Huzzah! Who knew I’d be writing a camping trip post that I updated multiple times to reflect our MULTIPLE camping adventures? AND that it would become one of my most popular blog posts?!
Camping is the new hobby I never dreamed I would actually love–something I never would’ve discovered if not for the pandemic, when all other vacation options were off the table–a silver lining, for sure. I first wrote this post after our first-ever van camping trip to Michigan, but now I’ve updated it to include some heavy hitters we purchased for our cross-country camping trip from Chicago to the Badlands to the Tetons to a camping getaway with June in Wisconsin.
Let me tell you…if you’re hesitant, don’t worry, so was I, and our camping adventures have turned into some of the most fun vacations we’ve ever had. I’m secretly dreaming of purchasing and rehabbing a little Scamp trailer. (Seriously, I mean, it could have its own Instagram…you guys could rent it…how fun would that be!?)
My future Scamp trailer is another topic for another day. This post is all about what you need to PACK for a camping trip because I know the weather is finally warm, and many of you are planning adventures of your own!
Our water sneakers on the picnic bench
What to Pack for a Camping Trip: My Official Packing List
So–what to bring on your camping trip? From clothing, I packed to the most helpful accessories we purchased, read on for my 2023 Camping Gear Packing List!
Clothes For Camping
First, a few considerations overall: Check the weather A LOT leading up to your trip. And pay attention to the lows, especially if you’re tent camping! I know the lows aren’t always important to pay attention to when you have a toasty warm house to sleep in, but once you get out of the city, and you’re spending all night outside, things tend to cool off a LOT at night–so you may need more layers than you think!
Also, a camping trip where hiking is involved will require different types of clothing and footwear, whereas if you are just planning to chill, you’ll need to bring a lot less with you! I’m including my camping essentials for BOTH kinds of trips. To be honest, you likely don’t NEED anything new for camping OR a hiking trip. (Aside from maybe a good pair of hiking boots). You can hike in anything comfortable, so don’t feel the need to go buy a whole new wardrobe.
That being said, let’s get on the camping checklist! Here are my top must-pack items for your camping/hiking adventure!
Breezy long-sleeve shirts: #1 VIP
This is one of the mainstays in my summer wardrobe and it’s a mainstay for camping, too. No matter if I’m hanging out in a hammock, or hiking a trail. Wear it alone or as another layer over a tank if you get chilly. Never underestimate the power of having sleeves for sun and bug protection. I also love wearing them as a bathing suit cover-up!
Favorites include this Outerknown gauzy button-up. (Pictured above). I probably wore this top the most! Lou & Grey also makes really great gauzy tops!
Lightweight tank tops and tees:
For any daytime activities on a hot day! Go with something with an ultra-lightweight blend for extra breathability! Everlane’s Air Tank and Air Tee are my absolute favorites. They are truly the most weightless tops I own. I have them in several colors, the oldest being many years old and it’s held up so well–a must for the hottest days. I like how drapey they are so they’re perfect for tying, too! I’d recommend having both tank and tee options (again, the sleeves come in handy for sun protection!)
Two favorite pairs, specifically.
I have been a convert of the AGolde Parker jean shorts (pictured above) for a long time now. (I wrote a whole blog post on them here!) Jean shorts are comfy, durable, don’t show dirt very easily, and are great for hanging out.
I also just purchased a pair with a bit more coverage (i.e. they’re longer), if that’s more your jam, called the Reese shorts (also available here). You can see my review of them here! Highly recommend either pair, it just depends on the look you’re going for!
I know these are stupid expensive for jean shorts (like why would they be the same price as jeans when they’re like 1/4th the material?) but they’re the only pairs I ever wear, so they’re worth it IMO!
Comfy pull-on linen shorts:
J.Crew and Nordstrom have my favorite pairs. Another item that is great for hanging out in, but also breezy and cool enough to hike in! Both run a little oversized but I ordered my normal size and since I wanted them loose, I was happy with the fit! Looks like Lou and Grey are making a cute pair this year too with an elastic vs. drawstring waist if you prefer that style! (See more ways to style your linen shorts here.)
