You know what sucks? Getting stressed out by packing for what’s supposed to be a relaxing camping trip. Yeah, that definitely sucks.
Eliminate packing stress
You can alleviate much of that stress simply by having a camping bin—a plastic storage container already set up with the stuff you need to pack for your average camping trip. Because it’s already ready already, you can just grab it and go. Ok, well, you’ll probably want some other stuff like a sleeping bag, tent, cooler, and food, too. But having all of the main camp items in one or two ready-to-go bins makes packing a snap.
Makes finding things a breeze
With everything all in one spot, a camping bin also makes it easy to carry your stuff to the picnic table, too. It all stays clean and organized, tucked inside a plastic bin until you need it. You’ll be able to quickly find what you need instead of scrounging around the car for various items. That means you’ll spend less time managing your stuff and more time enjoying your trip. And best of all, when you’re ready to pack up the campsite, it’s just as easy to return the whole kit to the vehicle.
Here’s exactly what I use
I’ve broken down the contents of my various adventure bins below so you can get a better sense of what these look like.
A few caveats
Before you start stalking—or critiquing—what items we bring, I should explain why this kit works well for our needs. First, we have no kids, so everything here is just for us. We’re also not huge camp foodies. For some people, camp cooking is the main reason for going camping. That’s not us. We nearly always prefer simple to extravagant, and we’re usually just cooking for the two of us. We also prep much of the food before we go so we don’t have to spend as much time making dinner at the campsite. That makes sense, as we’re often just camping to save money on hotels. So your bin may look exceedingly different than ours, and that’s totally fine. This is all about putting together a system that works for you.
I should also note that I’m not holding this up as the World’s Best Camping Bin™ set-up. It just happens to be what I use—as of today, at least. It’ll change over time as I refine further or upgrade. Some of this gear is 20 years old while other components were acquired in the last year. I usually only upgrade gear when there’s a substantially better product that improves my experience and seems worth the money. Most of these items are cheap and unspecial in any substantial way. If you’re just starting out, I recommend starting with cheaper stuff first and only upgrading later, if it’s necessary. Most of the time, it isn’t. Keep in mind how incredibly easy it is to overspend on camping gear and save some of that cash for trips instead.
Click to expand or retract each section
Click on the bin name to “open” the lid and peak inside. To head off some anticipated questions, I’ve linked to a few items that people might want to know more about (some of which are affiliate links).
Main camping bin
What I use this for
This is my primary camping kit—it goes on every single camping trip I take.
I prefer using a shallow bin so that there aren’t too many layers of things, which makes it easier to both find and repack items. The 10 gallon “stacker” style bin I use measures roughly 25″ x 18″ x 7″ and has locking handles to keep the lid tightly secured. Two 4 gallon bins stack perfectly on top of this one, as does the 19 gallon version, so there are a lot of options that work well together if I decide to expand in the future. The current bin is fully packed, so there’s not a lot of extra room for additional items.
I also keep some cheap Ikea doormats on top of this bin. We use them outside our tent (or vehicle doors, if we’re sleeping in the car) to make it easier to put on our shoes after we crawl outside. The doormats fit perfectly on top of the bins and our trusty two burner Coleman stove sits on top of them. This works especially well, as the doormats keep the stove from rattling against the plastic bin on washboarded roads.
- Silicone strainer/splatter screen/hot plate
- Flexible plastic cutting boards (3)
- 1lb Coleman propane canister
- All-purpose fixed knife blade
- Nesting pot/pan set (3 each) & handle (an older version of GSI Outdoors Bugaboo that’s sadly no longer available)
- Silicone coaster/pot handle (2)
- Plates (7)
- Bowls (7)
- Disposable paper plates (about 6)
- Butter knives (7)
- Big spoons (5)
- Regular spoons (5)
- Forks (7)
- Stirring spoon
- Camping spatula & spoon set
- Kitchen scissors
- Can opener
- Kitchen knife
- Bottle opener
- Wine stopper
- Small lantern (2)
- Collapsing sink
- Tervis-style insulated cups w/lids (3)
- Yard trash bags
- Kitchen trash bags
- Paper towels
- 2.5 gallon ziplock bags
- Gallon freezer bags
- Quart size freezer bags
- Beverage koozie (4)
- Para cord
- Bug head nets (2)
- Two-sided dish sponge
- Dish scraper
- Bug spray
- Hand sanitizer
- Wet wipes
- Toilet paper
- Small blacklight
- Dish towel
- Pack towels (3)
- Carabiners (2)
- Medium binder clips (3)
I quickly made a rather poorly-produced amateur video showing all of these items while camping a few weekends ago. I’m (somewhat reluctantly) linking to it here so you can get a better sense of how it all fits together. I’ll try to put together a better one in the future.
