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Packing for a camping trip is hard…whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned pro. Sure. The big items are hard to forget – tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear. But there are other things to bring that will make your camping experience oh so much better like a camping mattress. Whether you buy, borrow or rent your gear, here’s a downloadable camping packing list with expert tips to get you out the door and by the fire with everything you need for a wonderful wilderness adventure
Family Camping – Without a List, You’re Lost
If you don’t need a family camping packing list, you likely have a photographic memory that would give Sheldon Cooper a run for his money. But you should still make sure you implement a system to keep all the necessary items accounted for. It saves a bunch of time in the long run.
There will be far more items here than what you need for every situation. You may also find this checklist is lacking for more specialized needs. Use this as a jumping-off point to get you in the camping mindset! And you’d probably survive using this camping packing list even if it’s not personalized to your family’s exact needs. Use ours to get you started and then make it your own!
The Barebones Necessities
Most campsites include a picnic table, a place to park your car and a spot to pitch your tent. Many also have shared bathrooms and even running water. If you’re glamping, you’ll have more amenities, but it’s still good to have some essentials packed in your trunk.
- Tent – this one is larger and has a sweet plug-in electric port. Don’t forget the tent stakes too!
- Tarp or footprint for under the tent (and an extra tarp for super deluge rain days can come in handy!),
- Family first aid kit
- Sleeping bags (rated for your intended use)
- Sleeping pads (foam “eggshell” in a pinch; a luxe camping mattress if you really want to rest)
- Camp table (if you’re not at a site with a picnic table)
- Camp chairs
- Camp stove (if you’re not at a site with a fire ring OR you prefer versatility)
- Parachute cord (for a clothesline and a million other uses)
Top Picks for Camp Essentials:
A good camping mattress, like this one from Coleman, inflates easily and is budget-friendly.
Or, if you really want to get as close to your bed at home, opt for one of the Coleman camping cots like the ComfortSmart.
Look for long battery life and bright light output in a camp lantern. This one’s got a built-in hook for hanging too.
Cupholders and support for up to 300 pounds make this bestseller for REI a good choice for a camping chair.
I really wouldn’t go camping without either RENTING or owning/borrowing the above-mentioned gear. It’s the bare minimum for a comfortable trip, in my humble opinion. I would say you can make the swap of a tent for a hammock if that’s your preferred method for sleeping out of the elements while in the bush. Otherwise, try to line up these items AND know how to use them!
Read More: 7 Essential Tips for Camping Newbies
Clothes and Gear for Family Camping
- Something for your clothing – if you’re car-camping, a hard-sided suitcase (a smaller, carry-on size) that fits nicely with totes and coolers. Others prefer larger capacity backpacks for more rugged settings. It’s all about what works for you.
- Layers (for everyone, but especially for the kids) – Synthetic or wool against skin (seems to keep everyone warm and wick moisture. We love the Omni Wick line Columbia offers).
- A good hoodie or fleece for on top and lounging around camp.
- Raingear – at least a jacket for everyone, but sets with pants are really useful for days when the sky opens up and you still want to have adventures.
- Wool socks – more pairs than days out, especially if you will be doing a lot of hiking or if you’re staying near water.
- Undergarments – just like the socks, you should bring a few extras.
- Outfits – it’s helpful for younger kids to have an outfit per day of camping; for older kids and adults, you can likely get by with using a few items more than once.
- A dry bag – helpful to keep on-hand for dirty laundry or for hauling wet gear back to the homefront after a fun weekend on the river.
- Good footwear is paramount to having a great experience. Bring rubber boots, warm winter boots, or sandals, respective to your adventure needs. Break-in hiking boots or shoes before you put on hard trail miles. Remember, waterproof footwear can give you hot feet if not needed for wet conditions, so choose well. Your feet carry you through your day!
- A warm hat, gaiter and pair of liner gloves (thin and very practical for dexterity) for each person in the group
- Alternately, if it’s sunny and hot out, sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat for the whole gang is appropriate.
- And, of course, all of your basic toiletries, from travel toothbrushes to soap and shampoo.
If you can make a little room in the car, consider adding a travel clothesline. This one’s sturdy and windproof and is great for hanging stuff that gets wet in the woods.
Camping Comfort Items
For many, part of the joy of camping is needing very little gear to have fun outdoors. But it’s also nice to have a comfortable and convenient campsite. And, if you have kids, you know that they need some extras by default. So, here are the comfort items to include on your camping packing list.
- A good headlamp for each person is essential when you are planning your family camping packing.
- A pack for quick hikes and those moments away from your base camp. Fanny packs and lumbar packs are perfect for this use!
- Make sure if the kids have a blanket or stuffed animal that it comes with if they need it to sleep. This is not the time to wean from comfort items.
- Compass and maps – it’s always to pass old school skills along to your kids. You know all too well how frustrating it is when your phone announces: “GPS signal is lost.”
- Weather band radio – there are some great ones these days with solar and crank/manual power. This one is awesome! It’s important to have a reliable source of information, particularly during wildfire season.
- A larger pack for picnics and toting short-hike items that are too big for a lumbar or fanny pack. This convertible tote is versatile for everyday use.
- A daypack for putting on the miles – if hiking is part of your itinerary or if you have heavy items, an actual backpacking daypack with a hydration sleeve and supportive strap system is a must.
