Camping Checklist: Essential Gear to Pack

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Camping is one of the best ways to get out, enjoy nature, and disconnect from technology for a few days. How you camp and where you camp varies significantly from person to person, and how comfortable you are outdoors. For someone like me, I prefer going with only the bare essentials, while other campers may prefer more creature comforts. Where you’re camping can also influence what is on your camping checklist.

If you prefer staying in campgrounds, you can rely on their amenities like on-site picnic tables, fire pits, and, most of the time, hookups for water and electricity. Depending on the location, the campgrounds may also have bathrooms with showers, but at the very least, most established camping sites have pit toilets. For folks who prefer more privacy or want to save money, dry camping (boon-docking) may be preferred. In those situations, you need to rely more on what you bring to make it work.

The simplicity of camping brings many people outdoors, but it is a balance between minimizing your gear and staying comfortable. Identifying individual needs before you go is one of the best ways to narrow your list of the best camping gear. Then, from there, you can start shopping around. Investing in all the necessary gear can be expensive if you’re new to camping. Many outfitters and gear stores offer a range of rental options, so not everything needs to be purchased at once. I’ve also had luck borrowing specific pieces of equipment from friends and family, and whenever possible, I try to buy used or refurbished items to save money and reduce waste. With that said, here’s what I have on my camping checklist.

Having an organized camping checklist of gear helps ensure you’ll have all you need to enjoy your time outside. Meg Carney

Table of Contents: Camping Checklist

  • Campsite
  • Kitchen
  • Campsite Extras and Personal Items
  • Clothing and Footwear
  • Health and Hygiene
  • Tools and Repair Items
  • FAQs
  • Finals Thoughts

Campsite

Campsite items are what is listed in your camping checklist and should never be left behind. Some optional campsite items are also included on a separate list below.

Optional Campsite Gear for Your Camping Checklist

  • Camp Pillow
  • Screen room, sunshade, or additional shelter
  • Sleeping Bag Liner
  • Tent Footprint or Tarp
  • Firewood (sourced near camping area)
  • Clothesline
  • Rug
  • Camping Blanket
A frying pan with rice and vegetables cooking over a camping stove.
Dinner’s ready. Meg Carney

Kitchen

The next category on a camping checklist are kitchen supplies. The complexity of the camp kitchen depends a lot on your location. Some campgrounds have potable water available for campers to use. If not, plan to bring water of your own or a water filter to treat water for use while cooking and for drinking. The assumption for this list is that you are car camping or family camping, not backpacking. There is a lot of overlap between activities, but weight is a primary concern when backpacking.

  • Stove and Fuel
  • Firestarter (matches, lighter, flint/steel)
  • Cooking Pots and Pans
  • Utensils
  • Plates and Bowls
  • Mugs or Cups
  • Knife (see our picks for the best camping knives) and Cutting Board
  • Cooler and Ice
  • Can Opener
  • Camp Sink or Wash Bins
  • Biodegradable Soap
  • Dish Sponge
  • Dish Towel
  • Trash and Recycling Bins
  • Food and Gear Storage Bins
A pot of tea boiling over a camping stove at a camp site.
A tea maker is a nice item of gear to bring along if extra weight isn’t an issue. Meg Carney

Optional Camp Kitchen Items for Your Camping Checklist

  • Camp Grill
  • Grill Rack
  • Dutch Oven
  • Griddle
  • Coffee/Tea Maker
  • Water Jugs (if no water is available)
  • Fire Roasting Sticks
  • Table Cloth

Campsite Extras and Personal Items

Campsite extras are generally optional or dependent on how remote you’re camping, what your interests are, and if you have children or pets.

