Planning a camping road trip is fun and exciting, but let’s be honest … planning a solid packing list is anything but. It’s downright stressful. Painful. You ALWAYS feel like you’re forgetting something. Add in the fact you are about to embark on a road trip with endless amounts of things to do and places to go, and the list of items you need expands even more.
This complete guide below will help you prevent spending agonizing amounts of time trying to perfect your own list. It consists 9 categories from camp gear and camp kitchen to emergency essentials and necessary clothing. Check out the categories below for a full-detailed list with factors to take into consideration for items you may have to purchase.
CAMPING ROAD TRIP QUICK NOTES
If you’re still in the planning stages of your road trip, check out these 8 simple steps for planning the most epic road trip experience. The steps start from the basic idea of a wanting to go on a hiking road trip all the way to the final checks you should be making before starting on your adventure.
And if you’re interested in road tripping through northeast USA and hitting some of the most popular hikes and spots in the area, check out this flexible 1-2 week guide to hit all the highlights of New England.
Budget Tip: Getting the right gear can rack up costs – quickly. Always reach out to friends and family before purchasing items to see if they have spares or are available to rent. You never know what’s available to use. On my road trip, I was able to borrow a sleeping bag, 2 tents, a sleeping mat, and more. If this isn’t an option, research rental options at local outdoor stores. If you’re based in the United States, REI is a fantastic outdoor co-op option.
Printable Guide: Check out the end of the article for a 1-page printable packing list PDF!
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CAMPING ROAD TRIP PACKING LIST ARTICLE CONTENTS
- Camping Gear
- Camp Kitchen
- Emergency Essentials
- Miscellaneous / Optional
- Day Trip and Overnight Packs
- Factors to pay attention to: capacity, seasonality, ease of setup
- Checkout this REI article for more in-depth detail on picking the right tent
- Tarp (Footprint)
- Make sure it’s the right size for your tent, it prevents the ground from getting super wet
- Sleeping bag
- There’s so many different types on the market it can be overwhelming
- Factors to pay attention to: temperature rating, shape, insulation type
- REI has a great article for how to choose the best sleeping bag for you
- If space is a priority, there are great inflatable pillow options
- Sleeping mat
- Super space friendly and add a great layer of comfort for sleeping
- Spare stakes
- Adding a bug net could come in handy if you plan on using your hammock a lot
- Citronella candle
- Keep the bugs away when you’re relaxing outside
- Clothesline and clips
- Great for drying clothes and towels
There’s A LOT to fit into this category, but after all you do have to eat proper meals without access to a full kitchen. I would recommend figuring out what kind of meals you’ll want to have on your trip before reaching this part. This can impact if you’ll need a cooler if you don’t want to deal with restocking ice, and so much more.
- Cooking Instruments
- Camping stove + fuel
- Option 1: smaller and more portable (comes with mini pot, pan, and lid for cooking)
- Option 2: larger and more convenient for real cooking
- Pot / Pan + Lid
- For larger camping stove and fire-top cooking
- Oven mitt
- Camping stove + fuel
- Plastic wrap
- Ziploc bags
- Cutlery / Utensils
- Fork, knife, spoon
- There’s a picture below, but I HIGHLY recommend. I’m not sure the exact reason I’m so hype about it, but it elevates eating experiences to the next level … that may just be me though
- Go for a lightweight tin one of you plan on using it for overnight trips
- 2 Reusable water bottles
- Nalgene is a fantastic and budget-friendly option
- Other cooking utensils
- Spatula, big spoon, etc.
- Dish soap
- Paper towels
- Trash bags
- Consider buying waterproof ones if you think you’ll be in inclement weather and relying on a fire for food
- Bear Canister or Bear Bag + 50′ Nylon Cord
- If you can’t leave food in your car, make sure to keep food at least 100 yards from where you sleep and keep it in a container that blocks smells
Try to invest in quality items and be as sustainable as possible on the road. Help to reduce waste buy replacing single-waste items for more long-lasting options. Tupperware or Bee’s Wrap can be substituted for plastic wrap and ziploc bags, reusable water bottles for plastic bottles, and so on.
If you plan on bringing a cooler to keep refrigerated options for meals, make sure there are NO leaks. Last thing you want is water leaking into all of your belongings. It’s happened to me and it took hours for it to all dry.
There are articles on articles on articles of best food to pack for road trips and camping. Ultimately it comes down to your diet, and how complex you’re willing to make your meals. On my trip, I mostly stuck to non-refrigerated options and braved a diet of 80% oatmeal, pasta, and instant coffee. Some staples I would recommend bringing:
- Few gallons of spare water
- For when water refilling stations are not available
- Instant coffee
- Granola bars and trail mix
- Basics: salt, pepper, honey, ketchup, oil
- Non-fridge foods: oatmeal, tortillas, pasta, instant ramen, beans, rice, chickpeas, fruit, veggies, bread, pancake mix
- Fridge foods: milk, hummus, salsa, pesto, eggs, cheese
- Nuun electrolytes tablets (or Gatorade / Powerade)
When it comes to emergency items, the saying ‘you can never be too prepared’ really hits this home. It’s inevitable you’re going to run into unexpected situations, whether it be coming face-to-face with a bear at your campsite, a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, getting lost in an area with no service and so on. Being properly equipped is vital, and you sometimes have to think about worse case scenarios so that you’re ready for them. The list below is a solid starting point for your emergency essentials. All road trip are uniquely different and you should assess what potential problems could happen on your adventure.
- First aid kit:
*Many outdoor stores offer great starting first aid kits, would always recommend to tailor it to the activities you’ll be doing.
