Going on a camping trip can be both exciting and stressful. While you may be looking forward to the adventure and newness of it all, you may still have some reservations about leaving behind all your creature comforts and venturing into nature.
Knowing what to pack can seem so overwhelming because you want to plan for every contingency without taking along the contents of your entire house.
So how do you know exactly what you’ll need? This guide can get you started in tailoring a packing list depending on where you’ll be camping and the length of your trip.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Food and drinks
- Cooking supplies
- First Aid and Medical Supplies
- Camping Gear and Equipment
- Personal Items
- Miscellaneous Items
Food and Water
Food is absolutely essential while camping because you are bound to build up a big appetite while spending time outdoors, especially if you go hiking
. Cooking while camping can be difficult if all you have is a portable cook stove or campfire to work with. And if there aren’t a lot of stable surfaces around for chopping ingredients, then that just adds to the complexity.
Always make sure to bring more food than you need in case your trip ends up lasting longer than planned. Plus it’s challenging to anticipate appetites which are often bigger while camping than back at home.
Food and drink items
- Pre-made items or leftovers
To make things easier on yourself, bring some pre-made items or leftovers from home. Then you don’t actually have to cook, just reheat over your campfire, and you’re good to go.
Better yet, pack them in foil or a metal bowl or mug so you can nestle them in the coals or amidst your firewood and let them cook while you do other things. Some meals that will keep well and taste great when reheated include:
- –burritos: wrap them in foil and reheat in the coals
- –pizza: although some may like it better cold
- –any rice dish: fried rice, stir fry, leftover Thai, Chinese, or Indian takeout
- –burgers: just reheat the patty by itself and put it back on the bun with toppings
- –pasta: mac and cheese, lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs
- –soups: stews, chilis
- –sandwiches: grilled cheese, submarine sandwich, ham & cheese, sloppy joe, pulled pork
- –fish and chips
- — bread: muffins, cornbread, bagels, banana bread
You can also combine leftovers with other items to make something new, for example, a meatloaf sandwich or a wrap made with leftover veggies and topped with condiments.
- Cold foods made at home or bought at the grocery store
If storing cold foods isn’t a problem at your campsite, then bringing cold dishes along is another way to have an instant meal without having to build a fire and wait for food to reheat. Just store it in your cooler until it’s mealtime and make sure it doesn’t sit out and go bad. Some of the best camping cold foods include:
- –Cold cooked salads: pasta salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, chicken salad, egg salad, tuna salad
- –Charcuterie: meats and cheeses
- –Dips and sauces: salsa, guacamole, hummus
- –Cold soups like gazpacho
- –Regular salads: Caprese salad or any mix of lettuce with fresh veggies
- –Stuffed eggs or hard-boiled eggs
- –Cold sandwiches: lunch meat or any sandwich made with a cold salad like chicken, egg, or tuna
- –Cold cuts and meats that won’t spoil quickly: deli meats, hotdogs, sausages
The only thing you’ll have to be cautious about when bringing leftovers, both hot and cold, is to make sure they don’t go bad. Any food you’ve made at home shouldn’t be brought along if it’s more than three or four days old.
Once cooked, foods should be refrigerated within 2 hours if they aren’t kept hot. Cold foods shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours either. You can also bring along frozen items as much as possible because they will take longer to thaw out and can be ready to cook by dinnertime.
Keep your cold foods from perishing by storing them in a cooler or ice bath. If possible, pack portions into smaller containers, so you don’t have to take the entire batch out at mealtime.
As soon as you finish eating, put cold foods back into the cooler and make sure there is enough ice to keep them cold. Another tip is to stick to more vegetarian fare because meat, poultry, and fish are the culprits which can make you sick and potentially spoil a camping trip.
- Shelf-stable foods that can be used to make simple recipes
If your campsite has the ability to cook foods and you feel up to it, you can create some pretty fantastic meals while camping. Pack enough dry ingredients that can be combined with water and cooked over your grill, campfire, or portable cookstove.
