Canada’s Camping Checklist & Beginners Guide With Printable PDF


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You’re getting excited about your vacation and are ready to start checking things off that you’ll need for your outdoor adventure before you do the final pack.

Double-checking that you have everything you need for a safe, comfortable and fun time at National or Provincial parks or in the Canadian wilderness is important as many creature comforts won’t be as readily available once you’re there – especially if you’re venturing off the beaten trail.

And unlike figuring out whether or not you remembered to lock the front door, there’s no turning back to get a forgotten guitar after a 5-hour road trip. 

The following is a comprehensive checklist of items you might need on your trip. Simply click the buttons below for the simplified print-friendly version (PDF):

Or the simplified checklist in an editable Google Doc:

Then select File > Make a copy and click OK to start making your own changes.

Notice something’s missing that you think is a must-have? Let us know.

You probably won’t need every item mentioned. Some are for car camping and others are for lightweight backcountry campsites – this list is simply to get you started. 

You may find that you already have many of the items at home. If you’re on a budget, consider renting bigger items from the local outfitters or borrowing them from friends. Your supplies don’t have to be perfectly optimized on your first go – they will evolve and upgrade as you go on more trips.

Before crossing and checking things off, ask yourself:

  • What will the weather be like?
  • What amenities will be available?
  • What activities will you do?
  • What creature comforts are you not willing to live without?

Below we describe why they may come in handy and our recommendations that come from camping, hiking and canoeing in Algonquin Provincial Park, Killarney Provincial Park, and Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park, among others and on Crown land.

Contents

Reservations & documentation

  • Campsite confirmation
  • Canoe (kevlar strongly recommended if you have portages to do) or kayak confirmation 
    • Paddles 
    • Lifejackets/PFDs
    • Safety kit
    • Pump or bailer
    • Spray skirt or deck (optional)
  • Weather forecast
  • Boating license
  • Fishing permit
  • Health card/ID
  • Passport (if leaving Canada)
  • Cash/credit card

Packing

This checklist has a large number of items on it and while you might not need all of them, you’ll need convenient, versatile and durable packs and bags to hold everything you’re taking with you.

Hiking backpack

The most comfortable and secure way to haul your gear around. Leaves both your hands free to scramble up a trail, carry dry bags, or hold a canoe or kayak over your head.

Recommended: Osprey Porter 46L

This has been our reliable go-to for all of our travels over the last few years as it has enough space to hold a week’s worth of clothing for two people. The padded hip belt, adjustable padded shoulder straps, and chest strap ensure weight is evenly distributed and you feel ‘one’ with the bag. 

Unzips in a ‘U’ luggage-style so you can access anything in the main compartment without having to repack. The top and side handles are padded and make it easy to move the bag around as necessary. It is also carry-on compatible.

Recommended: MEC Coda 60L Backpack

Get a larger capacity backpack to reduce the number of dry bags you’re carrying and to maximize your carrying capacity. Enough space for our 2 person tent, dry bag full of electronics (lens, camera, power bank), rain gear and first aid kit, tarp, bug nets and hats in the top portion.

The MEC brand also has adjustable shoulder, sternum and padded hip straps and a luggage-style U-zip to access the main compartment. The 2 deep stretch mesh side pockets and very deep front mesh pocket are very handy for keeping our water bottles and rain jackets securely on hand. At almost half the cost of the name brand’s 60L, it feels just about as durable – except for the buckles and the only. The rain cover included also comes in handy and the pack is only water-resistant.

Dry bags

They are much lighter, more malleable/flexible, resistant to sudden impacts and abrasion, waterproof and easier to carry than plastic storage containers.

Recommended: Dry Vault 3 Bag Set

Made from thick but still malleable 500D PVC-coated tarpaulin to protect against tears and punctures and have strong clasps and tough stitching. Each comes with at least one shoulder strap and all 3 weigh less than 1 kg combined.

  • 1 large 20 L bag for hauling equipment such as pots and pans
  • 1 medium-sized 10 L bag for (stuff for evening sleeping bags, pads, dishes, stove)
  • 1 small 5.8 L bag or tech (bug spray, sunscreen, flashlight, map, keys, wallet)

If water is of significant concern, there is also the option of combining a dry bag and backpack into one with the MEC Raptor 30 Dry Pack.

I would not recommend the light duty Woods dry bags at Canadian Tire as our lightweight one already has a tear in it after 2 trips.

Cooler/ice/ice packs

An insulated cooler is absolutely necessary if you want to eat fresh (non-dehydrated/freeze-dried) food throughout multi-day camping trips. Coupled with ice or cold packs, it will help keep perishable food from going bad and your drinks cool and refreshing.

Don’t forget to pickup a bag of ice or two at a local gas station or grocery store!

Recommended: You can’t go wrong with a tried and true portable Coleman Excusion Cooler or the much larger Coleman 113 L Cooler for car camping, but for better insulation, sturdier construction and more features (at a premium), check out YETI coolers.

Bear-resistant bag/canister

If you’ll be in the woods in bear country, you’ll want one to hang your food and any smelly items (toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, etc.) up overnight or whenever you’ll be away from your site. It should be tied 10 to 15 feet high and at least 4 feet away from nearby trees so it’s out of reach of bears and other critters and 100 feet away from your campsite.

Recommended: Ursack Major Bear Bag and Opsaks

Food barrel and harness

If you’re hiking or canoeing without access to a vehicle with a larger group or for an extended period of time, a food barrel should be considered. They are large enough to carry all of your food (and more), waterproof and highly bear-resistant. Unlike bear bags, they can be left on the ground instead of hanging them – just be sure to place it 200 feet or more from your campsite overnight and away from any hard surfaces.