I keep the serving utensils, cooking utensils, plates & bowls in separate bags. I happen to use some old Eagle Creek travel bags for that, but gallon ziplock would work just fine, too. Also, the utensils, bowls, and plates I use are all lexan-style.
The large 2.5 gallon ziplock bags are used for dirty dishes, when we’re feeling lazy and would rather just bring them home to the kitchen dishwater. That probably describes 75% of our weekends. Ok, fine…maybe 90%.
Yes, we bring three flimsy plastic cutting boards, but they’re mostly just used as clean surfaces to set food on. We do most of our slicing and dicing back at home before we leave.
I use the binder clips as bag clips for chips and other snacks.
The small blacklight is used to look for scorpions at night. I kinda just tossed it in there one day, but it can be fun to play around with, especially in the desert.
What I use this for
This storage container is identical to the one I use for my main camping bin. I bring it when we’re planning on having a campfire, or on longer trips when we might have a campfire. It also contains our camp shower, though that rarely gets used unless we’re camping for quite a few days—trips in which we’d also likely have a campfire. We might also bring this bin when we might need some shade or rain protection, or expect to sleep in Sam the Subie.
- Fire poker
- Plastic serving trays (2)
- Telescoping campfire forks (3)
- Roll of paper towels
- Lighter fluid
- Fire starter
- Folding saw
- Cooking oil
- Aluminum foil
- Trash bags
- Extra 1lb propane canister
- Utility towel
- Heavier duty plastic shopping bags
- Camp shower
- Para cord
- Bungee cords (4)
- Bag of tent stakes
- Tarps (2)
- Clamps (5)
- Bug netting, blackout cloth, and magnets
We use the tarps, clamps, bungees, tent stakes, and para cord—along with some telescoping tent poles that get packed with our camp chairs—to create various shelter configurations, often utilizing the roof rack or open rear gate of my Subaru Outback.
The bug netting, blackout cloth, and magnet set is a custom solution I use for covering the windows when sleeping in the car. I’ll have more specifics on this in a future post, but it’s basically comprised of a set of no-see-um netting and dark “blackout” cloth trimmed to fit my various car windows. I have about two dozen rare earth magnets that I’ve individually covered with gorilla tape to create a sort of tab so I can easily grab them. I use the magnets to mount the netting or blackout pieces over the open car windows at night. That way, I can have some good airflow without dealing with insects, or sleep through the bright rising sun (or, sometimes, a full moon that’s too darn bright).
We use the heavier plastic shopping bags (meaning, the ones just slightly nicer than grocery bags) to hold our clothes and other items when we’re using campground showers. Since everything seems to get wet in public showers, the bags help keep our things dry, especially when shower curtains are missing. If we’re using our own camp shower, the tarps and related items also allow us to create a makeshift shower privacy curtain if we need one.
The serving trays make it much easier to eat dinner in a camp chair near the campfire. I sometimes snag these for our daytrips too.
What I use this for
We grab this smaller bin (roughly 16″ x 13″ x 9″) for daytrips, which serves us well for basic picnic-style meals. We tend to keep our daytrip meals very simple, like cold sandwiches and some sides, so there’s not much we need. It’s rare that we’d heat anything up, so we don’t need to bring a lot of gear as a result. To make things easy, we just use disposable plates and bowls from our tailgating supplies.
- Roll of paper towels
- Baggie of shopping bags
- Beverage koozies (4)
- 2.5 gallon ziplock bags
- Gallon/quart/snack ziplock baggies
- Disposable plates & bowls
- Disposable solo cups
- Plastic silverware
- Silicon coasters/pot holders
- Kitchen knife
- Binder clips
Why have a lighter when there’s no stove on the list? Two reasons. First, we might use it to fix the ends of newly cut para cord we might use to string up a shade tarp. On the rare occasion that we do want to heat something up (probably hot chocolate or cider), we would have grabbed my backpacking stove, fuel, and pot—which requires a lighter. Those three items are small enough to toss into this half-full bin, so it’s an easier solution that bringing the normal bin.
Creating your own camping bin
Now that you have a sense of what I bring and why I bring it, it’s time to put together your own bin. Start with brainstorming the items you’ll need. It might help to mentally walk through an average trip. Everyone travels a bit differently, so consider what you’ll need and what you don’t.
