How to pack clothes for camping will depend, to some extent, on where you are going to camp and the time of year. However, there are some principles that apply no matter when or where you are going to camp.
How many people, of what age group, will wear the clothes that you pack?
Obviously, if you are only packing for yourself, you will need less than if you are packing for two, or if children are involved.
Plan who will carry what, especially if you will be backpacking for some distance from your vehicle.
While it might be a good plan, in principle, to make each person carry the things they will personally need, that does not quite work with the preschool camper.
How many days will you camp?
As a general rule, you will need one set of clothing per day, per person when you pack clothes for camping. For adults, you might be able to get buy with two or three sets of outerwear and some extra underwear, following the “one off, one on, and one in the wash” method.
Chances are, you probably will not want to do laundry while camping, unless it is an extended stay, but having three sets gives you the one to wear, one to change into, and one reserve set of clothing – for just in case.
Younger children usually need more changes of clothing
While there are children who are exceptionally neat and careful with their clothing, when packing for children you need to take into consideration wading, making mud pies or just general digging, food spills, toileting accidents, torn clothing, and abrupt changes of temperature.
As children approach the teen years, you are likely to be able to pack for them as if they were adults.
Even in summer, a campground environment can have wide swings of temperature. Late evening, nighttime, and early mornings can be chilly, yet temperatures can shoot up by noon.
Close-fitting shorts and a tank top can go under loose-fitting long pants, a shirt, and a sweater. Size shoes and boots so that two pairs of socks can be worn in them.
One pair can be relatively thin, while the other can be thicker. This will help wick perspiration away from the foot. It also creates a cushion to protect against blisters.
Heavy does not always equal warmth, which brings us back to layering.
A pair of close-fitting shorts or leggings can be worn under a warmer pair of trousers. If you anticipate moderately cold weather, flannel-lined denim works well as an outer layer.
For a deep cold where the weather is dry, wool over a layer that will protect your skin is excellent. If you anticipate cold, wet weather, a pair of parachute pants and a windbreaker over a sweater or two works well.
Amazingly, stripping to a swimsuit minimum does less to help you stay cool than you might imagine.
In addition, it will leave you vulnerable to insects, brush, blowing sand or dust, and sunburn. A loose-weave cotton shirt and a pair of bike shorts are probably the optimal warm weather gear. Bike shorts are engineered to wick away heat.
A loose-weave cotton shirt will absorb perspiration, becoming damp. This allows the lightest breeze to cool you off.
One of the easiest ways to pack clothes for camping is to first lay out a set of layers for each day.
So, for Day 1, you would have undergarments, tank-top and shorts, loose pants to pull on over the shorts, a light shirt over the tank-top, and a sweater, as well as two pairs of socks. Place the long pants on the bottom, add the shorts, shirts, and finally underwear.
Next, roll the clothing together as tightly as you can, and tape or tie the rolled clothing together. Masking tape is excellent for this because it is easy to pull off, and because it provides a surface on which to label the bundle.
Write the name of the person to wear the clothing, and the day it is to be worn. This will make it easy to find in those pre-dawn hours when it is difficult to distinguish colors or sizes.
Place the rolled bundles of clothing on end at the bottom of your pack
Place clothing for adults on the bottom, then layer in clothing for the junior members of the family in the pack next, with clothing for the youngest on top.
This will make it easy to locate the baby’s emergency clothing change after spills, smears, campfire smell, or unplanned wading.
An alternative plan is for each child that is ten years old or older to have his or her own pack of clothing, basic rations, and water. This will take some of the weight off Mom and Dad.
Good news when packing extra sets for little campers
One good thing about clothing for small children is that the clothing pieces are small.
Therefore, you can get more sets of clothing for a toddler into a backpack, than you can pack for a larger person. That takes a little bit of the stress off packing extra for the baby.
Jackets and coats
Obviously, you do not want to pack an extra coat for each day. Depending on the weather, you might pack a sweater for each day, but have a lightweight, waterproof windbreaker available to go over the sweater.
With that kind of layering, the windbreaker will act as a wind and water barrier, while the sweater will provide insulation.
For gray or winter camping, you might want to add a warmer coat for each member of your party. When the warm coat is not needed, it can be tightly rolled so that it will fit in a backpack.
A good plan is a pair and a spare, at minimum. A good pair of closed-toe shoes is best for hiking and even for doing rough work around camp.
You might want a pair of flip-flops or water-proof sandals for showering or walking on a beach area. Shoes can be placed in a bag and strapped to the outside of a pack.
A wise soldier once said, “Never pack more than you can carry.”
Any bag that you will need to carry yourself needs to be light enough that you can easily carry it for half a day without becoming excessively fatigued.
Fortunately, some modern fabrics deliver both breathability and warmth, yet are light to carry around.
In summary: roll your clothing rather than folding. Pack the items least likely to be needed at the bottom of your pack when you pack clothes for camping.
Place items for the youngest family members, who are the most likely to need multiple changes, at the top of the bag where they will be easy to access.
Plan seasonal gear that can be worn in layers for all members of the family and roll a full set of clothing together.