05 May The Essential Packing List for Your Epic Camping Road Trip
If you are you going on a big camping road trip, being prepared and packing the right gear can make a big difference. In this post, we’ll share our recommended packing list, with details on our favorite items.
Scroll down to get the printable packing list.
Our Big Road Trips
So far, we’ve completed two epic road trips, one month each, through the National Parks. Our first road trip took us to about a dozen parks. We spent most of the month camping but tried to stay somewhere with a hot shower and wifi every four (or so) days. In the second road trip, we spent almost half of the time staying at friends’ houses, but we still had a two-week stint in the middle of the trip where we camped in National Parks.
Note: We get most of our gear for camping from REI. Why?
- Great products, reviews, and advice from a community of people that are passionate about outdoor adventures.
- Great return policy and customer service.
- Amazing benefits for becoming a member. Cost of membership? Free. Benefits like: you get 10% cash back off of regular priced items.
- Access to their famous REI Garage Sales where you can get returned, hardly used items at ridiculous prices.
- Tent with Rain Fly and Footprint
We borrowed tents on both of our trips. While most nights we didn’t need the rain cover and footprint, we were really glad we had them for protection during two surprise storms.
We Recommend: REI Halfdome 2 Plus Tent
- Sleeping Bags
We invested in mummy-style, down sleeping bags from REI which kept us warm when temperatures dipped into the 30’s at night in Banff.
We Recommend: REI Flash Sleeping Bags
- Compact Sleeping Pads
On our first trip we took our own, bulky sleeping pads and they took up too much space in the car. The second time around we borrowed some great inflatable pads from our friends.
We Recommend: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad
- Camp Pillows
We always kept a pillow in the front of the car with us as well, which doubled as back support on long drives.
We Recommend: Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow
- Camp Towels
We both have thin, quick dry towels from REI that take up very little space. We not only used them camping but also at one AirBnB rental which did not provide towels.
We Recommend: REI MultiTowel Lite X-Large (more material to wrap yourself up in)
- Fold-up Camping Chairs
This was perhaps our bulkiest item after the suitcase. The seating in most campsites is limited to a picnic table, so chairs are necessary if you want to be able to sit by your fire at night.
We Recommend: REI Camp X Chair
- Hot/Cold Bag
These take almost no space and can come in handy if your groceries exceed the size of your cooler.
We Recommend: Arctic Zone Eco Blend Hot Cold Bag
- Canvas Shopping Bags
Multi-purpose for grocery shopping, keeping clothing items separate, etc.
We Recommend: Just an example
- Laptops and Laptop Cases
Obviously these are not required for going into the wilderness, but for budding digital nomads like ourselves, we had to keep up on our online work every once in a while!
- Bag for Cords and Chargers
It’s easy to lose track of cords and chargers for your electronics, so we keep them all in one bag. Remember to bring chargers that can be used in your car.
We Recommend: Eagle Creek Compression Sacs
- Large Rolling Duffle
Our one big suitcase from REI acted as storage for the bulk of our clothing and toiletries. We kept our clothing a bit neater by keeping them in separate canvas bags within the suitcase.
We Recommend: Eagle Creek Geer Warrior Wheeled Duffle
- Small Suitcase for Overnights
Due to the nature of our second trip, we made a lot of short stops at friends’ houses so we packed a small carry-on bag with the stuff we needed that night and left the rest in the large suitcase in the car.
- Day Backpack
Jedd carried a small backpack on almost every hike we did. It held a water bottle, camera, phone, bear spray, mosquito repellent, and extra jackets if necessary.
We Recommend: REI Stoke Pack 19
- Dust Broom and Pan
This always comes in handy to dust off your tent before packing it up or clean your shoes after a hike.
- Bin for Cooking Stuff
We kept all of our cooking-related items in one box so we could pull it all out easily for meals.
- Water Bottle
Our Sahara waterbottle is excellent for staying cold, regardless of the outside temperature. Put an ice cube in there in the morning, there’s a good chance it will still be intact at the end of the day! They’re a bit hefty but we’ve managed to cart them around Jamaica for two years and all of our other trips too.
We Recommend: Sahara Water Bottle
Apart from one chilly Ranger talk where I bundled up in the blanket, we primarily used the blanket to hide any items in the car that weren’t covered by the trunk.
- All-Purpose Tool
A leatherman or other all-purpose tool with knife and pliers has all sorts of uses.
We Recommend: Leatherman Skeletool
- Lantern and Headlamp
We kept these in the tent for getting around the campsite at night.
We Recommend: d.light Solar lantern & Black Diamond Headlamp
Use SPF 30 or above with wide spectrum and remember that the sun can be stronger at higher altitude.
- Small Bug Spray
We found mosquitos in the most unexpected places, so it’s good to have something small and effective
- Bear Spray
According to the Park Rangers, making noise on a hike is the best way to avoid encountering bears. But if you do encounter one up close, bear spray is almost 100% effective to deter them. For hiking in Parks like Banff and Glacier, it is highly recommended. (And you can donate them to the Park Rangers when you’re done.)
- iPhone with podcasts, music, audiobooks
We made sure to have fresh downloads on the iPhone to keep us going during the long drives between stops.
Thanks to a generous donation from our cousin, we had an excellent digital point-and-shoot which we carried with us everywhere. If you’re not a travel blogger or photographer, your smartphone will probably do the trick just fine.
We Recommend: Sony DSC-RSX100
We keep two compact-but-sturdy umbrellas under the seat of the car.
We Recommend: Totes Compact
- Gifts for friends
We tried to bring something to thank our hosts for putting us up along the way. See this post for our recommendations.