If you do want to get some shorts specifically for outdoor activities, I got these from Amazon (the shorter shorts with the elastic waistband–there are some other weird ones thrown in there too, but disregard those, haha!) They are AWESOME for outdoorsy/hiking/camping/whatever! A great alternative to something like Patagonia. For the price, I feel like you can’t really beat them! They aren’t lined so they’re very cool and they have a mesh lining for the pockets. Run TTS!
If your campsite is close to a body of water, you definitely don’t want to forget a swimsuit! See the best places to shop for swimsuits here.
For active bike shorts, I love this Lululemon pair (pictured above–runs small, even for Lulu!) and my Alo pair (runs TTS!) for hiking/hanging! See my big favorite bike shorts roundup for my fave bike shorts on any budget.
A pullover sweatshirt is definitely a must, as I said above, nights can get chilly! I don’t know why it’s such a noticeable difference compared to nights in the city, but it is! My favorite is this men’s Patagonia fleece–I love that it’s men’s so it’s oversized. It’s so cozy.
Leggings are KEY especially if you plan to do any hiking and because the temperatures can drop pretty unexpectedly!
Depending on what you’re doing and what the weather is, my advice would be to go with a legging that doesn’t have a delicate weave (like Lululemon’s aligns–which I ADORE but they’re more prone to snagging on rocks, wood benches, etc–and I’d be very upset if I ruined my Lulu leggings) Something more along the lines of a Zella legging, which is a thicker, more durable material, would be good! (Or just wear an old beat-up pair so you don’t have to worry about ruining them!)
Breathable “invisible undies”:
I bought these Under Armour thongs (reviewed here!) for hiking because they’re moisture-wicking, breathable, and don’t show under workout pants. What I did not anticipate was loving them SO MUCH that they have become my regular everyday underwear! Seriously, the absolute best!
Again, just make sure you check the weather! Even in the height of summer, many places can get cold at night. These fleece-lined joggers from Amazon are the least-sexy thing I own, but they are so incredibly warm! No matter where you’re going, make sure to always check the lows (especially if you’re tent camping!) and pack layers! (Don’t forget a beanie, just in case!)
My packable Lole jacket always comes in handy, but there are so many great packable jackets out there! If you’re going anywhere mountainous where the temps can drop quickly, you’ll be thankful for the warmth and if you don’t need it, it easily packs away!
I ALWAYS include a pair of jeans on every trip–again, it’s good to have long pant options because it can get cool at night! Levi’s wedgie jeans are always a great go-to pair that are comfy and good for a camping vibe, as are my tried and true, super comfy, and budget-friendly AE mom jeans! (Reviewed here!)
Shoes & Accessories:
Packable sun hat (with a tie!)
If you plan to be hiking, especially anywhere without coverage, a hat is an absolute must. I loved this packable sun hat–so affordable (so you don’t worry about getting it dirty), super cute, and has a chin string to ensure it doesn’t blow away!
Cute water sneakers:
Water shoes are a must-have for rocky beaches, creeks, and rivers. My MIL and SIL are the queens of cute water shoes–so they introduced me to a version I enjoy wearing! I brought this pair that my SIL got me for Christmas–they look just like sneakers! Neal also just ordered the men’s version in grey–he was so skeptical at first and now he loves them! They really do look like sneakers!
I have never been a Birk girl previously but I became a convert after this pair! They’re made of a foam-like material, so they don’t rub and give you blisters–it’s very soft! Definitely way more supportive than a flip-flop, too! (And most definitely cuter!) These are also great for shower shoes! (Neal also loved them so much that he ordered TWO pairs!)
I have worn these to the beach several times and they’re easy to wear into the water to protect your feet from rocks too! I ordered my normal size! Many have asked if they wipe clean, and they do! Mine haven’t stained or anything!
Another thing that goes on the list of “things I never thought I’d wear”–I am IN LOVE with my Tevas! I got the fun desert cactus colorway and they make me so happy. I basically lived in these and my birks our entire camping trip! If you don’t want water shoes and you also want something waterproof and easy to wear in the water (that isn’t a slip-on)–these are my best all-purpose sandal pick. When I first ordered them I really only envisioned wearing them camping but I’ve gotten so much more wear out of them than I ever dreamed because they just bring me joy!!
