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The Ultimate Guide and Checklist for Camping

The great outdoors, many of us secretly desire it but are unfamiliar. Mother Nature beckons to us all at some point. Camping can be the best way to satisfy the need for some real, true fresh air. And it is ever so oxygen-quenching when you finally get out there, away from all the bustle and responsibilities. That’s not to say there are some important precautions you must take to ensure your safety and a comfortable time when roughing it.

Tent in the night sky

This guide will help you get all the right stuff you need to have a great camping trip. It’s not the be-all end all of everything you need, and it won’t teach you how to start a proper fire or set up a tent or anything like that. But it will ensure that you have everything you need before you set out. So trust in us and we’ll set you on the right path.

Types of Camping

Putting camping into categories seems somewhat wrong, but the term is so broad that for the inexperienced camper, it is important to know what they’re getting into. So there are a few basic types of camping. The first is the classic that you think of first, going out in nature and finding a nice spot and setting up a tent and camping out for a few days. This is probably the most common type.

Backpacker

The next is a backpacking trip. These usually last anywhere from a day to three or four and involve hiking around, either on a trail or not, each day and setting up a new campsite each night in the spot you choose to sleep. These are slightly more advanced and require a great sense of direction and experience or someone in the group with experience.

The last is going to a preset campsite with certain amenities already in place, like a grill or water hook-up or portable toilets or anything of that ilk. A lot of camping purists frown on this and say it isn’t real camping, but I say if you’re making the effort to get out there and away from the city for a few days, there’s no wrong way to do it.

The last and very important type of camping to distinguish between is solo or group. Going solo requires much more know-how and courage and confidence, so be sure you know what you’re doing if you’re going out there alone. It also makes a difference in what you pack.

Bonfire

If you’re going solo, you need to pack everything you need yourself, no one else will bring it. If you’re in a group, certain people can have the responsibility to bring certain things the group needs. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have backups of certain amenities or supplies brought by multiple people, but you probably won’t have to have quite as exhaustive of a checklist for your trip.

Safety Tips

With all the gear we’ll tell you to pack and all the proper provisions ready to go, the most important thing to always remember and know, is safety. Camping is almost always done away from civilization, so the main resource you have if something goes wrong will be yourself or the people you’re with. For most, this isn’t the best option. So the best way to make sure something doesn’t go wrong is to be smart and safe. You want to have fun and relax, but it is never the right choice to choose something dangerous or neglectful in the name of fun.

The two main things to do to stay safe when camping is to be prepared and stay smart and alert. Being prepared means having the right gear in good shape, knowing the camping area or trails, bringing enough food and water, have and know how to use a first aid kit, and check the weather, among other things.

Staying smart and alert means fire safety, injury and allergy precautions, sunscreen and insect repellent, wildlife alertness, and good decisions. Have fun, but be smart, not dumb. Duh. For a more comprehensive list of camping safety tips, check out this handy site.

Planning Your Trip

This is the most important step when you decide to go camping or backpacking. You need to know where and when you’re going, what you’re bringing, and take precautions to make sure things go right if they happen to go wrong.

Planning your camping trip doesn’t just mean making a list of things to pack and doing it. You need to first know what type of camping you’re doing. If you’re going to a site, you may need to reserve a spot. If you’re hiking trails, it is absolutely necessary to make sure these trails are open and then study the map of them. Don’t just rely on GPS or something. You never know if it will fail. And it surprises on the trail are usually not a good thing.

Checking the weather is crucial. If it is going to be raining or snowing, it is just better to postpone the trip. Same thing if there’s going to be sweltering heat. Mother nature is a powerful force, and without proper amenities or ample experience, your camping trip will be miserable in terrible weather.

Roadtrip

You also absolutely must tell someone where and when you’re going camping. If things turn bad and you can’t contact anyone, telling someone the details of your trip may be the only thing that saves you. Think 127 Hours folks, not fun. So be sure to tell someone you trust specifically where and when you are going camping.

Talking to a seasoned camper before a trip is always a great thing if you aren’t someone who goes very often. Especially if they are familiar with the area. Not only can they give you useful tips, but they can also tell you about cool things to seek out or be aware of.

The last thing you’ll have to plan is packing and acquiring your gear. This article will provide you with a well-rounded list of things to bring on your trip, but getting those things is another story entirely. If you don’t have a tent or a cooler or a sleeping bag or any of that stuff, it can be quite expensive when added up. You can rent certain things if you aren’t sure you’ll be using them again, or you can perhaps borrow some gear from one of those seasoned campers you talked to already. Just remember to treat it with care and it will do the same for you.

How to Pack for Camping

Not only is what you will be packing important, how you pack it is as well, especially if you will be backpacking and carrying all your gear each day. The concept of how to do it correctly is actually quite simple, but the nuances and your personal preferences will make your packing technique more efficient with practice.

