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How to Pack for Camping

Ever since I’ve been writing articles and tutorials for a camping website, one of the most asked questions I get from friends and family is “How do I pack for camping?” or “What should I bring camping?” It sounds simple, yet when it comes down to it, or if your new to camping, packing can get a little confusing.

Here is what I tell them.

Think of packing for camp like buying a new house. You want to first fill the house with what you need, then the extras come later. In your house you have the basic rooms that need filled – the kitchen, the bedroom and the bathroom. Once those are filled then you can worry about your living room or den. Below I will list the “room” and what should be used to “fill” it. When backpacking think of your pack as your house, if your car camping this can be your vehicle and rooms can be bins or bags.

backpack

Packing your camping “Bedroom”- The essentials you need for a good nights sleep in the woods.

  1. Bed Room

    1. Shelter

      • Tent

      • Bivy

      • Tarp

      • Ground Tarp

      • etc.

    2. Sleeping Bag

    3. Sleeping Pad

    4. Pillow

Don’t forget to fill your dresser! You are (most likely) going to be wearing some clothes too. I always set out all the clothes that I plan on bringing and then from those clothes I pull out what I will be wearing to the camp site the night before.

  1. Dresser

    1. Pants/Shorts

    2. Shirts

    3. Jacket

    4. Rain Gear

    5. Extra Socks

    6. Extra Underwear

    7. Long Underwear

    8. Hats/Gloves

    9. Swim Suit

Next up I like to fill the kitchen, we all need to eat and drink through the days at camp. Try to pick comfort foods that are nutritious. But keep in mind their weights especially if you are backpacking. Instead of bringing cans of tuna opt for the tuna that comes in the envelope packets. Repack items that come in boxes into zip lock to bags get rid of that extra weight and the space that those packages take up.

  1. Kitchen

    1. Water Bottles

    2. Water Filter/Treatment

    3. Meals

    4. Cooler

    5. Ice/Ice Packs

    6. Trail Snacks

    7. Knife

    8. Stove/Grill

    9. Stove Fuel

    10. Pots/Pans

    11. Plates

    12. Eating Utensils

    13. Portable Sink/Bucket

The bathrooms seems obvious but making sure you have enough toilet paper is important, unless you know what plant leaves are safe to wipe with… Also keep in mine your other personal hygiene needs!

  1. Bathroom

    1. Toilet Paper

    2. Packable Shovel

    3. Moist Towelettes

    4. Towel

    5. 1st Aid Kit

    6. Medication

    7. Personal Hygiene Items

    8. Soap

    9. Portable Shower

    10. Portable Sink/Bucket

Don’t forget your security and lighting! Security can be an important thing in specific areas. Check the local regulations on fire arms if you choose to bring any.

  1. Security

    1. Bug Spray

    2. Pepper Spray

    3. Fire Arm

    4. Repair Kits

  1. Lighting

    1. Flashlight

    2. Lantern

    3. Headlight

    4. Extra Batteries

    5. Candles

    6. Fire Kit

Those, in my opinion are the most important items you will be bringing camping. After those major “rooms” are filled then you can worry about your Living Room and your Den. These items are your recreation items. It just depends on if you want to enjoy your time in your living room, den or in your backyard.

  1. Living Room / Den / Back Yard

    1. Books

    2. Note Pad and Pencil

    3. Art Kit

    4. Carving Kit

    5. Deck of Cards

    6. Fishing Pole and Tackle

    7. Hunting Gear

    8. Indoor / Outdoor Games

    9. Portable TV

    10. Laptop or Tablet

Transportation is important to some people while camping. I tend to choose good old foot power or sometimes a mountain bike is great to get around. Don’t forget to bring the gear you need to maintain your preferred transportation option.

  1. Transportation

    1. GPS

    2. Hiking Poles

    3. Skis/Snowshoes

    4. Bicycles

    5. Running Sneakers or Hiking Boots

    6. Skate Boards

    7. Dirt Bikes

This is the guide I use when choosing what to bring with me on a camping trip.

Everyone’s needs very as do their camping locations and styles. You do not need to bring everything that I have listed and you are sure to have other needs and wants on your camping trip. This list is just to cover the basics and point you in the right direction.

Not only do I use the “House” metaphor for packing my camping gear, I use in in the storage of that gear.  This makes it extremely easy to pack for the next trip.  I have a large set of drawers that holds most of my small items such as stoves, bottles and bathroom accouterments as well as extra bags and other miscellaneous gear. All the drawers are labeled with the room name and some of the items that I will find inside of it.

Other important things to remember while packing.

