Setting Up Camp
FAQs About Camping
Tips for Non-Campers
First Aid Packing List
Planning a Camping Trip: The Complete Guide
Planning a camping trip begins with the desire to get outdoors. Once you have the itch, you'll only need to pick a date, find a campground, choose a route, prepare your gear, go grocery shopping, and head out.
Sounds simple, doesn't it? It actually is and it gets easier with each trip to the campground. Whether you're a new camper or a veteran, let's review some tips for planning your next outdoor adventure.
Where to Go
There are two types of campgrounds: Private and public. Both have their advantages but finding a good one can be hard. That is why it's a good idea to use campground reviews and ratings to guide you. Resources like AAA and Trailer Life compile all the information you need to see if a campground is right for you.
Take into consideration if you're staying in a tent or a camper or RV. Some campgrounds are more tent-friendly than others. Likewise, some have all the amenities and hookups necessary for campers.
Do you care if there's a shower and flush toilets or are you okay with roughing it for the weekend? This is a big factor for many campers and a campground guide includes this type of information. You can also choose public parks which tend to be rustic and offer a variety of outdoor recreation options or opt for modern campgrounds that may have a game room, store, or pool.
Be aware that some campgrounds require reservations, others offer it as an option or are first-come-first-serve. If you know it's going to be a busy weekend—Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day, in particular—be sure to get a reservation or show up early.
Another option is to head out to a festival that's centered around camping . They're great fun and offer music and other activities just outside your tent.
TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove
Campers love the great outdoors, pristine natural environments, and the adventures that inspire in the wild. While it's likely that there's a great campsite nearby no matter where you live, if you're looking for a destination to travel to, we have some ideas.
Every state has its fair share of national and state parks and these really do offer some of the best camping opportunities. Yet, some states are better known for having really great campgrounds to choose from . Also, if you have not camped at any of the top national parks , add them to your bucket list. You won't regret it.
Glacier National Park in Montana is a favorite for many campers. Lake Tahoe is another camping destination to consider, and you can find some nice spots along California's coastline .
Gather Your Gear
Do you need a checklist to make sure you've packed all your gear? While you might decide to bring along a few extra things, there are some items that are absolutely essential.
As far as camping gear goes, you will need three basic things . A place to sleep is most important, so grab a tent. Something to sleep on and keep you warm is good as well, which is why sleeping bags are necessary. Also, a few things to cook your meals will help out tremendously.
Gear in hand, now you need the supplies . Food and water are essentials for obvious reasons. You might also want a camp stove, some rain gear for everyone, a knife, and a lantern or flashlight (or both).
Don't forget the first aid kit , either. You'll be miles away from town and you never know when someone will get a cut, bee sting, or some other injury that needs a quick fix.
No shower house at your campground? There's no need to go without bathing, all you need is a camp shower that's allowed to warm in the sun while you're busy with the day's activities.
When you get to the campground, you'll need to check in at the office or camp host. Find a good site that looks like a place you could hang for the weekend. The campsites with the most shade are prime real estate, so try to get there early.
From there, you'll set up your camp . Select the site for your tent, set out your cooking supplies, and settle in.
One thing you'll quickly learn is that there are annoying campers. Don't be one of them and learn what not to do on a camping trip . This includes many common sense things like respect your neighbors, keep the camp clean and understand that wildlife will be around.
When you're ready to leave and head home, be sure that your site looks how it did (or better than) when you arrived. The common phrase is "leave no trace" and that means you should take your trash with you, dowse your fire properly, and pack up all your gear. When you get home, unpack everything and let it dry and air out before storing it permanently.
Plan a Backcountry Trip
Backcountry camping, or backpacking, is essentially the combination of hiking and camping in the wilderness. Don't let the unfamiliar landscape or worries of being in the wild keep you from going backpacking. It's a lot of fun and a real outdoor adventure.
If you've not backpacked before , it's a little different than grabbing a campsite at the state park. You'll be in a remote area without your car to rely on, so it's important to take only the essential gear you'll need. It's also important to choose the right campsite, though some popular backcountry destinations offer designated sites along the way.
Also, you should be fit enough to handle the hike and understand who to call or how to get to help in case there's an emergency. Check with the park ranger in the area about any important details like that and other tips they can give you.
Tips for RV Camping
Your RV is your home away from home. It is also the most convenient way to go camping because your RV has everything you need. Just hook it up to the truck or hop in the cab and you're off to a new adventure .
While RVing is a more luxurious way to camp, it does have its own concerns. First of all, you most likely need to reserve campsites to ensure you get the electrical hookups you need. You'll also want a dump station nearby.
