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12 Tips For Planning A Last-Minute Camping Trip

last minute camping trip

You’ve had a long, exhausting week; finally, Friday has arrived. A brilliant idea sparks as you sit there, longing for a break from the mundane weekend ahead: “Let’s go camping!”


In Partnership with REI


There’s something undeniably exciting about a spontaneous adventure, where you can leave the week’s worries behind and immerse yourself in the great outdoors. If you crave the excitement of a quick getaway, this blog post will help you plan a last-minute camping trip!

planning a last-minute camping trip

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Table of Contents

How to plan a last-minute camping trip

Blessed with childhood memories of family camping trips, I’ve experienced the excitement of meticulously planned and spur-of-the-moment adventures. 


As I’ve grown up and started having camping adventures of my own, I’ve gathered some tips and tricks to tame the chaos of planning last-minute trips. 


From mastering gear organization to scouting campsites and crafting easy camping meals, I’m here to share alllll my secrets to planning an unforgettable last-minute camping trip!  

Organize Camping Gear At Home

When organizing my camping gear, I’ve discovered the convenience of having everything in one central location. Instead of frantically searching for misplaced items like sleeping bags or headlamps, I keep everything in one central location, saving me time and unneeded stress. 


One of my go-to solutions for camping organization is the trusty Action Packer tubs! These sturdy containers (that come in 8 gallons and 24 gallons) provide the perfect home for my camping kitchen essentials. I received a pair of Action Packer tubs as hand-me-downs over ten years ago, and they are still going strong. I can’t emphasize enough how keeping all my cooking gear in one tub reduces the hassle of scrambling together cooking essentials. 

The REI Co-op Pack-Away Bin 100L is another of my favorite camping organization tools. While the bin is designed to be stored flat, I keep it filled with soft camping gear such as sleeping bags, blankets, and sleeping pads. 

Finally, I love having a sizeable catch-all bag with dry food and all the miscellaneous items I take on last-minute camping trips. The REI Co-op Pack-Away 45 Tote has been a recent addition to my camping gear collection, and so far, I love it! It’s a great size, has side pockets that fit more than you’d expect, and it’s easy to clean.

Of course, the key is not the storage containers themselves but the concept of having a dedicated space for all your camping gear. Whether you use plastic bins, stackable totes, or even a designated corner in your garage (or in my case, laundry room), the goal is to keep everything consolidated, accessible, and ready to go!

Take Inventory Of Your Camping Gear

last minute camping trip

Every camping season, I organize and evaluate my gear. I categorize and store away non-essentials, then inspect my gear for wear and tear. If needed, I repair or replace any issues. 


To extend my gear’s lifespan, I do maintenance throughout the season. This looks like cleaning, drying, and storing your gear correctly and addressing any minor repairs or adjustments.

Rent Gear From REI

camping last minute

Renting camping gear from REI for your last-minute camping trips is an incredible perk of being a member of the REI Co-op!


Renting camping gear from REI is a convenient, cost-effective, and flexible option for last-minute camping trips. It allows you to access a wide range of high-quality gear, try before buying, avoid long-term gear ownership hassle, and save money.

Still waiting to be a member of the REI Co-op? Purchase a $30 lifetime membership now and unlock a world of amazing perks. As a member, you’ll enjoy free shipping, exclusive access to shop for used gear through Re/Supply, an annual Member Reward based on your purchases, and so much more! 

Utilize Packing Checklists

When packing for your last-minute camping trip, utilizing packing checklists can be a game-changer. There’s nothing quite like the peace of mind that comes with knowing you have everything you need for a successful outdoor adventure.


I am a big fan of packing checklists, and in fact, I’ve created my own car camping checklist that has been a lifesaver on numerous occasions. You can download my checklist here. It covers all the essential items you’ll need for a comfortable and enjoyable camping experience.

