Every family needs a comprehensive camping checklist
that includes essential and optional equipment.

When packing for a camping trip, you need a camping checklist to help you remember every item of clothing and equipment that will be needed to assure warmth and comfort for the entire trip - regardless of weather. To help you remember every important item, organize your equipment into the 20 equipment groups summarized below. Be sure to pack all of the Essential items in each group and include as many Desirable and Optional items as packing space allows. Also note Undesirable items within each group. For more information about each equipment area, please read my book,  Basic Tent Camping.


Essential: Pack most camping equipment in soft duffel bags and milk crates. Use small duffel bags as pillows in camp. Turn milk crates on their sides and use them for shelving.
Optional: Families with children may have to add a rooftop cargo basket, trailer hitch rack, and/or small cargo trailer.



Do not depend upon cell phone or GPS navigational devises. They may not work properly in remote areas.
Essential: A good roadmap
Desirable: GPS receiver or cell phone maps App.

Clothing - pack in small soft-side duffel bags

Essentials: Pack fast drying nylon underwear, wool socks, polyester or wool short-sleeve T-shirt, polyester or wool long-sleeve T-shirt, polyester or fleece athletic pants, polyester or fleece hoodie, knit cap, hat or cap & rain coat. Use the duffel bags as pillows.
Undesirables: Cotton garments such as denim jeans, cotton sweat shirts, sweat pants, socks & underwear.
Exception: Light colored cotton T-shirt in hot weather. 
Desirables: Pack as many as 7 pair of socks and underwear to minimize time needed for washing clothes. 

Personal Items - pack in day pack

Essentials: medicines, shower & hygiene items (soap, wash cloth, small micro-fiber towel, brush, tooth brush, toothpaste). Use the day pack to carry water, sun screen, first-aid supplies, and jackets on day hikes and to make a pillow at night.
Desirables: Shower shoes, tooth paste, floss, brush, razor, nail clippers, tweezers, cotton swabs & scissors.

Tent - pack in large duffel bag

Essential: Most couples and small families that camp in developed state and federal campgrounds will need a good-quality 6-person tent with aluminum or strong fiberglass poles and approximately 90 square feet of floor space to provide adequate protection from rain, wind, mosquitoes, bugs, and dirt.  These tents measure approximately 9' by 10' and provide the best balance between cost, durability, comfort, packability & campsite fit.  Campers that frequently camp in windy/stormy conditions, should consider a dome tent with sloped sides and a full coverage rain fly. But most families that typically camp in calm conditions, can enjoy more comfort with a cabin or umbrella tent that have more vertical side walls.  Couples with no children could save a few dollars and be almost as comfortable in a 4-person tent.

To see my top picks for 2019, please visit GUIDELINES FOR BUYING A TENT.

Bedding - pack in X-large duffel bag

Essential: A comfortable insulated mattress and warm clothing are the two most important pieces of camp bedding. In hot weather pack a fan and wear a cotton shirt soaked with water. The breeze blowing over the wet shirt will produce an air conditioning effect.
Desirables: Place an insulated ground carpet or blanket on the floor under your mattress. Use a standard fitted sheet to hold 2 mattresses together - or - a king-sized fitted sheet to hold 3 mattresses together. Use a synthetic or wool blanket or quilt for cover. Cover a small duffel bag, day pack, or rolled blanket with a pillow case to make a pillow.  
Optional: Pillows. 
Undesirable: Avoid air beds because they frequently spring leaks after limited use. Avoid mummy sleeping bags unless you plan to camp in very cold weather. Avoid down-filled sleeping bags because they will not keep you warm when wet - and they WILL get wet, and because they require much longer drying time.

Kitchen Shelter - pack in medium or large duffel bag

A second shelter is desirable to protect you from bright sunshine, hot mid-day sun heat, wind, dew fall, and rain. Use this shelter to prepare meals, eat meals, repair equipment, play games, read books, and relax.
Essentials: None
Desirable: Tarps or shelter

Tools - pack in heavy Cordura tool bag

You will need tools to efficiently set up camp, perform routine camp chores, make emergency repairs, and break camp at the end of your trip. 
Essentials: Tent stakes, pocket knife (or multitool) & cord. 

Desirables: Camp axe, large camp knife, folding saw, wedge, baton, channel lock pliers, small crow bar, rake & small shovel. You can make a baton and wedge from small pieces of hickory firewood.

Furniture - pack separately

Most developed campgrounds furnish a picnic table in each campsite but these tables are large, awkward, difficult to move, and too low for prolonged food preparation. To maximize comfort and convenience, pack additional chairs and small tables. Make leg extensions to raise one table to 36” countertop height. Watch my TABLE LEG EXTENSIONS video for details.
Essentials: None
Desirables: table cloth, folding chairs, four-foot folding table (2 is even better) & hammocks.

Kitchen Items - pack in 1 or 2 milk crates

Essentials: Mess Kit - pair of tongs, can opener, cup, plate/bowl & spoon
Desirables: Good-quality stainless steel or enamelware pots, cast iron or carbon steel frying pan, cooking utensils, eating utensils & a bucket or large stew pot to catch grey water. Select pots, pans, plates, bowls & cups that nest together. 

Optional: small dutch oven & coffee maker (pack in 3rd milk crate with semi-perishable foods)
Undesirables: Avoid thin aluminum backpacker cook sets because they are only made to boil water and will quickly scorch your food if you try to cook anything for more than a few minutes.

