Ultimate Guide: What to Bring Camping

Ultimate Guide: What to Bring Camping

When it comes to camping, the gear you take along can make or break the experience. Pack right, and you’ll be ready for any adventure — whether you’re hitting the beach in British Columbia or alpine hiking in Alberta. Forget too many essential items, though, and you could literally find yourself up a creek without a paddle.

Of course, remembering to pack everything you’ll need for your next trip into the wild can be tricky — so we’ve come to the rescue. Behold, our ultimate guide for what to bring along whenever you go camping!

See also: What to bring when camping in the rain.

Don’t Leave Home Without These Essential Items

We’ve split this list up into two different sections. This first one deals with the stuff you absolutely can’t afford to leave behind: things that pertain to safety and physical needs (like eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom). There are some other things you’ll probably want to have on hand as well to make sure your trip stays fun, but we’ll get to that in the next part of the article. For now, consider these items your top priority:

Clothing and Shelter

Sleeping under the stars can be very romantic — but only when it’s a choice. You don’t want to be staring up at the night sky because you forgot your tent. All conscientious campers need to pack weather-appropriate clothing, too. Here’s a checklist that’ll keep you warm and dry on your next trip:

  • A tent: make sure it’s the right size for the number of people in your party, and that it can handle any weather you expect to encounter. If you’re not sure how to choose an appropriate tent, try MEC’s Find Your Tent quiz.
  • Versatile clothing: you probably can’t take your whole wardrobe on a camping trip (unless you have a really big vehicle), so it’s best to opt for clothing that can handle a wide range of temperatures. If you can afford merino wool, it’s always a smart choice for base layers — it’s a warm, lightweight material that breathes easily and insulates even when wet, which makes it perfect for both physical activities and staying cozy in the cold.
  • Rain-proof outerwear: into every life, a little rain must fall… and if it happens while you’re camping, you’d best be prepared! Bring a lightweight waterproof (not water “resistant”) jacket on every camping trip, and consider waterproof bags for any items you want to keep dry.
  • Proper footwear: don’t take those brand new Nike kicks on a muddy mountain trail — you’ll regret it, we promise. When it comes to footwear, remember: function always comes before form. Look for durable, weatherproof shoes with excellent traction and good support so that you can scamper up slopes and abscond from animals if you need to beat a hasty retreat.

Food and Cooking Supplies

Food is just as important as shelter, so be sure to consider your consumable goods when planning your journey and save room for the following:

  • Firestarters and tools: you’ll probably want to start a fire at some point during the trip, so make sure you bring a means to do so. Matches are the most basic tool for this task, but you can also bring flint and steel or a cigarette lighter. Magnesium firestarters exist too — but make sure that if your firestarter needs fuel you check it before leaving. It’s also a good idea to bring a backup, just in case your first one gets ruined or fails. Don’t forget to bring a sturdy and good quality axe for your wood cutting needs.
  • Cooking appliances: building a fire isn’t the only way to prepare food in the wilderness. Portable ranges and hot plates are an option too — as long as you have extra propane tanks or a source of electricity nearby.
  • Dry and/or canned goods: as a general rule, you don’t want to bring delicate things camping. When it comes to food, that’s especially true — if it can easily be crushed or spilled, leave it at home. Dry goods like jerky, granola, and nuts are your best friends here, along with canned protein and vegetables. Oh, and if you’re building a fire, don’t forget the ingredients for s’mores!
  • Canteens and water filters: eating is important, but so is drinking — and your body can go longer without food than it can without water. The best move is to fill your canteens with fresh water before you leave so that you won’t have to purify it in the wild, but if you run out it’s good to have filters or purification tablets at the ready.
  • Garbage bags: whatever you pack in, you must pack out. Respecting the environment you’re in means it’ll be waiting for you when you come back!

Personal Hygiene Products

We’re not saying you should be scared of a little grime, but there’s also no point in getting filthier than necessary. How do you use the bathroom when there’s no bathroom in sight? Start by bringing these:

  • Toilet paper: no, you can’t just use leaves. Don’t believe us? Try it at home first, and let us know how it goes — we’ll wait. You can also purchase AMAZING biodegradable wipes that are good for a mini-bath and TP. Great for your bottom and the environment.
  • Soap: germs travel the same way in nature as they do in towns and cities. Soap and hand sanitizer will prevent you from contaminating your food, spreading illness, and smelling bad.
  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste: bad breath can ruin anything, even the unparalleled majesty of nature. Why risk it?

