When you are camping in the wilderness, you rely on what you bring with you…so why not bring your best friends?
All of my favorite camping trips were special not because of the places I went or the things I did, but because of the people I went with.
Spectacular views, connections with nature, and happy memories are all better when shared with your buddies.
In this article, I will guide you in planning the perfect camping trip with your friends this year.
How to Organize a Camping Trip With Friends
When you are organizing a trip with your friend group, there are a few logistical things to consider before the fun begins.
Here are some of them:
One of the most important logistical issues is finding a time that works for everyone. Depending on your and your friends’ schedules, you might need to plan your trip months in advance.
Your camping style can also influence how far in advance you need to plan your trip.
Established campgrounds with amenities like running water and toilets often take advanced reservations and can fill up rather quickly.
One of my favorite campgrounds in southern California tends to book up six months in advance!
If you and your group have the luxury of planning your trip during non-traditional travel times, such as on weekdays or while school is in session, I highly recommend taking advantage of this. Weekends and holidays are always booked the quickest.
If you are willing to wake up very early to get a first-come-first-served site, you might not need to plan your trip so far in advance.
And who knows? You might get lucky if another group cancels its booking at the last minute!
Also, you don’t need to plan your trip as far in advance if you are prepared to rough it a little. Camping in non-established campsites (dispersed camping) does not require reservations, just a sense of adventure!
I’ve found some of my favorite campsites by exploring remote dirt roads. There are some serious gems that you can learn about only by getting out there and finding them.
Keep in mind that if you choose this route, you probably won’t have amenities like bathrooms and informative campground hosts.
Educate yourself on Leave No Trace Principles so you know how to keep the land pristine.
Also, do proper research on where this type of camping is allowed. National forests and Bureau of Land Management properties tend to allow more dispersed camping, but don’t camp without permission on private land or in national parks.
I think the fun part of planning group trips is picking where to go! Do you like to camp in the desert? In the mountains? Close to water?
It’s also important to consider the camping background of the group members.
For example, if someone lives at sea level, it’s not a good idea to camp at high elevations without giving them time to acclimate to the altitude.
The time of year you camp should also influence where you decide to go. If you’ve planned your trip during the winter and are not prepared for snow or cold weather camping, make sure to pick a warm location!
Another important thing to consider is the activities you plan to do with your friends. (I’ll cover this in more detail later in the article.)
It’s important to research availability, rules, and regulations regarding your planned activities.
With all the camping I’ve done in California, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown up to a trail only to learn that it’s closed due to fire damage.
Sometimes, getting information like this online is difficult, so I recommend calling the local ranger station or forest service office to get the most up-to-date news on regulations, especially when it comes to trails.
Your budget is an important part of planning any type of trip with your friends, including camping.
When I plan my camping trips, I try to group the expenses into four categories:
- travel expenses
If you are new to camping, you will have to consider a fifth category, which is equipment.
The lodging category tends to be much cheaper for camping than other types of trips!
Many campsites have a nightly fee, which can range from $10 to $100 a night. If you split the cost with your group, the fee isn’t as bad!
If you want to save even more money, dispersed camping is usually free. Again, if you choose to go this route, be prepared to rough it!
Food costs can vary greatly as well. With camping, you don’t always have access to restaurants, so that helps you save money.
Grocery bills for a large group depend on what kind of food you are eating! Luxury items like nice meats and avocados can increase the bill but sometimes be worth it.
Meal planning is a great way to save time and money on food while camping.
Having a designated meal for each breakfast, lunch, and dinner makes shopping for the trip much simpler—and makes it less likely that food will go to waste.
While camping, I love to eat food like sandwiches, spaghetti, burritos, and oatmeal.
Travel expenses are pretty self-explanatory and should be easy to calculate. Flying to your destination can increase your costs, while driving a short distance will keep these expenses pretty minimal.
Activities and equipment can be grouped together, as you will need to spend money on the equipment necessary to do whichever activities you choose.
Things like hiking and wildlife viewing are cheaper and don’t require as much equipment.
You’ll want a larger budget for stuff like boating, biking, renting gear, or anything requiring a permit!
What to Bring When Camping With Friends
To plan a successful camping trip, make sure that you and your friends are prepared with the essentials, as well as some fun activities to keep things interesting.
Tent or Shelter
Your sleeping/shelter arrangement should depend on your group’s preference and the weather you’ll be camping in.
One of my friends has a 10-person tent, which fits our group comfortably. However, it takes up quite a bit of room in the trunk! If you prefer more privacy, multiple smaller tents could be the way to go.
When the weather's nice, we also enjoy cowboy camping, which is just sleeping out under the stars with no shelter, so that we can enjoy the night sky as we fall asleep.
A sleeping bag is another camping essential. Some people like to use variations of sleeping bags with items such as down quilts or simply blankets.
If the air is warm enough, you can use one of these alternatives; just make sure you are prepared!
