How to Organize Camping Gear
So, you have a ton of camping gear to pack, and only one bag to pack it all into. Organizing camping gear, especially with limited space, is easier said than done. Let’s go over some essential tips on organizing for the best experience possible; it’s all about convenience.
How to Organize Camping Gear
- Bagging It All Up
One of the first tips you need to follow when organizing your camping gear is to bag everything up, particularly clothing and anything else that should never get wet. Most people will choose to go with plastic zipper-lock bags, as they are water and airtight.
However, any airtight and waterproof bag will do just fine. The point is that the first part of organizing your camping gear has to do with protection. If your clothing gets wet, it doesn’t matter how well organized everything is, it’s still going to be all wet.
Therefore, before you start packing your gear, you want to invest in waterproof bags. You never know when a rainstorm is going to hit. If rain does come along, at least your clothing will be protected and will remain dry. Remember, things like food, electronics, and other sensitive items should all be bagged; it’s better to be safe than sorry.
- Packing Clothing by Weather and Use
One of the most important parts of your camping gear is going to be your clothing. Unfortunately, packing clothes for camping is not as easy as packing for a trip to a friend’s house or a hotel. When you go to a hotel, you can put all of your clothes in a drawer and simply assemble and ensemble when you feel like it. The big difference is of course that you don’t have to deal with weather in a hotel room.
When you go camping, you may have to deal with rain, wind, and other forms of severe weather. This means that you want to have quick access to specific types of clothing whenever called for. Therefore, you want to organize your clothing in terms of weather and use; pack your warm weather clothes in one bag, such as a T-shirt, shorts, sandals, and whatever else you might wear on a hot and sunny day.
Another bag might contain your rain gear, such as boots, a raincoat, a hat, and maybe some rain pants. Pack weather-specific outfits in individual bags for quick access. This way, if it starts to rain, you can just pull out the bag with the rain gear inside of it and quickly slip it all on.
On that same note, you may also want to organize your camping clothes in terms of importance. If the weather forecast calls for rain, keep your rain gear near the top of your pack for quick and easy access.
However, if the weather forecast calls for sunny skies ahead, then pack your rain gear near the bottom of your pack. You’ll still have it with you, but it will be at the bottom of the pack, thus allowing you to easily get to the sunny weather clothing and other gear.
So organize your camping gear in terms of importance. The things you need first and the most often should be the easiest to access.
- Organizing Camping Gear by Importance
Clothing should always be organized in terms of importance, with the most-used clothing going on top and the least used going on the bottom. This will allow for easy access to your essential clothing. However, this not only applies to clothing, but to everything else as well.
For instance, if you plan on hiking to the campground, which may take several hours, you don’t want your water and other hiking essentials buried underneath the clothes you may wear that night. Anything that you need now or in the near future should be packed on top of anything that you will need later on or may never need at all.
This also goes for other essentials, such as a first aid kit. Emergency situations and injuries can and do arise when camping and hiking, which means that you want to have quick access to a first aid kit to treat any injuries or illnesses. That first aid kit should always be packed at the top of the bag, or in a small exterior pocket specifically dedicated to that kit.
You want to pack your gear by order of how it will be used. Don’t pack your daytime clothing and gear under the nighttime gear. There is no point in doing this, as you will just end up digging past the nighttime gear to get to the daytime gear. It’s all about how important the gear is and when you plan on using it.
- Food, Tools, Cookware, and Other Essentials
As a rule of thumb, the main compartment in your camping bag should be dedicated mostly to clothing, as well as a few other things too. However, if you invested in a good camping backpack, chances are that is has plenty of attachment points and pockets for storage; you want to take advantage of all of this extra space.
There is no point in trying to cram everything into that main compartment when there is plenty of extra onboard storage space to spare. It’s always wise to get a pack with various compartments and hangers.
This way, you can dedicate one compartment to clothing, another to food, another to first aid gear, another to tools and knives, and you can use the attachment points to hang your sleeping bag, tent, fishing and cooking gear.
