Summer Camping Checklist: Everything You Need for a Night Under the Stars

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

Camping season is right around the corner, and we couldn't be more ready.

From eating s'mores by the campfire with friends to days exploring the great outdoors, camping is not just a way to spend your nights—it's an experience in itself.

If you're just starting out with camping, the amount of gear you need to pack can seem overwhelming. And while it is a lot, much of it can be found already lurking in your house or apartment. 

As for the rest? Consider borrowing it from a well-stocked friend or renting big-ticket items like a tent, sleeping pad, and camp stove from a gear shop. Then, as soon as the camping addiction hits (and it will), you can begin investing in your own gear.

This summer, try out camping for the first time with KOA. KOA has over 500 reservable campgrounds across the United States and Canada, making trip planning a breeze. Search for campgrounds and learn more about each location's amenities, nearby destinations, and events at koa.com

Sleeping Gear

Photo by Sarah Horn

If you want to fall in love with camping, make sure that you're set up to get a great night's sleep. An uncomfortable, cold, or interrupted sleep can make or break a camping trip, especially for those who are just starting out. Set yourself up for success with gear that will create a comfy and cozy night's rest.

Car camping packing list:

  • Tent (tent body, poles, stakes, rainfly and ground cloth)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Pillow
  • Earplugs and/or eye mask for light sleepers


Van camping packing list:

  • Sleeping bag or bedding
  • Pillow
  • Earplugs and/or eye mask for light sleepers

Clothing

Photo by Rachel Bertsch

The clothing you bring is dependent on what type(s) of activities you plan to do during the day, but for those who are camping, hanging out, and maybe doing a little hiking, this wardrobe should cover you for a weekend in the wild.

  • Two shirts (short sleeve, long sleeve)
  • Two pairs of pants (or shorts and a pair of pants)
  • Three pairs of socks
  • Two pairs of underwear
  • Sleeping clothes
  • Warm jacket
  • Walking shoes
  • Comfortable camp shoes
  • Water shoes or sandals
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat with a visor
  • Winter hat and gloves for late night  and early morning

Kitchen Kit

Photo by Matthew Eaton

If you plan to make meals while you're camping, you'll want to have a well-stocked kitchen kit. There's nothing worse than trying to cook a meal of rice and beans and realizing that you've forgotten your can opener, or pulling out that bottle of red wine and realizing you don't have a wine key. You can pilfer most of these items from your own kitchen—gather them up in a bin with a lid and you'll be good to go.

  • Pot with a lid
  • Bowls and plates for each person
  • Forks and spoons for each person
  • Cutting knife
  • Cutting board
  • Coffee/tea mug for each person
  • Coffee/tea making supplies
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Tongs
  • Can opener
  • Wine key
  • Biodegradable dish soap
  • Dishrag or sponge
  • Dishtowel

If you're car camping or don't have a full kitchen in your van, you'll also want:

  • Cooler with ice
  • Camp stove (these can often be rented if you don't own one)
  • Lighter
  • Extra fuel for camp stove
  • Washbasin for dish cleanup

Camp Accessories

Photo by Ryan McKinney

Camp accessories are the small necessities that keep you happy, safe, and adventure-ready. 

Don't leave home without:

  • Headlamp or flashlight
  • Extra batteries
  • First aid kid
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug Spray
  • Chapstick
  • Camp chair
  • Baby wipes
  • Toilet paper
  • A deck of cards or your favorite board game
  • Car charger for your cell phone and camera

Campfire Supplies

Photo by Greg Balkin

If a night around the campfire is a part of your camping dreams, and the campground you are staying at allows fires, be sure to have these supplies on-hand and at the ready.

  • Newspaper
  • Hatchet (to make kindling)
  • Long matches
  • Marshmallow roasting sticks
  • Bucket to douse your fire

As for firewood, be sure to buy it where you burn it.

Looking for that perfect spot to take your first camping trip? Check out six of our favorite city escapes and 18 places to explore this summer.

Cover photo by KOA Kampgrounds

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

Do you love the outdoors?

Yep, us too. That's why we send you the best local adventures, stories, and expert advice, right to your inbox.