Blue Backpack

The main idea is to pack things you need quickly or frequently on the edges or outside of your backpack or other gear. You want things that you will be using most often to be the most accessible. Simple, right? It isn’t always easy to do with the random shapes and sizes of your varied camping gear.

So this means that your tent and sleeping bag and toiletries and stuff you won’t need until you set up camp for the night should be on the innermost part of your bag. Water, snacks, maps, sunscreen, certain tools, and other things you’ll be needing as you move should be on the outer edges of your bag so you can get to them quickly and easily if needed.

The last thing to remember when packing a backpack or dragging gear along in the wild is how much it weighs. You can’t haul around 70 pounds of gear for 10 miles every day. It’s just not feasible. Around 25 pounds is a good starting point for a backpack. And you should always try on your gear and walk around a little before you leave to make sure you can handle the weight.

Camping Checklist

Now we’re finally on to the list of gear you’ll want to bring on your camping trip. This doesn’t cover absolutely everything as each of us has our own preferences and needs, but it does give you an excellent idea for your necessary inventory.

Shelter and Campsite Gear

Outdoor Tent

This is the stuff for when you actually get to your spot and set up camp. It’s what will keep you warm and safe and comfy at when the sun goes down. Don’t skimp on this gear. There’s nothing worse than having a nice hike to the campsite, setting up your tent, then when it rains at 2 AM you get soaked and the night and next day are ruined.

  • Tent – You want enough space for yourself and anyone else in the tent, and then some. That extra room will make your night so much better. And even more important than the room, you want to make sure your tent is in good shape and can handle all types of weather. Also, be sure you know how to set up your tent before you leave for your trip.
  • Tarp – A tarp can be a handy tool to prevent rain or sun from getting on you or your gear. Bring one.
  • Sleeping bag/pad/air mattress – Your trip is going to wear you out more than you think. So it’s crucial to have the right gear for both comfort and warmth. You want a sleeping bag that fits you and keeps you warm. You want a camping pad or mattress that is comfortable and keeps you warm. We have a great list for you to pick one from, check it out.
  • Blankets – Sometimes, a sleeping bag isn’t enough. And camping blanket is just the thing you need when this is the case. These can also be great to keep warm when sitting outside before you go to sleep for the night.
  • Pillow (optional) – If your sleeping bag doesn’t give enough head support, or you can’t sleep without one, you can bring a pillow. They can get bulky though.
  • Lamps/flashlights – Unless you’re going to a preset camping site, you’ll need something to illuminate your campsite at night. And a flashlight is a must for when moving around during the dark.
  • Chairs – When you finally set up camp, there are few things more satisfying than sitting down and a comfy chair and taking in nature. Relax and enjoy the outdoors at peace, and bring a great camping chair to assist you in this venture.
  • Table(optional) – If you’re going with a large group and have a car to carry things in, a table can be a great luxury.
  • Clothesline and clips(optional) – If you will be camping for multiple days and want to wash and dry your clothes, you’ll need one of these. They can also be combined with a tarp for some handy uses.
  • Hammock/Cot (optional) – If you know your campsite has a great place to set up a hammock, I can’t think of a cooler way to take in your accomplishments than a nice hammock relaxation session while overlooking a beautiful lake.

Food/Water and Cooking Supplies

Cooking on a Campfire

We all have to eat. And when you’re camping this is probably even more important than you realize. And staying hydrated is the most important thing you can do for your body.

With that in mind, a lot on this list is essential, but a lot of it depends on what type of camping you will be doing and what your food preferences or desires are. So keep that in mind when deciding what you’ll need on this list.

Also please always remember to bring food and containers and utensils that are friendly for the environment or be sure to clean up after yourself. There isn’t much worse than enjoying what nature has to offer you and repaying it by trashing the area you stay in.

