If it’s been awhile since your last camping trip, it can be hard to remember exactly what you need to do to prepare for the next one. Was your gear in good shape when you packed it away? Did you have everything you needed for your must-have morning brew? Take stock of your equipment—and the shape it’s in—now so you’re ready next time you have a chance to head to the great outdoors. Not sure where to start? Just follow this checklist.
1. Size Up Your Supplies
Unearth your tent from storage and air it out. If possible, do it in the sun so you can easily inspect it for small holes and rips; then repair as necessary. Air out your sleeping pads and pillows, too; if they’re inflatable, check for slow leaks. Set up your camping chairs, and make sure both the frame and fabric are sturdy.
2. Gather Your Equipment
There’s nothing like fresh food grilled outdoors, so locate your camping barbecue and brush up on your grilling skills. Empty the grill of ashes, wipe it down with mild soap and gently scrape it off with a wire brush. Assemble a pared-down grilling tools set, including a spoon, spatula and stainless steel tongs (bonus points for the attached bottle opener)—all with long handles to protect you from the campfire or camp stove heat. The set also comes with a silicone tool rest that holds your utensils and packs everything neatly away. Stainless steel skewers are also a great inclusion, as is an all-purpose chef’s knife with a must-have locking storage sheath; the latter provides more safety than a homemade foil wrap or cardboard sleeve and the handle is non-slip. Make sure you also have a cutting board with non-slip feet for those uneven campground prep surfaces—this one is odor-resistant and has a drip catcher around the perimeter to keep your working area clean—and a can opener that doubles as a bottle opener. Backpacking? Try this compact version. A lightweight pan, like this carbon steel one, is perfect for searing steak and freshly caught seafood or for frying up sausage and egg sandwiches. Finally, for cleaning, an all-purpose squeegee can make it easier to do dishes with less water; use the flexible silicone side for scraping off food bits and the hard plastic edge for trickier, burned-on debris. Pull the tool apart to access the stainless steel grill cleaner. A tough scrub brush is a welcome camp kit addition for frying pans and other dishes with caked-on food. And for general cleaning, this dish brush dispenses its own soap and comes with a tidy storage case.
3. Strategize About Storage
Think through the food you like to pack so you can determine which types of containers you’ll need. Decant your must-have spices into small, airtight containers. Gently scrub down your cooler and insulated totes, then practice stacking them with ice packs, food storage containers and leak-proof squeeze bottles (which are perfect for salad dressings, pre-mixed marinades and seasonings).
4. Keep it Kid-Friendly
Camping with—and packing for—kids can be overwhelming, but it’s much easier if you start early. Count on including essentials like a spill-proof water bottle, snack containers that little hands can manage and tools for making favorite foods in camp, like a griddle turner for perfect pancakes. Make a list of kid-friendly snacks—think: dried fruit and healthy muffins, as well as classic hiking snacks like homemade trail mix and oatmeal energy bites. Pack the non-perishables in advance, and keep that list handy so you don’t forget the rest. If the kids are nervous, build excitement by having them try out their sleeping bags in advance at home. Don’t forget to pack a few surprises, like new games or inflatable water toys if you’ll be near water.
5. Include Small Indulgences
Camping is an inherently rugged activity—but that doesn’t mean you can’t allow yourself a few small luxuries. Gather the items you can’t live without (or would just really enjoy having)—like a travel French press with a shatterproof carafe, a coffee grinder (this manual one’s stainless steel conical burrs produce a consistent, flavorful grind) or an insulated thermal mug that can keep beverages hot and cold for hours.
6. Plan for Safety
Camping preparation should always include safety. Stock a first aid kit with essentials including bandages, bug spray, antiseptic, a tick remover and any prescription or over-the-counter medication your family might need. Curate a collection of lanterns, headlamps, candles and flashlights; and make sure you have adequate batteries and fireproof candle holders.
7. Go Green
Remember the golden rule of camping: Pack out whatever you pack in. To ensure you leave no trace at the campsite, bring ample storage and garbage bags—ideally ones that can be secured with bag cinches or a clip to keep food fresh or garbage properly sealed until you’re able to dispose of it.
Ultimately, the key to a smooth camping season is advanced preparation—but don’t fret too much if you forget something at home. Instead, go with the flow and enjoy making memories that will last a lifetime.