A Basic Tent Camping Checklist

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If you’re starting from scratch, this basic tent camping checklist may look a little intimidating at first. Getting into camping can seem overwhelming, so it’s best to keep things simple and start packing far enough in advance. You may already have many of these items around the house so you don’t necessarily have to go out and buy all new gear.

It’s a good idea to consider renting or borrowing costly items, such as a tent or camp stove to get you started. That way you can make sure you actually enjoy camping before investing in new camping equipment. With time, you’ll find what works for you and can add to your camping kit gradually so as to not break the bank with one huge spending spree.

camping tents campsite pixabay
(Photo courtesy of Pixabay/Brahmsee)

This tent camping checklist is a great way to get you started. With experience, you can adapt this list to fit the your family and the unique needs of your trip. 

Sleep and Shelter

Your sleep system is the most important and likely the most expensive part of your tent camping kit. Unlike backpacking, you don’t really have to worry about the weight and size of your gear since you won’t be carrying it, so go for comfort rather than packability. Consider using a standard blow-up mattress if you have space, and blankets can easily be used in place of a sleeping bag if you don’t have your own. You can always try sleeping in your car instead of setting up a tent.

  • Sleeping Pad
  • Sleeping Bag (or blankets)
  • Camp Pillow
  • Tent (and footprint or tarp, and stakes) 

Kitchen Gear

Your cooking setup can be as simple as a cup, a few eating utensils, and a selection of food that doesn’t require cooking. But since you’re traveling by car, you can go all out with some extra kitchen gear like a two-burner camping stove, cook pots, cutting boards, and whatever else you think you’ll need to make gourmet camp meals. For easy kitchen clean-up, don’t forget to pack a dishpan or large plastic container, biodegradable dish soap, and paper towels. Large plastic bins are useful for organizing your camp kitchen gear. 

  • Camp Stove
  • Lighter and/or Matches
  • Water Jug
  • Cooler
  • Cook Pots and Cooking Utensils
  • Plates and Bowls
  • Eating Utensils
  • Dishwashing Bins and Biodegradable Dish Soap 
  • Can Opener, Bottle Opener, and Corkscrew
  • Cutting Boards
  • Paper Towel
  • Sandwich Bags and Aluminum Foil 
  • Garbage Bags
campsite food dining cooking
(Photo courtesy of Pixabay/seukyonglim)

Campsite Items

Pack one camp chair per person; any lawn chair or folding chair will do. Most campsites have a picnic table, but if you are dispersed camping you’ll want to pack a folding table for cooking. Make sure you have a headlamp or flashlight for each person, and a daypack for adventures around camp. Pack a pop-up shade structure or tarp in case you can’t find a camping spot in the shade.

  • Camp Chairs
  • Camp Table
  • Headlamps or Flashlights
  • Lantern
  • Daypack
  • Camping Shade or Tarp
car camping tent pixabay
(Photo courtesy of Pixabay/chulmin1700)

READ MORE: 5 Ways to Make Coffee While Camping

Tent Camping Emergency Kit

When it comes to camping safety, preparing an emergency kit is essential. A fully stocked first aid kit is a good first step. Always have paper maps and other navigational tools handy since you may not have reliable cell service for the entirety of your camping trip. Spare batteries, a fire-starter kit, and extra food and water can be helpful in emergencies. Duct tape, multi-tools, and repair kits are useful items to have in case you run into any problems with your gear.

  • First Aid Kit
  • Map or Compass
  • Spare Batteries or Solar Charger
  • Fire-Starting Kit
  • Extra Food and Water
  • Sleeping Pad Patch Kits
  • Duct Tape
  • Nylon Cord or Rope
  • Multi-Tool or Pocket Knife
  • Camp Axe or Hatchet
first aid kit pixabay
(Photo courtesy of Pixabay/stevepb)

Clothing

Your checklist for camping clothing will vary widely depending on the time of year, climate, and weather forecast. At a minimum, your packing list should include t-shirts, a long-sleeve shirt, a light jacket, shorts, pants, underwear, socks, and some sturdy hiking shoes. In colder weather, pack plenty of extra layers and a warm jacket. Packing a warm hat and gloves is always a good idea in case you experience unanticipated poor weather.   

Packing the proper clothing is key if you’re going to be camping in the rain. Opt for clothing items made out of synthetic materials or wool over cotton, and have a good rain jacket or poncho on hand. Always pack extra underwear and socks. 

  • Moisture Wicking T-Shirts
  • Quick Dry Pants and Shorts
  • Fleece or Warm Jacket
  • Rain Gear
  • Sleepwear
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Bandana and Visor
  • Warm Hat and Gloves 
  • Hiking Boots or Trail Shoes 
  • Swimsuit

Personal Hygiene

Since you’re camping, you can usually get away with packing only basic hygiene supplies such as a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, and any necessary medications. Some campgrounds have showers available and in that case, you’ll want to bring along soap, shampoo, and shower shoes. Baby wipes are a very valuable camping tool — they’re great for cleaning your hands off, washing your face, and giving your body a quick wipe-down at the end of the day.  

  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste
  • Deodorant 
  • Medications
  • Baby Wipes
  • Sunscreen and Lip Balm
  • Insect Repellent
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Toilet Paper 
  • Towels
  • Solar Sun Shower (if there aren’t shower facilities available)

Personal Items

Be sure to bring along some cash and/or your checkbook; many National Forest Campgrounds only accept cash or check for campground fees. Also, make sure to have paper copies of any campground reservations or proof of reservations available on your phone.

  • Credit Cards and Cash
  • Campground Reservation Confirmations
  • Cell Phone and Charger
  • Sunglasses 
family campground pixabay
(Photo courtesy of Pixabay/alseeger)

Optional Tent Camping Items

Now that you have all the tent camping essentials taken care of, it’s time to think about what kind of fun you want to have at camp. Camp favorites include stargazing apps, a deck of cards, a frisbee, and musical instruments. If you’re camping solo, a journal or good book is priceless.

  • Night Sky Apps
  • Travel Games or Cards
  • Frisbee, Cornhole, or other yard games 
  • Field Guides (Trees, Flowers, Wildlife, etc.)
  • Journal and Pen
  • Books and Magazines
  • Trekking Poles
  • Fishing Gear
  • Musical Instruments 
  • String Lights
  • Camera
  • Binoculars
  • Dog Gear

READ MORE: Guide: Tent Camping for Beginners

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a basic tent camping checklist