The Ultimate Camp Checklist

Illustration by Scotty Reifsnyder

Based on a 1956 study by a Princeton psychologist, Miller’s Law suggests our short-term memory can hold a maximum of only seven items. My camping checklist has 214 items on it, I am not kidding. And unless your cranium has considerably more RAM than the average person, what you need is a good checklist. Leave home without ticking items of The List and you will, without a doubt, forget something.

Now, this could be no big deal if the item in question is a spare fleece or a box of crackers. But let’s say you leave behind your tent poles, which my brother did on a trip to Moab. He discovered the oversight at about midnight when we finally made it to Utah and went to set up the tents. He ended up sleeping in the back of his truck in a gravel parking lot, which is sort of camping, sort of not. My husband and I have gotten two hours down the road before having this problematic conversation:

“You packed diapers, right?”

“Um….no. I don’t think so. I thought you put them in.”

Forget the diapers, and you’re really in deep doo-doo.

So here’s my advice: Keep lists. Have lists of lists. Use them, make checkmarks, amend with notations, double check the checkmarks before you roll out of the driveway.

You can use the checklists below or go to the Camping Checklists pdf from my book, The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids.  My lists include basic camping gear, clothing, footwear, camp kitchen, first aid, hygiene, backcountry essential, as well as specialized gear for camping with kids, gear for camp play, camp art, and camp quiet time. Also below are checklists for stargazing, wildlife watching, and water-based activities.

Hardware

  • Tent (with poles, stakes, and rainfly)
  • Tarp (ground cloth)
  • Extra plastic tarp
  • Rope
  • Vestibule mat
  • Sleeping bags
  • Sleeping pads
  • Pillows
  • Screen house

Softwear

  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Base layer, top and bottom
  • Fleece shirt
  • Fleece pants
  • Down jacket
  • Zip-off travel pants
  • Fleece or down vest
  • Fleece hat
  • Light gloves
  • Rain or shell jacket
  • Rain pants
  • Shorts
  • T-shirts
  • Bathing suit
  • Sun hat
  • SPF clothing
  • Pajamas
  • Laundry bag

Footwear

  • Hiking boots or light hikers
  • Sneakers
  • Sandals with straps
  • Flip-flops
  • Water shoes
  • Camp booties

 Little Tykes Gear

  • Front-loading baby carrier
  • Baby backpack carrier
  • Portable crib
  • Kid-sized day pack
  • Child’s reusable water bottle
  • Portable potty or potty seat
  • Portable high chair
  • Child-sized folding camp chair
  • Battery-powered night-light
  • Child-sized or small adult sleeping pad
  • Child-sized sleeping bag

Camp kitchen

  • Camp Kitchen
  • Camp stove
  • Fuel
  • Pots
  • Pans
  • Skillet
  • Grill rack
  • Cutting board
  • Sharp knife
  • Measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Spatula
  • Big spoon
  • Long-handled tongs
  • Strainer
  • Plates
  • Bowls
  • Cups
  • Insulated coffee cups
  • Coffee making device
  • Water bottles
  • Utensils
  • Marshmallow sticks
  • Corkscrew
  • Bottle opener
  • Pot lifter
  • Aluminum foil
  • Small plastic bags
  • Large plastic bags
  • Plastic tablecloth
  • Extra-large tablecloth clips or tablecloth weights
  • Tupperware containers
  • Matches, lighter, or fire stick
  • Collapsible water container
  • Water purifier (optional)
  • Drink coozies
  • Coolers

Camp Kitchen Cleanup

  • Plastic washbasins
  • Sponge with scouring pad
  • Small scrubber brush
  • Old washcloths or tea towels
  • Biodegradable camp soap
  • Grocery-store plastic bags (for small amounts of garbage)
  • Tall kitchen garbage bags
  • Paper towels
  • Baby wipes
  • Clothesline and clothespins

Campfire

  • Homemade or store-bought firestarting tinder
  • Tinder collected at the campsite
  • Kindling
  • Larger sticks
  • Bundle of firewood
  • Matches, lighter, or fire starter
  • Paper or plastic plate