- A water bottle for everyone is necessary, and these particular vessels keep water cool and have proven to withstand all the adventures they are subjected to, with ease.
- Sunblock, swim gear and sun-protective garments (if applicable to the season and your activities, especially if your camping adventure involves river rafting or other water sports.). Omni-Shield is a sun protection line that offers styles for everyone in your camping party–even the smallest tykes!
- Lip Balm (consider using one with sunscreen).
Everything But the Sink: Outfitting a Camp Kitchen
This probably isn’t the time to cook on cast iron for the first time. If you are going to use your camp cook time to experiment, make sure you have another option, just in case it proves to be more temperamental than you expected!
- Camp stove (also listed above, but for obvious reasons, here too)
- Fuel for the stove
- Cooler – find a size for your needs that fits your car and go with it!
- Storage bags (we have gallon, quart and sandwich in our kit)
- Gallon Ziploc bag of seasonings, or at least salt and pepper
- Aluminum foil
- Can Opener or Swiss Army Knife
- French press or percolator for coffee. A portable espresso maker is a nice luxury!
- Filters/Ground coffee
- Portable coffee grinder/beans
- One set of utensils for each camper
- One set of cooking tools
- Good, sharp knives; wet stone if applicable
- Mixing spoon/whisk
- Garlic press
- Crab crackers (for those coastal adventures!)
- Marshmallow sticks (unless you whittle your own from branches, in which case you’ll want to be sure you pack your whittling knife!)
- Matches and lighter(s) in a ziplock bag
- Cutting board (we love the flexible, thin ones)
- Mess kit
- Bonus points for nesting sets which come with dishes AND pots/pans
- If not, plan bowls, plates and cups for each camper
- Frying Pan / Pots: One of each, minimum. Different sizes are useful if there is room
- A griddle is sometimes fun. Cast iron is great but heavy and requires regular rehab
- Potholders or oven mitts
- Duct tape
- Bottle opener/corkscrew
- Two nesting wash bins (one for wash, one for rinse)
- Towels (one each flour sack and terry)
- Washcloths and sponges
- Eco-friendly dish soap (We love Camp Suds.)
- A few trash bags and grocery bags
- Baby wipes – wicked useful, even sans baby
- A roll of paper towels is handy
- EVOO or other cooking oil
- Hand sanitizer is great for quickly washing your hands outdoors
Keep Your Camping Gear for Camping
DO NOT lend out your camping gear or dip into it for other uses. If you do, you will be sitting at the base of a beautiful mountain or bankside a babbling brook, ready to start dinner without your can opener. It’s almost certain. Duplicates are an okay luxury here. You don’t need to buy expensive stuff for camping, but it is helpful to buy a different color or pattern, to identify easily your camping gear and differentiate it from your daily household items.
What’s a Camping Packing List Without Fun and Games?
- Camp Games – UNO, dice, portable cornhole, ladder ball, spike ball, chess, etc.
- Field guides and binoculars
- Notebooks or journals
- Fishing gear
- Activity books
- Scavenger hunts
- Bubbles and chalk
- Spike ball
Totally Optional Items to Consider (if You’ve Still Got Room!)
- Screen tent or sun awning
- Parachute hammock for lounging
- Cots (not necessary if you have a great pad!)
- Tablecloth (vinyl or wipe-easy surface, clips)
- All of your dog’s needs
- Solar charging stations
- AM/FM radio or Bluetooth speaker for wifi capable sites
- Insect repellent
- Glow sticks
- Toilet paper (not all sites have ample supply or any at all)
- Solar Shower
- Firewood (be sure to buy locally or source from a hyper-local area to prevent the spread of insects and disease)
- All of the items that make you happy and healthy (personal ditty bag, prescription medications, your iPhone, etc.)
- Small hatchet or ax – there are some impressive packable folding saws on the market
- Extra batteries (for the headlamps, lanterns, radios, etc.)
- Water purifier
- A small broom and dustpan (the kind you can get in the dollar section work great for keeping the tent tidy!)
- A backpack carrier for little ones. It’s great for hiking AND for around the campsite when you’re cooking so they stay out from underfoot.
Packing Tips for a Family Camping Trip
After years of playing trunk Tetris, I have thrown in the towel on freeform packing and switched to a more Type A approach. I love totes for my general supplies and for our kitchen kit. Try to find ones that stack and are sturdy. Even though totes can be a bit expensive, you’ll want them to last, so don’t go the cheap route here!
Update Your Camping Packing List
Let’s just get this out there. As a seasoned guide and extended remote trip enthusiast, I find organization upfront saves headaches in camp. Get your perfectionist personality on and do a little work in the beginning. Just like I was taught at work while inventorying my fire engine each season, I make a checklist for our camping supplies. I note with an asterisk which items will need replacing or refurbishment. I throw a Sharpie into our Kitchen Kit, just in case I need to make notes.
What if You Forget Something?
While you’re packing, tick off items on the camping packing list to make sure you don’t forget the essentials. Some things, like Pull-Ups, will be easy to grab while out and about, but if you’re really remote, you’ll have to be innovative! I forgot diapers while hiking and had to outfit baby with a begrudging dad’s t-shirt for a cloth diaper a la 1950! You don’t need to bring along every item — though we can’t all live from a capsule wardrobe or a carry-on sized bag, so we won’t judge if you pack everything, including the kitchen sink!