Road Trip Camping Planner: The Essentials

road trip camping planner

Zion National Park – definitely my favorite!

Planning a classic, American roadtrip to some of our great National Parks? Fearful you might forget somethings? Use this road trip camping planner to make sure you’ve got the essentials!

In this particular trip, we drove from Wisconsin to the Grand Canyon, then onward to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and Arches with a couple of stops between. Since we wanted to avoid big crowds, we started the last week of September.

This meant we were sweating at Arches, yet freezing at Bryce Canyon! There are tons of fantastic roadtrip routes in the United States—many of which cross multiple climates. With your car prepped and bags packed, you’ll be able to enjoy these places with less stress.

What Clothes Should You Pack?

Camping Packing Planner

The key here, as I’m sure you already know, is layers. If you don’t already have some nifty bags, I love my Eagle Creek Pack It Cubes and how much they help keep my backpack organized. Throw toiletries in one, pants in another, and shirts in the biggest. Pillowcases work great, too.

Basics

Waterproof jacket

I especially love the fleece/windjacket combo

Hiking zip-offs

Dorky but wonderful!

Long spandex pants & undershirt

Good for long driving days, sleeping in, or adding under your pants when it’s freezin! Travex clothes are great for quick-washes

ExOfficio Underwear

Wear, wash, repeat. With only 6 pairs, these are now the only underwear I own. They just wash up and dry so quickly. On days when I can’t be bothered with laundry, I can at least wash these in the sink.

Wool Hiking Socks

Can’t have too many! The smartwool socks, specifically, help keep your feet from getting and staying sweaty. Many hikers also pair these with cotton socks (worn on the outside) to prevent blisters.

Sports Tank

Built-in bra support? Yeah, I pretty much live in these while camping.

Comfy T-shirts

Just wear whatever works for you…t-shirts are less important layers. If you’re camping, maybe leave the favorite T at home.
Keens Hiking Boots

Hiking Boots

Different shoes for different feet. I’m a size 6 with high arches. I obsessed over different shoes until finally settling on a pair of KEENs that I love. I’ve worn them hiking thru Southeast Asia, the Grand Canyon, and even for farmwork.

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Toiletries

Unless you’re going backcountry, one small bag should do it. I’ll assume you already know to bring your usual things. These are just a few extra faves. If you are going backcountry, make sure to read up about things like human waste disposal while backpacking!

Dr. Bronner’s Soap

Whether dishes or armpits, this stuff is the shiznit

Aloe Vera

This is mandatory for when you forget to reapply that sunscreen!

Body Lotion

Gah! I forgot this and it was the worst. Changing multiple climates and hanging out in the desert can really take the moisture out of your skin.

Diva Cup or Period Panties!

Period panties are the new best way to period. Period. Use my referral code at THINX to get $10 off and help your fellow red warrior! You can also read more from my review of THINX hiphuggers, then pop right back to this road trip camping planner 😉

Toothbrush

Try the bamboo toothbrushes, that way you won’t feel guilty if you lose it!

 Accessories

Silk scarf

So thankful a friend told me to bring this! Total lifesaver. I was amazed at how much warmer I’d be on a chilled morning with this tied around my neck.

Wool hat & gloves

No really. Ridiculous on the South Rim, necessary on the North Rim! If you so much as suspect cold nights, bring these.

Bandanna & Sunglasses

No reason to get crispy! Bonus: the bandanna can double as a rag when really necessary

Camping Kitchen Gear??

True confession: I am not a cook. In fact, I struck a deal with two lovely fellow campers. They did the cooking, I did the planning (also some dishwashing, tent setting-up, and other whatnot). So, I leave you to figure out your kitchen. Just don’t forget these essentials:

Sponge/Rag

I forgot this and regretted it instantly. I ended using my bandanna was our washrag. Still, we ended up buying a sponge along the way so our dishes could actually be clean.

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Stove

Try making your own beercan fires!  Since my friends brought some kitchen gear from overseas, I’d have to recommend a similar set up. Lightweight backpacking stoves and ultralight pots worked wonders. Check out this kitchen set, for example.

Cutting board

Something you always forget until it’s needed. No one want to chop food on a wooden stump or trash a campground picnic table.

Lighter

….plus 3 more lighters. Maybe also matches. Where did the lighters always go!?

Fuel for you fires!

Buy lots, you can always use it later.

Water for cooking!

This one wasn’t obvious to me at first. Just like visiting Standing Rock, we learned that it was best to bring your own gallon jugs of drinking water. Again, backpacking is a different story. For that, you can check out things like the Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System.

Road rip Camping Planner Checklist

Our camping kitchen. Oof!

Road Trip Camping Planner’s Best Electronics

If you’re as plugged-in as the rest of the world, you’ll definitely want to bring a few electronic home comforts. At the very least, something to keep your phones charged! I’d recommend making a point of using McDonald’s plugs or staying a night in an RV park’s tent cube, like Lake Powell Campground, strange as they may be.

Portable WiFI

DID YOU KNOW THERE IS NOW PORTABLE WIFI?!?!?! I didn’t. A friend in Austria let me borrow his for a day. I threw it in my backpack and had WiFi all day. Hello Instagram stories, bragging to parents, and not getting lost! This stuff is a game changer. The one I tried out was Alcatel. This is on my Christmas list for sure.

Portable chargers
Personal music device & headphones

16+ hours in a car makes introverts of anyone. I recommend finding some good podcasts.

Radio to Aux Converter

This was a real lifesaver. You can play your iPod or phone music in any vehicle! Since we had 4 very different music tastes, everyone was able contribute from their own collections.

Most Essential Camping Gear

Where would any obsessive road trip camping planner be without nifty camping gear?! Anyone who risks spending $50 every time they enter an REI knows the pull of new camping goodies. Besides a good tent and sleeping bag, add these to your future wishlists.

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A good tarp 

Tarps keep water from the damp ground from seeping into your tent. In a pinch, they can also be used as raincover.

Camelback backpack

The Osprey camelback is my new favorite thing. Especially the small bags that have hip-support and hydration packs! Got it on sale and lowered the price further thanks to REI dividends! This is a necessity when it comes to canyon hiking. Walk-sip-walk-sip!

Headlamp

If you’re as slow as we were, you’ll find these necessary for setting up your tent in the dark.

Swiss knife
Sleeping pad or Therm-a-Rest

As I learned, it’s pretty important to put a layer between your sleeping bag and the ground! Just like the tarp, a solid yoga mat or therm-a-rest makes a world of difference in keeping your body from getting sore!

Electrolyte Tablets

On a 10-hour hike, there’s no way I would’ve made it out of the canyon without these!! Not to mention, they’re great for hangover days. Just chew one and wash it down or add it to a water bottle. These are really great at replacing all the salts n sugars you sweat out during the hike.

That’s it for Essentials!

Alrighty, folks, that’s the gist of it! Hope this road trip camping planner guide to the essentials has helped you learn from both my successes and mistakes. Happiest of camping to you wonderful, adventurous humans!

P.S. Thanks for putting up with all the affiliate marketing links in this road trip camping planner post. It’s nice to share useful items and get a small kickback! 

Ultimate Camping Packing List

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