Camping means different things to different people. Some travelers relish the idea of roughing it on a backcountry backpacking trip through a national park with only their hiking boots and camping essentials, while others load up for car camping with every possible creature comfort (think air mattresses, chargers, camp stoves, and more). We prefer a happy medium for our outdoor adventure packing list: All the basics plus a few creature comforts (a chair for stargazing, some fire starters, a fluffy camping pillow, maybe a cast-iron skillet for the perfect campsite breakfast, and some lip balm) for a weekend outdoors.
For casual car campers—those who prefer to drive to a campsite rather than hiking or biking in—you’ll still need all of the essentials: a camping tent, sleeping bag, warm clothes, food, and a way to cook it all. But you also have the space to bring a bit more than just the basics, like trash bags, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and other personal items. To make sure you’re prepared and comfortable, use this camping checklist to guarantee you pack everything you need.
Tip: Download or save this printable camping checklist to use for your next camping trip.
First-Time Camping Tips
Before we jump into the camping checklist, let’s get some basics out of the way. The idea of camping is romantic—you never immediately think of the things that could bring discomfort like, say, some unexpected weather or a noisy crew at the neighboring site. Buying gear may seem like the biggest task, but make sure you know where you’re going to be camping first. Choosing a location is very important, as you want to know what kind of weather to prepare for, as well as the wildlife that also call the area home. Once you have that decided, narrowing down your gear will be easier.
Take the time to read customer reviews on the big ticket items, like tents, hiking boots, camp stoves, and car camping structures. If needed, give retailers a call to talk through your options. More often than not—especially at shops like REI that celebrate outdoor communities—the staff will have opinions and experience using various pieces of gear.
Many campsites are on review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp—if you’re curious about amenities, it’s best to refer to those who have experienced the spaces firsthand. You can also search for the campsite on Instagram and scroll through tagged photos to better know what to expect.
To set up your campsite, you’ll always need a shelter, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad, which can help you warm at night by keeping you off the ground. Other items—like chairs and pillows—add an extra touch of comfort. Also: Check your campground amenities before you pack. Most drive-up campgrounds will provide a picnic table and firepit and sell firewood on site.
- Tent, with footprint and stakes
- Sleeping bags
- Sleeping pads or cots
- Camping chairs
- Lighting, like a lantern and string lights
You may also want:
- Camping table
- Firewood (aim to buy locally-sourced wood close to your campground to avoid introducing invasive insects)
- Duct tape
- Extra batteries
- Axe or hatchet (for chopping wood)
- Tent repair kit
To keep everything organized, consider packing everything in a dedicated camping gear bin or box, like the foldable Thule Go Box ($130.
Toiletries and first aid
When packing toiletries for camping, it’s more about being prepared for cuts, bug bites, and basic hygiene. If you’re only camping for a night or two, you might even skip showering entirely—though that doesn’t mean you can’t stay clean(ish). A simple body wipe and a stick of deodorant can do wonders after a night in a tent. Try and skip the paper towels (less trash!) and utilize quick-dry towels or a washcloth instead.
- Biodegradable soap
- Body or face wipes
- Toilet paper
- Quick dry towel
- Hand sanitizer
- Insect repellent (plant-based Natrapel, $13, is a good DEET-free option)
- First aid kit, like the Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight Kit ($33) which includes adhesive bandages, gauze, tweezers, and pain relievers in a weatherproof bag.
You may also want:
- Camp shower
- Flip-flops (if your campsite has a shower)
As a kid tagging along on my brother’s Boy Scout campouts, I learned that you should always, always, bring an extra set of clothes and shoes. No, not because it was part of the Boy Scout manual, but because I could never manage to make it through a night of s’mores without getting marshmallow all over myself. Bottom line, first time campers: The unexpected happens in the great outdoors, so check the weather and pack clothes that will keep you warm and dry during cold weather and at night and cool during the day.
- Short- and long-sleeved shirts
- Pants and shorts
- Warm jacket for evenings
- Boots or shoes for hiking
- Sandals for lounging around the campsite
- Sleep or loungewear
You may also want:
- Rain jacket
- Gloves or mittens
Camp kitchen and cooking
Sure, you could get creative with nothing but a roll of tinfoil and a campfire to cook your meals (hello, fire-baked potato). You’ll also want to bring along a few other camp kitchen essentials for cooking and cleaning up after, for those campfire taco dinners and pancake breakfasts.
Keep in mind that if you’re camping in bear country, it’s a good idea to bring a bear canister to store your food (some coolers, like the Yeti Tundra, double as a bear canister). However, drive-in campsites will often provide metal lockers to keep your food safe from bears and other wildlife.
- Stove and fuel
- Matches or lighter
- Kitchen kit (pots and pans) and cooking utensils
- A good knife
- Mess kit (plate, bowl, and eating utensils)
- Portable coffee maker (like Snow Peak’s collapsible coffee drip, $43)
- Biodegradable soap (we like Joshua Tree camp soap, $10, which doubles as dish and body soap)
You may also want:
- Trash and recycling bags
- Filled water jugs (if your campsite doesn’t have potable water)
- Grill and charcoal
- Cutting board
- Bottle opener
- Water container or reusable water bottles
- Can opener (if you’re bringing canned foods)
Before you leave, its helpful to plan what meals you want to make while camping and draft a food shopping list. Oatmeal, freeze-dried soups, sandwiches, and hot dogs are always easy-to-cook camp classics but if you’re looking for more inspiration, we love the delicious camp-friendly recipes (like a tinfoil shrimp boil or skillet pizza) in The Campout Cookbook ($19).
Don’t feel like prepping and shopping for your camp meals? Patagonia Provisions makes things dried fruit, dehydrated bean soups, and even canned mussels that you can pack for a weekend of low-fuss food.
This article originally appeared in 2019. It was updated on May 17, 2023, to include current information.