Each type of item, such as cookware, should have its own spot. Keeping everything organized by category will make it much easier to pack the bag, and it will make it much easier to access all of the gear as well.
- Packing by Weight – For Hiking
Another thing to keep in mind is if you plan to go hiking or if you need to hike to your campground. If you are doing this, especially if it looks like a very long hike ahead, you will want to organize your pack to make the hike as comfortable as can be.
This means packing anything related to hiking near the top and in the outside pockets, but you also have to think about weight distribution. You don’t want to pack your bag so it is top-heavy, as this will be uncomfortable, especially when hiking for long periods.
Therefore, if you plan on hiking, store the heaviest gear at the bottom and closest to your back, with the lightest gear being packed at the top and near the outside of the bag. This will help you maintain a steady center of gravity for a more comfortable hike.
- Sometimes Organization Means Leaving Things at Home
Finally, sometimes organizing camping gear means leaving some things at home. Sure, we all want to make sure that we have enough food, but there is no point in packing 7 days’ worth of food for 3 days of camping. Be sparing with what you bring along. Pack enough gear to survive and to be comfortable, but there is no point in engaging in so-called overkill.
Only take items that are necessary for your camping trip. If you think that you probably won’t need it, then leave it at home. Being sparing with what you bring along will make it much easier to organize and access the essential gear — what you will readily need.
Picking The Right Camping Backpack
Before you go out and buy the first camping backpack you like, there are a few considerations you should keep in mind. Here are the main features that you should look for when buying a camping backpack.
- Size and Capacity
First, you need to consider how long you are going camping and you need to figure out how much gear and equipment you plan on bringing. This will help you determine the size of the camping pack you need.
Now, keep in mind that these backpacks can be deceptively large — they may look very roomy, but are actually fairly tight on the inside. These backpacks are usually described in volume in terms of liters, so pay close attention to this.
For a multi-day camping trip, you will want at least 40 liters of total volume, and even that is pushing the small side of things. For lots of gear, a 60 liter camping bag is probably best, especially if you plan on going on your trip fully loaded.
- Support Straps and Padding
The next thing you want to look for when buying a camping backpack is how comfortable it is. Some come with just the shoulder straps. Either way, the shoulder straps should be wide, easy to adjust, and have lots of padding, as the majority of the weight will be resting on your shoulders.
Besides that, you should also look for a bag that has either a chest strap or a stomach strap, or even combination of both. You can use these to take some of the weight off of your shoulders. Finally, a camping pack with a really supportive and well-padded back section is recommended, particularly if you plan on hiking around with it a lot.
- Number of Compartments
This is more a matter of personal preference than anything else, and quite the tradeoff. Simply put, the more compartments your backpack has, the more organized you can be.
However, more compartments means that there is more fabric separating the compartments, and therefore a lower overall capacity.
That said, having a large main compartment, a compartment on the top, the bottom, and several across the back and sides is recommended. You want to try and keep your gear organized.
- Clips and Hangers
Camping backpacks should also come with a number of clips, straps, and D- or O-rings on the rear and the sides.
These are used for hanging things flashlights, hatchets, a water bottle and other such things. Generally speaking, the more of these that you can muster, the better off you will be when it comes time to organize your gear.
- Material and Durability
The material which the bag is made of is important to consider as well. As you can probably tell by now, camping involves a lot of equipment. If you get a cheap bag with materials that are bound to rip, you will be in trouble.
A good multi-layer nylon bag is always a go-to option. Try doing some research on this to find out which camping packs are the most durable and have the highest weight capacities.
Whatever material your camping backpack is made of, make sure it is waterproof, or water resistant at the very least. You don’t want you gear getting wet if it rains. That said, while some bags are not waterproof, most good ones come with a rain cover.
This is also a bit of a tradeoff. You don’t want a super heavy pack, because your gear will already weigh enough as is. However, if you go for something overly lightweight, chances are that the materials are thin, cheap, and flimsy. So, try to go for something in the middle.