Emergency Equipment

Expect the unexpected when you venture into nature. Taking these items along will help protect you from the scary stuff:

  • A pocket knife: need to make kindling from a branch? Sharpen a stick to use as a replacement tent-peg? Open a can? Screw an appliance back together? Hunt a small animal? A good utility knife can do all that, and more. Don’t leave home without it.
  • Maps, compasses, or GPS systems: don’t count on Google Maps when you’re out in areas with patchy service. Make sure you’re taking along something that can tell you where you are if you get lost.
  • Flashlights and headlamps: fire is bright, but it sure doesn’t travel easily (especially in a forest). Taking along a portable light source will help you find your way in the dark, whether you’re making your way back to camp from a hike or going to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
  • Bear spray: better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. ‘Nuff said. While we are at it, don’t forget the bug spray.

Don’t Forget the Fun Stuff

We’ve covered the really important things, but if you want to enjoy your camping trip to the fullest possible extent then you might want to save room for a few of these creature comforts:

  • Sporting equipment: if you’re going camping in an area that lends itself to certain activities, make sure to pack the appropriate gear — inflatable rafts and swimsuits for campgrounds near water, cross-country skis and poles for winter camping in snowy woods, etc.
  • Toys and games: there’s often as much fun to be had in the tent as there is on the trail. Packing a deck of cards and some board games can be a great way to stay entertained when the weather gets rough, and a stuffed animal or two can keep a toddler from getting scared at night when you’re camping as a family.
  • Books: it’s so hard to find time to read these days. Why not take advantage of the solitude that nature offers? A thick volume or two can help pass the time when it’s raining, and it feels very rugged to sit on top of a mountain and read Hemmingway. Trust us.

Respect Nature and Nature Will Respect You

People who prepare for their camping trips normally have a blast. If you pack the right items, you’ll spend the entire experience warm, well-fed, and well-protected. Refer to this list often as you’re packing for your next excursion, so that you and your party can face the elements with confidence.

12 Fun Things to Do While Camping in the Rain

12 Fun Things to Do While Camping in the Rain

We’ve already covered the gear you’ll need to camp out in the rain, but what about having fun? After all, camping isn’t just about testing your will against the many challenges of the wilderness. You should also enjoy the experience! Believe it or not, plenty of camping activities can still put a smile on your face even when skies are wet and grey. Read on, and learn how you can prevent bad weather from putting a damper on your next camping trip.

Before We Start — a Note on Planning Ahead

Preparation for a rainy camping trip should include more than packing the right weather-proof gear. You’ll also want to think about where you’re camping since some rainy-day activities require certain natural features (more on that later). Be sure to take along spare batteries as well, since some of the suggestions on this list include the use of portable electronic devices (and last time we checked, most campgrounds are pretty short on electrical outlets).

Now that you’ve double-checked your map and stuffed a few double-As into the outside pocket of your backpack, here are twelve easy ways to have fun when it’s raining on your campsite.

If You’re Already Wet, Go Swimming!

Our relationship with water is pretty weird — we scramble to avoid it when it’s falling from the sky, but when we see a large body we’re often tempted to get in and soak ourselves from head to toe. If you’ve decided to camp near a lake or river (or if you’re camping on the coast), then try going for a swim next time it rains. When you’re already immersed in water, it’s pretty hard to be bothered by a few drops.

Bring Out the Boats

If you’re camping near a dock, why not take a canoe or kayak out on the water? Yes, you might find yourself bailing a little liquid out from the bottom of the vessel as it collects — but you’ll also find the experience of boating in the rain completely different from doing it during clear weather. The sight of mist gathering near a bank of pine trees on the shore, or the sound of frogs chirping as they come out into the open can be magical in an understated way — plus, you’re much more likely to have the lake to yourself!

Catch a Fish or Two

Why should you have to be the only one out of your element? If you have to get wet, you might as well pull a few fish out of the water and onto dry land — after all, misery loves company. Rain doesn’t keep fish from biting, either. In fact, you might be likely to catch more than usual, since the good spots probably won’t be as crowded. Just make sure you have the necessary permits.

Finish Your Summer Reading List

Not all of our rainy-day camping activities require a large body of water — and if you’re anything like us, you probably spend most of the year wishing you had more time to read all those great books your friends have recommended. Well, what better time than while you’re hiding from the rain in the middle of nowhere? Just make sure you pack your books in water-tight bags so that leaks don’t destroy them. Oh, and we don’t recommend reading outside during a deluge.

Have a Game Night

It might sound odd, but board games and playing cards are often more entertaining than usual during a camping trip. Maybe it has something to do with the lack of distractions that are usually within reach during the average family game night at home. Taking away the creature comforts of civilization really lets you focus on the object of whatever game you’re playing — in fact, the only time this writer has ever been able to pay attention long enough for a full game of Risk was during a rainy weekend camping trip with friends.

