camping shopping list: 18 essentials you need for your next trip

Cooking Equipment & Utensils

Aside from basic essentials like a few pots and pans, a large wooden spoon, a chef’s knife and cutting board, and knives, forks, spoons, cups, bowls and plates for serving, there are some particularly useful items that are worth mentioning here.

Aluminum foil: you may not even need to bring any other cookware, because you can cook a meal, a snack and even dessert by wrapping ingredients in foil and cooking over the campfire, a grill, or hot coals. Foil is also a life saver when you’re wary of cooking on the rusty-looking grill at the campsite or other questionable surfaces. Double your layers to avoid tearing, or use heavy-duty foil.

Briquettes: compressed charcoal and other materials which are lit and allowed to heat up for cooking with a grill or Dutch oven. There are self-lighting briquettes that already contain lighter fluid and are easy to light, but they give off an unpleasant odor. Regular charcoal briquettes may take a little more time to get going, but they help lend a smoky flavor to food.

Cast iron skillet: its versatility allows you to use it for dishes from breakfast hash to steaks to cakes. Cast iron distributes heat well and so is ideal for cooking over charcoal or firewood. A well-seasoned skillet can be just as good, if not better, than a nonstick pan. A small selection of these would be nice, but they are heavy to carry. If you’re hiking to your campsite, you’ll want to choose one that is lighter. Go with a 12”–14” model, preferably one with a lid (though foil will do).

Charcoal or Gas Grill: parks and campsites usually provide grills, but you may not be comfortable using their rusty-looking grates. Veteran campers recommend lining suspicious-looking grates with aluminum foil to be safe, but you could just bring your own portable grill. A metal grill with legs that fold will be a huge help at the campsite. You can cook food directly on the grate, use foil packets, or place your skillet on it.

Dutch oven: a Dutch oven just might be your best friend during your trip. It can easily serve as a makeshift oven for preparing favorites like pot roasts, stews, pasta dishes, breads, and cakes.

Campers usually use an outdoor Dutch oven with legs which make it ideal for cooking over coals. The shape of the lid allows you to place coals on top, too. Usually, the Dutch oven is placed on top of a ring of coals or briquettes. The rule is “diameter in inches minus three” for the bottom and “diameter in inches plus three,” for the top. In other words, if your Dutch oven has a 10-inch diameter, you would use a ring of 7 briquettes underneath and 13 briquettes on top.

Barbecue skewers: metal skewers are very useful at camp, as they can be used to cook a variety of foods; marshmallows and hot dogs being only the beginning. For roasting over the campfire, you’ll want longer ones so you can sit away from the flames. You might also choose to purchase some of the shorter variety for cooking on a grill. This type should have no plastic or wooden handles, because those won’t stand up to the heat.

Hobo Pie Maker: an ingenious contraption that makes it easy and fun to prepare sandwiches and even desserts on the campfire.

Meat thermometer: even the most experienced cooks can have a hard time knowing when a meat dish is done. A thermometer will make it easier for you to determine when the meat is ready – and eliminate the risk of your trip being ruined by food poisoning from improperly-cooked meat.

Nonstick cooking spray: not only is it convenient to use, but it can also mean a few less calories in the dish.

Ziploc bags: convenient and space saving. You can use them for storing precooked pasta, marinades, herbs, spices, cut-up veggies, and almost anything you can think of. This will help simplify and organize your cooking.

Aluminum baking pans and trays: these disposable pans are very useful for various things at the campsite, so it’s good to have some on hand. They’re available in many sizes and shapes. Consult your meal plan so you can be sure you haven’t overlooked the kind you need.

Oven Mitts: silicon oven mitts are heat-resistant and won’t give you a nasty burn if they’re wet. They’re also easier to clean than the mitts you use at home.

Tongs: be sure to bring a sturdy set of long metal tongs, for moving foil packets around in the coals.

Mason jars: these are great to mix dressings, store trail mix, cereals, and batters, and be used for many other things.