  • Keep in mind the weight of your gear if you are packing a backpack. Once packed, fill your water bottles and try them out on the pack. Then remove or replace gear to lighten the pack.

  • Electronics need power! Bring extra batteries for your flashlights and any other electronic gear you may need.

  • Solar chargers can now be found fairly cheap and pretty light weight. This may be a good choice on longer outings.

  • Bringing backup items can be a great idea. If it is an important implement in your trip it may be a good idea to bring extra if you can fit it. Remember the mantra “Two is One, One is none”

  • When space is limited a repair kit can easily save the day. This can include a sowing kit, duct tape, multi-tool, super glue, extra cordage or any specialized equipment you may need such as an inner tube for your bicycle.

  • If your are backpacking, leave room in your pack for that jacket you may start off wearing on your hike or any other layer you may shed down the trail.

  • Set out all the gear in an open space before packing it into your car or backpack. See what you have and ask yourself if you really need all of it. Remember what you are packing it into and where you will have to carry it.

  • Your gear may need more than just that piece. Extra batteries for flashlights, extra fuel for stoves, extra antiseptic in your first aid kit, extra seasoning for your mother in laws cooking…

  • Don’t just bring a lighter to start a fire, also bring matches or a ferro rod and some dry kindling to start the fire.

  • Don’t forget about your pets! If you tend to bring one with you, Don’t forget their food, dishes, snacks, toys and 1st aid kit!

Check some of our other links for additional information!

Putting Together Your Camping First Aid Kit

Learn How to Build Your Own Fire Starter Kit

Solar Powered Camping Gear

Drinking Straws – As Light Weight Storage for Camping

Seven Tips on How To Keep Your Tent Warm

5 Comments

  • unk Dan says:

    Way, way,way, way,way to much stuff. Try to get to 30 lbs. including food. Light is better. Including foot wear. Every pound off your feet is like 5 pounds less on your back. Let me try to fix your list.
    Tent 3 lbs / back pack 2 lbs / kitchen 2 lbs / sleeping bag 3 lbs / food=1.5 lb per day / first aid 6 oz. / clothing 6 lbs max. / other stuff 3 lbs. Walked 440 miles with this load. Never lacked for anything. Trying to get to 25 lbs. for Springer mtn. to Hot Springs hike in the spring. about 270 miles. P.S. Do not take a “bear bell”. Why let Yogi know your in his yard.

  • Dick says:

    Thanks for commenting Dan!
    This is an outline of some of the items to include in each “room”. There are a lot of items I left out. We also have a bunch of readers that are car campers.
    Hope you had a great time on the AT this year!

  • petej says:

    I agree with both comments above, and it can be fun to combine car camping with ultralight hiking. Bring a week’s worth of stuff in your car. Park it at the trailhead. Hike a few miles in and spend 2 days. Hike back to the car to pick up food, clean clothes, TP, and stove fuel. Then hike a few miles and camp in the opposite direction. If there are good water sources in both directions, you can get a good two-fer with a really light backpack.

  • petej says:

    So to get it good and light, here is what I use:
    Shelter: Summer – Siltarp with bugnet. Winter – Single Person Puptent.
    Summer – Jungle Bag and Mylar Groundcloth. Winter – Space Blanket and Ultralight Winter Bag (Mine is a featherlight)
    Cooking – Steel Cup and homemade alchohol jet stove with 1 bottle of Heet. Also a mini lighter and a spoon.
    In summer if it’s dry, you can substitute a homemade wood gas stove for the jet stove so you don’t need to bring fuel.
    Water – 16 oz. plastic bottle with mini water filter (mine is a sawyer mini) plus a 1 gallon ziplock plastic bag and a Visine bottle full of Chlorine Bleach for water sanitizing.
    Tools – Full Tang survival knife with Sawback (mine is a United Cutlery UC3021) plus a whistle. You can sub a leatherman for the sawback to get lighter. I also add some fishing line, hooks, and dry flies for survival fishing. In summer, you also need some bug killer and mosquito repellent in small spray bottles, and some sunblock.
    Toiletries – mini toothpaste, hotel soap, bandana, TP without the core, antibiotics, pseudophedrine (for allergies and snakebite) small spray bottle of 91% rubbing alcholol if I am not bringing Heet.
    Add a paperback book, cellphone, clothes, spam, and dehydrated meals and you are good for 3 days.

  • petej says:

    Oh, and three last things for winter camping – Sports towel, knit hat with three hole face cover, and large size Naptha Hand Warmer with 7 oz can of Naptha. These are critical for staying dry and warm.

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