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.



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.

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. 

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.
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

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


  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.

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.
Essentials: None
Desirable: Tarps or shelter

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.

Furniture - pack separately

Most developed campgrounds have a picnic table in each campsite but additional seating and counterspace will maximize your comfort.
Essentials: None
Desirables: table cloth, folding chairs, four-foot folding table (2 is even better) & hammocks.

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

Essentials: None
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.


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.

Health 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, plate/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)

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.
Essentials: None
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

Essentials: None
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

Essentials: None
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