The Ultimate List of Essentials To Pack When Camping with Kids
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Camping and backpacking can be fun and inexpensive family activities or vacations, but you do need quite a few supplies to manage life in the great outdoors, whether you are hoping for a backcountry adventure or simple car camping. Find out what camping gear you'll need to pack for your next camping adventure, and remember to check with your campground to see if they supply items like picnic tables and firewood, and whether fully functional restrooms are available. Consider doing a test-run in your backyard if your family is new to camping or if you are getting ready for your very first time camping as a family.
Be sure to spend some time beforehand researching national parks and state parks and planning fun stops along the way for the ultimate family road trip. Keep in mind that the more research you do in advance about the area, the better. Campsites can fill up extremely quickly during the summer and prime camping times, so be sure to make reservations as far in advance as possible. The more you can involve your children in the research and planning, the better. Be sure to discuss how important it is to leave no trace when camping or visiting natural places too.
Also, check out the best camping foods and recipes and our suggestions for the best family gear available on Amazon below!
This seems like a no-brainer. Unless you're sleeping under the stars or you have a camper or RV, don't forget the obvious: a tent! If you haven't camped since last year, open up your tent to air it out. Make sure it's not musty or moldy, and check that you have all the poles, stakes, and the fly or tarp that goes over the top to help keep rain out. Sometimes tents don't fit as many people as they advertise, so check the measurements and user reviews when you're buying one. For example, if you are a family of four, you might want to purchase a six person tent to ensure that everyone has enough room. Check out The 5 Best Family Tents for Camping This Summer for some of our top family tent suggestions.
Our recommendation for an easy to set up family tent: The Coleman Montana Tent
Sleeping Bag and Pillow
Even if the weather forecast looks hot for your camping trip, bring a packable sleeping bag for every camper. Woodsy or mountainous areas can have temperature drops of 20 degrees or more at night, especially when there are clear summer skies.
Without a pillow, you could be facing a rocky night's sleep. Kids also like having a pillow for the long car ride and as a little piece of home to sleep with if camping is a new experience. Your pillows may smell like a campfire for a few days after your trip, so consider getting a different set of pillows for camping.
Our recommendation for the best sleeping bag for the whole family: MalloMe Sleeping Bag.
Air Mattress, Cot, or Sleeping Mat
Even if you're a tough, experienced camper who opts not to have the comfort of an air mattress, cot, or sleeping pad, bring something comfortable for your children to sleep on. It may save you from having to return home early with kids who aren't fans of roughing it on the ground.
Do your family a favor and test your air mattresses and blow-up sleeping mats for holes and leaks before your trip. Remember to bring a battery-operated air pump for your mattresses unless there's one built in. Avoid setting up camp on rocky areas that could puncture your mattress.
To make sleeping and down time even more enticing, consider setting up a portable hammock too. It’s a cozy place for reading, napping, or relaxing during campfire stories.
Our recommendation for a very comfortable air mattress: SoundAsleep Dream Series Air Mattress
Flashlights, Lanterns, and Headlamps
Flashlights are another camping staple. Bring multiple flashlights and extra batteries, and also consider buying a camping lantern. Lanterns are great because they shed more light in all directions, and they stand on their own so that you can play cards or board games at night.
The easiest way to see in the dark and have your hands free is to use a headlamp. Headlamps come sized for adults and kids. They are a wonderful safety feature as a way to always have an easy light source. Get ready for pesky moths and bugs to be attracted to the light, though. Try to turn off your flashlight before you enter your tent and zip the tent closed before turning the light back on to keep out bugs.
Our recommendation for a waterproof and super bright headlamp for both kids and adults: BLITZU LED Headlamp
Bug Repellent and Citronella Candles
Keep away mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies, and other notorious biters. Don't forget the anti-itch cream to apply after insect bites or run-ins with poison ivy. Just keep in mind that many bug sprays contain high levels of the chemical DEET, which may not be best for small children. Talk to your child's pediatrician about which products to use.
Our recommendation for a fun and highly effective citronella candle (with scents that include s’mores and campfire!): Coleman Scented Citronella Candle
Matches (stored in a plastic baggie or wrapped in foil to keep out moisture), dry firewood, and dry newspaper are all you need for a campfire or to make the most of a fire pit at your campsite. Most campgrounds, grocery stores, and convenience stores sell firewood throughout the summer. You and your kids can do a quick hunt for kindling wood for your fire. Each campsite should have its own cement or stone campfire spot and many also provide a cast-iron grate for cooking on.
You can also purchase fire starter supplies to ensure that you can get a fire started quickly (or to help out if your fire skills are not quite up to par). Bringing along portable camp chairs can make for a more comfortable campfire experience too. There are options that utilize the sleeping pad as the cushion which make for less to pack too.