Along the way (and before you go) you'll want to keep up on maintenance and do some routine safety checks . RVs are great, but they are one giant vehicle with a hundred things that can go wrong. Yet, if you know what to look for and how to maintain it, it can offer years of great fun.
The Basics to Campgrounds and Camping
Seacliff State Beach Camping
10 Essential Tips for First Time Campers
Everything You Need to Know About Camping
What They Don't Tell You About Camping
The 11 Best Campgrounds in Big Sur
Hanging Rock State Park: The Complete Guide
Essentials for Your Florida Keys Camping Trip
10 Great Destinations for Spring Camping
The Best Camping Spots at Lake Tahoe
Everything You Should Pack for a Camping Trip
Do Not Go Camping Without These 9 Things
The Best Places for a Camping Getaway
Planning an RV Trip: The Complete Guide
Essentials for Using a Ground Cover Tarp with Your Tent
How to Make Reservations at California State Parks
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What better way to get out of the house, get some fresh air, and experience the great outdoors than with a summer camping trip?
If this is your first time gearing up for a camping trip, we know it can feel a little overwhelming. Where to camp? What to pack? What to cook?
There’s a lot to remember! That’s why we wanted to share some tips to help make the planning process easier for you.
1. Make a Reservation
Few things are more stressful than trying to find a campsite without a reservation — especially during the busy summer months.
Save yourself the stress and go to Recreation.gov and reserve your campsite ahead of time. It’s well worth the online processing fee.
2. Check the Amenities at the Campsite
Not all campgrounds are the same. Some have a lot of amenities while others can be far more rustic. Some questions you will want to know ahead of time: Is there potable water available? Are there bathrooms with showers? Dishwashing facilities? Can you purchase firewood on site? Are there any fire restrictions?
Most of the time you can find this information on the same site that you book your reservation. If not, call the campground office and talk with one of the hosts about what you can expect.
3. Research the Area
At home, with the luxury of a strong Wi-Fi connection, do a little research on the surrounding area. Are there hiking trails you want to explore? Water features like rivers or lakes to go swimming in? You will also want to make note of places like the nearest grocery store, gas station, and (if you’re cautious like us) emergency room.
Campgrounds are notorious for having terrible cell coverage, so it’s a good idea to get your bearings of the area beforehand.
4. Make a Meal Plan
Figure out how many meals you plan on cooking and what you want to eat, then make a grocery list so you have everything on hand before you head to the campground. A frantic grocery run on your way out of town almost always results in forgetting something crucial.
For meals, think of easy to prepare and easy to clean ideas like Cheesy Tater Tot, Bacon and Egg Burritos , Tomato & Cheddar Sliders , Stuffed Ham, Pickle & Cheese Grilled Pitas and Spicy Twice Bake Sweet Potatoes with Bacon & Cheddar .
Also, don’t forget to pack some snacks. A simple cheese plate and a cold drink sounds like a perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon outdoors! For kids, cheese sticks , crackers, and apples or dried fruit are great to have on hand to keep them energized while exploring the surrounding area.
5. Organize Your Equipment
Hurriedly packing your camping gear a few hours before departure is exactly how you accidentally forget something critical like a can opener! Write out a check list and start packing things into boxes a few days ahead of time Be sure to inspect equipment like your tent, sleeping mattress, and stove to make sure everything is in good working order. If anything needs to be replaced, repaired, or purchased, you’ll have plenty of time. (The best time to discover your air mattress has a hole in it is when you’re at home!)
Check the weather. If there is even a slight possibility of rain, make sure you bring appropriate rain gear like rain coats, rain fly for your tent, and possibly some tarps to cover your stuff.
6. Pack Your Cooler (the right way)
The night before your trip, use “sacrificial ice” to chill the inside of your cooler. Right before it’s time to pack it up, dump that ice out and load it up with fresh ice. This pre-chill will make your ice last much longer. Repackage your food into watertight, resealable containers. Refrigerate food ahead of time and freeze anything that you can so it is already cold when it goes into the cooler. When packing your cooler, you want to aim for a ratio of ⅓ food to ⅔ ice.
7. Make the Road Trip Part of the Journey
The road trip out to the campground can be just as enjoyable as the actual camping. So pack some snacks in the car, queue up a playlist, and take your time. Pull over at the vista points, stop for coffee at a local general store, enjoy the experience along the way.
P.S. Throwback to tip #1, this type of leisurely road trip out to the campground is only possible if you know you have a site waiting for you. Otherwise you’ll be a ball of stress driving out there hoping you find a spot.
