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Easy Ways for You to Stay Organized While Camping

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If you want to have a fun and relaxing camping trip, you need a plan to stay organized while camping.

Camping offers tons of family fun, but that fun can derail when your camping gear is strewn about the site. Being able to stay organized will help you relax and enjoy yourself more.

When we were new to camping, we learned things get lost or left behind without a plan. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools, tricks and camping storage ideas to keep your supplies where you want them. 

Here, I’ll talk about some of my top packing hacks, and my camping storage ideas.

Create a Checklist

If you’re like me, you inventory your camping gear before heading out on your next camping trip. Why? So you don’t wind up deep in the woods without the poles or pegs (been there, not fun).

A checklist gives you visual confirmation of the items you’re bringing and the storage methods used to contain them. 

A thorough checklist includes separate lists for food, shelter, tools, bedding, and clothes. Over the years I’ve perfected my car camping packing list, first aid packing list, and even a car camping with infants packing list. Feel free to use my printable PDFs to pack for your next trip.

Use Plastic Bins

Translucent plastic lets you see clearly what’s inside each bin you pack. This makes checking items off a checklist that much easier.

I’m a big fan of clear totes for miscellaneous and oddly shaped items. It sorts everything into one space that fits neatly in the trunk of a vehicle. These work perfect for storing games and activities.

Some of the clear bins to consider are:

Weatherproof Plastic Storage Totes

You know the ones I mean. These large storage totes are often used during moves to a new home, or garage storage. They’re great for Christmas ornaments and extra blankets. They’re also great for camping gear. 

rubbermaid plastic tub for camping

I’m a big fan of the large weatherproof bins because you can leave these suckers safely outside. No need to sacrifice tent space for storage. Instead, you simply retrieve the items as needed, and leave the bin beside the tent or under the picnic table for later. 

The bonus is that you can give your baby a bath in an empty one if needed!

Stackable Plastic Bins (Under Bed Bins)

Stackable bins are a nice choice for multi-person camps. If you’re taking items for individual campers,  use multiple bins to bring everything you need. These bins aren’t as deep as the large storage totes. They’re designed to fit neatly under beds. Some even have wheels for rolling. 

I like the stackable bins because even if you store them in the tent, they build up not out. Again, it’s a space saver, and you can clearly see what’s inside each bin. They also fit perfectly under cots. They’re great for camping gear storage at home too.

Color Code Your Gear

Sometimes it’s the little things that best help us the most with car camping organization. Color coding makes packing and finding things easier. I use this trick after camping as well. 

We have a lot of supplies in our storage space for outdoor activities. Color coding keeps everything neatly stored and easy to grab when we pack.

Here’s an example of a color coding scheme:

  • Fire Starting – Yellow
  • First Aid – Red
  • Food and Kitchen Supplies – Green
  • Water Safety Equipment – Blue
  • Clothing and Toiletries – Purple
  • Toys – White

Choose your own categories and color scheme based on your preference and packing style. I find colored sticky notes to be a great resource for this project. They’re pre-colored, ready to stick, and easy to remove without leaving stains or residue. 

The other option for color coding is to give every family member a color. So someone is assigned green, then all their camping items, their mug, toothbrush, headlamp etc, is green. No fighting over who left their mug unwashed or left their headlamp out in the rain.

Bring Less Stuff

Easier said than done, right? I’m a firm believer it’s better to pack something and not need it than need it and not have it. With that sentiment in mind, there are ways to limit overpacking and still be prepared. 

Bringing less on your car camping trips ensures there isn’t a jumble of supplies and nowhere to put them. It’s tough to pare down sometimes, but I’ve developed a few camping hacks. 

Bring Multipurpose Items

Multipurpose items are a great space saver. They’re also especially convenient in a pinch if you forget to bring something. Some examples of multipurpose items include:

  • Simple metal pot – A metal pot can be used to boil water for coffee, to cook food in, wash dishes, or to drink/eat out of it if you forget dishes. Pots are also a great space saver because you can stack other things inside. 
  • Camp blanket – Use your camp blanket outside around the campfire to keep warm. You can also use it in place of a sleeping bag, or to insulate the tent floor on a cold night or put it on the ground so your baby can crawl around. In a pinch, a blanket even works as a towel. 
  • Storage tote – Transport supplies, store food, or use your storage tote as a table. These bins are also great for washing dishes, clothes or kids.
  • Swiss army knife – These knives come with a variety of tools, including scissors, corkscrew, screwdriver, can opener, and a knife. Minimize all the tools and just bring one.

