What Not to Bring Camping: Real Life Stories of Misadventure

Even though you might have the perfect list of what to pack for your camping trip, there are times you mess up by bringing something that just doesn’t work for you. Learn from the mistakes of expert travelers on what not to bring camping. We poled some of our favorite bloggers and here are their stories about the things you should just leave at home on your next camping trip.

Couple preparing a meal with a lot of pots and pans
imagined by MidJourney

Valuable Electronics and Jewelry

To be fair, the most valuable thing we’ve ever had stolen was a table cloth. As much as I believe people are good and campers are honest people, I also believe you shouldn’t tempt people. The best way to avoid a theft is to leave valuables, from your favorite electronics to expensive jewelry, at home.

We have no expensive electronics other than our camera and phone which we keep with us. On longer trips I take an ancient laptop for travel writing. It would probably be a gift if someone walked away from it! However, Victoria from My Australia Trip shared they weren’t as lucky:

“While many digital nomads manage to keep working and camping at the same time, we just couldn’t while we were camping in Bremer Bay in Western Australia. The internet connection was extremely weak and on our last night, our van was broken into and of course the laptops were stolen.”

Camper with flower pots, rugs and pretty table
imagined by Midjourney

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

It’s so tempting to add extras to your camping checklist to make your home away from home feel cozy. But sometimes we go a bit too far in creating the perfect camping spot. Remember to keep it simple when camping and don’t pack things that you don’t really need. Janae at Adventures With TuckNae tells the story of a favorite decorating item they won’t take camping again:

While RV boondocking in Colorado, we put one of our outdoor hanging plants on the slide-out cable of our RV. When we packed up to go, we forgot to take it down and pulled the slide in with the plant still on it! We realized about an hour down the road, only to find that it was magically still safe! We won’t be camping with outdoor plants anymore!

Inflatable Gear

We love to kayak in National Parks. But truth is it can be a hassle to haul them around on your camping adventure. Taylor at Culture Craving Couple had a great idea to solve that problem that went bad:

While camping in Washington State, my husband and I thought it would be romantic to bring a blow-up canoe and have lunch on the lake while asking each other some questions for couples.  However, we weren’t thinking and didn’t bring any kind of pump so we could barely blow it up and couldn’t get it float. Needless to say, it wasn’t so romantic!

Dark Colored Clothing

I thought everyone knew that dark colored clothing attracts mosquitoes and other bugs. That’s why khaki is such a popular color in outdoor wear. There are a variety of ways to repel mosquitoes when camping, including bug spray and wearing light colored clothes. Well, apparently not everyone knows this rule as Lauren from The Traveling Moore discovered for herself:

I wore my favorite pair of black lulus on a safari glamping trip. I figured the fabric would protect me. Well, I was wrong! I discovered that black attracts mosquitoes! Those buggers bit me right through the fabric and I ended up with more bites than I could count. And they were extremely itchy. So, learn from my mistake and leave your leggings at home the next time you go camping.

Woman in high heels and white fancy dress in front of a tent
imagined by MidJourney

The Wrong Shoes

Camping is hard work. And the conditions are not always perfect. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve camped in the rain, which means a muddy morning. So you’ll want shoes that work with you. That can be anything from a good pair of hiking boots to a machine washable pair of sneakers. Well, Haley of Cool California Hotels wondered “what were they thinking” when her camping neighbor stepped out:

“During my last camping trip on the California coast, I spotted my neighbor sauntering around the campsite in high heels, no joke! There she was, teetering between the trees like she was fresh out of a luxury Big Sur resort and wanted to give camping a try for the night. Proving fashion knows no bounds, not even in the great outdoors.”

Fragrances and Perfumes

Anything fragrant runs the risk of attracting little critters. Being a bear safety freak, I know that you never bring your shampoos and soaps into your tent as a bear might mistake them for food. But even more likely is that a rodent or squirrel will chew a hole in your tent to get to those treats. What I failed to consider is the impact of washing may hair with herbal shampoo.

“We were camping in Maine during our trip to Acadia National Park. Our campground had a canoe available so off we paddled. If you don’t know it, black flies are horrendous in July. They definitely loved the smell of that shampoo, getting into my hair and biting all around my hairline.”

man standing in front  of cooler overflowing with food
imagined by Midjourney

Too Much Fresh Food

Surprisingly we find ourselves eating healthier when we camp, but keeping food fresh is always a challenge. I usually only pack fresh meats and vegetables for 3-5 days which is the limit of our cooler. Then we either hit grocery stores or transition to our back up supply of canned and packaged foods. Here’s a story from Oli of New Zealand South Island Travel Insider Guide about what can happen when that cooler plan doesn’t work!