Sneakers are obviously a must if you plan to do anything active while camping–I brought my Gerries on our Michigan camping trip but aside from the hour that we took a hike through the woods, I didn’t touch them. If you don’t plan to do anything other than hang out at the campsite, swim, etc, I’m not sure if you need sneakers–I could’ve gotten away with just sandals!
Hiking shoes/hiking boots:
On the flip side, I brought two pairs of real hiking shoes on our trip to the Badlands, Black Hills, and the Tetons. I definitely don’t think this is necessary to bring two pairs, BUT the terrain/weather can just be drastically unpredictable and different between the two places, and I have both, so I wanted to have both trail sneakers and boots.
I have this pair of Danners, and this pair of Columbia boots! (The color I got is gone, but they have more colors here. This pair of Merrell’s is a good option too if you just want something neutral!) I LOVED both of them and would highly recommend either–just depends on your preferences! Honestly, I’m glad I brought both, but if I had to choose one pair, I’d choose the boots–just a personal preference, I like the ankle support, and I think they’re a little cuter.
Many have asked if you NEED “hiking” shoes for these places, and the answer is YES, absolutely. I was watching people scaling vertical rocks in the Badlands in Nike Roshes and was screaming inside watching them continue to slip–it was terrifying. Could you get away with regular sneakers? Yes, but I wouldn’t have wanted to! If you’re going to be doing legitimate hiking, hiking shoes are a worthy investment.
Tall socks/Hiking socks:
Good to have for any trip where you’ll be walking or hiking through the woods or brush. They help protect against scratchy bushes, mosquitos, ticks, and snakes! Plus, temps drop a LOT at night no matter where you are–always good to have layers!
I don’t think you need anything fancy unless you’ll be doing some real hiking–other than that, any old socks will do–like this J.Crew pack. For heavy-duty hiking, I got these wool hiking socks from Amazon!
A baseball hat is a definite must for a camping trip. It protects you from the sun, and also disguises unwashed hair! Mine are all pretty old (my IU hat is usually my go-to!), but J.Crew makes some really cute non-branded ones!
Dashboard essentials: Tevas and bug spray
Beauty and toiletry items: (Aside from the obvious items)
Billie face wipes:
I love Billie face wipes for travel–Neal loves them too! Tip: keep them in the cooler and they are the most lovely refreshing treat! They’re an all-in-one solution for washing your face without water. They don’t leave your face sticky or dried out, and I love that they have Vitamin C!
Lots of good sunscreens and bug spray:
I typically get eaten alive by mosquitos–we’re talking like DOZENS of welts from bug bites on my body at a given time––but Kelly (well, Kelly’s mom Cathy actually – hi Cathy!!!) turned me onto Skin So Soft bug spray and I swear it’s AMAZING. Seriously the best bug spray I’ve ever used. It’s MAGICAL. No bug spray has ever worked like this, AND it doesn’t have a bunch of terrible chemicals in it! I think because the main ingredient is Picardin instead of DEET, maybe that’s why it works better for me? Not sure–but either way, highly recommend it!
Of course, sunscreen is always a must! Beautycounter’s Countersun sunscreen is my go-to for mineral sunscreen (the lotion, I don’t love the mist!) and I love Supergoop’s PLAY sunscreen if you prefer a clear chemical sunscreen!
Heads up: Ticks are really bad this year. Make sure you have a tick protectant with you, use it liberally, and be thorough in checking for ticks!
Other camping must-haves (non-clothing)
We didn’t use a tent for our van trip, but we did purchase one for our road trip to Oregon! (Also, if an RV is more your style, that’s PERFECTLY fine! Highly recommend Outdoorsy–which is like AirBnB for RVs, campers, vans, etc–it’s how we found the van!) If it’s your very first time camping, and you have the budget, I think an RV is a great way to go because it’s got many more of the modern comforts you’re used to!
