Yesterday afternoon my Husband and I returned from four straight days of camping in Winfield, Kansas. My In-Laws had purchased the whole family tickets to the Walnut Valley Festival (affectionately called “The Bluegrass Festival”) for Christmas last year, and it was finally time for us to cash in on them. The write up will be coming in the next week or so, but it suffices to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it! I genuinely couldn’t have asked for a better time when it came to my first Festival experience ever.
It hit me in the last week before our trip, that my Husband and I hadn’t ever actually put together our own supply box. We’d always just borrowed the In-Law’s, since their house was on the way to our favorite camping spot anyways and they rarely used theirs. Thinking about it, I realized I had no idea what to take with me… I mean, sure, I’ve stayed out camping for weeks on end before. But that was when I was younger and still camping with my family. I’d never actually been to a festival before- last of all camping for that long, alone, as an adult completely responsible for all of her own gear.
I sat there for a while trying to brainstorm a list of things we’d need to bring with us. The problem was, I didn’t really have anything to go off of; I thought about all the stuff my Parents always lugged around with us on camping trips- but I hadn’t been camping with my parents in a long time, and never really paid attention to that stuff. So I thought about what was in my In-Law’s box that we always borrowed- but I knew it was practically always lacking something we needed, so it wasn’t much of a help either.
Eventually I wound up on google researching everything between “essential camping supplies” and “essential festival supplies”. While the lists were incredibly helpful, they were also redundant and annoying in many ways; we still wound up missing several items during our four day stay at the Festival, that neither of us had thought to add to the box. When repacking the box this morning and getting it ready for storage, I decided to draw up a list of what we had and what we still needed to add. So I turned back to Google and promptly encountered the same problems as I did before we left.
Most lists either assume you’ve never been camping
before in your life, or focus on largely unnecessary items.
The thing is, a complete supply box is really important. As a seasoned camper, this at least I know with certainty. And as a first time Wife putting together her own supply box for the first time, I want to help anyone in the same predicament I’m currently in, looking at all these lists and going “What the frick do I really need”… So here’s my list- thrown together after much research and my own trial and error and experience, and based on what we’ve added to (or plan to add to) our own box!
It ain’t going to do you a lick of good to put together an essential supply box if the box won’t hold up or transport well. So, of course, the most logical thing to do is start with the box itself.
My family’s supply box was a large, wooden footlocker bought second hand from an Army Surplus some literal decades ago. My In-Law’s box, on the other hand, is a very small plastic tub from Walmart. My Husband and I’s is somewhere in between: It’s a lightweight but incredibly sturdy plastic storage bin that’s roughly the size of a footlocker.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you put your supplies in. Whatever it is, though, it should be tough and able to withstand the tests of time and travel. More importantly, it should be large enough to hold all of your supplies- as well as a little extra in case you decide to add more to it later.
What to put in it
I’m going to assume that you know about all the obvious items that should go with you while you’re camping- like your sleeping bags, tents, clothes, food, and so on. Except in the rare case you pick up a box that’s large enough to fit your Tent and Air Mattress in addition to everything else (like my Husband and I did), the majority of these things don’t go inside your Supply Box anyways. So I’m going to focus on the basic, generally unchanging supplies that you should always keep in your actual box year round.
First things first you need to have at least one tarp, and one rope (make sure the Rope is suitable for long term outdoor use- like Climbing Rope or Paracord). Additionally, you’ll probably want a Multitool, a Hammer, a Compass, a Hatchet (basically a small Axe), a small Shovel, and a Bowey Knife (or you can skip getting most of these individually and buy something like this instead).
These things might sound like overkill, but I can’t tell you the number of times my parents had to pull them out even on the most basic camping excursions in relatively common Campgrounds. They’re incredibly useful; you’d rather have them and not use them, than need them and not have them. Especially depending on the types of places you like to camp.
In terms of lighting, you’ll need at least one Lantern plus at least two small, handheld Flashlights. Personally, I suggest battery operated LED for both Lanterns and Flashlights because I’ve found they’re brighter and their components don’t often require a whole lot of space. But if you use anything that’s battery operated, don’t forget to put extra batteries in your supply box- enough for at least 2 or 3 battery swaps. But I’d also suggest throwing in a pack (or three) of good, old fashioned Glowsticks as well; I can’t tell you how often Glowsticks have actually come in handy while camping, too.
Next up is your First Aid Kit. You can buy the pre-packed FAKs at any Drugstore, but I definitely suggest investing in one of the larger ones for your supply box. Open it up when you get it, and add anything you think is missing. For instance, I added a bottle of Midol, a tube of Hydrocortisone Cream, a bottle of Bactine, and a few extra sets of Medical Gloves to ours. But if you have allergies I’d also suggest some basic Allergy Medicine and / or an extra EpiPen (depending on their shelf life and whether or not you require them for your allergies).