We bought lots of fresh produce for a camping trip in New Zealand. But there wasn’t enough room in the chilly bin, so we hung bags off our camp chairs. The next day, we woke and found a possum had gotten into our food. The hot weather had melted our ice, and cheese, meat, and bread spoiled.  Now, we stick to pre-packaged foods and less fresh food.

Foods that Won’t Weather Camping

Yes, that title might be a play on words because weather conditions often leads to food disasters. The list of foods that don’t do well camping is long. For example the time I bought double chunky chocolate chip cookies for a desert camping trip. Can you say gooey! Lisa at Travel to Lyon shared a gross experience her husband had:

“In the early 80s, freeze-dried food was all the rage (remember astronaut ice cream?).  With some reluctance, my husband recalls a Boy Scout hiking trip in the Blue Wilderness with an abundance of freeze-dried banana chips.  Which were both nutritious and delicious…until it rained for three days straight, soaking everything in his pack.  Hasn’t touched a banana chip since.”  

Foods That Take Too Much Work or Gear to Make

Unless you are a foodie with a fully equipped camp kitchen for that three-course meal, it’s so much more fun and easier to plan one pan meals for your trip. Especially when we are car camping and there isn’t much space we try to keep it simple. We personally prefer quick stir fries or foil packets. Really… who wants to be cooking all night? Well, Rachel at Oahu Travel Secrets learned the lesson of keeping it simple the hard way.

“With the well-intended idea of making soup over a fire on a camping trip, we did not consider the prep – cutting boards, knives, bowls, peeling potatoes, precooking rice, etc – let alone storing the soup for the weekend. We didn’t think it through -didn’t even bring Tupperware. It turned into a nightmare. We ended up eating our freeze-dried bags of food all weekend.” 

Foods that Attract Bugs and Wildlife

Oh how I love bacon, but the thought of bears smelling it from miles away leaves it off my camp list when we are in grizzly country. Even worse is food that creates a lot of smelly garbage to attract scavengers at night. But I think Nick of The World Overload had the worst experience ever!

As a fan of energy drinks like Monster and Reign, I brought several with me on my last trip camping. During the last night, I accidentally spilled some on myself and had no clean clothes left. I decided it was fine. But then throughout the night I kept feeling creepy crawly bugs all over myself attracted by the scent of sugar and flavors like cotton candy and cherry lime. Lesson learned: don’t bring sweet drinks camping.

Broken tent in campground

New Gear You Haven’t Learned to Use

From camp stoves that won’t light to a water filter that won’t pump water, it can be quite a mess when you have camping equipment failure. By taking a few minutes to read the instruction and practice using your essential items on their first camping trip, you’ll save a lot of headache as Paulina from the UK Every Day learned on this trip:

I recently went on a camping trip to the Lake District. When I arrived at the campsite, my tent popped up effortlessly, and I felt like a camping pro. But when it was time to pack up and go home, I struggled to fold it down. No matter how hard I tried, the tent wouldn’t cooperate.

Gear That You Fail to Inspect

Before you throw you camping gear into the van, give it a quick check. Are all the parts there? Are there any signs of unusual wear? Any damage while in storage? Did you restock your first aid kit? Once you are in the middle of nowhere there’s no turning back to replace essential camping gear as Shara of SKJ Travel discovered:

I gleefully inflated my new Thermarest sleeping pad, anticipating a comfy sleep. Soon I awoke dismayed at the ground poking and prodding me. To my horror, I found the pad flatter than a pancake. An uncomfortable lesson learned — don’t bring inflatable items before testing at home for leaks. I suspect my cat’s claw was involved in this travesty.

Incomplete Equipment Packs

We learned a long time ago to have a dedicated set of cooking equipment for camping just because of the story Erin of The Simple Salty Life shares. It lives in a tub of it’s own. When we get home, I wash and repack into that tub. For me, there’s nothing worse than a lovely bottle of wine and no wine opener! We also keep all our sleeping gear and tent in one place so we can grab and go.

We’ve been stuck trying to find an open restaurant late at night when we pack canned goods for dinner but forgot the can opener! We’ve even packed the tent but forgot that the poles were in a separate bag- back in our garage. That led to a spontaneous trip to a local Walmart to buy a brand new tent! Check your packing list and make sure you are bringing the essentials.