Recommended: Recreational Barrel Works Plastic Barrel and Level Six Harness

Hiking day pack

If you plan on doing any walks to day hikes while you’re camping, you won’t want to have to unpack or lug around a high-capacity backpack. You may want to consider a smaller day pack that can carry the essentials: sunscreen, bug spray, some snacks, phone, camera and bathroom supplies.

Recommended: Osprey Daylite Daypack

Apps

Maps/guides

Recommended: Call and ask the local outfitters or park information center for the most informative or accurate map for your purposes.

Natural Resources Canada’s Digital 1:50000 Topographic Maps and Database

Phone/handheld GPS

Provides the safety and peace of mind knowing you can wander off the beaten trail as you venture into and out of the woods and never be truly ‘lost’.

Recommended: 

Garmin eTrex 10 for marking landmarks and knowing what direction they are from your location. Does not have internal memory to add topographical maps.

Garmin eTrex 30x for a color screen and the ability to add up to 3.7 GB of maps including topographic.

Waterproof phone case

Protect your phone from the elements so you can use it for navigation, research and keeping in touch and not have to stow it away to keep it safe. I learned the hard way that the DEET in bug spray and a smartphone do not mix well in a dry bag.

Recommended: Mpow Universal Waterproof Case

Waterproof enough to go swimming with it and take photos underwater for hours on end.

Compass

While not as vital these days as long as you have your phone or GPS with you, it doesn’t hurt to have an analog backup available in case your power runs out.

Recommended: Coghlan’s Map Compass

Flashlight

There is a considerable trade off between power, longevity and weight. If all you need it for is to find your pajamas in your bag at night or to avoid tripping on a root on your way to use the bathroom then the Dorcy 200 Lumen Floating Waterproof Flashlight will do the trick. For hiking at night, check out the much brighter 1000 Lumen Rechargeable Handheld Spotlight.

Headlamp

Keep your hands free while navigating from your tent to the restroom in the middle of the night, gathering firewood or reading in bed at night. 

Recommended: Litom 168 Lumen IPX6 Waterproof Headlamp

Weighing only 80g and with a comfortably wide adjustable headband, you soon forget it’s on your head. The button is a bit hard to push, but it’s waterproof enough to protect against severe rain – not just light splashes which is all that most of the brighter, pricier options such as the Petzl Actik Lamp can handle.

Lantern

When you need more light than a flashlight or headlamp can provide and in 360 degrees. Great for playing cards at the table after it gets dark, hanging up on a tree to light up an entire campsite or for lighting up a 6 or 8 person tent before bed. The question comes down to what energy source you want to rely on: liquid, propane or batteries. Only batteries are safe for use inside a tent.

Recommended: 

Don’t forget extra fuel or batteries!

Trekking poles

Provide improved stability on uneven or slippery terrain, exercise your upper body and protect your joints – particularly your knees as you are going downhill – by absorbing some of the impact of each step.

Recommended: Black Diamond Trail Trek Poles

Great entry-level lightweight aluminum poles with durable carbide tips and soft rubber grips. Adjustable length allows you to extend them from 64 cm to 140 cm for customization based on height (for people who are 5 ft to 6 ft tall) and trail slope.

Power bank

If you’re not on a campsite with supplied electricity or you’ll be away for longer than your phone usually lasts, you’ll want to bring a backup source of power. This is especially important if your phone will be serving as your GPS and/or mode of communication in an emergency.

Buyer’s Guide: Best Power Banks in Canada

As noted in our guide, getting a charger with a solar panel on the side is tempting, but they are too small and inefficient to recharge it in a practical timespan. A separate portable solar panel is recommended instead.

Shelter/furniture

Camping tent

As a general rule, the stated tent size should be at least 1 more than the number of adults if you want to be comfortable and store some or all of your gear indoors. For example, a 3 person tent will comfortably fit 2 adults, their stuff, and 2 sleeping pads. It would be a tight fit for 2 adults and a small child or dog.

If you want a more luxurious experience or plan to use a double-high queen air mattress, the tent size should be 2 more than the number of adults. Matching the size to the number of adults makes for a very fit.

As with most modern tents, touching the tent from the inside may break the surface tension and create a leak.

Recommended: Coleman 3 Person Sundome Tent (car/canoe/short hikes)

Super quick to set up and has mesh windows on the top half of 2 sides and the door.  Unpacks and repacks without much hassle and few snags. It held still and didn’t take on any water during 2 blustery all-night rainfalls on an October camping trip with the aid of a tarp as a partial shield.


The fly provides an awning and has guylines on the 4 corners as well as 2 sides with handy loops on the ends that you can wrap around a rock if there isn’t enough soil to securely place a stake.

For backpacking or longer hikes into a backcountry campsite, check out the Nemo Dagger 2-Person Tent or Marmot Crane Creek Backpacking Tent.

Ground sheet

The bottom of most tents is a durable tarp-like material, but since it isn’t replaceable, some campers opt to place an additional tarp underneath it to help protect it from scrapes and punctures. If you get one that is a couple feet longer than your tent, it can also double as doormat.

Recommended: Azarxis Tent Footprint

Doormat

Tarp

Hang one over your tent, picnic table or gear stored outdoors for protection from the wind and rain and be sure to have some extra paracord or rope as well as stakes on hand.

Here is a video from Parks Canada on how to set up a tarp shelter between two trees. If trees are not available, you can also use large sticks or even hiking poles to set up a basic tarp shelter.

Recommended: 

Screened dining tent/bug shelter

Depending on the time of year, weather and proximity of your site to standing water, your experience could be anything from bug-free to a nightmarish hellscape of black flies and since you won’t know until you arrive, it’s best to be prepared.

You’re most vulnerable when you’re more still and defenseless such as while you’re eating or using the bathroom. The best way to provide reprieve is with a screened in shelter that is large enough to fit over a picnic table.

