What to Always Pack for Camping

If you are planning a camping trip to a wild area near a lake, river, or a wild area anywhere, there are several items you must not forget to bring. This article is meant to serve as a basic checklist for the novice camper planning a camping trip in a remote or semi-remote area. I’ve camped a lot in wildlife refuge areas near lakes and have drawn from my own experience in compiling this list. 

The Camper’s Basic Checklist

Bring plenty of bottled water

If you plan on being gone for three days, bring enough water for 6 days or more, just in case. Dehydration can occur very quickly. If you plan on drinking alcohol, double the amount of water you bring because alcohol is very dehydrating.

Don’t forget to bring a first aid kit

First aid kits for camping should be in waterproof containers and should contain gloves (latex or non latex), insect bite spray or cream, antiseptic hand wipes, wound cleanser, sterile bandages of several sizes, medical tape, and an ace bandage. Kits should also contain tweezers for removing splinters and ticks, emergency phone numbers, Neosporin or similar antibacterial ointment (do not use on burns), aloe Vera gel ( for sunburns or minor burns from cooking or campfire), Calamine lotion, antihistamine tablets, pain medicine, and sunscreen.

Pack at least one battery-powered flash light with extra batteries and one flashlight that does not require batteries (such as a solar powered flashlight or hand-cranked emergency flashlight).

Bring plenty of trash bags. You do everyone a favor if you leave the camp site nicer than you found it.

Pack towels and biodegradable soap for washing. Don’t forget biodegradable toilet paper.

Bring your cellular phone and charger in case you need to make an emergency call. Remember, though, that your cell phone may not get a signal everywhere.

If you are planning on building a camp fire, remember to bring a small bucket for dumping wet sand or dirt to put out the camp fire ( if you will be camping in an area where camp fires are allowed). You will also need a small shovel for digging the fire pit and appropriate fire starting materials for your camp fire (newspaper, twigs etc. –not fuel). Make sure you check the local laws first. Many areas will not allow camp fires (for good reason) and other places that do allow camp fires require that you bring your own wood.

Pack a spare pair of rugged shoes and extra socks in case your shoes get wet or something else happens to them.

Don’t forget to bring insect repellent to keep away mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies and other annoying bugs.

Bring a weather radio

Storms can happen quickly. I was caught once in a really bad storm that seemed to come out of nowhere. One moment the sun was shining. The next moment the wind was howling. Dark clouds rolled across the sky like boiling oil, blotting out the sun. The lake began to churn like it was about to jump out of its basin and devour us whole. I know it sounds melodramatic, but that is what it felt like.

We had to move out quickly. In the process of packing gear and extinguishing a campfire, I cut my hand badly. I didn’t notice until my camping partner shrieked in alarm about it. Blood was dripping all over. I still have a scar from that cut, but we were lucky that day. Things could have been a lot worse. So check the forecast in advance, of course, but also bring a weather radio because things can change quickly. Mother nature won’t hold storms back just because the meteorologist predicted fair weather. Don’t forget extra batteries in case something happens and the ones you have in the radio tragically die.

Consider brining a portable GPS. If you don’t plan on wandering the wilderness it isn’t necessary to bring a portable GPS, but it doesn’t hurt to have one on hand anyway, just in case.

Extra Tips

Snake Bites

It used to be that if a snake bit you, someone was supposed to stick a tourniquet on your limb (if the bite was on a limb), slice the wound and suck out the poison. Well, things have changed. You shouldn’t slice open the wound because doing so allows the venom to travel more quickly through the bloodstream. Instead, keep the snake bite victim still and calm and get them to emergency care as quickly as possible

Most snakes are not poisonous, but rattle snakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths (usually cottonmouths are in or around waterways) are common in many regions and are bad news. I’ve been camping a lot and have seen few snakes, but I nearly stepped on a rattler once. I am glad rattle snakes give warning–the sound stopped me cold. I’d never seen a rattler at that particular lake and hadn’t expected it. To my relief, the snake slithered away after warning me.

If you are camping any place where there might be snakes, I strongly recommend wearing boots to help protect your ankles and calves from snake bites. I also recommend long pants to prevent ticks from latching onto your legs.

The snakes aside, it is important to find a location where there are good portable toilets that are in hygienic condition because where there is a picnic, you have eating and drinking items that would require everyone to use the bathroom.

Finally, be prepared for any other wildlife encounter and know what to do–in other words, if you will be in bear country, bring bear spray just in case. And do tell someone back home where you plan to camp and how long you plan on staying. At least one person should be told where you will be in case something happens to you. Happy Camping!