Packing for a camping trip can be daunting, as you never quite know what you’re going to need. Fortunately, I grew up camping all over my home state of Michigan and other parts of the US, so I’ve made more than my share of camping packing lists over the years. In fact, at the ripe old age of four, I declared myself to be an expert camper, so I’ve decided to pass my wisdom on to you. The type of camping you’re doing, as well as the predicted weather will affect how you pack, but these are the basics I always take with me. This is a packing list designed for staying at a campground, so it’s not well-suited to backpacking and such. Whether it’s your first camping trip or your fiftieth, don’t forget these items.
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Camping gear and equipment
If you’re hauling a trailer or an RV, you can skip this one. If not, you’ll need something to sleep in. The simplest option is a tent. They come in a wide range of sizes, from single-person backpacking tents designed to be compact and lightweight to family camping tents that are like fabric palaces. When picking a tent, my rule is to always size up by one person. When I camp with my boyfriend, I like a 3-4 person tent because that leaves room for our gear and more space to change clothes. Coleman is one of the top names in camping gear, and I love this dark room tent that blocks out sunlight so it’s easier to sleep in.
Lots of tents come with stakes, but double check to make sure that you have them. Otherwise your tent might blow away if it gets windy. These are a good, sturdy option.
Sleeping bags come in a wide range of temperature ratings, and you’ll want to estimate what the weather will be like during your camping trip. This one is a good all-purpose sleeping bag that will do well for summer and fall camping. If you’re tent camping in the winter where temps drop to freezing or below (yes, this is a thing people do for fun) a cold-weather mummy bag like this one is idea. I’ve been using the same Coleman bag since the late ’90s, so if you get quality camping gear, it can last for a long time. A thin bag like this one will be best for hot weather so you don’t wake up drenched in sweat.
Something to sleep on
I don’t know about you, but spending a night on the cold, hard ground isn’t going to make my back feel very good in the morning. Camping mats and mattresses come in a wide variety of types, so you have options to pick from. I like air mattresses that inflate because they offer the most cushion, but they can be bulky and require a pump to inflate them. I have one like the mattress pictured below and I love the plus top because my sleeping bag doesn’t slide around on it like it does on other air mattresses. Ultra compact mats like this are designed for backpackers and take up a lot less space/weight.
If you opt for an inflatable air mattress for camping, you’ll want an air pump to inflate it. You can pick from battery-operated and plug-in pumps depending on the type of campground facilities you expect to use.
Even I’ve forgotten pillows on camping trips before. Don’t make that mistake. In a pinch, you can stuff a t-shirt full of other clothes, but it’s better to just bring an actual pillow. If space is a concern, try one of these inflatable camping pillows.
Sitting around the campfire at night is one of my favorite parts of camping. Sitting on the ground, especially when it’s covered with dew late in the evening, isn’t so much fun. Bring enough camp chairs for everyone so that you can all have a comfy seat around the firepit. I prefer the collapsible ones like this that come with their own carrying bags. The one pictured below even has a built in cooler so you can keep drinks within reach.
Lantern and flashlight
I like to have a battery-operated lantern when I camp because it’s handy to use in the tent at night when you’re changing clothes. Flashlights like this one are great for walking around outside, but the targeted beams don’t generally throw a lot of ambient light so I like to have both options.
You will never not run out of batteries for things like flashlights, lanterns, and air pumps. Make sure you have spares for everything.
Your typical state park or private campground with electric hookups (backcountry camping is a whole different game) will have one electrical box per site. You’re probably not going to want to stand next to it to charge your phone the whole time, so bringing an extension cord with you will allow you to run a cable right to your tent. It’s also great for using electric pumps to inflate air mattresses or cooking in electric skillets.
Thin, flexible rope is perfect for looping between trees to make a clothesline to dry wet clothes and bathing suits or for actually tying things down.
A multi-tool like this or a Swiss army knife will always come in handy when you’re camping. You never know when you’ll need to cut something or use the can opener.
You need to pack up your own trash when you’re camping, so don’t forget garbage bags to collect it. Most campgrounds will have dumpsters on site to drop your trash, though I’ve been to a few that did collections right at the sites. In a pinch, these are great for shoving dirty gear into for the trip home too so you don’t get your car filthy.
Cooking items for camping
Odds are you’re going to want drinks or food that needs to be kept chilled. A good cooler like this one is rated to stay cold for days with the right amount of ice (keeping it in the shade helps too). If you don’t want to shell out for an expensive cooler, a standard one like this will do, but you’ll have to make a couple more ice runs to keep things from spoiling.
I always eat well when I camp, and cooking meals in a Dutch oven is a great way to enjoy some delicious food.Your meal cooks quickly and comes out perfectly moist and delicious. You’ll never even know you’re roughing it while digging in.
Cooking over the fire is fun, but getting those coals hot enough to cook can take a while and I don’t always have that much patience or time. When I’m staying at a campground with an electric hookup, I love having the electric griddle for breakfasts and quick lunches because of its versatility. It’s perfect for grilled sandwiches, eggs, pancakes, and hashbrowns, among other things.
