Camping is great fun, but it does require being prepared and having the right gear. Especially if you are going to be camping for a while and if you like to be comfortable.
Packing for a camping trip can be overwhelming because it is easy to forget something. Which is why I’ve created this comprehensive tent camping checklist for beginners and more experienced campers.
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There is a free downloadable camping trip packing list with everything you need to go camping, plus an item-by-item breakdown if each item. I have mentioned when I think they are camping trip necessities and when they are recommended things to bring to camping that will make your vacation more comfortable. And, if you see something on the list that you don’t have, you can get it right here.
Note that this packing list focuses on your camping experience. I have additional packing lists for other specialty aspects of a vacation, so check them too if your vacation:
- will involve hiking (day hikes packing list)
- is in winter (winter trips packing packing list)
- will involve hiking in winter (winter hikes packing list)
- includes a road trip (road trip packing list)
- is to a national park (national parks packing list)
- also includes a stay in a cabin (cabin packing list)
FOR SECURITY OF MIND
1. Campground map/ info/ reservation receipt
What do you need for a camping trip? The first item on your camping packing checklist should be your campsite reservation confirmation(s). It’s surprising how easy this is to forget. It is so easy to focus on all the gear you need, and then arrive without confirmation of your reservation. Not fun. Take a photo or phone screenshot so you have it on your phone even if you lose the paper or don’t have cell service.
2. Travel Insurance
I am a strong believer in travel insurance for every trip you take. Not only does it cover medical and emergency repatriation, but good coverage also includes loss or theft of property and trip cancellation. A great insurance option is Travelex. It has coverage for all you’ll need. You can swap this link for either choose the best travel insurance plan for your trip here or get a quote right now:
FOR YOUR TENT
Let’s start our list of things to bring camping with the basics – your tent and the essential equipment needed for it.
3. Tent / stakes
Obviously, you’ll need a tent – it’s one of the absolute camping trip essentials.
If you are looking to buy a tent, be sure to check out my guides (packed with information on what to look for and detailed reviews and recommendations for the best on the market):
- The best 4-person tents
- The best 6-person tents
- The best 8-person tents
- The best pickup truck tents
- The best beach camping tents
4. Tarp ground sheet
You can pitch your tent directly on the dirt, but I think a groundsheet is one of the best camping essentials you can invest in. Putting down a tarp groundsheet first helps protect your tent and gives you an extra layer of insulation.
5. Extra stakes
Take it from me – having learned the hard way – you never know when your stakes will get bent, damaged or lost. When packing for camping, always take extra stakes – it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
6. Brush for sweeping tent
Tents can get dirty surprisingly quickly, no matter how careful you are. Having a small brush to sweep it out helps keep your tent more comfortable, for sure.
7. Mallet for pegs
Unless you want to search for a random rock to bang tent pegs into hard dirt, take a mallet with you. That way, you can drive your tent stakes in deep and your tent will be secure even in high wind.
This one comes with a tent peg remover, so you can get your stakes in and then get them out again with ease.
8. Tarps and rope for extra rain shelter and shade
I always recommend having an extra tarp and rope on your camping supplies list. You can use it for shade and/ or for extra protection against the rain.
9. Tent Heater
Just because it is cold, doesn’t mean you can’t camp – and have a great time. In addition to a thicker sleeping bag, adding a safe tent heater to your winter camping packing list helps keep things cozy.
I have written a whole guide on The Best Tent Heaters for Camping so you can see what to look for a find the best option for you.
All the things you need for sleeping in your tent.
10. Sleeping bag
Another of the essential things needed for camping. I have tried camping with just a blanket and it is not the same – sleeping bags provide insulation under as well as above you and keep you warm and cozy.
Choose a single or double option.
11. Sleeping bag liners – fleecy if it’s cold
This is not strictly one of the things you need for a camping trip, but it does add a layer of comfort. If you are camping in cold weather, a fleecy sleeping bag liner is a godsend. Even in cooler weather, a regular sleeping bag liner is cozier and more comfortable than just the sleeping bag alone.
12. Inflatable mattress
You will have some kind of sleeping pad on your camping essentials list. You have a couple of options. If you are hiking, then a thin foam mattress will do – it will insulate you and keep you from the worst of the hard dirt.
However, if you aren’t hiking, I highly recommend an inflatable air mattress. As I get older, the more I crave creature comforts and, while I love camping, I love being comfortable too. Which is why I always take an air mattress camping. You have to be careful with them, though, as cheap dodgy ones can deflate in the middle of the night. Not fun.
Read my Guide to Buying the Best Air Mattresses for what to look for, reviews and recommendations.
And don’t forget an air pump if it isn’t self-inflating!
