What Should You Put in Camping Bins?

campingI learned a new lesson this weekend: camping must be planned.

And yes, I learned it the hard way.

“Throw out the to-do list.” “Go with the flow.” “Don’t worry so much about the details.”

None of these apply to camping.

The Melissa That Plans starts camping prep at least a week before. The menu is decided. The weather forecast, noted. A dog sitter is booked.

But this time, I decided to get over my need for lists and menus.  Look at me! No control!

Never mind the fact that I would be stuck, alone, at the campsite, all. Day. Long.

It was hot. It was buggy. One can only live on potato chips and cheese curls for so long.

Looking to keep it simple when you camp?

Stick to these steps (and from now on, I will too.)

Assemble camping bins. This eliminates a lot of the packing pain from camping. I’ve used this method for years, and recently minimized the bins to only carry what we truly use. (Use two – much easier to lug around and move in and out of the tent.)

Inside Bin #1: Food Prep

food prep

  • Plates, bowls, cups, utensils.
  • Spatula
  • Wine opener
  • Can opener
  • Tongs
  • Frying pan
  • Kettle
  • Bag clips (clothes pins work)
  • Propane fuel
  • Salt & pepper
  • Aluminum foil
  • Roasting sticks
  • Pocket knife
  • Dunk bag
  • Wash cloths & towels
  • Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap (use it for everything when camping!)
  • French press coffee maker

Inside Bin #2: Like-To-Haves

like to haves

  • Camp stove (we only need a single burner)
  • Small first aid kit (which I used this weekend … on my daughter’s cut from shaving her legs.)
  • Bug repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Matches
  • Garbage bags
  • Flashlight & lantern
  • Toilet paper
  • Deck of cards
  • Rope (for clothes line)
  • Fly swatter
  • Small umbrella
  • Rain ponchos
  • Medication buffet (pain relief, allergy, upset stomach)
  • Tweezers (for slivers)
  • Newspapers (to start the fire)
  • Hatchet
  • Mirror
  • Small broom & pan

Make your own ice. A few days before, dump ice into a plastic bag that seals shut.

Plan a menu. Include one fruit or vegetable per meal to avoid the potato chip/cheese curl regret. We love cut veggies and dip. And there’s something about cantaloupe for breakfast in a camp chair that’s incredibly refreshing. Think portable with bananas and apples; wrap whole potatoes in foil and cook in the fire.

Clothing: simple and functional. Camping is dirty, so plan for it. I’ve often packed too minimalist for camping and regretted it later. If it rains, the pants and sweatshirts get muddy. Have a spare. Don’t forget the functional accessories like headbands, hats and sunglasses.

Let everyone own a towel. A variety of colors of patterns keeps towel waste minimal – one towel per family member.

Finally, don’t forget to pack the:

  • Tent
  • Cooler
  • Refillable water jug
  • Sleeping bags
  • Pillows
  • Camp chairs
  • Rugs (for shedding shoes outside the tent)
  • Duffel bags
  • Toiletries
  • Books
  • Camera
  • Bikes

Cheers to a summer filled with hot, buggy memories. (And please share your own camping tips below!)

If my writing helps or inspires you, please share it with other people. This is the number one way you can support my writing.

xoxo Melissa


How to put your favorite things into everyday life

Join me in the land of do as you please

Photo by Steve took it. Except the bins. Those are my real camping bins.

Check out Arrows by Melissa Gorzelanczyk, coming January 2016 from Delacorte Press/Random House. Visit her author site here.


1 Lynn May 25, 2010 at 11:03 am

Why was Little Girl shaving her legs on a camping trip? You’ll need to teach her that camping is the perfect excuse NOT to shave (or shower!)

2 Melissa May 25, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Lynn, you never know what cute boys will be camping nearby and notice your hairy legs.

I have to admit, I love a shower, even when camping. I’m not a rustic camper. I can handle dirt and getting dirty, but oh what a feeling to be fresh again!

3 Nicole August 26, 2010 at 7:02 pm

True but if they are real outdoorsy guys, they will respect your hairy legs because they will see they when you go camping, you leave all the vanity at home. Your legs wont be too bad if it is just for a couple of nights anyways… just shave before you go and you will only end up with a little bit of stubble. Besides, if you lay out in the sun during the day, a nice tan can usually hide the stubble anyways. 🙂

4 Satya May 25, 2010 at 3:40 pm

i liked: fly swatter!
– definitely the prepped camping bins rules, except then you need to have duplicates of almost everything you normally use! (not so minimalist…) I love whole corn husks wrapped in foil and cooked in the hot coals with the potatoes!