Spending a little bit of time planning before your camping trip can go a very long way towards ensuring your trip is relaxing and stress-free. So take some time, make a plan, and then kick back and enjoy!
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Camping Checklist for 2023
We cover everything you need for a successful camping trip, from essentials like a tent and camp stove to extras like sunscreen and firewood.
Switchback Travel ( Jason Hummel )
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Whether it’s your first time car camping or you’ve been at it for years, it never hurts to have a good checklist. To help you get out of the house with all of the essentials in tow, we’ve outlined everything you need including campsite and sleeping gear , camp kitchen essentials , outdoor clothing and footwear , health and hygiene products , and personal items and extras . For each category, we’ve listed necessary items—along with our top picks—as well as optional gear. Finally, for all our product recommendations in one place, see our detailed camping gear reviews .
Editor's note: The table above provides a brief overview of what you'll need to get outside, but our full PDF version is printable and offers a more comprehensive breakdown of the necessities and nice-to-haves. See Our Camping Checklist PDF
Campsite and Sleeping Gear
Our top pick: The North Face Wawona 6 ($500) What we like: Open interior and massive vestibule at a price that's hard to beat. What we don’t: Time-consuming to set up; partial-coverage rainfly leaves the bottom exposed to moisture.
Camping Sleeping Bag
Our top pick: REI Co-op Siesta Hooded 20 ($139) What we like: Affordable and comfortable for three-season use with a rectangular shape, warmth-trapping hood, and 20-degree rating. What we don't: Heavier and less compressible than mummy bags.
Our top pick: Therm-a-Rest MondoKing 3D ($240) What we like: Thick build and plush foam make this one of the most comfortable sleeping pads on the market. What we don't: On the pricier end and overkill for occasional campers.
Our top pick: Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow ($37) What we like: Soft exterior, machine washable, and cinch cord makes it easy to tailor firmness. What we don't: Foam takes some time to expand; those on a budget can just bring a pillow from home.
Our top pick: REI Co-op Skyward ($60) What we like: Strong and comfortable, well-sorted feature set, and ample mesh for hot summertime temps. What we don't: Not the cushiest or most supportive option—those with taller and broader builds may want a higher backpanel and larger seat.
Our top pick: Petzl Actik Core ($80) What we like: Great output, long battery life (via AAAs or the rechargeable battery), and easy-to-use interface in a feathery build. What we don't: Expensive and not the most water-resistant option on the market.
Our top pick: BioLite AlpenGlow 500 ($80) What we like: Impressive output, ample lighting modes, and fun tech features. What we don't: Pricey and takes a little time to learn how to operate.
Optional Campsite and Sleeping Gear
- Camp table (if no picnic table)
- Sleeping bag liner
- Camping blanket
- Tent footprint/ground cloth
- Extra stakes
Camp Kitchen Gear
Camping Stove and Fuel
Our top pick: Eureka Ignite Plus ($160) What we like: Quality build, generously sized cooking area, and well-sorted feature set. What we don't: Discerning campers can get double the output with Camp Chef’s Everest 2X.
Cooler (Pre-Filled with Ice)
Our top pick: RTIC 52 Ultra-Light ($200) What we like: Versatile size and competitive ice retention for less than the competition. What we don't: Only sold online and a small step down from Yeti in cooling capabilities.
Cookware and Utensils
- Pots and pans
- Cooking utensils (spatula, large spoon, tongs)
- Silverware (forks, spoons, knives)
- Bottle/can openers
Food Prep and Dish-Washing Supplies
- Matches and/or lighter
- Cutting board
- Cooking oil
- Paper towels
- Measuring cups
- Aluminum foil
- Seasonings and condiments
- Wash bin/portable sink
- Food and gear storage (Ziploc bags, plastic bins, etc.)
Optional Kitchen Gear
- Water jugs (if no potable water)
- Portable coffee/tea maker
- Firewood (if fires are permitted)
- Fire starter
Outdoor Clothing and Footwear
Our top pick: Smartwool Merino 250 1/4-Zip ($115) What we like: 100% merino wool build is warm, super soft against the skin, and naturally resists moisture and odors. What we don't: Wool baselayers don't come cheap and require care to last (avoid using the dryer).
Down Jacket or Synthetic Jacket
Our top pick: Patagonia Down Sweater ($279) What we like: Great warmth for the weight and looks great for everyday wear. What we don't: We prefer something lighter for backcountry use.
Our top pick: Patagonia Torrentshell 3L ($179) What we like: 3-layer protection and durability in a sleek and affordable package. What we don't: Fabric is stiffer and more crinkly than some of the higher-end competition.
