What to bring to a rented cabin

Some places are well-equipped and some aren't; here's a packing list.

Pack carefully so you can stay put and enjoy your vacation.

View all images

Thereís a surefire rule that applies to rented houses: Anything you really need but donít bring is exactly what the house wonít have.

Virtually every house has coffee filters. But the house I once rented on a lake in Cable, Wis., didnít, and I was reduced to straining coffee ó unsuccessfully ó through paper bags and toilet paper.

It also didnít have paper towels, a cutting board, a corkscrew or kindling.

It did have many items that often are sorely missed ó a colander, a juice pitcher, a muffin pan and ó wonders! ó a decent chopping knife.

Itís always hard to know what to bring. I brought my Swiss garlic press to the Norway Point Guesthouse in Minnesota's St. Croix State Park, but its amazingly well-equipped utensil drawer had one exactly like it, and its cupboards were full of dry goods left by other guests.

I brought a crockpot to my Mountain View Lodges cabin on the Upper Peninsula, but it already had one.

Housekeeping cabins in lake resorts almost always are completely cleared of dry goods before the next guest arrives, so you can't even count on salt and pepper.

Private vacation rentals, however, often have a shelf full of napkins and paper plates plus basic spices, vegetable oil and other leftover ingredients.

You'll be more likely to have these items if you're renting directly from the owner rather than through a property-management company.

Itís better to be safe than sorry. So here are the rules.


At housekeeping resorts, always bring towels for the bath, kitchen and beach and soap for the bathroom tub and sink, unless you've been told in writing that they're supplied. You probably wonít need dish soap and a scour pad, but bring them anyway.

Itís wise to bring coffee filters (and coffee; many cabins do supply ground coffee, but it's often stale), paper towels and a corkscrew.

Chances are youíll want to bring a gallon of drinking water, especially if you plan to make coffee; the well water may be full of minerals or otherwise unpleasant.

If you like to make juice, bring a juice pitcher. It's amazing how few cabins don't have one.

Think about what youíll be cooking and bring items you canít do without. Very few rental properties have well-sharpened knives, so bring either a knife or a sharpener, especially if youíll be cutting meat.

Bring a grater if youíre grating cheese, a spatula and griddle if youíre making pancakes, a pasta claw and colander if youíre boiling pasta, tongs if youíre grilling meat (and, of course, charcoal, lighter fluid and matches).

Bring muffin pans if you're making muffins; cabins often have them, but you can't count on them. Bring a crockpot if you want a nice meal waiting for you after a long hike or paddle.

You'll need leftover containers, plastic wrap and aluminum foil; cabins rarely have them. If you'll be contributing to a potluck, bring a pretty serving plate.


Beds in state-park cabins rarely have bedding and pillows, so you'll need those.

Private cabins do supply bedding, but rarely enough blankets for a large group. If you're bringing a large group, chances are that some get to sleep in real beds, but the rest have to sleep in pull-out sofa beds.

Unfortunately, these are often of poor quality, and you'll wake up with a sore back. So if you've got picky sleepers in your bunch, bring some Therm-a-Rest pads and sleeping bags, just in case. Yes, the floor can be better.


If thereís a wood-burning fireplace, bring plenty of newspaper, kindling and matches, and make sure firewood is provided.

And be aware that many properties advertise a ďfireplace,íí but what they really have is a free-standing wood stove.

Things to do

If you're planning to play board games or do a jigsaw puzzle, bring a bright lamp; many properties, especially state-park guesthouses, are poorly lit.

Bring a flashlight for late-night trips to the sauna or, better yet, a head lamp, which also can be used for reading in bed with a companion who's already asleep.

If you're worried about the heat, bring a fan.

You may not need any of these things ó but donít tempt fate.

If the weather is nice, you also may want to bring a few folding chairs, so you can sit outside (most cabins do come with picnic tables and a grill and/or fire pit), and  things to play in the yard ó a Frisbee, badminton game or balls.

And of course, bring insect repellent and sun block.

For more, see Renting a vacation house and Cabins & Cottages stories.

Similar Stories

  1. 20 perfect cabins
    They're in the woods, with views, vintage charm and modern luxuries (but maybe not all together).
  2. Staying in a state park
    Don't like to camp? Cabins and guesthouses are cushy, but still in the middle of nature.
  3. Finding a cozy cabin
    If you want, stay toasty warm and enjoy winter from a distance.
  4. Where to stay in Door County
    This tourist playground has a dizzying array of resorts, cottages, motels and inns ó everything but chains.
  5. Michigan's great lake cabins
    In the only state that borders three Great Lakes, the best places to stay are in state parks.
  6. Adventures in renting
    Thanks to vacation rentals, a no-frills group lives beyond its means on a trip up north.
  7. From yurt to B&B on the Gunflint Trail
    In a snowy Minnesota wilderness, guests get the best of two worlds.