Camping is a great way to spend time with your family…sleeping in the tent, roasting marshmallows, and hiking up to the lake. But there’s one tedious part of the camping trip that we all dislike – the packing of all that camping gear!
No matter how much room you think you have, and how organized you try to be, packing to go and then unpacking at the campsite, and then doing it all over again when you come home, can become an overwhelming chore.
We make packing easy and more efficient with these 28 camping packing hacks and tips for your next family trip.
The more organized you are, the easier it will be for you to pack up all the gear you need for a weekend or longer away. Use a checklist to ensure that you have everything you need – tent and sleeping gear, cooking and eating utensils, food, clothing, entertainment, and miscellaneous.
When it’s time to pack, you can just go through the list, making sure you don’t forget something important.
Tip: save your list so you can refer to it for future camping trips.
2. Checklists for kids
Even younger children can have their own checklist of things to bring on the trip. And they can pack some of their own gear!
Be sure their list isn’t too long – let them know that it’s only the essentials and one or two toys or books that they can bring. Otherwise personal gear can start to take up a lot of room.
3. Simplicity is best
One of the best things you can do when camping is to keep things simple! We all tend to overpack, taking along items just because we think we might need them. But camping is all about the basics – you don’t need to bring all the comforts of home.
If you’re only going camping for two nights, plan accordingly. How much food do you really need? Do you really need those three sweaters?
4. Packing containers
Buy clear, opaque packing containers to store all your gear. You’ll be able to see what’s inside of each. When you’re unpacking at camp, you’ll know exactly what container to look in, so you don’t need to rummage through them to find your flashlight.
Try to have one container for sleeping bags, another for kids clothing, and a separate one for the cooking supplies. Avoid mixing items together for more organization.
5. Use labels
If you don’t have clear packing containers, use labels. Make a list of what’s in each container and tape it on the side of each bin. This will save you a lot of time unpacking at camp – time you’d rather be spending sitting in the sun or walking along the trail.
Colored bins are another option – all the food in red containers and clothing in green.
6. Pack the day before
Consider packing your vehicle the day before you leave. You’ll be less rushed and more focused – and no one will be able to toss in another bag that’s filled with things you don’t need!
You can take your time fitting in each container and bag in the most organized and effective way so that it all fits…with plenty of room for everyone in the family without squeezing bags in between.
7. How to pack the heavy stuff
Heavier items such as the tent and camping table not only take up more room than other items, they’re safer in your vehicle if they’re down at the bottom of all the camping gear and containers.
If you need to stop suddenly, the gear on top of these heavy items will keep them in place so they don’t slide around.
8. Covering up the dirt
Pack along some extra plastic bags for the return trip home – toss dirty shoes, clothing, and any other dirty items into these bags before you start packing up. This way the rest of your gear stays clean on your way home.
9. Carrier rack
If possible, invest in a rack that attaches to the roof of your vehicle, such as a Thule. You’ll be able to store almost everything inside and free up more space in your vehicle for the kids and those items you don’t want packed up with the other camping gear.
Packing pillows for everyone in the family can take up a lot of room, room that you might not have. Here are two options for you to save room. Buy inflatable pillows that won’t take up much room in your camping gear.
Or use the case that you store your sleeping bag in. When you get to camp, stuff the bag with some of your clothing and use as a pillow.
11. Down sleeping bags
Sleeping bags take up a lot of space! Although synthetic bags are more affordable and dry faster, they take up room with their bulk. If they’re in the budget, down sleeping bags can be tightly rolled and flattened.
Store them in their own individual bags inside a large plastic container for easy access.
12. Camping chairs
Most campsites will have a picnic table as well as logs around the campfire for you to sit on. If you want more comfort, camping chairs are a good investment.
However, to save space, look for collapsible chairs that fold easily and won’t take up much space in your vehicle.
13. Loading your gear
It’s a simple idea – pack items you won’t need right away into your vehicle first. They’ll be the last things you pull out. So, if you want to eat when you get to camp before setting up the tent, make sure you pack the food and cooking supplies on the top.
14. Campfire wood
Don’t even consider bringing your own wood – most campgrounds will have firewood available, either without cost or for purchase.
Clothing Packing Tips
15. Keep out the dampness
Before filling backpacks and other canvas bags with clothing, line the inside with a garbage bag to keep items from getting damp. If it rains, even if the bags are in the tent, the dampness can start to seep inside, making clothes uncomfortable to wear.
16. Roll your clothing
This is a trick to use anytime you’re traveling or camping – don’t fold your clothes – roll them. You’ll save a lot of space in backpacks or duffel bags. It’s also much easier to sort through clothes that are rolled and stacked than clothes that are layered in a pile.