Hiking Pants and/or Hiking Shorts
Our top pick: Outdoor Research Ferrosi ($99) What we like: Durable, stretchy, and great balance of wind protection and breathability. What we don't: Doesn't come with a built-in belt and a little technical for some.
Hiking Boots or Hiking Shoes
Our top pick: Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GTX ($175) What we like: Light, comfortable for all-day wear, and can handle everything from short day hikes to lightweight overnights. What we don't: Relatively thin and flexible underfoot for carrying a heavy pack over technical ground.
- Hiking Socks
Our top pick: Darn Tough Micro Crew Cushion ($25) What we like: Great padding and breathability for three-season use, seamless construction, and backed by a lifetime warranty. What we don't: Tougher than they are soft and plush.
Optional Clothing and Footwear
- Camp sandals or slippers
- Neck gaiter/buff
- Long underwear
Health and Hygiene
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Toilet paper
- Soap/hand sanitizer
- Toiletries kit (shower supplies, deodorant, etc.)
- Quick-drying towel
- Personal medications
- First aid kit
Sun and Bug Protection
- Insect repellent
Optional Health and Hygiene Items
- Trowel or portable toilet (if no facilities available)
- Portable/solar shower
Personal Items and Extras
- Basic repair kit (multi-tool, duct tape, extra cord)
- Navigation (map, GPS, compass)
- Water bottle
- Earplugs and eye mask
- Batteries and/or solar charger
- Notebook and pen/pencil
- Book or Kindle
- Bear spray (if required)
- Activity-specific gear (daypack for hiking, pole for fishing, etc.)
- ID, cards, cash
- Cell phone with charger
- Campsite reservation
- Forest Service/park pass (if required)
Other Considerations: Weather, Group Size, and More
Group size is another important factor to weigh when packing. For example, smaller groups may not have any issues cooking on a standard two-burner stove, but larger parties may want to step up to a larger freestanding unit (or even a portable grill), opt for a three-burner design, or bring along more than one stove. If you’ll be basecamping for a while, you may also consider setting up a shade structure and folding table for hanging out and cooking or fashioning a clothesline to dry wet gear. Portable fire pits have also become increasingly popular recently, and we love Solo Stove’s offerings for their precision and lack of smoke.
Additional Car Camping Tips
- Be sure to confirm ahead of time which amenities (if any) will be available to you. Will your campsite have a fire pit and/or picnic table? Are there bathrooms and/or showers on site? Will you have access to running water for filling up bottles and reservoirs?
- Check restrictions before you go to ensure you're up to date on current fire bans, required bear-proofing measures (such as bear canisters or bear bags for food), etc.
- When loading up your car, start with the biggest and heaviest items first (e.g., hard-sided coolers and water jugs) and stack smaller and lighter items on top. If you'll want quick access to something while driving to your campsite (such as food), be sure to separate it ahead of time.
- If you’re limited on space, consider using dedicated compression sacks for soft gear like clothing, sleeping bags, etc.
- Prep what you can at home to save time at camp and minimize the amount of gear you need to pack. Cut vegetables, marinate meats and stash them in a labeled Ziploc, pre-measure your spices and condiments, etc.
- Combine like-minded items in one container to make it easier to find what you’re looking for when you arrive: A tote with your tent, sleeping bag, and pad; a dedicated bin for kitchenware and cooking equipment; clothing in a duffel bag or suitcase, etc. We like to use clear plastic bins since they make it easy to see what’s inside at a glance.
- Use resealable bags for toiletries and other small items you don’t want to lose or get wet, such as lighters and matches.
- To maximize insulating performance, it’s best to pre-chill your cooler prior to loading it up by filling the interior with ice for at least a few hours. When you’re ready to hit the road, swap in some fresh ice along with your drinks and food (most brands recommend a 2:1 ice-to-food ratio).
Where to Buy Camping Gear
When it comes to purchasing gear, we recommend supporting your local gear shop whenever possible—they are important community centers for outdoor enthusiasts, and chances are that the staff will have insider information about the surrounding wild spaces. That said, we tend to do the lion's share of our gear shopping at REI Co-op , which has over 100 brick-and-mortar locations across the U.S. and an excellent inventory both in-store and online. Another good option for online shopping is Backcountry.com , which offers free shipping on orders over $50 and excellent customer service. For cheaper items and those who need gear quickly, it’s hard to beat Amazon for the sheer volume of sellers and product options. It’s also worth checking to see if there is a consignment or used gear shop near you—buying secondhand does not necessarily mean sacrificing quality, and you also get to help keep equipment out of the landfill by giving it a second life. Back to Our Camping Checklist See Our Camping Gear Reviews
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