Pop-up 2-person sleeping tent:
In terms of a tent, for PRE-June, we wanted something that was going to be very quick and easy to set up and take down. (We are both very impatient people.) After a TON of research, I found this tent and we’re VERY happy with it. It literally pops up in two seconds and takedown takes only a few minutes. Just make sure to find a Youtube tutorial before you go, because it can be tricky to take down the first time! Also, make sure you bring the essentials to stake it down in case of wind! (Google is your friend here.)
I will say it’s very low to the ground–this is not a “hang out and chill inside” tent.
It’s a sleeping ONLY tent. That can definitely be a plus though. There was a MASSIVE wind storm in the badlands our first night in it, and this little guy hung in with NO issues–because it’s low to the ground it easily weathers all kinds of storms–whereas others in our campground had damaged tents in the morning! Our tent was by far the smallest one in the campground (others had big fancy tents) and multiple people came to check on us in the morning because they were afraid our little tent may have blown away! But the joke was on them because our tough little tent was the only one left unscathed!!
Tent with June:
Then, it came time to camp with June, and that two-person tent was far too tiny. After doing a TON of research, I decided a 6 person tent was the room required to accommodate a pack-n-play and two adults. (I’m glad I went with this decision!) We purchased the Coleman 6-person blackout tent, but TBH I’m not sure I’d buy it again–however–I still think it’s the best option with blackout capabilities if that’s important to you and your kid. Another big consideration: it’s big enough for adults to stand in, and also comfortably accommodated two parents and a pack-n-play. (Which many tents can’t do.)
The blackout part was AMAZING and it did keep us totally dry in an hours-long downpour with zero leaks. But it was not super user-friendly to put together (maybe it just takes practice) and the zipper got jammed the first use. It also is nearly impossible to jam back into the little bag it came with when you go to pack it up.
Also worth noting, after this trip, Neal decided he no longer wanted to camp in a tent–so moving forward, we will probably be looking into some kind of van/trailer situation. 😂 I, however, would do it again.
Again, needing something that didn’t take up a lot of space, we got these sleeping pads (they snap together or can be individual) in lieu of a giant air mattress for the tent. They roll up into a tiny pouch, so they’re great for backpacking if that’s your jam. They have this built-in foot pump (you just step right on it–it’s inside!) and it inflates. It’s really nifty! (Apparently, I say nifty now.)
If you’re bougie like me you can get a cheap foam mattress pad to lay over the top to make it even more comfortable, but this is SO MUCH BETTER than sleeping on the ground (I am not that hardcore, I will never sleep on the ground) and they don’t take up nearly as much space as a regular air mattress, nor take as long to inflate if space is a concern.
Keep in mind, if you have the space, it’s your first time camping and you don’t plan to make it a super regular thing, just find an air mattress to borrow and use that! No need to go all out just yet. (Just make sure you can blow it up without electricity if you won’t have an electric hookup!!)
Cold weather gear
When the sun goes down, things can get a bit chilly. That’s why packing cold weather gear, such as extra blankets and warm clothing, is recommended (unless you love shivering!).
I got ours on sale, but this one is similar! We got a double sleeping bag that is suitable for temps down to 30 degrees. Again, another reason to really pay attention to the low temps overnight if you’re tent camping–especially if you’ll be in the mountains! (For pillows, we just brought regular pillows).
If a campfire is allowed where you’re going, I honestly don’t think you need a camp stove! We did all our cooking over the fire in Michigan and it was so much fun (and easy!) BUT because campfires aren’t allowed in the Badlands, we needed to bring along a camp stove for our last trip.
After some research, we purchased this little fold-up Coleman! It has great reviews and is basically the size of a little briefcase with a handle and everything! It’s compact and I love the fact that it has two burners–we love it BUT–be warned, the knobs were so greased up that we couldn’t get it to turn on the first night and thought we had a busted stove in the middle of nowhere–but thankfully Neal thought to take the knobs off, wiped them down, and that did the trick!
If it’s going to be chilly, or you’re just more of a hot coffee person, we love this little old-school percolator. It’s the best ritual to make coffee on the camp stove while watching the sunrise! Make sure to watch a little tutorial on Youtube on how to use it before you go.
