The Ultimate Family Camping Essentials Checklist
Before you get to your campsite destination of choice, you want to make sure you’re not going to be left without your camping essentials. Nothing is worse than hiking to your campsite only to realize you’ve left some of the most important things behind. Missing items can range from frustrating to trip ruining, and nobody wants their relaxing camping trip overturned by a lack of sunscreen or a missing rain tarp.
That’s why it’s important to use a camping checklist when planning on what to pack. Keep in mind that this camping checklist is meant to cover what you will generally need. It’s always a good idea to write in specialty items that you need to bring with you, such as medications or specific assets to your unique situation. But before we get to the printer-friendly version of this helpful checklist, let’s go over some of the basics and what to consider when adding your items to this premade camping packing list.
Before you get too overwhelmed, most of the stuff that you need you probably have at home. If you find yourself camping more often than the average Joe, you can always invest in high-quality camping essentials to take with you on all of your adventures. These don’t have to come from a brick-and-mortar store, there are plenty of online outlets that offer high-quality camping gear at an affordable price. No matter if you’re looking for a new tent to replace the one that you bought in the 80s or are hoping to get a sleeping pad that saves your back, there is plenty of camping gear that you can invest in that will make your camping experience that much better.
Making Your Camping Packing ListLet’s take a look at the different items you should bring with you. We’ve organized these items into easy-to-reference categories, and included optional items that you can ignore if they don’t fit your unique needs.
Those going hiking during the rainy season may find themselves packing some extra clothes and rain gear, but those hoping to camp on a warm summer day or overnight may find themselves packing a bit light. This is fine and reflects an important part of creating a camping packing list: understanding the location you’re going to be camping at. Before you decide to set off on your camping adventure, you want to do a little research into the area you’ll be staying in. You should find out what the weather will probably look like and keep an eye on the forecast in the days leading up to your trip.
You should also have a general idea of any potentially harmful wildlife, including bugs that you may encounter while camping. For the most part, you should leave wildlife alone and wildlife will do the same, but unfortunately, this doesn’t always apply to mosquitoes. In that case, you may want to invest in an additional screen for your sleeping area. However, people traveling to those magical areas that have a low bug population may not need to pack a screen. This is where understanding your location comes into play and can help you be a more competent and conscientious camper.
Now that you have a general idea of what to add and take away from this camping checklist, let’s look at some of the basics that you should probably bring with you on your camping trip.
Sure, you could technically include every item on this list under the heading of “campsite,” but we’re talking about the items that make up your home base. This includes things like your tent, your sleeping bags and sleep gear, your headlamps and flashlights, and your seating options. This can also include things like a sunshade, hammock, or sleeping bag liners that can help make your stay more comfortable. Of course, if fires are allowed at your campsite (something you should always check before you arrive), you want to make sure that you have firewood that has been sourced nearby the campsite. While you may be tempted to bring your firewood from home, this can bring unwanted invasive species to the campsite, and end up harming the local wildlife. Remember the first rule of camping is to always leave no trace. For those looking to add a homey touch to their campsite, you can also bring things outside of the camping essentials, like tablecloths and clotheslines, to help you stay clean while at camp.
☐ Tent (including tarp, stakes, and rain protection)
☐ Sleeping bags
☐ Sleeping pads
☐ Camping pillow
☐ Headlamp or flashlights (and extra batteries)
☐ Lantern (and mantles and fuel/batteries)
☐ Camp chairs
☐ Camp table (if no picnic table)
☐ Sunshade, tarp, or bug nets
☐ Sleeping bag liners
☐ Firewood (from near campsite)
☐ Tablecloth and clips
☐ Clothesline with clips
Tools are all-around options that can be used in a pinch to repair things, and keep your campsite clean, and are essential to any campsite. You should never leave home without a handy multitool, as well as some duct tape and extra cord to help secure things around your campsite. You also want to consider different repair kits that can be used in a pinch, like a mattress pad repair kit that can help you avoid an uncomfortable weekend. You also want a mallet or hammer for hammering in your tent stakes and a saw or an axe for cutting up firewood. It also may be handy to have a small broom and a dustpan on hand, to help you clean up your campsite when you’re ready to leave.
