Camping Gear For Families

Following up on my posts on how to book a camping trip and tips for camping with kids (once you're in the woods, today I'm sharing about gear. Below are things I recommend packing, reflecting both gear essentials and a few little luxuries.

But before I get into the basic gear needs, keep in mind that you don't need to break the bank buying all new stuff. Ask friends and family and see if anyone is willing to lend you items. We’ve both borrowed and lent; in general, people who have camping gear are happy for that gear to get some use more than a couple of times a year! Another option if you're hesitant about taking the plunge to buy all new gear is to rent gear from a place like REI. OK, now on to my list!

Camp Shelter Gear

1. Tent. I highly recommend having two shelters, both for sleeping purposes and to have a little more space to spread out. Our two-part tent (similar to this tent + screen room) worked great. Note: get a tent with a fly in case it rains; a groundcloth also is helpful though we didn't use this one this time around.

One of the beauties of car camping is you can bring a big tent!

One of the beauties of car camping is you can bring a big tent!

2. Sleeping bags. You might be able to get away with blankets for the little ones but we ended up getting sleeping bags for the girls too, which they loved.

3. Sleeping pads/mats/mattresses. You can opt for roll up mats or if you’re going to bring inflatable mattresses, get a good one. I highly recommend the AeroBed, which is the only inflatable mattress we’ve used that isn’t flat by morning!

4. Lovies. We limited Laurel and Violet to 1-2 stuffed animals each. They were happy to have them.

Aerobed = super handy (and not deflating) when you're camping.

Aerobed = super handy (and not deflating) when you're camping.

General Campsite Needs

5. Firewood. You buy firewood at or near camp and it's also great to have your kids collect fallen branches and twigs for fire building!

6. Matches. Make lighting fires easier...

7. Flashlights. The girls loved each having a little pocket flashlight and the grownups had full size ones.

8. Paper goods. We brought toilet paper for peeing in the woods and paper towels for mess cleanup.

9. Observation tools. Vi had a little cheapo magnifying glass that she loved using to inspect nature treasures. We also had a pair of binoculars with us.

10. Maps. Yes, paper maps. Depending on where you go, remember you might lose your signal and GPS. Go old school and bring maps!

11. Hiking gear. If you’re going to do day hikes, bring a backpack, whistles, and whatever else you’d like.

Food & Fluid

12. Food. Plan out your meals in advance to prevent excess and waste. We have packed things like hot dogs, veggie burgers, and quesadilla fixings (+ snacking veggies and fruits) for dinner and eggs and cereal bars for breakfast. We also like bring canned soup and beans as backup options. Also bring plenty of snacks + s’mores supplies for dessert. I also recommend precutting all your fruit and veggies (and anything else that requires cutting) at home so you don't need to bring a knife and cutting board.

13. Cooler. We left our cooler in the back of the car to reduce animal interest.

14. Water jugs. Bring plenty! You can always retain whatever you don't use in your home emergency water supply.

15. Water bottles. It's hard to stay hydrated as you do at home. I recommend bringing one large (Nalgene-type) water bottle for each family member and keep refilling from your water jugs.

16. Can opener. If you’re bringing canned goods.

17. Cooking spray. Avoid a spill and bring spray instead of liquid.

18. Stove. Jon has a great Primus two-burner stove. It was easy to set up and cook with. (We thought about bringing a small grill but skipped it to save on space.)

This Primus stove is easy to use on camping trips!

This Primus stove is easy to use on camping trips!

19. Propane tanks. To hook up to said stove.

20. Cookware. We have brought a small fry pan + pot, which is perfect for making quesadillas, hot dogs, burgers, and eggs.

21. Plates and utensils. Bring reusable plastic plates and cutlery. We have used small quantities of water to scrape and rinse dishes and then poured the water into the fire.

22. Stovetop espresso maker. I am one of those people who loves a cup of coffee first thing in the morning and it's like a slice of heaven to have coffee just like we have at home at camp via our little Bialetti stovetop espresso maker (I even bring sugar and heavy cream...sooo good!).

If you are a coffee lover, having the real thing when you're camping is INCREDIBLE.

If you are a coffee lover, having the real thing when you're camping is INCREDIBLE.

Clothing + Activities

23. Clothing. Bring light long layers to give you protection from bugs. (Also bring socks for the same reason, even though it's summer.)

24. Raincoats. Even if rain isn’t in the forecast, bring them. We ended up using ours as an additional layer of protection from the aggressive bugs.

25. Hats. Good for sun protection and also as an added layer of defense against bugs (do you sense a theme??).

26. Swim gear. Bring bathing suits, towels, goggles, and life jackets for little ones in case you make it to the water.

27. Shoes. Bring at least two pairs, in case one pair gets soaked. Laurel and my trekkers worked great!

28. Books and magazines. Go device free and bring books and magazines. It was so nice to relax and kick back and read with the girls. Activity books are also a nice option.

29. Little treats. My friend Charles recommends having some small treats at the ready: "Hide some small, fun 'stocking stuffers' for use in critical moments if necessary. Pokemon card packs, small Lego items, and coloring/sticker books have worked well for us - especially key on long drives!"

Personal Effects

30. First aid kit. We never travel without one.

31. Bug spray. OMG ESSENTIAL (bugs adore me and Laurel). We brought several different eco-friendly kinds (Quantum Buzzaway, Badger Balm Anti-bug Balm, All Terrain Kids Herbal Armor) and they all worked great.

32. Sunscreen. Ever essential.

33. Antibacterial wipes. Handy for when you don't want to trek to the bathroom to cleanup hands.

34. Diapers and wipes. If you’re still in the zone.

35. Toothbrushes and toothpaste. Oral hygiene = good.

36. Facial wipes. I brought facial cleansing wipes, which made it easy (and refreshing) to clean up at the end of the day. Like my coffee, they felt like a little luxury from home.

*Note: this list doesn't reflect all the things you would need to camp with babies. Feel free to weigh in on that topic in the comments!

Do you have other recommendations for preparing for a camping trip with kids? Share them in the comments below!