Recommended: Coleman 15 x 13 Screenhouse

Camping table

Really handy for cooking, eating, washing, and playing cards if there is no picnic table provided.

Recommended: For Living Folding Table or Coleman Compact Table

Camping chair/stool

The Rockies, Canadian Shield and the Appalachians – Canada is full of rocks which are no fun to sit on.

Recommended: Coleman Portable Camping Quad Chair

We’ve owned a couple of these for years now and they’ve been everywhere from the beaches in Outer Banks, NC to parks in Prince Edward County, ON. They’re comfortable to sit in for long periods of time, have pockets and holders so everything is at your fingertips and they’re super easy to unpack/pack away.

Clothesline

The quickest and easiest way to set up a line between two trees. Paracord/rope is cheaper and works just as well, but will take longer unless you know your knots.

Recommended: Coghlan’s Adjustable Clothesline

Extra stakes/pegs

Get some extra tent pegs for securing a tarp or dining tent or in case some of the ones that came with the tent have gone missing, which somehow seems to be inevitable.

Sleeping

Sleeping bag

It gets colder at night: single digits in the spring and fall, in the teens in summer and sub-zero in the winter and can be even worse depending on the region. A season-appropriate sleeping bag is one of the most important pieces of equipment as it surrounds you with an insulative layer to hold in your body heat and keep you cozy (but not overheated) through the night.

Recommended: 

Sleeping bag liner

For adding 10+ degrees of insulation and warmth to turn a summer sleeping bag into a spring and fall one. It is also much easier to clean or replace and will therefore help your sleeping bag last longer.

Recommended: TETON Sleeping Bag Liner

Sheets/blankets

If you’re car camping or using an air mattress, feel free to bring a sheet set or your favorite blanket to bring the comfort and familiarity of home with you.

Sleeping pad/air mattress/cot

Sleeping pads are lightweight and compact which makes them great for backpacking, while air mattresses and cots are most often used for car camping as they are more comfortable.

Recommended: Inflatable sleeping pad

Weighing only 513 g and fully inflated in 10 to 15 breaths, it provides 2.5 inches of clearance from the ground and the insulating effect made it comfortable to sleep in single digit degree nights at the beginning of October with pajamas and a summer sleeping bag. Its tapered, mummy shape allows it to fit inside most sleeping bags to increase insulation and minimize slippage. 

Takes a bit to get used to the raised areas, but noticeably more comfortable than foam pads or the ground. To deflate and repack, open the valve, fold it in half and roll it up from bottom to top.

Recommended: 

Double high mattresses keep you up to a foot and a half off the ground so you won’t wake up in the morning with your hips and shoulders touching the ground. All air mattresses sink due to temperature changes, small leaks and the stretchiness of the material.

Recommended: Coleman ComfortSmart Cot

Air pump

Inflating air mattresses, water toys and floats. Some can reverse the air flow to quickly deflate all the air to make packing up a breeze. If your air mattress didn’t come with one or if you need one that relies on a different power source:

Recommended:

Pillow

You only need to sleep in a tent without a pillow once to learn that rolling up a bunch of clothing is no substitute and that a pillow is not optional. Bed pillows take up a lot of space so unless you’re car camping, you’ll want to find a smaller and lighter alternative.

Recommended: Trekology Inflatable Camping Pillow

Camping hammock

Kick back, hangout or sleep above the cold, hard ground. Tarps and bug nets are typically sold separately and are highly recommended if you’re going to be sleeping in one overnight. Even with those, you may want an additional larger tarp over top to keep you and your gear dry. In cooler weather, you may need to place a sleeping pad or blanket under your sleeping bag to keep your back warm.

Recommended: 

Clothing & footwear

Before packing everything in the car and heading out, check the weather forecast for where you’re headed and consider what kinds of activities you’ll want to do once you’re there. 

Wind, rain, cold and exertion levels all factor into what type of outerwear you’ll need. It can get colder than expected if you’re near water or at higher elevations – especially in the spring and fall so remember to pack layers. 

Other than that, bring comfortable clothes that you enjoy wearing and match the temperature and level of protection you need. Camping is not about dressing to impress.

For warmer weather, wetter conditions or higher levels of activity, flexible, breathable and quick-drying materials and blends including wool, nylon, spandex and polyester are recommended as they will keep you dry and comfortable. Cottons easily absorb moisture (sweat, rain and humidity), but slow to dry which leaves them poor at insulating and heavier.

Clothing treated with permethrin (a synthetic insect repellent effective against mosquitos and ticks) was approved for use by people over the age of 16 in Canada in early 2018 even though it had been in use by the Canadian military since the 1980s

Glasses/contacts

Bathing suit

An absolute necessity if there is a lake, river, ocean or pool nearby to cool off in.

Buff/bandana

I didn’t know what a buff was until recently, but now I don’t go camping without one. There are at least 12 ways to wear one – including as a headband to keep your ears warm, keep the wind from blowing your hair into your eyes and wick sweat away from your forehead or as a hat to block 90% of UV rays. 

If it’s hot out, dunk the buff in the lake before wearing it to cool off. I’m told I look like a pirate when wearing one – which I definitely take as a compliment.

Recommended: Unisex Buff

Hat

A baseball cap is great, but for long days at the beach or in the canoe, you’ll want maximum UV protection including your ears and neck. A sun hat has a wide brim all the way around, breathability, water repellency, and floatability.

Recommended: 

For cold weather, grab a wool or merino wool (softer, lighter and quicker drying, but less durable) toque from Roots, Parkhurst (Canadian made) or Carhartt Men’s Acrylic Watch Hat made of 100% acrylic.

Bug nets

Particularly useful while you’re portaging through the woods with a canoe over your head or hands full of equipment and can’t swat at mosquitos that land on your face, neck and ears. Can also provide some protection and reprieve for kids while camping in buggy areas.