Some Essentials to Bring on Your Trip

Here is a quick check list of thing you might want to bring according to their purpose:

For the fire

  • Waterproof matches or a few good lighters
  • Starter liquid fluid
  • Starter wood
  • Charcoals (plenty of it)
  • Cooking utensils for barbecue: tongs, spatula, extra-long forks, cleaning brush for the grill.
  • Grill (for over the fire, if the campsite does not provide or you like having your own)
  • A grate to place directly on the fire to cook food on the open flame

To prepare and cook the food

  • Large cast iron skillet or metal skillet that can be placed on the grill or fire
  • Saucepan
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • Cooking spray of your choice.
  • Olive oil, butter
  • Salt and pepper and other seasoning you may want to use, like garlic powder, chili powder, and other spices.
  • Oven mitts (preferably silicone to accommodate very high temperatures)
  • Can opener
  • Bottle opener
  • Prepping knifes, cutting board
  • Whisk, spoons, wooden spoon, slotted spoon
  • Grater, vegetable peeler
  • Plastic strainer
  • Large unbreakable serving plates
  • Mixing bowl, various size
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Wood skewers
  • Zip lock bags
  • Mason jars

To keep the food

  • One cooler with plenty of ice or ice packs to keep perishable food and drinks fresh
  • A second cooler or large plastic covered bin for dry non-perishable item like cans, pasta, rice, cereals, seasoning & spices.
  • Plastic wrap
  • Plastic airtight containers for food leftover storage

To eat

  • Non-breakable plates, glass, cups, mugs, utensils
  • Napkins
  • Plastic tablecloth
  • Water bottles

To clean-up

  • Paper towels
  • Washing clothes, drying clothes
  • Dishwashing tub, dishwashing soap

Plan Ahead!

A meal plan is an absolute must when you’re camping. Presumably, you’ll be away from a grocery store, so you’ll need to pack enough servings of each food to satisfy everyone.

Not only do you need to know what foods to pack, planning how you’re going to prepare the food gives you the opportunity to take along needed items, like foil baking pans.

You can make cooking at the campsite even easier on yourself by doing some of the food prep at home. Plastic food storage bags with secure closures are great for carrying premade ingredients in. They can be washable or disposable depending on your preference, they can easily be labeled, and they are the most compact way of storing food in small spaces.

When preparing food at home for the campsite, you have a couple of different options. With some dishes, you can prepare all of the ingredients and combine them together in one container so that all you need to do is transfer them from the container they will be cooked in. If you find that many of the dishes that you plan on preparing use the same ingredients, you can prepare larger quantities of those ingredients and store them in a plastic bag, retrieving only what you need at any given time. You can also prepare each set of ingredients for dishes separately, bag and label it, and then assemble it at the campsite. For instance, planning a cake recipe, you can prepare the dry ingredients at home and add the wet ingredient at the campsite and in some cases the whole batter and freeze it until you need it.

When camping, you don’t have to give up homemade flavor in favor of convenience foods. However certain premade, canned, and frozen foods not only save you time, but can also be easily enhanced with just a few small additions. For example, a jarred sauce with the addition of a few spices will taste heavenly and save you the extra time and ingredients of creating it from scratch.

Always pack a little extra. You never know when you will want seconds or meet a new mouth to feed. Welcome others into your campsite and make new friends and memories around the campfire enjoying a homemade dessert.

Be Environmentally Friendly

When you’re enjoying the outdoors, don’t forget to leave it as unchanged as possible after your visit. Campgrounds have facilities for toileting and waste management, so use common sense and be mindful of any recycling requests.

When you’re camping in the wild, it’s even more important not to leave evidence of your cooking behind.

When possible, leave wrappers at home. Some things (like meats and pre-made salads) can be better packed and stored in reusable containers to avoid seepage and crushing. Leaving those boxes and bags at home means you won’t have to deal with them at the campsite. Once the containers are empty, you can use them to take garbage (like soiled plastic wrappers) back home for proper disposal.

You can burn napkins, paper towels, paper plates, carboard, tissues, and bones, but avoid putting any foam or plastic in the fire. This releases harmful toxins that you shouldn’t breathe, and that are hard on the environment.

Use separate bags for garbage and recycling, and make sure none of your trash is left around on the ground.