Packing For Camping: How To Make It Easy, Fast, and Not Horrible

One of the biggest challenges to going camping is getting out the door. You’ve made the reservation, you’ve bought the sleeping bags, and you even want to go camping, but it can take several hours to compile everything you need, which makes it very difficult to leave on time. Sometimes normal life gets in the way of your camping plans!

Is it possible to make the packing process for camping easier? The two most important tips for easy packing for camping is using a customized camping checklist, and separating and bundling your camping gear into distinct categories: bedding, general camping gear, kitchen, and personal items.

Let’s dive into some more detail as well as looking at some of the other tips we’ve noticed that make a difference in making packing for camping easier. Without further adieu, here are some tips for making packing for camping easier (and faster)!

By the way, as an Amazon Associate, I earn when buying qualified products through links on my site.

Making Your Own Customized Camping Checklist

The most important tip for making packing for camping easier is a checklist. This makes sense, and you probably already knew this deep down that a checklist makes this easier. We’ll go one step further explaining some checklist style:

You need a customized checklist.

Following a generic checklist will inevitably lead to bringing too much stuff. We originally created our first camping checklist based off of Teton Sport’s checklist, shown here: Backpacking & Camping Checklist

Generic checklists, such as this one, account for almost every scenario, and for almost every family situation. This particular checklist also accounts for backpacking, which is a very different type of camping than car camping. To take your camping to the next level of convenience and speed, make a customized checklist for yourself or for your family.

Unfortunately, you can only take a guess at what this checklist will look like without actually going. On your next camping trip, start with a generic checklist, and add and subtract based on your needs.

Checklists are amazing, they will help you not forget the most essential things.

As a quick reference for your own customized checklist, I asked around recently when we went camping for what people forgot and wished they’d brought, so I’ll list them here:

  • A jacket
  • Charging adapter for phone
  • A spoon
  • Camp chairs
  • Butter
  • Good pillows
  • Camera
  • A non-empty propane tank
  • Water
  • S’more sticks
  • Portable fan
  • Neosporin
  • Fire making materials
  • Toilet paper (for an RV camper)
  • Something to drive in tent stakes

There are many different types of camping–but if you’re driving up to your campsite, then it’s considered “car camping”. This style of camping is the most popular and it requires a different mindset than wilderness camping where you may be dozens of miles from civilization.

Here are a couple of crucial tips that will help you on your way.

Make a Camping Tote

As mentioned, one of the two most important tips for getting out the door faster and easier is to separate and bundle your camping gear.

By far, the most helpful habit we’ve acquired is compiling a camping tote.

Trunk with all our camping gear
Get away quick kit!

We put ropes, our hatchet, our tent, our hammocks, our tarp, sunscreen and bug spray, our skewers, some emergency supplies, bungee cords, and other camping stuff in our camping tote. Trying to organize these things last minute would stretch our packing process for hours.

A camping tote helps you simplify your packing by lumping tons of items in your checklist into one place.

Take it from someone who has done it the wrong way many times: carrying a tote is far easier than carrying a million individual items smushed together in your arms.

These totes have wheels! Which makes travelling back and forth between the campsite much easier. (see price on Amazon)

Make a Camp Kitchen Box

Kitchen stuff is really hard to remember, because there are seemingly a million things you don’t want to forget. Such as:

  • Kitchen knife
  • Spatula
  • Cutting board
  • Tongs
  • Hot pad (or rag)
  • Spices
  • Hot sauce
  • Pots
  • Cups
  • Plates
  • So on and so on

You don’t want to put all of your kitchen stuff mixed in with our other camping supplies because typically you will want to more thoroughly wash your kitchen supplies, and trying to scramble through your tent supplies, or your sleeping bags makes it very frustrating.

A separate kitchen box allows you to clean your kitchen supplies easier, swap out things you like and don’t like (it seems this category gets more swaps than others), and allows you to find what you need much more quickly.

camping kitchen box
All our kitchen supplies ready to go!

Dedicate the Contents To Camping

When you’re first starting out camping, you don’t need to go and buy camping specific gear just for one or two nights of camping. You can use what’s in your normal kitchen. As time passes, you will find it’s easier to make the contents of your kitchen box dedicated to camping.

Thrift stores are amazing for car camping supplies. You don’t have to invest a lot of money on kitchen stuff you find at a thrift store, and you don’t care too much if they get damaged or dirty, which camping stuff tends to do.

So, dedicate the contents of your kitchen box to camping, and keep it separate from the rest of your camping gear for a SUPER easy grab-and-go solution to your portable camping kitchen.

For more details on what to put in a camping kitchen box as well as some packing tips, see our post here.

How To Pack Your Bedding For Camping

Camping bedding includes sleeping bags, sleeping pads, camping pillows, and any other camping gear dedicated to sleeping.

Keep Your Bedding Separate From the Rest of Your Camping Gear

For our camp setup, we have a separate tote just for bedding. This bedding includes the following:

  • An old comforter
  • Mexican travel blankets
  • Old eggshell mattress topper
  • Sleeping bags

This is for two reasons:

  1. Keeping your bedding separate allows you to wash your sleeping gear without dismantling the rest of your camping gear bundles
  2. Sometimes, at walk-in campsites, it is very helpful to not have to bring everything to the campsite. Keeping your gear separate makes it so you only need to bring the bundle that you need.

Keep Your Bedding Together

Totes are heaven-sent. I don’t know what kind of world we would live in if we didn’t have totes–at least for camping.

