In the US, the number of households that have started camping in the last few years continues to grow, bringing the total number of camping households to nearly 80 million. There are no signs of this trend slowing down, but for those families just starting out, it can be difficult to know what you actually need and what is just going to take up space during your travels.
Experienced campers will tell you that the difference between a good camping trip and a great camping trip often boils down to having all the necessary supplies and equipment.
While part of the joy of camping needs very little to exist outdoors, it’s always better to feel comfortable and prepared, especially when unforeseen situations arise.
Whether you’re camping in a well-equipped RV or heading out on foot with your trusty backpack, we’ve compiled an essential packing guide that will come in handy for your next adventure.
This is a comprehensive list, so don’t be expected to take every item — though we won’t judge you if you do! Whichever items you decide to take will largely depend on what you’ll be doing, when and where and when you’re going, and how long your trip will be.
Essentials for Overnight Camping
If you’re going on a camping trip where you’ll be staying over overnight, here are a few essentials to consider taking along with you:
- Hiking tent and pegs (check the contents before you pack it)
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping bag liner
- Foam mat or air mattress (with repair kit)
- Hiking pillow (optional but highly recommended)
- Camping chairs
- Saw or ax for chopping wood
Other categories of equipment to consider include:
It’s essential to have a camping backpack before embarking on your trip. However, it’s always important to check that the straps, zips, and buckles are working and that there are no significant rips or tears. If you plan on camping close to your RV or car, you can skip this section.
If you’re going to be relying on your backpack during your trip, consider taking the following:
- Pack liner: These serve double duty to keep your wet items separated from your dry items. It can be made from something as simple as a trash compactor bag, a clear plastic liner made for backpacking, or a fancier roll-top stuff sack.
- Waterproof pack cover: Believe it or not, but not all most packs are not all waterproof! A cover will prevent water from leaking into your supplies.
Tips for Packing Your Backpack
- Do not overload yourself.
- Line the pack with a strong, waterproof bag. If bright orange, it can be used to signal in an emergency.
- Put the bulky, lighter items in first. This includes your sleeping bag.
- Ensure that your pack is well-balanced and positioned as close to your body’s center of gravity as possible.
- Pack spare clothing in waterproof bags.
- Pack the heavier items closer to your back and higher up in your backpack.
- Ensure that there are no sharp objects close to your back.
- Ensure that your waterproof and warm clothing is easily accessible.
- Pack the side pockets before the main body.
- Ensure the following can be reached instantly: First aid kit, waterproof poncho/jacket, survival bag, whistle, torch, compass/GPS, map, water bottle, mobile phone.
- If your pack is not completely full, tighten the compression straps to prevent backpack sway, which causes fatigue.
How to Properly Fit Your Pack
Here are a few pointers for fitting your pack before embarking on your trip:
- Load the pack before fitting it on to achieve a realistic fit.
- Loosen all straps and buckles then, put your arms through the shoulder straps and mount the pack onto your back.
- Secure the hip belt around your waist, adjusting it so that it rests on top of your hip bones.
- Tighten the shoulder straps and buckles.
The majority of the weight of your pack should be on your hips. If you feel too much weight on your shoulders, or if the hip belt is not resting on top of your hip bones, you can adjust the length of the pack itself (the straps) until you achieve the correct position.
The clothing you take depends on where you will be going and what the outdoor conditions will be, but as a general guideline, here are a few items you might want to consider:
- Hiking boots and spare laces
- Hiking socks
- Waterproof and windproof jacket
- Warm fleece or lightweight jacket
- Sandals for overnight
- Ankle gaiters
- Warm hat/beanie
- Gloves or mittens
- Short and long sleeve shirts – try lightweight moisture management fabric, ideally UV protective
- Zip-off camping pants
- Clothesline with clips
- Toilet paper and a shovel if need be
- Biodegradable soap
- Biodegradable shampoo and conditioner
- Hiker’s towel and facecloth
- Wet wipes and hand sanitizer
- Moisture cream
- Lip balm
- Insect repellent
- Shaving kit
- Foot or baby powder
- Contact lens case and solution
- Feminine hygiene products (for the ladies)
- Swimming costume
First Aid Kit
- Band-Aids and gauze
- Scissors and tweezers
- Surgical gloves
- Safety pins
- Rubber bands
- Personal medication
- Malaria tablets
- Anti-diarrhoea medication
- Isotonic powder
- Eye drops
- First aid manual
- Space blanket
- Emergency whistle
- Aftersun lotion
- Emergency contact details
- Multi-tool/pocket knife
- Duct tape
- Spare batteries
- Smoke/fire flare
- Passport and visa
- Drivers license
- Hiking permit
- Trail maps and brochures
- Vaccination certificates
- Camera and memory card
- Solar power bank (make sure it is fully charged)
- Hiking poles
- Pen pencil and paper
- Needle and thread to fix tears
- GPS or a cellphone and Gaia App
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Matches or a lighter
- Crampons (for walking over ice)
- Cable ties
- Two-way radio
- Reusable water bottle
While the main point of camping is to be outdoors and soaking up your surroundings, you might want to bring a few items to entertain you and your camping party further. Some ideas include:
- Games like cards, dominoes, or Uno
- Mp3 player and speaker
- Hiking stove
- Gas canister
- Grill rack (if you’re cooking over a fire)
- Hiking pots
- Small cutting board
- Cutlery: knife, fork spoon, spatula
- Cup or mug
- Can opener
- Extra trash bags
- Sponge and dishcloth
- Biodegradable dishwashing liquid
- Ziploc bags to store food and keep it fresh
- Cooler and ice
- Fire extinguisher (for RVs or campers with indoor kitchens)
Food and Drink
- Spare/emergency rations
- Water purification tablets
- Tea, coffee, sugar, salt
Camping On-Foot Meal Suggestions
Breakfast: A hot meal can give you a good boost but keep in mind that a light snack means no cleaning up is necessary, ensuring a quick start to your day. Common choices include cold cereal like muesli or hot cereal like oatmeal, a breakfast bar, fresh fruit, dried nuts, bread, and dehydrated eggs.
Lunch: Instead of taking an extended break to unpack, prepare, clean up and repack, rather eat a few energy-filled snacks during the day. Remember to have snacks and drink water regularly. Common choices include energy bars, candy, nuts, fresh or dried fruit, crackers, biscuits, beef jerky, and energy gels.
Dinner: For dinner, try the “just add boiling water” options as these are most convenient after a long day of hiking. Pre-packed, freeze-dried food, as well as pasta, provide a quick, satisfying meal. The most common choices include pasta, rice, instant soup, and canned food like beans, corned beef, tuna, and sardines.
Remember to take your waste and wrappers with you to throw away in the trash.
While this is a very comprehensive guide, the items you take on your camping trip will depend on whether you are backpacking, staying in an RV, or car camping.
It’s no secret that preparing for a camping trip can be quite overwhelming, but it’s always better to be overprepared at the end of the day. As you become a more experienced camper, you’ll find that it gets a lot easier because you’ll know what you absolutely can’t live without and what you can leave behind.