A family camping trip requires preparation and packing the right camping supplies. Here are my tips, lists, and a packing printable for camping with kids.
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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 we camped 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 our 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.
Check out this list of camping products I recommend.
Tips for Camping with Kids
When camping, you have three major things to prepare for — lodging, food, and clothes. Here are my tips for camping with kids and my camping supplies list.
Plan Where to Camp
- Vet your campsite before you hit the road. Here are amenities to check for:
- Does the site have electric? It’s always helpful to have a 3-pronged car adapter as backup.
- Is there water: onsite, nearby, at the bathrooms? Is it potable water or washing only?
- Bathrooms or port-a-potties?
- Hot showers: free, coin-operated, or none?
- Can you bring in firewood or buy it there?
- Is there a burn ban?
- Is there a pool, lake, and/or playground where kids can burn off energy?
- Tent camping or cabin stay.
- Cabin – Renting a cabin is the best option if you are low on space or want lower maintenance setup. Take sheets, blankets, and pillows. Also see if there is electricity, a bathroom, and/or a small refrigerator on site.
- Tent – Make sure you’re prepared with the right tent and protected from the elements.
- Is the tent big enough for everyone?
- Is it waterproof? Even if it says it is, we recommend waterproofing it every season and sealing the seams unless the tent instructions specifically say not to.
- 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 an air mattress in the bag it came 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 the into a tote or plastic trash bags to protect them.
- Pack your tent in the carry case it came with or a plastic tote to keep it compact and protect 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.
Make sure you print this handy camping supply list to make packing a breeze.
Plan What to Eat
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 for all scenarios. Be prepared to roll into camp later than anticipated, bad weather, and burn bans and have ingredients for 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 smaller cooler with an ice pack wrapped in a paper bag to protect the produce fro getting too cold. Everything else goes in the big cooler. You will want:
- meat (put it in frozen and double sealed in freezer bags)
- chocolate bars
- lots of ice/ice packs
- Plastic tote 1 – This tote hold as much of the kitchen supplies as possible as well as food that needs to stay dry.
- canned goods such as: tuna fish, canned tomatoes, beans
- 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 (do not use these to set hot pans on. They get disfigured.)
- hot pads
- pancake mix
- zip top bags
- aluminum foil
- French press or kettle for hot drinks (coffee!!!)
- cutting board (I like these thin plastic ones for travel)
- 4-cup measuring cup
- 1 large bowl – use for mixing ingredients or washing dishes
- chef’s knife
- paring knife
- paper towels
- dish soap
- dish cloth
- plastic trash bags (for wet clothing, blankets, or trash)
- vinyl cloth-backed tablecloth
- first aid kit
- multi-purpose knife
- antibacterial wipes (not necessary, but helpful).
- I also pack cheap rain ponchos in here.
- Plastic tote 2 – this is my back-up tote if the food doesn’t all fit in the other tote.
- peanut butter
- graham crackers
- snacks (dried fruit, nuts, chips, pretzels)
- Skewers and a tripod or grill grate for cooking
- Several gallons drinking water
- Firewood (you may need to buy onsite).
- 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!
Ready to buy some camping gear? Here are some things I recommend.
Pack 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. Plan on washing laundry every couple days if you are on an extended trip.
- 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 several extra pair of socks 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 or comfy jacket.
- 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.)
A Few Tips to Keep Your Campsite Safe and Enjoyable
- 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 a lantern or flashlight and extra batteries handy.
- 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. If it’s extra buggy, spray the outside o the tent down with bug spray a while before you go in it. You don’t want to go inside too soon after doing this as the smell can be overwhelming.
- We keep a tote inside the tent and put shoes in it in a plastic bag as they are taken off so we aren’t smelling stinky shoes all night. I don’t advise leaving them outside in case of unexpected rain showers, critters hauling them 0ff (this happened to friends), or unsavory bugs/snakes crawling inside them.
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