Anticipating an upcoming camping trip can be a lot of fun, but packing?
Not so much!
Like it or not, you’re going to have figure out exactly what you need—right down to the last sock—and put it altogether in a way that’s practical and portable.
When it comes to clothing, it’s far too easy to assume you’ll need certain items that you actually don’t, and forget to bring items that you wish you had.
How to decide which clothes to bring
In general, there are three factors that influence which clothing brings you should bring on your trip.
1. Weather and campsite conditions
If you’re camping in the middle of summer, be prepared for extreme heat with potentially cooler than expected nights.
Location matters too.
For instance, if you’re camping in a coastal area, it may be cooler than you think—and windy.
And if you’re camping near a marsh, swamp, or bog at peak season, you can expect mosquitos!
2. Activities you expect to do
Will you be doing strenuous activities like rock climbing, hiking, or biking?
Or will you be relaxing by the campfire or taking leisurely strolls around a lake?
It’s important to choose clothes that match your activity choices and exertion levels, making sure to choose clothing items that don’t restrict your body too much or expose you to the elements unnecessarily.
3. Personal preferences
It can be tricky to strike the right balance between comfort and style when it comes to camping attire.
It’s up to you how far your personal preferences go, but there are definitely certain items of clothing that can make life a lot easier while camping—like lightweight, moisture-wicking fabrics and quick drying materials.
Though fashion may not be the first thing on your mind when camping, if you look carefully you can find clothing solutions that combine style, comfort, and functionality.
No matter the season, plan to layer up (or layer down)
When camping, layers are your friend—especially if you’re planning to camp in a place with variable weather.
That way, you can easily add or remove layers as needed without having to constantly change clothes.
In the heat of summer, this might include:
- Layer 1: A tank top and shirts
- Layer 2: A sweatshirt and sweatpants
- Layer 3: A rain jacket and rain pants
In late fall, however, you might need:
- Layer 1: A base layer of thermal underwear
- Layer 2: A fleece jacket and fleece pants
- Layer 3: A windproof and waterproof rain jacket and rain pants
In the early morning and late evening, you’ll be glad you brought them.
In the summer, it’s tempting to pack nothing but short-sleeved shirts, shorts, and your bathing suit—but this is a big mistake.
No matter how hot it’s going to be, always plan on bringing at least one set of long-sleeved clothing (shirt and pants), a protective hat (ideally a wide-brimmed hat, but a baseball cap is fine too), socks, and full coverage shoes.
Remember that you can always layer down or change if you get too hot or the risk of sunburn/insect bites/skin allergies is low.
Best clothing materials
Not all clothing materials are created equal when it comes to camping.
Likewise, you’ll want to take into consideration the weather and your activity level when packing and choose fabrics that will keep you cool if it’s hot, warm if it’s cold, and dry if it’s wet out.
In warm weather, look for lightweight and breathable fabrics like:
Just keep in mind that cotton takes a long time to dry and may not be the best option for highly active activities since it tends to hang onto odours.
For cool or freezing weather, you’ll want to opt for materials that are insulating and water resistant, such as:
- Synthetic blends (like Polartec)
Merino wool is especially good for your base layers and can be purchased in different weights (midweight and heavyweight) according to how cold it’s going to be.
Finally, if you expect rain or wet conditions, make sure to bring some items made with waterproof materials like:
Ideally, you want your rainwear to be waterproof and breathable.
Cheap or low-quality rainwear is usually water resistant (but not waterproof) and not very breathable, which could put you at risk of hypothermia if you get wet from the weather or from sweating too much.
Staying dry is of utmost importance when camping not just for your pleasure and comfort, but for your health and safety as well.
Refer to the following waterproofing and breathability charts when looking for rainwear that matches the weather conditions and activity level you plan to camp in.
|Waterproof Rating (mm)||Water Resistance||Weather Conditions|
|0 – 5,000||Water resistant only||Light rain/drizzle|
|6,000 – 10,000||Waterproof under light pressure||Light to moderate rain|
|11,000 – 15,000||Waterproof under medium pressure||Moderate rain|
|16,000 – 20,000||Waterproof under high pressure||Heavy rain|
|20,000+||Waterproof under very high pressure||The heaviest of rains|
|Breathability Rating (g/m2)||Level|
|0 – 5,000||Low levels of physical activity|
|5,000 – 15,000||Medium levels of physical activity|
|15,000||High levels of sustained physical activity|
How many sets of clothing items should you bring?
Here’s the thing: You’re probably going to re-wear a lot of your clothes on your camping trip.
Because there’s no such thing as staying perfectly clean while camping, and wearing certain clothing items more than once is totally acceptable.
In many instances, comfort and convenience trump style and hygiene on a camping trip.
If an item happens to get wet, or it smells bad after sweating in it, you can always rinse it in a nearby lake and hang it on a clothesline at camp to dry.
You should bring at least two sets of “first layer” clothing items—the ones that will be in direct contact with your skin.
In the summer, this might be two T-shirts and two pairs of shorts.
In the colder seasons, this would be two sets of top and bottom base layers.
