Your Ultimate Travel Trailer Camping Checklist

By Fred Decker

Smart packing strategies for camping in your trailer

Your Ultimate Travel Trailer Camping Checklist

It's a proud moment when you graduate from tent camping to your first pop-up, and it means you'll camp in a whole new level of comfort. It also means you can bring along all those things you always wished you had while you were camping, and that can become a whole new problem of its own. Your first few trips in the new trailer will be an education in the difference between "want" and "need," as you dig through the unnecessary things you've brought in search of the really important things you might have forgotten. To help shorten that process, here's how to compile a personalized checklist for your own trailer.

First, a few essentials ...

There are a few things you absolutely must pack on even the shortest of excursions. Here are three of the most important:

  1. Chocking and Leveling: You can't camp in it if you can't stabilize it. That means chocks for the tires, as well as a combination of jacks and homemade or commercial levelers to level up the trailer. Bring an inexpensive carpenter's level to check your work. 
  2. First aid for you and the trailer: Pack a basic first-aid kit for minor injuries to the humans and a similar kit with a few basic tools and useful items – screwdrivers, pliers, lug wrench, hose clamps, penetrating oil for corroded bolts and the all-important duct tape – to tackle minor repairs around the trailer. 
  3. Water in, water out: At campsites with water, you'll either connect to it or haul it. If you connect, you'll need a water pressure regulator to step down the pressure to something your trailer can handle. If you're hauling water, you'll need large buckets or containers as well as, ideally, a small dolly or similar wheeled device to make them easier to move. You'll have to dispose of your grey water the same way: The handcart can do double duty, but you'll want separate buckets. 

...and some temptations to avoid

Now that you don't have to haul all your camping supplies on your back, there are things you'll be tempted to bring that probably you shouldn't. Here are three leading candidates:

  1. Your whole kitchen: Don't load up your pop-up with every pan you've ever wanted at the campsite. They're heavy and take up scarce space, so bring just the bare necessities. The same goes for food. Plan your meals in advance, and bring only what you'll need.
  2. Your whole wardrobe: Less is more. As long as you have enough clean socks and underwear for a few days, and enough outerwear to allow for heat/cold/rain as needed, you're good to go. Plan laundromat days on longer trips, rather than bringing extra clothes.
  3. The whole garage: All you need in the trailer are the tools necessary to patch it up well enough to get home, so the rest of your 4,000-piece tool collection can stay in the garage where it belongs. 

A notebook and pen are your best friends. Really.

As far as an actual packing checklist goes, you'll find hundreds of examples on camping-related websites and forums. Pick one that looks reasonable as your starting point, and weed out anything that doesn't apply to you. From there, you'll begin to personalize your own checklist by keeping detailed notes every time you camp. During the trip, write down anything you didn't bring but should have, and after the trip make a note of everything nonessential you brought but didn't use. After a few trips you'll have whittled your list down to the things you'll actually use. Save the list to your computer, so it's printable, and refer to it before every trip as you pack.

A little organization goes a long way

Building a good checklist is one thing, but using it effectively brings in a whole other set of organizational skills. If you're packing frantically at the last minute, you're likelier to overlook something important. It's usually best to keep as many things as possible packed up in the trailer itself, or stored and ready to go in neatly labeled totes or storage containers. Use one tote for tools, for example, one for kitchen items, and so on. At the end of each trip, once everything's washed and ready, inventory and repack each tote. When departure day rolls around, all you'll need to pack up are the perishable food items and a few pieces of last-minute, weather-dependent clothing. You'll be much happier hitting the highway when you're confident you have everything you need.

About the Author

Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.