- Advil / Tylenol
- Icy hot
- Ace bandage
- Hot hands
- Blister tape
- Hand sanitizer
- Multitool / Knife
- Bear spray
- Duct tape
- Maps of the areas you’re in (especially parks and forests)
- Service can be super spotty depending on where you are, and the last thing you want is to lose service and have absolutely no clue where you are.
This section can widely vary depending on a few factors: how much space you have for packing, frequency of laundry, and personal preference. The list below are basic items you should have regardless of location or activity. If you don’t have some of the more expensive big ticket items like hiking boots, consider investing in items from companies that offer lifetime warranties in case of any breaks or tears. It helps to minimize waste and also saves money over time!
- Sleeveless shirts
- Short sleeve shirts
- Lightweight long sleeve
- Lightweight for cold nights.
- Personal recommendation: REI Co-op 650 Down Jacket 2.0. It’s super light and can condense into one of the pockets.
- Heavy duty coat for unexpected weather
- Lightweight for cold nights.
- Hiking boots
- Personal recommendation: Oboz Sawtooth II Mid Waterproof. They take a bit of time to break in, but are definitely comfortable and sturdy afterwards.
- Running shoes
- Regular sneakers
- Camp shoes (flip flops, birkenstocks, tevas)
- Hiking boots
- Rain coat
- Waterproof pants
- Sports bras / bralettes
- Hair ties / bandanas / etc.
- Bathing suit
- Laundry bag
- Personal recommendation: use a cloth shoe bag, it’s the perfect size and easy to close
Electronics are going to widely vary depending on road trip activities and personal preference. The list below is what I was satisfied with taking during my trip, but if I was going for longer I definitely would have brought my computer along to edit photos. If you work on the road, your priorities with these items will differ. Regardless of what you bring, ensure you’ll have access to power when you need it, and DON’T forget your chargers!
- Spare batteries
- Check what batteries your flashlight, lantern, headlamps and other items use and take extra
- Car phone charger
- External battery pack
- Personal recommendation: iMuto 30,000mAh Power Bank. It has 3 ports (1 lightning port), and can charge a phone upwards of 7 times depending on your model. It is a bit heavy, but this pack has saved me more times than I can count.
- Camera battery charger + extra battery
- SD cards x2
- Speaker + charger
- Personal recommendation: Bose SounLink Micro. Super small, great battery, and has a versatile strap to place anywhere.
These items hold the least amount of importance compared to other items on this list. It would be ideal to have all of these, but if you forget one of them it will be easy to find in the nearest store compared to trying to find a store that sells tents and sleeping bags.
- Quickdry towel
- Toilet paper
- Body + face lotion
- Hair brush
- Wash cloth
- Nail clippers
- Glasses / Contacts + solution
- Feminine care items
MISCELLANEOUS / OPTIONAL CAMPING ROAD TRIP ITEMS
The catch-all list of the items that didn’t fit other places. Like many other sections, this will differ on you preferences. When you’re brainstorming items you’ll need to pack, take detailed notes of your daily routine for one day and list out any item you even vaguely needed to get a good idea of items you could easily forget.
- Laundry detergent
- Containers for car organization
- Towels, lots of towels
- Foam roller
- Carabiner clips
- Bug spray
- Frisbee, football, cards, book, journal + pen, etc.
- Disposable camera
- Park membership for US National Parks
DAY TRIP AND OVERNIGHT PACKS
Preparing for day trips with the right items is just as important as being well-equipped for your camping road trip overall. You don’t want to find yourself hours from your car, possibly on a stellar hike, without one of your most necessary items. All of these items are found in other places on this packing list, but they should definitely be included for mini trips.
Overnight trips are a category of their own. It’s essential to plan for them properly – you need to have everything you could potentially need all within the reach of your backpack. For more information, check out my ultimate overnight backpacking checklist to make sure you leave nothing behind!
- Backpack / Daypack
- Make sure it’s comfortable, and has a chest strap if that’s important for you
- Personal recommendation: North Face Jester. Plenty of sections, chest strap, side pockets for water bottles, and lifetime warranty.
- Overnight Pack
- Personal recommendation: Osprey Kyte 46. Super durable, opens from top / bottom / side, and lifetime warranty.
- Bug spray
- Extra layers
- Be prepared for the unexpected, and the weather is always changing anyway!
- Emergency kit
- Take a condensed version of your complete kit that’s portable but still has the essentials
- Carabiner clips
- Always super handy to have these available to clip anything to the outside of your bag
CAMPING ROAD TRIP PACKING LIST RECAP
Congrats, you’ve reached the end of the super comprehensive camping packing list! You’ll be set for your road trip adventure in no time. It may be overwhelming to see this many items on a list, but just keep in mind you’re living out of car and sleeping outside at the end of the day. You have to be well-equipped for daily activities and unexpected changes at any time!
Download your printable camping road trip PDF to use when you start packing for your trip
I highly recommend doing a thorough documentation of what you use in a regular day to capture as many small possible forgettable items as possible. Also, if you’re going to specific parks or unique places, do additional research on those places to see what they recommend you bring.
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ARE YOU PLANNING YOUR OWN HIKING ROAD TRIP THROUGH NEW ENGLAND?
There’s plenty of articles and resources on the site to help you best prepare for your own adventure! Check out the 1-2 Weeks Ultimate New England Hiking Road Trip Guide to get a comprehensive look at the region, or read some article highlights below:
Want to make your own epic road trip adventure but don’t know where to start? Check out these
8 Simple Steps to Planning a Hiking Road Trip that will bring you from a basic concept all the way to your final checks before heading out.