  • Portable Power Bank (generator, solar panels, etc.)
  • Navigation Tools
  • Book or Journal
  • Games
  • Field Guides or Star Chart
  • Guitar or Music Player (with headphones)
  • Activity Specific Gear
  • Dog Gear (leashes, bowls, beds, etc.)
  • Bear Spray and Bear Safe Food Storage
  • Campsite Reservation
  • Park Pass
  • Cell Phone and Charger
  • Identification Card
  • Credit Card or Cash
A thermacell mosquito repellant sits on a picnic table at a campsite.
Don’t let mosquitoes ruin your camping trip. Pack a repellant. Meg Carney

The time of year and types of activities planned for the trip influence the clothing and footwear you need while camping. Regardless of the temperatures, having the right clothes for a layering system is necessary, so they should be included in your camping checklist. A standard layering system includes a baselayer, mid-layer, and rain shell. For colder conditions, hats, gloves, and additional insulating clothing may be necessary. Proper footwear for the weather and activity only enhances comfort while outside. If you plan to go hiking, bring a good pair of hiking shoes, but don’t forget about camp shoes to stay cozy while relaxing around the fire.

Optional or Additional Clothing, Pending Activity or Weather

  • Swimsuit
  • Water Shoes
  • Bandana or Buff
  • Long Underwear
  • Insulated Vest
  • Fleece or Insulated Pants
  • Hat and Gloves
  • Neck Gaiter
  • Sun Hat or Baseball Hat

Health and Hygiene

Even though you’re sleeping outside, that doesn’t mean you aren’t staying clean. Health and hygiene items are essential to include on a camping checklist—even in the depths of the backcountry and, like all other features on this camping checklist, where your camping and personal preferences/needs may influence items essential to you.

  • Toilet Paper
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Biodegradable Hand Soap
  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste
  • Menstrual Products
  • Towel
  • First Aid Kit and Supplies
  • Prescription Medications
  • Lip Balm
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug Spray
  • Toiletry Kit or Bag (to store items)

Optional Toiletry Items for Your Camping Checklist

  • Trowel or Wag Bag (if there are no toilets)
  • Kula Cloth or Pee Rag
  • Wet Wipes
  • Brush
  • Mirror and Cosmetics
  • Extra Eyeglasses or Glasses Repair Kit
  • Portable Shower
  • Portable Toilet

Having a few tools and a basic repair kit on hand while camping is a best practice. Even with the best gear, things happen, and repairs may be necessary, so it is best to be prepared. Then, if fires are allowed, having the right tools on hand to make fire brings the camping experience to life.

FAQs

What food to eat while camping?

Eat the food you like! While backpacking meals are always an option, I want to pack fresh food whenever possible. Many campers enjoy fishing as an activity, and this can be a great way to collect some of your food on the trip. For meals like omelets, campfire potatoes, or even sandwiches, prepping some ingredients before you go and keeping them ready in the cooler can save time and cleanup while camping.

What is the longest you can stay at a campsite?

Most campsites, even some paid ones, have a limit of 14 days. Some areas may have longer or shorter stay times, so always check area regulations before planning to stay for an extended time.

What is a must to carry on a camping trip?

The 10 essentials are the must-have items on any hiking or camping trip:
1) Navigation
2) Illumination
3) Sun Protection
4) First Aid
5) Knife or Multitool
6) Fire
7) Shelter
8) Food
9) Water
10) Appropriate Clothing

How do I plan my first camping trip?

Start by deciding where you want to amp and for how long you plan to stay. Then, if necessary, reserve the campsite. If you’re camping somewhere free, like on forest service or BLM land, consider driving out to the area to scope out some spots ahead of time. Research the destination to ensure you know all area regulations (i.e., fire bans) and are familiar with any accommodations necessary. Plan your meals, clothing, and gear. Do this by following a camping checklist like ours and adding any other items you may want to bring. Test your gear and practice setting up your tent beforehand so you know how to do it and ensure you have all the right equipment.

How do you cook at a campsite?

There are several ways to cook at a campsite, including on a camp stove, camping grill, or even over the fire. Please pay attention to area fire bans and never have a fire unless permitted.

Camping Checklist: Final Thoughts

Planning and preparation for a camping trip often differ depending on the time of year, the size of your group, and the general location. For some trips, like car camping and paddle camping, it is easier to pack a cooler and extra comforts like chairs and griddles. If you’re backpacking, many items on this camping checklist won’t be relevant, but the essentials tend to be the same. Regardless of your experience level, having a list ahead of time helps keep gear organized and ensure nothing important is left behind.



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