Planning a Weekend Camping Trip (+ a Checklist!)
About a month ago, Gary and I headed into the mountains (away from the heat) to do a little camping. Our camping weekends are somewhere between ‘glamping’ and basic. (True story: probably closer to ‘glamping’ for those who are hardcore campers that bring only the minimum needed for survival.) But, we’re out there to get away from home and real life for a few days, with a few creature comforts to make it enjoyable. It had been a while since we’d been camping, and I used to have a camping checklist that I’d use to make sure we didn’t forget anything. Needless to say, I couldn’t find it – and we forgot stuff. Thankfully, it wasn’t anything terribly important that our friends (who were joining us the next day) couldn’t bring with them.
If you’ve never been camping, I want to encourage you to go. Many county or state parks have campgrounds with tent sites available. It’s nice to get away from home, be near nature for a bit, and just relax. If you really think about it, the campground is just a large, short-term summer camp without someone creating a schedule for you. And you get to do your own cooking. And eat as many s’mores as you want/can!
Here’s our checklist (a.k.a. what I should have brought) for the two of us and two small dogs. I’ve put everything in groups, so, for example, if you aren’t camping with small dogs, then you can ignore that section. And, what would a checklist be without commentary? I have a printable camping checklist for you – without commentary – at the end.
Things to keep in mind
We generally camp in the mountains during the summer and early fall so we don’t have to worry too much about cold weather. Also, we’re in Southern California so our mountains are relative – we don’t usually have snow to worry about at the elevations we visit, and summer evenings are fairly mild. You’ll want to consider these things and use the checklist as a starting point. Add and delete things as needed to fit your trip and camping location.
A few things of note about our campground of choice that may or may not affect the list, depending on where you choose to go:
- bathrooms are available, as are coin-operated showers
- 2 campsites share a water spigot in-between them with cold water for hand washing and dishes
- each campsite has a cement picnic table
- due to beetle infestations we can’t bring our own firewood in, but they have it available for purchase where we check in
- camping for us is “not a fashion show” (as my mom used to say) – meaning, I’m not worrying about makeup, keeping my clothes completely dirt-free during the day, or more than the essential toiletries. I don’t think I even bothered to put in my contacts the entire weekend.
Before you go
- Be sure to reserve a camp site. Many times they fill up fast and the campgrounds don’t have last minute openings, especially during the busy summer season.
- Be sure you have something to carry the items below. We use plastic tubs, available from Target or the local hardware store, and segregate by use – kitchen, tent, tarps (because they get really dusty!), food, other, etc. Because were camping fairly often at one point, we keep our plastic tubs pre-packed with items that could be stored longer-term without issue and labeled the outsides so we knew what was where. If you arrive when it’s dark, knowing what tubs have your sleeping bag and flashlight saves rummaging through all of them just to find the things that you want.
- Make a meal plan and go grocery shopping. Keep in mind that you may not keep to normal meal times. Many times this is something you’ll know after your first camping trip. We usually eat more of a brunch-type meal mid-morning; snack on cheese, crackers, and summer sausage in the afternoon; and then cook dinner in the evening. Also, camping may not be the time to be a gourmet chef. Having to drag along a bunch of spice jars and things you will only use a portion of can be a pain. If you decide to do so anyway, I recommend portioning out only what you need.
The camping checklist
- tent (For two people and two dogs, we have a 4-person tent. Ours somewhat self destructed on this trip, so I’ll have to review our new one when we purchase it.)
- tarp/footprint for under the tent (The tarp/footprint keeps you dry if there’s condensation and keeps the rocks from poking holes in the floor of your tent. If you get one big enough, set it up so that you have an extra foot or two in front of the door – that extra bit gives you a place to set your shoes to keep at least some of the outside dirt from getting into your tent.)
- air mattress and something to blow it up with (We use a queen-sized Aerobed and therefore bring an extension cord and inverter to be able to use the lighter plug in our vehicle. Glamping, remember? As an alternative, growing up, my family used twin-sized air mattresses that we blew up with a foot pump. This can be good to wear out kids a bit if you have them.)
- sleeping bags or sheets and blankets
- flashlights (Bring one per person plus one and extra batteries, just in case.)
