If you’ve tent camping for the first time, getting started may feel overwhelming. I created A Beginner’s Guide to Tent Camping to help take away that stress!
I took my first camping trip as a baby and have been camping for over 40 years! And now you know how old I am. You could say that I’m a seasoned camper. Though, that sounds even worse than “old”. I’m getting images of dry, leathery skin, sprinkled with sunspots, a camper who’s tougher than nails, and has a dirt smear on her cheekbone. Hmmm…
I actually enjoy tent camping. There’s something about breathing in the cool night air, being lulled to sleep by the crash of waves or a gurgling stream, and being woken by the happy chatter of birds and the rising sun.
The Secret to a Stress Free Camping Trip
I guess I can’t actually guarantee “stress-free”, but I can certainly help you “stress less”. And here’s the secret: have an amazing packing list.
I use the same packing list every time we go camping. It saves me time since I don’t have to recreate it for every trip. The only thing that changes are items that are destination-dependent.
For example, if we go to the beach, we may take some items like bodyboards and wetsuits that we wouldn’t take if we were going to a mountain lake.
I involve the kids in the packing process. It helps increase responsibility and gives them a vested interest in the trip. It may take longer at first, but before you know it, they’ll be self-sufficient and be more helpful getting everything ready to go!
Camping Basics Packing List
We have a large two-room tent. It’s an “instant tent” making it fast and easy to set-up and take down. The girls usually stay with us and Brandon pitches his own small tent.
If you’re looking for a tent, read the reviews. Tents notoriously sleep fewer people than they say they do. For example, a four-person tent comfortably sleeps two people. You CAN squeeze four in, but you’ll be climbing/tripping over each other and breathing in each other’s faces.
We actually never take one, unless we’re going somewhere where rain is a possibility. If you do have a chance of getting caught in the rain, you will want one to cover your tent.
3. Sleeping Mats
We use these camping pads that I bought on Amazon. They’re small, compact (the size of a water bottle!), and easy to inflate.
If you’re looking for something luxurious, you’ll want to look elsewhere, but these work for us! You can always buy one ahead and time and see how you like it before purchasing them for the entire family.
4. Sleeping Bags, Blankets, and Bedding
We’re a sleeping bag family, mostly because it takes up less space. Sometimes I’ll bring a large blanket if we’re going somewhere with cool nighttime temperatures.
5. Camp/Beach Chairs
Our favorite chairs are our beach chairs. They sit low to the ground, but they’re durable, can be carried like a backpack, have cup holders, and snack pockets on the back. They might be a little low to the ground around the campfire, but it makes it convenient for marshmallow roasting!
6. Folding Table
Most developed campsites have a picnic table and a fire pit. However, if you are boondocking (camping where there is no campground), you’ll probably want a sturdy folding table like this one.
7. Air Pump
If you opt to sleep on an air mattress, you’ll need an air pump. Blowing up air mattresses without a pump is exhausting, and being exhausted is never relaxing. One thing to note about air mattresses is that the air in the mattress is typically the same as the air you’re breathing in. So, if it gets down to 40 degrees at night, you may feel like you’re sleeping on an ice block. With our small camping pads that are only an inch thick, it’s not a problem, but it definitely can be uncomfortable with larger air mattresses.
8. Suitcases/Duffel Bags (scroll down for detailed personal packing list)
We use affordable duffel/sport bags for our luggage. They fit on airplanes as carry-ons, and they’re usually sufficient size for all our trips. However, we are minimalist packers.
You’ll definitely want a small broom to thoroughly sweep the campsite when you arrive. I’m joking, of course. 🙂 A hand broom is useful for sweeping out the tent before you pack it back up.
Camping Kitchen Packing List
10. Aluminum Foil
This is handy to have, especially if you’re cooking over the campfire or trying to keep food warm.
11. Camp Stove
If you get a good Coleman camping stove, it will last you forever (almost). We’ve had our for 17 years and expect to get another 30 years out of it.