A bottle of Hand Sanitizer, a bottle of Sunscreen, a bottle of Bug Spray, and a bottle of Hand Lotion are also great things to add to your supply box as well- and having a small pack of Lip Balm in there doesn’t hurt anything, either. If you menstruate, I’d also suggest a travel sized package of Pads, Panty Liners, and / or Tampons depending on your preference… And don’t forget an extra roll of Toilet Paper, too (no, I’m not joking. I have made that mistake once before and I will never make it again).
I’d also suggest picking up a Manicure Set and a small Sewing Kit. These might seem a bit weird, but trust me. They actually come in pretty handy while camping; manicure sets usually contain files, nail clippers, scissors, tweezers , and a number of other items which can all augment your FAK. Sewing kits, on the other hand, can allow you to mend rips in everything from tents to socks- as well as providing you with a small pair of thread scissors (though usually the ones in Manicure Sets are better for more things). Adding to that, I’d also suggest a Repair Kit meant for things like pool liners or air mattresses (either will usually work for a variety of purposes)- as well as a bottle of spray on Waterproofer meant for the outdoors.
In terms of cooking supplies, you’ll want travel ready Salt and Pepper and Sugar for sure. You can get large packs of the “Chef’s Packets” of all three for cheap (like you’ll find at restaurants) if you’d like. But I don’t recommend getting regular shakers unless they have resealable tops on them. You’ll usually wind up with a mess in the bottom of your box if you do; I also suggest buying (or making) little travel sized containers of other Spices if you want- though these really aren’t necessary.
Additionally, you’ll want all your basic cooking gear: A Spatula, a Serving Spoon, a Whisk, a Can Opener, a Potato Peeler, and a large Cutting Knife. Don’t forget reusable Plates, Bowels, Cups, and Silverware (Forks, Knives, and Spoons), too. You can buy sets of these often referred to as Personal or Full Mess Kits (depending on whether or not they’re meant for one person or more); I say reusable because, let’s face it… Really, it’s far more environmentally friendly than paper or plastic. Keep in mind, though, that you’ll usually be dealing with hotter temperatures. So I’d personally recommend opting for Enamel Coated ones and staying away from Plastic or Silicone unless it’s meant for the outdoors- and staying away from plain Metal in general (we made the mistake of buying basic Metal Mess Kits recently, and won’t be making it again).
You’l also want to put at least one Pot and one Skillet or Griddle in your supply box. I recommend Cast Iron for these, personally, just because it’s versatile and sturdy; Cast Iron can withstand a lot of heat and abuse, usually only gets better with age (when properly taken care of), and can be used on either a Propane Stove or a Camp Fire depending on what methods of cooking are actually available to you at any given point in time. You can buy (or thrift!) the items separately, or invest in a good full kit if you’d like.
If you use Propane Stove, don’t forget to keep a couple extra bottles of Fuel in you supply box. I’d also recommend keeping a Firestarter of some sort- either of the traditional type, or in the form of one of those long Grill Lighters, or a box of Waterproof Matches. Really, I recommend keeping all three in your supply box because you never know… But I also like to be over-prepared in some regards.
Don’t forget Dish Soap, too- just make sure it’s Biodegradable, good with cold water, and still works on grease. Adding to that, I also recommend an outdoor quality Table Cloth, a Cutting Board of some sort, dish washing Sponges (or a Wash Cloth), and unscented Baby Wipes. These are all incredibly useful for keeping your food off dirty surfaces, cleaning up yourself and any camp surfaces, and for washing your dishes. Throw in a Pot Holder or Oven Mitt– and a cloth Hand Towel, too.
Don’t forget a roll of Trash Bags. Additionally, you’ll probably want to throw in a few Plastic Sacks as well (the kind you usually bring your Groceries home in); the purpose of Trash Bags is pretty obvious: You put your trash in them. But the smaller Plastic sacks can be good for everything from putting your dirty clothes in, to carrying dirty dishes to the Water Spout. You should keep a box of Sandwich Bags, a roll of Tin Foil, and a roll of Plastic Wrap in your supply box as well.
All of the above links will direct you to Amazon Listings for similar or exact items. They are not affiliate links, and I will not make any money if you do decide to purchase these items; all the items linked here are simply examples to show you what I’m talking about.
And with that, your supply box should have all (or at least most) of the bare basic necessities in it. Of course, you will have to adjust it to fit your own camping preferences- which will likely come from a lot of trial and error, and realizing that you missed something while out in the middle of nowhere… But regardless, the basic list should be enough to get you started at the very least.