If you taking a road trip in your own car the whole way, then you can absolutely take your own pillow from home (though if you’re flying, it does take up a lot of space). I prefer to have a separate one for camping though. To save room, I recommend an inflatable pillow. That way they take up almost no space and you don’t get your regular pillow dirty.
14. Extra Blanket(s)
Nights can get chilly in most places you go, even in summer, so I always recommend taking an extra blanket to supplement your sleeping bag. I love this national park one.
FOR STAYING CHARGED
These days, between digital cameras, phones and other electronics, it is very difficult to get by without needing to charge anything. Being at a campground or out in the wilderness makes this more challenging, but there are ways to stay charged even when you’re camping.
You should have at least one of these items on your camping gear list.
15. Charger for car
No matter how much we love disconnecting, there are also times when we need to stay connected – or just check in occasionally. Plus, if you’re like me, you’ll use your phone as a camera. Which is why you will need a phone charger.
There is a basic one for your camera that you can use to charge it when driving (or have your car on the same mode you use at a drive-in so your battery doesn’t go flat).
There is also an inverter version that will let you plug in regular appliances such as a laptop.
16. Portable solar panel
An alternative (or addition) to a car charger (and one that lets you charge more than just your phone) is to take a portable solar panel.
If you are looking to get one, read my detailed Guide to Portable Solar Panels for Camping with what to look for, reviews and recommendations.
16a. Portable Generator
Rather than a solar panel, you can also invest in a portable generator. This will give you the power you need to charge your devices, run a tent heater and power a camping fridge.
If you are looking to get one, read my detailed Guide to the Best Portable Generators for Camping with what to look for, reviews and recommendations.
Part of the appeal of camping is getting a great campsite surrounded by the natural beauty of this incredible country and relaxing there. These things will help make your relaxation time more enjoyable.
17. Travel hammock
Unless you are planning to spend every moment away from your campsite, a hammock is a great thing to take with you. It takes up very little space and you can string it between trees and relax with a book in the shade after (or instead of) a hike.
18. Folding Chairs
Unless you want to sit on the ground, don’t forget your folding camp chairs.
19. Inflatable seat cushion
Many campsites have a picnic table at the site, which is handy, but not necessarily very comfortable. Having an inflatable seat cushion makes life a lot better.
20. Shade shelter
Avoid the heat of the day in a shade shelter. While not essential, it’s definitely nice, especially if your campsite doesn’t have a lot of shade.
21. Outdoor rug
Keep your campsite clean, tidy, and organized with an outdoor rug. It helps keep the dirt away, it’s nicer to walk on, and you can sweep it easily.
Camping is a great time to spend with your family, and including some outdoor games to play on your family camping trip checklist will help stave off boredom and give you all some bonding time.
23. Playing cards
For rainy days, evenings or even road trips, a pack of cards is invaluable. I love this national park themed pack.
Keep a memento of your trip and record your memories. I always get a new one for each trip, so it is easy identify each one, but also to keep them all together.
25. Book(s) / Kindle
FOR COOKING AND CLEANING
The gear needed for cooking (and the cleaning up) are necessary things for camping unless you plan to dine in nearby restaurants the whole time.
26. Cooler (and ice) or a Camping Fridge
27. Cooker/ Stove/ Grill
I like this cooker because, although it’s just one hot plate, it’s a regular size and fits regular sized pots. I find one hot plate is enough, but if you have a large family, you will probably want at least two burners.
28. Propane/ charcoal
Don’t forget the fuel for your cooker. If you are flying, check what you can take on a plane and get it at your destination if in doubt.
29. Camp Cookware
You need a pot and a frying plan at a minimum, but this set has all the essentials. It includes two bowls, a folding cutting board, spatula and ladle.
30. Cooking utensils
It can be hard to remember all your cooking utensils and keep them together, which is why I love this set that comes in its own bag.
31. Multi-purpose knife
No list of things to take camping is complete without a multi-purpose knife because this one item can serve multiple purposes. This one has a sharp knife you can use to cut rope or cook, a screwdriver, a can opener and bottle opener, and more.
32. Plates, bowls, cups, glasses
You want durable dishes that will stand up to a bit of banging around. This set for four people has handy bags for keeping each set together – an effective way to help keep everything organized (which is essential when camping).
You definitely need to include cutlery on your camping trip list.
34. Coffee maker
OK, this may be one of the more controversial things to take camping. If you NEED coffee in the morning and don’t know for sure if you will be able to get to a coffee shop, then this is an absolute, non-negotiable, essential item. If you aren’t much of a coffee drinker, or if you know there is a campground store that sells coffee, then you can skip this.
35. Dish towels
You can easily bring regular dish towels from home, but I like having special ones for camping and love these camping-themed ones. It’s totally up to you which ones you bring, but you will want to bring some, for sure.