Remove Unneeded Packaging

Packaging is the enemy of packing. That’s a mouthful, but it’s true. I’ve been tempted to keep new camp items in their boxes or bubble wrap before. The issue is finding space for the added bulk. When we take supplies out of boxes and bags, it makes them far more compact. 

Packing tip: If you’re worried about something getting damaged in transit, wrap it in a sleeping bag or camp blanket. This adds the padding you need without the extra packaging.

Only Pack the Essentials

Packing for anything can be a chore. Packing only what you need saves on space, time, and cleanup. 

There are many variables to consider, including weather, timeline, and planned activities. I find the most common categories I overpack are:


Layers are key for camping, and also packing. If you’re going for three nights or less, one jacket and cozy sweatshirt is probably all you need for bulk. Clean undies, socks, and thin shirts for each day should follow.

For pants, I find it depends on material. I usually bring one pair of jeans and a pair of zip-off hiking pants. That way I have a pair that is both pants and shorts.


Bedding is easy to overpack. The fear of getting cold at night is strong, especially in the cooler months. One way to avoid overpacking bedding is to check the temperature ratings on your sleeping bags. Be sure to get a bag that reflects the season.

Keeping your tent warm is also very helpful to staying warm with less bedding.


My family loves our campfire snacks, but we learned long ago that too many snacks only lead to waste. A good way to cut back on food is to only bring items everybody in your party enjoys. Choose camp meals and snacks you know will get eaten. 

Another way we reduce the amount of food we bring is to use the same ingredients for more than one meal.

We don’t bring bread, hamburger buns, hot dog buns and english muffins. We’ll bring one loaf of bread and that becomes buns, breakfast sandwiches, camper pies, sandwich bread and french toast.

Ham or turkey for sandwiches can also go into eggs for breakfast and tinfoil dinners.

Remember to plan for three square meals and snacks, and have a few emergency food items (high calorie protein bars, etc.) in case of emergencies. 

Store Food Smartly

Speaking of food, packing ingredients wisely will help you stay organized while camping. There are many ways to do this, including:

Pack in Bins

My family is a firm believer in storage bins for camping. They’re especially handy for food, because of the many advantages they offer, including:

  1. Retained temperature and freshness
  2. To deter animals and insects
  3. Easy to stack and store
  4. Can be stored safely outside

Large bins run the risk of crushing ingredients that are stacked inside willy nilly. It’s best take the opportunity to further organize it.

Plan Your Meals

Meal plan and early prep cuts back on unnecessary packaging and food waste. When you plan ahead, you know just what to bring for each meal, and nothing more. Here’s an example of a meal plan for one day at camp:

  • Breakfast: Egg scramble with ham, and fresh fruit 
  • Mid Morning snack: Granola or trail mix
  • Lunch: Ham and cheese sandwiches
  • Dinner: Fireside tinfoil dinners (Potatoes, ham, corn, beans, etc.)
  • Fireside snack: S’mores!

Meal planning isn’t just about which ingredients to bring. It’s also about when to eat each meal. When possible, I like to leave fully frozen meals last because they keep all the other food in the cooler cold

For example, If I pack a serving of fireside chili for the family, I pack it frozen. All I need to do is remove it from the tupperware and slide it into the pot to warm. In the meantime, the frozen chili keeps drinks, veggies, meat, and cheese cold. 

two coolers, one green one orange

Stack your cooler freezer foods on bottom, fridge foods on top. Eat top to bottom when possible. It’s also best to keep your cooler closed as much as possible. Only open it when you absolutely need to take something out.

I find myself taking out everything I need for the meal at once so I’m not digging through it later for ketchup or cheese slices, etc.

Vacuum Seal When Possible

Vacuum sealing sucks all the unneeded air out of food packaging. It creates compact ingredients that are easy to store. Vacuum sealing is the only way to keep your food from being waterlogged in the cooler.

I like to vacuum seal any refrigerated foods I’m storing in the cooler. Things like jerky, steak and cheese. 

I don’t recommend vacuum sealing crispy foods. In my experience, you’ll wind up with a lot of crushed snacks. I have been successful vacuum sealing homemade trail mix, however, and it stays fresh the entire trip. 

We love our vacuum sealer so much that one Christmas both adult critters bought each other the same Seal-a-meal vacuum packer!

Remove from Original Boxes

What do boxes of graham crackers, bags of chips, and cookie cartons have in common? They all waste a bunch of space with bulky boxes and added air. By removing these products and placing them in sealed storage containers, you eliminate that bulk, but maintain freshness.

Occasionally I will bring along the empty boxes (folded down) to use as fire starter material.

Put Ingredients Together in Advance

Planning pancakes one morning? Mix the dry ingredients in advance and pack them in a sealed container or baggy.

