Camping is an excellent way to spend time outdoors with family and friends, or even by yourself. Camping is available in many state and national parks and private campgrounds, in the backcountry, and even in your backyard.
Most campsites include a picnic table, a parking area, and a place to pitch your tent. Many have shared bathrooms as well as running water.
Part of the fun of camping is that you only need a few items to survive. But it’s also nice to have a campsite that’s comfortable, convenient, and homey. If this is your first time camping, you may want to borrow or rent some of these items. As you gain more camping experience, you may discover that part of the fun is figuring out what to bring to meet your needs.
While packing, use this handy camping checklist to ensure you don’t forget anything important and have enough supplies. This is a comprehensive list, and we do not expect you to bring everything on it — though we will not judge you if you do!
These are essential items to include on your camping checklist:
- Tent (and footprint, stakes)
- Sleeping pads
- Backpacking bags
- Camping pillow
- Headlamps or flashlights (and extra batteries)
- Camp chairs
- Camp table (if no picnic table)
- Lantern (and mantles and fuel/batteries if needed)
Tools & Repair Items
- Duct tape
- Extra cord
- Tent-pole repair sleeve
- Pad/Mattress repair kit
- Mallet or hammer (for hammering tent stakes)
- Saw or axe (for cutting firewood)
- Small broom and dustpan
- Stove and fuel
- Cook pots (and pot holder)
- Frying pan
- Eating utensils
- Cooking utensils
- Bottle opener, can opener, corkscrew
- Sharp knife
- Ice or ice substitutes
- Water bottles
- Camp sink or wash bins
- Biodegradable soap
- Pot scrubber/sponge(s)
- Trash/recycling bags
Camp grill and fuel
- Grill rack
- Dutch oven
- Portable coffee/tea maker
- Rolling ice cream maker
Marshmallow/hot dog roasting forks
- Small food-storage containers/bags/foil
- Large water jugs
- Large, clear plastic bins to store kitchen gear
Most of the items listed below are optional, but depending on how remote your campsite is, navigation tools such as a map, compass, and/or GPS may be required (for more information, see the Ten Essentials).
Solar and portable power
- Navigation tools
- Field guides (flowers, insects)
- Star chart/night-sky identifier
- Book/reading material
Notebook and pen/pencil
- Music player with headphones
- Games and toys
- Dog gear
- Dry bags, stuff sacks or clear plastic bins to store items
Clothing & Footwear
- Moisture-wicking underwear
- Moisture-wicking T-shirts
- Quick-drying pants/shorts
- Long-sleeve shirts (for sun, bugs)
- Lightweight fleece or jacket
Boots or shoes suited to the terrain
- Socks (synthetic or wool)
Rainwear (jacket and pants)
- Long underwear
- Warm insulated jacket or vest
- Gloves or mittens
- Warm hat
Health & Hygiene
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitiser
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Toiletry kit
- Quick-dry towel
- Prescription medications
- First-aid kit or first-aid supplies
Sun and bug protection
- Sunglasses (and sunglasses straps)
- Sun hat
- Lip balm
- Insect repellent
- Insect repellent device
- Sanitation trowel (if no toilets)
- Baby wipes
- Alcohol or antiseptic wipes
- Spare eyeglasses/contact lens supplies
- Portable camp shower
- Cash and/or credit card
- Confirmation of campsite reservation (if required)*
10 Things You Shouldn’t Do While Camping
No matter how experienced you are as a camper, every new outdoor adventure will leave you feeling a little inadequate. It’s nothing to be ashamed of; it’s just how things work. Whether it’s a forgotten item, an uncomfortably placed tent, or an unlucky group of companions, there’ll always be something to add to the checklist… or perhaps scratch off. After a recent – particularly eventful – family camping trip to the Mountain Zebra National Park in the Karoo region of the Eastern Cape, I was struck once more by nature’s ability to cut you down to size and test your boundaries when you submit to its influence. While these types of vacations are rarely comfortable, they are frequently strangely revitalising. So, while some may argue that camping should be avoided at all costs, I believe that a camping trip now and then is necessary for a healthy sense of self. And to help you out, I’ve compiled a list of my top ten camping tips… Please remember that I consider myself a reasonably inexperienced camper, so please leave them in the comments section below if you have any suggestions!
Arrive after dark or during the hottest part of the day.
