or choose what they think is essential and what is not. Everybody has their preferences: I’ve met people (and dated a couple of them) who want to go as minimal as possible (like packing a single shirt for a 4 week road trip), whereas others want to experience a little bit more comfort.
Camping is all about fulfilling your own outdoor fantasies! This article is designated for those who are car camping and therefore have a little bit of leniency around what they will have room to bring! Nearly every time I leave my house for a trip, a couple hours down the road I have a SHOOT moment, where I realize I’ve forgotten something.
So pick up a pencil and paper, and start creating your own camping checklist! Whether you’re backcountry camping, going on a car camping trip, doing some wild camping, or just a casual outdoor adventure, this is going to be your ultimate guide from which you can pick or choose your camping essentials.
In my opinion, having a good sleep is one of the more essential parts of your camping experience. The better that you are able to sleep, the more energy you’ll have throughout the day to do physical activities, and the less irritable you’ll be so that you don’t get into silly arguments with your family members about setting up the tent wrong.
Where to buy this stuff: REI Co is an awesome outdoor company based in the United States, and MEC (Mountain Equipment Coop) is the Canadian alternative. There are amazing options online, as well as a website called MassDrop which sells wonderfully affordable, high quality gear.
1. Good Tent – having a lightweight, waterproof, easy to assemble tent is a great way to make everything easier for yourself on your trip. There are tons of tents out there that you can basically through together in under a minute.
Make sure to get one with a waterproof fly in case of a rainstorm. There are amazing 2 person tents out there, but if you’re with your family a larger 4-6 person tent will be the best option!
2. Cozy Sleeping Bag – my sleeping bag is one of my most beloved belongings. We’ve been everywhere together. The sleeping bag that you purchase will depend on what time of your you are planning on camping, and how small you want it to pack down.
Sleeping bags will usually keep you cozy anywhere from 40 degrees Fahrenheit to -25. The colder you go, the more pricy the sleeping bag will be, but there are for the folks who are into winter camping.
The smaller your sleeping bag packs down also tends to affect the price. These are usually made of high quality down and can pack down to the size of a small propane tank! If you don’t care so much about size, the more affordable ones are a bit bigger, but just as cozy!
3. High Quality Sleeping Pad – sleeping pads are another super essential component of a good sleep. There are tons of different sleeping pads, and a huge range of pricing.
Again, the more expensive ones pack down really tiny – I’ve seen some go down to the size of a pop can! Some sleeping mats are inflatable, some are made of foam and fold into an accordion.
4. Pillows – the more I write, the more I realize how essential each sleeping item is! I personally prefer to travel with one of the pillows from home, I just put a more sturdy, flannel, pillowcase on it.
If you’re looking to be more frugal with spacing, there are tons of inflatable pillows out there that grow to size with just a few big breaths. I’ve seen other people used a rolled up jacket as a pillow, but sometimes, comfort can be the priority over space.
The cooking items that you decide to bring are going to be highly variable from person to person. Some folks use camping as an excuse to eat super minimally with no cooking needed; i.e carrots, granola bars, twigs and dirt, whereas others (like me) like to make delicious meals over fire.
If I’m just going camping for the weekend, I tend to do almost all my prep at home before leaving so that all you need to do at the campsite is cook and assemble! I once made the best ramen I ever had on a camping trip, with miso eggs and all!
Where to buy these camping supplies: REI Co and MEC have all of this stuff available, but if you’re looking to save some cash, Walmart will have a huge camping gear section. Or, thrift stores are another great place to find some used gear!
5. Camping Stove – a camping stove is always a good thing to have with you, especially if there is a fire ban in the area that you’re in, or if you’re just not amazing at making fires.
You can decide for the larger, more generous camp stove with two burners on it that attaches to a propane tank, or you can opt out for a much smaller grill. There’s an item called a Whisper Light that you unfold and screw onto a propane can for a super minimal set up. But this camp stove only has one burner, so it’s better if you’re just cooking for 1 person.
Otherwise, using a fire pit and a griddle is awesome way to cook. I always find that cooking over fire taste way better than any other method. Just remember to find out what the fire restrictions are for the area that you’re camping in!
6. Propane Tank – if you’re using a camping stove, remembering to pack propane is essential! They’re usually available at gas stations or grocery stores if you’ve forgotten.
Packing bbq lighters along with this is also important. Otherwise, you can always like a small stick on fire and use it like a match. Or, just pack matches!
7. Water Jug – I personally like to travel with a large water jug. This way I have enough water to make coffee, wash up, wash the dishes, and make pasta!
