Camping is such fun—relaxing by the crackling fire, the fresh air, a brisk dip in the lake. But the packing? If you’re not organized, it can be a bit much, and you certainly don’t want to get caught without your top camping trip essentials, like matches or the bug spray. With a little prep, though, you can turn the process into an efficient grab ‘n go operation.

Your 10 camping trip essentials

Keep these in mind when getting ready to load up and drive off with the tent, sleeping bags and S’mores fixin’s:

1. Stack and load tubs.

The car camping pros use a series of stackable, shallow plastic tubs with lids to hold everything except the big stuff. Fill them by topic (cooking supplies, cooking ingredients and (dry) condiments, washing up stuff, fire-making necessities, gadgets, table setting, etc.) and make sure they’re clear so you can see inside. Label each on the side, then stack them so you can read what’s in each. This ensures everything fits in the car in a tidy, easy-to-spot, and remove format. It’s worth the modest investment and saves oodles of time and endless digging around for the can opener.

2. Get (mostly) packed.

Have everything that won’t spoil already packed in your handy plastic tubs. Keep them packed and stored. To list a few, you can assemble: washing up supplies, such as dish soap, drying towels, a sponge, steel wool, dish brush, plastic tub, and so on; the camp stove and gas canisters; fire-making stuff including newspaper, kindling and. matches. Then the day before you depart, you just fill another tub or two with your food and perishables and add the cooler and ice.

3. Use recipes that work.

Mac’n’cheese is a crowd-pleaser, but have you ever tried to wash a goopy pot with cemented-on cheese at a campground? (It’s not fun.) You want a short list of camping winners that are not only stress-free to make but healthy, tasty, and easy to clean up. Think strategically—as in, use foil or grill sticks, bring ingredients already prepped in Tupperware containers, make recipes that can be cooked easily over the fire, on the (small) camp stove burner, or that don’t need any cooking at all, and don’t choose anything too complicated. Here are some quick, nutritious, and delicious Little Potatoes camping recipes that actually work well.

4. Take shortcuts.

With your meals, this isn’t the time to go gourmet for the most part. If there’s something already or mostly assembled, get it. Our A Little Garlic & Herb trays are optimal, for example, because they cook in their own package, come with all the seasonings and take about two minutes to prep. Take advantage of these!

5. Freeze to go, then reheat.

One pro prepares hearty gourmet soups (like our Smoky Bacon and Leek Soup) at home, pours them into large yogurt containers, and freezes them. Then on departure day, she just puts them in the cooler. At dinnertime, she pours the whole thing into the pot and just reheats it on the campfire or camp stove. Done!

6. Practice at home.

This may seem overdone, but if you make a meal at home—say on the deck or in the backyard—using all your camping gear from your handy plastic boxes, you can find out what’s missing in a low-stakes environment. Then add it in and rest assured you are good to go.

7. Make a master list.

After you’ve done No. 6, create a Master List of your camping trip essentials. Add to it as needed, and keep a copy in one of your plastic bins. Don’t ever go camping without it!

8. Include key items.

Don’t forget the musts, such as a hatchet for splitting kindling and newspaper for starter, the gas canisters (filled!) for the camp stove, the matches, a little hammer to get those tent pegs into hard ground, the soap and tub for washing dishes, the bug repellent and sunscreen, TP and can/bottle openers. Other essentials are the First Aid Kit, flashlights with extra batteries, and a Leatherman-type multi-tool knife.

9. Make it comfy.

No, you don’t want to get too fancy, but it’s awfully nice to have some creature comforts when you’re roughing it. We like to have our French coffee press and coffee bean grinder (both camping versions) to savor some fresh brew when getting up with the birds in the crisp morning air. Also nice are metal camping wine glasses, a festive checkered (easily wipeable) tablecloth with clips to keep it from blowing off the table, and a canopy to put over the picnic table for rain protection or shade. If you can fit them in, real pillows are a nice splurge.

10. Play stuff.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the food and tent tarp-type gear, we forget about the fun stuff. Camping is a great opportunity for together time. Bring a Frisbee, a ball to toss around, books to read, playing cards, and board games. Relax and enjoy a chance to slow down for a change.


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