2020 camping checklist and essential camping skills guide – With years of expertise packed in, the SmartCamper camping checklist has all the essential gear needed to get started camping and also includes nice to have items for a great time camping! For camping skills such as how to build a campfire and setup a camp kitchen, take a look at the camping essentials skills guide.

camping checklist and camping essentials guide
Camping Checklist
camping essentials guide
Camping Essentials Guide

Camping Checklist

This camping list is a comprehensive packing list and also includes car camping checklist items. By using this checklist, you make sure no essential items are forgotten. Our checklist has some additional items that may improve your camping experience. If you’re looking for the camping must haves you can find them in the essentials area below. We hope you enjoy this camp resource while you are preparing for you camping trip. If you’re looking for in-depth information on the essential camping gear, this article also serves a good camping 101 for beginners. Depending on where you are going camping, you may not need every item on this list so if you’re looking for what to pack for camping, use this as for starters list and adjust as needed to your specific needs. Download the printer friendly camping checklist here (PDF and PNG).

Camping Essentials

Tools & Repair

Car Camping Additions:

Camping checklist continued below

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Camping checklist (continued)

Camp Kitchen

Fun Things to Bring Camping

Clothing & Footwear

Health & Hygiene

PDFcamping checklist pdf

PNGcamping checklist pdf

Essential Camping Gear

overall best headlampIf you’re camping in a developed campground, you will have some facilities such as fresh water and bathrooms that you will not have in other more remote campsites. Remember to plan your gear according to where you will be camping.

In addition to your camping tent, you’ll need a few more items to make camping an enjoyable experience.  Below you’ll find a beginners list for essential camping gear that you’ll want.

  • Camping tent: When choosing a tent go for a larger size if your budget allows. The factory number of people rating tends to be a bit tight for most people. For example, if you’re two people get a three person tent. Having a little more space is really nice, especially when you have extra gear or a dog. For a family of four, go with a 6-person rated tent. At some point, you’ll most likely run into cooler weather at night and/or rain. To prepare for cold weather and rain, make sure to get a rainfly with your tent. Most come with a rainfly but can also be purchased separately if it is not included with your tent. Also, we highly recommend purchasing a tent footprint if yours does not come with one. A tent footprint is basically a tarp that goes underneath your tent to protect you from wet ground.

Smart tip: Before going on your first camping adventure, practice setting up your tent at home.

  • Sleeping bag: Pick a bag that will keep you warm in the coldest camping conditions that you expect to use it in. This means you will need to pay attention to the temperature rating of the sleeping bag. Our preference is to sleep in a bag with a temperature rating this is at or below freezing as long as we are not snow camping. It is easier to take off layers or unzip the bag if you are too hot. Mummy sleeping bags tend to be a bit warmer.
  • Sleeping pad: Some people find sleeping while camping to be a challenge. Having a sleeping pad helps promote a good nights sleep. We recommend that you don’t skimp on a sleeping pad.  Pay attention to the thickness of the pad and the R-Value. Thickness helps prevent you from feeling the ground and the R-Value the warmth rating. The higher the R-Value the higher the insulation value, which mean the warmer you will be. An R-Value of 4+ is usually good for colder temperatures. Most sleeping pads have sets of air chambers; on some budget pads you’ll see larger gaps between the air chambers. The gaps have decreased padding and if you are a side sleeper you may feel the ground at the gap spots.

Smart tip: Many times you’ll get to your camp spot in the afternoon. Don’t wait until it gets dark to setup your camping area. Set up your tent and blow up your sleeping pad before it gets dark.

  • Headlamp: Most campsites don’t have built-in lighting. This means that when it gets dark you’ll want to have your own light source. Often times, such as when cooking in the evening, you’ll want to have light and have your hands free. Headlamps are ideal for many camping activities and we highly recommend them. Need to go find the marshmallows for s’mores or go to the restroom in the night? A headlamp is the tool you will want.
  • Camp stove: Consider a two-burner propane camp stove as they are easy to transport, not super expensive and allow you to cook a variety of meals or boil water. There are specific propane canisters for these types of stoves. They are smaller and light-weight. If your stove does not have an auto-light feature, make sure to bring a lighter or matches to get the stove started.
  • Cooler: Consider how long you will be out camping and then ensure your cooler can retain ice long enough to keep your perishables cold.  Many of the newer coolers have better insulation which increases the ice retention but it comes at a steep cost.
  • Pots, plates, cups and sporks: Coffee? Dinner? You’ll need all the tools for food prep and then to eat it. While you can just use your home utensils and plates, there are camping specific ones that are designed to be durable and lightweight. Also, consider bringing some biodegradable soap and paper towels (or a camp towel) to clean your items off after each meal.

Smart tip: Use a clear plastic bag or bin to carry all your kitchen gear (and other gear too). Often times you’ll just need to grab one item like your coffee mug and it’s much easier to find it when it’s in a clear container. If you do decided on the clear bin, keep your camping items in it so that the next time you go camping you’ll be ready to go.

  • Camp Chair: Some people may call these an optional item but after setting up camp and a small day hike, you’ll want to watch the sunset in a comfortable seat (and maybe with a nice cold drink in hand). Camp chairs are ideal for a comfortable downtime and for sitting around the fire. We highly recommend one. Also, camp chairs can be used for other activities too like going to sporting events.

Smart tip: If you’re in a hot area, consider a camping char with a mesh back. It will keep you cooler and if it does rain it will dry quicker.