  • Food and Snacks – You want food with good nourishment qualities, high in protein and long-lasting energy. Your food will also change depending on how much you want to cook or prepare each night. Just remember that meats need to stay cool before cooking and thus don’t last long. So consider bringing more perishable foods, especially if it’s a long camping trip.
  • Water Bottle – You have to stay hydrated, plain and simple. Your water bottle should be well insulated and have some sort of mechanism to prevent spillage. Don’t be cheap on your water bottle. It’s your main source of life and survival.
  • Water purifier – A lot of water out there isn’t safe to drink right where you get it from. So unless you know the water is totally drinkable in the area you are camping, bring a water purifier or filter to prevent any sickness.
  • Cooler/Ice – These can be hard and bulky to carry around if you are backpacking, but if you need to keep something from spoiling or melting, you’ll have to bring a cooler of some sort. There are many camping specific coolers out there designed to be easy to haul around.
  • Stove/Grill and Fuel – If you are going to be making a meal at night, you will almost certainly need something to heat up your food. A portable stove or grill works great and can be fueled for hours by small propane canisters.
  • Matches/Lighter – An absolute must for camping, a fire can be the difference between life and death, or just comfort or cold. You need matches and/or a lighter of some sort.
  • Pots and Pans – If you’re cooking, you need something to cook in, duh. Camping pots or pans can be lightweight and not as bulky if packed correctly.
  • Cups/Mugs – For that morning cup of joe or evening cup of hot chocolate.
  • Plates/Bowls – Again, we’re not savages. Eating off a plate keeps things tidy. Just remember to dispose of them properly.
  • Eating/Cooking Utensils – Many rookie campers often forget eating or cooking utensils. Most of us learned to eat with a fork and knife, and unless you’re eating protein bars and jerky all night, you’ll need these.
  • Knife – If you’re doing a lot of food prep, a knife is a must. Just be sure it folds or has a cover.
  • Bottle opener/Can opener – Don’t forget these unless you grew up on a ranch in 1896 and know how to use a knife to open everything. That’s actually a great skill to learn, all jokes aside.
  • Trash bags – For proper clean up of your messes.
  • Food storage containers – So you don’t unnecessarily waste leftover food. Food storage containers are often overlooked by novice campers.
  • Dish Towel – To clean your dishes, of course.

Clothing

Blue Lake

Camping clothing is some of the most unique and specifically designed clothing out there. Most of it is made to keep you dry and warm or cool, with additional functionality where needed.

We may not all have specific camping clothing and may not want to buy it all, because it can be expensive, so the principals mentioned above are what you must remember when choosing your clothes for your camp. You want to stay dry, you want to stay warm, and you want to protect your skin from the sun or bugs or trees or dirt or whatever else your body isn’t used to coming into contact with.

Also always remember to pack more than you need as it can be difficult to dry wet clothing out in the wild. And wearing wet clothes for hours is a wonderful way to get yourself quite sick.

  • Boots or shoes for trails – You want shoes or boots specifically designed for camping or hiking or trails. Walking around in nature can be rough, your shoes are your main barrier to keep you healthy and on your feet.
  • Durable underwear and socks – Make sure you bring extra pairs of these for sure.
  • Moisture-wicking shirts – You want to keep dry. It’s so important. You’ll also want short and long sleeve shirts. Long sleeve shirts aren’t only for warmth, they’re for protection from the sun and bugs and tree branches and all of that fun stuff.
  • Pants with pockets – You want pats that stay dry and have some extra pockets to keep handy things in. and make sure they fit you well as you’ll be moving around a lot.
  • Quick-dry shorts/swimsuit – If you’re going to wear shorts, though it isn’t totally recommended, you want some that keep you dry and fit you well. Also, a swimsuit is great if you know there will be a lake that you can swim in.
  • Pajamas – To stay comfy and warm in the wee hours of the night.
  • Jacket or vest – You absolutely need to bring a jacket or vest in addition to your long sleeve shirts. They can keep you warm and more importantly, dry. If it begins to rain, bust out the jacket and thank this list for reminding you to bring one.
  • Hats – These are so underrated when camping. Not only do they protect your scalp from the sun, but they also protect your face and neck as well. And they prevent sweat from running down your face. Bring a hat or two, please.
  • Gloves – These can be for cold or warm to just protect your hands.
  • Rainwear – If you know it’s going to rain a lot, don’t go camping. If you’re not sure because you’ll be gone for a while, bring extra rainwear. Did I mention before how important it is to stay dry?
  • Cold weather clothing – This is obviously for if you’re going when it’s going to be colder outside. I only recommend camping when it’s cold if you’re a seasoned veteran and know what you’re doing.

Hygiene

Toothbrush

Even when we’re roughing it out in mother nature, personal hygiene is still something to keep up. There aren’t many things that will get on your nerves like excessive body odor or terrible breath. Plus, we’re not savages here. We just want to enjoy the beautiful outdoors every once in a while. So keeping your hygiene up when camping is important.

And remember that it won’t be up to your normal, daily standards. But it will be enough to keep you sane and reasonably fresh.

