Wanderlust got you pining for mountains and valleys? Are you looking to escape to the forest or desert? It sounds like you have camping on the brain. Whether it’s your first camping trip or you’re hundredth, anytime you plan an outdoor adventure, you want to plan and pack accordingly. Sounds stressful? Don’t worry. I’m here to make it easier on you.
When you’re camping, the last thing you want is to forget something. After all, the squirrels and bears don’t exactly run Walmarts for forgetful travelers. But, you also don’t want to overpack and make setting up camp and hauling supplies a nightmare. So here’s my no-frills tent camping packing list for families – it’s easy peasy to use, and it’ll make planning your next camping trip ten times easier.
SETTING UP YOUR CAMPSITE
Whether you’re camping at a designated campground or roughing it off a forest road, getting your camping site set up correctly is the first and most crucial step to a fun and successful trip.
- Tent. You can’t go camping without a tent. It has to be at the top of your camping packing list! If you want my advice, make sure you have a decent quality one. I always inspect my tent for rips, tears, and holes before packing, in case it needs repairs or replaced. (Nothing ruins a camping trip like a ripped tent roof on a rainy night.)
On that note, ensure that your tent’s windows and bug screens don’t have any tears, or you may end up sharing your tent with mosquitos and flies.Also, don’t forget to pack the ground tarp, poles, stakes, and rain cover – again, a soggy tent is a sad tent.
I wanted to share our tent with you, but looks like they aren’t making it anymore. It’s been a while so we’re looking at a new one and this is on my wishlist. It’s the Marmot Tungsten 4P Tent great for backpacking with the family.
- Sleeping bag. The type of sleeping bag you choose will depend on when and where you are camping, and if you want to share it with someone (double sleeping bags are a thing). For summer, look for sleeping bags rated for temps 30+ or higher, for cold weather, +15 or lower.
- Dan and I have used Kelty bags for years and years – snow or burning heat. They pack small, they are light weight. We wouldn’t dream of using anything else. Our kids just outgrew their kiddo bags and we bought them the same ones. This is the link to the newest version our bags…Women’s Kelty / Men’s Kelty
- Sleeping pad. Want a more comfortable sleeping arrangement? Pack a sleeping pad; it’ll do your back a favor. Pro tip: Unless your kids are very young (like under 3 or 4 years old) skip the kiddo sleeping pad and go for the adult. I know it costs more, but you’ll be better off because they will be happy. Young camper? This one is the best one on the market: REI Co-op Kindercamp Sleeping Pad – Kids’
- Pillow. You can pack a normal pillow, but keep in mind that if it floods or bugs get into your tent, your pillow can quickly go from cozy to a soggy, bug-infested mess. I recommend bringing an inflatable or waterproof camping pillow or getting waterproof and bug-proof pillowcases for your normal pillows.I bought this larger pillow without telling the kids, thinking I was pulling a fast one on them. Karma got me. The Sea to Summit is waaaay better, even though it’s smaller. Why? because it fits within the headspace of your sleeping bag. You know the little “hoodie” art at the top…so it’s not slipping and sliding everywhere all night. Now I try to offer the boys the bigger one and they smirk. Like I said…karma.
- Headlamp. Having a headlamp around for midnight bathroom runs and emergencies will make getting in and out of your tent easier and reduce the chances of stepping on your camping buddies.
MAKING IT COZY
Just because you’re camping in the wilderness doesn’t mean you can’t turn your tent into a comfortable haven! Not only are these supplies a recipe for a cozy tent, but they’re also a good idea for making your camping trip more comfortable in the long run.
- Lantern. Nothing says camping like a tent lit by lantern light. Plus, having lanterns on hand can help with those late-night bathroom trips (no one wants to trip on a root or step in poison ivy on a nighttime bathroom break). I recommend bringing electric or solar-powered lanterns to reduce the risk of fires in the tent. Just make sure to charge them, and bring extra batteries.
- Hammock. If you want the ultimate chill camping experience, bring a hammock to sling up at the campsite. Just remember your tree straps! These seriously are game changing in the hammock world! Once, when we were leaving a backpacking site, a guy from a 100 yards over came and offered to buy ours from us on the spot. Here are the Eno straps we use.
- Tent rug. Who says you can’t have a rug in your tent? Make sure you get one that the sand will filter thru. Put it right outside your door when you are taking on and off shoes to keep your tent clean. We don’t take once backpacking with us, but if you’re car camping then it’s a must. We use CGear brand, for camping and RVing.
- Tablecloth and clips. If your campsite has picnic tables, pack a tablecloth. (I recommend a waterproof one, in case of spills, rain, etc.) First off, eating on a tablecloth is preferable to eating on a table that critters may use for a bed when you aren’t there. Second, it adds to the cozy factor of your trip. (Don’t forget clips)
- Kindling. You can’t light a long-lasting campfire without kindling! If you don’t pack any, you can usually find some around the campsite in the form of dry sticks, leaves, etc.