First Aid kit
We may be as agile as a cheetah in our mind, but sometimes our bodies don’t cooperate. That’s where a first aid kit comes in handy! Cuts, bruises, and scrapes happen, so it’s always a good idea to have one of these babies on hand.
Who wants to eat with bugs and dirt? NOT US! A picnic table provides a clean and sturdy surface for meals, games, and all sorts of shenanigans.
You absolutely do not need separate pans/pots/cooking utensils for camping, especially if you have room to bring what you already have– but if you need something super compact, we got this little set on Amazon that has come in so handy and has everything you need for cooking!
The perfect way to easily make cold brew–I love it so much that I wrote a whole post on it right here. Easy to pack, and it comes with an easy pour spout! Just make sure you’re getting a coarse grind of coffee to brew with it!
If you aren’t renting an RV/Van/Camper with a fridge, you’ll need a big cooler for all your food items–we purchased this Coleman cooler for our cross-country trip that was affordable and did a good job of keeping everything cold! No complaints here!
Neal got these packable fillable ice packs to put in the big cooler and they came in very handy to have in addition to ice.
This was a big splurge (and our first cooler) and we will use this a lot at the lake house as well. It keeps everything super cold for up to 3 days at a time! This one is small and very portable and the backpack factor is huge–makes it so much easier to carry when it’s full.
Of course, you can totally find some cheaper Yeti alternatives, but I am a Yeti brand enthusiast. We use these tumblers for everything from cocktails to wine to water bottles! They make such a difference in keeping your drink cold!
I actually can’t find the camp chairs we ordered online anymore. But that’s OK because we were kind of lukewarm about them anyway. I did, however, find this awesome chair that looks SO practical and very cute and comfy! (I like that it doesn’t like the tip you forward as a regular camping chair does. And it folds up so fast and can be carried like a backpack!)
Update: We actually just got these chairs on Amazon for our road trip out west, because we needed something VERY compact. I will admit, we almost fell on the floor laughing the first time we set them up (they look SO dinky) but then you sit in them and it’s shocking how comfortable they are! So if you need something VERY compact (like, this folds up into the size of a packable jacket) then these are a good bet. So far, they’ve held up well!
Neal ordered this unbeknownst to me and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s great quality for the price and was perfect for laying out on the beach and for an extra layer at night hanging out in front of the campfire!
If you can’t fix it with duct tape, you aren’t using enough duct tape! This sticky wonder can fix almost anything. Don’t forget to pack this essential tool.
These are SO cute and were perfect for rolling up (they take up next to no space!) for both the beach and/or the showers!
There’s nothing like a dead flashlight in the middle of the night to make you appreciate the foresight of having unused batteries. Don’t be caught in the dark – pack some extra batteries!
These were AMAZING to have on our Michigan trip to get the campfire started in no time. No yucky chemicals–they’re made with wood shavings and food-grade wax! (Note: you’ll want to make sure your campsite allows for campfires though! Many don’t once you get further out west because of the forest fire risk!)
Neal got this lightweight backpack for our trip and it was perfect for holding our supplies for a hike, a trek to the lake or creek, and for riding into town on our bikes!
Okay, not an exciting accessory, but if you’re cooking with a campfire, you’ll cook EVERYTHING in tin foil. It also makes for very easy cleanup– I can’t emphasize how great tin foil is when it comes to camping. Make sure you get the heavy-duty kind and a big roll!
A lot of campgrounds have a sink for campers to use, but if you don’t have access to a sink, you may want a portable “sink” to do your dishes! I bought this one because it folds completely flat and takes up ZERO space but admittedly I haven’t ever used it yet because we’ve always had access to water. (Make sure to use it with environmentally friendly soap!)
We got this big ole power converter for the car so we could easily plug in laptops, charge my camera, phones, etc for road trips. It plugs into your cigarette lighter! This is definitely not necessary if you aren’t doing a long-haul road trip AND if you don’t think you’ll need to use a laptop while you’re driving. (Update: I never ended up using this but I think it’s nice to have?)
