Tips for Camping Storage and Organization

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I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing quite as frustrating as a completely disorganized campsite. When we go camping, I want to slide into a lazy, relaxing mode and just enjoy nature and my family. This is impossible when someone is constantly asking me where everything is. So I’ve come up with some ideas for organizing your campsite for optimal enjoyment!

back of a truck all organized and packed with camping gear

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Camping Organization and Storage Ideas

Whether you’re tent camping, RV camping, or car camping, how to store your stuff is always a challenge. It’s hard enough to pack all of your things into your vehicle! Now, what do you do once you’ve arrived and set up your sleeping area?

It’s important to think through your family’s needs, how you tend to function, and your priorities. Camping really should be a minimalist venture, so making lists can be extremely helpful.

Once you have your trip planned, whether traveling across the country or to the other side of town, think through your day-to-day. What do you need when you get up in the morning? What do you plan to do each day? How will you spend the evenings?

Keep in mind, you don’t have to keep ALL THE THINGS in your tent or RV. Utilize your vehicle and keep a bulk of your items in there to free up space in your tent. Things like clothes, shower bags, and beach supplies can be organized and kept in your vehicle for the duration of the trip.

In fact, you really shouldn’t be putting anything with any scent at all in your tent – no soaps, foods, lotions, or cooking equipment because scents can attract all sorts and sizes of animals.

Everyone having access to the things they need on a daily basis will help keep things simple at the campsite. Organizing by category rather than by family is one simple trick to save you some space and sanity.

For instance, instead of each person packing their own shoes in their bag, have a tote for everyone’s shoes. The tote can live outside (especially if it is a plastic tote that won’t take on water!) and keep extra dirt out of the sleeping areas. 

The shoe bin idea is also a great one because it keeps shoes out of the camper / tent and if you use a water-tight bin it will also keep them dry and critter-free. You may even want to have another bin for hats, rain gear, and bike helmets.

Car Camping Organization

Many of the following tips and suggestions are very appropriate for car camping.

But, here are a few other things to keep in mind when you’re car camping and likely have limited storage space:

  • Pack all the essentials first before packing the ‘extras’
  • Put the most used items in easy-to-get-to spots in the vehicle
  • Pack your tent and tarps in last so you can set these up without having to unpack all your other gear
  • Consider 3 drawer systems like below, these work in the back of mini vans, trucks, and hatchbacks
car camping organization

Clothing Organization Organization

It seems normal for everyone’s clothing to be packed in their own bags, right? What if you packed everyone together? While all the kids’ clothes may fit in individual backpacks, they also may all fit in a carry-on sized suitcase. The fewer items floating around the tent or your car, the easier it will be to stay organized.

While I admit that this strategy worked well for little kids, I find that as kids get older they want to pack their own bag and bring their own stuff. So, another tip is to give all the kids a reasonably sized container in which all their stuff must fit. This prevents kids from bringing loads of books and toys. And, if these containers are stackable, all the better for storage and package.

Depending on how much space you have in your tent, you may want to consider packing all the clothes for the whole family in plastic, stackable drawers. Roll your daily outfits together (instead of packing by item type) and give each person a drawer to pack them in. The top of the drawers will give you a small table for your tent, which can be extremely handy for keeping smaller items organized!

I’ve even seen parents use Ziploc bags to pack and organize their children’s daily outfits.

Have a designated laundry bag! Instead of grabbing a trash bag at the end of the trip and gathering all the dirty things before leaving, purchase a mesh laundry bag and keep all the dirty clothes in your vehicle and out of the way.

Again, it’s important to make sure you’re keeping food scents out of the tent. If you have littles who might spill their food on themselves, then don’t leave those dirty items in the tent once they’ve been removed.

This enclosed organizer is made to withstand the elements, as it is basically a tiny tent. Inside, it has shelves that can fit shoes, rolled up outfits, or other smaller items that can be easily misplaced in a large tent. A versatile, but compact organizer, it’s great to have items that can handle all sorts of situations.

Bathroom Organization

If you don’t have a shower caddy, it will revolutionize your camping trip! Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme, but it will definitely make your morning and evening bathroom routines much easier and organized. 

A Shower Caddy or Toiletry Bag can keep all your small bathroom and shower items easily accessible, which is essential when you’re working with a mobile bathroom situation. A hanging organizer or a plastic caddy will keep your items from having to sit directly on the floor or the counter.

On my month long car camping trip I had each of my kids choose a small purse / bag from the thrift store. They had to choose something with a zipper closure and a long strap. These worked perfectly for our bathroom trips since the kids could swing the bags over their shoulders (especially helpful when biking or scootering to the bathroom). Each kid’s bag was a different design so they could easily see which one was theirs when grabbing it out of the bathroom kit bin. And the long straps were perfect for hanging on clothes hooks instead of needing to set stuff on the often wet and questionable countertops.

I chose to use a small lightweight drawstring backpack. And, if I had to do this again I think I’d just get each of the kids a different designed pack since they can hold more (like towels, clothing changes, and their toiletries). I too wanted something that I didn’t have to carry in my hands to the bathroom incase I was carrying other kids or riding my own bike. And, the drawstring bag worked perfectly!