- lantern (Battery operated ones are easiest. They also make propane ones. Don’t use the propane ones in your tent. Please.)
- food and drinks
- ice chest and ice to keep food cold
- plates, bowls, cups, and utensils for each person (We wash dishes after each meal, but you can bring paper/plastic if you don’t want the hassle. We store them in gallon ziploc bags to keep them clean after washing and reuse the bags until they’re hole-y.)
- knife for food prep
- long tongs
- large spoon
- mixing bowl
- large plate for serving (one of the things we forgot)
- pot and pan for cooking and heating water (our camping tubs are where our old pots and pans go to live when we get new ones. I have 2 pans, 1 pot, and 1 dutch oven/large pot.)
- stock pot for heating water for dishes (I grab this from the kitchen as I use it when we’re not camping as well. When you don’t have to heat water twice to have enough for washing/rinsing, you’ll be happy you brought it.)
- 2 plastic dish tubs – 1 for washing dishes, 1 for rinsing
- dish sponge
- dish soap
- dish towel for drying (another thing that we forgot)
- camp stove and fuel (We have a heavy-as-heck Camp Chef stove that is self-standing and boils water in nothing flat. It uses a propane tank. Glamping, remember? They also make small table-top camp stoves that work well – this is what we used when I camped with my family as a kid.)
- oilcloth or disposable table cloth and table cloth weights (The latter will keep your table cloth in place when there’s a breeze.)
- long metal skewers for s’mores marshmallow roasting
- hand soap (eek! another forgotten item)
- baby wipes/hand wipes (This took the place of the forgotten soap. These are also nice to cut through the sticky and wash hands up quickly.)
- paper towels
- ice cream ball! (Add ice, rock salt and ice cream makings, roll it around for about 30 minutes and – presto! Ice cream! We have this one, but they now make a soft-sided one. The hard-sided one really does need a towel underneath it if you’re rolling it around on a concrete table so that you don’t wreck the plastic shell or the tablecloth. The soft-sided one has mixed reviews regarding leaking and durability, so we might just stick with what we’ve got!)
- cards, games, books or other things to pass the time
- old towels for drying off, covering the table when rolling the ice cream ball, etc.
- camp chairs so you can sit around the fire
- foldable camp side table for a place to set things down while you’re hanging out in the camp chairs
- shade structure for over the table or over your chairs (We bought one at a going-out-of-business sale this spring – 12’x12′ fully extended and it was OMG huge! But, it worked out well. Smaller ones that have zippered sides can be nice to keep bugs out if they’re bothersome.)
- basic first aid kit
- clothes for the trip (While you can re-wear clothes – and some people do, be aware that you might get pretty dirty. The ground was very dusty with a fine red dirt where we were, so I did end up changing clothes each day.)
- shoes (I brought both tennis shoes and flip-flops – the latter make late-night bathroom trips across the campground easier.)
- basic toiletries
- any medications you might need
For the dogs:
- leashes (Check your campground for limitations. Ours had to be on leashes 6′ or less.)
- dog food and treats
- dog food and water bowls
- old towels or blankets for a comfy spot for them (We have a foam, cloth-covered car seat that we just pull out of the car when we get there – they’re more than happy to hang out in that with a couple of their dog blankets.)
- folding pen and tarp (I found the best thing ever on Amazon before this trip – it’s the octagonal
Soft Pet Playpen with a zip-in floor and a zip-in screen top. There are two zip doors, and the sides are half mesh, half canvas. I got the 48″x48″ size, and it was just the right size for them to move about and not step in their food and water bowls. Our dogs are not prone to digging, so it worked out perfect. If yours are prone to digging or they are bigger, I recommend a plastic or metal exercise pen with a tarp underneath.)
- portable dog crates (We put these in the tent with us at night to keep the dogs contained and to keep them from running across the air mattress, which they seem to think is Great! Fun! The crates we have are pop-open, and they fold up into smaller carrying cases about 12″ across when we’re not using them.)
Want to start a camping checklist of your own? I’ve made a camping checklist printable for you to use as a starting place.
It may seem like a lot, but many of the things listed are actually on the smaller side. Once packed, it won’t seem like as much. Have you been camping before? What things are necessary for you that I’ve left off my list?