17. Kids clothes
If you have younger children a great way to pack their clothes is by putting the clothing for one day together in a plastic bag. Include underclothes, socks, pants, etc. This way you take the guess work out of what they’re wearing for the day.
Pack enough bags for the number of days you’re going to be gone. And have one bag of “extra” clothing when your child gets too dirty or wet in what they’re already wearing. This method of packing saves both space…and time!
Use clear, zippered bags for your toiletries – one for each person in the family for all their personal items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and a personal bottle of soap.
Keep all the toiletry bags together in one container in the tent. This way nothing gets misplaced.
19. Kids bag
Kids are often bored in the car, no matter how long or short a distance you’re driving. Pack along a separate bag of books and small toys to keep your kids busy in the car. This keeps everything in one place so it’s easy for you to find…and quick to clean up.
Tip: surprise your kids with a new toy or book in the bag!
Food Packing Tricks
20. Plan your menu
A week or so before your camping trip, plan your menu. Know what you’re going to cook and eat each day. And then buy only those items you need to prepare these meals.
You’ll find that you save a lot of room by not packing up your entire kitchen and buying more food than you need.
21. Cooking essentials
Keep all the camping cooking essentials together in one container…and leave them in the container even when you’re not camping. It takes the guesswork out of what cooking essentials you need if you have pots, pans, plates, and cutlery that you use only when camping.
22. Condiments and spices
It can be tempting to just bring along those large bottles and jars of condiments. But are you really going to use that entire jar of mustard? Purchase smaller plastic bottles and fill them with mustard, ketchup, relish, and mayo. These bottles will stack nicely in one large plastic container.
Do the same for spices. Buy little plastic containers for those spices you’re going to be using on your trip and leave the spice jars and bags at home.
After your camping trip the condiments can fit into your fridge and be used up. If you’re going to be camping regularly throughout the summer, the spices can remain in with your camping gear, so you don’t have to repack them each time.
23. Optional choice for condiments
Another option for condiments and spices is to buy small, individual packets. Keep them all in one small container for everyone to use as needed.
24. Zippered bags for table settings
The more organized you are when camping, the more time you’ll have spending with your family. Put a plastic table setting for each person in your family into their own zippered plastic bag – plate, bowl, cup, and utensils.
When it’s time to eat, everyone can be responsible for grabbing their own bag of dishes for the meal…and responsible for cleanup as well! Store the bags in an open plastic container for easy access.
25. Ice packs and drinking water
If you’re bringing a cooler or two, you’ll need ice to keep food chilled. And you’ll also need water, so you’ll be buying jugs of water. You can save room and avoid buying bags of ice by freezing the jugs of water to chill food, one per cooler. As the ice starts to melt, you’ll have water to drink.
Tip: ice expands, so pour out some of the water from the jug before freezing.
26. Leave the egg cartons at home
Nothing beats scrambled eggs and bacon in the morning when you’re camping. Make room in your gear by leaving the egg cartons at home. Crack the eggs into a plastic bottle and store in the cooler.
When you’re ready to cook breakfast, you can just pour the egg mixture into the pan. For added convenience add salt, pepper, and other seasonings to the bottle and shake to mix.
Tip: before leaving home mix up pancake batter and pour into a plastic bottle; store in the cooler with the cracked eggs and pull both out the next morning for a quick pancake and egg breakfast.
27. Protect your pots and pans
Use a separate container just for your pots and pans – keep the container handy to where you’re cooking. In between camping trips, keep the pots and pans in the storage bin so they’re protected from moisture.
Depending on what they’re made of, some of these pans may rust. To avoid this, buy small bags of silica gel packs to put in amongst them – this is a great way to protect them for future camping trips.
28. Zippered bags for spills
Use zippered plastic bags for any items that may leak when you’re driving to your campsite – toiletries, dishwashing liquid, rubbing alcohol in the first aid kit, etc.
This way, if things start to leak, it’s contained in a plastic bag for easy clean up, and not all over clothing or sleeping bags.
Stick to a Packing Routine
Establish your own routine for packing…and stick to it. Find out what works best for you and your family and use the same method for packing and unpacking every time you go camping.
Once you know that your packing process is down pat, it will be easy to just pack up and go without the tedious trepidation of packing hanging over your head! And the more organized you are, the more you’ll be able to enjoy your trip.
Use our 28 packing hacks for your next camping adventure. You’ll feel less stressed when your gear is packed efficiently, and your campsite is organized and set up, so you spend minimal time searching for things…and more time with your family!
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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