Borrowing from some Marie Kondo advice, keeping your things by category and not by size helps you mentally keep track of where things are. You are less likely to forget something (especially if you have to wash some bedding and have to take it out of your camping bedding bundle), and you are more likely to remember where everything is.

Buy Camping Reservations Months in Advance

Now onto some other tips that we’ve found to help us go camping.

I don’t know about you, but I hate wasting money. If I spend money on something, I automatically want to get the most out of it. It’s a not huge push, but it’s a little push, and sometimes all we need is a little push to get out the door.

We live in Texas, and many of the state parks that we camp at are full during high-demands times (weekends, and near holidays). We’ve found the best solution to making sure we get a good campsite when we want it is to book months in advance.

Sometimes when you want to go camping, and you have time, a campsite (or at least a good campsite) is not available. This is another obstacle that prevents you from getting out the door and going outside.

Solution: Spend an hour or two reserving campsites for the rest of the year. It’s one less thing to worry about, and it helps to have a little motivator to go camping.

Get a Larger Vehicle

This may not be top priority to make packing easier, but if you are planning on purchasing a new vehicle, consider a vehicle with a bit more space inside such as a hatchback or an SUV.

Our previous camping car of choice was our Toyota Corolla sedan. This car worked just fine for the two of us, but we definitely had it cram packed if were doing any other activities, such as going rafting with our inflatable kayak, etc.

We were lucky enough to be able to purchase a used small SUV, the Honda CRV. Coming from our sedan, this has now become our primary adventure car and it makes packing much easier.

So, if you are planning on buying a new car, consider a larger vehicle that can fit your camping needs. Make it your adventure car!

Use Your Water Storage As Your Camping Water

Many campsites don’t have potable (drinkable) water, so you have to bring in your own water.

As a backpacker you can’t carry too much water because water is heavy, and thus you have to clean your water via filter or by boiling your water.

However, when you’re car camping, you can carry large containers or water. If your campsite doesn’t have potable water, I highly suggest bringing multiple containers of water, on top of having your usual water bottles.

Remembering to fill up water jugs specifically for camping adds more time to the prep and packing time. We however, have found a clever trick to make this even easier to just use the water jugs that we use in our food storage.

If you don’t have a food storage for your family, it’s very easy to start storing water! You don’t have to go crazy and buy 50 gallon drums for water storage, but it helps to have water on hand in case your city has water issues or if the power goes out. Any time you buy juice at the store that comes in a high quality plastic jug (such as Simply Lemonade), you can fill it with water and store it in a cool place.

It turns out that this water storage and these containers work perfectly for car camping! You can grab one or two if you are going to be camping for one or two days. If you are going to be the water supply for multiple families, then you might need to think of bigger water containers, but this trick can work for you and your family.

One quick note, water storage for long periods of time (think years) needs careful treatment–your tap water may not be safe if you are going to be leaving it alone for long periods of time. Water that is being stored for years needs to be treated with small amounts of chlorine or via other methods to ensure no microbes make your water a home.

The juice jug method above works great for several month water storage, though, and you don’t have to worry about extra treatment.

Think Smarter Not Harder on Food

After you have figured out a camping box organization system, including your kitchen box and your sleeping supplies, the #1 time taker upper for preparing to go camping is your food.

You have multiple options to make your food easier to pack and carry out. Here are a few tips that have worked for us:

Use A Cooler With Wheels

Often we use our cooler for our camping meals (it seems like we are always bringing soft cheeses), and we’ve found that it makes it orders of magnitude easier to go back and forth between the kitchen to the car to the campsite with our cooler that has wheels. So, make it easier on yourself by getting a cooler with wheels attached. (This is the one we use except it’s red –see price on Amazon)

Skip Dinner Prep and Eat Out

We had to do this on our camping trip last weekend as of this writing. We didn’t have time to make dinner plans (which are usually the most complex to plan for), so we ended up not eating dinner at the campsite and instead ate at a Taco Bell on the way there. Eating food cooked at camp is only one part of the camping experience, and we still had a great time.

Prep Your Food Through The Week

Sometimes cutting vegetables and marinating meat, and packaging tinfoil dinners can be a significant time investment. Besides focusing on simpler recipes, there’s not much for it other than trying to spread out the prep time over the week you are planning on going.

Get All The Firewood You Need For The Year

This has bit us many times when we’ve tried to go camping. Where we live, firewood on sale is seasonal, and we usually get to the campsite later than the park is open and selling firewood. We’ve decide this year to get a little bit smarter, and buy all the firewood we need for several camping trips ahead of time.

Even better, when you or a friend are getting trees trimmed, make sure to ask the professionals to save a few logs for you so you can have some fuel for your campfires.

Note: It’s considered bad form to use non-local firewood at a campsite. This is very hard to quantify exactly, but in general, if your wood is local wood than it’s safe to use at local campsites. See for more details.

This cuts out the frantic wood search from gas station to grocery store that has accompanied far too many of our camping trips.

Add To Your Fire Tinder Pile Over Time

“Fire supplies” is its own category, and it’s not as simple as three items on your bullet checklist: firewood, fire starters, matches. Firewood is not always easy to find depending on where you live, and fire starters can be very expensive.

One thing that has helped us is to have a tinder pile. No, not Tinder the dating app. Tinder the fire-starting material. Tinder is basically what takes your match or lighter to burning kindling (think small twigs), and eventually to a roaring flame with your firewood.

Anytime we find non-coated paper such as scratch printer paper, or black and white newspaper coupon books that they amazingly still send us, we stow it away for when we want to have a fire. This is one way to put this waste to good use, and it makes planning and starting a fire much simpler.


Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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