Family Camping Essentials

For some families, camping means hiking into the backcountry with only what can be carried in a backpack. For others, it means car camping: pitching a tent at a developed site equipped with picnic table, water, fire ring, and grill. Not every family will need or want to bring all the gear on this checklist.

A helpful tip: organize and store supplies in labeled bins so they'll be ready and waiting for next time.

Camping Shelter & Sleeping Gear

  • Tent, ground cloth, stakes, guy lines, and a hatchet or mallet for pounding stakes into the ground.
  • Sleeping bags, pillows and air mattresses or camp sleeping pads (note that air mattresses do not insulate against cold air and are not the best choice for mountain camping).

Tip: Stuff a pair of clean socks into each family member's sleeping bag, to be worn only at night. This will keep dirt out and bags clean.

Tip: Print out a helpful camping checklist here, then check it off the checklist while you load up.

Click here to see  How to Find the Right Tent for You.

Things to Pack for a Camp Kitchen

  •  Propane stove and enough extra fuel to last throughout the trip
  • Matches and/or lighter
  • Lantern and extra fuel or batteries
  • Pots and pans: A soup or pasta pot with lid, a saucepan, a frying pan, and your preferred device for making coffee (pot, press or cone) should do.
  • Dishes: An unbreakable plate and bowl for each person, plus a larger bowl for mixing and serving. Coffee mugs, plastic cups. Consider using paper plates for some meals.
  • Utensils: Knife, fork and spoon for each person, chef's knife, paring knife, heat-proof stirring spoon, serving spoon.
  • Paper towels
  • Kitchen towels
  • Tablecloth (picnic tables can be yicky)
  • Water container
  • Colander
  • Cutting board
  • Scissors
  • Biodegradable dish soap
  • Hand soap and/or sanitizer
  • Pair of plastic basins for washing and rinsing dishes
  • Scrub brush or sponge
  •  Measuring cup
  • Trash bags
  • Charcoal, fire starter, and rack if you plan to grill
  • Foil
  • Can opener, wine opener
  • Storage containers/bags
  •  Ice chest and ice (if you have room in your vehicle, pack two chests; one for beverages and one for food)

Tips: Bring the pots and pans you normally use in your home kitchen; if you're cooking on a propane stove, there's no need to invest in a separate set. To keep stored food from getting soggy when your ice begins to melt, make your own block ice in half-gallon milk jugs. You can also look at investing in Arctic Ice.

Camp Food

  • A carefully planned menu, recipes if needed
  • Ingredients for all meals - make a list and check it twice
  • Spices and condiments
  • Snacks
  • Beverages

Tip: Make everything in advance that you can. Freeze soups and stews. Chop onions and do as much other prep as possible before leaving home. Note that empty hotel shampoo bottles are great for storing small portions of ingredients such as soy sauce, syrup and spices that are sold in bulky bottles or jars.

Take These for the Campfire

  • Camp Chairs
  • Water bucket
  • Folding shovel
  • Firewood (you may have to buy it on site as bringing or gathering your own is discouraged these days)
  • Marshmallows, graham crackers, and Hershey bars for s'mores (gotta do it!)
  • Wire coat hangers for roasting marshmallows
  • Musical instrument

Pack These Personal Items for the Camping Trip

  • Clothing - think in terms of layers
  • Night clothes
  • Backpacks
  • Water bottles or hydration packs
  • Rain gear
  • Pocket knife/Leatherman or similar tool
  • Medications
  • Toothbrushes
  • Hiking shoes
  •  Flashlights and/or headlamps
  • Towel
  • Hair brush and cosmetics
  • Bikes, helmets
  • Baby supplies if needed

Camping Stuff for the Family to Share

  • Hiking maps, field guides, binoculars, guidebooks
  • Compass
  • Soap, shampoo and a good supply of quarters if your campsite offers showers (many times, you'll have to pay)
  • Sun shower (if the campground doesn't offer showers)
  • Toothpaste
  • First-aid kit
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Playing cards and table games
  • Laundry bag
  • Toilet paper
  • Phone chargers
  • Life jackets, kayaks, canoe, water toys

Stuff for the Camping Dog

  • Food and water bowls
  • Dog Food
  • Leash
  • Containment system - stakeout, cable, crate or other means of keeping your pet in camp
  • A list of everything you'll need for your next family camping trip.