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What to Pack for a Camping Trip: A Complete Checklist

Nov 21, 2023

All the expert-recommended gear you need for an outdoor stay

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Whether to spend quality time with family and friends or just immerse themselves in nature, camping is a popular pastime for many. Going camping looks different for everyone, from stays in roof-top tents to drive-in campsites and backcountry expeditions, the options abound.

If you’re new to camping or simply want to revamp your packing list, our ultimate camping checklist is a great place to get started with preparations. We’ve compiled our top picks for essential clothing, gear, and footwear for enjoying the great outdoors. From REI's Half Dome SL 2+ Tent and sweat-wicking Sahara T-shirt to Helinox's cozy Sunset Chair, our experts swear by this list equipment for building your own outdoor oasis.

The type of trip you're planning will guide exactly what types of apparel and footwear to bring. For instance, if you're headed somewhere particularly rainy, you'll want to be prepared with a rain jacket and waterproof shoes. If you plan to hike and explore, active footwear, such as hiking sandals or boots, will come in handy for your trip. Being a happy camper often comes down to being prepared for the unexpected.

"People often forget how fickle conditions can be in the great outdoors", says Julien Heron, Co-Founder of Outdoors Generations. Heron recommends packing for both the best and worst weather campers could experience in their neck of the woods. Conditions can change quickly, notes Heron, especially in the desert and other arid regions. "Even the hottest and driest places can get precipitation and cold at night, so packing waterproof and warm layers is essential," says Heron.


Available in both women's and men's, these featherweight pants are designed with stretch-woven nylon and spandex for extra mobility while exploring the outdoors. The DWR finish repels water, wicks away sweat, and provides 50+ UPF sun protection. With a weight of 10 ounces and wrinkle-resistant materials, these pants are easy to pack. Both versions of these pants have two front pockets, two back drop-in pockets, and a zippered thick pocket for storing essentials. The Patagonia Quandry Pants are available in sizes 0-22 in women's and with 28-40-inch waist measurements in men's.


Constructed with 92 percent polyester and 8 percent spandex, this T-shirt (also available in men's) is breathable and stretchy for optimal comfort while working up a sweat. Besides wicking away moisture, this shirt offers UPF 30 sun protection so you can spend more time kayaking, hiking, and enjoying the outdoors with less exposure to harmful UV rays. The quick-drying materials also receive antimicrobial treatment to reduce bacteria growth and odor.


While most campers hope to avoid rain, it's a good idea to add a packable rain jacket to your camping checklist just in case. This jacket, which is also available in a women's cut, weighs a mere 10 ounces and folds into its own pocket for easy transport. Designed with a PFC-free NanoPro membrane and 100 percent recycled ripstop nylon fabric, this jacket delivers rain protection in an eco-friendly fashion. It's also easy to modify the jacket based on weather conditions — underarm zippers provide ventilation and an adjustable hood folds out of the jacket collar if needed.


These mid-duty hiking boots provide excellent traction, protection, and waterproofing for active treks and excursions. The outsole's angled lugs function as an impact brake system, offering security and stability when descending steep slopes. Constructed with nano cell inserts and Gore-tex membranes, these boots maintain top-notch ventilation while keeping water out. The Nubuck leather upper rises above the ankles for support and defense against abrasions. Despite its high-top design and durability, these boots weigh in at a reasonable 14 ounces in women's and just over a pound in most men's sizes.


The Chacos Z/1 Classic Sandal delivers quality support and performance for both women and men exploring the outdoors. The continuous strap design helps achieve a customized and stable fit. Pro tip: fine-tune and break in the straps before embarking on a multi-day camping trip. Podiatrist-certified footbeds deliver arch support and help absorb impact from rocks and roots underfoot. The outsole features ChacoGrip rubber with 0.1-inch lugs for enhanced traction crossing streams or summiting peaks. Excellent ventilation and an antimicrobial treatment to reduce odor keep these sandals feeling fresh after active use. If you have wider feet, the adjustable Chaco's Lowdown Sandal may be a better fit since every strap on the shoe is adjustable.