In addition to my personal checklist, I recommend utilizing the camping checklists provided by REI.  They cover everything from clothing and footwear to cooking equipment and first aid supplies. Using their checklists, you can ensure you don’t leave anything important behind and have all the necessary gear for a successful camping trip!

Optimize Your Vehicle Packing

last-minute camping

My husband and I have been car camping out of our trusty Toyota Rav4 since we purchased it in 2016, and it has been our faithful companion on dozens of adventures. The spaciousness and versatility of our Rav4 allow us to pack all the gear we need for extended road trips and camping excursions. Plus, it can transform into a fully equipped adventure rig with our kayaks secured on top and mountain bikes attached to the back. 


Throughout the years, we’ve honed our skills in packing the car quickly and efficiently, and I’m excited to share some tips with you based on my own experience:


  1. Prioritize Essentials: Pack necessary gear first for easy access at the campsite. This looks like your cooler, cooking equipment, tents, sleeping bags, camp chairs, food, and clothing. From there, you can add whatever else you’ll need! The beauty of car camping is you don’t have to worry about overpacking. 
  2. Utilize Storage Solutions: As an avid camper, I’ve found that storage containers are an absolute game-changer for keeping my gear organized at home and on the road. Additional storage solutions to consider are roof racks and cargo boxes. For smaller essentials like extra blankets and yoga mats, I take advantage of my car’s available nooks and crannies, like under-seat storage.
  3. Optimize Space: To optimize space in my Rav4, I keep the backseats up and reserve the cargo area for our biggest and bulkiest items, such as our cooler, kitchen bucket, camp chairs, and tables. As for our duffle bags of clothes, backpacks, food, and other essentials, I store them in the backseat area. By dividing the storage between the backseat and the cargo space, I can efficiently utilize every inch of available room, ensuring that everything fits snugly and remains organized throughout our camping trip. 

Create A Camping Kitchen Box

camping cooking gear

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve organized our camping kitchen gear into a trusty Action Packer tub. These durable containers (that come in 8 gallons and 24 gallons) have become the ultimate storage solution for my camp kitchen essentials. They keep everything neatly organized and double as a convenient chair, cutting board, or even a sturdy step stool when needed.


Now, let’s take a peek inside my camping kitchen box:

Have Go-To Camping Meals In Mind

Before you rush out the door, look in your fridge to see what you have on hand for meals. Check the pantry! Is there anything you can cook that will be easy and delicious? You’ll have to stop at the grocery store to get ice before you leave town, so you can get groceries while you’re at it! 


Here are some of my favorite meals to cook when we go on last-minute camping trips:

car camping kitchen

5 Last-Minute Camping Meal Ideas

    1. Grilled Cheese + Tomato Soup: This is by far the camping meal we’ve made the most because it’s delicious, easy, and requires a minimum of three ingredients. 
    2. Oatmeal is a versatile and nutritious camping staple. Enhance its flavor and texture by adding fresh fruits like berries or sliced bananas and a handful of crunchy pecans!
    3. Jackfruit BBQ Sandwiches: I always keep Trader Joe’s Jackfruit BBQ packets on hand for last-minute camping trips. It’s easy to make and pairs perfectly with the Trader Joe’s coleslaw kit for a satisfying meal in minutes.
    4. Instant Ramen: Sometimes, a bowl of instant ramen is all you need to satisfy your hunger. Elevate this simple dish by bringing along pre-cut broccoli, bell peppers, and/or carrots.
    5. Breakfast For Dinner: Switch things up and indulge in a breakfast-inspired dinner. Hashbrowns and eggs are always a crowd-pleaser! Get creative by adding your favorite veggies, tortillas, cheese, or any other ingredients you have on hand to make a customized and delicious meal.


Camp Somewhere Close To Home

tips for car camping

You don’t have to go far to have a great adventure! 


Camping closer to home is convenient and allows for greater flexibility and adaptability. If you forget something essential or discover that a particular campsite is fully booked, you can quickly return home or find another spot nearby. 

