Ready to go camping? Or not….
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My family started tent camping when I was a teenager. With 7 kids in the family we couldn’t really afford much else when it came to vacationing. One summer, as we transitioned from a tough situation, we camped every other weekend. That summer, camping was our stability. Every other weekend we would pack up, hit the road, and camp in what became our second summer home – a tent site in the mountains of central PA.
We quickly learned how to pack for a smooth adventure and be prepared for, well, just about anything, except bears. I’m not sure we ever thought of those… except when my dad would sleep outside. Under the stars was more pleasant than cramped inside with 8 other people but we all worried that a bear would eat him.
I brought my camping knowledge with me into adulthood, and even though we hadn’t camped much in the first 12 years of our marriage, I never forgot what we needed for camping success. While we camped on our Arizona road trip, we were quite low maintenance because we were doing so many other things and gone for such a long period of time. When we went on our second medium-sized road trip – Road Trip New England – it was all tent camping. I needed to be prepared yet travel as compactly as possible. Then last year’s New Hampshire – Pacific Northwest Road Trip really taught us to hone in on just bringing the necessities and be ready for any kinks that may get thrown in THE PLAN.
Tips for Camping with Kids Efficiently
When camping, you have three major things to prepare for — lodging, food, and clothes. Here are my tips for camping with kids efficiently without missing the necessities and my camping supplies list.
Planning Where to Camp
- Vet your campsite before you hit the road. Does the site have electric? Water? Bathrooms or portapotties? Free hot showers, coin-operated, or no showers? Can you bring in firewood or buy it there? Is there a burn ban?
- Tent camping or cabin stay.
- Cabin – take sheets, blankets, and pillows. Also see if there is electricity, a bathroom, and/or a small refrigerator on site.
- Tent – Is the tent big enough for everyone? Is it waterproofed? Taking a tarp is helpful in case you need to put it over top in rain or lay it under the tent if the ground is extremely rough. Will an air mattress or cots fit for your comfort if sleeping on the ground won’t work? You will need blankets and/or sleeping bags and pillows. You may want extra blankets in case some get wet or you need extra padding.
- Packing your tent in a plastic tote helps keep it compact and protects it from getting beat up in transit. Put tent pegs, clothesline rope, and a mallet with a metal hook on the end or a hammer in a small bag to keep them together.
- Packing an air mattress in a box or tote will help protect it from punctures and keep your vehicle more organized. Make sure there is space for an extension cord and/or air pump if needed.
- Pack sheets, blankets, and towels in pillowcases.
- Lantern or flashlight and extra batteries
- 3 Pronged Car adapter so you have an electrical source if your campsite has no electricity.
Make sure you print this handy camping supply list to make packing a breeze.
Planning Camping Food
Ah, camping food. The food and cooking over an open fire is one of my favorite things about camping. However, you definitely need to be prepared. Be prepared for weather to ruin your cooking plans and have easy meals you don’t need to cook. Also have plenty of ice in the cooler for hot sticky weather. We have successfully taken milk on the road for 5 days by carefully keeping it packed in ice and ice packs at all times.
- Cooler – I usually take one large cooler and a smaller throwaway type cooler. We put produce in the throwaway cooler and everything else goes in the big cooler. You will want: meat (put it in frozen), chocolate bars, marshmallows, eggs, milk, any produce that needs kept cold, and lots of ice/ice packs.
- Plastic tote 1 – Salt, pepper, oil, any canned goods, 1 large cast iron frying pan, 1 stainless steel/cast iron soup pot (nothing non-stick), 1 large serving spoon (metal/wood), a flipper (metal/wood), can opener, welder’s gloves, pancake mix, zip top bags, aluminum foil, french press or kettle for hot drinks (coffee!!!), cutting board, 4-cup measuring cup, large knife, small knife, plasticware, bowls, plates, cups, paper towels, dish soap, dish cloth, plastic trash bags (for wet clothing, blankets, or trash), newspaper, matches, tablecloth, first aid kit, multi-purpose knife, and antibacterial wipes (not necessary, but helpful). I also pack cheap rain ponchos in here.
- Plastic tote 2/reusable bag – Fresh produce (unrefrigerated with longer shelf life), bread, peanut butter, graham crackers, cereal, applesauce, snacks (dried fruit, nuts, chips, pretzels), coffee/tea, several gallons of drinking water
- Skewers and a tripod or grill grate for cooking
- Firewood (you may need to buy onsite). We like to bring food safe DuraFlame fire starters too to lessen the frustration of starting a fire.
- Campfire cooking recipes. While I have some camping recipes like Campfire Roasted Salsa Egg Sandwiches and Campfire Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Blueberries, my friend Laura, over at Family Spice, is a pro at cooking over a fire with Dutch Oven Recipes. Make sure you check it out!
Packing Clothes and Toiletries for Camping
The most efficient way to pack for a camping trip is to put as much as possible into one large suitcase. Roll all items tightly to conserve space and take as little as you need.
- Clothing – Think layers. It can get chilly at night depending on where you are and long sleeves also help ward off biting bugs.
- Roll underwear and socks together. Pack an extra pair of socks or 2 in case they get damp.
- Tightly roll shirts. Think simple. Perhaps have an extra shirt in case you get caught in rain but keep it low maintenance. Make sure to pack a sweatshirt.
- Pack a mixture of long pants and shorts/capris. You never know what you will need, but again, keep it simple.
- Comfortable clothes to sleep in.
- Swimwear if there is a pool or lake for swimming.
- Closed shoes for hiking or to protect your feet and flip-flops for showers or travel days.
- Toiletries – You’re roughing it. Keep it simple. Bring a hair dryer if you must but hair bands or a hat are much lower maintenance.
- Bug spray
- Anti-itch cream
- Pain reliever
- Fingernail clippers (Don’t even ask. Just DO and most certainly wait for a manicure until your return home.)
Tips for Packing the Vehicle and Setting up Camp
How you pack the vehicle is just as important as what you pack. There is nothing worse than getting to your campsite and having to unpack everything to get to the tent. We always pack ‘backwards’. We put the least needed stuff in the back/most difficult to get to. Usually, this means toiletries and clothing.
- When we get to a site the first thing we need access to is the tent and tent supplies.
- Once the tent is up one of us unloads and fills the air mattress while the other gets the fire going.
- We usually have the children take blankets and pillows into the tent WITHOUT GOING IN as no shoes are allowed in the tent.
- While one of us does the food prep the other finishes unloading the van and supervises kids going to the bathroom and/or table set up. This is also a good time to scope out where the bathrooms and water are if you didn’t do so when you first arrived.
- Once you are completely finished with the fire, make sure you thoroughly douse it so nothing smolders overnight, clean up all food and put it away so you don’t get unwelcome visitors, and clean any dishes.
- Keep your tent closed as tightly as possible and only take the light in when you are all in for the night. I recommend turning it off before you open the tent and take it inside so less bugs follow it.
- We keep a plastic bag inside the tent to put shoes as they are taken off so we aren’t smelling stinky feet all night.
Get this easy camping supply list I already made for you.
Who’s ready for a camping road trip? Any important tips you think I missed? Give us the scoop in the comments.
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