The bag I like to use for heading to the bath house

Kitchen Organization

It can be difficult to keep things handy while you’re camping. Because of animals and other pests, you’re forced to pack up almost all your supplies regularly.

One idea is to use a Hanging Organizer to keep smaller items handy. It can be hung from a canopy, tarp rope, or even in a tree. It’s a great place to keep utensils, napkins, wipes, water bottles, sunscreen, bug spray, hand sanitizer, or anything else you’d like to keep handy, but animals may not care about.

Especially if you use a camp stove, having your own collapsible table can be very useful. This particular table is a nice space for prep work or laying out your prepared food. It also has storage underneath where you can keep prepared food away from pesky insects or store your dishes and pans.

Some campsites even ask that you not use their picnic tables for your camp stoves. Depending on the layout of our campsite I frequently used the truck’s tailgate as my camp stove spot since all our cooking and food stuffs were stored in the back of the truck. I’d prefer less set-up than necessary, especially for a one or two night stay.

Food Organization

I’m going to go ahead and again, suggest bins! I particularly like clear bins that I can see into and which stack well. But, I also really like sturdy handled bins for carrying food from the camper / vehicle to the cooking / eating spot.

I’ve even attempted to pack food into meal bins. For example, a breakfast bin, a lunch and snack bin and so forth. While this method did work it wasn’t optimal and I felt it wasn’t the best use of space in my situation. But, I do think this could be a good system for a short camping trip.

Another camping food organization hack is to keep all your ‘frequently used’ food stuffs in one place; such as, seasonings, wipes, ketchup, sauces, oils, etc.

tubs packed with food for a camping trip

The Camping Bin System

This storage bin hack can help keep your essential items organized and easily located: A Kitchen Bin, a Utility Bin, and a Kids Bin. These bins are best packed with a detailed list and a lot of forethought!

Super mom camping tip: labels! Write what’s in your bins on the top and sides instead of needing to open them all when you’re hunting around. Not only will this help you out in packing and planning, but it might save you a from the endless barage of “mom, where’s the soccer ball, the bug spray, my rubber boots, the flashlight, my toothpaste… and so forth”!

If you’re looking for more camping storage and organizing tips, you might want to jump over to this post. You can also grab some printable camping lists too!

Another super mom camping tip: flashlight in the vehicle. If you happen to be storing some of your camping bins in the back of your truck or car, leave a flashlight easily accessible so when you have to hunting at night you can actually see what’s in those bins!

The Kitchen Bin should have all your plates, bowls, and utensils as well as the cooking tools, coffee supplies, pots and pans, potholders, foil, spices, tablecloth, and anything else you may need in a mobile kitchen. Anything you need to prepare and cook meals should go in this bin.

The Utility Bin should have first aid items, bug spray, sunscreen, lanterns and flashlights, extra batteries, tools for setting up the tent, and a hand broom and dustpan. Basically, anything that you will need instant access to if the need arises. Think of it as an organized junk drawer.

The Kids Bin is exactly as it sounds: a bin full of items to entertain the kids. Fill it with toys to entertain and items to spark their imagination, games, crafting fun, glow sticks, and walkie talkies to encourage group play.

What type of bin should you use for these? I prefer to use big plastic bins with tight fitting lids. Clear bins mean it is easier to see into the bins from the outside and there’s more light when you’re rummaging around in them.

The three drawer systems work well as basic camping storage bins as well… especially if you’re setting up your camp kitchen right from the back of your vehicle.

On our month long camping trip we were setting up in a new location every few days so I wanted something easy to pack up and use. I opted for a 3 drawer system for the frequently used items. Then I had a few bins of food, one for cooking equipment and each kid had their own bin. There was also a bin with infrequently used items like water toys and emergency repair type items.

Packing your camping vehicle

Just a few things to mention here, because, let’s be honest, sometimes you just have to get it all in there and you don’t have a lot of options, but… a few tips and thoughts:

  • Organize your like-items together into easily moved and useable containers
  • Pack the items you’ll need as soon as you arrive at the campsite last
  • Consider how you’ll pack the largest items before you begin
  • Use the soft items to fill in the cracks at the end (pillows, mattresses, life jackets, etc.)
  • And, don’t forget your labels!
the back of a truck packed full with tubs and camping gear

(Sleeping in your Car) Car Camping Organization

If you’re wanting to be more mobile, without the expense or bulkiness of a camper or camping gear, sleeping in your vehicle may be a great alternative. Although, I’ll admit this doesn’t sound all that appropriate for larger families, but many young couples make it work!

Air mattresses that will fit your back seats or in a hatchback trunk area exist to make sleeping comfortable. Another idea is to build a platform for your trunk area to sleep on top of. You will then have plenty of storage underneath! Pack in small, clear bins so you can see exactly what you need and stay organized on the go.

If you happen to have a van you’ll have more space and could even turn it into a mini mobile camper with some creativity and planning. You can buy air mattresses for mini vans too!

Last thoughts on camping organization…

The best plan for a relaxing camping trip is to be organized. If you plan to camp often, slowly start setting aside items that will live permanently in your camping bins. Also, get camping bins. 

Create your lists and store them in the corresponding bin to make packing a cinch. Before you know it, you’ll not only have packing down to a science, camping itself will be that relaxing, lazy experience you hope for!


Didn’t get all your questions answered? Check out these other camping guides:

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