Rent A HipCamp

Hipcamp near Durango, colorado
Hipcamp near Durango, Colorado

If you’re concerned about the availability of campsites on a busy weekend and don’t have a reservation, renting a site through Hipcamp can be a fantastic solution! Hipcamp, often called the Airbnb of camping, offers a unique platform to rent private land for your spontaneous camping trip.


I’ve stayed at 14 different Hipcamps since 2017 and have had such amazing experiences! I personally recommend using Hipcamp’s mobile app to find hidden gems and unique camping experiences near you. To get you started, here’s $10 in Hipcamp credit

Consider Off-Days and Midweek Camping

car camping tips for spontaneous adventure

When it comes to planning a spontaneous camping trip, don’t overlook the advantages of off days and midweek adventures. Rather than competing for popular weekend spots or dealing with crowded holiday periods, consider exploring the great outdoors on weekdays or during less busy times.


By choosing off-days and midweek camping, you’ll enjoy several benefits. First and foremost, you’ll have a higher chance of securing a campsite reservation, as demand tends to be lower during weekdays. This means less stress and more peace of mind knowing you have a spot secured for your adventure.


Midweek camping offers a unique opportunity to experience nature in a more tranquil and serene setting. Trails, viewpoints, and recreational areas are often less crowded, allowing you to connect with nature even more.

Stay Flexible and Keep an Open Mind

car camping tips

Flexibility and an open mind are critical when planning a spontaneous camping trip. As a Type-A planner (and recovering control freak), I know it’s easier said than done, but to make last-minute camping trips happen, you must embrace the unexpected, adjust your plans, and be ready to go with the flow. 


Whether changing your itinerary, exploring new destinations, or welcoming serendipitous encounters, staying flexible opens the door to unique discoveries and unforgettable adventures. 

Practice Leave No Trace Principles

great hikes in Sedona Leave No Trace Sign

One of the most important things you can do for your last-minute camping trip is prepare to practice Leave No Trace Principles. 


Leave No Trace is a set of guidelines designed to minimize human impact on the environment and preserve the beauty of our natural spaces. By following these principles, we can ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the outdoors as we do.


Here are some key Leave No Trace principles to keep in mind:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare: Before heading out on your camping trip, research the area, understand the rules and regulations, and ensure you have the necessary permits. 
  2. Dispose of waste properly: Pack out all your trash and dispose of it in designated bins or bring it home with you. Never leave trash behind; it can harm wildlife and disrupt the natural ecosystem.
  3. Leave what you find: Preserve the environment’s natural beauty by leaving rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you found them. Avoid taking souvenirs or artifacts from the area.
  4. Minimize campfire impacts: If campfires are allowed, use existing fire rings or fire pits and keep your fire small. Ensure that the fire is completely extinguished before leaving your campsite.
  5. Respect wildlife: Observe wildlife from a distance and avoid feeding or approaching them. Keep your food and trash securely stored to prevent attracting animals to your campsite.
  6. Be considerate of other visitors: Respect the rights and privacy of other campers. Keep noise levels down, obey campground rules, and be mindful of your actions impact on others’ experiences.


By practicing Leave No Trace principles, we can enjoy our last-minute camping trips while minimizing our environmental impact. Leaving nature better than we found it ensures it remains a haven for future adventurers to explore and appreciate.

Final Thoughts On Planning A Last-Minute Camping Trip

As you embark on your last-minute camping adventures, armed with these tips and tricks, I hope you feel empowered to embrace spontaneity and create unforgettable memories in the great outdoors! 


Whether you’re organizing your camping gear, renting equipment, or planning your meals, the key is to stay flexible, open-minded, and mindful of Leave No Trace principles. 


Remember, it’s not about the destination or the perfect plan, but about the journey and the experiences that happen along the way. 


Happy camping!

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Meet the author

Jacey West

My mission is simple: Inspire you to get outside. I like camping, hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, and exploring National Parks. I’m passionate about sharing all the details of my adventure so you can plan some of your own!

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