Unlike other vacations where you can just run out to the nearest store if you’ve forgotten something, you’re solely dependent on your packing skills when you’re out in the wilderness. This camping packing list has all the essentials you’ll need for a safe and comfortable trip.
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Camping Packing List: Gear
Sleeping Bag: A sleeping bag is the most essential piece of camping equipment—without the right one, you’ll be in for a cold and uncomfortable night. Many sleeping bags are “mummy style,” which can be way too claustrophobic for a good night’s sleep, especially if you’re a side or stomach sleeper. Sierra Design’s Backcountry Bed 700 / 20 Degree sleeping bag has a unique design that feels more like sleeping with a comforter on your bed at home than a sleeping bag. It doesn’t have any zippers; instead, there are insulated hand and arm pockets to help you completely cover yourself, plus a self-sealing foot vent so you can regulate temperature. The bag has an minimum temperature rating of 16F, which is very impressive considering that it only weighs 2.5 pounds.
Sleeping Pad (Backpacking): Thermarest’s NeoAir XLite is a favorite of many through-hikers, and it’s easy to see why. This three-season air mattress will keep you warm and comfortable even on the rockiest ground, yet it packs down to the size of a water bottle and weighs a mere eight ounces. I love that this mattress doesn’t skimp on comfort despite the light weight—the fabric is super soft, and it uses a patented reflective ThermaCapture technology to trap your body’s warmth and minimize heat loss.
Sleeping Pad (Car Camping): If you’re not hauling all your camping supplies on your back, comfort is more of a concern than weight, and you can go for a plush model like Sea to Summit’s Comfort Deluxe S.I. Sleeping Mat, available in a double size that’s perfect for couples camping together. This mat has an R-value of 5.2, so you can use it even in the winter, and it has 10-centimeter vertical side walls that make it feel like a real mattress. Best of all, this sleeping mat is self-inflating, so you don’t have to waste your breath trying to blow it up before you can finally go to sleep.
Pillows: After a long day in the woods, you’ll want to rest your head on something soft. Short on space? Sea to Summit’s Aeros Pillow Ultralight lives up to its name, clocking in at 2.1 ounces, and is small enough to fit in a pocket when deflated. The pillow is covered with a polyester stretch knit fabric that’s cozy enough that you won’t miss a pillowcase. Got a little extra room in your pack? For just 0.5 ounces more, the Aeros Pillow Premium uses an even more plush fabric covering and is extra comfortable. Both pillows have a thin synthetic fill layer that wicks away perspiration, as well as a curved design that cradles your head. Each pillow inflates in just three breaths and deflates in under a minute.
Tent: Unless you truly want to sleep under the stars (and deal with any inclement weather that comes your way), you’ll need a tent. An easy-up tent, like this one, is quick to assemble or to tear down.
Chair: Relaxing, eating, and sitting around the fire are all better when you’re not on the ground. The CLIQ Chair packs down small for easy transport, but assembles into a comfortable seat in seconds.
Light: Goal Zero’s Crush Light runs off of solar power and can last for up to 35 hours on one charge. It collapses nearly flat, so you can use this on backpacking trips—hang it from your tent as a reading lamp or carry it to light your way on a dark trail.
Solar Charger: If you can’t bear to completely disconnect in the wild, pack a solar charger (like this small foldable one) to power up your phones and other gadgets. Even if you don’t plan on using your phone, this is good to have in case of emergency, as it has a built-in LED flashlight, compass, and whistle.
Camping Packing List: Food and Drink
Bear Bags: If you’re bringing food, you need to also bring a way to protect that food from wildlife. Even if you’re not in bear country, you’ll still have rodents and other animals after your stash. A bear-resistant bag, like this one by Ursack, is made from a bulletproof fabric that can withstand a bear attack and doesn’t need to be hung off the ground (but must be tied to something secure, like a tree trunk). Or go for a lighter-weight odor-barrier bag like this one from Base CampSource, which eliminates any food smell and won’t attract animals to your camp. These should be hung off of the ground in bear country.
Cooking Set: Unless you’re doing ready-to-eat meals, you’ll need to bring utensils and pans for cooking. This one from Bulin has everything you need, from pots and pans to a dish sponge for scrubbing, for an affordable price.
Camping Stove: This gas camping stove from Coleman packs down small when not in use and is lit with the push of a button so you don’t waste time fumbling with matches. The cover unfolds into a set of wind-blocking panels to keep the flames alight.
Instant Coffee: If you’re used to starting off your day with a nice hot cup of coffee, don’t deprive yourself of that in camp. Instant coffee, like these sachets from Tandem Coffee Roasters, are easy to pack and prepare in minutes.
Cups: These collapsible cups are made from a food-grade silicone that is lightweight and packs down small, but can hold hot beverages without scalding your hands.
Water Bottle: If you’re staying at a campground with potable water, where keeping your drink cold is more of a concern than water quality, pack an insulated bottle like this one from YETI. Headed to the backcountry? The LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle will give you safe drinking water fast.
Meals: Don’t feel like cooking while on vacation? There are plenty of tasty ready-to-eat meals these days that just need boiling water to eat. Check out our editors’ taste test of Good to Go meals here.
Camping Packing List: Hygiene
Wet Wipes: If no shower is in sight, these Surviveware biodegradable wet wipes are designed for “no rinse bathing and showers.” Thankfully, they’re unscented and hypoallergenic.
Dry Shampoo: Similarly, a small container of dry shampoo can help remove sweat, smells, and oil—no water required.
Hand Sanitizer: Hygiene is really important while camping, especially if you don’t have a clean water source for hand washing. Use hand sanitizer before eating, before preparing food, and after using the bathroom.
Camping Shower: Can’t go that long without a shower? A small solar shower bag can be filled up and heated by the sun to give you a quick hot shower.
Quick-Dry Towel: This microfiber towel dries up to four times faster than a regular cotton towel, and packs down very small.
Biodegradable Soap: Coleman’s Camp Soap comes in spill-proof sheets that are biodegradable and can be used for hand washing, showers, and dish washing.
Biodegradable Shampoo & Conditioner: This eco-friendly 3-in-1 conditioning shampoo and body wash from Stream2Sea is biodegradable, eco-friendly, and reef safe.
Toothbrush and Paste: Make sure you use potable water when brushing your teeth, and pack a small toothbrush and toothpaste set like this one.
Camping Packing List: Miscellaneous
Trashbags: Always pack out what you pack in (even trash), so don’t forget the trashbags.
First Aid Kit: Don’t go camping without a first-aid kit—even if you just use the bandages for blisters, you’ll be glad you have it.
Caroline Morse Teel is still working on her camping packing list. Follow Caroline on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos from camp.
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