Your Guide to the Perfect Camping Setup

Oct 2017

With any camping experience (backpacking or base camp style), you’ll want to practice good preparation, organization, and smart habits — including the 7 Leave No Trace Center Principles. Follow our tips below and read through our gear guide for the perfect camping setup.


Camping Tips

Preparation: Make sure you have all the necessary gear for camping and that the gear is ready for use. You don’t want to find out that your tent has holes in it when you’re already out in the wilderness — be proactive.

The basic categories for your camping setup include gear for shelter, kitchen, fire, and security, but you’ll also want to make sure you have the right clothing, personal items, and any necessary camp furniture. REI has an extensive car camping checklist — check it out here.

Organization: Have all of your gear in place, ready to grab and go! A well-stocked camp crate (plastic bin) is the best way to stay organized. If all of your gear can’t fit into one crate, you may need to use more and labeling is never a bad idea!

If any of your gear can be multi-purposeful, save yourself the space and leave luxury items at home. For example, you may be able to turn your storage bin upside down and use it as a table then even use it as a wash basin when dinner is over! Consolidation is key to an organized, stress-free camping set up.

Smart Habits: The more you camp, the more you’ll learn how to be efficient, practical, and mindful. A few smart habits include keeping clean, having essentials on hand, carrying water in water containers, keeping an eye on food at all times (and use food cache systems to keep the animals out of camp), bringing the right tools, and making sure your camp buds know the campsite location and are involved in setup so they know where everything is in camp.

Photo by Leah Overstreet


Car-Camping Gear Guide

Let’s go into the necessary gear needed for an awesome car-camping set up.


  • Tent: Is it big enough for you and your companion or furry friend? Weight is not usually an issue when car-camping, so make sure your tent is appropriate size (3-4 person) and in-season.
    Sleeping Pad: An uncomfortable sleeping pad means less sleep, which means less fuel for adventure! An air mattress (if you have the room), self-inflating pad, or air construction pad are best for car camping.
  • Sleeping Bag: Again as weight should not be an issue, just make sure your sleeping bag is warm enough, comfortable, and roomy. If you’re sleeping with your partner, consider a double sleeping bag to eliminate weight and space! For more help on picking the right sleeping bag, see our blog on 4 Steps to Buying the Perfect Sleeping Bag.
  • Pillows: For some, a camping pillow is a luxury. For others, it’s a must!
Photo by Leah Oversteet

Camp Kitchen

  • Cooking Equipment: A stove, fuel (bring extra), cookware (pots, pans, bowls, plates, cups), a hot pad (or two), utensils (knives, spatulas, spoons, etc.), a cast iron pan (a dutch oven can do most anything you need), a cutting board, foil, and tupperware.
  • Matches/Lighter, Fire starter
  • Multi-purpose tool (bottle opener, corkscrew, knife, etc.)
  • Pre-planned meals: Plan and prep your meals at home. Cut up the veggies, pre-season and marinate meat, bag the portions, and downsize on the packaging for more room in your cooler and less waste in the outdoors.
  • Water Containers: Great to have especially if your water source is not close to camp.
  • Coolers: Depending on how many nights and how many campers you’ll have, you may need more than one. Pro tip — freeze gallons of water to use as ice in the coolers. It will keep your food fresh and once they melt you’ll have more drinking/cooking water.
  • Dishwashing Station: Soap, sponge, bleach, and a pot scrubber. Learn how to practice LNT principles in your dishwashing station.
  • Trash Bags: Conceal the odor of discarded food scraps in airtight containers if possible. Remember to pack in and pack out!
  • Towels
  • Condiments: Salt, pepper, herbs, spice kit, and oil or nonstick spray.

For some awesome camp meal recipes, check out our blog on The Best Camping Meals.


Camp furniture may not be necessary, but it always adds comfort to your camp setup. Consider foldable chairs and tables, hammocks, and more.

Other necessities include (but are not limited to): a stocked first-aid kit, lighting (lanterns, flashlights, headlamps), wood, maps, personal items, games, proper clothing and footwear, extra batteries, and your campsite reservation.

Photo by Jill Richards


While everyone adds their own twist to their camp setup, these guidelines should be enough to get you started! Also, keep in mind: if you are planning on backpacking in the backcountry, your camp gear will differ in weight and amount, and require even more consolidation.