Kick Out the Jams

If anyone on your camping trip is musically inclined, have them bring along an instrument or two. When it rains, take everyone inside the tent or under a tarp and start up a jam circle! You can even include members who don’t play anything by handing them simple percussion instruments like tambourines or maracas. Remember, you’ll probably be pretty isolated — so it’s not like you need to impress a panel of celebrity judges or anything. Just have fun! Oh, and obviously we don’t recommend bringing electric instruments along (although we have to admit, busting out a sweet two-handed tapping solo in the middle of the woods somewhere would be pretty metal).

Tell Spooky Stories

Telling scary stories around the campfire is such a common camping ritual that it’s practically become a cliche. Why not make it your own this year and escape bad weather at the same time by taking the tradition inside the tent? Just switch out the campfire for a flashlight, and you should be good to go!

Make Arts and Crafts

If you’ve brought along construction paper, coloured pencils, scissors and tape, it’s easy to spend a rainy afternoon drawing or making collages in the comfort of your tent. As with other paper-oriented solutions on this list though, we recommend keeping these items sealed in waterproof bags or pouches until it’s time to use them — and make sure you have a responsible way to collect and dispose of the scraps!

Have a Movie Night!

With high-resolution screens on so many portable devices, it’s easier than ever to watch a movie or two during a rainy trip to the wilderness. We suggest that you don’t rely on streaming services to watch this content though, since network coverage can get pretty spotty when you’re camping far away from towns and cities. Consider investing in a portable DVD player, which can be powered with either batteries or a generator — and don’t forget the DVDs!

Play Video Games

Okay, nobody wants to spend their entire camping trip on their devices — but if you’ve exhausted all the other options on this list, a few portable video games can really help pass the time. This is especially true if you’re camping with children, who might have shorter attention spans and get restless during an extended period of rainy weather. Letting them play on a smartphone or portable console for a little while could keep them pacified while you take care of important tasks around camp, and give you a bit of a breather while you plan your next moves.

Play with Shadow Puppets!

If you prefer low-tech entertainment, why not make use of that flashlight we mentioned earlier and create some easy theatre with shadow puppets? This handy video will teach you how to make basic shadow-puppet shapes, and with a bit of creativity, you can quickly use them to start telling spellbinding stories (especially for the youngsters in your party, who will probably be eager to learn how to make them for themselves).

Find Indoor Attractions

When studying the area near your campground prior to setting out, make sure to create a list of places you might want to visit in nearby towns. It’s never a bad idea to camp within an hour’s drive of a town with a museum, gallery, or nice restaurant — just in case the weather turns really grim and you need to get inside for a while.

Weather Doesn’t Have to Control Your Camping Experience

Rain can be disappointing when you’re trying to enjoy nature, but you don’t have to let it ruin your vacation. There are still plenty of outdoor activities you can enjoy in the rain (especially if you’re camping near water), and packing a few clever gadgets can turn even a simple tent into a game room or makeshift entertainment centre when you need to wait out bad weather. In worst-case scenarios, you might even be able to escape to an indoor location nearby. So remember: rain doesn’t have to cut your camping trip short. In fact, it could actually help you have more fun than you predicted.

Essential Wet Weather Gear for Camping in the Rain

Essential Wet Weather Gear for Camping in the Rain

Ah, the great outdoors — a world of endless potential. Every year, we help thousands campers book campsites online, flock to campgrounds across the nation to find recreation, relaxation, and sometimes… rain.

Unfortunately, inclement weather is a strong possibility in most of Canada’s gorgeous campgrounds, no matter where you go or what time of year you visit. Fortunately, though, a little rain doesn’t have to put a damper on your entire outing. With the right wet weather gear, you’ll be able to protect your sensitive items and shrug off all but the strongest storms.

Of course, choosing the right camping gear for wet conditions isn’t always easy. There’s no shortage of products being marketed to would-be campers as essential items, and trying to sort through them all unassisted can create major decision fatigue.

Picking out the correct products is just part of the work, too — you’ll also have to know how to set up your camp to make the most of them. That’s why we’ve come up with this list of wet weather camping items every intrepid explorer should take along when they venture into the wilderness.

What Do You Need for Wet Weather Camping?

There are three important categories you’ll want to consider when shopping for rain-ready camping gear:

  • Firstly, you’ll want to think about items that offer general protection for you and your goods.
  • Secondly, you’ll want to think about the clothing you and the others in your party wear to keep yourselves warm and dry.
  • Finally, make sure to consider specialty pieces of gear that will allow you to perform specific tasks (like eating and sleeping) without discomfort.

