What do you need to camp? Not much. But what makes camping easier and more enjoyable? A lot! Striking a balance between camping needs and wants is challenging and fun and I’ve had many years camping experience to decide what’s best to take into the woods. Although it’s funny how I always find something else I “need” every time I go to REI…
There are many ways to camp: backpack camping, car camping at dispersed camp locations, car camping at designated campsites with toilets and running water, glamping (glamour camping) in full-size campers, and for some "camping" means a night at the Hilton. Our family's current favorite type of camping is car camping at dispersed camp areas in the mountains. Dispersed camping often requires a high clearance four-wheel drive vehicle to access remote locations near off-road trails. And, we car camp (which means we pack everything we want for camping in our vehicle and drive to the camp location) instead of backpack camp because we can take a few more items for comfort in our vehicle, and because we have a younger child for whom car camping is more enjoyable.
Each year during the winter I review the previous season’s pack lists that I’ve created to see what worked great, what didn’t, and I make changes for the upcoming camping season. The list I’m sharing today is my most recent rendition for car camping at dispersed camp locations.
Notes on Organization (Don’t care about organization? Go straight to the list!) (Note: the pack list is a spreadsheet - open with Excel or LibreOffice Calc, or similar).
Why have a list? Because I don’t want to forget the all-important toilet paper (or anything else). Nothing is worse than realizing you forgot X, Y, or Z as soon as you get to your remote camping destination! And rather than try to remember everything I just write it down, then check it off the list as it’s packed.
I use plastic tote bins for organization, which I picked up for a few bucks at a home supply store. Two smaller ones fit in our bear-proof cooler and hold dry food goods and anything else that might smell like food to bears. A large tote holds various smaller camping gear. I use plastic tote bins (with lids) because this keeps our gear dry if it rains (since we’re in an open Jeep during the summer). I also tape to each tote lid a printed list of what’s kept inside each tote. This way when we return from camping and I’m cleaning and airing out our gear, I can resupply each tote per the list on the lid and it’s ready to go for the next camping trip. This method makes loading up the Jeep for a camp trip quick and easy. It also makes stuff easy to find at camp because it shows what's inside each bin.
Inside the large tote bin that holds various smaller camping gear I’ve organized similar gear into plastic Ziploc bags. While this may at first seem like a waste, these bags last a long time, and they make everything easy to find while camping. For example, the fire bag has all the fire starting options. The eatery bag has bowls and silverware. And so on. For several years I just kept everything loose in one bin and wasted a great deal of time at camp digging through all the stuff to find what I needed, every time I needed something. So, I got organized and now I can sit and relax at camp instead!
Car Camping Pack List (note: items like a first aid kit and various tools are camping necessities but I keep these in my Jeep anyway. Check out my Preparedness article for a list of what to consider keeping in your vehicle!)
"Stored" Camp Items (these are aired/cleaned, restocked, or repacked after each camping trip and most are then kept in my Jeep, ready for the next trip. Keeping these items in my Jeep is also part of being prepared).
Sleeping Bags (1 per person)
Jet Boil plus fuel
Bug Repellent and Mosquito Nets
Shovel and other tools
Camp Items (these are the items packed in the Jeep just prior to each camping trip. By keeping these items grouped together somewhere in our house or garage during camp season, and restocked after each trip, loading the Jeep for a camp outing takes no more than 30 minutes now).
Extra Jug(s) of Water (this is not optional – always take more water than you think you’ll need!)
Luggable Loo, Lid, Loo Cover (or, just dig a hole with your shovel)
Camp Table (optional, but is nice for comfort)
Camp Chairs (optional, but are nice for comfort)
Bear-proof Cooler (this is highly recommended if camping in bear country)
Dry Goods Food Tote 1 – goes in cooler
Dry Goods Food Tote 2 – goes in cooler
Camp Stuff Tote
Dog Stuff Bag
Last Minute Items
Here is the downloadable list of what I pack for each of these Camp Items. Save and adjust to fit your needs!
(Note: the pack list is a spreadsheet - open with Excel or LibreOffice Calc, or similar).
Am I forgetting anything? Do you have tips on what to take (or not) on camping trips? Leave feedback in the Comments below!