Illustration by Emily Blevins
Illustration by Emily Blevins
Plus a detailed, downloadable version that you can use for your next campout
Camping means different things to different people. Some travelers relish the idea of roughing it with only the basics, while others load up their car with every possible creature comfort. We prefer a happy medium: All the basics plus a few creature comforts (a chair for stargazing, a fluffy pillow, and maybe a cast-iron skillet for the perfect campsite breakfast) 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: 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. To make sure you’re prepared and comfortable, use this camping checklist to guarantee you pack everything you need.
To set up your campsite, you’ll always need a shelter, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad, which helps with warmth. 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 locally sourced firewood on site.
To keep everything organized, consider packing everything in a dedicated camping gear bin or box, like the foldable Thule Go Box ($70, thule.com).
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.
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: The unexpected happens in the great outdoors, so check the weather and pack clothes that will keep you warm and dry at night and cool during the day.
Sure, you could get creative with nothing but a roll of tinfoil and a campfire to cook your meals (hello, fire-baked potato). But if you’re whipping up a taco dinner, a full pancake breakfast, or even just a cup of (real) coffee, you’ll want to bring along a few other camp kitchen essentials for cooking and cleaning up after.
If you’re camping in bear country, you might also need to bring a bear canister to store your food (some coolers, like the Yeti, double as a bear canister). However, drive-in campsites will often provide metal lockers to keep your food safe from bears and other wildlife.
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Before you leave, it helps to plan what meals you want to make while camping and create a food shopping list. Oatmeal, freeze-dried soups, sandwiches, and hot dogs are always easy camp standbys 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 ($15).
Don’t feel like prepping and shopping for your camp meals? The Patagonia Provisions 2-Day Camp Meal Kit For Two ($89) makes things easy with a kit that includes wild salmon, dehydrated bean soups, breakfast grains, and even canned mussels for a full two days’ worth of meals. Add fresh fruit and you’ve got a weekend of low-fuss food for two.
This article originally appeared in July 2019. It was updated on April 5, 2021, to include current information.
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