12. Propane Canisters
You’ll need propane canisters for the camping stove and possibly a lantern if it’s propane. We typically don’t go through a whole can when cooking for 3-4 days, but I always pack an extra.
13. Can Opener
You may not always need this, but it’s a pain in the neck to open a can without one. I always leave one in my camping kitchen tote that I picked up second-hand so I don’t forget to pack it.
14. Dish Cloth, Towels, and Hot Pad
Keep it minimal. One or two of each is good enough for camping.
15. Dish Soap
Typically, the dollar store has smaller-sized dish soap bottles. You can also fill a travel-sized shampoo bottle with your favorite environmentally friendly dish soap.
16. Ice Chest(s)/Cooler(s)
Investing in a quality cooler or two is a good idea. It doesn’t have to be a Yeti if that’s out of your budget.
We have an Xtreme Coleman cooler and it works well for our frequent 3-day camping trips. We use one to store food and one for beverages.
HINT: Freeze one-gallon plastic jugs of drinking water (I empty a little out of each first, so there’s extra space for the ice to expand). Use the frozen jugs instead of block ice in your ice chest! It keeps everything cold, doesn’t make a mess when it melts, and you can use it for drinking water when it melts.
17. Serrated Knife
It’s easiest to cut bread, meat, and tomatoes with a serrated knife.
18. Paring Knife
You can use your pocket knife, but I personally like to bring one from my kitchen for cutting veggies and fruits.
Using a long lighter for the camp stove is easier than matches, in my opinion. I also keep this item in my “kitchen tote” year-round.
20. Napkins/Paper Towels
I bring 3-4 per person, per day. Don’t worry, I don’t actually count them. I use my best guess. I don’t like taking up extra space (all the stuff adds up), but I also don’t like running out.
I also keep these in my kitchen tote!
Eating with your hands is more acceptable when you’re camping, but if you want to retain some of your manners, you’ll want some flatware for meals.
23. Hot Cups/Mugs
Bring something that can hold cider, hot cocoa, tea, or coffee.
24. Cold Cups
We don’t often use these cups, but it’s nice to have a few. Sometimes I will even use a cup to beat eggs for breakfast or other food prep.
25. Pot/Pan with Lid
I usually only take one pot. Less if more when you’re camping! I also use the pot to heat water to wash dishes. If you plan to use a dutch oven, don’t forget to pack it!
Keep a “camping skillet” in your kitchen tote year-round.
Pancakes and eggs are frequently part of our camping menu, so a spatula is a must!
A ladle is handy to have if you’re serving soup or beans.
29. Serving Spoon
If you want to be a minimalist, you can skip this one, I just find it a little tricky to use a small spoon for serving food.
30. Zipped Bags
Zipped plastic bags are great for storing any leftovers you may have.
31. Picnic Tablecloth
Here’s the truth: campsite tables are prone to bird droppings. A tablecloth will freshen things up. Sometimes I use one and sometimes I don’t.
32. Dry Food
Storing your dry food (granola bars, bread, crackers, jerky, nuts, etc.) in a tote, helps keep things organized and protects them from getting squished. It’s also very handy if you have to use a bear box (a large metal box provided at the campsite that is used to store all food/beverage items, making them inaccessible to bears).
Some campgrounds provide potable water, others do not. You may need water for drinking, doing dishes, hand washing, and cooking. Check your campground website for details.
Fire Pit & Grilling Packing List
Most campgrounds sell campfire wood, for a hefty price. Save a little money by bringing your own firewood if it’s permitted. In some places, you may not be able to bring your own wood due to concerns about spreading pests. Check your campground website before you go. As an alternative for cooking, we sometimes use charcoal briquettes.
35. Lighter Fluid
While you can start a campfire without lighter fluid, using it certainly makes it easier!
While a lighter is more convenient for a camp stove, I think matches are safer for lighting campfires, especially if you’ve doused them in lighter fluid.