Recommended: 

Short-sleeved shirts (t-shirts/tanks)

T-shirts, tanks, crop tops, tube tops – any summer shirts will work for hot, sunny days.

Long-sleeved shirts (sweaters/sweatshirts)

For sun and bug protection during the day and added warmth in the evenings, pack a couple sweaters, hoodies, ponchos or sweatshirts.

For greater mobility, breathability, quicker drying, water repellency or for added bug protection, check out these hiking shirts:

Recommended: 

Jacket/vest 

For cooler mornings, evenings and seasons you’ll want to have your fall jacket or winter coat on hand.

For greater mobility, breathability, quicker drying, water repellency or for added bug protection, check out these hiking jackets:

Recommended:

  • Eddie Bauer CirrusLite Down Jacket (men / women)
  • Patagonia Puff Jacket (men / women)
  • WindRiver Tick and Mosquito Repellent Jacket (men / women)

Rain jacket

If the forecast is calling for rain, you’ll want an outer shell that’s lightweight, waterproof but still breathable. A hood, zippered pockets and adjustability at the hood, wrists and waist will keep you dry and warm. Bonus points if it can be packed down into one of its own pockets for storage.

Recommended: 

Pants (jeans/leggings/cargo)

Leggings, cargo, capris and sweats will all work well around the campground.

Jeans are great – especially at night around the campfire as they’re warmer, more fire resistant and seemingly more bug proof, but they are restrictive and can feel damp even after they’ve spent a couple days packed in a bag stored on the ground. 

For greater mobility, breathability, quicker drying, water repellency or for added bug protection, check out these hiking pants:

Recommended: 

Shorts

Athletic, cut-offs, cargo, board and gym shorts all work around the campground on hot, sunny days.

For greater mobility, breathability, quicker drying and water repellency, check out these hiking shorts:

Recommended: 

Pajamas

Whether it’s sweatpants, a t-shirt and pants or long underwear, keep a set of your favorite sleeping clothes separate and dry dedicated to wearing overnight.

Long underwear/base layer

Layering starts with the base layer. For cooler mornings, evenings and seasons you’ll want to have some long underwear on hand.

For greater mobility, breathability, quicker drying and water repellency, check out these hiking base layers:

Recommended:

  • Smartwool Merino 250 Baselayer Top (men / women)
  • Smartwool Merino 250 Baselayer Bottoms (men / women)

Socks/extra socks

Bring extra – you won’t regret it. There’s nothing like putting on a pair of fresh, dry socks after swimming or before going to bed.

For greater mobility, breathability, quicker drying and water repellency, check out these hiking socks:

Recommended: 

Buyer’s Guide: Best Winter Socks in Canada

Underwear

Your favorite everyday underwear will work well around the campground.

For greater mobility, breathability, quicker drying, water repellency or for added bug protection, check out these underwear:

Recommended: 

Buyer’s Guide: Best Men’s Underwear in Canada

Shoes

You’ll typically want to bring 2 pairs of footwear: 

  1. One that provides more ankle support, impact absorption, traction and durability for walks, hikes and portages. Think: running shoes, trail/hiking shoes or boots. 
  2. The other should be easy to get in and out of, lightweight and waterproof for around the campsite, quick trips from the tent to the bathroom and time on the beach or in the water. Think: flip flops, sandals, water shoes or rubber boots.

Hiking shoes/boots

The type of footwear should be suited to the terrain. For wet conditions, look for waterproofing technologies such as GORE-TEX, eVent or OutDry. If you need more ankle support and stability for rockier, muddier terrain, longer hikes or or carrying heavy loads, consider getting hiking boots over shoes.

Recommended: 

Sandals/flip flops

Rain boots

Easily slip on and off and 100% waterproof for traversing muddy campgrounds, wading through streams or launching or docking a canoe or kayak.

Recommended:

Water socks/shoes

Ideal for swimming at rocky or murky beaches, protecting against cuts and scrapes from wood and zebra mussels, crossing muddy portages and hopping in and out of canoes. 

Recommended: 

Gloves/mittens

Paddling gloves

If you’ll be canoeing or kayaking for long periods of time or in wet or cold conditions, these will help keep your hands warm and provide protection from developing blisters and calluses.

Recommended: MEC H2O Neoprene Paddling Gloves

Personal health & hygiene

Toothpaste

Toothbrush

Dental floss

Deodorant

Soap

Shampoo

Portable shower

After camping for a couple of days, the gradual buildup of dirt, sand, sweat and smells will make you want to have a shower and unless they are provided by the campground, you’ll need another solution. A dip in the lake with some biodegradable soap will usually do the trick, but isn’t practical unless you have private water access and the water is warm enough.

Recommended: Coghlan’s Solar Camp Shower

Fill the black bag up with up to 19 litres of water and hang it up in a sunny spot. After 3 hours, you’ll have 40 °C water for washing and bathing. 

Wet wipes also work well in a pinch if the water available is too cold or murky.

Wet wipes

Hand sanitizer

Razor/shaving cream

Hairbrush/comb/hair ties

Nail clippers

Thermometer

Menstrual cup/pads

First aid kit

Should include:

  • Tensor bandages
  • Adhesive bandages
  • Gauze pads
  • Band-aids
  • Alcohol wipes
  • Cotton swabs (q-tips)
  • Hot/cold compress
  • Medical tape
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Whistle
  • Emergency blanket

Recommended: True North First Aid Kit

Medication & ointments

  • Prescription medications
  • EpiPens or inhalers
  • Antihistamine for allergy relief
  • Ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain relief
  • Antacids/Pepto-Bismol for diarrhea/upset stomach relief
  • Laxative for constipation relief
  • Hydrogen peroxide or alcohol wipes for antiseptic
  • Calamine lotion for insect bites and poison ivy
  • 1% hydrocortisone cream for dry, itchy skin
  • Ointment for burns (aloe gel)
  • Antibiotic ointment for faster healing and infection protection (Polysporin)
  • Health Card

Earplugs

You may be surprised by how noisy it can be outdoors at night – especially at dusk when you’re trying to fall asleep. Nocturnal animals such as owls hooting, loon calls, frogs/toads croaking and raccoons scavenging for an easy meal (often mistaken for bears) as well as wind rustling tree branches and patter of rain landing on leaves, a tarp, or tent can make for quite the cacophony of unfamiliar and sometimes unidentifiable sounds.

