5 Ways to Help You Make Your Camping Supplies Checklist


When building your camping supplies list and camping checklist, it might be a little overwhelming the first time, especially if you don’t know what to expect. I’m going to break it down for you to hopefully help you formulate your list. Some of the items may appear in multiple categories, which is actually good because getting multiple uses for your items will help cut down on the amount you need to pack.

Somewhere to sleep

We’ll start with the most obvious: your shelter and the items you’ll need for sleeping at night. For shelter, you will probably want a tent. (Unless of course you’re planning to use an RV or pop-up, in which case many items in this blog post will probably not be relevant!) You’ll need to make sure the tent is big enough for everyone in your party, and that it is weather appropriate. (Most tents will be fine, unless you’re camping in extreme weather.) You will need to look at what you’ll need to set up your tent: a tarp or footprint, a mallet, etc. (I highly recommend a test run of setting up your tent before you go camping – just to make sure all your bases are covered.) I would recommend always bringing a tarp and a rope even if you don’t have specific plans to use them.

You’ll also need something to sleep on or in. You have several options for comfort: sleeping pads, air mattresses, or cots. For warmth, you’ll want a sleeping bag or sheets and blankets. Don’t forget a pillow if you want a soft place to rest your head.

Something to wear

You’ll need to think through clothes and personal items for your camping trip. Be sure to check the weather if possible. Layers are best, as it can be chilly in the morning and evening, but hot during the day. Think through your planned activities and make sure you have appropriate clothing. Don’t forget toiletries, as well as things like bug spray or sun screen. I also recommend having a basic first aid kit.

Something to eat

How will you take your meals while camping? You could go very simple and get prepackaged items that don’t need to be cooked. (If you’re close enough to a town, for example, you could get lunches and dinners at a restaurant, and just have fruit for breakfasts.) You can use the fire to cook – there are a lot of recipes on the internet for foil packs. (You’ll need aluminum foil, firewood, and/or toasting sticks for this method.) Another options is a camp stove. (Don’t forget fuel for the stove.)

Plan your meals and be sure to note all the utensils you’ll need to prepare, cook, and consume each meal. Think through dishes and silverware (disposable works great for easy cleanup, but washing and reusing will pack smaller and be lest wasteful). Don’t forget to bring a way to wash all your dishes/utensils, and storage bags are very useful for leftovers.

If you will have things that need to be kept cold, then you’ll need a cooler. Plan on buying a bag of ice each morning.


Something for lighting

You will need some sort of lighting once the sun goes down. Generally, you’ll probably want a combination of lanterns and flashlights or headlamps. A lantern to provide general light for the campsite is helpful, and we also like having a smaller lantern for inside the tent. We like everyone to have their own headlamp, even the children. You may prefer flashlights yourself.

Something to do

You will need to think through what you plan to do while at the campsite. You’ll probably want chairs and a bonfire (firewood, hatchet), even if you don’t use a fire for cooking. (Fire is good for keeping the bugs away at night, as well as providing warmth.) Do you need things to do while at the campsite, or are you comfortable just sitting and talking? Do your kids need activities? This will depend on the personalities of everyone in your party as well as the specific campground where you’ll be. We like to bring a small bag of toys for the tent. If it looks like rain, you’ll need to plan for some inside the tent activities.

Do you plan to go hiking during the day, or sightseeing? You’ll need the appropriate items for whatever you are planning to do. Footwear, water bottle, baby carrier, money for sites, etc.

Use these ideas to make your list

Hopefully that helps you make your list. There are lots of checklists online that you can model your list after. Our list changes with each trip, so try not to stress about it being all-inclusive for every possible scenario. If you’re new at camping, it can be hard to foresee all the things you *might* need, and if packing space is tight then it can be challenging to decide what extras are worth bringing. For your first time, I would stick close to home so the climate won’t be very different from what you’re used to, and you can run back home if you forget something vital.


Camping gear: cast iron pie irons


I gave a down-low of all the camping supplies we pack, but there are lots more things out there!

One popular item that our friends love but we don’t have are pie irons. (Also known as camp cookers, as well as mountain pies, pudgie pies, hobo pies, pie sham or toasties.) These are nifty and versatile utensils that have a cooking compartment made of two pieces of metal hooked by a hinge, with wooden-handled metal rods to make maneuvering easy. You put the food in the compartment and close it, nestle it right in the coals for cooking. You could also use just one side as a small skillet.


