Select a set of clothing and equipment that will keep you comfortable for the entire trip but yet is compact enough to pack in your car (or on your motorcycle). When packing for the trip, organize your equipment into the 18 groups summarized below. Be sure to pack all of the Essential equipment and include as many Desirable and Optional items as packing space allows. Also note Undesirable items within each group. For more information about each equipment area, please read my book, Basic Tent Camping.
Essential: Pack most camping equipment in soft duffel bags and milk crates. Use small duffel bags as pillows in camp.
Optional: Families with children may have to add a rooftop cargo basket, trailer hitch rack, and/or small cargo trailer.
- K-Cliffs water-resistant duffel bags
- Heavy duty milk crates
- Yakima Mega Warrior rooftop cargo basket for SUVs
- Yakima Load Warrior rooftop cargo basket for small cars
- Curt trailer hitch mounted cargo basket
Do not depend upon cell phone or GPS navigational devises. They may not work properly in remote areas.
Essential: A good roadmap
Desirable: GPS receiver or cell phone maps App.
- Garmin GPS Receiver accepts GPS coordinates
Clothing - pack in small soft-side duffel bags
Essentials: Pack fast drying nylon underwear, wool socks, polyester or wool short-sleeve T-shirt, polyester or wool long-sleeve T-shirt, polyester or fleece athletic pants, polyester or fleece hoodie, knit cap, hat or cap & rain coat.
Undesirables: Cotton garments such as denim jeans, cotton sweat shirts, sweat pants, socks & underwear.
Exception: Light colored cotton T-shirt in hot weather.
Desirables: Pack as many as 7 pair of socks and underwear to minimize time needed for washing clothes.
- ExOfficio Mens boxers. Wear them under a pair of polyester shorts as swim suit.
- Duluth Trading Buck Naked nylon underwear
- Columbia convertible pants for men
- Columbia convertible pants for women
- Mil-Tec Poncho
Primary Shelter - pack in large duffel bag
Essential: Buy a good tent that provides protection from rain, wind, mosquitoes, bugs, and dirt. Most small families should consider a 6-person tent because it provides a good balance between comfort, packability & campsite fit. Couples with no children could save a few dollars and be almost as comfortable in a 4-person tent.
Undesirable: Smaller (1, 2, & 3-person) tents typically are used for backpacking and provide good storm/wind protection, but they are hard to enter, even harder to exit, and offer minimal room to move around. Larger 8 to 12-person tents offer more comfort and can accommodate cots well, but they frequently are difficult to set up and squeeze onto many developed campsites and tent pads.
Exception: Smaller tents may be necessary for people who travel by sports car or motorcycle.
Suggestions: Here are good quality tents that have strong poles and tough materials that should last over 20 years with proper care. The list, posted below, includes current prices for 6-person (first column) and 4-person (second column) models - and links to sites that provide additional information.
Partial coverage rainfly with no vestibule - easy to set up and will fit on most tent pads
- Big Agnes Big House Deluxe 400 350 New design of a popular hot weather tent
- Eureka Copper Canyon 230 200 Very popular umbrella style tent
- Eureka Timberline 580 240 Discontinued but still available
- Eureka Sunrise EX 240 180 Popular dome tent
- Therm-A-Rest Tranquility 600 480 New modified A-frame design
- Cabela's Getaway Cabin 225 400 4-person includes screen house
Full coverage rainfly with vestibule(s) - better storm protection but may not fit on some tent pads
- Marmot Limestone 490 360 Great hot weather tent
- REI Kingdom 440 390 Popular tunnel tent
- Kelty Trail Ridge 295 225 Discontinued but still available
- Big Agnes Flying Diamond 700 500 Also good for cool weather
- Browning Glacier 500 350 Also good for cool weather
- REI Base Camp 430 370 Low profile dome with 2 vestibules
- Kelty Sequoia 350 250 Tall and spacious
Cool Weather Tents
- Kodiak Flex Bow 570 470 Unique canvas cabin tent
- Cabela's Instinct Alaskan 700 600 Dome with full coverage rainfly
- You can save $100 to $200 by buying used tents from e-Bay or second hand stores and by buying last year models.
- Although "instant tents" have become very popular over the past five years and are frequently seen in many campgrounds, read reviews before purchasing one. Several owners have complained that they leak and are easily damaged by wind.
- Avoid discount department store tents priced under $200 because they will usually fail before 20 nights or 5 years. They have thin fiberglass poles that are difficult to set up and easy to break - especially in cool weather. They also have cheap zippers that will fail quickly, poorly sewn seams that will rip with minimal pressure, and thin materials that will easily tear.