☐ Duct tape
☐ Extra cord
☐ Tent-pole repair kit
☐ Bedding repair kit or sewing kit
☐ Mallet or hammer
☐ Saw or axe
☐ Small broom and dustpan
Campsite extras are things that you might not necessarily always bring with you but can be incredibly handy around your campsite and in general while camping. This includes things to help you pass the time, like field guides, star charts, books and reading material, notebooks, or games and toys for children. You also want to bring something like binoculars and navigation tools if you find yourself straying anywhere away from your campsite, and a secondary source of backup power just in case your emergency electronics go dead. If you find yourself going camping with children or pets, you want to make sure that you bring all the equipment necessary for them, which can add a significant load to your camping packing list. You also want to bring dry bags and bins to store items, so you’re not carrying around a bunch of loose things back and forth from the campsite when it’s time to leave.
☐ Alternate power source (including solar)
☐ Navigation tools
☐ Field guides
☐ Star chart/constellation guide
☐ Reading materials
☐ Notebook and writing utensils
☐ Music player (with headphones)
☐ Games and toys
☐ Children’s gear
☐ Dog gear
☐ Storage items (dry bags, clear bins, stuff bags)
Cookware and Food
Camp cooking can either be the most wonderful thing you’ve ever experienced or a downright nightmare and that all depends on what you have with you. The most important thing to bring with you is matches or a fire starter if a fire is allowed. You also want to bring cooking pots, frying pans, and eating and cooking utensils to help you craft your meal on the go. Make sure to bring things like bottle openers, can openers, and corkscrews, so you’re not stuck in the woods staring at a can of beans wondering how you’re ever going to have dinner. You also want to make sure to have all the mugs and cups as well as plates, bowls, and knives you need to prepare your meals.
For those foods that are not shelf-stable, you want to bring a cooler and ice or ice substitutes to keep things cool, as well as water bottles and drinking water, if none is provided you campsite. Do not drink water found in lakes or rivers unless in an emergency, and in that situation, you should always boil it and strain it before drinking it.
Finally, you’re going to want to bring biodegradable soap and areas to wash your dishes as well as trash and recycling bags and some towels. If you want to get fancy, you can bring items outside of camp cooking essentials, like marshmallow or hot dog roasting forks, and a portable coffee or tea maker, should you need a caffeine fix early in the morning. Just keep in mind that everything you carry in you’ll have to carry out, so sometimes it’s best to pack light and bring multi-use utensils with you.
☐ Stove and fuel
☐ Fire starter (waterproof matches, lighter)
☐ Cook pots and potholder
☐ Frying pan
☐ Eating and cooking utensils
☐ Bottle opener, can opener, corkscrew
☐ Sharp knife
☐ Cutting board
☐ Ice or ice alternatives
☐ Reusable water bottles
☐ Camp sink or bin
☐ Biodegradable soap
☐ Pot scrubber/sponge(s)
☐ Trash/recycling bags
☐ Dish towel
☐ Water supply
☐ Camp grill and fuel
☐ Grill rack
☐ Dutch oven
☐ Portable coffee/tea maker
☐ Rolling ice cream maker
☐ Marshmallow/hot dog roasting sticks
☐ Small food-storage containers/bags/tin foil
☐ Large water jugs
Clothes and Weather Gear
This category includes all the camping essentials you need to wear, including rainy and cold weather gear. It doesn’t matter if the place you’re going to is the warmest place on the planet, you still want to make sure that you have a variety of clothing options to prepare yourself for anything Mother Nature can throw with you. You want to make sure that you pack plenty of underwear, and T-shirts, or basic undergarments. This includes socks, as nothing is worse than soggy socks. You also want to remember to pack sleepwear, as well as boots and shoes suited to the terrain you’re going to be traveling on.
If the area you’re going to tends to be cold, you want to make sure that you have plenty of fast-drying, insulated clothing. On the other hand, if you are going to be swimming or in an area that has a lot of water, you want to make sure that you have swimsuits, sandals, and quick-drying clothing, as well as any towels you may need to dry off later. If you think you’re going to be staying at your campsite for any length of time, you may find yourself washing your clothing at the campsite and using it again. In this case, you want to choose clothing that can stand up to some wear and tear, so you don’t end up ruining your favorite pair of underwear or wearing out those lace socks.