Depending on how fancy you want to get, you can pack additional items to give your dish that extra bit of flavor by adding more ingredients. However, some simple but delicious and filling meals that are perfect for camping include:
- –Dry pasta: cook up the noodles and add in canned sauce or canned tomatoes
- –Mac and cheese: make it from the box just adding butter and milk or get the instant kind
- –Noodle cups: choose from ramen, udon, pho, Tom Yum, and more
- –Oatmeal or cream of wheat: just add water or milk and dress it up with fruit
- –Soup: make it canned or from scratch with broth or bullion, beans, meat, or pasta
- –Rice: cook it easily over the fire and add in veggies, beans, meat, and seasoning
- –Dry pancake mix: mixing up pancakes in the morning is always a favorite among campers
- –Potatoes: use them to make baked potatoes, mashed potatoes (you can also buy boxed instant potatoes) or breakfast potatoes
- –Canned meats: can be added to a dish or eaten on their own
- –Canned vegetables and beans: very versatile and can be added to bulk up any dish
- Non-perishable snack items
Any non-perishable or shelf-stable food is perfect for camping. Not only can they be thrown in your backpack for a hike, but they make for quick snacks when you’re hungry, and dinner isn’t quite ready yet.
They don’t go bad so there’s no rush to eat them and you can take them back home or bring them on your next camping trip. Recommended items to bring along include:
- –Muffins and bread such as pita or tortilla
- –Rice or corn cakes
- –Dried fruits
- –Nuts and seeds
- –Candy bars
- –Trail mix
- –Granola bars
- –Peanut butter
- –Crackers, chips, or pretzels
- –Apple sauce or fruit cups
- –Juice boxes
- –Fresh, uncut fruit such as bananas, apples oranges
- –Vegetables that taste great raw such as carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes
- –Dry cereal, granola, muesli
- –S’more ingredients: graham crackers, chocolate, marshmallows
- Cold items
A few cold items are worth bringing because they will make cooking that much easier and delicious. Although they must be carefully stored, so they don’t spoil, if you pack them properly, this shouldn’t be a problem.
The majority of these items will be used for breakfast so, if you’re not a big breakfast person, then you can easily skip them. The most popular cold items for campers include:
- –Cheese, including string cheese
- –Milk or creamer for coffee
- –Cream cheese
- Condiments and spices
To make your meals flavorful, there are some basic spices and condiments you’ll need to have on hand. For ease of access, create your own camping spice box and take it with you every time you camp.
That way you won’t have to remember to bring anything from home and will have a dedicated supply. For condiments that come in bigger bottles, you can get small packets that don’t need refrigerated and can be used over and over. The must-have condiments and spices include:
- –Maple syrup: for making pancakes and French toast
- –Salt and pepper
- –Garlic or garlic powder
- –Dried onions
- –Hot sauce
- –Any other condiment or seasoning that you love and use often
- Water and Drinks
Water is absolutely essential for survival and even more so when you are far from home or spending time in nature. If your campsite offers potable water, then you will be ahead of the game.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to bring along extra water just in case. If you don’t have access to drinkable water, then bring along some kind of purification system such as tablets to purify any nearby water sources.
Always make sure to bring more water than you think you’ll need because you wouldn’t want to run out when it’s needed most.
The starting calculation for how much water to bring depends on how long you will be camping, availability of water at your campsite, the weather (dry vs. humid), the number of people, your diet (will you be eating a lot of salty foods?), whether water is needed for cooking, and if you’ll be active or more sedentary.
If you plan to drink a lot of hot drinks, consider bringing along a thermos to keep them warm. Regular water bottles should be included too so everyone has water to drink and can take it with them while hiking. In addition to water, some other drinks to bring along camping include:
- –Tea bags
- –Hot chocolate
Cooking Supplies and Kitchenware
Once you’ve packed all your food, you’ll need a way to store it, cook it, and eat it. These basic items are all you’ll need to create a portable kitchen no matter where you’re camping.
A cooler is an ideal thing to bring camping because it serves so many purposes. It can be used to carry supplies, securely store food, and keep perishable foods cold.
A sturdy enough one could also double as a seat or table for preparing food. Make sure to also bring ice packs to keep everything cold. If you don’t have any, frozen fruits and veggies can be used as well as frozen juice boxes.
- Can Opener
Chances are you’ll be bringing along a lot of canned foods to use for cooking so; naturally, you’ll need something to open them all up. Most can openers also double as bottle openers for opening a beer or other beverages in glass bottles.
Aluminum foil is a campers best friend because of its versatility and durability. You can wrap a potato in it to cook in the coals of your campfire and then use it to store leftovers.
- Cleaning items
Doing the dishes might not be your favorite thing to do even at home, so it will present an added challenge while camping.
However, it’s a necessary evil and will make things easier come mealtime. Bringing along the basics like some cloths or old rags, a non-toxic or biodegradable dish soap, and a scrubber or sponge for pots and pans will help keep your dishes ready for cooking.