Whether trail running, stand-up paddle boarding, or kayaking, the Keen Drift Creek H2 Sandals (also available in men's) perform tremendously in dry and wet conditions alike. But slippery surfaces are where these hybrid sandals rise above the competition. The shoes feature grippy thermoplastic rubber outsoles, giving sure-footedness when crossing creek beds and streams. The contoured design and lace-lock bungee system provide a secure fit to stabilize the ankle and heel. EVA insoles and contoured arches provide comfort and support for long days on your feet. Plus, these water sandals are machine washable — simply run a gentle cycle with a bit of detergent to get ready for your next camping trip.

Being away from home is an adjustment — not to mention sleeping on the ground — so prioritizing comfort in your sleeping pad, camp chair, and other gear and apparel purchases will help ensure an enjoyable trip. It's important to factor in durability, too. Investing in camping gear made from quality, weather-resistant materials can round out your camping checklist for many years of adventure.

It's also wise to pack gear for outdoor and campsite activities to connect with nature and fend off boredom. If camping near water, stand-up paddle boards and inflatable kayaks are some beginner-friendly options. Bringing a travel-ready board game or cards to play fireside at night or in the tent during a rainout are other options to consider.


Designed with REI's tension-truss architecture to deliver stable sidewalls and a larger floor plan, this classic two-person tent has extra room for gear or a furry friend. Staking out the rainfly creates two vestibules for additional covered storage. The fly is fitted with closable ceiling vents to reduce condensation buildup. On clear, temperate nights, roll up the rainfly for greater ventilation and stargazing through the tent's mesh-paneled top. The tent weighs just under four pounds—a major plus if you need to hike or canoe to your campsite.


For some, camping is about getting back to the basics. But that doesn't have to be the case for mealtime. The Eureka Ignite Plus Stove features two stainless burners sized for 12-inch pans — ideal when cooking for large groups or boiling coffee while prepping breakfast. The stove's push button igniter and simmer dial bring added convenience and precision to this pop-up kitchen. Its folding design latches for compact storage and transport. And weighing in at 12 pounds, the stove is well suited for drive-in and canoe camping.


Whether to shield your tent from the elements or provide shade for your camp kitchen, a quality tarp has versatile uses. The Kelty Noah's Tarp is designed with 68D polyester and sealed seams to protect from sun and rain from spring through fall. Fitted with multiple loop tie-ins and guy-out points, this tarp can be set up as a canopy cover between tree trunks or staked to the ground for a pitched-roof shelter. The tarp comes in three sizes: 9 x 9 feet, 12 x 12 feet, and 16 x 16 feet.


With its ergonomic design and adjustable headrest, the Helinox Sunset Chair ups the comfort factor for campsite lounging. Mesh panels along the mid-back and sides add breathability and help achieve an impressively light weight of 3.3 pounds. Despite its sleek profile, the chair's aluminum alloy frame and durable materials can support up to 320 pounds. The poles are fitted with shock cords for easy set up and disassembly to store in a compact 18.5 x 5.5 x 4.5-inch complementary carry sack, which also serves as an attachable pillow case when empty.


Keeping camping provisions cool and safe from wildlife is essential. The durable Pelican 45QT Elite Cooler is up to the task. It boasts up to 10 days of ice retention thanks to a two-inch wall of insulation and freezer-grade gasket. Meanwhile, three-inch locking latches and a reinforced lockable hasp offer protection from meddlesome critters. True to its name, this Elite Cooler model has a 45-quart internal volume. Though it weighs a hefty 37.2 pounds, the heavy-duty wheels and extendable handle allow this cooler to traverse tougher terrain, even when fully-loaded.


Leave the batteries at home — this solar-powered lantern can charge itself and any of your USB-compatible devices. There are five brightness settings, with the highest (turbo) emitting 150 lumens of bright LED light and low mode providing up to 50 hours of illumination. The lantern is made with durable, waterproof materials that are 100 percent PVC-free. Adjustable straps make it easy to hang the PackLite lantern on a branch or in your tent. When inflated, the cubic lantern measures six inches in all directions, and packs down to just an inch tall for easy transport. Recharging from an empty battery takes 12 to 14 hours of direct outdoor sunlight or under two hours by traditional outlet via the USB cord.