You don’t want to find yourself with sizzling food that needs to be stirred or flipped and nothing but your hands to do it with. I always pack a few spoons and spatulas from my kitchen drawer to make sure I have something to cook with.
Canned food like veggies plays a huge role in my typical camping menu, and the one time I forgot to bring a can opener almost resulted in disaster. Luckily, the camp store was still open and they had one to save the day. I love the vintage look of this one.
Silverware, plates, cups, and napkins
Whether you go for disposable paper and plastic or bring reusable ones from home, you’ll need something to eat off/with at the picnic table.
I don’t consider a camping trip to be successful unless it involves s’mores. These extendable roasting sticks make for the perfect golden brown marshmallow and don’t take up too much space. They can also be used for hot dogs if that’s more your style.
We discovered these cast iron campfire sandwich makers years ago and they’ve been in our camper ever since. They make amazing grilled cheeses over the fire, and can also be used to make campfire pies – bring some canned pie filling and use buttered bread as the “crust” just like a grilled cheese. Yum.
Cooking over the campfire is great, and this charcoal chimney will help you get your coals hot and ready to go quickly and easily.
Nothing tastes better than burgers cooked over a campfire, and simple metal racks like these turn your firepit into a grill. They can be collapsible and fold open over the fire, sit across the whole top of the firepit, be pounded into the ground, or dangle from a tripod.
My dad won’t go camping without one of these, and he’s made some amazing meals on his portable propane grill over the years. There’s something about his camp steaks that is incomparable.
We always cover our picnic table with a reusable vinyl tablecloth. It gives the site a cheery feel and makes it easier to clean up after meals. I love this camping themed one.
If you opt for the aforementioned table cloth, you’ll need tablecloth clips like these to keep it from blowing away.
You can’t order room service at a campground, and even full-hookup campgrounds tend to be in remote places, so you need to bring whatever you plan to eat with you. What you bring will depend on the type of camping you’re doing and how long your trip is, but it should definitely include water.
I don’t always love the taste of water in campgrounds, so I like to throw a couple of bottles in my cooler. Most grocery stores will also sell large jugs of water, which are great for cooking at your campsite, or you can bring a gallon-sized thermos.
Dish pan and sponge
You’ll need to be able to wash your cooking utensils and plates. Bring a dish pan like this, plus a sponge and some dish soap so you can clean up after your meals.
Clothing & personal items for camping
Pants and shirts appropriate for the weather
In summer, that means shorts and t-shirts/tank tops for me. I always pack at least one pair of jeans regardless of the season. Hoodies are great for cooler weather, and these fleece-lined jeans are lifesavers in cold conditions. Or go for a cheesy happy camper shirt like this one.
Socks and underwear
I’m counting on you to know how much you need for your planned trip. I always thrown in a couple extras of each in case I get wet or sweaty somehow. Breathable, moisture-wicking ones are great for hot weather that makes you sweaty.
You can’t call the front desk and ask them to send up a tube of toothpaste because you forgot to pack yours. Bring everything you’ll need including: toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, conditioner, contact solution, and tampons.
All of those toiletries can be easily packed into a bag you can carry to the bathroom with you. We’ve always used kids’ lunchboxes because they’re waterproof and easy to clean if things get spilled. And they’re fun. This Star Wars one is what I’m currently using.
These Columbia Dakota Drifter hiking boots have been my go-tos for the last couple of years, and they’re perfect for both hot and cold weather. Camp shoes tend to get dirty, so even if you’re not bringing true hiking boots, make sure you’re ok with your shoes coming back in less than pristine condition. The men’s version can be found here.
Most campgrounds offer shower stalls in the bathrooms, but they’re not always the cleanest. I will never set foot in one without a pair of cheap foam flip flops like these to keep my feet off of the floor. Men’s version here.
Rainy days on camping trips are definitely a drag, but if you’ve packed a waterproof rain coat like this one, at least you won’t add getting soaked whenever you step outside to the list of negatives. Men’s version here.
You’ll want a change of clothes to sleep in. I love these adorable camper pj pants, but anything comfy will do.
Miscellaneous camping stuff
Lighter or matches
Sitting around the campfire at night is one of my favorite parts of camping. You’ll need a way to start that fire though. I prefer a longer lighter like these. There are other tools you can buy like fire starters and devices to keep a steady flow of air to coals to help too.
I’ve been at campgrounds where we felt like we were being eaten alive by mosquitos. Bug spray is your friend.
If you’re camping, you’re probably going to be outdoors quite a bit. Bring this so you don’t get burned.
You need to provide your own towel for the showers and if you hit the beach. I also bring a ratty old one that I don’t care about to use when packing up because the bottoms of tents and coolers get dirty.
Outdoor string lights
We always line our camper’s canopy with pretty lights similar to these to brighten up the site at night. They throw enough light to sit around the picnic table playing cards at night or make s’mores.
You’ll need a hammer or mallet to pound in tent stakes. This one has a hook on the bottom that will help pull the stakes out of the ground when you’re packing up.
Deck of cards
I love relaxing by playing cards at the picnic table, and they make for a good rainy day activity if you’re stuck in the tent too.
A good book
Camping is relaxing and a great way to disconnect. I always pack a book for lazy days in the sun.