Another pro tip is to keep your drinking water in a thermostat bottle – this way it is kept nice and cool as a nice refresher on a hot summer day.
8. Cooler – making sure your packed food is safe to eat is important. There are tons of different sizes of coolers out there, and items can be kept cold with ice packs or bags of ice (a cold 6-pack works pretty efficiently too).
9. Rags, Scrubbers,Towels – there’s nothing to dampen the mood like sitting in a car with dirty dishes that are 2 days old. Do yourself a favor and pack a wash bin and some rags to keep all of your cooking gear clean.
10. Foldable Table – if the campsite you’re at doesn’t have a picnic table, you’ll be thankful to have packed a table. This way you don’t have to cook on the ground and have a solid area to prep and do dishes! Not to mention it can be used as a games table after dinner is over!
11. Coffee Maker – if you’re a coffee drinker, you’re going to want that hot cuppa in the morning. My personal favorite is the Aeropress, since it’s so small and makes a great cup of coffee.
Along with this you’ll need some ground coffee and whatever fixings you prefer. However, I have seen a coffee fanatic who brought his own hand operated coffee grinder!
12. Cutting Board – though a flat rock will do, it’s always nice to have a cutting board to do some chopping.
13. Knives – I like to bring a small paring knife and a larger knife to do food prep. This way 2 people can prep at once. Sharpen them before you go!
15. Plates, Bowls, Mugs, Cutlery – only bring as many as you have people on the trip! Plastic kitchenware is always the better option, especially if you have kiddies running around.
16. Pot, Pan, Spatula, Tongs – again, the amount of pots and pans you bring will depend on the amount of people that you’re feeding. Spatulas are essential if you’re planning on cooking over fire.
17. Can Opener – this is usually the item that I forget the most often. Since it’s common to pack non perishables when you camp (added bonus that they don’t need to be refrigerated), it’s quite a headache to forget the single thing you need to open a tin can!
18. Olive Oil, Salt & Pepper, Spices – most food needs some sort of fat for it to cook properly, and though butter tastes better in my opinion, olive oil is just more practical to pack.
I always have a salt and pepper shaker to use, but you can pack whatever spices you usually use at home! They don’t take up that much space, and make camping meals just as good as you’d make at home.
19. Soap – have you ever tried to wash a dish covered in cooked eggs or dry pasta sauce with no soap? It is no easy feat. Pack some soap to make your life easier!
It’s very important to use a soap that is biodegradable so that you don’t harm the wildlife around you if you’re washing dishes in a river or disposing of your dishwater in the soil. My personal favorite brand is Dr. Bronners; it’s concentrated and smells divine (it also doubles as body wash!)
20. Containers – this isn’t an essential item to everyone, but I always find that I constantly cook too much food. Having a spare container will save you from stuffing your belly, or throwing away perfectly good food.
21. Plastic Bags – the number one most important rule about camping: LEAVE NO TRACE. If you pack it in, you pack it out. I can’t tell you the amount of garbage I have seen at campsites. Don’t be that person. Pack a plastic bag and haul your stuff out.
This is my favorite section: all of the things that are essential to making it in the great outdoors. My favorite part about camping is MacGyver-ing, and being prepared with the tools you need to do so feels oh-so good.
Where to buy these camping supplies: there are various places to purchase these kinds of items. Outdoor stores like MEC or REI Co are great, Walmart will have many of these items, or any store you regularly visit that has tools and hardware.
22. Camping Chair – though rocks make for great stools, they don’t feel very comfortable after a few minutes. Having a solid camping chair is very helpful for sitting around the campfire or watching the sunset.
These vary a lot in price depending on the quality. You can get the classic folding chair for pretty cheap, or you can decide to get a super expensive camp chair that packs down to the size of a water bottle for backpacking. It’s your choice!
23. Tarp – I can’t tell ya the amount of times I’ve wished I had a tarp. Do yourself a favor and just pack one, it’s always a good idea.
24. Lantern/Headlamps – though the stars are bright, they aren’t usually bright enough to read a book once the sun has gone down. Lanterns are great for group activities, whereas head lamps are perfect for individual use.
It’s also important to always pack a headlamp if you’re planning on doing a long hike. Anything can happen in the woods, and being prepared in case the sun goes down is an essential way to stay safe.
I once had to repel off the side of a mountain without a head lamp. Safe to say, I learned a valuable lesson that day, and always have one with me now.
25. Line/Chord – there will always be a use for a bit of line. It’s a great way to make a clothes line or hang a tarp, or repair something you didn’t expect would break.
