Packing For Tent Camping – What To Pack and Where To Start

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If you are a new camper deciding what to pack, how much of it to pack and what to pack it in can be a little overwhelming.  Maybe its weekend family car camping at a commercial campground. Maybe its dispersed camping in a remote area.  Or hiking and you will be camping a few nights on the trail.

The first order of business you've already done, you know where you’re going, how long you will be there and what you will be doing.    That's a good start. Now you begin thinking of what you'll need on the trip.     In this first segment we'll talk about car camping.  Remember, packing is a process, it takes time and thought so don't wait till the last minute and think you’re going to throw it together and get it right.

Tent camping out of the family car has the advantage that everything doesn't have to be light weight, and you can bring quite a bit of gear.   But as you’re going to find out, there's limits. To control the chaos my method is to break down the packing into specific groups such as shelter, sleeping gear, cooking gear, cloths, food, etc.

We'll start with shelter. When you pack up your vehicle remember your tent or tarps should be the first thing that you unpack when you arrive at your camping spot.  You pack these items last so they will be easily accessible without taking too many other items out of the car first.    Remember it may be raining when you get there.   Yeah, I know, don't even go there. But it happens so be prepared for it.   So get your shelter gear in a pile.  Tent, ground cloth, tarps if you need them.  Cord to tie things off.   An axe to put the stakes in if they are larger than step in size.   Is the rain fly in the tent bag?  How about the poles and stakes?  All there?  You didn't check? Go back and check.  I know a guy that went on a snow shoeing trip.  He took along a brand new hot tent with a stove as shelter for the 4 people going.  When they got to their first night camping spot they found out some of the tent frame poles were missing.  Don't let it happen to you.  It’s a good idea to always put a tent up once or twice at home so that A. you know all the parts are there and B.   So you know how to put it up at the camp site and don't look like a total nerd to your fellow campers.

Next is sleeping gear.   We'll go from the ground up.   If your tarp camping or your tent has no floor you will need a ground cloth.   That's simply a tarp or plastic sheet used as a vapor barrier between you and the ground.  Then your pads, these can be air mattress, closed cell foam pads, or even an extra blanket. Whatever your using to insulate you from to ground and provide some comfort.  You'l need sleeping bags for everybody going or enough blankets for everyone.   If it’s warm weather camping sleeping bags aren't completely necessary and you can get by with blankets from home.   But bring enough.  It gets colder than you think sleeping outdoors.  Pillows if you want them.  Put these items in to car first.  They come out last because you won’t need them right away.

Now cooking gear.    Start with the easiest.   You need utensils for everybody.  Plates, cups, maybe bowls.    Get these items together in a box.  No, find a bigger box, there is more coming. You won’t know what you need in to way of pots, pans, skillets or grills until you plan your menu.   I can’t help you there cause it’s all up to individual taste.   But once you do decide add the cooking equipment you need for making those dishes to the box.   Don't forget things like spatulas, serving spoons, spices, napkins, etc.   Some people like to have it all. Some like to do with less.   But pack it now.  Now is the time to make sure that your cooler, totes or boxes can hold all your planning on bringing.

Now your clothes. Of course, how hard this is depending on the season.    Winter camping requires a  lot  more thought and much more gear. Break this down into two piles, what you will need as soon as you get there and extra stuff you may need later. Pack these things in your packs more bags in the order you expect to need to get them out.

Now we come to things like, flashlights, headlamps, lantern, extra batteries. Make sure you can find these easily in your vehicle especially if you may arrive after dark.  Remember things like tools, axe, splitting maul, knife. You may need these pretty quick after arrival.

If you are camping in bear country you might want to take some extra precautions, maybe even consider packing bear spray.

There are a great many items left depending on how much you care to take with you.   The trick to it all is to break it down into groups, pack one group at a time and then move to the next.  It will make your packing easier and much more efficient.  With each trip you gain experience and begin to learn what you really need and want to have along with you. Remember, it’s a process.

Dave is a life long outdoors men and can be found camping in all four seasons. He spends as much time as possible on the rivers and in the woods canoeing, camping, fishing and hunting. He teaches bushcraft and woodsmenship to beginners and people that want to feel more confident and competent in the outdoors. Check out the course page for course relevant information.

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