Recommended: Mack’s Slim Fit Earplugs

Sunscreen

An effective sunscreen should be SPF 30 or higher, have protection against UVA and UVB (“broad-spectrum”) and some water resistance. 

The many active ingredients used in sunscreen are currently being studied by the FDA after they found that active ingredients avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate and octinoxate enter the bloodstream even after a single application and can remain in the body for extended periods of time.

Using sunscreen is still beneficial and recommended by the FDA as it helps prevent skin cancer. However, clothing, sunglasses, hats and shade should also be used to provide supplemental protection.

Physical sunscreens (“sunblock”) with the active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are generally recognized as safe and effective by the FDA and that Health Canada has generally followed their lead.

Recommended: Neutrogena SPF 50 Sheer Zinc Mineral Sunscreen Lotion or Aveeno SPF 50 Baby Mineral Sunscreen Lotion

Sunglasses

When you’re outside all day for multiple days in a row, the sun’s UV rays can take their toll – causing pain, headaches, redness, fatigue and possibly even photokeratitis (sunburn of the cornea) if your eyes are not protected. Even on overcast days, you might not be able to see the sun, but most of the UV rays are still getting through.

Recommended: Colored Polarized Sunglasses for Men and Women

Insect repellent

According to Algonquin Provincial Park’s website, black flies are around from late May to early July in the daytime, mosquitoes are out from mid May to August and most active at dusk and dawn, deer and horse flies from late June to late August and stable flies in July and August.

DEET-based repellents are some of the most effective – including against ticks, but be careful as it can eat through certain rubbers and plastics (my phone learned that the hard way and never fully recovered) and the concentration used should be limited for children 12 years or younger as advised by Health Canada. The maximum concentration allowed in bug repellents in Canada is 30%.

Recommended: OFF Deep Woods (25% DEET)

Bear spray/horn/bell

When in bear country you should be prepared to encounter one at any time and there are a few ways to prevent surprise encounters and ward them off. Bells give off a consistent sound not found in nature while you’re on the move so bears will hear you coming. 

Loud noise makers such as air horns are best used when a bear has approached but is still at a distance, but may not work if the bear has previous experience with them.

Bear spray is 1% capsaicin (pepper spray) that is best used when the bear is at close range and continuing to approach and while effective, will not cause permanent damage.

Recommended: 

Quick-dry towel

When in the great outdoors the inconsistent sun and wind mean a regular towel can take up a long time to dry and having to try to dry yourself off with a cold, damp towel that didn’t dry completely is no fun. They also take a lot of space. A microfibre towel will dry much quicker and is more portable.

Recommended: Sunland Microfiber Ultra Compact & Fast Drying Travel

Soft to the touch, compact and only 91 g. The strap and clasp on one corner allows you to quickly secure it to a clothesline, tree branch or backpack to dry. Dries in half an hour in the sun on a clothesline. While it won’t dry you off completely, it is surprisingly absorbent for its size and can remove all the excess water off after getting out of the lake.

Moisturizer/lip balm

Dry weather, sun and repeated wetting and drying will quickly dry out your skin, leaving it itchy, peely and cracks start to form. A skin moisturizer should do the trick or Vaseline for more severe cases.

Buyer’s Guides: Best Lip Balms in Canada and Best Face Moisturizers in Canada

Small mirror

You won’t be able to see your own face while in the wilderness unless you find a still body of water. For some, not having to worry about what they look like can be a relaxing, freeing experience, but for others who want to apply makeup, sunscreen or shave – a shatterproof mirror is vital.

Recommended: Coghlan’s Camping Mirror 

Small shovel/trowel

A trowel is a must-have if you’re hiking or camping away from outhouses, privys and thunderboxes. Dig a cathole 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails, do your business, and cover it when you’re done. 

Recommended: Coghlan’s Backpackers Trowel

Weighing only 45.4g and only a few dollars it is the perfect lightweight solution that can easily be clipped to a bathroom bag or drybag using a carabiner. I’ve found it strong enough to dig through dirt and small roots which is more than enough in most areas.

Facial tissues

Toilet paper

Biodegradable bags

Cooking

Camping stove

The type of camping will determine the size and weight of the stove you can practically bring. From a burner that fits in your pocket and attaches directly to the top of the fuel canister to a table top multi-burner. 

The number of burners needed depends on how many people you need to feed and how complicated the meals are. 1 burner is typically sufficient for a 1 pot meal to feed 2 to 4 people. 2 burners allows you to make coffee and breakfast or veggies and rice at the same time. 

From there, all that is left to decide is the type of fuel to use (see below). 

Recommended: 

Fuel 

Dedicated fuel canisters are important if you need consistent, high heat to cook your food or boil water and do not want to rely on strong campfires to do the job.

The biggest difference between isobutane and propane fuels is their boiling point. In freezing temperatures, propane will continue to vaporize as it leaves the canister and will continue to operate as expected. However, in sub-zero temperatures isobutane canisters will not work as the fuel remains as a liquid inside.

