Camping storage & organization ideas – practical tips from a camping mom

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 camping storage and camping organization ideas you need to read!

The article starts by listing my top 3 considerations when getting packed and organized, but keep reading for all sorts of practical camping mom tips!

back of a truck all organized and packed with camping gear

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3 Basic 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?

The main questions I use when beginning to organize for a big camping trip:

  1. What does your family actually need to bring on the camping trip?
  2. What needs to be accessible?
  3. Should this be with other like items or with a person’s stuff?

1. Your particular family needs:

The key to functional camping organization is to think through your family’s needs, how you tend to function, and your family’s priorities. Camping really should be a minimalist venture. 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?

2. Not everything needs to be easily accessible:

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

READ MORE: Read more about camping safely in bear country here

3.Packing by category, not by person:

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 member 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 tips and suggestions in this article are very applicable to 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 (or make sure you have room for) all your camping 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… this tip is especially helpful when setting up camp in the rain!
  • Consider 3 drawer systems like below, these work in the back of mini vans, trucks, and hatchbacks
car camping organization

Clothing Packing and Organization

1. Family packing

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 one carry-on sized suitcase. The fewer items floating around the tent or your car, the easier it will be to stay organized.

2. Reasonably sized individual bags/bins

While I admit that the ‘everyone’s stuff all together’ 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 packing the back of the vehicle. Some options here are milk crates, plastic tubs, backpacks, or small duffle bags.

3. The clothes drawer system

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 like glasses, flashlights, and phones getting lost!

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

4. Dirty laundry bag

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, use a mesh laundry bag or pillow case 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 have spilled their food on themselves, don’t leave those dirty items in the tent once they’ve been removed.

5. Designated clothing storage camping gear

This enclosed organizer (below) 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.

Do I, or would I use one of the mini-tent organizers? Nope. I’d worry that stuff inside would get wet and it seems like too much extra work to set up this closet tent and unpack my stuff into it. BUT, I wonder if they’d be handy for campers that set up at RV sites all summer long… think how handy this could be for storing bike helmets, rubber boots, soccer balls, outdoor toys, campfire making supplies, and so on!

And, these lightweight bags (below) are great for packing up linens and clothing. And, when you’re not camping, they fold down nicely. Adventurous family tip: these are also great for packing winter gear like bulky snow suits, extra mitts and toques, and all those other random items you need on your winter trips.

Bathroom Stuff Organization

If you don’t have a bathroom bag, 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 better 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.

What’s better than a toiletries bag?

The small shoulder bag/purse:

On our month-long car camping trip I had each of my kids choose a small purse / bag from the thrift store. I ensured they each choose something with a zipper closure and a long shoulder 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) and the zipper closure meant that in all their bag-swinging shenanigans nothing fell out! 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. Also, the long straps were perfect for hanging on clothes hooks instead of needing to set stuff on the often wet and questionably clean countertops.

In case you’re curious: My youngest choose a Shopkins purse; my middle, a glittery dog purse; and my son choose a skull and crossbones corduroy purse.

A lightweight backpack:

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 coloured pack. They can hold everything needing to go for a shower like towels, clothing changes, and their toiletries. I too wanted something that I didn’t have to carry in my hands to the bathroom in case I was carrying other kids or riding my own bike. And, the drawstring bag worked perfectly!

Camping Kitchen Organization

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

One idea is to use a Hanging (over the door) 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, those things animals may not care about.

Having your own collapsible camping table can be very useful, especially if you use a camp stove. This particular table is a nice space for prep work or laying out your prepared food. It also has nearby shelving to keep food and tools while cooking.

Some campsites even ask that you not use their picnic tables for your camp stoves and expect you to cook on something else. In these cases, having a camp table with you could be very handy!

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 prefer less set-up than necessary, especially for a one or two night stay.

READ MORE: Camping Kitchen Essentials, tips, and more!

Camping Food Organization

Plastic 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. (Like grocery store shopping bins.)

I’ve even attempted to pack food into specific 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 because, depending on what we’d eaten when, different bins weren’t always full, but were still taking up all that space in the back of the truck. But, I do think this could possibly 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. For example, you could try to keep your seasonings, wipes, ketchup, sauces, oils, etc. so that you have one bin that gets taken out for every meal.

tubs packed with food for a camping trip
Using camping bins to organize our camp kitchen and camping foods (this was for a 3 week trip!)

The Popular ‘Camping Bins’ System

This storage bin system can help keep your essential items organized and easily located both at the campsite and at home in the garage.

Depending on your family size, camping set-up, and needs, here are some bin category suggestions:

  • Kitchen equipment Bin (plates, cutlery, pots, roasting sticks)
  • Utility Bin (tools and random setting-up camp items: tarps, ropes, extra pegs, duct tape)
  • Fire starting bin (newspaper, matches, hatchet, etc)
  • Kids’ toys and activity Bin
  • Shoe Bin
  • Hat/Helmet Bin
  • Coats and warmer clothing (mitts, toques, etc)
  • Bin full of everyone’s individual bathroom kits, towels, extra toilet paper, etc.

Organized mom tip: These bins are best packed with a detailed list and a lot of forethought!

If you’re a family that goes camping yearly or more, and you have the storage space in your basement or garage, you could even leave some of these following bins packed as is. For example, if you have specific camping kitchen gear then just leave them packed in the kitchen camping bin until your next trip.

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 with packing and planning, but it might save you from the endless barrage of “mom, where’s the soccer ball, the bug spray, my rubber boots, the duct tape, UNO, 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: flashlights! 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 go hunting at night, you can actually see what’s in those bins! And a headlamp is even better because you won’t be holding the flashlight with your mouth!

The Kitchen Camping Bin:

This 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 Camping Bin

This should have first aid items, bug spray, sunscreen, lanterns and flashlights, duct tape, 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 Kid’s Camping Bin

This 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, binoculars, magnifying glass, and walkie talkies to encourage group play.

The Shoe Bin

If you’re camping with more than 2 people, that pile of shoes can quickly get a bit out of hand… think 5 people, in our small trailer on a typical Jasper spring… means not only are their 5 pairs of shoes, but there are also 5 pairs of flipflops, and an extra 4 pair of rubber boots or winter boots! So, to handle all these shoes, we use a securely lidded plastic bin that also slides right under the side of the trailer. The lid is important… to keep rain and critters out!

Even if you’re tenting, the shoe bin can still be a big help. If you don’t have room in the tent, it can safely sit outside.

a plastic bin with hats and helmets sitting outside a camper
Our helmet / baseball glove bin. It slides right under the camper when we don’t need it.

What is the perfect Camping Storage Box, Camping Bin, or Camping Gear Storage Container?

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

The plastic drawer storage system works well as your basic camping storage bin… 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 while on the road. I opted for a 3 drawer system for the frequently used items like cutlery, drink mixes, towels, minor first aid, etc. Then I had a few bins of food, one for cooking/eating equipment, two for beddings, and each kid had their own personal bin. There was also a bin with infrequently used items like water toys and emergency repair type items.

Some finds on Amazon that would make great camping storage bins and boxes

Tips on 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
Notice the camping bin labels and the plastic drawers

(Sleeping in your Car) Car Camping Organization

If you’re wanting to be more mobile, without the expense or bulkiness of a camper or hauling a lot of 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 people make it work!

Air mattresses that will fit your back seats or in a hatchback trunk area exist, and seems would make sleeping more 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… and perhaps a lot of money and skills.

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 gear. Also, get yourself some camping bins

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

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