- Firewood. Double-check that your campground allows outside firewood and if there are fire restrictions in the area. Some national parks and forests implement fire restrictions during the dry season and only allow fires in designated areas. Campgrounds and sites may also require you to purchase firewood from owners instead of chopping or bringing your own.
- Camp chair. Unless your campsite has chairs or benches, pack a few camp chairs. Heck, we always pack ours because we’re either a) backpacking so there are no chairs in sight or b) the “built in” chairs at the campsite don’t reach the campfire.
- Because we try to be frugal, we only have backpacking chairs. But these are comfy enough that we even pull the Helinox Chair Zero out at our house – and the only weigh one pound so we can take them anywhere. I will admit that we have a small hole in one of them, but we’ve had them for 7 years and we have lugged them all over the country.
TOOLS & SUCH
Packing the correct tools will not only keep your campsite functional but safe. Double-check your supplies before leaving for your trip – you don’t want to forget one of these:
- Knife. I actually recommend packing more than one knife. For example, bring a utility knife for cutting rope, sticks, etc., and at least one knife with a sheath for use opening food supplies, cutting up meat, etc.
- Clothesline cord. If you plan to swim or play in the water, pack a clothesline cord for optimal clothes drying conditions. I pack one for every trip, just in case my clothes get muddy or wet.
- Multi-tool. I mean, it’s a knife, file, screwdriver, and more. You can use it for almost anything.
- Paracord. Paracord is great for an emergency clothesline, for hanging a tarp, for various knots, etc. Wear it as a bracelet for portability.
- Hatchet. Just in case you need to get your own firewood or for emergencies.
- We’ve used the Schrade Full Tang Hatchet for over a decade. Once a year we take it to the farmers market to get it sharpened, but I bet we have it a lifetime. Love it.
- First aid kit. I usually pack two, one for my hiking bag and one for the campsite. In addition, I recommend packing an extra ankle brace and ibuprofen in case of sprains or injuries from too much outdoor fun.
- Cell Phone battery pack. You’re camping – skip social media and connect with nature! But, just in case, keep a cell phone battery pack on hand for emergencies and for taking photos.
- SOS Flashlight. I recommend every member of a camping party have a small flashlight capable of flashing SOS on their person during trips. Lanterns are great, but flashlights are more portable and can be used to signal for help in emergencies.
One of my favorite parts of camping is the cookouts. There’s nothing like baked beans over the fire or pancakes made on a camp stove! Here’s what you need for a complete camping kitchen.
- Stove & Fuel. No camp kitchen is complete without a camping stove. Bringing a portable camping stove will make frying up bacon and enjoying baked beans (or whatever your choice camping food is) much easier.
- Lighter. Unless you can start a fire with just kindling, flint, and steel, you’ll want to bring a lighter. I recommend bringing an extra in your camping gear, just in case yours runs out of lighting fluid.
- Collapsible Shovel. The National Parks Service recommends individuals have a shovel to cover campfires with dirt when extinguished. Plus, they’re handy if you need to dig a firepit or dig out a stuck tire from mud or snow..
- Pot and Pan. Camp cooking is hard without at least one pot and one pan (also on the list). If you have to choose between a pot and pan, I usually recommend the pot – you can use it to purify water if needed, and can fry up eggs, bacon, etc., in it, too.We have this set from GSI Outdoors, but we typically use just the medium post and the frying pan (especially if we’re backpacking.) The removable handle makes it easier to pack, for use. They are non stick and easy to clean, too.
- Cooking utensils. Cooking utensils every day and camping kitchen essentials. Bring a spatula, spoons, and kitchen mitt or potholders along.
- Plates/Bowls. Bring camping plates and bowls. (I don’t recommend glass, bring the metal camping ones if you can.) Or bring biodegradable paper plates and bowls.
- Eating utensils. Again, you can bring your classic metal utensils or go for recyclable forks and spoons. Avoid plastic, especially if you aren’t staying at a regularly maintained campsite with trash cans.
- Coffee pour-over set. Your Keurig can’t make the trip, but a coffee pour-over set can! The Stanley Camp Pour Over Coffee Set is the best. Amazon’s price is a little better on this one, but not by much.
- Water bottles. Unless you’re backpacking in to a spot where you know there is water (and you pack your filter) then bring filled water bottles and/or jugs to your campsite. Ensure you bring enough for everyone to have at least 100 oz. a day, especially if you’re being active, plus more for cleaning dishes. Some campsites have running water, but some don’t.
- Cooler. You’ll want one for your meat and produce.
- Wash bin. You’ll need one to clean your dishes.
- Sap (biodegradable fire starter.) Collect your own at the campsite, or buy pine resin, which is the same thing.
- Rags for washing/drying. You’ll have some dishes to do, even out in the middle of nowhere.
- Water filter. Having a reliable water filter on hand in case you run out of clean H20 is a must. I recommend the LifeStraw for each person if it’s just for emergencies. If you want to leverage a water source nearby for a a few days then consider using the MSR MiniWorks EX Water Filter. Ours has lasted for about 4 years now (and going strong) with FREQUENT usage. We just bring this and an empty jug with our water bottles.
