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 15 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 Load Warrior rooftop cargo basket for small cars
Yakima Mega Warrior rooftop cargo basket for SUVs
Curt trailer hitch mounted cargo basket
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; convertible pants for women.
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
Eureka Timberline 580 240 Discontinued but still available
Eureka Copper Canyon 230 200 Very popular umbrella style tent
Eureka Sunrise EX 240 180 Popular dome tent
Cabela's Getaway Cabin 225 400 4-person includes screen house
Big Agnes Big House Deluxe 400 350 New design of a popular hot weather tent
Therm-A-Rest Tranquility 600 480 New modified A-frame design
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
REI Base Camp 430 370 Dome with two large vestibules
Kelty Sequoia 350 250 Tall and spacious
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
1. You can save $100 to $200 by buying used tents from e-Bay or second hand stores and by buying last year models.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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
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
Biddeford heated mattress cover for cool weather
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.
Green Elephant telescoping tarp support poles set of 2. 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.
Estwing Camper's Axe 14
Bacho Laplander folding saw
Silky Pocket Boy folding saw
Mora Companion knife is 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
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.
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)
Personal Items - pack in day pack
Essentials: 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.
Optionals: books, games, radio, iPad, toys & 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
Outdoor grounded extension cords, pack 2 or 3
Short 3-outlet grounded cord pack 2
Etekcity Folding LED lantern
Izzy Creations Rope Lights for kitchen canopy
Mr Heater Buddy propane heater
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 1 to 3 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: dutch oven & coffee maker
Norpro 9-inch stainless steel pie pans; use them as plates and bowls
Granite Ware Enamel Ware Pot
GSI Enamel Ware Cook Pot
Zebra Billy Pot
Nogent Super Kim can opener
Opinel #8 Stainless steel folding knife is ideal kitchen knife; #10 is larger for large melons.
New Star Foodservice Commercial 15 X 21 Sheet Pan campfire base pan
Bayou Classic Dutch Oven Has camp oven lid with lip and bailed handle but no legs; can be used at home and in camp; for home (2 quart for couples and 4 quart for families).
Thermos Nissan Insulated French Press coffee maker
Chinook Timberline 6-cup coffee pot coffee maker
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
Woody Campfire Stove order from me - email@example.com
Coleman Classic Camp Stove
MSR Pocket Rocket back up stove (pack in small soft-side cooler as a backup)
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.
Wide mouth stainless steel water bottle
Non-Perishable Foods - pack in 1 or 2 milk crates
If you camp in developed campgrounds, you can buy a wide variety of restaurant and grocery store take out foods.
Desirables: Cereal bars, nuts, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables & other snacks
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.
Perishable Foods - pack in a 50-quart cooler
Desirable: Store eggs, butter, cheese, milk, meat, juice, and other foods in small waterproof plastic containers.
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.
Igloo Max Cold cooler
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 will accept GPS coordinates