36. Dish Soap (biodegradable)
When deciding what to bring on a camping trip, I always like to go for the most environmentally-friendly option, as often your products go directly into the local environment. Which is why it is worth getting special biodegradable dish soap for your trip.
37. Sponge/ scourer / dishcloth
If you are going to be cooking, then you will also be cleaning. Don’t forget the dish cloth and scourer.
38. Dishpan (collapsible)
Some campgrounds have a deep sink with a faucet for washing dishes, but many don’t. Which is why I always make sure I have a dishpan on my camping gear checklist. To save space, I recommend having a collapsible one.
39. Drain board for drying dishes
I also recommend packing a collapsible draining board for your dishes, so that it takes up less space.
40. Plastic egg cartons
If you will be cooking quite a bit, then one of things to bring on a camping trip is plastic egg containers. Because they are harder that the cardboard containers eggs come in at the store, they will protect your eggs from the bumping around that is inevitable when camping.
41. Cutting board
You don’t need anything fancy here – just a thin plastic cutting board is enough to do the job.
42. Water purifier
Any basic camping checklist should include water. When it comes to water, you have two choices. You can buy bottled water, or you can drink the local tap water. I prefer the latter because it is better for the environment, but if you prefer bottled water, then substitute that here.
If you are drinking the local water, I recommend taking water purifier to make sure that it is safe. Campgrounds will usually identify whether water is OK to drink or not, but I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry.
43. Reusable water bottles
If you are drinking the local water, make sure you have at least a couple of large reusable bottles on your camping necessities list.
44. Tablecloth and clips
Most campgrounds have a picnic table at each site (if yours doesn’t, add a folding table to your camping trip checklist). It is much nicer having a tablecloth – and the clips will hold it down in the wind (they’re a life-changer!)
Having a range of different sealable Tupperware containers help keep food safe. I like to have collapsible ones, so that they take up less room when not being used.
46. Can opener / Bottle opener
A can opener/ bottle opener is one of the essential things to take on a camping trip.
If you’re like me and like a nice glass of wine at the end of the day, either make sure you get bottles with twist tops or pack your bottle opener too.
48. Trash bags and Ziplock bags
49. Napkins/ paper towels
50. Food/ condiments/ drinks
FOR A CAMPFIRE
Sitting around a campfire, swapping stories of the day, enjoying the heat and toasting marshmallows, s’mores and/ or hot dogs is one of the true pleasures of camping. Camping lists aren’t complete without the basic campfire necessities.
51. Toasting forks
Don’t forget your tasting forks or sticks for your marshmallows/ s’mores.
52. Lighter/ matches
Make sure you have something to light your fire with. If you are flying, check the airline regulations to make sure you can carry them.
53. Fire starter
A lighter/ matches and wood is technically enough, but having fire starter will make it much easier to get your fire going.
No list of things to take camping is complete without something to carry water in. I’ve included it here to put out your campfire at the end of the evening, but you can also use it to carry water for washing dishes, etc. A collapsible one saves space when not being used.
Always buy firewood locally, so you aren’t inadvertently bringing any bugs in from a different ecosystem.
Of course, no camping must have list is complete without your clothing. Exactly what you need will vary depending on what type of vacation you are having (hiking, lake, winter, etc.). I have included the basics here, but you can adapt this as you need.
If you are going to be hiking, make sure you don’t forget your hiking gear. If you are looking to get new ones, be sure to check out my guides to:
One of the first major lessons I learned when I started traveling and camping was that you can never have too many socks (but you can definitely have not enough). There is nothing worse than all of your socks being dirty and/ or wet and you’re left with cold, wet feet.
My first time camping checklist had just three pairs. Now, I always cram socks into any spare crack in my luggage so that I never run out.
58. Flip flops
No camping trip packing checklist is complete without flip flops. They are essential for wearing in campground showers, but can be worn any time you don’t want to bother getting your shoes or boots on.
Exactly what pants you take will vary depending on your trip, but if you are hiking, I like to wear convertible hiking pants because they can be long pants or shorts, depending on how hot or cool it is.
Pack as many pairs as you’ll think you’ll need.
Unless you know for sure that you won’t need this, pack a fleece anyway. Many places that are hot during the day can get surprisingly chilly at night or very early in the morning and you’ll be glad you packed this.
Again, unless you know for sure you won’t get cold, don’t forget a jacket each.
63. Rain jacket
Rain jacket are more essential things to pack for camping trips, as you want to stay dry, but juggling an umbrella and carrying things or trying to do things at the same time is a total pain. Plus, if you are hiking, you will need this for sure.