Pie irons are generally made from aluminum or cast iron, but my friends prefer the cast iron ones. (And it seems from my research, it’s the general public consensus as well.) You can read more about the pros and cons here. The images above show the traditional square ones, but they also come in different sizes as well as shapes (round and rectangular). This page has a good list of types of pie irons offered by one company (Rome), though I’m sure you can find similar products by other companies.

What kinds of food can you make with a pie iron? Here are some ideas passed on to me by my friend, Jason. He says the trick is to not overfill the cookers.

  • pie (canned pie filling between slices of white bread)
  • pizza (pizza sauce, cheese, and pepperoni between slices of bread)
  • camp potatoes (potatoes, spices, and maybe a little cheese)
  • grilled cheese (two slices of bread with cheese)
  • biscuit or sweet roll (uncooked refrigerated biscuit or sweet roll)

Once you load the food, you put it into the fire until it’s done (golden brown on both sides). If you branch out into the other shapes and sizes of pie irons offered, that will expand even further the types of food you can cook. (Like waffles!)


Here are some other websites I found with recipes. (Note – I have not tried any of them!)

With a little creativity, you could use the pie iron for almost any individual sized meal while you’re camping. There is a bit of a learning curve, so be patient as you experiment for the exact placement in the coals and length of time needed to cook properly. These probably aren’t good tools for younger children as they can be very hot, but for older children it can be a fun way for them to cook their own meals.

Bon appetit!

Image sources:
Pie iron with sandwich source here
Pie irons in fire source here

Our eternal dilemma: sleeping pads

We started camping about 9 months after we got married. I spent a lot of time researching the various camping equipment we would need, since it was my husband’s first time camping ever and my first time since I was a girl. My husband is a minimalist, so I tried not to get too crazy about gear. Despite that, we way overpacked and our first camping trip was rather funny and another post for another day.

The age-old question for us has been sleeping comfort. There are a variety of ways to solve this problem, with air mattresses probably being the most popular among car campers. Due to significant weight differences between my husband and me, we don’t care for air mattresses, and besides – we wanted to be true authentic campers. Air mattresses just seemed to be cheating to us. (I have since come down from my pious horse and say, whatever works for you!)

We initially had a complicated system of one of those memory foam bed toppers and a really thick sleeping bag. It was very comfy, but took up SO much room in our trunk. Once we got our Toyota Corolla, we had to rethink our strategy.


We then bought blue foam pads from Walmart – only $5 each I think. We were so proud of our minimalism! We used these for several years, even when we camped while I was pregnant.


Then at some point in the past year or two, I said enough. I couldn’t do the hardness of those blue foam pads anymore. So, I set about researching what other options were out there. Space in the trunk was a huge concern for us, but it’s hard to balance that and personal comfort, especially when you’re car camping.

At our last camping trip, we ended up renting self-inflating sleeping pads from REI. As an aside, I really love having the option to rent camping equipment. These babies are not cheap at all, and we wanted to make sure we liked them before we invested any money in them.


I had the best sleep of my life on these pads. (Okay, exaggeration, but probably the best sleep I’ve ever had while camping.) I couldn’t believe the difference. My husband and I zip our sleeping bags together, so we each had a 3.5 inch pad underneath. For my 3 year old (who really doesn’t care), we rented the much thinner 1.75 backpacker’s sleeping pad. It worked out really well. (And, as I’m looking at REI’s site right now, turns out they have kids’ sizes of those self-inflating pads, which would definitely be worth checking out…)

My only hesitation with biting the bullet and getting the sleeping pads for us is the packed size is still pretty big – 6.25″ x 26″ and 5 lbs. Also, they’re fairly expensive, especially when you need to buy two. So… I am not sure. We might be better off just getting over our issues with the air mattress and going that route. Despite a positive test run with the sleeping pads, we haven’t decided anything yet.

One good thing is it’s fairly cheap to rent them from REI – only $6/day. We rented 3 pads for 5 days for only $36 total. At that rate, we can camp almost 9 times before we would spend the same amount on buying them outright. So, we’ll probably do that until we make a decision.

Image sources:
Memory foam topper source here
Blue foam pad source here
REI camp bed source here

Packing the car: camping supplies


We’ve been car camping for about 6 years now, and we’ve put a lot of thought into what we should bring camping. We prefer to keep it as simple as possible, and since we drive a small Toyota Corolla space is an issue. Here’s what we have narrowed it down to, but we’re continually reevaluating and modifying as needed. One thing about kids… your needs are always changing depending on their ages! (Keep in mind we are car camping, usually at a state park with bathrooms available – if you are backpacking then your priorities will be different, of course!)

