I’ve mentioned it a few times, but I am a major obsessive planner. I start typing a packing list months before a trip occurs. Yet despite that, there’s always something that I forget. This is especially obvious when camping and unable to purchase what’s missing!
Now, I’m lucky enough to never forget the big stuff. Tent, sleeping bag, pad, sunscreen–all of that is first on my list and first in the car. But especially if it’s your first camping trip or first in a long time, it’s so easy to forget one little thing and have it be bugging you for the whole trip. A brief primer–when I say ‘camping,’ I mean what some call ‘car camping’–you drive in your car to a campground and set up your tent for sleeping in. I’ll post on camp kitchen essentials later, but some of those items are so easy to forget I have them here to really hammer the point in (so maybe I won’t forget them either!). Here’s my list of things to never again forget when camping! *None of these items I receive any reimbursement or compensation for mentioning or from purchases made by readers
Yes, the woods are your main entertainment. But when the children in the site next to you are at full volume at 6am and it’s bright as all heck inside your tent, you’re going to be really glad you brought a book. Ditto for those twilight hours when it’s too dark to be camping, but too early for bed.
Unless a burn ban is in effect, chances are you will want a fire. And if you don’t camp a ton, chances are you’ll want some kindling to help start a fire. I think newspaper is the easiest kindling–while park newsletters are printed on newspaper, I like keeping those, so we had to improvise a bit for kindling.
We have this 5-gallon blue jug I insisted on cramming into the car ‘just in case.’ This turned out to be super lucky, as the Mazama campground was on reduced water, with the only spigot being located at the campground ‘village’ just far away enough to be a pain. Some people were doing their camp dishes in the bathroom sink (please don’t do that), but we just filled up the jug once a day and used it for all of our cooking and dishwashing needs for the day.
SEASONING + OIL
Seasoning and oil are both something that’s easy to forget but painfully obvious when they’re missing. Ever had to pry burnt potatoes off of a foil packet? Not fun. Oil is easy enough to travel, I just get a spray bottle of oil (vegetable or canola oil are better than olive oil for high temperatures, like you might need with a cast iron skillet on a fire) when buying camp groceries. Travel seasoning is a bit more difficult. If you camp a lot, there’s great hacks people have for taking a stacking container (looks like a stacking lipgloss like you’d get in elementary school?) and filling it with different herbs and spices, but for us more casual campers, a few single-use salt and pepper packets snagged from a fast-food joint can go a longgggg way. Ditto for sugar packets if that’s something you require in your coffee or tea. We keep all those little things in a ziplock baggie with our camp soap to never again forget.
It can be a slipper, a flip-flop, or even something like Tom’s–some kind of comfy shoe to wear when in camp (read: NOT your hiking boots or shoes) is a necessity. I like flip-flops as they can do double duty as a shower shoe, but the downside is then I have to remember to spray my feet with bug spray so they aren’t exposed to bugs.
CARDS & GAMES
Just like books, a game can really help out when you’re awake but just chilling in the campground or holed up in your tent waiting for rain to pass. We quickly realized we forgot this, but luckily the Mazama campground inside Crater Lake had an amazing store with cards, games, and books. We went with the cheapest cards, but if you really want to do double-duty, you can snag the ‘Don’t’ cards, which have printed tips on them for general survival, wilderness survival, and even winter survival tips. Another super-helpful bit of preparation is knowing how to play card games. We did standards like Go Fish and War but realized we didn’t know any others! I eventually remembered Crazy Eights which was a bit more entertaining, but still.
If you don’t like traditional playing cards there’s tons of other games I recommend that travel well also, especially games in tins like Spot It or Sushi Go that will stay safe and dry when not in use.
We used a cast iron skillet for a lot of our camp cooking, and at the last minute I remembered to grab a potholder to pack. While this was super helpful, you really need *two* potholders–one to use as a trivet and one for grabbing the not-quite-red-hot handle. Yeah, you could try using a wool sock to grab the handle with, but I’m pretty sure ‘lifetime guarantees’ don’t cover burns.
Luckily, almost every campground store sells can openers, because almost every day I’m sure someone in the world forgets to pack a can opener for camping. Don’t rely on your food all having pop-top cans–buy a cheap opener and keep it with all your other camp kitchen items.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think ‘condiments’ is ketchup or mustard, but tons of other foods need a little extra something. One of my favorite breakfast foods when camping is good ol’ Bisquick pancakes in the add-water-and-shake bottle. No bowl or whisk needed–perfect for camping! What wasn’t perfect was realizing we’d be eating them dry–no syrup, no butter, no flavor. I get early-morning-beggars can’t be choosers, but that sounded *so* unappealing. In a fit of genius, I realized I brought all of the snacks I’d been getting in my Cairn subscription box–including some Buddy’s Nut Butter packets. While not the most environmentally friendly, peanut butter packets are super convenient if you’re in a situation where you can’t carry a jar around with you. There’s tons of brands out there making these packets–REI sells some individual packets, or you can get multi-packet boxes from Amazon.
I felt so stupid for forgetting a small towel! I made do with a giant roll of paper towels I had packed, but it’s so much more environmentally friendly to use a quick-drying towel like a PackTowel for drying dishes. I got my PackTowel in my Cairn monthly subscription box and had it just sitting at home unused. The towel even has a bag and carabiner to make it a snap to hang it up to dry! Never forgetting it again.
If you have beer in bottles or cans, you’re pretty golden. Tons of camping gear and gadgets come with built in bottle-openers–they know what’s up. However, if you have a crowler or especially growler, having cups is a godsend. We were lucky enough to have our Silpints from the Bend Ale Trail to enjoy our growler with, but otherwise we’d have had to take pulls like prospectors drinking moonshine–can you say foamy beer and backwash? There’s tons of options for pints while camping–enamel, insulated like DrinkTanks or HydroFlask, unbreakable Silpints–and of course they don’t have to be used for just beer either!
Every camper’s essentials list is going to differ a bit, so I hope you at least find some of these items useful. I’m still learning too, and each trip I get better ideas–what are your items you hate to forget when camping?