Some paper towels will always be appreciated too and have many uses.
- Cooking utensils
Your inner chef will thank you when it comes time to prep food for yourself and your fellow campers if you have the right tools. Frequent campers should consider buying camping utensils to use every time they are out in nature.
The most frequently used items to pack with you include knives, spoon, spatula, and tongs. Another item most might not think of is pot holders to avoid burns when removing pots and pans from your campfire.
- Camping stove and fuel
When you’re backcountry camping or staying at a campground without a dedicated grill and don’t want to build your own fire, then a camping stove is the way to go.
The only drawback is that the fuel is often heavy to carry along with you and they usually can’t cook for large groups quickly. But, depending on your camping trip, they may be the perfect solution for your cooking needs.
- Airtight containers
Tupperware or other plastic containers are not only necessary for food storage, but also to keep your campsite clean by preventing ants or other insects. Depending on the wildlife in the area, it’s also a matter of safety, so you don’t attract bears, for example.
- Trash bags
Much like airtight containers, trash bags are also necessary for cleanliness and safety. Any trash should be disposed of properly, so it doesn’t attract wildlife or pesky insects.
Make sure to dispose of all your trash in the appropriate location at your campground, including bear-proof bins if applicable.
- Cutting board
Some might say this is optional and use a plate or other hard surface such as a picnic table, but taking along a cutting board will make your life much easier. Food preparation on a clean, smooth, and stable surface will make it that much faster and less frustrating.
- Eating utensils
Unless your camping menu only includes drinkable soups and handheld sandwiches or burgers, you’ll definitely need the necessary utensils. Specialty camping utensils such as sporks or foldable items will save on room and mean you have less to pack.
- Ziploc bags
Although these are listed under cooking supplies, Ziploc bags come in handy for just about any situation. Whether it’s storing leftover foods or taking snacks with you on a hike, they are perfect for camping.
They seal tight and, unlike hard plastic containers, they can fit into tight spaces, including coolers. Bring a variety of sizes from a sandwich to a quart-sized and use them for everything.
- Frying pan/pots and pans
If your campsite has a grill and you only plan to cook things like hotdogs and hamburgers, then you won’t need additional cookware. You can even do bacon right on a grill, and it will turn out fine.
But if you plan to get a little more adventurous in your meal preparations and make things like eggs, pancakes, or pasta dishes, for example, you’ll need a skillet. For soups make sure to bring along a pot which can also be used to boil water for coffee and tea.
If you’re worried about the weight of your cookware, look for lightweight stainless steel or aluminum that can do double duty as bowls or cups to cut down on your packing list.
First Aid and Medical Supplies
Camping trips can be full of fun and adventure. But if anything goes wrong, you absolutely must be prepared since you will be far from home and possibly even further from civilization, including medical care.
To make sure you are ready for anything, pack a good first aid kit full of everything you could possibly need. There are many pre-made first aid kits on the market which you can purchase. Whether you make it yourself or buy one, make sure your first aid kit includes the following:
- First Aid Supplies
These supplies are the foundation of any first aid kid and should be the absolutely minimum you carry with you at all times when you are camping. Having these items might not take care of every situation or injury, but they will cover a lot of the situations you would encounter while camping.
- Bandages–an absolutely essential element in case you cut yourself, get a burn, or have a blister
- Blister pads–specifically for blisters that can occur from hiking or breaking in other outdoor shoes
- Antiseptic wipes–to clean your hands if you touch something or encounter germs, these can also be used to wipe off gear and other supplies
- Burn ointment–in case someone gets burnt building a fire, grilling, or roasting marshmallows
- Rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide–another essential for sanitizing wounds or supplies
- Gauze–for those bigger cuts and scrapes when a regular bandage isn’t big enough, also to wrap sprains
- Emergency blanket–small space blankets are perfect because they are small and lightweight
- Whistle–to call for help or locate a missing person
The first set of items was more for external injuries, while medications are necessary for internal pains and discomfort. This list can also be modified to include any items you routinely find yourself reaching for at home or if you have specific conditions that often require treatment.
However, you should always have basic pain-relieving medicines to help with cuts, bumps, and bruises.
- Some items to include are:
- Aspirin and ibuprofen such as Advil–aspirin for headaches and ibuprofen for pain and to decrease inflammation
- Acetaminophen–this medication which can be bought as Tylenol, helps with fevers and headaches
- Gastrointestinal medication–these can include antacids for combating heartburn as well as anti-diarrhea medication such as Imodium
- Antihistamines–essential for any allergies that can easily pop up when you’re staying outdoors
Eye drops–helpful for allergies or if you tend to have dry eyes
To make your life easier when using your bandages and gauzes, you’ll need some additional tools. These will make things easier and faster in an emergency, which can sometimes make a huge difference in treating an injury.