Cheap Substitutes for Critical Gear

It’s so tempting to save a few bucks by substituting cheap items for critical gear. I used a garage sale frying pan for several years and complained each trip about how poorly it distributed heat, often burning everything. Why! Even more important is that you have the right gear for a good night sleep. A sleeping bag rated for the weather you’ll experience tops my list of things you must pack, and right after that is a good insulation layer under the bag. Well, Chelsea from Adventures of Chels friend learned that lesson at a price.

“A friend thought it was a good idea to bring a cheap inflatable pool raft to lay her sleeping bag on while camping. I admit it sounded like a good idea in theory… In reality it didn’t hold air well and she woke up every morning on the hard ground anyway. Note to self. Cheap pool rafts do NOT make good “air mattresses” for camping!” 

2 campers laying on air mattresses next to tent

A Real Mattress?

This one falls under the “what were they thinking” category! Victoria from Guide Your Travel wins for the most insane thing someone took camping. I can’t even begin to imagine how they thought this was going to work:

While we were camping in the jungle on a tour of Thailand, we encountered other tourists, which was quite rare in such a remote area. They had a very basic setup, but for some reason a full, real mattress they tried to squeeze into their small tent. Of course, it didn’t fit, so the end of it got wet when it rained later in the night. I don’t think they used it again.

Things That Attract Mold

It sounds obvious when thinking about what not to bring camping that you want mildew and mold resistant gear. Even on the sunniest days, cooler night temperatures mean dew will settle on everything. It never occurred to Emily from Emily Embarks that this would be a problem though:

Nobody enjoys sitting on a wet, wooden bench while camping, so, while staying in Banff, I thought I would surprise my husband with a picnic table set to solve our continuous “wet pants” problem. Well, after 5 days, we came to find that the table cover was holding moisture despite the beautiful weather. Our once-white table cover was black with mildew and mold. Needless to say, it wasn’t worth the cost or extra weight!

More Things Not to Pack for a Safe and Fun Camping Trip

I don’t have funny camping stories of misadventure for these, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t include these personal items in the list of what not to bring camping.

Prohibited Items

Check the small print on your campground reservation. Prohibited items can include the more obvious alcohol, firearms, and fireworks. But sometimes it includes less obvious things like grills and dogs. It’s important to know the rules.


While it may be OK in many states, don’t include it in your camping gear. National Parks and Forests are on federal land, which means their rules are different and it’s not OK. And you’ll find most other camping spots have it on their prohibited list.


If you break a glass bottle at home, you just sweep it up. But break glass containers on gravel and you’ll never get it all picked up. Then there is a high risk of someone getting cut on the glass shards. So we suggest you avoid glass bottles on your camping trip. That also goes for other glass items like food storage containers and drinking glasses.

Firewood from Home

We really hate to pay the crazy prices some campgrounds charge for firewood but it’s worth it to enjoy campfire songs and s’mores in the evening. While the temptation to bring free firewood from home is great, we know that it’s also a great way to spread invasive species. So pony up a few extra bucks to protect the forests of the future.

Non-Compostable Toiletries and Wet Wipes

Wet wipes are my go to when showers are few and far between on a camping trip. There’s a huge selection of bio degradable and compostable wet wipes, as well as compostable toilet paper so there’s no excuse to create excess waste.

Loud Speakers or Other Noisy Items

Your fellow campers will definitely think it’s a bad idea to hear your music blasting through the night. However I think an even better reason to avoid bringing them is to ensure you and your family experience a natural camping experience. Listen to the crickets at night, hear the howl of coyotes, and maybe listen to total silence in amazement.

river with empty plastic bottles floating

One-time Use Bottles

We know, that one-time use bottle is recyclable. But reality is that only about 10% are actually recycled. So grab your reusable water bottle for your upcoming camping trip and refill as you go.

The Importance of a Positive Attitude

Robert Burns said “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” And it couldn’t be more true than when heading out for a camping trip. Even the most organized packer will have extra things in their gear. And she will wake up in the middle of the night wishing for something that is no where to be found.

At that point, you need to find your inner chill and roll with it.

I hope this list of what to not bring camping helps you with your packing list for your next camping trip. We had a lot of fun sharing everyone’s stories of mistakes they’ve made on the road. Feel free to drop us a note if you have a funny misadventure of your own! And have a great camping trip!


  • Ladona Stork

    The Authors: Hey, we are Ladona and Brad, avid campers and hikers. We are crazy about getting outdoors at every possible moment and have decades of experience exploring nature. Our current goal is to visit all 63 US National Parks and just completed #42. WooHoo! Our mission is to help you plan your own adventures and create memories beyond your imagination!