Today’s post is sponsored by Walmart, my go-to source for almost all of my family’s camping equipment.
Camping is one of my favorite family getaways. Not only is it WAY more affordable than amusement parks, resort vacations, or even simple out-of-town trips that involve hotel stays, but it’s also the only family together time we have that is so completely ours alone. Far away from cable TV, internet, and telephones – camping is a great way to spend quality time together and enjoy wholesome activities. As a result, we go on a LOT of camping trips and over the years I’ve refined our family camping packing list. Not all of these camping items are necessities, but most of them do make camping more fun and (for those of you who are divas like me) more comfortable.
Setting Up Camp
First and foremost, unless you have a motor home or camping trailer, you need a good tent. When your kids are older, they might enjoy setting up their own smaller tents, but until then I recommend what we affectionately refer to as our camping Taj Mahal. We have a HUGE 8 person tent that is basically a portable cabin.
The benefits of using one large tent instead of multiple smaller tents are:
- Only one set up
- Everyone stays together
- There’s room for a table so you can play cards or board games during rainy weather
We always bring a couple of tarps too. These are great for covering areas you want to keep dry in the event of rain.
Next, I always make sure we have plenty of air mattresses packed. This is where the diva in me comes out. I’m all about enjoying the great outdoors, but I find it much more enjoyable when I awaken refreshed instead of irritable from sleeping on the hard, lumpy ground. And here’s another important note: If you pack air mattresses, don’t forget the pump (trust me, you don’t want to try blowing a mattress up without one!).
If you prefer to rough it, at least pack camping pads. They don’t offer much in the way of cushioning, but will protect you from the cold and damp ground.
Camping pads can also be attached to your backpack, if you plan to do any back wood camping (hiking out to a location and spending the night).
Regardless of which sleeping surface you choose, you’ll need sleeping bags for each person. Most places, no matter how warm during the day, get very cool at night and sleeping bags are the easiest, lightweight bedding option that will also keep you warm and cozy. I always pack pillows for each person too (two for me, because you know – “diva”).
As long as I’m admitting that I prefer a cushy campsite, I’m going to go ahead and recommend a combination lantern/ceiling fan for inside the tent. They cost less than you think and they really up the comfort level of your campsite.
If you want to skip the ceiling fan, at least pack a lantern and/or flashlights. You’ll need them to navigate around camp after dark, especially if you want to avoid accidentally stepping on a sleeping camper when nature calls in the middle of the night.
Finally, to complete your cozy campsite, don’t forget to bring chairs for everyone.
Often camping involves lots of physical activity (e.g. hiking and climbing), which means you’ll have a lot of hungry campers to feed.
We camp a lot, so we’ve invested in a full set of cast iron cookware. If you know you’ll use it, and you don’t mind hauling it along (it’s HEAVY), it’s the best way to cook over a campfire. That being said, you can get a full non-stick camping cookware set for a reasonable price.
Don’t forget utensils to stir, flip, and turn your food. And unless you want to spend more time making the fire than cooking over it, be sure to pack some matches or a lighter.
You’ll also need something to eat off of and eat with. We used to bring paper plates and plastic utensils, but eventually bought an inexpensive enamelware dining set to reduce waste.
I’m sure this won’t surprise you, coming from the girl who likes to have a ceiling fan in her tent, but I absolutely refuse to give up coffee during our camping trips. So, while others might consider it a luxury, I consider a camp coffee pot ESSENTIAL.
Something we don’t have, but I know a lot of regular campers do, is a propane grill. This is helpful if you’re camping in rainy weather and can’t get/keep a fire going to cook over.
Most importantly, don’t forget the food! Pack lots of trail mix to keep in your backpack while you’re out exploring. For meals, try to stick with recipes that can be made in one pan. If you’re camping for multiple days, eat your fresh ingredients earliest before they can go bad. Later in the trip, you can fall back to canned foods. Don’t forget to bring ingredients for s’mores or the kids might riot.
If you don’t have a camping recipe arsenal, check out this cookbook. It has a lot of great recipes that can be made over a campfire or on a grill. Many of our campfire meals are packets (the kids like choosing their own ingredients) so we bring a lot of aluminum foil on our camping trips.
Most importantly, don’t forget water! Hydration is always important, but becomes critical when you are in a setting where you are physically active and have limited access to clean drinking water. We stock up on plenty of gallon jugs of water, even if we’re reasonably certain we’ll have fresh water available at our campsite. If you’re doing a lot of hiking or back woods camping, you should also consider bringing a mini water filtration system so you can create drinkable water from otherwise questionable sources.
The whole point of our family trips is to unplug and reconnect as a family so we try to leave technology behind and spend our time delighting in nature and old school games that everyone from our youngest (age 9) to our oldest (age 18) can enjoy.
We try to keep our cell phones put away so we use walkie talkies to communicate. For some reason, conversations are more fun when you end every sentence with “over.” We also bring binoculars to spot animals and other interesting sights on our hikes.
In addition to hiking gear, we always bring an Aerobie (a flying ring similar to a frisbee but flies farther, is easier for younger kids to throw, and easier to pack since it’s open in the middle).
Our camping tradition involves telling spooky stories around the campfire at night. My husband is a creative storyteller so he usually makes them up. I, however, rely on someone else to come up with the story so I turn to books. Campfire Stories is a great one for kids of all ages and has wonderful tips on storytelling if you’re new to it. For older kids (8 and older), Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories (he doesn’t write the stories in this book, but did select them) is amazing.
You probably won’t forget to pack clothes, but it’s important to remember all the right types of clothes and personal items you’ll need. Each person will definitely need a good pair of hiking shoes and possibly a back-up pair in case the first pair gets wet, muddy, etc. Each person will also need flip flops (or shower shoes) if you plan to use the public shower available at most campgrounds.
Nights (and some days in mountainous regions) can be very cool so each person should also have at least one set of warm clothing (jeans, insulated socks, sweatshirts, jackets, gloves, hats). Even if it’s warm during the day, consider lightweight pants and long-sleeve shirts over shorts and tank tops. The material will help shield your skin from the sun, poison ivy, and mosquitoes. They can’t protect you completely though so don’t forget sunscreen, sun hats, sunglasses, and insect repellent.
If you let your kids pack for themselves, double check that they pack underwear. You won’t believe how many times at least one of my kids has completely forgotten to pack any!
You might have noticed in previous sections that I always have rain provisions. That’s because it’s rained on about 50% of our camping trips. No matter how warm it is, make sure each person has a good rain jacket. You don’t need to invest in waterproof boots for everyone, but definitely bring at least one extra set of clothes, shoes and some towels to help keep campers warm if they get wet. On the subject of being wet, if you are camping near a lake, river, or in a campground with a pool, don’t forget swimsuits, goggles, and beach towels.
We tend to relax our personal hygiene requirements when we’re camping, but that doesn’t mean we let the kids go completely primitive. We always bring along a good supply of wet wipes, sanitizing wipes, hand sanitizer, and packs of the disposable mini toothbrushes (since they make it easy to brush your teeth without water).
Printable Family Camping Packing List
Even after dozens of camping trips, I still need to use a list to make sure I pack all the necessities. I’ve dressed it up a little to share with you. Click on the image below to get your copy of my Family Camping Packing List. I’ve left some blank spaces so you can fill in items that you’d like to add to your own packing list that aren’t on mine (if you have any of those, please let me know what they are – I love finding new ways to enjoy our family camping trips!).