Solo Camping Checklist: Items a Beginner Needs for Camping

solo camping checklist
Image Credit: Mael BALLAND

Solo camping can be a great way to unplug, relax and get in touch with nature. It can be less stressful than camping with others as well. Your solo trip will be more enjoyable if you plan for safety and choose the right gear. So, what are the essentials you need to stay safe and healthy? 

Preparing a checklist will ensure you have everything you need even under unexpected circumstances.

This solo camping checklist makes it easy to thoroughly prepare yourself for camping alone. Even if you’re an avid camper, if you’ve never been alone there may be things you don’t think about that could impact your safety.

Plan ahead

Alexander Graham Bell knew what he was talking about when he said “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” 

It is important to consider safety when camping alone. If you’re camping at a crowded campsite, you won’t need all of these suggestions. However, if you plan to camp in a remote area, it will be important to consider a variety of scenarios to ensure you have everything you need to be safe.

The checklist starts with the basics you need to do before you leave home. Things like researching the location, letting people know where you’ll be, and having an emergency plan are even more important than the gear you take with you. If something bad happens, you want someone to find and help you as quickly as possible.

The two biggest dangers of camping alone are illness and injury. If you can adequately prepare for either situation it can mean the difference between life and death. The importance of planning ahead can’t be stressed enough, especially if you’re planning to camp in a secluded area.

Research your location

It’s important to have a plan so you need to know where you’re going. If you’ll be camping at a state park or other public camping area, you may need maps, permits, or reservations so it’s best to check and take care of those ahead of time. 

When you’re planning your first solo camping trip, pick a spot close to home in an area you’re familiar with. You should also know what type of weather to expect as well as what kind of amenities or emergency services are nearby. You will find packing easier and your trip more enjoyable if you adjust your gear to your location.

Get driving directions to your camping area and print them out in case you lose GPS or cell coverage on the way. You’ll also want to calculate the round-trip mileage to estimate the amount of gas you’ll use for the trip. 

Location Checklist

  • Obtain any reservations and permits needed for your stay (if required)
  • Maps of the area and an idea of the terrain
  • Copy of the rules or regulations for the campground or area where you’ll stay
  • Climate and local forecast for the days you’ll be camping
  • Local amenities (showers, restrooms, shelters, etc.)
  • Program the number for roadside assistance into your phone if you have the service
  • Make sure you let a friend or family member know the dates you’ll be gone and where you’ll be

Once you have the details of where you’ll stay, it’s easier to determine what gear, clothing, and supplies you’ll need to take.

Preparing your camping checklist

A camping checklist helps you remember the things you’ll need for a safe and enjoyable solo trip. 

To begin, prepare a note with pertinent information to leave in the console or glove compartment of your vehicle. If something unexpected happened, authorities would know who you were and where to search for you if they found your vehicle. This is why having a plan and sticking to it is crucial.

Depending on the type of emergency you may face, this list will prove helpful both to you and to the authorities. Additionally, you should include any other information you need for the ranger station or office at your campsite. 

Keeping important information organized and at your fingertips is a smart move even if you don’t run into trouble.

Emergency checklist

This checklist includes all the necessary information you need to provide to your campsite or park, and all the personal information emergency personnel would need if you have an accident, get lost, or get sick.

Some of this may be overkill if you’re a seasoned camper or your site is more accessible. Having as much information as possible for authorities can help them respond to you faster if you need assistance.

It’s also important to consider whether sharing too much information could compromise your safety, especially if someone breaks into your vehicle while you’re away.

Create a document to leave in your vehicle with the following information: 

  • Your name, address, and cell phone number
  • Planned departure date and time
  • Make, model, and license plate number of your vehicle
  • Your driver’s license number
  • Name, and location of where you’ll be
  • Name, address, and phone number for the ranger station or office
  • A list of allergies or medical conditions you may have
  • A list of medications you are taking
  • An emergency contact name and number
  • A description of you (height, weight, hair, and eye color)
  • Directions and phone numbers for the nearest hospital and police station
  • Any other information that could be useful if you get lost or are found unconscious

It is recommended that you do not leave this information visible in your vehicle if it’s not within your line of sight. Again, these are suggestions to cover most scenarios, so use your discretion about what you need to be adequately prepared in your situation.

Categorizing and listing your gear

It’s most helpful to think of your gear checklist in terms of the areas of your house. This makes it easier to identify the things you use every day or that will be practical while camping. Walk through each room of your house and note items that you’ll need when camping. 

