Or, What to Bring When You’re Camping On the Other Side of the Country and You Don’t Want to Buy a Bunch of Disposable Crap, Eat McDonald’s, or Overpack.
This post began as part of the fun, more visually engaging West Coast post, but after writing half of it, I realized that not everyone is planning a trip right now, and they just want to finally see some dang Yosemite pictures. It’s been 3 months, Katey! Write the blog post already. But not you. You’re here to LEARN. Because practically packing for camping trips would be near impossible without the sage knowledge of those who have gone out before you. I’m honored that you chose me in your trip planning journey.
Packing for a close-by camping trip, or at least one you drive the entire way to, is typically much less intimidating than our trip, because you can stuff your car with whatever you want; there are no limits on the bags you can bring, and you probably don’t have to carry everything yourselves at any point. Flying is trickier: rental cars are unpredictable, checked bags add up quickly, you can’t bring any food with you. But fam, it’s so doable! Flying across the country was so much better than driving—it saved time and money, for sure. The checked bags were not an issue, because we flew Southwest, and they give each person 2 checked bags for FREE as long as they’re under 50 lbs (we brought a cast iron along with a bunch of other camping stuff, and that bag was only 35 lbs. Things aren’t as heavy as you think. But you can always move stuff around to stay under the limit). I always assumed that Southwest was too expensive to be worth it, but I found “Wanna Get Away” (nonrefundable) tickets for $300 round trip, each. So, $600 total to fly across the country. I thought that was a pretty crazy deal!
We chose the cheapest, and thus most fuel efficient, car to rent. I don’t even want to know how expensive gas would be had we brought our SUV across the country. It was mind-bogglingly expensive to drop it off at a different location ($700 total 😫) but you just can’t help some things. As a consolation, our gas was under $200 for the entire trip. 🌱 Wowee.
Like you, I planned our trip by referencing other people’s recommendations (a few other blogs and outdoorsy websites) and chose what I thought we would personally use. So here are the lists of what we brought and why, organized by Cooking, Snacks, and Everything Else. As a point of reference, our trip was 11 days long. See the other West Coast post for all the places we stopped.
Cooking at Camp
While planning our food, I had a revelation: I didn’t have to plan 6 different meals like I typically would at home. For this trip in particular, the meals were broken up by eating out at restaurants, so it wouldn’t feel redundant to eat the same thing a few times (right? 😬). So I just planned three variations of essentially the same meal: vegetables in a skillet. I don’t think we stuck to these combinations exactly, but this is basically what we ate:
Zucchini, corn, tomato, egg skillet
Pea, spinach, zucchini skillet
- Tomato, mozzarella, garlic, and spinach paninis (my personal favorite)
For breakfasts — potato, onion, and egg skillet and/or granola, greek yogurt, blueberries
If you’re camping for many nights in a row, I’d maybe throw in one more variation and then mix and match whatever vegetables you feel like eating that day.
I don’t think we brought salt/pepper/any spices, so we put sambal oelek on everything. But for future trips, I’d probably just bring some spices from home.
We also bought graham crackers and nutella for the
laziest most efficient s’mores ever, but ended up only eating them once. We were usually too tired or full by the end of our meal!
Our full grocery list (minus snacks):
- Coffee — we bought this at The Mill, which we stopped at our first morning. I wanted to have some coffee that we normally wouldn’t have access to!
- Box of granola
- 32 oz. tub of plain Greek yogurt
- Olive oil
- Block of mozzarella cheese
- 2 cans of corn
- 2 cans of peas
- 8 red potatoes
- 6 roma tomatoes
- 4 medium zucchinis
- Bag of spinach
- 2 small onions
- 1 dozen eggs
- Graham crackers
I don’t know, but this seems like a pretty small list to me! And I can’t get over how easy the meals were to make (excluding getting the fire started 🙂 in the dark 🙃)
Most camp sites had bear boxes to store all of your food and toiletries—pretty much anything with a smell. They were quite roomy in every dimension, so there was no problem fitting everything. We kept all of the cold things in a (~30 quart) cooler we bought (and later donated) when we got our groceries. All of the dry food fit in a large shopping bag we brought from home. We brought our reusable shopping bags and mesh produce bags to shop with, and ended up using them to carry a lot of different things throughout the trip. When you’re constantly unpacking and packing in different types of situations (campsite vs. cabin vs. nice apartment), it really helped to group similar things in smaller bags.
Like I said above, there was a bag for dry food and a cooler for refrigerated food. We also had a bag for miscellaneous cooking things:
- Fabric napkins
- Metal Thermos
- A few nesting plastic containers for storing leftover food
- Manual can opener
- Clothesline/clothespins (we didn’t end up using these)
- Hand sanitizer
A bag for toiletries:
- Unscented Dr. Bronner’s — for body wash, dish soap, hand soap, everything. And it’s biodegradable!