While I consider a sleeping pad a camping essential, I have a friend who is such a heavy sleeper that she can pass out on the cold, hard ground without any padding!
Most people I know (including myself) aren’t comfortable sleeping like this, so make sure you have some form of padding.
Sleeping pads also insulate you from the ground and can make your sleeping set-up significantly warmer.
Obviously, food is essential for any type of trip. I love big camping cookouts with my friends because it feels like a dinner party in the great outdoors!
Come up with a meal plan before you shop for your trip so that you will bring the right amount of food and figure out a cooking style that works for you and your friends.
Some ideas include potlucks, prepping food before your trip, taking turns cooking dinner, or everyone helping together.
Roasting food over a fire is always a fun option for cooking while camping, but bringing a propane-powered camping stove is easier and more reliable—plus, you can cook with pots and pans just like you’d do on a regular stove.
First Aid Supplies
Never go camping without emergency supplies! When you are in the wilderness, you are equipped only with what you know and what you bring with you.
Bring equipment to help you in the event of a medical emergency or injury. Even minor injuries like sprained ankles or blisters can put a real damper on everything you have planned for the trip.
Having tools to manage these possibilities is so important!
This one is easy to forget, but it can make your life so much easier on a camping trip.
I have forgotten to bring a headlamp before, and I was stuck trying to cook and set up my tent with one hand while using my tiny phone flashlight!
You and your friends should have adequate clothing for the weather. In some places, such as the desert, the temperatures at night are drastically different than those during the day.
It’s important to research the weather before you go and double-check that everyone in your group has enough warm clothes, so that nobody is uncomfortable.
Firestarter and Wood
If you plan to have a bonfire, make sure to bring a lighter, firewood, and firestarter.
Some areas have fire bans during certain times of the year, so check the regulations in your area before you start lighting stuff on fire!
Also, note that firewood transported over long distances can sometimes bring unfamiliar diseases and pests into forests, so buy or collect your wood only in the same county where you will be burning it.
Games are a great way to pass the time with your friends when you don’t have amenities like TV or Wi-Fi!
Card games are my favorite, as a deck of cards can provide endless entertainment without taking up too much room in a backpack or car.
I tend to avoid games with lots of pieces that might get lost at the campsite if it’s windy or dark out.
However, I have had some pretty epic Scrabble matches in the backcountry.
String lights are one of my favorite extra things to bring along while camping.
They create a nice ambiance around the campsite or tent, and there are tons of options that are battery or solar-powered.
If you or any of your friends are musically inclined, a campsite is a perfect place to jam. I have a cheaper, travel-sized acoustic guitar that I always make sure to pack.
If you’re creative and have the right supplies, you can make a lot of different activities work while camping!
When it comes to extra stuff to bring while camping, I’d recommend bringing whatever you and your friends like to do!
Enjoying your favorite activities in a beautiful outdoor setting only makes them that much better.
Activities and Fun Things to Do as a Group
Explore the Trails
One of my favorite things to do while camping with my friends is to take a group hike or bike ride so that I can really embrace the natural surroundings.
A lot of campsites are located close to trail systems for your group to explore, sometimes within walking distance!
Have a Bonfire
Nothing gives a campsite a homey feel like sitting around a warm fire at night with your friends. Not to mention it can make you a lot warmer on a cold night!
When I’m planning to have a bonfire, I like to bring food that I can cook on it, such as sausages or s’mores.
If I’m feeling really fancy, I like to make banana boats. To do this, I cut a slit down the middle of a banana and then stuff it with chocolate and marshmallows.
Next, I wrap it in tin foil, put it on the edge of the fire, and let the heat do its thing! After a few minutes, I take it out of the fire and get a delicious, gooey treat.
During the summer, it is so fun to enjoy natural water features around your campsite.
Many places where I like to camp in the summer can get above 80°F. There’s nothing like a cold, refreshing dip into an alpine lake or rushing stream to put a cherry on top of an awesome day.
I encourage you to seek out whatever water sources you can find near your campsite and make the most of them!
Even if you don’t plan on swimming, there is something so tranquil and beautiful about hanging out near a natural body of water.
On the other hand, if you’re camping in colder weather, hot springs can be a real treat.
I find it easy to get inspired and express myself when I’m surrounded by untouched natural spaces.
I have some artistic friends who bring along watercolors or colored pencils when they go camping. Sometimes they even bring an entire plein air kit!
In this article, I’ve covered the basics of planning a camping trip with friends and what you should bring.
I’ve also discussed ideas for activities that you and your friends can enjoy on your trip—but these are totally customizable!
As long as everyone comes prepared for the elements and shows up with a good attitude, you will have an awesome time.
I hope this guide has been helpful to you and that you and your friends have a great camping trip!
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Sara is an experienced outdoorswoman that works and travels seasonally throughout the western U.S. She holds a B.S. in earth science from the University of California Santa Barbara. Other than camping and writing, she's interested in skiing, surfing, peak bagging, and studying plants!