- Do not depend upon hammocks as your primary shelter because you will not find two or three good trees in every campsite.
Bedding - pack in X-large duffel bag
Essential: a comfortable insulated mattress and warm clothing. In hot weather pack a fan and wear a cotton shirt soaked with water. The breeze blowing over the wet shirt will produce an air conditioning effect.
Undesirable: Air beds because they frequently spring leaks after limited use.
Desirables: an insulated ground carpet or blanket, a fitted sheet to hold the mattresses together, pillow cases & a blanket or quilt.
Optional: Pillows; You could use soft clothing-filled duffel bags or a rolled blanket.
- Therm-A-Rest Mondo King self inflating air mattress
- Therm-A-Rest LuxuryMap self inflating air mattress
- Biddeford heated mattress cover for cool weather
- Lightspeed Super Plush self inflating air mattress
- BalanceFrom Yoga Mat to be placed under the air mattress
- Teton Sports Mammoth double wide sleeping bag; open to use as large quilt.
- Kelty True.Comfort double wide sleeping bag
- Marmot Mavericks double wide sleeping bag
- Kelty Callisto rectangular bags; buy 2 to zip together
- Pendleton Yakima Queen Camp Blanket
Secondary Shelter - pack in medium or large duffel bag
A second kitchen shelter is desirable to protect you from sun, wind, dew fall, and rain during the day. Use this shelter to prepare meals, eat meals, repair equipment, play games, read books, and relax.
Desirable: Tarps or shelter
- Big Agnes Three Forks Shelter add sidewalls to enclose
- 8 by 10-foot poly tarps - buy 4 to make enclosed shelter; use one tarp for roof, one pulled out to make the back side, one for main sidewall, and split one to enclose lean-to sidewalls. Support fly with three 8-foot poles and one 6-foot pole.
- Green Elephant telescoping tarp support poles set of 2.
Tools - pack in heavy Cordura tool bag
You will need tools to efficiently set up camp, perform routine camp chores, make emergency repairs, and break camp at the end of your trip.
Essentials: Tent stakes, pocket knife (or multitool) & cord.
Desirables: Camp axe, large camp knife, folding saw, wedge, baton, channel lock pliers, small crow bar, rake & small shovel. You can make a baton and wedge from small pieces of hickory firewood.
- Victorinox Tinker is a good pocket knife.
- Estwing Camper's Axe 14
- Silky Pocket Boy folding saw
- Mora Companion knife: economically priced and great for wood cutting; carbon and stainless steel available.
- Stanley Small Crow Bar
- Edward Tool Garden Trowel
- DealMux Hand Rake
- Internets Best Cordura tool bag
- Bacho Laplander folding saw
Furniture - pack separately
Most developed campgrounds have a picnic table in each campsite but additional seating and counterspace will maximize your comfort.
Desirables: table cloth, folding chairs, four-foot folding table (2 is even better) & hammocks.
- Flash Furniture Folding Table
- Alps Mountaineering Adventure Chair armless quad chair is extra strong and folds into a small space
- Alps Mountaineering Camp Chair for big guys
- Lifetime Folding Table (4 foot)
- ENO Hammock
Personal Items - pack in day pack
Essentials: medicines, shower & hygiene items (soap, wash cloth, small micro-fiber towel, brush, tooth brush, toothpaste). Use the day pack to carry water, sun screen, first-aid supplies, and jackets on day hikes and to make a pillow at night.
Desirables: Shower shoes, tooth paste, floss, brush, razor, nail clippers, tweezers, cotton swabs, scissors & book.
Games/Toys - Pack small items with Personal Items
Optionals: deck of cards, dominoes, board games, tree/bird field guides, binoculars, water toys, sketch pad, iPad, radio, iPad, bean bag toss, bikes, canoes, golf clubs, & other recreational equipment.
- Sangean DT 400W portable radio
Lighting/Heating Items - pack in milk crate
Try to secure campsites with electrical service but be prepared for sites without electricity
Essential: A small headlight or flashlight for each person plus a spare and extra batteries are all you need in summer months when the sunsets around 9 or 10 p.m.
Undesirable: Candle lanterns, gas lanterns, and other open flame light sources because they are messy to pack and create a fire hazzard if brought into the tent.
Desirable: In early spring and late fall, pack a variety of battery and/or electric powered lights for campsite and tent because sun sets around 4 or 5 p.m.
