Camping is one of our favorite ways to get outside and enjoy nature, plus there’s lots of health benefits to being in the great outdoors. Whether you’re getting ready for your first camping trip or your 100th, it’s important to make sure you pack everything you need. This will help you feel relaxed and have an enjoyable trip instead of spending your time worrying about if you forgot something. It really sucks to get to the perfect campsite, only to realize you forgot something important like toilet paper or your tent. It only takes one time to forget then you will never forget that item again, but we can at least decrease the chances of that happening by creating a camping checklist of what to bring camping.
Packing for a camping trip is actually quite easy once you have your camping gear organized and all in one place. Our favorite thing that we started doing was using a small 3 drawer organizer and a couple plastic bins to store all of our camping gear. The drawers hold our smaller products that are usually harder to keep track of. The top drawer is for sanitary items, the middle drawer is for electronics like head lamps, and the bottom drawer is for miscellaneous items like dry bags, bug spray, bungee cords, and extra rope.
One bin has all our sleeping essentials (sleeping bag, bag liner, our pillows, and an extra blanket) and the other bin has our cooking equipment. This includes our stove, fuel, utensils, a pot and pan, napkins, tin foil, and more. This created three things we have to grab before we go camping. Everything we need is all in one place and it comes with us every time.
Now time to get into the meat of what to bring camping. For your convenience we have created a printable of our handy camping checklist. We can email you a copy if you like. Send us your email below and we will get that right over to you! It’s a great resource and it’s the only camping checklist you’ll ever need.
Most of the following items are what we would consider to be the bare essentials, but some are also extras that can take camping to the next level. While it’s tempting to pack light and cut corners, we only recommend doing so if you have less space available in your vehicle. Since we have plenty of space in our 4Runner, we try to bring everything we could possibly need to make the most of our camping adventure.
Having the right camping gear for sleeping is an essential part of any camping checklist. A good night’s sleep is key to enjoying your adventure!
Your tent is the single most important piece of camping gear to remember when you are packing for your camping trip. Forgetting your tent is one of the most basic mistakes to avoid, and it could be a pretty awful start to your trip. If you don’t already own a tent or are in need of a new tent, we are here to help. Most people start by determining what size tent they need, so begin with that. Once you know your desired capacity, you can shop our favorite tents by capacity.
While you’re shopping, making sure you take into consideration your ideal camping trip (such as temperature and weather conditions, group size, length of time you go camping, etc.) so you can pick the best tent for your situation.
If you currently use the stakes that come with your tent, it could be worth replacing them. The terrain varies greatly at each camping spot, and you could encounter rocky ground, sand, or even windy conditions that would leave your basic tent stakes useless. At minimum, make sure you have a couple extra stakes on hand just in case you lose one. If you don’t have any extra, don’t worry, you can still secure your tent without stakes.
You should also always bring along your tent’s footprint, or a tarp in its place. This will help the tent floor last longer and make it less susceptible to being punctured by rocks and sticks.
A sleeping bag is part of the basic camping gear that’s necessary for camping, more specifically as part of your sleeping area. We each have two sleeping bags, one for warm weather conditions and one for cooler weather. Check the weather before departing so you can determine how warm your sleeping bag needs to be, and if you need any supplemental warmth. If you need more warmth, consider upgrading your sleeping bag, or you could use a heated sleeping bag, heated blanket, sleeping bag liner, camp blanket, or some other way to stay warm in a tent.
We don’t recommend skimping on your sleeping pad, especially since a bad night’s sleep will effectively ruin any outdoor adventure. While we’ve heard lots of success stories about air mattresses, we have personally had really bad luck when it comes to keeping them from deflating throughout the night. We use a HEST mattress, which is easily one of the best sleeping pads you could possibly own.
Whether you use a sleeping pad, cot, mat, air mattress, or whatever else, just make sure you bring it camping. After all, having a good sleep system is one of the best ways you can sleep comfortably in a tent.
Whether you bring along the pillow from your house or you have a designated camping pillow, don’t forget to bring along something to rest your head on.
This doesn’t mean bring along your phone, tablet, laptop and anything else you need for entertainment. In fact, we wouldn’t recommend bringing all those devices. Having the right electronics involves camp lighting, a portable battery, and some other things.
Lighting at the campsite doesn’t mean just a lantern. Although you could get by with just one or two camping lanterns, we have a couple of different types of lighting in our campsite. We have a headlamp that allows us to move around freely, even in complete darkness. Also, we like bringing a solar powered lantern with us that can be set up in the tent and used as an overhead light.