What does your average trip look like?
Are you cooking a big meal, or just roasting some hot dogs? How many people will need plates, bowls, and cutlery? How much food prep will you need to do at camp? What other items will you need access to (such as a can opener, bottle opener, vegetable peeler, etc)? What’s your dishwashing strategy? Do you need cups that work with hot water? What might you need for a campfire, if you often have one?
Basically, the point here is just to run through all the usual scenarios you’d encounter and list things you may use. Then, pare down the list to the things that you think should come along every time you go. Those are the items you put in your camping bin.
In addition, consider any items that you should have along, just in case. For instance, I only occasionally use a can opener, but we sometimes buy camp groceries on the drive to the campsite, so I make sure I have one of these in my kit—even though it might only get used once in awhile. Same goes for the bug head net; it’s something I might not know to bring on any specific trip, but would dearly miss if I did need it. Be careful with how many “just in case” items you bring, though; it can be easy to end up with a cluttered mess of rarely used items.
How will the bin fit in your vehicle?
This might sound a bit silly at first, but I assure you it’s not.
If your main camping gear bin is awkward or doesn’t fit cleanly in your vehicle, it’ll add frustrations you don’t need. I’ve found that it’s best to “test load” your vehicle with your main big items: tables, chairs, tent, cooler, sleeping bags—and consider what things must go where. For example, my camp chairs must go across the back of rear seats if I want my cooler to be easily accessible, so that influences how wide of a bin I can use. If you’re planning on using multiple bins, you’ll also want to consider how well they fit together, too. I bought matching, stackable bins specifically so that it’d be easier to pack them in the car together.
I used to use a taller, more narrow bin, but it was too tall to put anything useful on top of it and it created a weirdly-shaped void that usually resulted in unused space. If your bin doesn’t “play nice” in the vehicle configuration you’d prefer, find yourself one that does. It’s worth the hassle now to get it right than dealing with repeated consternation every subsequent trip.
Putting it all together
Now that you have your camping bin items together and have found a bin that will work for your space and gear, it’s time to bring it all together. After a few times packing and repacking your bin, you’ll probably notice that things seem to fit better if you pack them a certain way. I try to pack the bigger items in the same spots each time, and then fill in with the other items around them. Smaller items I use frequently go in designated spots (usually corners, for me). It’s useful to have a system—that way, you don’t have to rummage through the whole thing just to find that little spice container. That’s basically what this entire post is about—creating systems that make your camping life easier.
What other bins would be useful to have?
My main camping bin is primarily focused on camp kitchen items. I suggest that you have a similar one, as it makes it easy to bring everything you need right to your cooking area. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have bins dedicated to other types of gear, too. For instance, we also have a sleep bin that contains our comforter, sleeping pads, pillows and lightweight throw blankets that we often use in warmer weather. I also have one for much of the gear I usually bring kayaking. If having a pre-organized gear bin would reduce the hassle of packing and help you get out more often—as it does for me—then you owe it to yourself to put one together.
Replenishing the bins
Since our goal is to be able to pack quickly—so that we can leave right after work on Friday, for instance—we keep these bins fully stocked and ready to go. Instead of having to look through the bins before each trip to see what needs to be replenished, we try to take care of that while we’re at the campsite or on the road.
Our solution is to use the free Wunderlist app so we can add to a shared “camping bin replenishment” list as soon as we use something up at the campsite. Uh oh, down to only one trash bag? Add it to the list. Lantern batteries going dim? Add it to the list. Propane canister feeling a little light? Add it to the list. Do it right when you think about it. Yes, it’s ok to whip out your phone at camp to do this. I also add anything here that I might want to add to the bin for the next trip. Again, log it when the idea hits you; don’t expect to remember later.
Once we’re back home from the trip, we’ll replace anything that needs replacing (including recharging the batteries for the small lanterns) before we put the bins away. This is important—if you’re not diligent in replenishing the camping bin, then you’ll undermine your ability to just “grab and go” or you’ll end up without something you need.
Auditing your kit
Once or twice a year, I like to take everything out of the bin and review if it’s still something I should be hauling around. For instance, have I really used that blacklight? Maybe that can stay at home from now on. Doing this review helps reduce clutter and make it easier to manage the stuff you actually do use regularly.
I want to hear about your camping bin
Did an interesting item make it into your camping bin? Have a tip I missed above? Think I should add something specific to my own camping bin? Let me know in the comments. I’d especially love it if you linked to a photo of your own camping bin. I love hearing what everyone else brings.