It is virtually impossible to create a camping checklist that will work for everyone. We all have different preferences for how we like to camp. Some folks backpack and camp along the trail, while others (like me) prefer car camping at a campground. I tend to prefer state parks, especially if they have hiking trails and a river or lake.
I usually like to stay at one site for 7-10 days, mostly because I don’t like setting up camp multiple times during a trip. I don’t plan a lot of activities beyond exploring nature and hanging out by the campfire.
This checklist is the stuff I like to make sure I have with me. The list has changed over time, adding some things and removing others. Most of the time you learn what you REALLY need by actually going camping and figuring out what you forgot and what you never used. Of course, if you leave the stuff behind that you never used on the last trip, you will surely need it on the next one.
Unless you plan on cowboy camping, you will need some sort of shelter to help protect you from the weather, small animals, and insects. Although many people can build a shelter using a tarp, I prefer a tent that is quick and easy to set up. I like a tent that is larger than I really need so that I can keep extra gear inside.
I went through several tents before I found the Core Instant Cabin Tent, that seems to work best for me. I can set this one up in less than 5 minutes (even when I am alone) so that I can move on to other things, like enjoying time doing absolutely nothing.
Don’t forget the tent stakes! I always bring extras, just in case.
If you have ever tripped on the tent guylines (Yes, I have!) then you also may want to invest in glow in the dark guyline or some extra lighting around your tent.
When I first started camping, I was happy with a sleeping bag on the ground. Later on I “graduated” to a padded cot. As I got older though, I got tired of tossing and turning at night, swallowed my pride, and moved to the newer style air mattresses with a built-in pump. Yeah, I realize that for some that may be considered glamping, but I am okay with that. You can certainly use bedding from home to save some money, but I finally found a sleeping bag that I really like and it means I don’t have to make my bed in the morning! Oh, don’t forget to bring your favorite pillow.
There are a few good reasons to bring along a couple of tarps. One can be used as a footprint below your tent. Another can be used to protect camping gear and cooking supplies during rain or to create some extra shade for your campsite. I also use one to protect gear in the back of the truck when traveling to and from the campsite.
I bring a few lanterns (one hanging in the campsite and one hanging inside my tent) and several flashlights. I hate searching for a flashlight when I need it, so I tend to have flashlights tucked into places all throughout my campsite. After going through several lanterns, I discovered that I definitely prefer the Core Equipment brand because they have been so dependable.
Although this may fall under the “glamping” category, I am not embarrassed to admit that I absolutely love my Camp Chef Sherpa Table. The zippered drawers are great for organizing things so that I can get to what I need quickly. It’s a perfect place to keep camp dishes and silverware, spices, the first aid kit, flashlights and batteries, and rain gear. I keep my camping stove on top of it. Since I spend a lot of time sitting next to the campfire. I always bring a comfortable chair with a drink holder too.
Almost everything I know about camping, I learned the hard way. On one of my first camping trips alone, I bought a basic cooler without actual latches to keep it tightly closed. Not only did the ice melt VERY quickly, but the raccoons destroyed just about everything I had in it the very first morning. I had no clue that raccoons can open things pretty easily and then stand there laughing at you for not knowing any better! Unless you plan on keeping your ice chest locked in your vehicle, you will want to spend some extra time selecting one with secure latches.
Some people want to get away from cooking as much as possible when they’re camping. Those people might be happier choosing prepared freeze-dried meals to make everything quick and easy. For me, there isn’t much that I enjoy more than cooking over the campfire so I plan out the groceries for the meals long before I leave. I do prep some things (like chopped veggies) ahead of time and pack them in the cooler in sealed storage containers.
If you plan your entire trip around cooking over the campfire, you need to make sure you always have a backup plan in case of bad weather or fire bans. I always plan on 3 ways to cook. My first choice is over the fire, but I bring a camping stove, a Jetboil cooking system, and plenty of fuel as well. Did you remember a lighter or matches?
If you want to save some money, you can simply bring some old dishes and cookware from home. I bring a couple of cast iron skillets that handle all my needs for cookware. Colemen has a 24-Piece Enamel Dinnerware Set that I really like and it fits perfectly in one of the drawers of my Camp Chef Sherpa Table. You will want to make sure you bring some sort of hot pad and cooking utensils. Don’t forget a tub to wash dishes in!
It’s usually easier to buy a pre-made first aid kit at your local Walmart, but you might prefer putting your own together. Make sure to include bug spray and any prescription medicine that you may need during the trip as well.
Nope, I won’t fall apart if I don’t have access to a shower for a week of camping, but one of the benefits of staying at state parks is that they almost always have a shower room. I keep a small bag with a few towels and toiletries, along with a pair of flips flops so I don’t have to worry about might what be on the shower floor.
This is something that I keep really simple. No one really cares about what you’re wearing on a camping trip, but make sure to plan for the weather changing unexpectedly. I do bring an extra pair of sneakers (in case I do something stupid like fall in the river) and I bring hiking boots for exploring the trails.
If you plan on hiking the trails, you will want to bring a small backpack with you, even if you don’t plan on going far. I have wandered off the trail before and had it take me much longer to get back to camp than I expected. Include some essential in your pack, such a water, snacks, and basic survival gear in case of an emergency.
This one should really be at the top of my list because it is the very first thing that I pack. I don’t need one of those fancy camping coffee pots that need power or fuel to work. I am perfectly happy with an old-fashioned percolator that I can use over the campfire or on the camp stove.
It never fails. If I forget my mallet, the odds of me finding a rock big enough to drive my tent stakes into the ground are greatly reduced. I now have it slipped into my tent bag so that I always have it. You can get these pretty cheap.
If you’re anything like me, one of your favorite things about camping is the nightly campfire. I use a small camping shovel for adjusting the logs in the fire as needed, and for coving the fire when it is time for sleep.
Even if your batteries are brand new, always plan to bring extras. Some people do choose to go completely off the grid when they are camping. I am not one of those people. I bring and use my iPhone. I enjoy using it to take pictures and for navigation. (It’s also nice as a backup flashlight at 3am when I am trying to find the bathroom!) Since I don’t always have a power source for recharging, I bring a few portable power banks with me.
If you ever have the chance to camp right on the lake, you might regret not having fishing gear with you. One of my favorite camping memories was catching a fish right from my campsite and grilling it over the fire just a few minutes later. Talk about fresh! I didn’t use to worry too much about bringing fishing gear.
Most Texas State Parks (where I mostly camp) let you use their fishing gear for free. Of course, the one time I didn’t bring any, the park I was staying at didn’t have any for me to use.
Do I really need all of this stuff? Of course not. Heck, as long as I have food, water, and shelter, I am going to enjoy myself. What have I forgotten? What’s on your checklist?