37. Roasting Sticks
We love the heavy-duty roasting sticks that we got from Walmart years ago. They’re affordable, sturdy, and long…everything you want to a roasting stick.
In most western states, where wildfires pose a hazard, you’re required to “drown, stir, and feel” your campfire.
First, you drown it with water. Then you stir it with a shovel (and drown it more if necessary). Only when you’re sure you’ve cooled it properly, you feel above the coals to ensure they’re cold.
39. Bucket and/or Washing Basin
A bucket is useful for hauling potable water to camp and keeping water by the fire for safety.
40. Grilling Tools (turner, grill cleaner, fork)
It’s hard to grill food with plastic forks, thus, the grilling tools.
41. Bug Spray
You can almost guarantee there will be some bugs wherever you camp unless it’s at the beach.
iPhones are wonderful, but if you want fancy pictures, pack your DSLR.
It can get a little dark when you’re camping, so we like having a lantern that we can have on the picnic table to provide a little light.
Having some extra rope is handy in case you need to tie down a tarp or string it between a couple of trees to hang wet towels and swimsuits.
45. Trash Bags
One per day is usually sufficient. It’s nice to collect trash at the campsite, then place it in the dumpster at night.
Protect your skin with your favorite, non-toxic sunscreen.
Personal Packing List
I like to print out a personal packing list for each person in the family. No matter how many times you’ve packed, it’s easier to remember everything if you have a list staring you in the face.
Next to this list, I put quantities for each item, so the kids know how many pairs of shorts, socks, shirts, etc. to pack.
Packing clothing goes SO MUCH FASTER if all the laundry is done and put away. In fact, you should be able to pack all personal items in less than 30 minutes if they’re all clean and in their proper place! I try to have all laundry washed/folded/hung up two days before our trip departure date.
47. Bathing Suit/Shorts
48. Bottoms (pants/shorts/skirts)
50. Outerwear (jackets, sweatshirts, rain ponchos)
52. Flip Flops
53. Active Shoes
Packing your toiletries in a bag or shoebox tote is helpful when camping. I like using a shoebox tote, especially since many of the campgrounds we visit are have bears, so it’s easier to throw a tote in the bear box than a toiletry bag (that can rip or get dirty). Also, having it in a tote helps with clean-up in the event that something leaks from elevation change.
59. Contact Solution, Case & Extra Contacts/Glasses
61. Dental Floss/Flossers
63. Tweezers/Nail Clippers
64. Make-Up (if you wear make-up camping–I don’t)
70. Hair Ties and Bands
OTHER PERSONAL ITEMS
73. Personal Blanket (the kids like taking theirs)
76. Phone Charger
77. Dirty Clothes Bag
Backpacks are helpful for day hikes and taking fresh clothes and a towel to the shower.
82. Reusable Water Bottle
83. Purse/Wallet (with quarters for pay showers)
Destination Based Items
The following items will change depending on your camping destination. I keep a running list of all the things we typically take and just cross off the ones we won’t need.
87. Surf Boards
88. Sports Equipment (spike ball, volleyball, frisbee, ladder ball, etc.)
89. Life Vests/Jackets
90. Fishing Pole
91. Fishing License
92. Tackle Box
93. Hiking Boots
95. External Charger
96. Bikes, Skooters & Helmets
97. Bike Pump
98. Beach Umbrella/Shade Tent
99. Other Water Toys
100. Hatchet (for cutting firewood, if permitted)
101. Books/DVDs/Activity Pages
If you have a bit of a drive, car games like road trip BINGO, Tic Tac Toe, the License Plate Game, and I Spy, will keep kids entertained. Check out my Road Trip Activity Binder with 43 car games for your next adventure!
102. Games (cards, dice, dominos, etc.)
ENJOY YOUR CAMPING TRIP
Having a good packing list is the best way to start your first (and 100th) camping trip off right! It will save you headaches and additional purchases at the camp store, which are notoriously over-priced.
Pack well, and most of all, have fun!