There is a time for everything, as King Solomon once said, and this includes setting up camp. While there are numerous lousy tent pitching scenarios, I will stick to the fundamentals. Never, ever, ever try to set up camp in the dark if you value good relationships with your fellow campers. Instead, make sure you arrive at your destination at least an hour before sunset to choose a spot, unpack, pitch your tent, and settle in. Also, if you’re doing some mid-summer camping, avoid having to go through this process between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. if your health and well-being are important to you.
Choose the lowest spot on the campsite.
We were camping in the heart of the traditionally dry Karoo, and we had no idea that water would be an issue. We were, however, mistaken. That is entirely incorrect. The rain poured down on our canvas tent quite comfortably the first evening, but the next afternoon, our entire setup was soaked through. A quick scout around the campsite revealed a few drier spots, so we chose the best one closest to us, packed our belongings, and hurried over. What was our big blunder? Choosing a shady, cosy spot at the bottom of the campsite
Pack sensibly (clothes-wise)
This may sound absurd but bear with me. Don’t rely on common sense when packing for a camping trip. Do you think it’ll be warm and sunny all weekend? Pack a pair of long pants, leggings, and warm socks for every pair of shorts. Pack a hoodie or jersey for every t-shirt. The same can be said for winter camping. Think again if you think those swimming trunks should be stored in the back of your closet! You might be rewarded with a hot day and lament the fact that you won’t be able to test the delightful rock pool.
Shower in the morning or evening
Why? That’s when everyone does, so it’s crowded, the floors are probably squelchy from everyone else’s wet feet, and there’s no hot water. So opt for a mid-morning, lunchtime, or late-afternoon titivation instead. Alternatively, if you’re not bothered by strange noises and showering alone in a small restroom, go late at night… though this is also a good time to, well, not shower alone.
Drink too much after a certain point at night
Nothing is worse than having to use the restroom in the middle of the night while camping. Crawling out of your warm sleeping bag, searching for a torch, braving the cold… and all those dreadful nights sounds. So, the best thing to do is force yourself to go to the bathroom at a more convenient time of night and avoid drinking excessively afterwards.
Abstain from indulging
Given that you’re already putting yourself out there, going with nature’s flow and away from soft beds, couches, and other homely comforts, you might as well enjoy the little luxuries you have at your disposal. If you’re not usually a day drinker, give in to the urge and have a beer when the sun is at its highest point. Treat yourself to chocolate after dinner, a luxurious afternoon nap (or as luxurious as possible), a second helping… whatever tickles your fancy. Please do it!
Leave your bag unzipped.
I’ll admit that I’m a slacker when it comes to packing and keeping my space tidy while on vacation, so this one took a while for me to nail. If you don’t want to be surprised by creepy crawlies cuddling in your clothes, or worse, creepy crawlies that bite, sting, or burn you, it’s best to zip up your bags as soon as you’ve retrieved or replaced your items. To be safe, shake out your sleeping bag before diving into it. They provide a haven not only for campers but also for snakes and spiders.
While it isn’t necessary to walk around the campsite like it’s some silent Mormon retreat, it is a good idea to keep an eye on the volume of your conversations, laughter, and music. Most campgrounds have rules requiring quiet times, which are usually between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Do the same or lower your voices slightly when you see your fellow campers retiring to their tents for the night. If your fellow campers don’t leave, that’s fantastic! Let’s party all night!
Leave sensitive items – like ugg boots – outside.
I have a pair of ugg boots that I adore (don’t worry if you think ugg boots are ugly!) and carry them with me wherever I go. Now, on my most recent camping trip, I was told to leave them at the tent door to avoid bringing in the dirt. Of course, no one could have predicted the dramatic downpour that would follow, and my poor uggs were completely soaked. Because they’re made of leather and sheepskin, drying them was no easy task, and they’ll probably smell like a wet dog for the rest of their lives.
The story’s moral. Never leave anything valuable outside when camping. If it’s not permitted to enter the tent, leave it in the car, for God’s sake!
Leave food unattended when you go out.
We left a pocket of onions hanging from the tap near our tent, hoping that one of the cleaning staff would notice them and take them home. Instead, when we returned, we found the weekend leftovers being devoured – through the netting bag – by a swarm of adorable vervet monkeys. It was more amusing than anything else because we were on our way back home, but imagine returning to camp and finding fruits, vegetables, and all your other supplies strewn around mid-weekend. It’s not an ideal situation, so keep your edibles safely locked away.