The shakedown approach to camping prep

The shakedown approach to camping prep

It’s something we do far too often. Hours from home, we arrive at our secluded campsite only to discover we’ve forgotten something important. It’s more than an inconvenience, it’s often uncomfortable.

Forget the fuel for the stove and you’ll be relegated to cold Tuna or PB&J sandwiches. Forget something more important like the tent stakes or your sleeping bags, and your camping trip might be over before it starts.

So how do you know what you’re missing?

This weekend we spent a night in beautiful southern Houston County, Minn., at a campsite in the Reno Recreation Area to answer that question.

This was more than a camping trip, it was an opportunity to shake down our supplies and figure out what we were missing before we headed off on longer more remote trips later this summer.

The shake down approach

One of my favorite ways of figuring out what we’re missing from our camping kit is to use what I call the shake down approach.

The shake down approach is pretty simple in principal.  Pack everything you think you’ll need for a weekend camping trip. Just one or two nights is more than enough.

Once you’re at the campsite, start taking notes of everything that you needed, wish you had or was missing from your kit.

This way, if you end up forgetting the sleeping mats, you’ll only have one or two nights of discomfort and a lasting memory of the consequences of forgetting essential equipment. My sore back hasn’t let me forget this mistake yet.

I also like to take note of all the equipment that we didn’t end up using and why. It’s pretty easy to fill your trunk with cool camping equipment you may never use because it is only useful during certain times of the year or in certain situations.

So what did we forget?

  • New sleeping pads (our old ones were retired last year after we discovered they were no longer holding air.)
  • Pillows
  • Camp chairs
  • Salt, pepper and other seasonings (for some reason these never made it into our camp pantry.)


Forgetting these items didn’t ruin our camping experience, but it forced us to get a little creative. The cooler became a camp chair and our clothing bags became pillows. I made a short trip to a local convenience store to pick up some salt and pepper and well our backs suffered some overnight.

Make lists and save them for later

Just like you’d make a shopping list before leaving for the market, it’s a good idea to make a packing list before heading off to the campsite.

If you make a digital list in an app like Evernote or Microsoft Word you can print off your packing list every time you want to go camping. This way you won’t forget to put something essential on the list because you’re in a rush to get out the door.

I hate to admit this, but I forget to put things on the list all the time. We forgot to buy new sleeping mats at Walmart before leaving because I didn’t put it on the list.

Take more notes

Don’t just take notes when you’re on a shake down run. Take notes all the time. What’s working really well? What could be improved? What did you run out of? Ask yourself these questions every time you go out.

We didn’t forget our camp stove, but our single burner Coleman Camp Stove slowed us down because we could only cook one thing at a time. It worked, but it wasn’t ideal. Because we took good notes, we’re investigating a more robust two burner camp stove for future outings.

Get out there and shake it


So get out there, shake down your gear, and make every trip a better one than the last.

Further Reading

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Please comment and share

So tell us in the comments section:

  • When and where is your next camping trip?
  • How do you shake down your supplies?
  • Anything we missed? Do you have any tips to share?

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