 Daily Hygiene

  • Antimicrobial hand sanitizer
  • Baby wipes
  • Moisturizing lotion
  • Small tube of Aquaphor
  • Travel-size deodorant
  • Lip balm
  • Toothpaste
  • Toothbrush
  • Dental floss
  • Hairbrush
  • Soap and shampoo
  • Sanitary products
  • Washcloth and towel
  • Plastic washbasin
  • Earplugs
  • Needle and thread
  • Contacts and glasses
  • Prescription medication

Backwoods Pottying

  • Small poop shovel or garden trowel
  • Toilet paper or baby wipes in a plastic bag
  • Diaper rash cream for babies
  • Plastic bag for trash
  • Hand sanitizer

First Aid

  • Adhesive bandages (e.g., Band-Aids)
  • Butterfly closures
  • ACE bandage
  • Hurt-free antiseptic wash
  • Small and large gauze pads
  • Antibiotic ointment (e.g., Bacitracin)
  • Zinc oxide (for sun protection and diaper rash)
  • Thermometer
  • Ibuprofen (e.g., Motrin or Advil; children’s and adult)
  • Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol; children’s and adult)
  • Antihistamine (e.g., Benadryl; children’s and adult)
  • Nail scissors
  • Medical tape
  • Safety pins
  • Insect repellent
  • Anti-itch remedy
  • 1% hydrocortisone cream
  • Sunscreen
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Antacid tablets
  • Cough drops
  • Lubricating eyedrops
  • Instant cold pack
  • Safety whistle
  • Emergency blanket
  • Duct tape
  • Moleskin for blisters
  • Fine-pointed tweezers

Backcountry Travel Essentials

  • Food
  • Water
  • First-aid kit
  • Matches and emergency tinder
  • Emergency blanket or large trash bag
  • Map and compass
  • Safety whistle
  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Extra layers
  • Rain gear
  • Pocketknife
  • Sunglasses and
  • sunscreen

Stargazing

  • Binoculars
  • Small telescope
  • Star chart
  • Flashlight covered in red cellophane
  • Mobile phone with stargazing app
  • Reclining camp chair, sleeping pad, or blanket

Wildlife Watching

  • Child-sized binoculars
  • Field guides
  • Camera with zoom lens
  • Bug collection boxes
  • Magnifying glass
  • Butterfly net
  • Nature journal
  • Pen and pencil

Water-Based Activities

  • Fishing rods and tackle
  • Bathing suits
  • Goggles
  • Water shoes
  • Towels
  • Personal flotation devices (PFDs)
  • Water wings
  • Dingy

 Campsite Play

  • Frisbee
  • Soccer ball
  • Hacky Sack
  • Soft football (like a Nerf)
  • Baseball and mitts
  • Lacrosse sticks and ball
  • Little trucks with big tires
  • Bubbles
  • Sand toys
  • Small dolls and action figures
  • Favorite stuffed animal

 Quiet Time

  • Playing cards
  • Kid travel games
  • Travel-sized board games
  • Rope for knot tying
  • Camping-themed books
  • Flashlight for reading in the tent
  • Coloring books or sheets, markers, and crayons
  • Clipboard for leaning on while coloring
  • Guitar
  • Songbook
  • Book of spooky stories

Basic Camp Art

  • Inexpensive digital camera
  • Pencils and sharpener
  • Sketch pad, coloring sheets, loose paper
  • Crayons and markers
  • Watercolors and brushes
  • Nature journal
  • Glue, paper, scissors
  • Chalk (for rubbings)

Comments

  1. Thanks for the list! We’ve had our share of screw-ups while tent camping. And so to make our camping adventures easier and hopefully more frequent, we just bought a used pop up camper! We’re excited to get out there. This year we want to reserve camp sites so we can settle in and avoid moving. Wondering if you can recommend some kid-friendly camping spots in Colorado around Durango, Ouray, Mesa Verde and/or Telluride. I’m going to take my two 8 yr old & 10 yr old camping on my own (hubby needs to work) for 5-6 days. We are planning on taking bikes along. Thanks!

    • Helen Olsson says:

      Last year we went to Molas Lake near Silverton. it was impossibly beautiful. it’s quite the drive from boulder, but the view alone is worth it. get a spot near lake. And the hiking is amazing.

  2. Here is the list Glass, Miracle and I used to use:

    Sleeping bag
    Tent (optional)
    Booze
    Bacon

    The list I currently use (minus Glass and Miracle add wife and two kids):
    Your list times two.

    Love the website Helen!