  • Toilet paper – Keep your privates clean, and you can never go wrong.
  • Soap/Sanitizer – For after you kept your privates clean. Also, you’ll be touching a lot of unfamiliar stuff, better safe than sorry with the soap.
  • Toothbrush/Toothpaste – One cannot be without the other. Keeping your teeth clean will make you feel more comfortable and normal when camping.
  • Toiletry kit/Cosmetics (optional) – If you can’t live on just the bare hygiene necessities, you can bring whatever else you feel you need.
  • Deodorant – Camping is a lot of work, and when you finally sit down to relax, you don’t want to smell yourself and the fruits of your labor. That will take from the experience, trust me.
  • Towel – An absolute must to stay dry or keep things dry or clean up a mess. Bring a towel or two, always.
  • Sunscreen – You’re going to be outdoors most of the time, and the sun is a punishing beast. Protect your skin and long-term health with sunscreen.
  • Insect repellent – There will be a lot of bugs out there. You don’t want to get eaten alive and be itchy all day and night. Wear it and be happy you did.
  • Medications – Obviously, if you are on any prescription medications, you can’t just stop taking them when you go camping. Bring them along with some ibuprofen or Tylenol just in case.
  • Cleansing wipes (optional) – These can be handy to clean little messes. Just be sure to dispose of them properly.
  • Portable shower (optional) – If you’re going to be out there a while, you may want to consider a shower.

Extra Tools and Necessities

Compass in Nature

Do not overlook this list. Many items here will help you survive and make your entire trip that much better. These items can also fix minor or major problems that you didn’t see coming.

You can also include anything else you think necessary depending on where you are camping and who you’re going with.

  • Map – I’ve stressed how important this is earlier. Your phone or GPS may not work at all times. Bring a map of the area so you don’t get lost. Plain and simple.
  • Field Guide – These can make your trip much better if you are interested in plant or wildlife in the area. A star guide can be very cool too.
  • Compass – You’ll need this to work in tandem with your map. An absolute must for all camping trips.
  • Watch – Another must for all trips, watches don’t just tell you the time of day. They can be used for many other purposes.
  • First Aid Kit – Yet another must for all camping trips. If you get hurt or a cut or anything of the like, you’ll need to handle it with a first aid kit. And be sure you know how to use one before you go camping.
  • Utility Knife – While we’re on the subject of musts, a utility knife fits the bill. It can serve so many purposes, thus its name. Bring one and be glad you did.
  • Scissors – If your utility knife doesn’t have scissors, a pair can come in great handy.
  • Sunglasses – You don’t just want to protect your skin from the sun. Your eyes are just as important. Be sure to bring a pair of great camping sunglasses on every trip.
  • GPS – These can get a better signal than your phone sometimes, and just provide another layer of safety and sense of direction.
  • Cell Phone – The ultimate tool, as we all know these days. Just remember that you may not get any service, so many of the other items on the list will serve in its purpose.
  • Personal ID – You should always keep some form of ID on you in case something goes wrong.
  • Permits – If you need some sort of permit for where you’re going or what you’re doing, be sure to always keep any necessary permits on you and know where it is.
  • Cash/Credit cards – Just in case you need to get out of a jam or buy something you forgot.
  • Batteries – One of the best tips I ever received for camping was to always remember extra batteries. A lot of the things we use are powered by these, so be sure to check what type you need for the devices you bring, and bring some extra.
  • Duct Tape – The ultimate fixer. This was probably the best tip I ever got. Bring duct tape. It has infinite uses. 
  • Repair Kit – This can be to repair your tent or mattress or anything of that sort.
  • Binoculars – Used for both fun and safety, don’t forget a compact pair of binoculars.
  • Extra knapsack – If you’re going to take a small trek away from your camp, a small back or pack can be great to carry the absolute essentials.
  • Notebook/Pen (optional) – For logging or recording your journey or things you see, if you’re into that sort of thing.
  • Books/Games (optional) – A book can be a great way to relax outdoors or cool down at night before you sleep. If you’re going in a group, some cards or a game can be a wonderful and unique bonding experience.
  • Camera (optional) – If your cell phone camera just won’t due, an actual camera is an awesome way to document your trip.

Final Tips

Camping is the ultimate way to escape your daily life and routine. You’re literally getting away from it all to recharge and relax and experience something completely different than you’re used to. It’s also a lot of work and can be dangerous if you don’t take the proper precautions.

So the key to a great and safe camping trip is preparedness. Make sure you have more than what you need. Extra food, extra and layered clothing, tools outside of the digital realm to keep you safe and navigated, proper and well-functioning campsite gear and cookware, extra tools to keep you safe and useful.

Tent at Night

You also need to be sure you know how to do several things before you leave for your trip. Tell someone where you’re going. Study the area you’re planning on going to. Know how to set up your tent. Know how to start and operate a fire. Know how to use a first aid kit. There are many more things you should know as well. Talk to an avid camper to learn about these things if you are inexperienced.

Always remember that camping is supposed to fun and relaxing. But you must be safe to ensure those can exist. So, safety first, then preparedness, and get out there and have an adventure you’ll never forget and want to continue long after it ends. Camping will grab ahold of you and captivate your senses and your mind. It will give you a reprieve from your problems. And most of all it will give you a sense of wonderment and beauty. So get out there and get camping!

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