The North Face

Made from recycled materials, the North Face Eco Trail Synthetic 20 Sleeping Bag is an environmentally friendly and reliable way to stay cozy in temperatures down to 20 degrees. The mummy-style hood has a cinch cord to create an incredibly snug fit, while the draft collar helps prevent heat loss. Extra comfort is achieved with a roomier fit near the knees and a vaulted footbox for more insulation underfoot. It's also very customizable, with four sizes (short, regular, long, and extra long) and the choice of a left or right side zipper.


Inflating up to 4.25 inches thick, the Therm-A-Rest MondoKing 3D Sleeping Pad provides ample cushion and insulation from the ground. The pad's StrataCore construction integrates a continuous layer of thermal foam to add warmth and comfort for all-season use. Set up is a breeze thanks to its self-inflating capabilities and two TwinLock valves—one marked "in" for inflation and another marked "out" for deflation. The pad comes in two sizes — large and XX large — measuring 77 x 25 inches and 80 x 30 inches, respectively, to accomodate most heights with room still for a camping pillow.

Besides the apparel and camping essentials listed above, you'll also want to remember these items — namely, sunscreen and bug spray to stay safe and protected when you're outside, as well as a daypack for offsite adventures like hiking or kayaking and a headlamp for safely and comfortably navigating when the sun goes down.


The 20-liter Osprey Daylite Plus Pack can accommodate everything you need for daily adventures. Most of the 1.2-pound pack's volume is dedicated to the main panel-loading compartment, so it's easy to stow any gear, snacks, and extra layers you might need. The main pocket also includes a padded interior sleeve for a hydration reservoir or laptop (up to 15 inches). The front includes three smaller pockets for storing valuables and quick access. What's more, this pack can be attached to other compatible Osprey packs for additional storage. Fitted with dual water bottle pockets and AirScape mesh-covered foam, this pack is designed with comfort and support in mind for a full day of outdoor adventure.


Headlamps offer a hands-free way to see in the dark, which comes in handy when doing camp chores and spotting tree roots on nighttime bathroom runs. The Black Diamond Spot 400 Headlamp delivers excellent brightness (400 lumens), waterproof construction, and a range of brightness settings suited for camping. Proximity mode produces a softer beam for up-close tasks, while the spot and red light settings illuminate the trail ahead and help maintain night vision, respectively. On low, the Spot 400 lasts up to 200 hours, making it great for multi-day trips. And weighing in at 2.7 ounces with batteries, it's comfortable to wear and easy to transport.


Packing an effective bug repellent is your best bet for stopping mosquitoes and other pests from sucking the fun out of camping. While DEET products may be more familiar by name and their chemical smell, sprays with 20 percent picaridin, like Sawyer Products, offer comparable protection without the harsh odor and oily feeling on your skin. Besides mosquitoes, it repels black flies, ticks, chiggers, gnats, and sand flies for up to 12 hours. The spray comes in 3, 4, and 6-ounce bottles, as well as a lotion version.


It's important to protect exposed skin when spending more time outdoors. Though pricey, this full-body sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, meaning less frequent reapplication when swimming or working up a sweat. And the zinc oxide formula is oil-free, fragrance-free, and non-comedogenic, so it absorbs quickly without blocking pores or leaving greasy residue behind. The sunscreen is available in 3 ounces for carry-on convenience or 7 ounces for a greater value purchase.

Waterproof gear has a higher level of protection against rainfall and submersion underwater than water-repellent gear. There isn't a universal standard for apparel when it comes to water resistance, but some products, such as headlamps, carry an IP rating to show how well they are protected from water. The second digit of an IP rating, which ranges from 0-9, demonstrates the level of water resistance. For instance, a 7 rating would mean it can be submerged up to 1 meter in water for 30 minutes.

The amenities at drive-in campgrounds can vary, but generally include a fire ring or pit, picnic table, and nearby restrooms. Drive-in campsites for RVs and campers often have electric, water, and sewer hook-up, too.

Kevin Brouillard is a contributing writer at T+L, specializing in outdoor gear and apparel. His work has been published in TripSavvy, Jetsetter, and Oyster, and he served in the Peace Corps in Cambodia for two years. He used his experience with outdoor adventure as well as thorough research and tips from experts in compiling this list of the best headlamps.

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