- Laundry Detergent
We brought both a one-time use packet and liquid laundry soap in a plastic carry-on bottle. Remember to use environmentally-friendly detergents, especially if you’ll be washing while camping outdoors (Example: Sea to Summit washes).
- Wipes and Paper towel
Keeping a clean, odor-free campsite is very important, especially where bears are concerned. Find out if the campsite has a dish washing station and follow their guidelines about containing waste water. In some places, even water used to boil pasta should not be discarded because it can attract unwanted wildlife. You can do some creative dishwashing with wipes and towels and minimal water.
- Olive oil
We found that a short water bottle carried just the right amount for several weeks of cooking and we added leak protection by sealing it in a ziplock bag.
- Favorite Seasonings
We even took Johnny’s seasoning to Peace Corps with us because we use it on everything! For this trip, we also packed teriyaki sauce for stir fries and parmesan cheese for pasta.
- Sweetener of Choice
This time it was agave.
- Tin foil
Tin foil can have multiple uses while camp cooking, so we always make sure to bring a small roll.
We brought dishwashing soap in a carry-on size bottle.
- Tablecloth (A)
Something easy to wipe down and store away every night.
- Plates, bowls, utensils (B)
Stackable or collapsible can help save space.
- Flexible cutting boards (C)
These are great because they can be used as work spaces while cooking and they store easily.
- Small Cooler (D)
The size will vary depending on how many people you’re serving and how often you can restock at the grocery store.
- Tupperware (E)
Pack your lunch, keep certain kitchen items together in them, or use them to store perishables in the cooler without getting everything soggy from melted ice.
- Good knives (F)
Chef Jedd recommends one pairing knife and one chef’s knife.
- Vegetable peeler (G)
If you’re cooking with carrots, potatoes, and the like.
- Spatula (H)
- Boiling Pots – mini and large (I)
Our large pot doubled as a dishwashing bin when we didn’t have access to a designated campsite sink. The smaller one is good for using less gas when boiling water for a cup of tea or something. Also makes a good cup for “bucket baths.”
- Can opener (J)
- Wine bottle opener (K)
- Oven mitts (L)
- Strainer (M)
If boiling pasta/veggies
Portable mini burner and extra fuel (N)
When not cooking over the campfire itself, we made good use of the mini burner we borrowed on both trips. We even cooked a full meal on it in the corner of a snowed-in parking lot in Yellowstone!
- Travel mugs (O)
- Sponge (P)
- Non-stick pan (Q)
- Lighter and/or matches (R)
Essential for building a campfire or lighting the propane stove. I prefer the lighter “gun” to keep more distance between my hand and the fire.
- Tongs (S)
For cooking and also moving around hot fire wood.
- Marshmallow/hotdog roasting sticks (T)
- Dish soap in a carry-on bottle (U)
- Wash cloths (V)
- Cast iron pan (not pictured)
This is great for cooking over the fire pit. Just remember not to use soap when washing it.
- Large tub or pot (for dishwashing)
Our second road trip took us to the extremes, from an evening wedding in Seattle to doing yardwork at a friend’s house; from nights below 40 degrees Fahrenheit in Banff to days above 90 degrees in Denver. We’ve only included the stuff we wore to the National Parks below, since it’s not likely for other trips to include the same variety of circumstances. After the wedding and yard work in the first week of our trip, we stuffed those clothes in a crevice of the Prius and didn’t see them again until we got home.
- Running/Hiking Shoes
Since we weren’t doing anything too hard core, I pretty much lived in my running shoes and used them for all of our hiking. Jedd brought separate, sturdier hiking shoes as well as running shoes for when we exercised.
- Flip Flops
For hang out time as well as public showers.
- Nicer Every-Day Shoes
For going out to eat when we visited friends in town.
- Short and Long-Sleeve Layers
We both took a couple high-tech fabric under shirts (and long johns) for the frequent changes in temperature through the day.
- Beanie or Ski Hat
To keep warm at night when temperatures dip.
- Good Socks
One of the most important things to consider is your socks. It will help you feel comfortable and avoid blisters- socks that wick moisture are important to keep your feet warm.
We Recommend: Smartwool & Injinji Socks
- Exofficio Underwear
We’ve used Exofficio underwear all through our Peace Corps service and they are perfect for camping and road trips, too, because they are high quality and dry really quickly.
We Recommend: Exofficio Underwear
- Down Vest
- Hooded Sweatshirt
- Soft Shell Jacket
Note: you might be wondering why we don’t suggest a rain jacket. If you are hiking and you get caught in a rain storm, we find it best to put on a poncho over your warm gear to keep you dry, warm, and free to continue to hike. In any other situation, the best defense against rain is an umbrella.
- Solar Shower
We received this as a gift and were able to use it while camping in Glacier where there were no shower facilities nearby. We only used it to rinse off though because discarding soapy waste water was prohibited.
- Hiking Poles
I really appreciate the stability these give me when we’re hiking around steep drop offs with loose footing! They collapse so we’d often carry them up in the backpack and take them out when the trail got more sketchy.
We Recommend: Black Diamond Trekking Poles
- Rain Ponchos
In Colorado, summer brings the threat of some intense afternoon storms. We did most of our hiking in the morning for this reason but compact ponchos are light and easy to take along, just in case.
- Collapsible fishing rods
Another great gift from a cousin, which allows us to hike and fish without too much trouble.
- Fishing hooks
- Bike rack, bicycles, and helmets
So that’s our packing list. Want a free, printable, check-list version of the list? Sign up with the form below, and we’ll send the PDF to your inbox! We hope it helps you, wherever your adventures take you! Let us know if you have questions or suggestions.
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