    • Helen Olsson says:

      Chip,
      It’s amazing how much stuff such little people require! Bacon is a real good start to any list. A friend’s daughter recently announced she loved bacon more than her mother. I suggested mom wrap herself in bacon, because everything wrapped in bacon tastes better. !!!

  3. jenna c. says:

    this is a great list! thanks so much. we always forget something – i have a book in the car that i write down things we did, and things not to forget next time. our kids are just getting old enough that we need to think of more games/quiet time activities. i love your ideas!

    • Helen Olsson says:

      It’s amazing that you can have an extensive list like the above and drive away without something. I do the same thing when we go on a trip. I take notes on my existing list of stuff to bring the next time. Sometimes i think if my head wasn’t attached, I’d leave it behind. But then I could just add “head” to my list and I’d remember it! 🙂

  4. I didn’t see mention on your list of a French press or some kind of coffee making implement. We’d DIE without our Nissan insulated stainless steel press!

    • Helen Olsson says:

      Good call! I’ve added it to the list. Of course, we have multiple coffee making devices in our camp gear box. We have a little backpacking espresso maker and a non-breakable French press. And we bring along those little VIA Starbucks packets in case we need to satisfy a java Jones in a hurry. I have a whole section on making the perfect cup of camp joe in my book, so leaving it off the list was a total oversight! Thanks for letting me know.

      • I love this list!!!!
        I finally obtained a great little pour over coffee maker for my camping and I’m in love with it!! It’s truly amazing how much stuff you need for camping with children…in my case, they’re not even that young (14 & 8) but they STILL require so much. I would be happy with my small tent, cast iron skillet, bacon….lol, and clothes in my pack! However, when my girls & I go camping (just me & children, husband is NOT into camping) we FILL up the back of the truck & part of the cab itself! I was trying to make a list myself but I tend to be beyond forgetful so figured someone else might have something I don’t, lo n behold, I was right!!
        Thanks for the awesome list. I can’t wait to get your book, if for nothing more than the bananas foster recipe ;).
        If your ever around the Atlanta, Ga area (it’s a bit far from Colorado but you never know….) look up River Falls by the Gorge for Rv (and tent) camping with amenities or Tate Branch Campground which is in a national forest & dispersed camping (primitive).
        Thanks again!! (I could talk about camping all day every day!)

        • Helen Olsson says:

          Jami,
          Yay for lists! Glad it was helpful and hope you enjoy the book. And awesome for you for leaving the reluctant camper at home and just going out there with the kids. It’s not easy to do with just one parent, but it’s doable!

  5. JessieMomma says:

    My parents potty-trained me on a family vacation after someone {older sibling} removed the diapers from the motor home during a quick between-trips stop at home! But I agree, a checklist is a huge must! I have a plastic tote for gear with a checklist written in sharpie on the side. Before the trip, I mark off stocked items using dry-erase marker and put the unmarked items on my to-do list.

  6. Danielle Reed says:

    One of my favorite camping tips was to use a large empty rubbermaid container as a bath for small kids. Some kids just can’t sleep well until they are clean. Also, you can cut the very bottom of a plastic coat hanger and insert it into two ends of a paper towel roll allowing you to hang it so it doesn’t blow into the dirt. (must cover it with plastic at night to avoid it becoming damp from dew.)

    • Helen Olsson says:

      Half the fun of camping is getting down and dirty (thus the title of my book!), but I hear what you’re saying. I have a similar suggestions for the rubbermaid bathtub in the book, though I like your idea for the paper-towel roll holder. We have one of those Kelty basecamp kitchen setups (http://www.kelty.com/p-94-basecamp-kitchen.aspx) for our stove and all our pots, pans, and utensils. It has a paper towel roll, and I swear that’s my favorite feature of the camp kitchen. You just can’t have your paper towel roll rolling around.

  7. Kristen M. says:

    Thanks for providing this comprehensive list. I was pleased to discover that your book checklists are available online. I just finished your book in preparation for our family’s first camping trip to Yosemite. We are newbie campers with a couple experiences under our belt but we (mom, dad, kids – 1 1/2, 8, and 11) have mad love for outdoor family adventures.

    • Helen Olsson says:

      What an awesome spot to do a first (or any time) camping trip. Hope the book helps you get after it. Your kids are such a fun age to camp with. Let me know how it goes!