  • Daypack: Once camp is set up, you’ll want to do some exploring around. A daypack (basically a small backpack) is ideal for day excursions. Pick a daypack that can carry all the items you may want on your hike. Water, food, and maybe a rain jacket in case the weather changes. The lighter weight the daypack is the easier and more enjoyable your hike will be. For hydration, some people like just having a water bottle and other like using hydration bladders to stay hydrated on the trail. We like hydration bladders as they are easier to have a drink on the go and we also like having a backup water bottle in the pack.

Smart tip: It’s wise to have multiple water containers (bladder and bottle or bottle and bottle). Water is a really importing out on the trail and in case one of your water sources leaks, it’s really nice to have a backup.

  • Multi-tool: Make sure you have the functions you need for what you plan on doing. A multi-tool is great for for camping because they contain many of the tools you’ll want while out in the woods. Multi-tools usually contain a knife, saw, pliers, etc. and can often even be used as a hammer. If you plan on using your multi-tool for more than just camping having a few extra tools can be nice a bonus. If you plan on using the multi-tool knife blade for meal prep, consider the length and size of the blade, you don’t want to get stuck trying to slice up some items for dinner and have a wee little blade that is not right for the job.

Smart tip: Your hands are important and hurting them if a blade bends or a saw breaks is not something you want to do out in the woods. We highly recommend quality steel multi-tools from well-know brands with long warranties (when they believe in the product, it’s a good indicator that you can too).

What to know for your first camping trip

You just need a few basic pieces of camping gear. Keep your first camp a simple one or two night stay and if you can go with experienced people even better. You’ll learn something new every camp trip and the the key to making your camping even better next time is to note which items and skills you want to improve on while you’re out camping (after decades of camping we are still finding things we want for next time). So whether you’re going car camping or camping after backpacking in, consider the following to get started:

  1. For your first time, consider camping close to home so in case something goes wrong you can head back.
  2. Make sure you have the essential gear within the camping checklist.
  3. Learn the essential camping skills (like how to start a campfire) below.
  4. Look at the weather forecast.
  5. Always bring appropriate clothes for cold and rain. You can always take layers off if you get too hot.
  6. You’ll get hungry and thirsty faster while being in the outdoors, bring plenty of food and water.
  7. We hope you preserve the camp site for those in the future, consider following REI’s Leave No Trace principles.

Essentials Skills Guide – Camping Essentials

From staying warm and being able to cook food to sleeping well, there are a few essentials skills that will make your camping experience far better. Below we have listed the skills you should know before going camping. Looking for the essential camping gear? Take a look at our camping checklist.

What to wear while camping

overall best headlampCamping in the out of doors gets dirty. Make sure to bring clothing that you’re okay with getting dirty. Many campers reduce the amount of cotton clothing the bring because it not good for cold or wet environments. Our saying is that you can always take layers off when too how so bring a warm coat, a beanie for your head, nice warm long socks and even gloves if you expect it to get really cold. When camping in the mountains, afternoon rain showers are common, packing rain clothes just in case is something we always do. For footwear, pack some study shoes with good grip.

Out camping you’ll want clothing for different times of the day and for various activities. We like to pack at least a set of warm clothes for morning/evening and then a set of clothes for the daytime and activities. Also, we pack additional clothing like socks in case something gets really wet or dirty.

Camp Toiletries

Beyond your normal medications and hygiene items, don't forget the toilet paper and wet wipes. We also recommend a small shovel to bury your business if you're at a campsite without bathroom. Consider a compact first-aid kit and plan for the sun and bugs. We like to have small bottle of hand sanitizer as well for not only using the restroom but also in the camp kitchen for cooking prep.

Meal Planning

overall best headlampDon't get too complex with meals. Keeping it simple can help. Pasta, PB&J's and other sandwiches,  oatmeal, pancakes, etc. If you want something that takes a bit more prep time, consider making it the day before you go camping and carrying it in your cooler. Just choose something that you can reheat in a cooking pot or pan.

Bring plenty of snacks as you will be extra hungry from being outside. Also, don't forget the s’mores if you're camping with kids and the family.

Not much is better than  coffee or tea in the cool morning looking at the sunrise. There are many portable and camping coffee and tea makers available.

Smart tip: Don't leave your food and garbage out in the open. There are squirrels and other animals that will get into your stuff. Also, if you are camping in bear country, if a bear gets into your food many times it will need to be killed... A fed bear is a dead bear. We like to keep our food either tied up in the air away from bears or in a bear resistant cooler.

Where to go Camping

Start local if you're just getting started and have just the camping essential gear and skills down. Check out national parks and also google satellite maps to find neat places to camp. If you are going to a developed campsite area, remember to look online in case you need reservations. To do this, check our Recreation.gov as a starting place.

Some campgrounds are at a first-come, first-served basis. Try to get to your campsite early as many people start their camp trips in the afternoon after work.

As a beginner, you’ll be most comfortable in a developed campground as they have bathrooms and running water.  After getting your feet wet, go explore the outdoors with all your new skills and gear!

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Intro to camping

[wp-faq-schema title="Camping FAQs" accordion=1]

Essential Skills - Make sure you have the skills needed to go camping. If you're just starting out, learn some of the essential skills that will make your camping experience more fun. Knowing how to make a campfire and setup your tent are key items you will need to know once you get out there.

Essential Gear - Shelter, warmth, food prep, etc. You're going where there are not fast-food chains, grocery stores nearby, or your bed. Ensure that you have the gear needed to be comfortable camping. You'll need a tent to sleep in, a sleeping pad to be comfortable and so on. We've outlined all of the gear you should consider in the essential camping checklist. Good multi-tools last a lifetime.  Our overarching theme for gear is that if your budget allows, then buy quality camping gear so it does not fail you in the woods...buy once, cry once.

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