- Water storage jug. In case you need to collect water, pack a plastic or metal jug.
- Trash bags. As the National Park Service says, “Leave No Trace.”
- Ziploc bags. Purchase waterproof, freezer-safe bags for storing leftovers. Resealable bags also help prevent animals from getting into the leftovers.
- Can opener
- Bottle opener
- Corkscrew. Essential if you plan on packing wine for the camping trip.
- Bear canister (if required). If you’re in an area with bears, mountain lions, or other large predators, pack a bear canister to store your food in so they don’t steal your food. Some campgrounds and many backpacking destinations require it. If the area you’re in requires a bear canister, you might read that a hard canister is required (like this one) but you should be aware that a lot of places will say that because it’s easier than saying “Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Certified” Every hard canister is IGBC certified, but the only soft-side certified is an Ursack. We prefer a soft-side canister because it’s easier to cram things in, and it’s easier to carry, and highly recommend it: Ursack AllMitey Bear and Critter Sack
- Sponge. For cleaning purposes.
- Salt and pepper.
- S’mores Fixin’s. No camping checklist is complete without s’mores supplies. Enough said. So, grab the grahams, chocolate, and marshmallows!
- Cutting board. It makes prepping food a whole lot easier than trying to slice up dinner on a log.
- Food. Unless you’re backpacking, pack extra food, just in case. I recommend enough food for an extra two days’ worth of meals or at least extra canned goods in case of emergency.
I’ll admit I tend to over-pack clothing for camping, but only because I have a tendency to fall in the mud, water, or bushes. So, I’ll give you a minimum recommendation, but know you aren’t alone if you want to pack a few extra articles of clothing to be safe. (And if you’re camping with kids, definitely bring extras!)
- 2 pairs of shorts or pants (for every 3 days of travel). Pack according to the weather and terrain. Pants are best for areas with ticks or poison ivy, even in the summer.
- 2 shirts (for every 3 days of travel). Unless you plan to change shirts daily, you can usually get away with one for every 3 days of travel.
- Undies (enough for every day of travel). Undies are one thing I tend to pack a few extras of, just in case.
- Bra(s). Pack at least one for a 3-day trip, two if you want to play it safe.
- Jammies (according to season.) If you’re sleeping in the mountains, pack warmer jammies like flannel or sweatpants.
- Swimsuit/coverup/water shoes (if there is water play). Pack your swim gear as needed.
- Socks (for every day of travel). Changing your socks daily will help prevent blisters and infections.
- Sneakers/Hiking Shoes. Pack your shoes based on terrain – if you plan on hiking, don’t forget to bring your sturdier shoes!
- Hoodie or sweatshirt. Packing extra layers will keep you prepared in case of extreme weather.
- Hat. Pack a hat that will keep the sun off you in the summer and will warm your head in the winter or fall.
- Rain Jacket or coat. Pack your coat according to the season – rain jackets or windbreakers for warm weather, heavier coats for colder weather.
Packing the right toiletries will keep you feeling clean, fresh, and prepared even in the middle of the woods.
- Lip balm. Avoid chapped lips and sunburns with UPF lip balm.
- Brush or comb. Combs are great for getting twigs and debris from hikes out of your hair.
- Hair elastics (hair ties). Pack extras in case you lose a hair tie on the trails.
- Deodorant. You should always pack this for any trip.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste. Dental hygiene is important even in the woods.
- Sunscreen. Pack sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30 to prevent sunburns.
- Medicines. Pack your regular medication in addition to your first aid kit.
- Feminine Hygiene. Pack your hygiene products as needed.
- Bug spray. Pack a quality bug spray. Note: if you’re in an area with ticks, get a tick-specific spray. If you can’t use bug spray, get the bug-repellent bracelets.
- Anti-itch cream. Preferably one for poison ivy, allergies, and bug bites.
- Toilet paper. Preferably biodegradable options safe for septic tanks (to be gentle on any public facilities available at your campground).
- Bath wipes. These guys are on my “camping essentials” list. Camping can get muddy and sweaty, and you’ll get dirt in strange places. So pack the bath wipes, even if your campsite has showers. Just trust me on this.
- Hand sanitizer. In case no facilities are available.
- Wag bags and/or a small trowel. For use when facilities are unavailable. This is the wag bag brand we use.
JUST FOR FUN
Add some fun and adventure to your trip by including some of these extra accessories – totally optional, of course.
- Cards/other games
- Star-reading app
- Trekking poles
- Fishing pole + tackle
- Guitar or speaker
- Glow sticks
- Book of scary stories
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR CAMPING TRIP
- LAKE TAHOE: 23 OF THE BEST LAKE TAHOE CAMPING DESTINATIONS
- BIG SUR: 15 GREAT BIG SUR CAMPING SPOTS ADVENTURERS WILL LOVE
- OREGON COAST: 19 GREAT SPOTS PERFECT FOR YOUR OREGON COAST CAMPING TRIP
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