- Petzl Tikka Headlamp pack 2 or 3
- Outdoor grounded extension cords pack 2
- Tent Light
- Etekcity Folding LED lantern
- Izzy Creations Rope Lights for kitchen canopy
- LaCrosse Indoor/Outdoor Thermometer
- Lasko Space Heater
- Mr Heater Buddy Propane Heater
- Short 3-outlet grounded cord
Medical Supplies - pack in small Cordura bag
Be prepared for common problems and injuries.
Essentials: First aid kit (adhesive bandages, Neosporin, burn cream, ibuprofen, aspirin, gause sponges, elastic bandage), sun screen & insect repellant kept in an accessible location in your car
Desirable: Assemble a second first-aid kit for your tent.
Kitchen Items - pack in 2 milk crates
Essentials: Mess Kit - can opener, cup, pate/bowl & spoon
Desirables: Pots, frying pan, cooking utensils, eating utensils & a bucket or large stew pot to catch grey water.
Select pots, pans, plates, bowls & cups that nest together.
Optional: small dutch oven & coffee maker (pack in 3rd milk crate with semi-perishable foods)
- Norpro 9-inch stainless steel pie pans; use them as plates and bowls
- Granite Ware Enamel Ware Pot
- GSI Enamel Ware Cook Kettle
- Teton Falls Stainless Steel Cook Pot
- Zebra Billy Pot
- Nogent Super Kim can opener
- Opinel Stainless Steel folding knife; #8 is great camp kitchen knife; #10 for large melons.
- New Star Foodservice Commercial Sheet Pan; 15 x 21 makes a great campfire base pan
- Bayou Classic Dutch Oven; 2 quart for couples; 4 quart for families; can be used at home and in camp
- Thermos Nissan Insulated French Press coffee maker
- Chinook Timberline 6-cup coffee pot
Water Containers - pack separately
Developed campgrounds usually have potable water spigots or wells in or near each campsite. You need containers to bring it to your cooking and dish washing areas.
Essential: Personal water bottle for each person.
Unnecessary: water filtration and purification equipment.
Undesirables: Avoid large 3 to 5-gallon containers because they are difficult to carry from the spigot to your campsite, difficult to move about your campsite, and difficult to pour.
Desirables: one or more 1-gallon water jugs. Ocean Spray jugs and Gator-aid bottles are economical choices.
Non-Perishable Foods - pack in 1 milk crate
If you camp in developed campgrounds, you can buy a wide variety of restaurant and grocery store take out foods.
Desirables: Spices (salt, garlic salt, pepper, seafood spices & others), cooking oil, sugar, peanut butter, rice dinners, macaroni & cheese, pasta, Hamburger Helper, McCormick's mixes, beans, pancake & biscuit flour, small cans of vegetables & fruit, canned chicken & tuna, cereal, crackers, peanuts, cookies, cereal bars, trail mix, chips, coffee, tea, hot chocolate & other drink mixes.
Couples and small families should pack an assortment of vegetables and fruit packaged in small cans.
Repackage beans, pasta, rice, grits, flour, and other dry goods in small or medium-sized plastic mayonnaise or peanut butter jars.
Semi-Perishable Foods - pack in milk crate with small Dutch oven
Desirables: Bread, bakery items, onions, garlic, potatoes, peppers, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, celery, corn, fresh fruit & fresh vegetables
Perishable Foods - pack in a 50-quart cooler
Desirables: Ground beef, bacon, summer sausage, other meats, eggs, butter, cheese, milk, meat, juice, mayonnaise, mustard, catsup, Italian salad dressing, jelly or honey & pancake syrup - all repackaged in small plastic containers with small items stored in waterproof plastic storage containers to prevent contamination from melted ice water.
Undesirable: Avoid coolers with wheels and handles because your food (cooler) should stay in your car at all times to avoid animal scavenger problems; wheels and handles require unnecessary packing space and add additional weight.
Stove & Fuel - pack separately
Basic tent campers staying in developed campgrounds have many meal options. They can pack a variety of foods that do not require cooking (such as bread, crackers, tuna, ham, cheese, fresh vegetables, canned fruit, peanut butter, jelly, etc), or they can drive to nearby restaurants, order pizza (or other food) delivery, buy carry out meals from fast food restaurants or grocery deli counters, cook over a campfire, or cook with a propane or butane stove. If you plan to cook over campfire, prepare a fire starter kit at home containing small twigs for kindling, used printer paper for tender, and butane lighters.
Essentials: Two or 3 butane lighters.
Desirables: a two-burner stove and fuel & a small backup backpacker's stove