Camping Gear

TENTWhen it was just the two of us, we used an inexpensive tent that we bought at Walmart and we loved it. It was so easy to set up. But, it was a little small for more than two people plus stuff.
Our new tent

Now we have a big Kelty tent. It has some cool features – tall enough to stand in the middle of the tent, a vestibule (front porch). It also is complicated to set up, though not impossible. We’ll probably be tent-shopping in the next few years – look for future posts about that.
Our tent

FOOTPRINT/TARPTo protect the floor of your tent and extend its lifetime, it’s important to put something in between the tent and the ground. We have a footprint for our big tent that actually buckles into place so it doesn’t move. For the smaller tent, we just use a tarp, which works just as well. Just make sure that whatever you use is smaller than the tent itself – you don’t want water to collect and go underneath the tent if it rains or mists heavily. If your tarp is too big, just fold it back to make it the right size.

MALLET AND HATCHETThe mallet for pounding in stakes; ours also has a hook on the other end of the handle, useful for removing the stakes. The hatchet is good for firewood.
Mallet & hatchet

SLEEPING BAGSWe turn our sleeping bags into a double bed by zipping them together – you can do this if the sleeping bags unzip all the way. Our 3 year old has her own sleeping bag, and our baby sleeps in the double sleeping bag with us. Right now, we’re in the process of figuring out the best sleeping pad. We liked the self-inflating ones we rented from REI, but they’re a little pricey to buy. Some people use an air mattress. For pillows, we have smaller camping pillows that can roll smaller into a little bag (to save space).
Inside our tent

BLANKETSIt’s always a good idea to have a few throw blankets; sometimes temperatures can dip down, especially in the spring or fall.

WHISK BROOM AND DUST PANFor cleaning out the tent before packing it away.
Broom and dust pan

WELCOME MATUseful for wiping off feet before entering the tent; it keeps the tent cleaner and we also leave our shoes there. We made it from a piece of discarded carpet.

LIGHTINGWe have a variety of lighting devices. Camping with kids has a different spin in that it’s not “every man for himself”. So, we are starting to focus on more larger-range lamps and less on single-person lamps. We have a big family-sized LED one that we like, and we’ll probably get a second one before our next trip.

We also have headlamps that we use for walking around outside the campsite. We have one per person, including for the children – this is important. We have found that our 3 year old LOVES having her own headlamp, and she WILL steal ours if we’re not careful. 😉 So we bought her a cheap one (that only has on/off) and we have nicer ones with more settings.

Eating and Food Prep

CAMP STOVEWe have a double-burner Coleman camp stove that we love. Don’t forget to bring extra fuel. Also important is to bring matches and/or a lighter.
Making lunch

COOKWAREBecause of our space issues, we like to invest in compact camping cookware. We used to have a small set that fed two people, and actually recently upgraded to the GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Camper set. It’s kinda amazing – two pots with lids that have strainers built in, a frying pan, 4 insulated mugs with lids, 4 bowls, and 4 plates that all condense into one handy-dandy carrying case that doubles as a sink.

DISHES AND UTENSILSAs part of our cookware set, we have 4 plates/cups/bowls. We also bring 2 other plates that were our original camping dishes before we got that set – extra plates come in handy for food prep. For utensils, we have “sporks” by Light My Fire. These are fork, spoon, and knife all rolled into one piece. They come in a lot of bright colors, which my daughter loves (she’s really obsessed with green).

TOASTING STICKSToasting sticks are useful for marshmallows and hot dogs. I like having these collapsible sticks dedicated to the purpose – I’m not really one to use a stick I picked off the ground!

PICNIC BASKET AND COOLERWe got a picnic basket for our wedding that we use to transport all our dry goods and food. We use a soft-sided cooler for anything that needs to be kept cold. We love that this is smaller than the hard-sided one, and it has two openings which makes food organization simpler.
Picnic basket

TABLECLOTHBecause campsite tables aren’t always the cleanest! One that is plastic will be easier to wipe off.
Picnic table

DRINKSI like to buy a case of bottled water because it’s easy to grab. I also bring those Crystal Light drink packets which have enough powder mix for a bottle of water. This is great because you can just bring water and each person can then decide how to flavor it. Don’t forget to bring a sippy cup if they’re not old enough to drink from a regular cup or water bottle.

