Unlike hiking or backpacking, putting together a checklist for camping isn’t limited by what you can carry on your person.
Because we have our vehicles handy (and don’t have to carry anything very far), we’re free to bring just about every luxury item we want along for the ride. I’m here to tell you that you should take full advantage of that fact.
So go ahead and pack that 6-person tent, that heavy cast iron pan, and as many pairs of clean socks and underwear as you want: You’re going car camping in style.
- Hiking boots or trail runners
- Camping tent
What To Wear
Packing clothes for a camping checklist is a lot like any other outdoor activity, but with more room to get creative.
Your camping checklist should focus more on comfort than the low weight/low volume approach of a backpacking or hiking list.
Hiking Boots or Trail Runners
Chances are you won’t be carrying a heavy pack at any point during your trip, so you can even get away with tennis shoes in a pinch.
Don’t overthink it, just bring whatever is comfortable and supportive enough to get you through your planned activities during the day.
Whatever footwear you choose, make sure you pack hiking socks that are made for outdoor activities.
Cotton socks have no place in the wilderness because they retain moisture, stop insulating when wet, and take forever to dry even when hung in direct sunlight.
Stick with wool or synthetic materials and your feet will thank you.
Same as your socks, it’s best to stay away from cotton for any outdoors activity.
No, you won’t catch hypothermia from hanging around camp in a cotton shirt, but why waste time and space packing clothes that don’t do it all?
Thermal baselayers are great to have when temps drop at night or for camping in colder weather.
Did you know the temperature rating on your sleeping bag assumes you’re wearing thermal layers top and bottom (plus a warm hat like a beanie)? Just something to keep in mind when putting that cozy camping sleep system together…
Hiking Pants Or Shorts
I’ve been an outspoken advocate of convertible pants for years and it’s not just because I’m selective about who gets to enjoy the majesty of my bare knees.
I stand by my endorsement there, but honestly you’ve got room for both so why not bring both. Just make sure they’re not cotton.
Jacket/Thermal Outer Layer
You can bring the same down jacket or synthetic jacket you’d bring along for a hiking or backpacking trip, but honestly I prefer fleece or flannel (real flannel, not cotton) for outings like this.
Both options are less prone to fire or rain damage. Considering the amount of time you’ll be spending around a fire (and how expensive a good down jacket is), you might just want to leave the expensive stuff at home.
On the perfect camping trip you never see a drop of rain, but we all know how unpredictable mother nature can be.
You’ve got plenty of room to pack a light rain jacket, so make sure you add one to your hiking checklist.
What To Pack
No longer are you limited to a tent that fits into your backpack. If you read our backpacking checklist, just think the exact opposite of that.
The camping tent on your checklist should be as big as you want it to be. My personal favorites are tall enough to stand up inside of (makes changing clothes a breeze), and include a generously sized vestibule or awning to protect any gear you leave outside the tent from the elements.
Sure, you could use your backpacking sleeping pad while camping, but why not go all out?
If an air mattress fits inside your tent, you should take full advantage. The thicker the better. We opt for a queen size one and bring our sleeping pads for backup.
Just like your other sleeping items, you get to focus on comfort here rather than weight or size. No more slim-fitting mummy bag for you.
Get a nice big rectangular bag that you can roll around in freely. Maybe even one with a soft polyester liner that feels cozy on the skin rather than that old nylon-lined workhorse you take backpacking.
That’s right, you get to bring a pillow, too.
There are several “ultralight” camp pillows out there that are inflatable and pack down super small, but at the end of the day, you’re still sleeping on an airbag.
There are some foam options out there too but my vote is to just bring the same pillow you sleep on at home. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Is it really glamping if you’re still sitting on logs around the fire?
Bring yourself a chair. A nice one. With cupholders.
The classic foldable camp chair with it’s back support and dual arm rests is tough to beat, but it’s 2021, so you know you’ve got other options.
My favorite are the collapsible heavy-duty scoop chairs that utilize the same rugged aluminum poles as a backpacking tent for super fast setup and break down. These camp chairs pack down to about a quarter of the size and weight of classic folding chairs, and are basically indestructible.
If you really want to experience a little wilderness luxury though, a few companies make camping recliners now.
These zero-gravity style chairs are comfortable enough to fall asleep in (ask me how I know), and even include a footrest. They’re a little bulkier than your average camp chair, but if kicking back and relaxing is a priority, look no further.
Yes, we’re on a laid-back camping trip, but we are still beholden to some of the 10 essentials here.
Every camper needs a headlamp. Whether you’re reading in the tent after dark or need some extra light to whittle a couple sticks for smores. A headlamp belongs on every camping checklist.
Some campsites come with drinking water on site, some use a community water pump, and others have no running water at all.
Know the water situation before you go, and pack accordingly.
I like to bring along a reusable basin with an on/off spigot at the bottom. Comes in handy for everything from cleaning dishes, washing your hands, filling the coffee pot, and topping off your water bottle.
If there’s no water available at your campsite, load up before you go, and bring at least two liters per person per day.
If you bring the right cooler along (more on that below) your food options are no different than what’s in your fridge at home. No more trail mix and potato flakes for you.
We like to do a big breakfast in the morning, for instance, so we pack eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, and milk in our cooler. You’ll also find lunch meats, cheeses, and any perishable items we want for dinner in our cooler as well.
If it isn’t frozen, and heats well over a camp stove, it’s fair game.