26. Multitool – my dad gifted me a multitool back before I was an outdoor person and I never understood why. Now, I bring it with me wherever I go. A multitool is just that: every tool you could need in one little EDC size.
27. Hatchet/Handsaw – these are only important if you’re planning on foraging for your own firewood. Remember: only dead wood burns. Do not damage or cute down live trees, they are still alive and the wood will not burn.
You decide how much you need to be comfortable and clean on your camping trip. Some trips I come home looking like I rolled around in a pit of mud, and others I smell like a fresh wildflower patch.
Where to buy this personal gear: you can either pack the items that you already have at home or opt to get some travel sized items. These are readily available at your local pharmacy!
28. Wipes – WIPES WIPES WIPES. I love wipes. They’re a great way to provide the illusion of cleanliness. I use them to clean my hands, face, and armpits. Make sure to get the face-specific ones for those areas, antibacterial wipes for surfaces will not feel good on your skin.
29. Toilet Paper – I don’t need to explain this one to you. But remember: PACK IT OUT. Don’t bury it please 🙂
30. Bug Spray, Sunscreen, After Sun – sometimes the day can sneak up on you. Carrying small bottles of these will prevent itchy sleeps or uncomfortable car rides.
31. Toothbrush, Toothpaste – they’ve got cute little foldable toothbrushes that are great for camping! Having a fresh mouth always feels nice at the end and beginning of the day.
32. Lip Balm, Moisturizer – I am an avid moisturizer. I feel far more comfortable when my skin isn’t all dry, and this happens a lot after swimming! This is one of my luxury items that I never go without.
33. Extra Contacts – this obviously only applies to those who wear contacts, but I never ever ever travel without an extra set. Especially since I don’t like wearing glasses when I’m camping.
I once lost my cosmetics bag with all of my contacts in it and didn’t have a spare set. With a prescription like -4 in each eye, we just had to go home because I couldn’t see a thing! It was quite a bummer. Don’t make my mistake.
I’ll make a confession: I am notorious for packing way too many clothes. I am the kind of person that changes outfits 2-3 per day, and I always annoy the people I travel with because my bag takes up too much space! This list is designed for this minimalists out there 😉
What you pack will depend on the time of your that you are camping, and also how high in altitude you will be going. I once did a hike on a day that was 95 degrees Fahrenheit at the bottom, and 32 at the top!
34. Rain Layer – you literally never know when it’s going to rain, and the minute you forget your rain jacket, the thunderstorms come.
35. Down Layer – these are almost never necessary in the summer, but if you start camping in September and October, it can get chilly at night and in the early morning! There are super thin and lightweight down layers to keep you cozy but minimal.
I went through a bout of winter camping, and what changed me from being miserable to excited about snow was some down pants. More comfy and flexible than snow-pants, down pants are so warm that I could sit in a snowbank for an hour and not be cold. Truly, a remarkable item.
36. Proper Footwear – having the right footwear can be the line between misery and delight. Plan what types of activities you’re going to be doing, and pack accordingly!
If you’re going hiking, make sure to pack those comfy hiking boots. If it’s too hot, some good support sandals like Chaco’s are perfect. Doing river crossings? Water shoes are your best friend.
37. Socks & Underwear – always always always pack extra socks. Merino wool is an amazing material because it is lightweight, breathes well, stays warm, and dries quickly.
38. Hats – the type of hat that you bring will also depend on the time of year. A beanie will help keep your ears warm on a fall hike, and a wide brim hat will help you stay cool on a desert walk.
39. Swimsuit – I am personally a skinny dipping fanatic, but not all places are remote enough to do that in a respectful way. Pack your skinnies!
40. Shirts, Pants, Shorts – the amount of these you bring is totally up to you. There are so many amazing camping clothing items that are lightweight but sturdy, protect you from the sun, and dry super fast if they get wet.
41. Fleece Layer – I loooooooove wearing fleece. It is so cozy, it helps protect against high wind, and it’s easy to layer as well. Even if it’s due to be a super hot weekend, I always bring a fleece layer. I would always rather be prepared rather than light weight.
42. First Aid Kit – a first aid kit is kind of a no brainer to me. You never now what’s going to happen out there! They have wonderful little packable ones that could practically fit in your packet!
43. Jumper Cables – it’s never wise to be caught in the outback without anything to help you if your car breaks down. Jumper cables are essential for a dead battery, and usually every car comes equipped with a tire change crank under the back seat.
44. Hypothermia Blanket – my uncle once fell out of a canoe in a super cold lake in Seattle in November. The only reason why he survived is because a passerby happened to have a hypothermia blanket in his car. It never hurts to be prepared, it only helps.