The reason for this is that if one pair gets wet, you can change into the dry pair and then you can dry out the wet pair.
For your second and third layers (also called the mid layer and outer layer), you can get away with just one set.
You can certainly bring more sets, but we recommend keeping it to a bare minimum if weight and bulk are an issue (such as if you’re backpacking).
If not, then you can bring more changes of clothing.
In extreme cold weather, we like to bring extra mid-layers, such as a wool sweater and a down puffy jacket, so we can wear four layers and stay extra warm.
What about underwear?
Underwear is tricky because some people find that they can wear the same pair for a few days at a time, while others need to change them more often.
Again, if weight and bulk aren’t an issue, we recommend bringing one pair of clean underwear per day of your camping trip—plus an extra pair just in case.
But if you’re really trying to keep it lightweight, consider bringing one pair of underwear for every two to three days of your trip.
Ideally, they should be made of material that wicks moisture, dries fast, and controls odour—such as synthetic materials, technical fabrics, or even merino wool.
To prevent bacteria from growing and causing irritation or even an infection, bring along some personal hygiene wipes that you can use to wipe the area at least once a day.
What about socks and footwear?
At least two pairs of socks are needed no matter the camping trip.
As mentioned above, the idea is to be able to change into a dry pair if the current pair you’re wearing become wet from weather conditions or sweating.
For summer, look for socks made from synthetic materials (like Coolmax) since they both wick sweat away from your feet and keep them cool.
For colder months, look for socks made with heavier materials like merino wool, which provide more insulation to help keep your feet warm.
We like to wear a thin merino wool liner sock under a thicker wool sock for better moisture management and warmth.
As far as shoes go, you really don’t need more than two pairs:
- One comfy shoe to wear at camp (we prefer Crocs)
- One activewear shoe (such as hiking shoes or boots)
Depending on the season, weather, and your activities, you could also add or swap any of the above out with rubber rain boots, insulated winter boots, down booties, amphibian shoes, Birkenstocks, or even flip flops.
What to pack your clothes in
Now that you exactly what types of clothing items to bring and how many sets, it’s time to get packing!
Here are the three main options we recommend for packing and bringing along your camp clothing:
Duffle bag or backpack
Extra bonus points if it’s water resistant or waterproof.
If not, what you can do is place your clothing in a garbage bag first and then pack it in your duffle bag.
This will help keep your clothing dry if it rains or if you accidentally drop your bag in water.
Dry bags are basically large, waterproof bags that come with either a roll-top closure or a zipper.
We like the roll top version because it’s more secure and is better at keeping water out.
One idea is to pack your clothing in dry bags first, then pack them along in your duffle bag or backpack.
Compression sacks are great for backpacking or any other time you need to keep your clothes lightweight.
Simply place your clothing items inside the sack, then cinch it down to compress everything into a smaller size.
This is especially helpful if you’re trying to save weight and space in your main pack.
Tips to avoid overpacking on clothing
We’ve gone camping so many times and we still find ourselves returning with clothing items that never even saw the light of day.
It’s always a learning experience, and because every trip is different, it’s hard to get packing down to a science.
That said, here are some of the tips we’ve picked up along the way for how to avoid overpacking on clothes when camping:
- Start with the basics and add on as necessary.
- Choose versatile clothing pieces like zip-off pants and layers so you can use them in multiple situations.
- Pack clothes that are lightweight and multi-functional, such as a technical T-shirt or shorts that can be worn in multiple ways.
- Favour clothing items made from synthetic materials like Coolmax and Polyester, which offer good breathability and moisture-wicking properties.
- Always think in terms of layers by asking yourself how you can easily layer up or layer down rather than bringing a lot of separate clothing items.
- Forgo fashion in favour of practicality—meaning clothes that are comfortable to wear and can stand up to the elements.
Tips to avoid underpacking on clothing
Just like overpacking, it’s easier than you think to overlook certain clothing items or forget them completely.
Unfortunately, forgetting to pack essential clothing items can make for an unpleasant (or even downright dangerous) trip.
Here are some tips to help you avoid underpacking on clothes when camping:
- Research the weather—including the UV forecast, wind speeds, and nighttime lows—to get a better idea of how to dress and what types of clothing items you’ll need.
- Consider how the location and terrain might influence conditions such as temperature, wind, rain, sun, insects, and plant species.
- Contact the local outfitters or information centre to get an idea of how the weather fluctuates in the area and what they recommend wearing.
- Pack a variety of clothes for different temperatures and activities.
- Bring along rain gear even if there’s no rain in the forecast.
- If weight and bulk are an issue, look for lightweight, packable clothing items like a hooded windbreaker or microfleece jacket.
- Check and double check your clothing items list to make sure you’re not forgetting anything.
With a little extra planning and prep, you’ll be well dressed and on your way toward an unforgettable camping experience.
Next up: What not to bring camping
Elise is an experienced backcountry canoe tripper and winter camper from Ontario, Canada. She loves cooking up a storm over the campfire, taking in all the backcountry views, and enjoying a piña colada or two while relaxing at camp. She’s also certified in Whitewater Rescue (WWR) I & II and Wilderness First Aid (WFA).