  8. Great read. I can’t wait to get my little guy (15months now) out camping in a few years. Gonna halfta wait though, since the next one is on the way. I don’t think.I’m ready for two!! :O
    I will be getting your book. I like the way you write, and found you through a search for kayaking here in Nebraska. Stumbled on you NY Times article on paddling the Niobrahra. Great read!! I took lots of the same trip you did as a kid, and it saddens me every summer I don’t have time to go!

    Any advice on getting my outdoor challenged wife into camping? I am thinking roof top tent and heated camp shower installed on the truck would be a start 😉

    Cheers,
    Kurt

    • Helen Olsson says:

      Kurt, So glad you liked the my Niobrara paddle-camp story. It was such a fun trip. The kids will never forget it. Folks can read it here: http://helen-olsson.com/floating-the-niobrara/ So, a few ideas to get your wife on board with camping. Sleep is such a factor for folks, especially new parents. You’ve got to get your sleep! So i recommend, for car camping, a bomb-daddy 2 1/2 inch thick extra wide sleeping pad. (We have ones from REI). They are so comfortable, you don’t need to fear sleeping on the ground. Also, ear plugs: when you’re sleeping in close quarters, it’s kinda noisy. I get a better night’s sleep in a tent when I wear earplugs. Also promise her to make a fabulous dessert over the campfire like bananas foster. (recipe in my book). Food tastes so good when you’re outdoors and no camper should suffer food deprivation needlessly. Tell me how it goes!

  9. Hey, there’s no food on this list! 🙂 We’ve been known to forget that.
    I keep a detailed list on my computer with about 7 blank spaces for extra needs, complete with a check box by each line, and print it out each time before a camping trip. It has proved invaluable to me, especially as I get older!
    I’ve been camping with my parents (and also as a parent) since birth, plus I was a den mom for scouts. Camping & fishing & hiking and all the activities that go along with it, and it’s most fun (and most exhausting) with kids — we have 7 of them. Now my kids are grown and some have kids of their own, and we’re about to go on a weekend camping trip next month so I gave them the link to your site (which my husband had shared with me). Good job! 🙂

  10. By the way — if you have the essentials like water, a knife or scissors, and the ability to make fire, I’ve found the two most essential items to bring are dental floss and coffee filters. Those two things are so diverse they can be used for many different things, and they are both very strong materials and very inexpensive. I have yet to make a list of ways they can be used, but I’ve used them many times in an emergency.

    • Helen Olsson says:

      Heidi, sounds cool. i’d love to see a list of camping uses for dental floss and coffee filters.!!!!
      You have my attention.

  11. I am a mother of 3 young children who love camping on the holidays.

    Another great item to include in your camping equipment is melamine products for plates and cups.
    Melamine is lightweight and break-resistant material, making it ideal for the outdoors, children and even the adults.

    Melamine products come in a great range of colour and designs making if a litle funky and exciting. If you are tired of boring camping dinnerware try this!

    • Helen Olsson says:

      For years, we used melamine plates from Target for camping. They work great for car camping, and yes, come in fun patterns and colors. Now that we are backpacking a bit more, we’ve gotten even lighter weight dedicated camp plates from REI.

  12. Thank you Helen – genius list! I’m currently compiling a camping checklist for our 10-day trip and yours is the only one I’ve seen that mentions a cutting board (or 2 or 5!). Amazing how forgetting the most minor thing can be such a major drama.

    Happy camping!

    • Helen Olsson says:

      Hey Anna, yes, you only forget something critical once, then it goes on your list. I’ve spaced a strainer for pasta and found myself pouring angel hair through a bandana. Let me know if you find anything missing on the list.
      MDM

  13. Very good website you have here but I was wondering if you knew of any community forums that cover the same topics talked about here?
    I’d really love to be a part of group where I can get feedback from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Thanks!

    • in2motion says:

      try the yahoo groups. I like camping adventures. It’s nationwide and I think I’ve also seen a couple of canadian posts. They’ve been a great help to me. There is a huge recipe list, too!

  14. We are going on our first camping trip with our little one who is 3 1/2 tomorrow and your list was extremely helpful. I’m thinking about revising it for the crunchy moms list like herbal remedies for the first aid kit and natural sunscreens and insect repellents… You gave me a great foundation to work with. Thank you!

