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What to Pack for a Family Camping Trip (Printable Checklist Included!)

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

All the essential items to bring on a family car-camping getaway.

Pinterest image for What to Pack for a Family Camping Trip.

Sleeping under the stars, communing with flora and fauna, unplugging the tech and tuning into family... camping is where it's at... with the exception of all the stuff. The packing and shuffling of camp goods can be so overwhelming we try, as much as possible, to camp for a minimum of two nights, so we're not spending half our time dealing with stuff.

However, we've also figured out that a big part of our problem was brining too much stuff, because we never made a solid list of what we actually used on camping trips. So for the sake of our sanity and your's, we've crafted a master packing list. This sucker will ensure you're not stuck saying, "This campout would be way better if we had remembered to pack _____," while also helping you avoid a car that's so overloaded your rearview mirror is useless. Cheers to the fine balance of car-camping-packing.

Tip: Contact the area where you’ll be camping ahead of time to see if there are any specialized items they recommend you bring, or items that are off-limits.

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* Click here for a printable version of this list.

· A tent, or tents.

Interior of an orange tent with the flap opening to the woods and a smoking fire pit.

The size or amount of tents you bring will depend on whether you want to share a tent with the kids. Sometimes we’ll even designate a play tent and sleep tent so little, mud-covered feet don’t trash our sleeping bags.

In addition, it’s ideal to bring tents appropriate for the type of weather you’ll be camping in.

· Rain protection for tent. We’ve forgotten our tarp and rain fly before and it wasn’t pretty. Even if there’s no rain in the forecast, don’t test the weather Gods

· Rubber mallet for tent stakes. If you’re camping on harder ground, a rubber mallet (safer than a hammer) can save your hands.

· Mat. Place this directly outside your tent to leave soiled shoes.

· Sleeping bags and pillows. Check the weather to ensure you’ll be bringing sufficiently warm bedding.

An orange and white tent next to green and orange sleeping bags on top of a bluff at sunrise.

· Air mattresses. While those thin flimsy pads are fine for backpack camping, you might as well sleep well when car camping. As anyone who has slept on an air mattress knows, they’re not always great, and can sometimes leave you on the ground. It’s worth it to invest in a higher quality air mattress – we’ve have had excellent luck with our Eddie Bauer air mattress. And don’t forget the pump!

· Two sets of clothes for each day. You’ll likely get your day clothes sufficiently soiled on hikes and other excursions, so you’ll want a second set to change into for the evening.

· Pajamas. It’s nice to have enough pajamas to don a new set every other night.

· Bathing suit. If you’ll be near swimable water.

· Warm outerwear.

Man in crimson sweater and beanie standing next to a woman in a green down jacket on the edge of a dock above a clear, turquoise lake.

We often find it preferable to bring too much outerwear, than not enough, as evenings can quickly get chilly when you're living outside.

· Hiking shoes.

· Water shoes. If you’ll be near water.

· Sandals for bathing in public showers.

· Sun hats.

Stack of woven and straw hats on a white loveseat.

· Bug spray.

· Waterproof sunscreen.

· Portable shower. A slice of heaven after a long hike. Make sure to leave the water bag in the sun so it heats up.

· A not-too-nice towel for each family member.

Five blue and white Hawaiian hibiscus print towels hanging on white pegs beneath a sign that says Welcome to the Lake.

· Biodegradable toiletries. This helps ensure you don’t contribute to chemicals harming local flora and fauna.

· Baby wipes! “Baby wipe bath” is a phrase used too often in our family when camping.

· Headlamps. These are not only handy for things like food and fire prep, but help you keep track of the kids at night. Make sure to bring one for every member of the family.

· Solar powered battery pack. While camping is the ideal time to unplug, it’s nice to have the ability to charge your phone, or other gadgets, just in case.

· Portable chairs.

Man sitting in a camping chair in front of a green tent in a lush, grassy valley surrounded by mountains.

The picnic tables at most camping sites aren’t conducive for relaxation. And there are few things, at least in our opinion, as luxurious as sitting by a campfire in a scoop chair, with an addictive book.

· Wheels. If you’ll be in a camping area where vehicles like bikes, scooters, or other iterations of wheels can be used, this can provide hours of entertainment for all ages.

· Surprises for the kids. We find that bringing along fun surprises like glow sticks, poppers, smores fixings, bubbles and other unexpected treats for the kids can amp up their level of joy.

· Outdoor toys. Balls, Frisbees, etc. will all help minimize the “I’m borrred” choruses.

· Scavenger hunt list. Help the kids engage with nature by making a list of natural items they're likely to find around the campsite. To prevent them from picking living plants, you can have them take a photo, or draw a picture, of their finds.

· Constellation app on phone.

Starry night sky above three lit orange tents in the snow.

· Portable speaker.

· Shock and waterproof camera. A nearly unbreakable memory-capturing device for kids, for that aforementioned scavenger hunt.

· Firewood and starter. Obviously, this is only needed if fires are allowed in the area where you’ll be camping.

· Portable table (for sites without picnic tables).

· Too much drinking water. While most camping areas have a convenience store to re-up on water, it’s often expensive. We like to bring more drinking water than we think we’ll need.

· Coffee. Because coffee.

Man holding a white, metal coffee cup that says The Mountains Are Calling while camping.

· Just enough food for your planned meals. We used to throw random food we thought we’d use into our cooler… this resulted in a lot of wasted, soggy ice chest food. Now we think through each camping meal and get the exact amount of food necessary.

Tip: Prepare as much of your food ahead of time (e.g., chopping veggies, marinating meat, etc) to save you work on the backend.

· Non-perishable snacks.

· Portable cooktop and propane.

· Cooler with dry or regular ice.

White cooler on walkway next to ocean that says Sportneer.

· Supply box. If you’ll be car camping, it’s handy to have a large weatherproof box, with a critter-proof-lid to stay organized. The following items can be stored in this box...

o Toilet paper!

o Mini-shovel. For digging mini-potties if you won’t be in a location with bathrooms.

o Paper towels

o One set of silverware, and a plate and bowl, for each member of the family. It can be helpful to buy sets of plastic dishes that come in various colors so each family member can have their own color.

o Biodegradable dish soap

o Small plastic washing bin for dishes

o Large sealable bags for leftover food storage

o Spatula

o Pot and frying pan

o Kettle

o Foil

o Bottle opener and corkscrew

o Sharp knife with secure cover

o Cutting board

o Washing bin for dishes

o Biodegradable dish soap

o Scrub brush

o Dish towel

o Long skewers (for smores!)

o Trash bags

o Metal coffee mugs

o Reusable water bottle for each family member

o Battery powered lanterns. Super convenient for the eating area.

o First aid kit

o Deck of cards

o Binoculars

* Click here for a printable version of this list.


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