11 Steps to The Complete and Ultimate Camping Trip

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1. Roll top camp table
2. 12-gallon tote (cooking gear)
3. 12-gallon tote (utensils, plates, bowls, cups, etc.)
4. Duffel bag for children's clothes

Behind 1-4: one more 12-gal tote (various camping gear), 2 Storm Cases with clothes

5. Dirty shoes
6. Pink bunny sleeping bag, muy importante
7. Sand castle tools, frisbees
8. Small camp table (Home made!)
9. 12-gallon tote with dry food
10. The fridge (Yes, a fridge)
11. Camp chairs

Like it always goes, my wife and I spent over an hour packing things up after spending a few nights on the beach outside of Puerto Peñasco. But this time, we had it all dialed in, amazingly with space to spare. And time. We hopped up on the tailgate, I draped an arm around my wife, pulled her close, she dropped her head on my shoulder and together we waited for our friends to finish up. (On the battleground of packing up, it's every family for themselves . . .) I'm 36 years old, been packing the back of Jeeps and trucks and barely-running compact cars with cracked windshields for this kind of thing since I was, oh, 19 and I don't think I've ever managed the prodigious I-got-space-to-spare feat. Holla.

"Hell of a pack job, Mark."
I flattered myself.

Once everyone was ready, we drove the beach for miles back to civilization, me in my happy zone because the windows were down, the sun was shining across a sapphire sky, the ocean on the right, dunes on the left. We had the music up, we'd be eating one last round of genuine fish tacos for lunch, and even my daughter giggled in the backseat at our 40-mph slides and bumps on the sand. I could have stayed forever. But otherwise the trip was over. We pulled off the beach, followed a short dirt road to Mex 3 the paved highway, and stopped to add air to the tires. While waiting for the compressor to fill the tires back to 35 psi, I opened the gate to fish out some snacks and juice, then stopped. "Hell of a pack job, Mark." I flattered myself.

In a chilling moment of enlightenment I decided I needed to shoot a photo. Not because of pride — okay, not 100% because of pride — no, I had a hard-boiled fact. I needed a map for future pack jobs. I knew I'd never be able to conjure and replicate this ultimate set up without a visual aid.

Then, last week, Lindsey at OutsideMom.com posted her ultimate guide to packing for a camping trip (linky-doo) which absolutely resonated with me. I love checklists, live by them. We've come close to posting our own camping checklist for others to print and use. Time and again, I visit the idea then I usually decide it's a little idiosyncratic or nuanced to our own junk and packing system. On the other hand, ours is also two sided, the backside is a menu list where we plan meals and create a grocery list. So, sure, maybe it'd be useful to some.

But most of our gear is stowed in heavy duty 12-gallon totes, making the act of ticking things off of the checklist pretty snappy. Loading the truck is a relatively quick process because the cooking gear is packed, the flashlights and utensils are packed, and so on: just toss in the totes, strap 'em down, and hit the road, more or less. What a camping checklist can't do for us is tell us where all the gear is and how the hell it's all going to fit. That's where this photo comes in. So, what was supposed to be a private picture I'm now turning public.

Yeah, that's four 12-gallon totes. Like I said, I'm 36 and have been doing this stuff for awhile. Read: I've burned through dozens of really crappy systems that I thought were awesome at one time, only to learn better through the consequences of broken gear, lost gear, lost time, and lost money. The totes are simple $9 boxes from Home Depot, believe it or not. You'd think my days with writing for Overland Journal would have me leaning toward the finest carbon fiber, self-levitating über cases money could buy, but not on this front.

Here's the skinny. Reinforced bottoms of these 9-dollar beauties suggest they'll last a while. The hinged lids means they won't blow away in the wind, nor will they smash my fingers. Their medium-ish size is, so far, just right. Believe me, I once tried keeping everything in one huge, colossal plastic bin. At 23 years old, I thought that was brilliant and badass. While that's the easiest for packing and going, it's the worst for trying to find something like a spoon or a headlamp or a match.

Thanks to Lindsey for the inspiration.

So, you want a cool camping checklist? Try these:

OutsideMom.com: Ultimate guide to packing for a camping trip camping

Adventuroo.com: Really Useful Camping Checklist (PDF)

Snazzy packing totes: Check 'em out


+4 / 0
# OurBoler 2012-04-17 16:14
Great post! I do believe there is an art in packing the car, and a pride when done well.
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+2 / 0
# Aaron 2012-04-17 17:15
Looks great! Very organized! As a total rookie when it comes to camping...I'd like to see that list and meal planning tool. I hope to make the expo next month but not sure what to see when I'm there. I got a lot to learn.
On a different note...How was Puerto? Were you south or west of RP for your camping trip?
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Mark Stephens
0 / 0
# Mark Stephens 2012-04-18 08:49
West of Puerto, maybe halfway to El Gulfo. The highway goes all the way now, but the beaches are still barren.
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# Guest 2012-04-18 08:50
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