FuelPropaneIsobutaneButane
Boiling point-42°C-11.7°C-1°C
UseTwo-burner stovesCanister & integrated stovesSingle burner stove
Energy/Weight (MJ/kg)49.5845.5947.39
Energy/Volume (MJ/m3)95.8110.4111.4
Energy Content (MJ/L)25.32527.5
PriceHighestMiddleLowest

Without a digital scale, it can be difficult to determine how much fuel is left in a canister, but can be done by seeing how they float in water. It is much easier with liquid fuel.

Unfortunately, almost all canisters are single-use and must be disposed of at a hazardous waste depot or campground drop-off due to their explosive potential (list of facilities by province). Refilling them using an adapter may seem like a “green” approach, but it is dangerous and illegal in many provinces including Alberta, Ontario and BC.

Recommended: 

Firewood/charcoal

Check local restrictions to see if there is a campfire ban in effect. If there is, you may be able to use charcoal, but will otherwise have to rely on a camping stove. If not, follow the local and campground rules based on the risk level:

Don’t move firewood: In general, we recommend that wood is purchased locally to avoid introducing invasive species, insects or diseases that could be harmful to the local ecosystem. Unused firewood should be left behind at the site for the next for the next campers – a nice way to pay it forward.

For backcountry campfires (if permitted), follow Leave No Trace principles by foraging and gathering only downed dead wood which is less than the diameter of an adult wrist. Damaging a living tree is illegal and unnecessary as “green” wood doesn’t burn well.

Lighter/matches/fire starter

A lighter or matches are essential for starting a fire for warmth, light or to ignite a gas stove – even one that has a built-in ignition button in case it fails. A flint striker is a lightweight, waterproof and very long-lasting solution but needs dry, quality tinder.

Recommended: 

Having some form of fire-starter that is waterproof or in a sealed bag is recommended if you’ll be traveling in wetter, colder and/or windier weather as a precautionary measure against hypothermia. It is also essential if you plan to rely on campfires for cooking in case rain renders all available tinder incombustible. An old newspaper works great, as does birch bark.

Recommended: Waterproof fire starter sticks

Campfire grill grate

Some campsites (even in the backcountry) come with a grill, but many others do not and you won’t know until you get there. Cooking your food on a rack is much safer, convenient and easier to flip and position it compared to balancing a flat or nestling a tin foil package in the coals so you can cook your food “just right”. It should be stainless steel (not iron) so that it doesn’t rust, sturdy enough that your food doesn’t slide into the fire and the level of portability you need.

Recommended: 

Griddle

Cook up a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancakes, french toast and hashbrowns or a lunch of grilled cheese, quesadillas or smash burgers. They’re easier to clean than a grill, but since most are cast iron, they will rust if you do not look after them. Due to their weight, they are only recommended for car camping.

Recommended: Lodge Reversible Griddle

Pots and pans with lids

Recommended: 

Dutch oven

Can opener/bottle opener/corkscrew

Cutting board

Grater

Strainer

Camp stove toaster

For many, toast is an essential part of a hearty camping breakfast along with bacon, eggs, and baked beans. 

Recommended: Coghlan’s Camp Stove Toaster

You’ll notice Coghlan’s products recommended a number of times on this list and this toaster is their original product and hasn’t changed much since it was introduced in 1959. However, for whatever reason the base is still not rust-proof.

Cooking utensils

  • Serving spoon
  • Spatula
  • Sharp knife
  • Tongs
  • Skewers
  • Potato peeler

Tableware/mess kit

You’ll want 1 of each of these per person:

  • Plate
  • Bowl
  • Cup/Mug
  • Utensils (Knife, Fork, Spoon or Spork)

Alternatively, you may opt for biodegradable paper plates and bowls.

Recommended: Woods Bamboo Tableware Set

Tablecloth/pins/clips

Napkins/paper towel

Cooking oil

Condiments

Spices

  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sugar

Egg holder

Prevent eggs from being crushed while packing or in transit and avoid having to deal with a soggy carton while they are safely packed away at the bottom of the cooler to keep them fresh.

Recommended: Coghlan’s Egg Holder

Coffee press/coffee maker

Instant coffee is quick, light and easy, but for many campers, it simply isn’t good enough.

Recommended: Aerobie AeroPress Coffee Maker

Weighing only 377g, super portable, and more durable than a french press, it makes a cup of coffee with lower acidity and minimal bitterness in 1 to 2 minutes (once you have hot water) and is very easy to clean afterward.

Kettle

Campfire roasting sticks

Don’t want to bother whittling your own marshmallow stick or can’t find a sturdy enough stick on the ground? Get a dedicated roasting stick for cooking hot dogs, shish kabobs and marshmallows over the fire.

Recommended: Frank’s Campfire Sticks

Canadian owned and made in Canada, the long, sturdy metal keeps you at a safe distance from the fire and gives you full control over angle and proximity to the fire. Holds up to endless rounds of smores.

Pie iron

There’s something special about being able to craft a crispy and melty grilled cheese or other toasted sandwich over a fire while out in the woods. 

Recommended: Rome Industries Inc 1705 Square Pie Iron

Biodegradable dish soap

A small, light container of concentrated soap that will biodegrade and only takes a few drops to clean dishes, hands, face, hair or clothing. While the ingredients will eventually biodegrade, are “all-natural” and less harmful than conventional brands, that doesn’t mean they are good for the environment

As per the instructions, wash at least 200 feet away from the lake and pour the “grey water” into a cathole. The dirt acts as a filter and will accelerate biodegradation.

Recommended: Sierra Dawn Campsuds

Dish cloth/sponge/scrub pad

It’s harder to regulate cooking temperatures outdoors, so be prepared to do a lot of scrubbing to remove burnt-on food from pots and pans and black soot from the outside if cooking over a campfire.

Recommended: Scotch-Brite 228 Heavy Duty Scour Pad

Dish pan or plastic bin

As previously mentioned, washing dishes in the lake is not recommended as soap is bad for the environment. Use a container as a sink and dump the “grey water” into soil when you’re done. You’ll also use less water this way. Warm up some water on the stove or over the fire for easier cleaning.

