What to Bring CampingBy Christine Bartsch; Updated June 08, 2017
Take it or leave it? Packing for your camping adventure
You’ve heeded Mother Nature’s call and booked yourself a campsite to spend a few vacay days enjoying the beauty of the great outdoors. Unlike your typical hotel or cabin vacations, most campground sites supply only a picnic table and a campfire pit. While campground amenities vary, many have restroom facilities that may or may not have showers and maybe a small store for necessities – everything else you need to bring with you. Aside from the obvious supplies, such as food, shelter, bedding, cooking and cleaning supplies, what should you bring?
Rule number one of camping is, you’ll need water – lots of it. Not only is this essential element for drinking, you’ll also need it to fill in for running water as you’re cooking and cleaning. Most campgrounds have potable water available at faucets and pumps throughout the park, so you may just want to bring empty containers to fill once you arrive. Bring along an assortment of towels as well, including bath, kitchen and paper.
Even if you’re counting on fishing and foraging to sustain you, you should still bring foodstuffs to round out meals and fill in if nature doesn’t supply enough for everyone. You’ll also need pans and utensils for cooking, a basin for washing up and a heat source, such as a camp stove or cookware designed for use over an open campfire. You may also want to bring along a few campfire-friendly recipes as open-flame cooking can be tricky. Don’t forget to store all food securely in airtight, animal-proof containers and coolers to keep out the insects and critters.
Spending days out in the wild may lead to injury – especially if you’re unfamiliar with outdoor living – so pack a well-stocked first-aid kit. Beyond your typical bandages, antiseptic and aspirin, include larger wrap bandages, gauze and fasteners to handle any sprains or larger cuts and scrapes. Insects will be out in full force, so tuck in bug sprays and anti-itch ointments, too. Burn ointment is a good idea to handle campfire injuries, as well as a soother for sunburns. And don’t forget sunscreen and tweezers to pull out any splinters.
Night gets pitch black fast when you’re away from the ambient glow of city lights, so make sure to pack flashlights, lanterns and plenty of batteries. If your campground allows campfires, you’ll definitely need matches and something to use as kindling. You might also need to bring your own firewood. Some campgrounds do sell firewood and may even allow you to forage for your own. But don’t count on finding burnable wood in the forest, especially if you’re new to camping – logs you find in the wild might be too green or damp to properly burn.
Car and tent camping
Is your idea of car camping sleeping in your vehicle or simply a tent site with a space to park your ride? In either case, this style of outdoor living means your spacious car will be nearby, so you don’t have to worry about carrying supplies to your site. With the car nearby, you can bring along a few comforts of home, such as collapsible seating, ice chests and cots, pads or air mattresses to avoid sleeping directly on the hard ground.
Tarps are essential for adding an extra waterproof layer in between your tent floor and potentially damp ground. Bring extra ropes in case any tent ties break and to turn an extra tarp into a rain fly to act as both a shade and rain shelter. Don’t forget to pack a hammer or mallet for pounding in tent stakes and a pocketknife for any heavy-duty cutting needs that might arise.
Water is just as essential for backpackers, but carrying several gallons with you simply isn’t practical when you’re hiking. Instead, bring along one or two smaller bottles and a way to purify water you find on your journey, such as a portable water filter or water purification tablets. Backpackers need to eat, too, but food gets heavy fast. Fill your pack with lighter sustenance, such as granola mixes and dehydrated food packs.
While compasses and maps are good to have on any camping trip, when you’re backpacking in the backcountry, they're a necessity. When you’re off the grid, you can't charge electronic navigation gadgets or buy batteries, so pack a non-digital compass as a backup. In the event you get into trouble on the trail, it’s a good idea to carry a flare or a personal locator beacon to help rescue workers find you.
Items to nevermind
While many camping supplies are essential, some items are better left at home. Topping the don’t-bring list is contraband. Every campground has its own rules about what’s not allowed on their grounds, which may include glass, fireworks, fire pits and even alcohol. If you don’t want your trip cut short, don’t pack anything your campground prohibits.
Skip packing any scented toiletry items or perfumes that may attract insects; instead, bring unscented hygiene products enhanced with bug repellent or sunscreen.
As your campsite is likely to be deserted at times while you’re off hiking or swimming, it’s best to leave any valuables at home, such as jewelry or expensive electronics. Out in the wilderness, you won’t need to dress to impress or get distracted by technology while you’re enjoying the rustic scenery.