Water Containers - pack separately

Developed campgrounds usually have potable water spigots or wells in or near each campsite. You need containers to bring it to your cooking and dish washing areas. 
Essential: Personal water bottle for each person. 

Desirables: One or more 1-gallon water jugs. Ocean Spray jugs and Gator-aid bottles are economical choices.
Undesirables: Avoid large 3 to 5-gallon containers because they are difficult to carry from the spigot to your campsite, difficult to move about your campsite, and difficult to pour.  

Unnecessary: water filtration and purification equipment.

Non-Perishable Foods - pack in 1 milk crate

If you camp in developed campgrounds, you can cook in your campsite OR buy a wide variety of restaurant and grocery store take out foods.
Essentials: None
Desirables: Spices (salt, garlic salt, pepper, seafood spices & others), cooking oil, sugar, peanut butter, rice dinners, macaroni & cheese, pasta, Hamburger Helper, McCormick's mixes, beans, pancake & biscuit flour, small cans of vegetables & fruit, canned chicken & tuna, cereal, crackers, peanuts, cookies, cereal bars, trail mix, chips, coffee, tea, hot chocolate & other drink mixes.
Couples and small families should pack an assortment of vegetables and fruit packaged in small cans.
Repackage beans, pasta, rice, grits, flour, and other dry goods in small or medium-sized plastic mayonnaise or peanut butter jars.

Semi-Perishable Foods - pack in a milk crate

Essentials: None
Desirables: Bread, bakery items, onions, garlic, potatoes, peppers, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, celery, corn, fresh fruit & fresh vegetables

Perishable Foods - pack in a cooler

Essentials: Ice cooler. A good-quality 50-quart cooler with a basket and drain but without wheels and a handle. This size is ideal for couples and families - if you have the space to pack them. They are large enough to hold food for several days but small enough to carry and pack in an SUV. If you do not have space for a 50-quart cooler, consider two smaller coolers.
Desirables: Ground beef, bacon, summer sausage, other meats, eggs, butter, cheese, milk, meat, juice, mayonnaise, mustard, catsup, Italian salad dressing, jelly or honey & pancake syrup - all repackaged in small plastic containers with small items stored in waterproof plastic storage containers to prevent contamination from melted ice water.
Undesirable: Avoid coolers with wheels and handles because your food (cooler) should stay in your car at all times to avoid animal scavenger problems; wheels and handles require unnecessary packing space and add additional weight.

Stove & Fuel - pack separately

Always pack a small stove and fuel, even if you plan to cook with a campfire or eat foods that do not require cooking. This stove can have one or two burners and use white gas, propane, alcohol or some other fuel source. You may never use it, but a good backup stove is good to have in case you cannot find firewood or it gets wet.
Essentials: Two or 3 butane lighters.

Health Supplies - pack in small Cordura bag

Be prepared for common health problems and injuries.
Essentials: First aid kit (adhesive bandages, Neosporin, burn cream, ibuprofen, aspirin, gause sponges, elastic bandage), sun screen & insect repellant kept in an accessible location in your car
Desirable: Assemble a second first-aid kit for your tent.

Lighting - pack in milk crate

Pack several flashlights and lanterns to provide ample light for your tent, camp shelter, and personal use. Although you may not need much lighting in the middle of the summer when the sun sets about 10 PM, you’ll need several lights in early spring and late fall when the sun sets about 6 PM.
Essential: A small headlight or flashlight for each person plus a spare and extra batteries are all you need in summer.
Undesirable: Avoid candle lanterns, gas lanterns, and other open flame light sources because they are messy to pack and create a fire hazzard if  brought into the tent.

Heating - pack with Lighting Items

In cool weather, try to secure campsites with electricity so you can power small electric space heaters or electric blankets.
Essential: None
Desirable in cool weather: Small portable heaters to your camp kit. Use one in your tent and a second one in your camp shelter.

Games/Toys - Pack small items with Personal Items

Essentials: None
Optionals: Book, deck of cards, dominoes, board games, tree/bird field guides, binoculars, water toys, sketch pad, radio, iPad, bean bag toss, fishing tackle, bikes, canoes, golf clubs, & other recreational equipment.


Firewood - buy after setting up camp

If you plan to have a campfire or cook with wood, you should find a firewood vendor near your campground destination - before leaving home. You’ll need to find a good vendor because most parks and campgrounds now prohibit burning firewood that was cut more than 30 miles away from the campground. In other words, they prohibit transporting firewood from your home or another campground. Many campgrounds also prohibit picking up downed wood. So, you will usually have to buy firewood after setting up your camp. Unfortunately, many campgrounds sell small bundles of firewood for high prices or poor-quality firewood that is hard to split and difficult to burn. So, finding good firewood after setting up camp can be a problem.

Start your search a few days before departing on your trip. First, read park or campground firewood regulations posted on the web site. Then, call the campground office and ask what type of firewood is available in the park and the names of local firewood vendors. The best firewood to buy is U.S.D.A. certified (or state certified) heat-treated, pest-free, kiln-dried oak and hickory. And good places to find this firewood are Home Depot stores, Dollar General stores, local grocery stores, and a few local convenience stores. So, search the web for these stores near your campground and call to see if they have firewood in stock. If you can’t find state or Federal certified firewood, call local tree cutting services to see if they have seasoned oak or hickory firewood available.

Essential: None
Desirable: After finding the best vendor near your destination, prepare a fire starter kit at home containing 3 or 4 butane lighters, used printer paper for tender, and scrap lumber chips or small twigs for kindling. If you plan to cook with wood, consider buying a Woody Folding Wood Stove from me. For more details, visit my