Recommended: 

Drying rack

Dish towels

Another quick-drying microfiber towel works really well here.

Utility

Life jackets (PFDs)

The most important factors to consider are:

  1. Fit based on chest size to ensure a snug but comfortable fit with no ride-up
  2. For kids and young adults, weight rating.
  3. Buoyancy rating to ensure it can keep your head and chin well above water based on your weight.
  4. Approval by one of the following: Transport Canada, Canadian Coast Guard or Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

How much buoyancy do I need?

To calculate your weight in water:

The human body is approximately 60% water, which will not weigh you down in water. 

A typical human body has 15% body fat, which is less dense than water and will float. 

60% + 15% = 75% – the life jacket only needs to support the remaining 25% and only the head needs to be kept above water, so most adults only need an extra 7 to 12 lbs of buoyancy to stay afloat.

Recommended:

PFDForBuoyancy (lbs)
Fluid Adult 3-BuckleAdults > 90 lbs.17.09
Universal Three-BeltAdolescent17.09
Body Glove Child Nylon60 to 90 lbs.9.46
Body Glove Child Nylon30 to 60 lbs.9.46
Body Glove Infant Nylon20 to 30 lbs.9.46
Outbound Paddling VestPaddling > 90 lbs.17.09
Universal KeyholeSpare/emergency17.09

There are no approved flotation devices in Canada for children weighing 20 lbs. and under. Transport Canada recommends that you wait until your child reaches 20 lbs. before you go boating with them.

Carabiners

A strong, light and spacious clip with a safety gate that is handy for securely clipping a trowel to a bathroom bag, a sleeping bag, dry bag or water bottle to a backpack, or on the end of a rope. A pack of them can be cheap as long as they are not rated for rock climbing or rappelling.

Paracord/rope/twine

Making a clothesline between two trees, securing a tarp and hanging a bear bag are just a few of the many uses for a length of rope every time you set up camp.

Recommended: Paracord Planet Mil-Spec Commercial Grade 550lb Type III

Made in the US.

Bungee cords

Useful for tying down and securing equipment in or on your vehicle such as in the bed of a truck, keeping sleeping bags and mattress pads rolled up or hanging a tarp.

Garbage bags

Pack it in, pack it out. Have a garbage bag handy at all times so that all waste is collected and brought to the appropriate disposal site. Inspect your campsite before leaving for trash or spilled foods and Leave No Trace.

Aluminum foil

Great for wrapping up potatoes, burritos, meat and veggies and placing them over a fire or nestled next to the coals without getting smoke and ash all over them. Or for providing a layer of separation between your food and a dirty, rusty campsite grill.

Duct tape

The handyman’s secret weapon. Bring a roll to repair rips, tears and separations of air mattresses, tents, rain jackets, shoes, water bottles, etc. It can also reseal foods and provide make-shift first aid by covering cuts and blisters.

Sewing kit (needle & thread)

Zip lock bags

Clear plastic storage containers

Utility/pocket knife

Cut rope or paracord, whittle sticks for marshmallows, open cans and bottles.

Recommended: 

Multi-tool

For when you need to do more than cut a thing or two. Often also has screwdrivers, pliers, saw, file, ruler, can/bottle opener as well as larger and more durable knives. The only thing most are missing is a flint striker.

Recommended: Leatherman Sidekick Multi-Tool or Leatherman Wave+

Safety pins/Clothes pins

Mallet/hammer

A rubber mallet is the most comfortable way to drive tent pegs into the ground, but as outlined in this hilariously in-depth side-by-side comparison, a rock found nearby is the easier, lighter and cheaper option – so if you can, save yourself from carrying the additional 544 g.

Axe/hatchet/saw

For when you need to cut or chop something a bit larger. Great for splitting firewood and cutting it down to manageable sized fuel and chopping small branches from dead trees for kindling.

Recommended: Husqvarna 13 in. Wooden Handle Hatchet

Folding saws such as the Corona Razor Tooth are a lighter, more portable and probably safer alternative. While it can’t split wood, it’ll make quick work of 5 to 6 inch branches.

Outdoor extension cords

If you’re car camping on a site that has access to electricity, the outlet may not be near where you want to park your camper or set up your tent so you may want to have an outdoor extension cord on hand and a multi-outlet strip so you have enough for your devices.

Dustpan and broom

For brushing dirt and debris out of the tent, car, off chairs and picnic tables.

Recommended: OXO Dustpan and Brush Set

Whistle

A safety whistle is used to alert others to danger, call for aid, and doubles as a “bear banger”.

Recommended: Fox 40 Classic Whistle

Water

Water bottles

The easiest way to keep water on-hand at all times and a necessity if you do not have convenient access to potable water.

Recommended: Hydro Flask (stainless steel) Nalgene Wide Mouth (BPA-free plastic)

Thermos

Water jug/bucket

Water purification tablets

Fill up a water bottle from a source of clear, moving water such as a lake or river and drop a tablet in to purify and make it drinkable. Perfect if you don’t have access to potable water and you’re on the move and don’t want to stop to boil water or fiddle with a filtration system.

Recommended: Aquatabs Water Purification Tablets

The active ingredient Sodium Dichloroisocyanurate (NaDCC) kills bacteria and viruses for 1 L of water after 30 minutes to prevent cholera, typhoid, dysentery, salmonella, hepatitis A & E and other water borne diseases. 20 L tablets are also available.

Water filtration system

Once you’re off the grid it becomes clear just how important water is and how much we use for drinking, brushing teeth, cooking and washing. A filtration system physically removes harmful microorganisms from the water within minutes. Perfect if you are camping with a group or are maintaining a high level of activity and need larger quantities of water.