Some items to consider are:
- Tweezers–for taking out splinters
- Scissors–to cut gauze and tape
- Tape–a high-quality tape that will secure a bandage and won’t come off easily
- Medical gloves–to keep your hands sanitary and maintain hygiene when treating open wounds
- Fingernail clippers–because there’s nothing more annoying than an unexpected hangnail
- Personal medication
If there are any medications which are unique to you and your health, these should also be included in your first aid kit. You can ask your physician for additional doses or for a prescription that can be filled at a future date prior to a camping trip.
In addition to prescription medications, you might also consider an epi-pen, an inhaler, and any vitamins you need to take daily.
Any time you spend the majority of your time outdoors, you absolutely must bring along something to protect your skin from the elements, primarily the sun. Even if it’s shady or rainy, it’s still a good idea to apply sunscreen as a preventative measure.
Whether you bring a cream, spray, or solid stick is up to you. Just make sure it hasn’t expired and has been stored in a cool place prior to being used.
Additional skin-care items to bring include chapstick or lip-balm which also contains SPF, vaseline to protect against the wind if applicable, anti-chafing cream for humid environments, and sunburn relief spray or gel such as Aloe Vera if you do get a sunburn.
- Mosquito protection
If you’re camping in the summer or in a particularly humid area that is known for mosquitos and other insects, then insect repellent will be an essential. Don’t forget anti-itch cream as well in case the bugs break through your barriers and bite you anyway.
Camping Gear and Equipment
You might be wondering why these items are so far down on the list. Aren’t they more important than food, cookware, and first aid? Well, yes, and now. If you haven’t got camping supplies, you can’t camp.
But, even if you have them, you won’t be camping for very long or enjoying your trip if you don’t have food and first aid just in case. So make sure you have everything else to ensure a successful trip.
Then start looking into your gear, which can be one of the most fun parts of preparing to go camping. Here are the things you’ll need:
- Tent or Other Shelter
Most people know the rule of threes when it comes to survival: you can’t survive more than 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food. But one of the lesser-known needs is shelter.
Without it, you can’t survive more than three hours in the elements without shelter. So having any kind of shelter any time you are camping is absolutely essential.
Shelters can be as simple and portable as a small personal bivy sack, or as complex as a luxury family-sized tent. If you haven’t already purchased a tent, some things to consider are the size of the tent and how many people it will need to hold.
You’ll also have to think about the easy of setting it up and if it can be done in a timely manner as well as how many people are needed to do so. For backcountry camping, your tent will need to be lightweight so you can carry it on your back during a day of hiking.
- Sleeping Bag
If you have a tent or other shelter, your survival needs will be met. However, if you want to camp in comfort and get a good night’s rest, you’ll need a sleeping bag.
There are many different types to choose from, but the most important consideration is the temperature and the shape. Mummy shaped ones may be claustrophobic for some and do require sleeping on your back while rectangular bags let you move around more.
Double bags let you sleep with another person and are perfect for couples.
- Sleeping Pad
While sleeping bags are most necessary when nights are cold, you may not need one if you’re camping somewhere warm in the summer.
However, instead of sleeping on the ground inside a tent, you must have a sleeping pad to cushion yourself at night. If you have the room, you can also bring along a pillow for added comfort and a touch of luxury.
- Camping Chairs
Most campsites have picnic tables which are great places for eating meals or playing a game of cards. However, the benches are very uncomfortable to simply sit on or to read a book.
You’re unlikely to have anywhere to sit inside your tent so you’ll have to bring along a camping chair. If you already have folding chairs that are used for sporting events, toss those in your car and bring them along.
You will already be sleeping on the ground, so your back will thank you if you have a cushioned seat to rest in.
- Lantern or Lighting
Due to the lack of electricity, while camping, you’ll be forced to revert to living along with the sun. Depending on the time of year and location of your campground, this could mean sunset comes quite early. To be able to stay awake longer and see while cooking dinner or preparing for sleep, you’ll need a lighting source.
A simple battery-powered lantern is a good option. You can also get solar-powered lamps which will charge during the day. Lanterns and other portable lights are also helpful if you wake up at night and need to see to use the bathroom. They can also be used as a nightlight if you’re camping with small children who aren’t used to pitch-black darkness at night.
