Essential Camping Checklist

Camping Checklist: Packing Essentials

Is this what your house looks like before a camping trip?
Is this what your house looks like before a camping trip?
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In Jean Craighead George's 1959 novel "My Side of the Mountain," protagonist Sam Gribley flees to the mountains with nothing but a penknife, flint, steel and string. At the other extreme, in Madeleine L'Engle's 1963 camping novel "The Moon by Night," the Greys, a family of city slickers, roar into a campsite and unload a ridiculous abundance of gear. As far as we know, however, not even the Greys considered a portable toilet essential.

Whether you're an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink or a bare-essentials packer, here's a checklist of packing basics you won't want to camp without:

  • tent (unless you plan to sleep in a trailer or an RV, a lightweight, portable tent is a must)
  • sleeping bags (rated for 10 degrees below the coldest temperatures you anticipate)
  • pillows
  • backpacks (for hiking excursions)
  • matches and/or a butane lighter
  • lantern, preferably battery-operated
  • map (GPS systems are great, but keep an old-fashioned paper map for emergencies!)
  • flashlights
  • extra batteries
  • water bottles
  • bug spray (mosquito coils and portable insect repellant diffusers are also good to have)
  • sunblock
  • sunglasses
  • toothpaste and toothbrushes
  • shaving supplies (razors, shaving cream)
  • small mirror
  • soap (liquid soap or bar soap in a plastic box or bag)
  • towels
  • toilet paper
  • flip-flops or water shoes to wear in public shower facilities
  • hair care products such as shampoo and conditioner

Clothing is also essential. In general, a layered approach is best. If it's cold (or if you're just cold-natured), layer pants and shirts over thermal underwear and have waterproof outer shells, jackets, hats and gloves available in case you need them. Even if it's warm, consider bringing long pants and long-sleeved shirts to supplement your summer wear and protect you from sun and insects.

One final basic is so essential that it deserves its own page. Find your essential camp kitchen checklist next!