I’ve also seen campers whip up pancake mix the morning before they set off and store it in a squeezy bottle in the cooler. All you need to do is heat up the pan, squeeze, flip, and enjoy. 

Similar ingredient mixing includes salad (hold the dressing til serving), kabobs/skewers, campfire soup/stew, and even chips. Make your own party mix by putting all your favorite savory crispy snacks in one airtight container.

Pack in Plastic Drawers

There are many types of plastic drawers on the market. These are lifesavers when I’m trying to stay organized while camping. 

We originally packed in a huge duffle bag, but as we get more experienced with organizing camping gear, we’re using more drawers and plastic bins than before.

Standing Plastic Drawers

Standing plastic drawers used for craft and office supplies are another useful tool. These hard plastic units are useful for storing dry foods, cutlery and kitchen supplies, first aid, and other small items that otherwise get lost in the mix.

Camping Gear Packed in Clear Plastic Drawers
©Heather Wylder

Standing drawers don’t seal the way large storage bins do. I wouldn’t leave them outside if you think it might rain, unless you throw a tarp over them.

I like to stack them in the trunk of our SUV. You can line up two or three of these with plenty of room for other camp supplies. 

Bring a Shoe Organizer

Plastic shoe organizers are useful for a family camping trip. It’s not that I like to bring a lot of shoe options. Shoe organizers are useful for any small piece of camping gear, they’re one of my favorite camping organization hacks.

Also when everyone is climbing into the tent for the night, it gives us somewhere to store shoes. This is especially helpful if you’re tent camping in the rain.

Waterproof Zippered Outdoor Organizer

I’ve seen some really cool camp shoe organizers out there. Some come with their own little mini tents to pitch next to your own. These are actually great for storing other small items, like towels, hats, even light jackets.

I like it because it stays outside, maximizing tent space. This truly is a perfect camping storage idea. They have a different one that can hold bikes and it amazing for any kind of gear storage.

Hanging Shoe Organizer

A traditional hanging shoe rack is tricky in tents, but perfect in campers or RVs. One way to hang it is by the additional toggles or straps on the tent ceiling.

This isn’t my favorite way to organize shoes while camping, I actually use it to hold smaller items like headlamps, gloves, hats and phones.

Pop-up Shoe Rack

Cloth shoe racks are a great in-tent option. They give you quick and easy access to footwear when you enter and exit the tent. I like these shoe racks because there’s no hanging involved.

Under Bed Shoe Storage Organizer

Under bed organizers are a good tent option if you have camp cots. Slide the organizer under the cots when it’s not in use. These lay flat and have individual compartments for shoes. I’ve also put mitts, hats, and even cell phones in the compartments for simple camp storage.

Use Compression Bags

Compression bags are big space savers. You can take soft items like sleeping bags, down jackets, and blankets, and compress them by sucking the air out. Think about vacuum sealed food, but for camp gear. I love how much extra you can pack when it’s compressed, especially in the winter when outerwear is so bulky.

Stuff Sacks

Stuff sacks are another way to minimize clothing and bedding packing. These are the sacks you use for sleeping bags. They have toggles and strings to stuff clothes inside and pull them snugly closed. The end result is less compressed than vacuum sealed bags, but they also require less work to repack.

Have a Plan for Garbage and Dirty Laundry

It’s common to focus on what to bring when heading into the great outdoors. But, what do we do with all that stuff when we’re finished with it? 

Recycling and Garbage

To stay organized during camping, I recommend bringing along two bags. One for recycling and one for garbage. I separate compost to keep animals away from these bags. To be safe, you can hang them in trees, or place them in a storage bin. 

If you’re camping at a private campground, there may be garbage and recycling bins at your site. I like to scope out my campsite early by visiting websites and reading reviews to see what the best method of waste management is.


Compost either goes into the fire (if safe to burn), or a sealed container for later disposal. Check your campsite (and state) for garbage and compost restrictions. You might find on-site dump zones where you can drop the bags before you leave.

I don’t recommend putting compost in a paper bag, the way some of us do at home. The bag gets soggy if left outside. It could also blow away, or attract animals. If you choose the paper bag method, put the bag in a container until it is properly disposed of.


Laundry is another issue. In our family, there are always a few spills, puddles, or rainy adventures leaving something wet or muddy. I like to bring a water proof stuff sack to put dirty laundry into, before packing it into my backpack. This keeps it separate from clean, dry items. 

If you’re camping for more than three days, use a storage bin (mentioned above) to hand wash clothes. You can make a simple clothesline by tying rope between trees. Things dry pretty quickly on warm sunny days.  

Hopefully, this guide has offered some insight into how to stay organized while camping. As always, have tons of fun, and stay safe out there!

Happy Camping!

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