For times we aren’t in the car (i.e. camping) this is how we’ll charge our phones, smartwatches, etc. Neal has had this for a while now just in case of emergency (can also use to jump-start your car) but it also has USB charging, so when we don’t have electricity this will be what we use for charging purposes!
If you’re driving any distance to go camping and you struggle with carsickness–listen up–these will change your life! They’re just pressure point bands but they do wonders. I get so ill from motion sickness and these have saved me countless times. (Also good for altitude sickness if you’ll be in the mountains!)
Wondering how I take photos of the two of us? An iPhone tripod! It’s a must-have for any travel adventure. This little thing has come all over the world with us. The key is to get one with a remote. (It’s so easy to hide in your hand or your pocket when taking photos). Always remember to take photos with you and your loved ones in them–not just photos of landscapes or things! (Related: How to take great photos on vacation.)
What To Bring Camping With Kids And Babies
When I was pregnant, I polled many of you on Instagram asking, “Am I insane for wanting to take our baby camping?!” and so many of you answered, “GO FOR IT! IT’S SO DOABLE! ALWAYS TAKE THE TRIP!” Here’s what the veteran moms said:
No age is too early–contrary to my initial thoughts–you all reassured me that NO age is too early! Many of you have taken littles as young as two weeks camping! Many of you grew up camping since you were DAYS old. The younger they are, the more portable they are! They don’t move, and all they do is sleep. Of course, every baby is different. It really boils down to your baby’s personality and your personality.
The moral of the story: If it FEELS right to you, DO IT!
Many of you said camping is the BEST vacation to take with babies, because you don’t have to worry about putting them down early and being cooped up in a hotel room all night, and you don’t have to worry about them disturbing anyone if they’re loud or messy or have a meltdown! It’s a no-pressure vacation.
It was so encouraging, and you did share a few helpful tips that I wanted to list out here, along with my own input now that June is two and we have some outdoor adventures under our belt!
Some essentials for camping with babies:
Climate control is the biggest consideration
Just making sure the baby won’t get too hot or too cold. This can obviously be planned for accordingly, just make sure you have a way to ensure they stay cool enough during the day and warm enough at night. That might mean camping in a trailer with AC, for example, if you know it’s going to be really hot where you’ll be camping–or just bringing extra layers and an extra warm sleep sack for them at night. You’ll be able to figure out the best option for you with a little research! (Also, heads up: make sure to research car seat safety–most RVs are not equipped for car seats!)
Pop-up playpen with sun canopy:
We love this thing and is great for keeping babies corralled. It pops up in two seconds, is easy to carry, and has a detachable sun shade. Great for camping, the beach, or wherever!
Portable noise machine:
The #1 recco was a portable noise machine of any kind to drown out strange sounds when a baby is sleeping. All my friends have this one and swear by it!
A playpen and a bed all in one. (Just make sure it fits in whatever you’re sleeping in.)
Pop-up high chair:
For babies and toddlers (who will still sit in a high chair. 😵💫 Someone in my house refuses to do that now.) this pop-up high chair is AMAZING. Great for camping, beach, and picnics, and also comes with secure straps so you can secure it onto a chair or stool (as long as it has a back) at restaurants.
Something to blackout light:
We’re getting this pack-n-play blackout curtain that my friends rave about! Others love the slumberpod but to me, the sheet seems like a much easier setup. Totally a personal preference! Others said the light doesn’t matter at all–it really just depends on how you plan to approach the baby’s sleep. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it.
Obviously only necessary if you plan to do some hiking, but many of you said you love hiking with your littles! There are so many carrier options out there for this purpose (just make sure you’re getting one that is age appropriate!) We have the Deuter Kid Comfort Pro and we absolutely love it. Can’t think of one complaint. It’s really comfortable for both myself and Neal to wear.
Extra of everything:
Bring more formula, diapers, wipes, changes of clothes, etc than you think you’ll need! You don’t want to run out of any of these things deep in the woods somewhere! Don’t forget the Aquaphor and diaper rash cream–June got the worst diaper rash on our camping trip last year and I was so glad I had a lot with me!