- Shampoo & conditioner
- Dry shampoo
- Hair brush
- Allergy medicine
- Eye drops
And these items just kind of hung out in the open while in the bear box. They were either too big or too damp (sponge, dish towel) to be put in a bag:
- Espresso maker
- 2 dish towels
- Silverware/plates/bowls/mugs — we got this enamel set when we got married and brought half of it with us
- Cutting board
- Cast iron skillet
- Small garbage bags
- 2 water bottles — used for drinking and washing dishes over the campfire, something we did not anticipate or enjoy
This stuff went in a bag or two when we were on the road.
We were trying to keep this as low-waste—or, at the typical level of our at-home waste—as possible. Sure, we could save a lot of room by leaving the dinnerware, water bottles, dish towels, napkins, containers etc. at home. But 1. we got that enamel set for this very reason 2. Flying Southwest, our bags were checked for free, and so these items added basically nothing to our metaphorical plates and 3. To me, it’s worth a little inconvenience—and dare I say it, a little extra money—to keep garbage out of landfills.
But you will see some plastic packaging in these photos, because you just can’t buy some things without plastic wrapped around them (lookin’ at you, cauliflower 🤔). But rest assured that we recycled plastics when we could (National Parks are v good about having recycling receptacles)!
Road Trip Snacks
Having snacks for the road was so important!! I don’t think we stopped for fast food once. Which is essential if you don’t want to feel gross when sitting in a car all day. We basically just ate snacks when we were hungry or bored or tired, and ate PB&Js in the middle of the day.
Here is what we bought:
- Trail mix
- Peanut butter
- String cheese
- Sugar snap peas
I don’t have it written down for some reason, but we also probably bought something chocolatey but healthy, like dark chocolate covered almonds. Do you ever just need chocolate immediately? I’m not super big on sweets (aside from ice cream), but sometimes I just need it. So eating a few choco almonds prevents me from buying, say, a milkshake, out on the road.
A huge lesson we learned re: snacks was to buy one fruit and one vegetable snack at a time. Our broccoli and strawberries went bad halfway through our trip 😫 so I think it’d just be best to finish off one thing and then buy something different later in the trip!
Everything Else We Packed
When it comes to clothes, everyone recommends packing and wearing layers. Because they’re right. Especially for northern California in May, you just don’t know what the weather is going to be like. Or if you do, you don’t know what it’ll be like to sleep in a 20º sleeping bag, so you won’t know what to wear for that.
I assumed the weather would go from cold (northern CA) to colder (northern WA) during our trip, but Yosemite was in a surprisingly warm period during our stay. So I was thankful I didn’t pack all long-sleeved shirts!
So these are the clothes we packed. Again, we were going between not-showering-for-two-days camping to trying-to-look-like-we-belong in cities. The +1s are what we’d be wearing on the plane.
- Jeans (1+1 pairs each)
- Shorts (1 each)
- Nice shirts (3+1 each)
- Shoes for walking (1 pair each)
- Wool or thick socks (3 pairs each)
- Normal socks (3+1 pairs each)
- Underthings (10+1 each)
- Straightener, hair dryer (barely used, but I’d bring them again)
- Long underwear/leggings (1 pair each)
- Hiking boots (1 pair each)
- Birkenstocks (1 pair each)
- Rain jackets (1 each)
- Long sleeve shirts (1 each)
- Pullover sweater
- T-Shirts for sleeping/hiking (4 each)
- Shorts for sleeping
This is what we had in our backpack, which was our plane carry-on. We also put a few things from above in here in case our luggage got misplaced.
- Proof of car insurance
- Paper maps with our route already highlighted. We basically used this the entire time, saving lots of data!
- Prints of reservations
- Phone chargers with a car adapter
- Radio transmitter and charger—we didn’t know what capabilities the rental car would have, so we brought this. But we ended up buying an aux cord to use.
- Camera & memory cards
- Cardigans (1 each)
And these are the other big camping items we brought:
- 2 sleeping bags — we borrowed the ones that condense down from friends
- Pillowcases — To save space in our suitcase, we just brought pillowcases and stuffed them with clothes. I personally wouldn’t do this again (I’d just bring pillows and sacrifice that space), but you might be fine with it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
- 2 blankets
- Tent — this was one whole checked bag.
Our checked bags were:
- The tent
- A giant hiking backpack (borrowed) full of cooking and other camping stuff
- A suitcase with all of our clothes
- A suitcase with the sleeping bags and blankets
Hopefully these lists help in planning your big road trip. I’ll definitely be coming back to reference it for future trips, ha! Feel free to ask questions below or share your own travel wisdom! 🤗🏕