Unfortunately, the reality, particularly with camping backpacks, is that you get what you pay for. Therefore, although you don’t have to spend a fortune, we strongly discourage going for the cheapest option you see.
The Camping Essentials
Now that we have covered how to organize your camping pack, it might be a good idea to talk about what you actually need to bring with you for your camping trip. Let’s do a quick summary of the most important camping gear to bring along. We also want to give you some tips on where the best places to pack these various items might be.
- Tent + Tarp
Of course, the No. 1 thing that you are going to need for camping is a good tent. If you are going by yourself, a 1 to 2 person tent will do fine. Remember that tents are often less roomy than advertised. A 3 to 4 person tent might fit 3 people, barely, or two people comfortably. Just keep that in mind when choosing a tent.
If you are going to a campsite and have your car, it’s best to go for something a bit larger, heavier, and sturdier, because you won’t be moving much and probably want to have some extra room. However, if you are hiking every day and constantly moving sites, something small and lightweight is best.
Remember that it can rain, so you do want to invest in a tent with a good rainfly, as well as welded seams to ensure that no moisture gets in. If you are really worried about rain, you can always bring along a tarp and some rope to create some extra cover over your tent.
In terms of organizing the tent and carrying it, virtually all good camping and hiking backpacks come with special straps to hang tents off of the exterior. Your tent is probably not the best thing to keep inside of the pack, as this would waste valuable space.
- Sleeping Pad or Mattress
The next thing you will need when camping is a sleeping pad or an inflatable air mattress. Of course, you don’t want to sleep on the rock hard ground, so this is necessary. Now, if you want to save space, a small inflatable air mattress generally takes up less room than a sleeping pad, such as a foam pad. That said, if you get a thin sleeping pad, it may take up less space.
How much space these things take up will depend on how large and thick the pad or mattress you go for is. At any rate, for summer, small air mattresses are fine, whereas for winter, for some added heat retention, a foam mat is probably best.
In terms of carrying your bed around, a good hiking or camping backpack, once again, should come with a variety of straps and buckles on the outside, just for this purpose. Just roll up the bed and attach it to one of the straps. At the least, your camping bag should have 3 sets of straps or buckles, one for the tent, one for the sleeping pad, and one for the sleeping bag.
- Sleeping Bag
You will probably want to bring a decent sleeping bag on your camping trip. Some people elect to go with a simple blanket, which is fine for warm summer nights, but other than that, even for some places during the summer, it might be best to get a sleeping bag.
Of course, if you are going camping in the summer, something very thin and lightweight will do just fine. However, if you are going winter camping, you will want to invest in a winterized sleeping bag. The straps on the outside of your camping pack are the perfect place to hang your sleeping bag.
- Clothing + Raingear + Footwear
Unless you plan on going camping in your birthday suit, which is probably not the best idea, you will need to pack clothes. What kind of clothes you bring will of course depend on the season.
For example, for some great summer camping, if you are going for 3 nights, bring along 2 or 3 shirts, 2 or 3 pairs of underwear and socks, a long-sleeve shirt, some long pants, and that should do it. If you are worried about running out of clothes and are not too concerned about space, you can always bring more. The point here is that clothing can quickly get dirty and wet when camping. Personally, we would rather have too much than too little.
Of course, if you are going winter camping, you’ll need to bring extra layers, coats, snow pants, winter boots, hats, gloves, and more, all of which take up space. Whether summer or winter, something you should never forget is your rain gear. It can rain at any time, and you will be sorry if you get wet.
In terms of packing your clothing, how you organize it in your pack really depends on what kind of camping you are doing. Personally, we would recommend packing the most important clothing on top, such as the stuff being used on the same day or the following morning (plus the rain gear, just in case), and keep the other stuff more towards the bottom. If you decide to bring extra shoes, a good thing to do is to find a way to hang them from the outside of the camping pack.
- Food and Water + Water Purification + Storage
Food and water are some of the most important things that you will need to bring along on your camping trip.
