When planning a trip, it’s very normal to become completely preoccupied with everything you think yo should bring—rather than what not to bring camping. Unfortunately, this is often how people end up bringing too much stuff.
Packing for any kind of trip is hard. It’s been said that we tend to “pack our fears,” meaning we bring things we think we’ll need but probably won’t. This is especially true for first-time or novice campers.
If you’re car camping, brining too much stuff isn’t that big of a deal. But if you’re backpacking or canoe camping in the backcountry, you don’t want to be lugging around all sorts of extra things you don’t really need, so every ounce counts.
So, what should you leave behind? Here are 16 things you really don’t need to bring camping:
1. A change of clean clothes for each and every day
Honestly, you’re not going to be doing that much changing of clothes when you’re camping. You’ll probably be wearing the same thing most of the time, unless you get wet or dirty. So save some space in your bag and focus on the essentials.
If you’re camping in the summer, it’s fine to bring a couple of tank tops, pairs of shorts, and a bathing suit—but limit it to two each. Remember to also prepare for cold weather by bringing warm layers, such as long underwear, a sweatshirt, sweatpants, rainwear, and something to sleep in.
Feel free to bring as many pairs of underwear as there are days in your camping trip, and at least two pairs of socks.
2. More than two pairs of footwear
You only need to one pair of shoes for when you’re active (such as hiking shoes or boots) and one pair of comfortable shoes for when you’re at camp (such as crocs or Birkenstock sandals).
Anything more than that is just completely unnecessary.
3. A big ol’ axe
You’d think that an axe would be a practical tool to bring camping, especially if you’re planning on doing any woodcutting. But we found that we rarely used ours when we brought it.
Chances are you won’t be chopping any big trees down or splitting wood—especially if it’s more of a casual, fun kind of trip. We recommend bringing a compact folding bow saw like the Agawa Boreal21, which is the one we have.
This way, you can still cut wood if you need to without lugging around a big, heavy axe.
4. A ton of food
You might be tempted to overpack on food, especially if you’re going camping for more than a few days and with multiple people. It isn’t always easy to estimate how hungry everyone is going to be.
The sad thing about bringing too much extra food items—particularly foods that need refrigeration (like meat)—is that they can go bad before you’re able to eat them. Or worse, you’ll try to finish them off anyway and end up getting sick.
The secret to packing the right amount of food is creating a meal plan and measuring everything out into portions. And if you really want to get serious, you can also estimate the calories for each meal and snack so you know exactly how filling they’ll be.
Tip: Bringing food that you dehydrated yourself? Make sure you know exactly how much water went into each meal type so you know exactly how much water to add back when you rehydrate it. This will help take the guesswork out of the rehydration process and prevent you from bringing or making too much.
5. Food that’s too complicated to make
Boiling a pot of water is hard enough when you’re camping. So save yourself the trouble and don’t bring any food that requires more than a few steps to make.
Stick to simple meals that can be easily prepared with just a few ingredients. For example, oatmeal for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or wraps for lunch, and pasta with jarred sauce or pre-made freeze-dried meals for dinner.
We don’t recommend having to cook more than two meals per day when you’re camping. It’s easy enough to munch on snack foods for lunch or prepare something else that’s quick and leave the cooking (or water boiling) for breakfast and dinner.
6. Full-sized jars and bottles of condiments
Burgers, sausages, and hotdogs are a campfire favourite—but they require all the good stuff. Instead of raiding your fridge for every single condiment you can think of, filling up your cooler, and risking them all spoiling, consider using smaller containers or squeeze bottles to bring smaller portions.
You can get BPA-free, leak-proof squeeze bottles for cheap off of Amazon in a variety of sizes. Trust us—you’ll be happy you did!
7. Disposable plates, cups, and utensils
We know how convenient it is to just buy a pack of paper plates and plastic utensils and then just throw them out after using them instead of dealing with washing them all. But gosh darn, it’s so unnecessarily wasteful!
In addition to being wasteful, it can also put you at a higher risk of attracting animals. The scents from all of those dirty dishes in your trash bag can be detected from a long way away, so you’ll either have to keep that stinky garbage in your car or hang it in a tree.
