The Ultimate Camping Checklist: What You Need for the Trail

by Ian Standard
Last Updated: October 25, 2021
Close-up on intermediate climber tying her shoelace

Let's face it: camping is a gear-intensive pursuit. From sleeping pads to cooking equipment, you need a  lot of outdoor gear to have an enjoyable time on your camping trips. However, keeping track of all that gear can be a challenge.

The good news is that quality camping checklists can ensure that you have all the camping gear you need before your next adventure. To get you started, we've put together this ultimate camping checklist with everything you need for any venture to the great outdoors.

As an added bonus, we've also included some top camping tips for you to check out. That way, whether you're staying at a campground or setting off on a backpacking trip, you'll be well prepared for whatever comes your way on the trail.

Classic Camping Checklist

We know how challenging it can be to keep track of all your gear while on a camping trip. In this section, we'll introduce you to our camping checklist. This list includes everything you'll need for your camp kitchen, shelter, sleeping system, and more for stays at most campsites.

You'll notice that there are certain items on our list that are marked with an asterisk (*). These items are great additions to any gear list, but some people prefer not to bring them on trips outside of a campground because they're heavy and bulky. However, we want you to know about all of the fantastic gear available to you so that you can make your own equipment decisions.

Without further ado, let's dive into our list of camping essentials so you have what you need for your next adventure.

Campsite & Shelter

First up on our gaming checklist, we have the gear you need to set up a shelter at a campsite. Unless you're planning on staying in an RV or sleeping in a vehicle, you'll need the following gear at many campgrounds and primitive campsites:

  • Tent
  • Tent stakes
  • Tarp*
  • Camp chairs*
  • Portable picnic table*

Additionally, you'll want to bring the following items so that you're cozy and warm while you sleep:

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad/air mattress
  • Pillow*
  • Sleeping bag liner*

Eating & Cooking

Cooking up scrumptious meals is always a fan-favorite way to spend time in the great outdoors. To cook up and eat all that food, however, you'll need a solid camp kitchen and some important pieces of gear. These include:

  • Camp cooking stove
  • Eating utensils
  • Cooking utensils
  • Bowl and/or plate
  • Water bottle/hydration kit
  • Mess kit*
  • Mug/cup
  • Cooler*
  • Plastic bags/trash bags
  • Bottle opener*
  • Wine corkscrew*
  • Food storage containers (food safe plastic bins)

Health, Personal Hygiene & Safety

Your health and safety are of the utmost importance while you're outside. As a result, equipment like a first aid kit and tools to start a campfire are must-haves in the wilderness. Here's what you need to pack for your next outing:

  • First aid kit
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Lip balm
  • Sunscreen
  • Camp toilet*
  • Toilet paper*
  • Trowel*
  • Gear repair kit
  • Bug protection (bug screen & head net)
  • Headlamp
  • Knife/multitool
  • Water treatment/purification
  • Firestarter, lighters & matches

Clothing & Footwear

Staying warm, dry, and comfortable while hiking and adventuring on a camping trip requires a solid clothing system. Your layering system should help you stay cool in the heat and warm in the cold.

While the specific clothes you choose to wear is a personal choice, most people find that they need the following non-cotton items to be prepared outdoors:

  • Hiking pants
  • Base layer pants
  • Hiking shirt
  • Rain jacket & pants
  • Fleece jacket
  • Puffy jacket
  • Warm hat
  • Sun hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Liner gloves
  • Socks
  • Underwear & bras

Additionally, anyone heading outside needs to have the right footwear for whatever terrain they might face. For most people, this means packing the following:

  • Hiking boots/shoes
  • Water shoes*
  • Camp shoes/sandals*

Note that camp shoes aren't required, but they are make walking around campsites in national parks and other outdoor locations much more comfortable.

Personal Items

Much of what we've discussed in our camping checklist so far has been group equipment. However, there are a few personal items that you ought to pack to make your adventure fun and enjoyable:

  • Backpack
  • Pack liner
  • Book or e-reader*
  • Camera*
  • Journal & Pen*
  • Cell phone & charger
  • Earplugs*

Consumables

While we often don't think of food and fuel as "equipment," these items are indispensable parts of any outdoor experience. With that in mind, don't forget the following when packing for your trip:

  • Camp meals
  • Hiking snacks
  • Stove fuel

Campsite Extras

Although these campsite extras aren't essential for your well-being, each item in this section is a great tool for folks who want to make the most of their time outside. Great add-ons to any equipment list include:

  • Solar charger*
  • Generator*
  • Axe*
  • String lights*
  • Portable fire pits*

