Camping: How Much Stuff is Enough?

How much stuff is too much? (photo by VancityAllie)

How much stuff is too much? (photo by VancityAllie)

A big problem that a lot of new campers have, particularly those with children, is packing a week’s worth of stuff for a weekend trip. Packing too much gear and food is not a problem in itself, but it sure can ad to your level of stress on a Friday afternoon, as you scramble to get away in time to make the campsite before nightfall.

We have certainly been there, with boxes of energy bars and trail mix for snacks, everyone’s favorite cereal, and bags of toys that don’t see the light of day until we are unpacking them back at the house on Sunday afternoon! Lisa and I are not free from blame, either, with extra blankets, a laptop PC, and a dozen eggs when we only need six.

Fighting the “too much stuff monster” begins with some simple planning. For regular weekend camping trips, we have a set menu for two dinners (Friday and Saturday), two breakfasts (Saturday and Sunday morning) and a lunch for Saturday. A typical weekend menu for us is:

  • Friday dinner: Tortellini and sauce with a salad
  • Saturday breakfast: Milk and cereal
  • Saturday lunch: Soup and sandwiches
  • Saturday dinner: Hamburgers and hotdogs, or fajitas, with corn on the cob
  • Sunday breakfast: Eggs, bacon and pancakes

We vary the individual dishes, of course, but we stick with the same type of foods so that we can always use the same kind of pots, pans and utensils – all of which are kept in a storage tote. We don’t have to remember the frying pan and the spatula, just the “kitchen tote.”

You can apply a similar strategy to clothing, with each family member having their own small duffel bag. Likewise, we keep our tent, stakes, hammer, rope and tarp in a single storage tote – ready to go at a moment’s notice. We have found that by keeping much of our gear packed and ready to go, we are much less inclined to pack a lot of extra “stuff” that we probably don’t need.

If you are looking for a very good, comprehensive, checklist of backpacking and camping gear for your next trip, checkout Carol’s list over at Hiking Lady. It’s broken down into sections that fit nicely into the storage tote method and it is formatted to conveniently print on a single page.

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18 thoughts on “Camping: How Much Stuff is Enough?

  1. Yes Minimalist or Maximalist?
    We are always trying to decide what to bring on our campouts. Picture waking up and you have a nice fire going for breakfast, cooking utensils. You just climbed out of a dry, warm sleeping bag from a great nights sleep and bacon is cooking. Its quiet and you can hear birds singing and the fresh morning air revitalizes you. The next second, a car drives up and you cant see through the windows, every square inch of area in the car has some kind of camping stuff jammed into it. When the driver gets out, he opens the back of his SUV and things start falling out. Ever seen this? We have.

    When you have family, we always think of everything. What we do is try and decide if we will actually use it. It might be nice to have, but it will probably take up room and not ever leave the trunk or back of the SUV. We suggest starting with the must haves and seperate them from the nice to haves. Its like going on a flight and you know you can only bring one bag or you have to pay for the additional one. Priorties matter. Think of Maslows first, then add to what you will also need. Always consider the type of camping your going to be doing and how often and how far you may have to carry things.

    My x-wife packed our son for a boyscout trip once and the suitcase weighted about 80 pounds. I had no problem with it until I realized I had to truck it down a hill about a quarter mile to the camp from the parking lot. Just use common sense. It will guide you 99% of the time. For the 1%’ers who cant, you will be arriving with hundreds of useless things that you will never even use. We love to camp and share our experiences as we have a passion for camping.

  2. Hello, I have the same problem when just the wife and I go camping.As i load the ute the stuff keeps coming,what do we need this for i ask?.Sure enough, set up the camp site and guess who asks for the item i thought we didn’t need.
    Yep it’s me.Learn’t not to argue with the wife,she knows best.

    • Jonsky – me and my friends would grab sleeping bags, a tarp and a Sterno stove and head out. I know on several occasions we forgot either a can opener or a lighter 🙂

  3. Hey Jenn, wow so organized! that rack on the back of the van hooks into the hitch and sits a few inches off the ground, it's rated at 500lbs. and sometimes I'm pretty close to that with 3 kids, wife and now the dog…allows you to travel pretty quick without the load or restrictions of hauling a trailer.

    One more shot! This is the campmaster 8800, a 3 drawer unit with top flip door compartment and side cabinet. There is also a height adjustable surface with flip-up windscreen. and….. a 26" disco ball! gotta have. funny story about that one…. check it out here:

    It easily breaks down for quick hauling and storage, and is built from recycled redwood fence planks and an old campchair base!

    there is a bit more about it on my website:

  4. A friend of mine who has twins did a road trip for two months in their VW wagon. They had the their chariot stroller in the back with the dog sitting in it. The back seat had the two kids in cars seats. The floor was the only space for their stuff including a rocket box. Each person was only allowed one paper bag full of personal items, including clothing. They are also a cloth diaper family.

    We went to Mexico with our dog and our child in our Subaru Outback with no rocket box for two weeks and the car was so full it was going to crack but we brought all the food we need for the whole time.

  5. Good advice. Im kind of getting to where you are. I use clear bins so I can see whats in them. I have a "kitchen" bin, and "food" bin. A backpack kind of thing that has gas canisters, stove that goes on the canister, a lantern that goes on the canister, lighters, and flashlights. Its kind of the gear bag. I use those square clear bags with the zippers that come with sheets in them…for things like bungies, rope, closepins, matches, leather gloves, ducttape, etc…all that little junk that you dont know if you will really need but you take it. I can see whats in there with out rooting through something and it squishes down as needed. There is a large green rubbermaid bin that holds the tarps, tent, rubber mallot, and stakes. When those all come out, firewood goes in the bin. Im still perfecting the tent packing setup…I found that I dont roll up the tent at the campsite anymore because its either wet or sandy. I just roll it up and throw in the green bin. Its been helpful to read other peoples comments and get new ideas about how to pack or repack.

    Steve…that's an amazing packing job! Looks like two children and two adults? Whats on the back of the car? Is that like a deer rack…something they have out here for hunting season!

    • Thank you for that bin (tent/ fire wood ) tip Jenn, I would love for you to post it on I think it is great. I will do it next time that we are going camping

    • I just stuff it (the tent) into a tote at the end of a trip, too. It seems like it's always a bit damp from the dew and it has sand or dirt sticking to it. I lay it out in the backyard, once we get home, to dry it out and sweep it off. I am having a terrible time with our clear totes – every one of those has broken or cracked. The Rubbermaid ones seem to be holding up just fine.

  6. I agree…I like to follow the mantra of 'I probably won't need it' and go as a minimalist. You would explode from exhaustion or overeating if you let your brain determine what to bring…too many 'what if' scenarios. It's just a weekend!