Portable Battery and Solar Panel
For longer camping trips, we bring along a solar panel and rechargeable portable battery. This helps keep our phones charged in case of emergency, and can also charge smaller electronics like a camera, GoPro, or even our Garmin GPS.
GPS with SOS
A few years ago, we started carrying a GPS device whenever we adventure outdoors. Whether we’re camping or hiking, you can bet we will have our Garmin In Reach with us. We mainly carry it just in case, although it does allow us to text our emergency contact that we are safe. We have used it to navigate when we got lost off trail, and it also has an emergency SOS that could alert Search and Rescue of an emergency situation. It’s nice to have the peace of mind that if something did happen, we would be able to contact someone regardless of the availability of phone service.
Whatever gear you have that requires batteries, take a count of what size they use and how many, then bring extras. We always carry extra AA and AAA batteries for our headlamps and lanterns.
A campfire is our personal favorite part of any camping trip, and we love spending the evenings watching the flames dance. Make sure you bring along everything you need to enjoy it to the max, including s’mores!
Sitting on the ground for multiple hours at a time is not fun. We always bring camping chairs with us when we camp and it makes all the difference in the world. Make sure you bring one for each member of you group or family so you can all sit around the campfire comfortably.
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many people forget a lighter when they go camping. If you forget your fire starter, there is a good chance that it could ruin some of the best moments at camp because everyone is cold and miserable. Always bring at least one lighter for both the fire and the stove, and know that some type of fuel will make it easier, like this UCO Fire Starter, or we really like this Fire Starter Kit from Wolf & Grizzly.
You could have the best fire starter in the world, but if you don’t have wood to burn then you’re out of luck. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t travel far distances with firewood, no matter how much you have stocked up at home. Purchase firewood locally so you’re less likely to transport invasive bug species.
We almost always forget our roasting sticks, and it’s not fun when you can roast things over the fire. Make sure you pack some, or if you don’t already own some, we really like these roasting sticks because of the rotisserie knob that lets you rotate the stick with your thumb.
Although we frequently overlook desert when packing food from our camping list, it’s actually one of the most important parts of camping. Don’t forget marshmallows, graham crackers, and the chocolate of your choice.
There’s a lot that can go into cooking meals at the campground, but try to keep it as simple as possible so you don’t have to bring too much stuff for camp cooking.
A stove is very important for cooking food when you are camping. We use a simple two-burner camping stove that uses those green 1lb. propane canisters from your local outdoor store.
If you’re into winter camping, you could upgrade your camping tent to one that has a built-in stove jack, and combine it with a wood burning stove to make a hot tent. You can cook on the stove and it would heat your tent very effectively.
Part of having a propane stove is having enough propane, so make sure you’re bringing along plenty of fuel, plus some extra to have on hand just in case.
Everything from plates, sporks, and knives to a cutting board and pots and pans. Plan out your camp meals in advance so you know what to bring and make sure have them before you leave.
A cooler is a must-have for any camping trip. It’s essential for keeping perishable food fresh, and it’s nice to have cold drinks on those warmer summer days. While a Yeti is fun and super high quality, you could also purchase with a more affordable option like this RTIC 52 Quart Cooler.
Pro-tip: make sure you fill it with ice before you head out! Sounds simple, but we’ve forgotten it before.
Most campsites will provide a picnic table, but if no picnic table is available at your campground, it would be helpful if you bring along a folding table. This will make it a lot easier for cooking and eating.
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but you need to bring food when camping! Make sure to pack foods that are easy to prepare and don’t require a lot of extra supplies. We really like to prep as much as possible beforehand, which will make it easier when you’re out camping. Some simple things like chopping vegetables, putting some spices into baggies, or making kebabs ahead of time will save you a lot of effort later. On top of packing healthy meals that are easy to cook, make sure you pack lots of snacks!
Please make sure that you’re storing your food properly, especially if you’re in bear country. This means using provided bear proof containers or locked vehicles any time you aren’t actively eating or use the cooking equipment. Remember that all smelly items, including toiletries, should be left in a locked container and should never be stored in your tent no matter where you are.
Dehydration can quickly set in when you are out camping so make sure to pack enough water for the entire trip! If you are unsure where you can get potable water at camp (or if you may not be able to filter your own water), we find it helpful to carry something like this 7 gallon water jug that we fill before leaving the house.
How are you going to pass the time at camp? We’ve found that it’s important to not rely too heavily on our phones for entertainment, especially since there’s not a great way to charge them. Instead, plan on spending time with your camping companions.
Bring along some games, books, or cards to help keep you occupied. We’ve put together a list of the best games for camping, and the list includes indoor and outdoor games that are perfect for hanging out at the campground or if you’re stuck inside your tent or RV.