FOODThe subject of camp food goes beyond the scope of this post, so I’ll briefly summarize. We like simple, easy-to-fix meals that take as few ingredients as possible and can be cooked either on a camp stove or over a fire. We also bring along snacks to munch on during the day.

Miscellaneous Items

BUCKET AND MISC. ITEMSBuckets are useful to have around for carrying water and doing dishes. For transportation, I fill it with a paper towel roll, a box of ziploc bags, aluminum foil, and a box of garbage bags. I’ve found each are good things to have around! I also keep a sponge, dish soap, and dish towel in here for washing dishes. And finally, a few plastic grocery bags for things like dirty diapers.

CAMPING CHAIRSWe bring folding camping chairs – one per person. (If you’re camping in a big group, I highly recommend bringing an extra chair. When our daughter was 2, we had a small child-sized chair that actually was a booster seat. However, she can easily get into the adult-sized chairs now and the small one is a little too low to the ground for her.
From the door of the tent

ROPE/TARPRopes are useful for making clothes lines, putting up tarps, and other things. We’ve camped in the rain enough that we invested in a heavy duty tarp after the other one we had ripped (see picture below).
Our campsite

BUG REPELLENT AND SUNSCREENBugs can be a major problem while camping. Avoid scented perfumes and soaps that might attract them. My preliminary research shows that out in the woods, “natural” bug repellant doesn’t work very well, so we use the regular stuff and try to use it sparingly. We always bathe everyone before crawling into bed to avoid getting bug spray in the sleeping bags. As for sunscreen, rash guards and hats are the best defense against the sun. Look into where you’ll be camping to see if you’ll need sunscreen for swimming, hiking, or just being in the sun at the campsite.

FIRST AID KITYou can put one together yourself, but we bought one at REI that we like. You may also want to consider having rubbing alcohol for tick removal – we had trouble with that when we would camp with our dog.
First aid

Personal Gear

CLOTHES, SHOESLayers are the way to go while camping because the daytime can be hot while the nighttimes chilly. I bring shoes for hiking and sandals for easy removal when around the campsite. I try not to bring anything that I don’t mind getting dirty – especially for kids’ clothes. I also include a plastic bag for dirty clothes.

TOILETRIESWe try to keep toiletries simple. Avoid scented things that might attract bugs. I do usually bring shampoo/conditioner needed for a shower – they are essential for washing off dirty but happy little bodies and also removing bug spray at the end of the day. On cold days, a warm shower can really help.

TOWELSYou’ll probably want a regular bath towel (one per person), and perhaps a hand towel and/or washcloth depending on what you normally use. (Remember: keep it simple!) Also, if you’ll be swimming you may want a separate beach towel. I like having a dish towel as well.

BABY CARRIER – If you have a little one, a baby carrier is a must! I want to do a future post expanding on the different kinds, but we use ours for both when we’re hiking and when we’re trying to get things done around the campsite (like setting up the tent). I have an Ergo, and can wear both my baby and my preschooler. (The second picture was taken just a few weeks ago at age 3.5!) Baby carriers can be a must if you have a child who likes to bolt. (Another idea to contain a small child is a stroller.)
Savannah takes a nap
Not too big to wear!

ACTIVITIESWhat you bring for activities will depend on what is offered at the campground. We tend to find the hottest part of the day and the evenings right before bedtime are when we have down time. I like to bring along my camping guidebook for reference and notes. I also like to make sure I have a deck of cards, and as our kids get older I want to include family games. You’ll want to think through what kinds of toys your kids might want along. During our last trip, we brought a reusable shopping bag with books, coloring books and crayons, and miscellaneous toys. (I wouldn’t necessarily recommend crayons if the weather is going to be hot, though!) The toys were for inside the tent only – very useful for when she woke up extra early and we weren’t ready to crawl out from our sleeping bags yet.
Toys for camping

CAMERATo capture the memories! Make sure the battery is charged and you have your memory card.

That’s a basic rundown of what we pack in our car, but that doesn’t mean these are the only things you need for camping. Everyone has their own personal requirements for a happy camping trip, and it will depend on your needs, the ages of your kids, and your destination. I hope to go into depth about my favorite items in the future, but this should be a good basic list to get you started.