Always make a solid meal plan, account for all 3 meals and 2 snacks for each day. Yes, food is going to take up a good deal of space; if you are doing a hiking + camping combo, you need to be very careful with the amount of food you bring, as if you are hiking around, you won’t have much space to spare for food.
When it comes to foods to bring, canned foods, dried foods, and simple snacks are usually best. If you are camping at a campsite, and you have your car, then this is not nearly as important to consider. Chances are that you will have a separate container for food storage.
Speaking of food storage, animals are always a problem when it comes to this. You need to bring along some food hanging bags that are smell- and waterproof, at least if you plan on hanging food in trees.
If this is not an option, you will want to bring along a bear-proof food canister. Unfortunately, these are often quite large and you will most likely need to find a way to carry this separately, as it probably won’t fit in your pack. However, if you are going camping with your car, the best place to store the food is in the car.
- Cookware and Dishware
Bringing along cookware and dishware is important. First off, the best piece of cookware or the best appliance for camping is a simple and small propane burner. You may be able to find some propane burners that come in little cases, like briefcases, which are easy to carry in a single hand.
If this does not suit your needs, you may be able to find a small burner than you can fit in the main pocket of your camping pack. Remember that you will also need to have space for the fuel, such as a small propane or a butane canister.
Don’t forget something like a little bowl and some cutlery too. In terms of organizing the dishware and cutlery, you should be able to find sets small enough to fit in the main or even the side pockets of your camping gear. This stuff is light and small, so you can probably fit it near the top somewhere, plus if you are hiking, you will want easy access to your cooking gear. You will also need a small pot, and you can find nice camping pots that you can easily hang on the outside of your pack.
- Bug Spray + Sunscreen
Of course, you don’t want to get burned by the sun and you don’t want to get eaten by bugs either. Therefore, a good size bottle of both sunscreen and insect repellant is highly recommended.
If you are only going out for a couple of days, you can bring along some small travel bottles. These are convenient because you can fit them virtually anywhere in your camping pack, although near the top is usually the best.
- First Aid Kit
Yes, things can and do go wrong when camping, which is why you should always bring a decent first aid kit along. It doesn’t have to be huge, as long as it has the essentials inside it. An exterior pocket is a good place to store first aid gear, as you do want to have quick access to it in the event of an emergency.
- Survival Knife + Hatchet
You might not need a hatchet, but if you are camping in the deep woods, it’s certainly convenient to have one so you can make a fire with ease. We would recommend going for a small folding hatched that can be put in the bottom of your camping pack, or maybe one that can be hung from the side.
In terms of a knife, we would never go camping without a good survival knife, as these things come in handy for so many purpose. You don’t need to put the knife in your bag. A good camping knife should have a sheath that you can attach to your person, such as using your belt or the belt loops on your pants, or even carrying it in one of your pants pockets
- Lanterns and Flashlights
Of course, you don’t want to go camping without a good source of light. Trying to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, in the pitch black, can be dangerous.
Therefore, a good flashlight and lantern is recommended. Seeing as you won’t need these until the night, you can put them in the bottom of your pack, although if they are small enough, the side compartments are good for storing them.
- Flares, Whistles, Mirrors, and Two-Way Radios
Bringing some emergency signaling gear is a good choice if you plan on roughing it and camping away from an official and populated campsite. If you are careful, the chances of you getting lost or stranded are relatively small, and therefore, any such emergency gear can be placed at the bottom of the pack.
- Fire Starter
Although the woods is full of kindling, it might not always be dry, and therefore, bringing along a fire starter can come in handy. Whatever you bring, fire starters are usually quite small, so you can fit them anywhere in your pack as you see fit.
- Small Shovel
A small shovel for digging holes will be useful, especially for digging a latrine. A good camping shovel should come with a loop so you can easily hang it from your pack.
With the above tips, organizing your camping gear shouldn’t be a problem. Invest in a good camping backpack with large compartments and plenty of storage options; only carry essentials; and pack your bag in a way that is rational. The important gear goes near the top where it is easy to access, and everything else can be deeper down in the bag.