Rainy & Cold Weather Add-Ons

For rainy and cold weather camping trips, there are a few extra pieces of equipment that you might want to pack. These clothing and equipment items will help you stay warm and dry, even when foul weather threatens:

  • Extra puffy jacket
  • Camping umbrella
  • Tent heater
  • Large kitchen tarp
  • Fleece pants
  • Rain boots
  • Thick socks

Extras for Camping with Kids

Camping with kids is a great way to introduce little ones to the magic of nature. To keep them entertained and comfortable at the campsite, consider bringing the following:

  • Baby wipes*
  • Marshmallow roasting sticks*
  • Bird watching binoculars*
  • Games*
  • Kid-sized camp chairs*
  • Extra snacks*

Extras for Camping with Pets

Bringing your four-legged friends outside is always a treat. Consider taking these items on your next trip to keep your pet happy and safe:

  • Leash & harness
  • Dog/cat bed
  • Food & water bowls
  • Pet food
  • Extra treats
  • Spare blanket
  • Fun toys

Extras for Camping in Bear Country

If you happen to be camping in bear country, you need to take steps to protect yourself from bears and other wildlife. To do so, bring the following (but check local regulations and requirements first for specific needs):

  • Bear canister
  • Bear-resistant cooler
  • Odor-resistant bags*
  • Bear hang system

How to Create a Gear List for a Camping Trip

In this article, we've provided you with a sample camping checklist for your future camping excursions. However, if you want to create your own equipment list, you can use ours as a model.

But note that creating your own list involves a bit of planning and preparation to ensure you have the right equipment for your needs. While you create your list, consider the following:

Car Camping vs. Backpacking

Before you start to pack your equipment, ask yourself whether you're going car camping or backpacking. Car campers can often bring more equipment than backpackers. They can also often bring larger, bulkier items, like a spacious pop-up tent, that are impractical in the wilderness.

Luxury Glamping vs. Light & Fast

Once you decide where you want to camp, you need to determine your camping style. If you prefer a more comfortable experience, you can pack plenty of extra clothes and equipment that enhance your adventure but aren't necessary for safety. Light-and-fast hikers, however, might need to limit their clothes and equipment to the bare essentials.

Additional Activities

Many camping adventures involve multiple activities, like kayaking, fly fishing, and mountain biking. If you're sticking just to hiking, your equipment list will be rather small, but multi-sport adventurers should prepare to have plenty of extra items on their checklist.

Prioritize Your Emergency & First Aid Kit

Although we hope you never have to use them, your emergency and first aid kits are essential parts of your camping checklist. Prioritize these items and ensure that they're filled with important tools, like duct tape, treatments for bug bites, safety pins, medications, and trauma supplies—just in case.

Packing for Camping: Top Tips

Whether you're a first-time camper or a seasoned mountaineer, getting ready for an upcoming expedition isn't easy. Here are some top tips to help you out:

  • Stay Organized – Camping involves a lot of equipment, so organization is key. While car camping, bring clear plastic bins to keep everything neat and tidy. For backpacking, consider using stuff sacks for organization.
  • Practice Your Packing System – Practice is key to any camping skill. Practice packing your car or pack at home to ensure you're comfortable before you head outside.
  • Make a Meal Plan – Failing to plan is planning to fail, particularly when it comes to campsite meals. Plan out your meal schedule so you have enough food on your outing. Oh, and don't forget the graham crackers and s'mores!
  • Be Strategic With Your Cooler – If you're bringing a quality cooler on your adventure, be strategic with how you fill it. Consider getting one cooler for drinks and another for food so that your food stays fresh for as long as possible.
  • Practice Leave No Trace – Leave No Trace is an essential part of any outing. Respect wildlife, be considerate of others, and don't litter. Leave your campsite better than you found it!

Camping Gear Checklist FAQs

Here are our answers to your most commonly asked questions about camping checklists:

What are the 10 essentials for camping?

The 10 essentials for camping are food, water, illumination, extra clothing, navigation equipment, sun protection, campfire starters, shelter, a first aid kit, and a knife. These are the items you should never hit the trail without!

What should you not bring camping?

While camping, you shouldn't bring any expensive or fragile items. Jewelry, sensitive electronics, and other similar things should be left at home. Additionally, cotton clothing is a no-no outside because it can make you cold when wet.

Head Out on Your Next Camping Trip in Style

Your first camping adventure can be stressful if you don't know what to bring. Thanks to our ultimate camping checklist, you can camp in style with all the equipment you need to have fun in the woods.

Ian Standard
I'm a part time wilderness guide, part time student, and full time nature lover. I find any ways possible to get outside and feel together with the world around me, and sometimes that means skiing, biking, hiking, or just sitting.
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