Of all the outdoor adventures and activities you might enjoy, camping requires one of the most robust packing checklists.
When gathering all your gear for a camping trip, it’s helpful to categorize the things you need by how you’ll be spending your time. That goes for both time of day (e.g. the items you’ll need to sleep at night) as well as the activities you plan on doing there. Use these categories below as you’re packing to stay organized.
Tent: This is probably the most obvious item you’ll need to bring when camping, but it can be easy to forget all the necessary pieces. Besides the tent itself, you’ll also want to make sure you have all the necessary stakes, as well as a footprint to protect it from dirt and moisture on the ground, and a rainfly to keep you dry if weather takes a turn. It’s also helpful to bring a mallet for wedging your stakes into tougher ground, plus a small tent repair kit should your tent need some maintenance during your trip.
Sleeping Bags: Bring a sleeping bag that’s fit for the conditions and temperatures of your destination and one you’ll be comfortable in. For couples, sometimes a double-wide sleeping bag is preferable.
Sleeping Pads: For a comfortable night’s sleep, bring a sleeping pad—you can choose from a variety of types, such as inflatable, insulated, and more.
Pillows: Depending on how much space you have in your car, you can bring true camping pillows that are more compact but usually less comfortable, or you can bring pillows that you use at home.
Sleepwear: Pack clothing that’s comfortable to sleep in as well as comfortable to walk around in for bathroom runs to avoid middle-of-the-night clothing changes in your tent.
Eye Mask and Ear Plugs: Some perks of sleeping outside—the sound of birds chirping and those gorgeous morning rays—are less ideal first thing in the morning. These will help you score just a little more sleep.
Lanterns and Flashlights: You’ll need ample light at your site for both safety and enjoyment. Bring a couple lanterns to place on the table or in your tent, as well as flashlights or headlamps for walking around in the dark. (Pro tip: If you’ll be setting up a tent in the dark, headlamps are the way to go to keep you hands-free.) You can also buy some string lights to set up at your campsite to add a little extra ambiance. Remember to pack extra batteries or any necessary charging cables for any light sources.
Camping Chairs: Bring foldable chairs to set up around the campfire; bonus if they have cup holders.
Camping Table: Many campsites come with a picnic table. If yours doesn’t, bringing your own is useful to have a place for cooking, playing games, and organizing your belongings.
Firewood: If you plan to have a campfire, you’ll need several bundles of wood depending on the length of your stay. However, many campgrounds and regions in the country require that you purchase firewood within a certain mileage of the campsite to prevent the spread of invasive species, so check your site’s policy first.
Fire Starter: Not required, but using fire starter or charcoal can help you get the flames going more easily, so you can spend more time enjoying the fire than creating it.
Matches and Lighter: One or the other will do, but it’s best to bring both.
Toiletries and Personal Items
Some personal toiletry items might seem obvious to have, but it’s still helpful to put them on your checklist anyway so that you don’t have to run an errand on your trip because you forgot. These include toothbrush and toothpaste (some campers prefer tablets for the latter for ease of packing); shampoo, conditioner, soap, and towel for showering; and any other personal products you’ll need on your trip, such as a razor, contact lenses, or feminine products. Here are some other items that should be on your list.
First Aid Kit: This is always a good idea to have on hand for any accidents, and ideally should include some basic medications (ibuprofen, allergy medicine, etc.) as well as various bandages, gloves, antibiotic ointment, and other common needs. (Here’s a good option.) Whichever kind you buy, be sure to open it up and get to know its contents before you head out, so that in case you end up needing it, you know exactly what you have and where it is.