If I don’t write it down, it’s not happening. If I walk into the grocery store without my trusty “running grocery list” pulled up on my phone, I will inevitably get home 30 minutes later without the very thing I left the house to buy (this weekend, it was cereal). Similarly, when packing for a trip, if it’s not on the list, it’s not in the bag and it’s definitely not in the car.
I started camping in my early 20s and after my first few trips of showing up to a campground without, say, a rain jacket, I realized getting organized and packing is a huge part of enjoying the experience. After making a few packing lists and disposing of them after each trip, I realized there is no reason to reinvent the wheel every time and my lifelong camping packing list was born.
The concept is simple: one camping packing list to rule them all. A lifelong packing list that is updated before, after, and sometimes even during each camping trip with items that I wish I would have brought for one reason or another. Not everything on the list is needed for every camping trip (for example, I don’t always need to pack a swimsuit depending on where I’m going), but if it’s on the lifelong list there is no chance I will show up to Lake Michigan and have to resort to swimming in a t-shirt and shorts.
Tips for Building Your Packing List
When crafting a lifelong camping packing list, here are a few tips:
1. Start early. I’m talking as soon as you decide you are going to go camping. Get the items that are running through your mind down on paper.
2. Collaborate! Building the list with everyone who is going on the trip is a great way to make sure no items are missed and help the people you will be with get organized. My favorite method is using a shared note app from my phone that I can easily access whenever I remember something that we need to bring. This method also lets you easily share the list with others. If you prefer using paper and pen, I would recommend posting the list in a place where everyone in your household can easily add to it at any time, like the refrigerator door.
3. Actually use your lifelong packing list. This may seem like a no-brainer, but add items to your packing list as soon as they pop into your head and cross off items only when they’re in your car. Also, as a favor to your future self, make a copy of the list before you start crossing items off so that you can re-use the same list in the future.
4. Revisit the packing list during your trip. Add the things you forgot to your running list for next time. I will never forget the first time I cooked eggs in a cast iron skillet over a campfire and realized I forgot to think about how I would remove the skillet from the fire after cooking. I ended up MacGyvering an oven mitt out of a beach towel for the remainder of that camping trip (not recommended), but immediately after, I pulled out my packing list on my phone’s Notes app and added a quality pair of fire gloves to the list for next time along with a long-handled cast iron skillet that makes reaching near the fire as safe as possible.
5. Consider what the purpose of your camping trip is (connecting with nature, bonding with friends or family, resting and relaxing) and pack items that will support these intentions. One of my top priorities while camping is always to relax and enjoy being outdoors. I love packing a percolator to make hot coffee on the campfire in the morning (why does hot coffee taste so much better when it’s made and enjoyed outdoors?).
Overall, I would recommend keeping your packing list simple but don’t skimp out on comfort items, and never neglect to bring essentials for cooking, sleeping, and safety. Whenever possible, I try to pack items that serve multiple purposes, like this LED emergency light that doubles as a lantern for an evening round of my family’s favorite card game, Five Crowns.
My Camping Packing List
Everyone’s lifelong camping packing list will look different, but, in closing, I want to pass along a few items from my lifelong camping packing list. Let me know in the comments what items you can’t camp without!
- Tent, tent stakes, and a tarp
- Cooler and chairs
- Bedrolls and/or collapsible camping cots
- Sleeping bag, pillows, and dog bed
- Campfire starter
- Camp cutlery and collapsable plates or bowls (these space-savers are worth investing in!)
- A cast iron skillet and a cooking utensils set that saves space and ensures we keep all of our camping utensils in one place.
- Fire gloves
- A campfire grate for cooking, or better yet, a fire bridge
- Multi-purpose mugs that can be used for hot drinks and cold water
- Swimsuits, towels, and sunscreen
- Natural bug repellant and a thick pair of pants and sweatshirt to wear in the evening to keep mosquito bites at bay
- Rain jacket, hiking boots, and hiking socks
- Lastly, but most importantly, never leave home without the ingredients to make s’mores!