You’ll need a comprehensive checklist that includes essential
and optional equipment to prepare for future camping trips.
When planning a camping trip, you want to select the clothing and equipment that will help you to be 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.
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
Primary Shelter - pack in large duffel bag
Essential: Most couples and small families that camp in developed state and federal campgrounds will need a good-quality 6-person tent with aluminum or strong fiberglass poles and approximately 100 square feet of floor space to provide adequate protection from rain, wind, mosquitoes, bugs, and dirt. These tents that measure approximately 10' by 10', provide the best balance between cost, durability, comfort, packability & campsite fit. Campers that frequently camp in windy/stormy conditions, should consider a dome tent with sloped sides and a full coverage rain fly. But most families that typically camp in calm conditions, can enjoy more comfort with a cabin or umbrella tent with more vertical side walls. Couples with no children could save a few dollars and be almost as comfortable in a 4-person tent.
Undesirables: Avoid smaller (1, 2, & 3-person) tents that are typically used for backpacking because they are hard to enter, even harder to exit, and offer minimal room to move around. Avoid larger 8 to 12-person tents because they frequently are difficult to set up and squeeze onto many developed campsites and tent pads. Avoid tents with large vestibules and garages because these vestibules and garages are not needed and because they may not fit in some campsites and require more tent stakes and time to set up. Also avoid hammocks because many campsites do not have 2 or 3 trees needed for hanging hammocks and "instant" tents because their materials frequently tear and break after limited use.
Exception: A smaller tent may be necessary for campers 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
Eureka Copper Canyon 230 200 Very popular umbrella style tent
Alps Mt'ering Meramac 145 65 Copy of old REI Camp Dome
Cabela's Getaway Cabin DC 400 4-person includes screen house
Big Agnes Big House Deluxe 400 350 New design of a popular hot weather tent
Eureka Sunrise EX 240 180 Popular dome tent
Therm-A-Rest Tranquility 600 480 New modified A-frame design
Coleman Sundome 90 55 Popular dome tent
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
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
Big Agnes Flying Diamond 700 500 Also good for cool weather
Cool Weather Tents
Kodiak Flex Bow 570 470 Unique canvas cabin tent
Cabela's Instinct Alaskan 700 600 Dome with full coverage rainfly
Note: You can save $100 to $200 by buying used tents from e-Bay or second hand stores and by buying last year models.
Bedding - pack in X-large duffel bag
Essential: A comfortable insulated mattress and warm clothing are the two most important pieces of camp bedding. 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.
Desirables: Place an insulated ground carpet or blanket on the floor under your mattress; a standard fitted sheet will hold two mattresses together; use a synthetic or wool blanket or quilt for cover; cover small duffel bags or day packs with pillow cases to make pillows.
Optional: Pillows; You could use soft clothing-filled duffel bags or a rolled blanket.
Undesirable: Avoid air beds because they frequently spring leaks after limited use; avoid mummy sleeping bags unless you plan to camp in very cold weather; avoid down-filled sleeping bags because they will not keep you warm when wet - and they WILL get wet, and because they require much longer drying time.
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
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.
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.
Mora Companion knife: economically priced and great for wood cutting; carbon and stainless steel available.
Furniture - pack separately
Most developed campgrounds furnish 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.
Lifetime Folding Table (4 foot)
Alps Mountaineering Adventure Chair armless quad chair is extra strong and folds into a small space
Alps Mountaineering Camp Chair for big guys
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, radio, iPad, bean bag toss, fishing tackle, 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.
Coleman Dual Fuel Camp Lantern (white gas)
Coleman NorthStar Camp Lantern (propane)
Supernova hanging dome lantern (tent light & kitchen lights)
Petzl Tikka Headlamp (pack 1 or 2 extra)
Izzy Creations Rope Lights for kitchen canopy
Health Supplies - pack in small Cordura bag
Be prepared for common health 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 - pair of tongs, can opener, cup, plate/bowl & spoon
Desirables: Good-quality stainless steel or enamelware pots, cast iron or carbon steel 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)
Undesirables: Avoid thin aluminum backpacker cook sets because they are only made to boil water and will quickly scorch your food if you try to cook anything for more than a few minutes.
Norpro 9-inch stainless steel pie pans; use them as plates and bowls
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
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.
Desirables: One or more 1-gallon water jugs. Ocean Spray jugs and Gator-aid bottles are economical choices.
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.
Unnecessary: water filtration and purification equipment.
Klean Kanteen wide mouth water bottle (one for each person)
Non-Perishable Foods - pack in 1 milk crate
If you camp in developed campgrounds, you can cook in your campsite OR 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 cooler
Essentials: Ice cooler. A good-quality 50-quart cooler with a basket and drain but without wheels and a handle. This size is ideal for couples and families - if you have the space to pack them. They are large enough to hold food for several days but small enough to carry and pack in an SUV. If you do not have space for a 50-quart cooler, consider two 25-quart coolers.
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