Be sure not to forget the ultimate campfire essential when camping with kids: marshmallows! Roasting marshmallows over the fire will be one of the best parts of your children’s camping memories. They’ll love it even more if you bring along some chocolate and graham crackers to make fire roasted s’mores!
Our recommendation for an eco-friendly and non-toxic fire starter: GreenSpark Friendly Fire Starter Bundles
Here's what you'll need to have a functional outdoor kitchen for camping: collapsible bowls, plates, eating utensils, a cast iron or other high-heat-safe pot and pan; a large, heat-safe spoon and spatula; a long skewer for heating food over the fire (unless you want to use sticks); heat-safe oven mitts; a cooler with ice; a can opener; and dish soap and a small plastic tub for cleaning and reusing your plates and utensils. A Coleman camp stove can make meal prep easier than cooking over a campfire. Parents will especially appreciate having a thermos on hand to keep coffee or tea warm after a long night of ghost stories and tent sleeping with kids!
Our recommendation for a gas camp stove: Coleman Gas Camping Stove
Nonperishable Food and Bottled Water
While you can buy a water filter to purify water found in nature, families will find it easiest to bring gallons of bottled water or a water jug for cooking, cleaning, and brushing their teeth, if the campground does not have running water.
Also bring plenty of nonperishable food that will stay cool and safe in cans and jars until you're ready to cook and eat it. Canned chili and soups and dried soup mixes, individual mini cereal boxes, and individually packaged crackers and peanut butter or pretzels will stay fresh. Try to store your food in the car at all times when you're not eating it because animals will scavenge at all hours of the day.
Get some ideas for kid-friendly camping foods.
Our recommendation for a camping water filter: LifeStraw Personal Water Filter
Toiletries and Toilet Paper
Most campgrounds have fully functional bathrooms with running water, flushing toilets, and shower stalls (sometimes coin-operated). It's smart to bring your own supply of toilet paper in case it runs out in the bathroom. Also remember your toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, shampoo, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, eye care supplies, razor, and other toiletries you think you'll need. Pack sunscreen with your toiletries or beach gear. Even if your campsite is shady, being outside all day means a lot of sun exposure. A bandana for each family member is a simple way to make sure everyone has a way to add some sun protection. It can double as an easy clean up tool too.
Our recommendation for bandanas for the whole family: 10 Piece Bandana Set
Bring clothes for all types of weather, from hot or rainy days, to chilly nights. If there's a body of water nearby, bring swimsuits and beach gear.
Even if the weather forecast calls for pleasant climate, be prepared for cold, buggy nights. Bring jeans or other long pants (capri pants won't cut it), a long-sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt, socks, and close-toed shoes to help keep your family warm and protected against bugs. Pack older clothes that you don't care about getting dirty or ripped. A solid pair of waterproof hiking boots always make for a much safer and easier experience for all too. Kids are attracted to walking through every possible body of water or puddle they see when out in the woods, so hiking shoes can help to keep those little feet dry and comfortable.
Our recommendation for kids hiking boots that stand up to all kinds of conditions: Merrell Kids Hiking Boots
If your camping trip includes hiking, biking, fishing, and other outdoor romps, be prepared for bumps and cuts with a first-aid kit. Use the clean water you brought to rinse cuts and scrapes. Find a first-aid kit for outdoor adventures.
Our recommendation for a thorough first aid kit for families: Swiss Safe 2-in-1 First Aid Kit
Books and Games
Camping is a way to unplug from computers and electronic forms of entertainment. Encourage your kids to read, enjoy the quiet time, and put away their handheld video games during your trip. For younger kids, bring their favorite books and bedtime stories to help make them feel at home.
Tip: Even though you may be looking to unplug and get back to simple pleasures, be sure to pack your phone and charger because they are essential safety tools as you will want to be able to get help quickly in case of emergency.
Bring playing cards and simple board games without a lot of pieces to lose. Telling ghost stories, reading, or playing games by the campfire or inside the tent will make more lasting memories than playing video games. There's something special about living and playing outdoors for a few days!
Our recommendation for a charger is the Solar Power Bank which includes a flashlight and compass.
Day Hike Materials
One of the best parts of family camping is easy access to day hikes. This is a fun and purposeful way to show your kids the beautiful outdoors, get in some physical activity, and explore the area. Creating a list of scavenger hunt items for kids to find along the way makes it even more exciting. Having an easy to carry daypack for each person, or at least for the adults, is helpful. This can be the place where you carry your maps, first aid kit, snacks, pocket knife, and water bottles. Having each child wear a Camelbak as a portable and lightweight water source is a great way to avoid stopping too often along the way too. Hikers love Camelbak as an easy day hike essential.
Our recommendation for a hydration pack backpack: CamelBak