Part of camping is having all the personal items you could need to keep yourself clothed, clean, and safe.
Pack a duffel bag, backpack, or suitcase (depending on the length of your camping trip) with the clothes you wish to bring. Think about under garments, shorts, shirts, pants, socks, and shoes. You should bring multiple pairs of shoes with different uses like hiking shoes or boots, camp shoes, flip flops for showering, and casual shoes for hanging out.
For outer layers, make sure you always have an extra layer just in case. This means you should always carry a jacket or puffy in addition to the sweaters you plan on bringing. This is especially important for tent camping since you will be exposed to chilly temperatures once the sun sets.
Depending on the weather, make sure you pack accessories like a hat for sun protection, rain jacket, gloves, and/or a beanie for cold weather.
Make sure to pack all of your basic toiletries including soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo, personal medications, etc. If you aren’t going to have access to a restroom, make sure your toothpaste and any soap products are biodegradable and that you follow the Leave No Trace principles. We really like this Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash, which is a biodegradable soap that can be used on your body, hair, and even your dishes.
If you plan on having a camp shower, make sure you bring all your shower supplies. This means a shower tent for privacy, a portable shower, and your biodegradable soap. If you are staying at a campground that provides showers, make sure you bring a pair of flip flops. No matter where you end up showering, make sure you have your favorite camp towel with you as well.
We always pack our own toilet paper, even if we anticipate that our campground will have some in the restrooms. It’s saved us more times than we can count, and it’s gotten to the point where I just always keep a full roll of toilet paper in the back of my car at all times. We also always have WAG bags (human waste bags) just in case we don’t have the appropriate place to use the restroom. Don’t forget some sanitizing wipes as well, as many primitive bathrooms won’t have a sink and most don’t supply soap even if they do have a sink.
Also, don’t forget sunscreen! Most of these smaller items get packed in the top drawer of our storage system, so they’re easy to access at all times.
First Aid Kit
One of the most essential items for camping is a first aid kit, yet it’s often overlooked when packing for your next camping trip. While there’s lots of ways you can pack a first aid kit, we just purchased this one from REI because it’s well stocked with everything you need for a weekend away, all packed into a small carry case. We keep it in our car at all times, regardless of if we are camping or not. Stuff in your first aid kit does expire, so make sure to check it regularly.
One of the most overlooked items on our camping checklist is bug spray, but it’s something you should never forget. Bug bites are no fun so you should take the proper steps to prevent them.
Another type of spray you may need is bear spray, but this is only required in areas with grizzly bears such as the northern US (like Glacier National Park) and Alaska. In these places, you should carry bear spray at all times when camping and hiking.
Things You Shouldn’t Bring Camping
- Lots of electronics – don’t bring along excessive things that you won’t be able to recharge anyway.
- Perfumes or cologne – leave behind smelly perfumes, no one cares what you smell like.
- Glass and breakable items – avoid bringing glass alcohol bottles that could leave glass shards everywhere.
- Valuables and expensive jewelry – leave behind your valuables so you don’t lose them or get them dirty.
- Fashion clothing that can’t get dirty – always wear clothes that are ready for adventure.
- Food that’s hard to prepare – bring quick and easy meals.
- A bad attitude – be a good sport and be ready to have some fun!
- A Speaker – no one else at the campground wants to hear your music. Listen to the birds and enjoy the quiet so everyone else can relax in peace too.
What are the top 10 things you need for camping?
There’s lots of things you need for camping, but these are the top 10 most important items:
1. Tent, Sleeping Bag, Sleeping Pad
2. First Aid Kit
3. Fire Starter and Wood
4. Cooking Stove
5. Kitchen Utensils
6. Personal Toiletries
10. Satellite GPS
What do people usually forget when camping?
Some of the most frequently forgotten items when camping are wood, extra batteries, a lighter, hand wipes, trash bags, snacks, and a hatchet.
What should you not take camping?
Here’s some examples of things you shouldn’t take camping:
1. Lots of electronics
2. Perfumes or cologne
3. Glass and breakable items
4. Valuables and expensive jewelry
5. Fashion clothing that can’t get dirty
6. Food that’s hard to prepare
7. A bad attitude
While there are people out there who may claim some of these car camping gear ideas are unnecessary items, we think it’s a great idea to pack more than you need and be over-prepared. It’s better than being under-prepared, which can lead to a sucky camping trip.
Not everything on our camping checklist is included on this list, so make sure you take advantage of our free printable by entering your email above!
About the Author
Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, hiking, wildflowers, and mushrooms. If she isn’t writing content for Know Nothing Nomads, she’s probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.