Make sure you pack plenty of snacks to graze on throughout the day too, as well as portable items you can grab for short hikes and other daytime excursions.
Oh, and beer counts as food too. Bring plenty of food.
Your Camping Kitchen
Unlike backpacking, camping allows us to bring as many “luxury items” as we can fit in our vehicles into the campsite with us.
Aside from your big spacious camping tent, the camping kitchen is where most campers splurge on comfort items.
Here are some of our favorite items to bring, but feel free to shoot for the moon here:
Cooler: Unless you want to be making multiple supply runs from camp, we recommend you bring along a good hardshell cooler. Certain brands are better than others. The best coolers keep your ice frozen for days, not hours.
Camp stove & fuel: Unless you’re planning to cook all your meals over an open fire, we recommend bringing a camp stove. This can be as simple as the classic Coleman single-burner propane stove or a deluxe free-standing two-burner set up if you really want to get glamping. Just make sure you bring along the right type of fuel (most use propane) and enough of it to last the entire trip.
Cookware: Campers aren’t confined to the same tiny cookpot as their backpacking cousins. Bring along a couple pots, a teflon pan, and (my favorite) a cast iron pan for getting your sear on. It’s also a good idea to bring a cutting board along to have a clean surface for food prep.
Dishes & utensils: Bring enough reusable dishes for everyone in your group, and reusable utensils to match. Picking up a dedicated camp dish set is a great excuse to build up your gear list, and as an added bonus, keeps disposable plates and cutlery out of landfills. Don’t forget to bring along odds and ends like spatulas, serving spoons, can openers, bottle openers, and anything else you might need.
Coffee maker: Nothing takes the edge off spending a night in a tent like a hot cup of coffee first thing in the morning. You could always just bring instant coffee but… why would you? I like grinding fresh coffee the morning before we leave, and bringing enough to last the entire trip. Whether I opt for a french press or a pour over usually depends on the size of the group. Treat yourself!
Folding table: Picnic tables are common in campgrounds, but they usually end up holding people rather than supplies. I like to bring a simple plastic folding table along to lay out food, condiments, napkins etc. and save the picnic table for eating.
Another must-have item on your camping checklist courtesy of the 10 essentials.
As always, bring a basic first aid kit and customize it from there.
If you’re going hiking, add blister care items. If you’ve got serious allergies, add an EpiPen.
Don’t forget any important prescriptions, and if you don’t already carry duct tape with you everywhere you go, I’d add that too.
Creature Comforts For Your Camping Checklist
This is the part of your camping checklist that will really make your stay in the woods memorable.
Truly roughing it in the wilderness is a great passtime, but it has its time and place. Don’t think twice about bringing along anything that might enrich the camping experience for you and your group.
Toilet/Shower: Most campgrounds have some kind of facilities for bathrooms and showers, but not all campgrounds are created equal. Lucky for you there are portable versions of both that make your stay in the woods a little more… civilized.
Lantern: Yes, the humble headlamp is king in the woods, but bringing a small lantern or two makes camp that much better. We like to keep one on the shared food table after dark, and then another small hanging lantern at the entrance to our tent that can be moved inside when it’s time to go to bed.
Firewood: If you don’t want to spend time collecting fallen wood from the ground (or if it isn’t allowed) make sure to bring wood into camp with you to start your fire. You should always buy your firewood in or around the forest you’re camping in or you’ll risk bringing in pests.
Axe or hatchet: These come in handy for breaking down wood that you buy or find. Remember you should never cut down any standing trees around camp, dead or alive.
Shovel: Pound for pound the best tool for maintaining your fire ring whether you’re raking around coals or smothering a dying fire.
Hammocks are perfect for those lazy mornings or afternoons around camp or out on the trail. Pick out a couple sturdy trees, grab a book to read, and try not to fall asleep.
Towel: Needs no explanation. Whether you’re showering in the facilities or using a nearby swimming hole, a towel belongs on your camping checklist.
Sun protection: Bring sunscreen, long sleeves, a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, or all of the above, but bring something.
Bug spray: I love all living things… But I love mosquitoes the least, know what I mean?
Camp shoes: It’s nice to have a pair or lightweight, waterproof shoes you can slide on to relax in. Sandals, river shoes, Crocs… Whatever works for you, I won’t judge.
Music: I can’t stand people who bring speakers on hiking trails, but in camp a little music at a respectful volume brings the whole vibe up a level.
Tent heater: If you’re camping in the colder months or are just a cold sleeper in general, bringing a heater into your tent keeps it nice and toasty. Small propane heaters are the most popular, but there are electric options out there too. All tent heaters are potentially dangerous if used incorrectly, so do your research before bringing one along on your next trip.
Power bank/Solar panels: Handy alternative to charging your devices in your vehicle. Keep the tunes coming and the lanterns running.
Repair kit: A simple repair kit is a life saver if your big plush air mattress springs a leak or your tent gets a tear.
The Bottom Line On Your Camping Checklist
Putting together a camping checklist should be a fairly low stress activity.
Just make sure you’ve got all the basics together, then start adding creature comforts from there.
Unless it’s pouring rain, camp is usually just your base of operations: It’s the place everyone returns to after a day of recreation to share stories and relax. Make sure you’ve got everything you need to make the nights as memorable as the days.
Got a campsite favorite you don’t see on our list? Make sure to drop it in the comments below!