☐ Moisture-wicking underwear
☐ Moisture-wicking T-shirts
☐ Quick-drying bottoms
☐ Thin, long-sleeve shirts (for sun, bugs)
☐ Lightweight fleece or jacket
☐ Boots or shoes suited to location
☐ Socks (synthetic or wool)
Optional rainy and/or cold weather gear:
☐ Rainwear (jacket and pants)
☐ Long underwear
☐ Warm insulated jacket or vest
☐ Fleece pants
☐ Gloves or mittens
☐ Warm hat
Optional sunny weather gear:
☐ Water sandals
☐ In-camp sandals or booties
Sun and Bug Protection
This category is pretty simple: you want to make sure that you are protected from the sun and bugs at all costs. While you may think you have the best tan in the world, going without sunscreen can not only lead to massive sunburns and a very uncomfortable camping trip, but it can also lead to skin cancer and heat stroke. It’s always important to bring sunscreen with you, as well as hats, sunglasses, and aloe to help you mitigate the effects of the sun.
In the case of bug protection, you want to make sure that you have bug spray with you, as well as things like citronella candles and screens, if necessary, to help you keep off some of the bugs. You also may want to invest in tick removal tools, if you’re in an area that is full of ticks. Keep in mind, ticks can transmit dangerous diseases, so it’s always best to get any tick bites looked at, as well as to protect yourself from areas with long grass by tucking your pants into your socks. You should always perform a thorough tick check after camping, just to make sure you didn’t miss any of those annoying pests.
☐ Sunglasses (and straps)
☐ Sun hat
☐ Lip balm
☐ Insect repellent
☐ Insect repellent candles
Don’t expect to stay as clean at camp as you do at home. If you’re going to be staying at a campsite for a long time, you’re going to want to make sure that you have biodegradable soaps for your showers, as well as any hand sanitizer, toothbrushes, and toothpaste, toilet paper, and menstrual products, should you need them. You also want to bring all the prescription medications you may need, as well as a first-aid kit and first aid supplies.
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with your first aid kit and how to use it before you go camping, as it is unlikely that there will be many other people out there with you who can help you in the case of an emergency. As with all health and hygiene products, it’s a good idea to take a little more than you expect to need with you, so long as it’s not going to weigh you down. This is important in case there is some kind of weather change or an unexpected delay that keeps you at camp longer than you expected. It’s better to have too much than to have to go without and figure out what to turn into emergency toilet paper!
☐ Toilet paper
☐ Hand sanitizer
☐ Toothbrush and toothpaste
☐ Toiletry kit
☐ Quick-dry towel
☐ Menstrual products
☐ Prescription medications
☐ First-aid kit or first-aid supplies
☐ Urinary products
☐ Sanitation trowel (if no toilets)
☐ Baby wipes
☐ Alcohol or antiseptic wipes
☐ Spare eyeglasses/contact lens supplies
☐ Portable camp shower
Finally, you’re going to want to make sure you bring the essential personal items with you when you go camping. This includes credit cards and cash, your ID, an emergency cell phone and a backup battery, and your campsite reservation confirmation. You also want to make sure that you have any medical IDs on you in case of an emergency, so that medical professionals can help you in case of a rescue. Personal items can also include anything else you feel like you should have on you for safety reasons, including things like pepper spray or personal defense items if allowed at the campsite. As always, feel free to customize this potion of your camping packing list to match your own unique needs.
☐ Credit card and/or cash
☐ Campsite reservation confirmation
☐ Medical ID
☐ Emergency contact information
One Last Thing Before Hitting the Trail
Now you have a general idea of all of the things that you need for your camping essentials, use our wonderful PDF below to remind yourself of everything you need to bring. As always, make sure to research the area you’re going camping at before you arrive, so you’re aware of the layout, weather, and restrictions, and regulations before you get there. Nothing is worse than planning on making a campfire only to find out that the area you’re in is in a drought or hoping to go swimming only to realize that the weather is barely above freezing on a good day. Remember, when it comes to spending time in the wilderness it always counts to be prepared.