This whole ‘dunk bag’ phenomenon is interesting to me, though not sure how its used in real camping, would love to have some illumination…

5 Melissa May 25, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Hi Satya – Yes I know having doubles isn’t exactly minimalist – but if it minimizes time and stress, does that count? 😉

Corn on the cob – good call! I’ll plan for that on our next trip.

I mainly use the dunk bag for rinsing and drying. First, I wash the dishes, placing them in the mesh bag. Then I take the whole bag to rinse and hang on a tree to dry.

6 Nicole August 26, 2010 at 7:07 pm

I agree. Wrapping the corn cuts down on the cooking prep. All you have to do is throw it in.

I like the organization of the bins. You could tape a list to the top and it will make it easier to find everything. I usually put everything in the hiking packs and sometimes I forget which pocket I put stuff into (there are soooo many pockets on some of those packs).

The fly swatter is a good choice. I am going camping next week and I am going to bring one. I have never taken one before. I always used my hand and I am liking the idea of not having bug guts on my hand every time I smack one.

7 katie May 26, 2010 at 5:39 am

Love camping. We hit the beaches of the Sandbanks Provincial Park every summer. We go for two weeks, and always pack too many clothes. I wear the same thing day in and day out, but you’re right, you have to plan for weather so we end up with lots of options. Too many. Every year we live and learn but lists are the only way to go when prepping. My essentials, good book, head lamp for night reading, beach volleyball and shower shoes. Can’t wait to go this year. Love the picture.

8 Melissa May 26, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Shower shoes! Yes! Although the grubby flip flops you wear the whole time will work too. Have fun!

9 Nicole August 26, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Shower shoes are important because you don’t know whose feet were there before yours. Not only do you have to worry about athlete’s foot but you also have to be cautious about parasites. They are too small to see and some will cause a lot of damage. Shower shoes will help prevent you from getting them. I have read some horror stories about people getting them while on vacation. Parasites typically make you very sick and they are not something that the doctor thinks of first.

10 Troy May 26, 2010 at 9:37 am

Bring extra hot dogs for the racoons!

11 Melissa May 26, 2010 at 12:53 pm

No feeding the wildlife, Troy.

12 Nicole August 26, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Yes, feeding the racoons will cause them to keep you on their schedule. Typically racoons, especially families of them, develop an eating schedule and if they know that you are going to have food readily available to them, they will put you on the map and if they know that it is going to be easy, they will stop by every night wanting more. They are cute but they can be destructive because the one night that you don’t leave food out for them… they will get into your stuff trying to find where you have their dinner hiding. Next thing you know, you will wake up to trash everywhere, etc. Do not think that your trash can is racoon proof either because they have had years of practice… kind of like the squirrels do with the “squirrel-proof” bird feeders. 🙂 Plus, you want to make sure that they are getting their food by hunting it because if they become used to people giving them food, they won’t know what to do when all the people have left and this could leave them famished.

13 Melissa August 28, 2010 at 11:09 am

Hi Nicole – wow, thank you for all the awesome comments. You really added to the article above. Sounds like you’re a pro camper. 😉

14 Nicole August 26, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Foot mats are wonderful to have outside of the tent. If you have the room to take one, do it. After a day of hiking, swimming, biking, etc, a lot of things stick to your shoes. There is nothing worse than going to sleep for the night and feeling stick and leave crumbs in your sleeping bag.

15 Nicole August 26, 2010 at 7:27 pm

If you have trouble starting campfires, I have found a way that will guarantee a healthy fire. Take cotton balls and coat them with petroleum jelly (vaseline). Put them in a plastic bag so it doesn’t get on your other things. Stack your wood up in the fire pit and put the jelly covered cotton balls beneath them. Use a match to light the cottonballs and you find that this works better than most firestarters that you buy in the store.

Another tip is to clear the ground that you tent will be on and place leaves and pine needles under the tent and it will help prevent sore muscles in the morning and will keep inside your tent warmer on a cold night.

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