One of the things to bring when camping is a hat – but the type of hat may vary. If you’re taking a winter camping trip, then make it a warm wooly hat. If you’re camping in warmer months, take a sun hat.
This may seem a strange thing to include on a list of things for camping, but a sarong is one of the most versatile things you can take. A cover up, a picnic blanket, a makeshift towel, a table cloth, a carry bag… the list goes on. And it’s light and takes up almost no space.
69. Bathing suit
Wondering what to pack for camping that’s not already on the list? Here are additional things to pack for a camping trip not already listed above.
70. Quick drying towels
You can bring regular towels with you, but quick drying ones tend to work better when camping, especially if it rains or is very humid.
71. Line for hanging/ pegs
Some campgrounds have a laundry with dryers, but even then, having a line to hang incidentals, towels, etc. on is super handy. I like the ones that come with pegs included so I don’t need to keep track of pegs separately.
72. Mesh laundry bags
You can use a plastic garbage too, but I like to have a mesh laundry bag to keep my dirty laundry in – that way it is easy to keep together and to identify.
73. Bug spray (DEET-free)
Chances are very good that there will some kind of bugs when camping, so a good bug spray is essential. DEET is an ingredient in some strong bug sprays, but it is really bad for the environment and your skin, so I recommend getting a DEET-free option.
Polarized sun glasses are another item not to forget, as you will be outside in the sun much more than normal.
Protect your skin from the sun and be sure to wear sunscreen every day. If your camping vacation involves being anywhere there is marine life, make sure it is reef safe (a good idea anyway, IMO).
76. Aloe vera
Prevention is always better than a cure, but I have terrible skin and I inevitably burn even when I wear sunscreen, so I always take aloe vera to help sooth my skin. I recommend it!
77. Extra rope
Extra rope is one of those things that you never regret taking with you. You just never now when you will need it. And even if you don’t, it takes up almost no space and is there just in case you do.
A rain jacket is generally more practical when camping, but if you just want to walk to the store or showers, then an umbrella can be a better option. I like to have both.
79. First Aid Kit
Don’t leave home without it. Being outdoors in an unfamiliar environment doing physical activity is a recipe for bumps, bruises, cuts and random things that you will need a first aid kit for.
80. Head lamp and fresh batteries
Every one should have their own headlamp. Whether it’s putting a tent up in the dark, trying to find something in your tent after going to bed, or walking to the shower block, you will regret forgetting it. Don’t forget the extra batteries.
81. Lantern / portable light
Campsites get very dark! Unless you plan to go to bed as soon as it turns dark, just hang out by the fire or use a headlamp the whole time you will want to make sure you have a lantern so that you can see properly.
I think a good pair of binoculars are things you should bring camping because you never know when you will see wildlife, birds or geographical formations that you want to see up close.
If you are looking to buy some, be sure to read my Guide to Buying the Best Binoculars for the Money for tips, reviews and recommendations.
Don’t forget your camera! If you are looking for one, I love the GoPRo Hero 12 for camping and hiking, as it is tough and has photo, video and streaming capability.
84. Extra batteries
FOR PERSONAL HYGIENE
86. Toiletry bag
A good toiletry bag is another of the essential things needed to go camping, so you can keep your personal items together and carry them easily to the shower block.
87. Bio-friendly soap
I think it’s best to always use biodegradable soap when camping, as it generally flushes out into the environment.
88 – 100 are additional personal things to bring while camping
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Razor/ shave gel
- Brush/ comb
- Toothbrush/ toothpaste
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Baby wipes
- Feminine products
- Contact solution
Get your tent camping checklist printable
That’s it. If you have everything on this family camping packing list, you will have everything you need for your camping trip. Have a great time!
Do you have any other thing to include on your packing for camping list that’s not here? Join my private Facebook group National Parks Collectors and comment and let me know.
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More Packing Lists
- Beach Camping
- Day Hike Packing List
- Winter Hikes Packing List
- Trips to National Parks
- Cabin Trips
- Winter Vacations
- Road Trips
James Ian is a national park, camping and hiking expert.
He has dedicated his life to travel, visiting more than 80 countries, all 7 continents and all of the main national parks in the United States. With over 35 years experience in the travel industry, James has worked on cruise ships, at resorts and hotels, and as a travel planner who’s helped hundreds of people plan successful trips to US national parks.
Based on his experience visiting our national parks multiple times, in-depth research and expertise as a travel planner, James has published detailed itineraries for most of the major national parks in the US. These itineraries, as well as in-depth park guides, comprehensive camping and hiking gear reviews and buying guides, and helpful packing lists and gift guides will help you have your own incredible trip to US national parks without stress and hassle.
As a national park expert, James has contributed to many publications, including Time Business News, Savoteur, Best Trip, and Wired.
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