Packing for a camping trip: Your ultimate guide

When we had our giveaway a few weeks ago one of the most mentioned camping tips was to make some sort of camping box. A large waterproof tote that holds the majority of your camping supplies. The idea behind such a box is that you always have the bulk of your gear packed and ready to go. I could not agree more.

The problem is that it’s hard to keep ALL your camping gear together all the time (because a lot of stuff gets used for day adventures as well).  Some stuff gets put away between adventures, but some stuff we’ve bought two of; it’s worth it to buy an extra set of supplies and make a kit that ALWAYS stays together.

I’ve already done posts that list out all the items needed to make:

  1. A Mobile kitchen: a bin that houses all our cooking essentials and a few other odds and ends.
  2. Mini Survival kit:  a go-everywhere kit with random survival and medical supplies (although we still also bring a larger first aid kit).

You can also easily make dedicated camping kits for personal hygiene and dog supplies (see lists below).

To make packing the rest of the gear easier, we try to keep most if it together. We turned a corner of our garage, and a corner of our guest room closet into ‘gear closets’.  They house the aforementioned camping kits, as well as our sleeping bags, sleeping pads, tent, tarp, climbing/kayaking gear, backpacks etc. When it’s time to pack, everything is easy to find.

When preparing for a camping trip we throw our mobile kitchen and survival kit in the van and use the checklist below (download a PDF of this Ultimate Camping Checklist here) to gather/remember everything else.

THINGS TO DO (some a day or two ahead of time IF needed)

  • Take care of pet needs (if leaving any behind).
  • Freeze water bottles for cooler (2 or 3 nights before–I like nalgenes, but don’t fill them too full)
  • Do Laundry
  • Stop mail or newspaper (depending on length of trip)
  • Take garbage/recycling to curb
  • Get gas, check all fluids in car, get them changed if it’s time
  • Buy your groceries
  • Get Ice
  • Prep whatever veggies or other food items you need to prep early (see these dinner menus if you’re unclear)
  • Charge camera, cell phones, iPod
  • Turn down heat or A/C
  • Water indoor and outdoor plants



CLOTHES (everyone has their own bag)

  • Kid clothes (with thermals depending on the temp)
  • Big people clothes
  • Dirty clothes bag (pillow cases or extra stuff sacks)
  • Shoes.  Lots of shoes.
  • Socks
  • Underwear and/or Diapers
  • Swimwear
  • Sunglasses

OUTERWEAR (this all gets thrown in one big bag)

  • Hats (warm and cold) and mittens or gloves
  • Rain Coats
  • Poofy Coats
  • Snow pants if the season calls for it

HYGIENE (can easily be turned into a dedicated camping kit that always stays together)

  • Hair fasteners, bandanna or buff
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Brush/comb
  • Face wash
  • Hand wipes or baby wipes
  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Deodorant
  • Biodegradable Shampoo
  • Towels
  • Bum wipes and diaper rash cream
  • Toilet paper

Tips on bathing kids while camping — here.


  • Pillows
  • Tent
  • Tarp to go under the tent
  • Sleeping pads
  • Sleeping bags
  • Blankets
  • Bouldering pad
  • Dog bed if your pooch is spoiled
  • Small broom and dust pan for the tent
  • A piece of rug or carpet for the tent entrance

Tips on kids and napping while camping — here.


  • Water jugs (estimate roughly a gallon per person per day, including washing, dishes, etc.)
  • Water bottles
  • Water filter


  • Mobile kitchen (see PDF list here for what’s in this box)
  • Cooler (with frozen water bottles) or Ice
  • Roaster sticks
  • Table
  • Stove/Grill
  • Propane
  • Extra tarp (in case it starts raining on the kitchen) and rope


  • Books/DVDs
  • Coloring books
  • Kid pack
  • Kid sunglasses
  • Sand/Dirt toys
  • Noise/music maker


  • Aloe
  • First Aid Box/Kit
  • Prescriptions
  • Tylenol (kid & adult)
  • Sunblock
  • Bug repellant
  • Survival kit

DOG STUFF (can easily be turned into a dedicated camping kit that always stays together)

  • Dog food
  • Leash
  • Bowls
  • Poop bags
  • Frisbee or Tennis Balls
  • Dog medicine