    • Helen Olsson says:

      Milk Mom,
      Glad the list was helpful. I can’t get out of bed without a list. I hope you’ll link to my site or the list and when you have your crunchy list, send it to me and I can link it to my site, too. Lots of crunchy campers out there!!!
      MDM

  15. Sammy Losee says:

    This is the most amazing, comprehensive list and our whole family is really excited to use it this coming weekend for our first trip of the summer! Thanks very much for putting it all together. We’ve modified it a bit as we don’t fish and our babies are not babies anymore but nonetheless, we’re very happy to have found it!

    • Helen Olsson says:

      This list covers every kid eventuality, so I hope nobody ever needs everything on this list at one time!!!!! But checklists are crucial. I just used this one myself last week for a backpacking trip.

  16. CampingKids says:

    Thanks so much for this! We have just used it pre-shopping trip for our first camping trip with our 7 and 5 year olds. Just so that you know that you are being helpful in Europe too (we live in Barcelona and are just going up to the Pyrenees).

  17. Thanks for the great list!!!! Our first trip out after our daughter was born was when she was 3 months old. She is now 4 and has loved every minute of it!!!

  18. Thanks for your camp list. It’s quite comprehensive,
    however, when I printed it, everything was on one column
    ((left) and it used ALOT of paper (trees).
    It would be awesome if you could perform the
    ecological chore of reformatting for a compact print.
    Again, thanks for sharing your great list !

  19. I’m going camping with a friend and her 2 kids age 2 1/2 and 5 1/2 this weekend. It will be the kids’ first tent camping trip and I’m so excited to be a part of it. Love that your website was close to the top of the Google search for a checklist of camping with kids. I hope you and the family are well! ~ Coach Robyn

  20. Emu oil is great for Scratch’s, stings, burns the list goes on and on…

  21. Helen, I loved loved your book. I can tell we live parallel lives! We were avid backpackers and now with two kids, I’m determined to stop feeling bad about car camping, embrace it and do it really well. I was delighted and surprised to learn so much in your book and the stories were hysterical.
    One system I thought I would share. We invested in eight waterproof OR Research stuff sacks in four different colors, one large and one small in each color. Each family member has a color and we keep our clothes, lovies, and dedicated gear in them. It’s easy to keep it all straight and the kids know which bags to find their things in. They double up as pillows and thermal barriers. I’m hoping they will have second lives in our soon-to-be-back on the trail days ahead.

    Packing now for our annual week camp trip in Death Valley and your list is officially replacing mine.

    Wishing you and your family many adventures ahead!

    • Helen Olsson says:

      Hey Jody,
      Soul sister! Glad you liked the book. Thanks for posting. I like your system. It’s right up my alley. I’m going to steal that idea for my next book. (What next book…?)
      Helen

  22. Great list! An extra tarp is a great idea and something I usually forget! Another camping MUST have that I take everywhere now is Organic Brushing Rinse! It beats toothpaste by a mile because 1) you don’t need water, and 2) spitting it out on the ground wouldn’t be toxic, but actually cleans the ground and feeds the plants. It’s a biodegradable liquid you swish with, no water needed, and can beneficially soak right into mother nature! It’s saved my mouth so many times during backpacking and camping trips! BONUS: it has 1% Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide in it so you can use it to clean your cooking stuff or tools, etc.
    Check it out: http://bit.ly/OrganicBR

  23. I would add just one thing , an emergency roll of quarters for a laundromat.. went with the grandkids , 4, 7, 9 primitive camping. In Tennessee at lake Jackson, had on the first night a horrific thunderstorm that soaked just about everything, coupled with the torrential downpour was dubious amount of mud, and it was frankly a nightmare. My husband said no problem, we will go to the nearest town use the laundromat and all will be right with the world..

    • Helen Olsson says:

      First let me say, you rock for camping with your grandkids. That’s pretty awesome. And second, nightmare it may have been, but the kids will never forget it!!!!

  24. janine adams says:

    I just started reading your post after compiling my list and had to laugh as I totally forgot to put diapers on the list!

Trackbacks

  1. […] camp chairs, sleeping mats and bags, not to mention a a random assortment of gear culled from the The Down & Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids’ checklists. Some of the items were must-haves others were wanna-haves just for fun. If you watched the […]

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