45. Batteries – pretty self explanatory.
46. EpiPen – sometimes we encounter things that we don’t even know we’re allergic to! Whether it be a bug sting, a new plant we’ve never been around, or a food that a friend packed and put int a stew without telling you.
47. Offline Maps/Compass – your phone dies, you’re out of service, people don’t use paper maps anymore, whatever the reason, sometimes we need help when we’re lost.
There are a ton of cool apps out there that allow you to download maps of an area you’re going that can be used without any service.
A compass is a wonderful tool as well since it doesn’t require any charge. A compass can be a life saving tool to get you out of a dense forest
48. Satellite Radio – this is an item for people who are planning on going in the way way way out back. Again, you never know what’s going to happen out there, and having a pocket satellite radio is a great way to radio in someone far away to ask for help.
49. Solar Charger/Charging Cables – many people go camping to plug out of the system, but if you want to keep your speaker charged, your phone, or whatever else, a solar charger is a super cool way to do that! Just leave it on a sunny rock during the day and let your items charge at night.
50. Binoculars – even if you aren’t a bird watcher, binoculars are always a super fun thing to have around.
51. Games – games games games! These are especially important if it’s a rainy day. There’s something real special about playing chess or backgammon in a tent, listening to the rain fall. Cards are great, but aren’t the best option if it’s windy at all.
52. Sporting Gear – and now for the whole reason we go out there in the first place: the various activities that the outdoors have to offer. Pack your mountain bike, your tubes, your kayaks and canoes, your climbing gear, your badminton racket, volleyball, your giant inflatable flamingo. Who cares! The world is your oyster and you’re the pearl baby!
53. Books – some of the best and most focused reading I’ve ever done is on camping trips. No distractions, just wild camping in a comfy chair and my favorite book.
Extra Items for the Kids..
If you’re camping with your kiddies, thank you. Some of my most fond memories come from the camping trips my family and I took, and I carry those with me whenever I camp now.
What you put on your ultimate camping checklist for your kids to play with totally depend on you! In my opinion, family camping is a great chance to play in new and different ways and to encourage them to live outside the box. The main idea with camping with kids is just bringing extra stuff.
Things like extra blankets, sunscreen, and toys are going to make everyone’s like much, much easier. Extra blankets are great in case someone spills some juice on theirs, there can never be too much sunscreen, and toys are fun for everyone!
Toys: Whether you’ve got an RV or you’re tent camping, toys are a crucial aspect to your family camping checklist. Beach toys like shovels and sand castle moulds, boogie boards, and Bocce ball are a great way to stay amused for the whole day.
Comfort: Maybe packing one big air mattress instead of a bunch of little ones will save time, energy, and not to mention it’s super comfortable! Making sure the kids sleep the whole night through ensure that you can be well rested too.
Extra blankets, pillows, stuffies, and hammocks allow for rest time at night or during the day as well., allowing for a restful and stress free family camping trip.
Safety: kids get into some pretty silly predicaments sometimes, and it’s always a good idea to be prepared for anything. Don’t forget that first aid kit but bring extra bandaids. Bug spray and sunscreen are always helpful, and ensuring there is constantly enough water will ensure everyone’s safety.
Pro Tip: bring extra beach towel. There is nothing worse than going for a fresh beach towel only to find that yours has been laying in the wet sand for the entire afternoon.
And finally, the last item on your ultimate camping list, MARSHMALLOWS!!!!
What is a camping essential item?
In my opinion, the most essential camping items are going to be for your safety. What do you need to stay safe? Water, warmth, and light. Make sure to bring a water bottle, a sleeping bag, and a head lamp.
Can you camp in a National Park?
It always depends on the national park and if there is a restoration project occurring, but there are tons and tons of national parks that offer camping services. You can do wild camping, go on a backpacking trip, backcountry camping, or whatever else fits your fancy.
Can you go on a backpacking trip with kids?
Deciding how you want to go family camping depends on your experience and skill level, and how much you are willing to teach yours kids and what their capability is! If you’ve never gone backpacking before, it may be a good idea to do it a few times yourself first before bringing the kids along.
Where is a good place to go family camping?
There are so many family friendly camping places across the country. KOA has selections all over every state and they are great because they always have running water, power, and showers!
Is camping expensive?
The cool thing about camping is that you can create your own adventure. If you’re looking for a little bit more luxury with running water and showers, there are tons of campsites that offer that and you will pay anywhere from $20-$120 a night.
Some campgrounds use an honour system where you pay what you can into a little box at the gates of the grounds, and tons of other wild camping areas that are totally free, like BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land!