General-Purpose All-Weather Camping Gear

  • Your tent. If you plan on camping in rainy weather, you should know that there are such things as waterproof tents. They normally come with a waterproof rating (measured in millimetres) that ranges from 1000-10,000mm (anything below 1000mm is not considered a waterproof tent). However, don’t expect waterproof tents to repel rain forever. Most of them simply have a water-repellant coating, which will eventually come off and must be refreshed with the use of a tent-reproofing spray.
  • Your tarps. Hanging a tarp so that it is suspended flat in the air above your tent is an excellent way to add a layer of protection between it and falling rain. However, not just any piece of cloth will do when it comes to keeping away the rain. We recommend using a tarp made from Tyvek, which is traditionally wrapped around new houses to waterproof them. New Tyvek tarps can be stiff though, so throwing yours in the washing machine once or twice before you pack it will also make it easier to fold and store for the trip.
  • Your bags. All kinds of waterproof backpacks are available, but they tend to be fairly expensive. If you don’t want to break the bank, consider using trash compactor bags to hold items you want to keep dry. Make sure to avoid regular garbage bags though, since they’re not as durable as trash compactor bags and can tear easily, letting in water and defeating the entire purpose.
  • Duct tape. Not only can duct tape be an excellent tool for temporarily sealing cracks, but it can serve as kindling too! If you’re having trouble starting a fire during a drizzle, try burning small strips of duct tape instead of twigs to get the fire going. Just don’t burn it in large quantities or inhale the fumes.
  • Water-repellant sprays. We’ve mentioned tent-reproofing sprays already, but some sprays claim to have other capabilities as well. A few manufacturers state that their sprays can also block UV rays, which could help protect the skin of users camping on sunnier days.

Outdoor-Appropriate Clothing

  • Appropriate base layers. Lots of novice campers ignore layering because they feel that it’s too much of an effort to put on all that clothing. However, taking the time to layer up will make you much more comfortable in a broad range of conditions — including wet ones. Merino wool and high-quality synthetic garments are both strong choices, but they offer different advantages. Merino wool feels comfortable on the skin, has natural anti-microbial properties that prevent odour, and can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water before it actually feels wet. Synthetics, on the other hand, will often wick moisture, use the wearer’s body heat to help them dry, and may offer protection from UVA and/or UVB rays. You may also be able to find base layers that blend merino wool and synthetic fabrics.
  • A good-quality raincoat. Once you’ve chosen a base layer, make sure to cover it with a good raincoat. Take care to note the difference between a jacket that is actually waterproof and one that is merely water-resistant. A windbreaker might help you keep off a few droplets, but it will probably become saturated in a heavy downpour and leave you soaked. Try looking for jackets made from waterproof material that is still breathable enough to facilitate comfortable movement (such as GORE-TEX).
  • Waterproof hiking boots. When choosing footwear for rainy conditions, the most important thing to remember is to make function a priority over fashion. It might be tempting to purchase “hiking” boots made from stylish suede or nubuck, but these materials offer dubious durability and will more than likely be ruined by rain. If you must have leather footwear, opt for full-grain instead. For wet weather camping though, we recommend eschewing leather entirely and choosing boots made from synthetics like polyester, nylon, and polyurethane.

Specialty Items

  • Sleeping bags. Nobody really likes to sleep wet, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. Your best bet when choosing sleeping bags for wet weather is to avoid down and look for synthetic insulation — which dries out faster than down, even when it has been treated.
  • Hot plates. If you can’t start a fire and don’t want to use duct tape, consider portable cooking appliances. Waterproof hot plates do exist, but you can also set up a propane stove with a windscreen if the rain isn’t coming down directly in large quantities.
  • Waterproof electronics. For those of you who can’t read an analogue compass or didn’t think to pack laminated maps of the area, you’ll want to make sure your smartphones, GPS units, and other devices are protected with waterproof covers.

Setting Up Camp

You’ll be tempted to pitch your tent first when you reach your campsite, but if rain is on the way it’s a better idea to rig up the tarp first. Tie each corner of the tarp to a nearby tree (or a stake if you have one) and raise it off the ground until it hangs flat over the area where you’re planning to sleep. Once you do, you’ll be able to stay dry while putting up the tent (and you’ll have a dry spot you can always come back to between other tasks).

If you brought a hot plate or gas stove, you might be tempted to use it inside the tent so that food doesn’t get wet — but please, for the love of all that is good in this world, don’t do that. Cooking in an enclosed space made of fabric is literally a recipe for disaster, so make sure to do it in the open air. If there’s no more room under the tarp, look for an area with natural cover from trees and rocks.

Stay Wet-Weather Ready

Predicting the weather isn’t an exact science, and there’s always a chance that you could find yourself caught in a cloudburst during your next camping trip. Just remember: carrying the right gear and knowing how to use it can help you come through even the wettest conditions without sacrificing your comfort. Prepare yourself properly, and even a total deluge won’t be able to spoil your fun. In the end, life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass — it’s about learning how to camp in the rain.