The Ultimate USA Camping Trip Packing List

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Ever since I started working back at TrekAmerica, people have been asking me if I’m planning to hit the road this year. Until now, I haven’t been able to say either way, but recently I booked a USA road trip with Grand American Adventures (Trek’s sister company) for September.

Grand American Adventures is essentially the Trek road trip experience but isn’t restricted by age, so there are people of all ages and backgrounds on the trip. I’m excited that my lovely mum will be coming with me!

The trip starts in San Francisco and ends in Jackson, travelling through some amazing national parks – Yosemite, Zion, Bryce, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and loads more.

The locations are incredible, but there’s just one thing that my mum was a little worried about. About two thirds of the trip is camping, the rest in simple hotels. Since she’s never camped before (except for Bognor Regis!), she’s been asking me what we should pack.

If you’re also wondering what you should pack for a USA road trip, here’s a sneak peek into my bag, and my ultimate packing list for a camping holiday in the USA.

Clothes

As you’ll be spending a long time outdoors, hiking and exploring, you’ll need clothes that are comfortable and durable. I recommend taking a small ‘capsule’ wardrobe, where all items can be mixed, matched and layered according to the weather conditions.

On organised tours such as mine, you’ll have the opportunity to wash clothes once or twice during the trip, at campsites or hotels for a few dollars a time.

For my trip, I got most of what I need from Matalan’s holiday shop, as well as a few things from specialist outdoor brands. I usually save on my ‘everyday’ clothes and splurge on a few qualify items such as waterproofs and top layers. Here’s an example capsule wardrobe:

From top: Jumper (McKinley), Lightweight waterproof (Merrell), Top layer (Icebreaker Merino), Long sleeve top (New Look), pink sleeveless top (Dorothy Perkins), Hello Summer yellow top (Matalan), green sleeveless top (Matalan), blue tank top (Matalan), jeans (Dorothy Perkins), stone trousers (Matalan), 3 x shorts (all Matalan).

I especially love the Matalan shorts (blue, stone and green) as they fit so well and are really stretchy so if you’re hiking then you don’t have to worry about feeling restricted. They were also only £12 and £14, so no need to worry about ruining them!

As well as the above, you’ll need to pack underwear, a pair of hiking sandals and a sturdy pair of hiking boots, ideally waterproof. I always pack 6 or 7 pairs of hiking socks and a sun hat to keep the sun off my heat and neck too. Don’t forget to pack some sunnies – I like these retro sunglasses, also from Matalan.

Camping Gear

I’ve booked an organised camping trip where all equipment (except sleeping bag) is included, but if you are travelling independently, you’ll need some basic camping gear: A tent, roll out mattress, a gas stove, kettle (coffee is absolutely essential!), cooking pot and washing up bowl.

I recommend spending a little more money on your sleeping bag, as temperatures in national parks can be variable. For summer months you’ll be fine with a three season sleeping bag, but as I’m travelling in September and nights will be getting as low as 0 degrees, I’ll need a four season.

Spend as much as you can afford on your sleeping bag. Believe me, you won’t want to feel the cold and it could ruin your trip if you choose wrongly. My favourite four season sleeping bag is the Himlaya Expedition Mummy, which feels like you’re getting a warm cuddle. I also buy a cheap pillow from Walmart when I arrive to make the nights a little more comfy.

Packing

As you’ll be doing a lot of walking, make sure you pick a day pack that fits comfortably and has breathable material. I use my day pack to store my laptop, camera and other electricals, so my go-to bag that travelled with me on my long term trip is the Osprey Flare 20 litre pack. I have had this bag for nearly 3 years and it’s still in amazing condition.

Then of course, there’s the main bag. If you’re planning on staying ‘off grid’, or if your trip involves any boat travel, you may want to consider a backpack. Read my guide to choosing a great backpack here.

As my trip is going to be mostly getting into established campsites, I chose a simple but stylish IT luggage suitcase in blue with a tan trim, and an unbelievable 10 year warranty! Despite being a large suitcase, it’s deceptively light and easy to move around.

Travel Extras

Let’s not dance around it – when you’re camping there will be bugs, so pack from bug spray with a high DEET content (at least 50% if, like me you’re particularly delicious). I like Jungle Formula and stock up with at least 3 cans before I go away!

Sunscreen is also really important. Now, I’m not 21 anymore so I like to use a different sunscreen for my face. This one from Ultrasun is anti-ageing and sinks in really fast without leaving any greasy sheen.

If you like to take photos, then your favourite camera or smartphone is a must, as are extra memory cards to make sure you don’t run out of space for all those pics. I also always travel with a notebook to jot down anything that I’m likely to forget later.

Hopefully you’ve found my guide helpful. Is there anything else on your packing list for a camping trip? I’d love to hear it below!

Thanks to Matalan for sending me some of my holiday wardrobe essentials.

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Hayley is the author behind A Life of More, a travel and lifestyle blog with the goal of helping you to live a happier and more fulfilled life, whether you're currently travelling or happily settled.

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