Recommended: Platypus GravityWorks Filter System

Fill the bag from a source of clear, moving water, hang it on a tree and forget about it. It uses gravity (no pumping required) to move water through the filter removing 99.9999% of bacteria and 99.9% of protozoa, including giardia, cryptosporidium, E. coli, salmonella, cholera from 4 L of water in 2.5 minutes and fills another bag. Meets all EPA/NSF guidelines and is made in the US.

Outdoor fun & activities

Camera

Recommended: Sony a6000 Mirrorless Camera

A solid, lightweight (DSLR are heavier) and compact entry-level mirrorless camera that takes great pictures on the automatic mode. It is really good at shooting action (11 frames per second) and the landscape photos it produces out are stunning. The hybrid autofocus system shows you exactly what parts of the shot will be most in focus. 

Camera case

Protect your camera, lenses and other sensitive equipment such as drones, tablets and laptops from the elements with a hard body, waterproof case.

Recommended: Nanuk 910 Waterproof Hard Case (Made in Canada)

Made in Canada and the case comes with a lifetime warranty. Waterproof rated down 1 m for 30 minutes. The top layer of foam is pre-cut top to bottom and across into cubed rows and columns so all you have to do is measure your equipment and cut them down to fit it. This model is large enough for a DSLR and 1 or 2 lenses.

Tripod

Great for taking photos of yourself or a whole group without a selfie stick or trying to find a rock, tree branch or other makeshift support. Take time lapse videos of campsite setup, hike progress or time at the beach.

Recommended: JOBY GorillaPod 500

Camera batteries and charger

backup to the original batteries I brought it with me on vacation and the ability to charge batteries via battery pack was indispensable. I would leave it to charge in my backpack while hiking and never worried about running out of juice. It’s lightweight and isn’t bulky.

Recommended: RAVPower Battery Charger for Sony

Batteries

It never hurts to have a couple of extra AA and AAA batteries on hand to power headlamps, flashlights, lanterns, toys, etc. Don’t forget extra camera batteries as well.

Memory cards

Just like for batteries, it doesn’t hurt to have an extra memory card on hand in case you end up taking a lot of photos and video.

Recommended: SanDisk 64GB Extreme Pro

Fishing rod, tackle and license

Don’t forget to pick up some live worms at a nearby gas station or grocery store!

Bikes/helmets/lights/locks

Biking around the campground and exploring the connecting footpaths is one of my fondest memories of camping as a kid. We would race down hills, hit “sick jumps” and collect any firewood left behind on vacated campsites.

Binoculars

Great for spotting boats, scouting out new areas, and watching wildlife including birds, deer and chipmunks. The first number is the magnification power (8 to 10 for wildlife) and the second is the size of the lenses on the end closest to the object you’re viewing, giving you an idea of the physical size of the binoculars (28mm to 42mm).

Recommended: 

Beach umbrella/tent

A beach umbrella is great for a short visit to the beach on a still, dry day, but if you plan to stay a while, a tent can provide cover for more people and their stuff. Protection from UV rays, light rain and from being literally sandblasted during a windy day at the beach. Some also have zippered doors so you can use them as a changing room.

Recommended:

Sports equipment

Games (dice, deck of cards, etc.)

Books

Portable speaker

Stream music from your phone while hiking or around the campfire. Be respectful of fellow campers by learning and following noise rules, keeping volume at a reasonable level and ensuring you’re not in a “radio-free” zone of the campground.

Recommended: Anker Soundcore Bluetooth Speaker

Compact and light, it has a surprisingly powerful sound and can play music for up to 24 hours before needing to be recharged.

Guitar/instrument

If you can play the guitar, you had better bring it. Your fellow travellers will appreciate any rendition of You Are My Sunshine, Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree, She’ll be Comin’ Around the Mountain, Edelweiss, Sweet Caroline, or Take Me Home, Country Roads that they can sing along to.

AM/FM radio

Portable and battery powered with backup hand crank and/or solar charging in case of an emergency or power outage. Get weather updates and emergency alerts or simply listen to the ball game while away from TV and the internet (unplugging is one of the major benefits of camping). Again, please learn and respect the local noise rules.

Recommended: Sangean AM/FM Radio

Camping with a baby

  • Clothes (one to two outfits per day, plus cotton onesies)
  • Portable high chair
  • Bottles
  • Baby food/formula
  • Bibs
  • Baby wipes
  • Diapers
  • Diaper rash cream
  • Playpen
  • Baby carrier
  • Stroller
  • Bouncy chair
  • Baby bath and lotion
  • Blankets
  • Cot sheets
  • Baby monitor

Camping with kids

Camping with pets

  • Food
  • Treats
  • Leash
  • Poop and scoop bags
  • Tent
  • Bed
  • Toys
  • Lifejacket
  • Medications
  • Sweater/coat

Food ideas

Drinks

  • Instant coffee
  • Creamer
  • Apple cider
  • Hot chocolate
  • Tea bags
  • Juice
  • Milk
  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Liquor

Breakfast

  • Oatmeal
  • Dried fruit

Lunch

  • Jerky
  • Hummus
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Snap peas
  • Fruit bars

Dinner

  • Freeze-dried food
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Pasta
  • Rice

Smores

  • Marshmallows
  • Graham crackers
  • Chocolate

Fresh off the Grid has the best collection of car camping and backpacking recipes that you can sort by meal type, cooking method and dietary preferences.

Before you go

  • Empty garbage/recycling
  • Thermostat for air conditioning turned up (cause you’re not home)
  • Change oil
  • Fill gas
  • Sandwiches/snacks/beverages for travelling
  • Water plants
  • Arrange for pet/house sitting

Over to you

What is your favorite piece of camping gear? Let us know in the comments below!

Did we miss something that you think is a must-have? Let us know.

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