It’s easy to overpack, so be mindful of each item and its potential use. This is especially important if you plan to backpack and camp in a remote area. The more you take, the heavier your backpack, so make sure every pound counts. 

Consider taking a small, lightweight tent that is easy to assemble, or try a weatherproof hammock with a sleeping bag. These are great options for solo campers.

Check the weather at your destination as you pack and again before you leave. Adjust the items on your list to the type of weather you may encounter. Give special consideration to temperatures and moisture. 

For example, if the weather is hot, you’ll need more water. If there’s a chance of rainWalkthrough, you’ll need a tarp to keep your tent dry and waterproof clothing and shoes to stay comfortable.

Lastly, if you’re camping where bears are present, remember they have a hearty appetite, a keen sense of smell, and think everything is food. Make sure you know how to store anything with an odor and how to minimize your risk of having an unpleasant and potentially dangerous encounter. You’ll need additional equipment for these areas.

Create these categories for your list:

  • Communications
  • Tools
  • Safety
  • Kitchen/Food
  • Tools
  • Bathroom
  • Shelter/Sleeping
  • Clothing
  • Important documents
  • Campsite walkthrough (move or mark any tripping or falling hazards, etc.)

Example Camping Checklist

Here is a basic solo camping checklist to get you started. You can add or remove things depending on your location, climate, and preferences.

Communications

  • Cell phone, fully charged
  • Cell phone charging cable and spare battery pack, fully charged
  • Shortwave radio with batteries (optional)
  • Camera with spare batteries

Tools

  • Buck knife or hunting knife with sheath
  • Swiss Army Knife or another multi-tool
  • Small saw or hatchet with sheath
  • Rubber mallet (for tent stakes)

Safety

  • First aid kit (fully stocked)
  • Compass
  • Bear repellent (optional, depends on area)
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Hand/foot warmers (if you’re in a cold area)
  • Waterproof matches
  • Windproof lighter
  • Firestarters/tinder
  • Lantern with batteries
  • Headlamp (for reading or hands-free lighting)
  • Flashlight with batteries

Kitchen/Food

  • Folding cooking grate or camp stove and fuel
  • Small bag of quick-lighting charcoal (optional)
  • Grill lighter
  • Camping table and chair
  • Large grilling tongs or cooking utensils
  • Sharp knife for cooking 
  • Plate, fork, knife, cup
  • 5-gallon container of tap water
  • Bottled drinking water
  • Insulated water bottle
  • Insulated Cooler
  • Bags of ice
  • Cooking spray (optional)
  • Small trash bag
  • Dish sponge
  • Small bottle of dish detergent
  • Snacks
  • Food items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner

Consider making items like foil-pack dinners. They can be prepared ahead and stored in the cooler for quick, easy meals.

Bathroom

  • Roll of toilet tissue
  • Trench shovel (if no facilities are available)
  • Towel (in a bag)
  • Soap (in protective case)
  • Deodorant (in a bag)
  • Comb or brush
  • Toothbrush (in a bag)
  • Toothpaste

Shelter/Bedding

  • Tarp
  • Weatherproof tent or hammock
  • Sleeping mat
  • Sleeping bag
  • Fleece throw blanket (for sitting by the fire at night)

Luggage/Entertainment

  • Daypack or backpack for trail walking
  • Book
  • Headphones or earbuds

Clothing

  • Sweatpants
  • Convertible trekking pants
  • Sweatshirt
  • Socks
  • T-shirts
  • Underwear
  • Long-sleeved shirt
  • Hiking shoes or boots
  • Comfortable shoes for camp
  • Wristwatch 
  • Tuque hat
  • Fleece jacket
  • Small bag for dirty clothes
  • Water-proof or water-resistant clothing (if the weather is damp)

Important documents

  • Wallet
  • Permits, maps
  • A small amount of cash
  • Emergency Checklist to leave in your car
  • Gear checklist to make sure you bring home everything

Do a campsite walkthrough

Once you arrive at your campsite, it’s important to take note of any hazards around you. If you’re camping in a remote area, a trip or fall could leave you injured or unconscious. Look around your site and flag or remove anything that could cause injury (such as protruding roots, dangling branches, holes in the ground, or large rocks).

Summary

There’s a reason why the Boyscout motto is “Always be prepared.” Preparation saves time, money and can help keep you safe. Solo camping isn’t for the faint of heart, but it can be a wonderful way to improve your self-reliance and encourage peaceful introspection. 

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