Camping is a timeless way to spend a weekend or vacation communing with nature, family, and friends. It’s good for the body, mind, and spirit to mix up our routines and get outside for some fun and relaxation. When backpacking isn’t practical due to time constraints, physical limitations, or young kids, we suggest packing up the car and finding a site at a nearby campground or in a National Forest. The beauty of car camping is that it’s inexpensive, accessible to almost everyone, and you can have a great time with only a day or two to spend.
At CleverHiker, we love to help people get outdoors, and we know how daunting packing for multi-day camping trips can be. That’s why we put together the Ultimate Camping Checklist, and we hope it makes packing for your next camping trip easy and stress-free! Did we miss anything? If so, leave us a comment below and we’ll update our list.
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To determine what gear you need to bring on your trip, consider these 3 questions:
Are you going to a campground or a primitive campsite?
This will help you determine whether or not there will be picnic tables, fire pits, bathroom facilities, water, and electricity. You’ll obviously need to pack a bit differently for primitive camping.
What activities would you like to do?
You get to decide how you want to spend your time in the outdoors. Complete your gear list with the items you need to make hiking, fishing, biking, playing games, or just relaxing in camp enjoyable.
How luxurious do you want your camp to be?
Think of your campsite as a blank canvas where you can set up as much or as little as you’d like to make it your own. Some people take great pride in setting up elaborate, cushy camps, while others prefer to take a more minimalistic approach.
Starting from Scratch?
While this gear list may look intimidating at first, you’ll find that you already have a lot of these items around your house. Start by gathering the important basics like your shelter and bedding first, then expand from there. If you’re on a tight budget, consider renting or borrowing big-ticket items to get you started. Your camping supplies will upgrade and evolve as you go on more trips and grow to love camping.
The ultimate camping checklist
CHECK OUT OUR FREE PRINTABLE CHECKLIST
(Change margins to ‘narrow’ when printing)
Hammock + tree straps
Tablecloth (w/ clips)
Clothesline (w/ clips)
Clear plastic bins to store items
Sit pads for insulation on chairs
PRIMITIVE SITE GEAR
Coolers (1 for food + 1 for drinks)
Large water jug/dispenser
Stove + fuel
Lighter or matches
Cook pots w/ lids
Food containers, bags + foil
Dish-washing basin (or plastic bin)
Garbage + recycling bags
CLOTHING & FOOTWEAR
Light fleece or jacket
Hats (1 warm, 1 for sun)
Long-sleeve shirt (for sun + bug protection)
Rain jacket + rain pants
Base layer top + bottom
Warm insulated jacket (down or synthetic)
Fleece or wool pants
Gloves or mittens
Coffee pot or french press
Grill rack (to cook over fire)
Moleskin or tape (for blisters)
OTC medicines + vitamins
Ibuprofen (headache reliever)
Antihistamine (allergic reactions)
Aloe (for sunburn)
Small multi-tool (w/ tweezers + scissors)
HEALTH & HYGIENE
Toothbrush, paste + floss
Toiletries (soap, shampoo, etc)
Quick-dry pack towel
Quarters for showers
Eye masks/ear plugs
FUN & ENTERTAINMENT (OPTIONAL)
Games (dice, cards, etc)
Music player (w/ headphones or speaker)
Reading material, notebook, pen
Hiking guides/maps/field guides
Dog gear (dishes, tether, pack, bed)
Did we miss anything? If so, leave us a comment below and we’ll update our list.
It’s really easy to keep your camping gear organized by using clear plastic bins with lids. You can see what’s inside the bins at a glance and slide them easily in and out of the car. The bins also keep your items contained and protected from dust and critters in camp. And, as an added benefit, your stuff will always be in one place in your garage and ready to go at a moment’s notice. All you’ll have to do next time you want to head out is quickly go through the bins with your checklist, add clothing, restock consumables, and you’re good to go.
The camp kitchen and your food system will vary greatly depending on how much or little you want to cook on your camping trip. Some people prefer to bring mostly cold or prepared foods, while others enjoy whipping up gourmet meals at their campsite. Deciding whether you’d prefer not to cook, to cook on a stove, use a grill, or over a fire will help you figure out what to pack and what kind of food to shop for. We usually prefer to prep and combine some ingredients at home, then do some simple cooking on a stove in camp. Taking the time to make a meal plan before your trip will make your role as camp chef much easier and more fun.
Stay Cool, Cooler
A quality cooler, like the Yeti Tundra, will have thick insulation to help keep it cold for a long time. But even the best cooler will lose its cool after a day or two on hot summer trips. Use these tips to help your cooler perform to its max potential, keeping food safe and drinks ice-cold, the way we like ‘em. Pre-chill both your food and your cooler before you load it for the best start. Also, the fuller your cooler is, the less trapped warm air has to cool, so choose one that isn’t too large and top it up whenever possible. To maximize your efficiency even more, separate your drinks from your food in two smaller coolers instead of one large one. Keeping the drinks separate will drastically reduce the number of times people open the coolers. Lastly, covering your cooler with a blanket, sleeping bag, or pad and keeping it in the shade while it’s in the car and at camp will greatly improve its performance.
Garbage in Camp
It’s a good practice to keep your campsite clean and free of litter to keep birds, rodents, bears, and other wildlife from getting a taste for human food. It really doesn’t take much to follow Leave No Trace protocol and it improves the way you experience your campsite too. We try to separate garbage from recyclables whenever we can. Dispose of garbage in campground receptacles when you leave your site unattended or store foods items and garbage in your car. In bear country, it’s a good idea to keep your food in a bear locker, store it in your car, or properly hang a food bag like the Ursack.
First Aid Kits
You can’t be prepared for absolutely everything, but you should have what you need to take care of minor cuts, scrapes, sunburn, bug bites, upset stomach, and headaches. REI sells the Ultralight Adventure Medical Kit that’s light enough to carry with you on outings and hikes away from camp. The best first aid kit is the one you’ve got when you need it.
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