Into the Wild: The Ultimate Camping Packing List

Car camping for newbs: Learning the basics

First things first! Here’s a deep dive into camping basics. We talked to Jasper Springfield, founder of Roving Motion, a team of rubber tramp pros who seek to teach folks about life on the road. Springfield has camped throughout the 48 continental states and parts of Canada. So it’s safe to say he knows what’s up.

There’s something special about hopping in your car and hitting the open road. But it’s important to have some sort of a game plan, especially if you’re new to camping.

Your safest bet is to research campsites near you. This way you can learn the basics in a familiar environment before pulling the trigger on a cross-country trip.

You should also look into which spots provide fire pits, fire wood, indoor toilets, purified water taps, and overnight tent grounds.

Cost can also be a factor. Some campgrounds require a nightly stay charge. But according to Springfield, there are “tons and tons of federal lands like National Forests and Bureau of Land Management where you can camp for free for up to 14 days usually.”

Keep in mind, these campsites don’t offer a “glamping” experience. You won’t have modern amenities like running water or electricity.

Here are some camping tips to keep your experience a 10/10 for you, other campers, and the environment.

Follow the rules. Respect your campsite’s regulations. There should be posted signs that lay down the law. You can also see if there’s a ranger around.

Fire safety. Always follow fire safety protocol as if Smokey the Bear is standing next to you. Never put cigarettes out on the ground. Always snuff out your bonfire. And please, do NOT burn your trash.

BTW, you also have to be aware of the wind.

“At best it will make you burn through your firewood quicker,” Springfield says. “At worst, it can send embers flying away from your campsite, igniting a wildfire.”

Keep it clean. Even though you’re sleeping on dirt, camping involves a lot of cleaning up. Make sure you follow the “Leave No Trace” practice and leave your site as you found it.

Volume control. We all love a sweet “Kumbaya” sesh. But try to keep the excess noise to a minimum and respect your neighbors. Springfield also notes you should be aware of your lighting.

“Being able to see around your campsite it great, but blinding your neighbors isn’t nice,” he says. “Plus, the bright lights will make it hard to see the stars at night.”

Creature concerns. Research local wildlife before you get going. Be particularly careful during bear season and always have a deterrent (aka bear spray) on you just in case. Do not leave food out as this can attract wildlife (in some areas you’ll need to hoist your food up in a tree to keep it away from bears).

You prob won’t find a Trader Joe’s in the middle of the woods. So it’s uber important to plan all of your meals ahead of time.

Here are some tasty options that will keep the whole fam fueled:

Pro tip: “There are plenty of foods that people envision while camping, like trail mix, but nobody gets excited about it once they get to camp,” Springfield says. “So be honest about what you want to eat once you get out there.”

Here’s a step-by-step rundown of setting up your campsite.

Into the Wild: The Ultimate Camping Packing List

If possible, pick a flat piece of land. It’s better on your back and will keep your tent more stable. Lots of peeps also prefer to set up in a shady area. Trees can block out the sun and protect you from harsh winds. But you have to be careful.

“Always look up before setting up a tent, especially if you’re under a tree,” Springfield says. “You don’t want to set up under any widow-makers (loose or broken limbs that are dangling in the tree above).”

Tents aren’t just for sleeping. They’re a great place to unpack your other gear and get organized. But! Springfield notes it’s never a good idea to keep food or scented products in your living space.

“It will invite insects and wildlife into your tent,” he says. “Even if it doesn’t attract a bear, rodents are known to chew through tents or packs to get to a food source.”

Instead, he recommends storing food and toiletries in your car when not in use.

Take a moment to organize your food rations. Double-check that everything that needs to be stored in a cooler is safe and sound.

“If you’re camping and the weather is cool, you can use the ambient air as a fridge or freezer,” Springfield says. “But in the summer, it may not be worth the battle of trying to keep things cool with ice, but that’s a preference for each camper.”

Some campsites offer fire pits or grills. But if these aren’t available in your area you can set up a fire pit. Make sure it has a 15-foot radius from trees or brush to reduce the risk of fire.

Reminder: Check with a park ranger or local fire department to make sure this is OK first.

Lots of modern campgrounds have a communal bathroom on site. But that won’t be the case if you’re boon-docking or dry camping (aka camping without amenities). Here’s how to take care of business.

Pro tip: If you go camping on the reg, you may want to purchase a portable toilet.

This is pretty straightforward.

Menstrual cups or period panties might be your best bet when camping. They take up less space in your bag and you don’t have to worry about finding a garbage can. Bonus: They’re eco-friendly!

If you don’t want to ditch the tampons, try to stick to brands that don’t require plastic applicators. When you need to dispose of a used tampon or pad, place them in a tightly sealed bag. Then find an appropriate location (e.g. trash area) to dispose them.

When it comes to camping, nothing is s’more important than safety. Here’s how to prep for the “what if” situations.

Know your surroundings. Don’t wander off into isolated or sketchy areas. You may also want to get a hiking GPS if you plan on hitting up some trails.

Swim safety. Even if you were the captain of your high school swim team, you should never swim alone. You also need to wear a life jacket if you plan on kayaking or boating.

Be prepared. Have a well-stocked first aid kit on hand at all times. It doesn’t need to be as hardcore as a disaster go-bag, but it should def have the essentials.

Stay in touch. Satellite messengers are a great tool to keep on hand.

“If you spend time in the wilderness, this can save your life,” Springfield says. “It is worth its weight in gold if you find yourself in need of help.”

The heat stroke struggle is real fam. Stay extra hydrated on hot or humid days. It’s also a good idea to avoid direct sunlight in the afternoon. As for cold camping, it’s all about insulation. Make sure you layer up!

Squirrels are the CUTEST. But these fluffy critters and their furry friends can carry diseases like rabies and tetanus. That said, do NOT approach any animals. You should also look into what venomous insects or snakes might be chilling in your camping area.

P.S. Check for ticks on the reg.