- Matches, Lighter, and Firestarter
Having any means to start a fire, whether it be matches or a waterproof lighter, is critical anytime you are camping or spending time outdoors. The ability to start a fire to stay warm or dry yourself can make all the difference when it comes to surviving in nature.
For a more relaxed camping trip, you’ll need these items to light a fire if you plan to cook and don’t have a fuel-powered cookstove. Even if you don’t plan to cook, you may want to have a campfire for light and added coziness in the evenings once the sun goes down.
Additionally, you may need to bring your own firewood if you aren’t allowed to gather sticks at the campsite itself. If the forecast is rainy or damp, then some firestarter or newspapers to help get your fire going will be needed too.
Maps are often cited as one of the ten essentials for hiking and backpacking so you might not think to pack one if you are camping, especially in an already established campground. It’s always a good idea to be over-prepared though and to have a map of the surrounding area where you are camping.
If there nature nearby, there is a chance that one of your campmates could get lost. Remote camping areas aren’t likely to have cell service either, so it will be difficult to pull up a map on your phone in an emergency.
Another option is to download offline maps to your phone prior to your camping trip. But you’ll have to ensure you have the means to keep your phone charged at all times to access them.
To go along with your map, you will need a compass, so the map is actually useful for navigation. If you don’t know how to use a compass, there isn’t much sense in packing one.
But you can easily learn compass basics by watching instructional videos online or getting a book on the subject. It’s a great skill to have if you will be camping a lot and could end up saving your life.
Staying dry will be a top priority because it will take a long time for clothes to dry and to regain heat once you become wet. So pack a raincoat, waterproof pants, and shoes or boots that can withstand a lot of water.
The weather fluctuates so much over the course of a day, so the best way to stay comfortable is to wear multiple layers. Bring as many as you need for the anticipated temperature and make sure they are made from natural materials, so they dry quickly, trap heat, and don’t get too smelly after being worn.
36. Hat and gloves
No matter what time of year you’re camping, you should always bring along extra clothing to ensure your warmth. Early mornings can be crisp and cool, and temperatures tend to drop quite low at night.
Because you’ll be sleeping on the ground, you’re likely to become even cooler than usual. And if you’re at elevation, you never know when it will suddenly become cold or windy.
Just because you’re roughing it out in the great outdoors doesn’t mean you shouldn’t maintain your personal hygiene. Pack along your toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, and some deodorant at a minimum.
You may also want a hairbrush or comb, a towel, and a razor if you have access to a shower. Don’t forget a laundry bag or just an extra plastic bag to put all your dirty clothes in either.
Another just in case of item is toilet paper, because the campground could run out or you may be forced to take care of business out in the wild.
38. Games, books, or toys
Once you have all the absolute necessities, don’t forget to bring along some fun items. If you’re worn out from a day of hiking, you’ll need something to keep you entertained and pass the time until you’re rested again. Bringing along books, board games, and a deck of cards will keep you all occupied for hours on end.
Even if you never go hiking during your camping trip, you’ll still need a backpack to pack your personal items and keep them all in one place.
If your campsite has showers or toilets in a separate building, a backpack is a convenient way to take your toiletries, towel, and clean clothes along with you when you shower.
40. Bear spray
This is only needed if you’ll be camping in an area with a lot of bears. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use it, but having it nearby can also give you peace of mind.
41. Pet items
Taking your pet camping with you? Then don’t forget their essentials such as food, water (and a bowl), and a leash. You may find this article on how to keep your dog cool while camping interesting. Find it here.
It’s always a good idea to have some rope around. It is so versatile and can be helpful in emergencies or when things break.
A rope is kind of like duct tape and can be used for a large variety of things.
If you love viewing wildlife, then having a pair of good binoculars can take your experience to the next level and allow you to get a feeling of being up close and personal while staying a safe distance away.
44. Flashlight or headlamp (and extra batteries)
Use this as a personal light that you can use when you wake up in the night without disturbing your fellow campers. If you’re going hiking while it’s dark out, then a headlamp might be more convenient because it allows you to keep your hands free.
45. Pocket knife
Having a portable knife that you can take everywhere with you will make simple tasks around your campsite easier.
This thorough list of camping essentials will ensure you have everything you need, and possibly even more, for your outing.
Each camping trip is different so you can modify the list to your needs. Unless you are doing some extreme camping which requires specialized gear, the things listed here should make sure you are more than prepared and can enjoy your trip to the fullest.