  • Cell phone charger
  • Camera
  • Extra Batteries
  • Camp chairs or Crazy Creek Chairs
  • Wood/kindling/newspaper and a lighter (the lighter should be in your kitchen box)
  • Lanterns/headlamps
  • Hammock
  • Caribiners, clothespins, and rope.
  • Kid carrier
  • Day pack
  • Gear (climbing, biking, river sports?)
  • Extra towels
  • Camp shower or other washing mechanism
  • Small hatchet or axe
  • Small shovel (for digging catholes)

Finally, a few ideas on how I pack so that I can find everything…

  • Make each of the kids their own clothing bag that they’re responsible for keeping clean and tidy (once they’re old enough, obviously).  Their little personal hygiene bag goes in here too.
  • Give each kid a separate small bag for their own entertainment items for the tent (books, headlamps, toys, etc.)–they’ll love putting it together… with our without supervision depending on age.
  • In the car is the car entertainment bag–it stays there all the time–in it are cell phone chargers, battery chargers, iPod and other electronics stuff.
  • All outer wear is in one giant duffle bag.
  • Sleeping bags etc are stuffed into little crevices here and there in the car (or in a large tote if your lucky enough to have a truck), around the kitchen box (which houses my little lantern), propane tank, and water jugs.  First aid is in a dry box.  Dog stuff is kept in a bag that is easily reachable for the drive to camp.
  • All odds and ends are in one extra duffle of just-in-case stuff (I love when I have to get in this duffle).

When I get home, the gear and kits go back in the closet. Clothing bags go straight to the hamper.  And the other stuff (electronics, entertainment, outerwear, and headlamps) is separated out and put back into its place as daily-use gear.

What essentials did we miss that you always bring?

20 Comments so far

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  1. Brian

    One thing that I have started is the “Camp Library”…which we should probably add to our list. The Camp Library is a smallish tub where I keep all camp games, field guides, and trip relevant guide books and maps.

    • Brian – Oooo I like it. I’ll have to add that too, games and guides are two things we forget pretty much every trip. I’ll have to throw some maps in there too…

  2. Andree' Walker Bravo

    I use just about the same list, but I end up creating it every time! Thanks for the checklist. I also love your thoughts on organization. We did our first trip of the season up to Cache Valley and Porcupine Dam last weekend. I did pretty well, but could have been more organized!

  3. trieste prusso

    Life saver! We are leaving on Thursday for goblin valley….I really didnt want to write up a list! Thanks

    • Trieste – Ah man, I’m so jealous! Say hi to the goblins for me.

  4. Stefanie

    I always pack a citronella candle. And for the kids, either a glow stick or a bike reflector/flashy thing to attach to the kids so they are easier to find it they’re off a little ways from the campsite when it starts to get dark.

  5. Great list! We go by a camping list when packing and then we bring it with us. That way, if we think of something while on the trip, we can write it in until I have a chance to update it. We also like to jot down notes about the campgrounds and campsites, for return visits. For instance, we write down some campsites we will try to get if we return to the same campgrounds in the future.

    • Tiffany – I like that idea! Would be good to write down things like “campsite #36 smells like a toilet, go for campsite #14, it’s got better hammock trees”.

  6. Thanks for this. We recently camped in a yurt with electricity, and now my family wants to take the plunge and camp more rustically. Great list.

    • Dee – You’re very welcome. And I’m thinking a yurt with electricity sounds pretty cool! I might need to try that…

  7. Do you know how I could pin this list to Pinterest? Do you have a Pinterest button?

    • Kimberly,

      Sadly I’m not really sure. I’ve had a few people ask me that. I know others have pined the post by pinning the picture, but are you trying to pin the PDF or will the whole post not pin? Ya… we need to get a pinterest button!

  8. Don’t forget to toss in the Dura-Tent (The Tabletop Food Tent) to keep the bugs off the food. Easy to fit in. Thanks for the help spreading the word about our family product.

  9. Jamie

    Found you on Pinterest……My husband and I just went camping w/friends and we forgot our pillows (for the second time). We talked about making a checklist for all of our camping needs to help avoid leaving the pillows behind – again.

    • Hi Jamie – Welcome! Yes, the pillow. One of the most forgotten items!! We’ve talked about just buying small camp pillows and keeping them with our camping gear. But so far we’re all talk… :)

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  11. Now that’s what I call a LIST! You should turn it into a eBook and sell it on Amazon Kindle. A lot of campers would buy it!

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    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

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