" how do you know what you're missing? Time for a shakedown run "

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

Check out these other awesome posts we think you’ll enjoy:

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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  • usathroughoureyes

    Great post Tobias. We certainly can relate to the forgetting things. After our first experience doing this we did as you note and developed a check list using “word”. It covers everything. We have a staging area in the house and as we pack we check it off and then after loading everything we read it back out loud again. It has kept us on track. Like you said… somethings you can do without or pick up on the road but when you are in the remote areas that ain’t possible. Then is when creativity comes out.

    July 10, 2017 - 8:07 am Reply
    • tobiasmann

      Thanks! I think we all forget something every now and then. I’m glad you take good notes and make good lists. It’s essential. Staging is a great idea. It’s harder to miss something that way.

      July 12, 2017 - 7:53 pm Reply
      • usathroughoureyes

        We’re sure that from time to time we’ll still forget but that’s what keeps things interesting. Its funny but at times we get in the van and do a check… Tom in – check, Audrey in -check, Emma in – check. We remember the movie with Chevy Chase where he forgets the dog tied to the bumper, lol. Don’t wanna do that.

        July 13, 2017 - 5:57 am Reply
        • tobiasmann

          So true. If I’m packing I do the same thing. It keeps me sane and it’s a chance for Niecie to catch my mistakes. It’s really an excellent arrangement. If we forget something it’s nobody’s fault. Thanks for sharing. I’m looking forward to your next adventure. I wish I could write as often as you do.

          July 13, 2017 - 8:51 am Reply
          • usathroughoureyes

            Be safe and don’t worry about writing just. We know we’ll hear from you as your schedule allows. Be safe.

            July 13, 2017 - 9:31 am
  • Customs -N- Classics

    I have been camping since I was in my early teens, so, about 30+ years. All of it has been in a tent, as I have never been in a camper or pop up. (A few I used the bed of a truck with a cap on it, but only because of the storms.)
    Over the years, my list, (Yes, I have always had a list.) has changed, as I have added a wife and children to my camping adventures.
    Early on, I only needed a sharp knife, food, a cooler, tent and a sleeping bag. My back never seemed to be effected by the ground. When I was in the Army, stationed in Utah, I don’t think we ever used a tent.
    Now, the amount of stuff we take fills the bed of my truck, plus some, but, the list went from 1 person to 8 people, if the whole family goes.
    We shake down a week prior to our first trip, have it all piled neatly and ready for the trip. We base it off our last camping trip the season before. Sometimes, things get left behind, but, it is generally things like colored pencils, or a book, etc.
    Not sure where our next trip will lead us, but, we are pretty close to being ready for it.
    Good article.

    July 10, 2017 - 1:49 pm Reply
    • tobiasmann

      Shaking down early and often is a great recipe for success. This is thinking way back to when I was a child, but my mother used to keep car-only entertainment packs. We could only have them on our trips or when we were in the car. Mostly it was books, colored pencils or crayons, etc…., maybe that’s something to consider. Where ever your next adventure takes you, I hope it is one filled with Adventure.

      July 12, 2017 - 7:56 pm Reply
  • Mary Raymond

    I have a leaving home checklist, a setting up camp checklist and a tearing down camp checklist. This is my first year camping with just my dogs, Oreo, Aurora, and Bones in a 24″ travel trailer. There has been so much to learn. Even with the lists, which I keep on OneNote I forget things. I was laughing before I left this time because I made a list of what I wanted to do when I got to the area I was camping. Since this was only my second trip with the camper and my first in a park with no hookups, there were things I found I still needed to learn. Lists help but…….

    I enjoy your posts and all the comments you received.

    July 16, 2017 - 8:50 am Reply
    • tobiasmann

      Mary, I am so glad that you have found something that works for you. Camping can be a lot of fun, but there are a lot of little pieces that go into making it a good experience. Without lists I would be completely lost.

      The 24′ travel trailer sounds luxurious compared my dome of Nylon. So glad you are exploring and having a good time with the dogs. You probably have plenty of stories to tell.

      The comments on this post are definately packed with tons of great advice. There is no one size fits all approach. Thanks for reading Mary!

      July 16, 2017 - 2:55 pm Reply
  • Mary Raymond

    By the way I keep getting a pop-up on your blog that asks me to change my settings to allow advertising. How much advertising would I be getting or is it just when I log into your blog?

    July 16, 2017 - 8:52 am Reply
    • tobiasmann

      Mary, thank you for asking. We rely on Advertising to pay for the hosting costs of this blog. This is not cheap so we use advertising to cut the cost. We try to keep the advertising to a minimum.

      There are typically between one and three ads per page depending on how long a blog post is. Short blog posts may only have one ad in the post and one ad at the very bottom of the page. Very long posts may have more.

      The idea is to keep the number of ads proportionate to the amount of content we provide.

      I would encourage you to try disabling ad-block. If you think there are too many ads you could let me know what would be a more reasonable number. We think that most people won’t notice the ads after a little while. Thanks for asking!

      July 16, 2017 - 2:49 pm Reply

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