You can get an entire camping dishware set for as little as $30 USD on Amazon, so if you plan on going camping more than once, we highly recommend getting one. And be sure to check out our guide on how to wash dishes while camping to see just how easy it really is!
8. Bottled water
If you’re car camping, you may be tempted to bring a case of bottled water and keep a few in your cooler. But chances are you’ll go through your water extremely quickly, and you’ll have a ton of waste to show for it.
Instead, get a larger water container, like this BPA-free collapsible container that has a spout you can easily twist open and closed. This way, you’ll have plenty of water for drinking, cooking, and washing up—and you won’t have to worry about lugging around a bunch of bottles.
For backcountry camping, you REALLY don’t want to have to lug around your own water. Instead, invest in a water purification system like a Sawyer Mini or a gravity filter that you can use to safely drink from lakes, rivers, and streams.
9. Glass bottles, jars, or containers
Many parks and campgrounds prohibit glass because it’s so easy to break and dispose of properly. And if you do manage to bring some glass with you, there’s always the risk of it breaking and leaving shards everywhere.
Instead of bringing any glass containers, opt for reusable water bottles or BPA-free plastic containers. These are much safer to use, and lighter in weight tool. Best of all, they’ll save you the trouble of having to deal with any broken glass.
10. Your own campfire grill
We bought a really nice, high-quality campfire grill for our trips a while back and found ourselves leaving it behind on most trips. First of all, it’s heavy—not ideal for backcountry tips where weight is a big factor.
Second of all, most established campsites already have a grill. Sure, they may be kind of rusty and bent out of shape, but as long as you’re not putting your food directly on it (use tinfoil if you have to), then it gets the job done.
11. Citronella candles
Citronella candles are known as a natural bug repellent, but not many people realize they can also attract bears. With that said, it’ best to avoid using them entirely.
Instead, check out our guide to keeping mosquitos and other biting insects away for some helpful and effective ideas.
12. Your everyday shampoo, conditioner, soap, and cosmetics
You may think it’s harmless to wash your hair and body with your standard products, but what you don’t realize is that the chemicals in these products can actually be harmful to the environment—including the plants and animals that call it home.
When you’re camping, stick to using biodegradable soap and shampoo that won’t pollute the water or harm the plants and animals. We use Campsuds, which is a concentrated all-purpose soap that’s also biodegradable. You can use it to wash your hair, body, dishes, and even your clothes!
Face it—you’re going to stink, no matter what. Everyone is. Why try to fight it by bringing a stick of deodorant that probably won’t help?
If you’re body odour is really bad, we recommend just jumping in the lake or wiping your armpits with a biodegradable wet wipe at the end of the day.
14. Big, bulky beach towels
Okay, so if you’re going on a super casual car camping trip where you plan on spending lots of time on the beach, bringing beach towels is perfectly okay (and probably preferred).
But for any other trip that involves a decent amount of travel and hauling gear, you’re going to want to get a smaller, lightweight towel. We’re big fans of the Fit-Flip Quick Dry Microfibre Towel, which rolls up in its own little carrying bag and weighs just about seven ounces.
15. Your expensive AirPods
We get it—you love your AirPods and you don’t want to go without them. But the truth is, they’re just way too easy to lose. Especially on a camping trip!
Whether you misplace them while hiking or they fall out of your pocket while you’re sleeping, there’s a good chance you won’t see them again if you bring them camping. So instead of risking it, just leave them at home and bring a cheaper pair of earbuds—or better yet, an old-fashioned set of earphones with a wire!
16. Valuable jewelry
You may never take your necklace, earrings, or wedding rings off, but when it comes to camping, you definitely should. Leave them at home where they belong.
I’ve had necklaces come off during hikes and while swimming. I’m sure the same could be said for earrings, rings, and even fancy watches.
In addition to easily losing them, you could also damage them. Dirt and water can easily get caught in the tiny crevices of your jewelry, which could cause cause scratches or permanent damage.
Knowing what not to bring camping is just as important as knowing what to bring
It’s important to be aware of what not to bring camping if you want to save yourself from a lot of unnecessary frustration and hassle in the long run. The more you get out there, the better you’ll get at packing light and only bringing what you need.
Do you have any items that you always make sure to leave at home when camping? Share them with us in the comments below!
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).