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Camping Essentials for Families With Kids

A series of camping tents pitched on a grassy hill overlooking distant misty mountaintops under a sapphire blue sky.Image credit: Pexels.

There’s nothing quite like packing up the entire family for a prolonged stretch of time spent in Mother Nature. From swimming to hiking, pitching a tent to cooking over a fire, camping can be a source of genuine fun for young and old alike.

As a parent or guardian, though, it’s important that you go into your camping adventures prepared. After all, you’re not renting a hotel room or heading to a restaurant. No, camping requires that you bring food, lodging, and activities right along with you.

The problem is, you don’t want to have to head back home because you forgot a flashlight or a swimsuit. You want to remember to bring everything you need along with you the first time you head out the door.

From food and bedding to hygiene, safety, and even fun, below you can find a comprehensive “family camping list.” Use it to stay organized as you prepare for your family’s time in the wilderness.

Keep in mind that these are the essentials. There are always additional things, some necessary and others less so, that you’re going to want to bring along as well. However, this list of basic camping staples is an excellent starting point that will ensure you have all of the core camping elements strapped onto the roof or stuffed into the trunk when you pull out of the driveway in search of outdoor adventure.

Tents and Bedding

When you’re camping outside on the ground, you want to make sure you bring the right equipment to stay warm, safe, and comfortable.

As you gather your tent and bedding supplies, remember to consider the time of year and the location where you’ll be traveling. Will you need to bring thin sheets for hot nights or will you be in a desert region where the heat of the day is replaced by the bitter cold when darkness falls?

Consider what you need and then pack up the following items:

  • Tents, poles, and stakes;
  • Tent footprint;
  • Extra tarp;
  • Sleeping bags;
  • Sleeping pads or air mattresses;
  • Pillows;
  • Blankets.

Clothing

Much like your shelter and bedding, when it comes to your clothes, you must prepare for any reasonable eventuality. Consider the time of year, the weather forecast, and any activities that you may participate in while encamped.

Will you be hiking in the fall? Swimming in the winter? Rock climbing in the Adirondacks? White water rafting in the Colorado River? Make sure to select clothes from the following list that address whatever circumstances or weather conditions you may face.

  • Day-to-day clothing;
  • Pajamas;
  • Swimsuits;
  • Appropriate shoes for activities;
  • Coats;
  • Gloves;
  • Hats;
  • Sunglasses.

Food

Food prep is an absolutely essential area to cover when you’re camping. You must consider breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as snacks and drinks.

In addition, remember to tailor your menu to any family member’s diet restrictions. On the one hand, if someone is a vegan or trying to follow the keto diet, it’s important to respect their food choices. On the other hand, if someone has a  Celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you’re going to want to be extra careful to prepare safe gluten free options.

For instance, instead of making gluten-filled pancakes, you could opt for a gluten free version instead, or substitute a hearty oatmeal for breakfast. You can even make gluten-free foods such as homemade Ritz-style crackers or soft graham crackers so everyone can participate in making s’mores around the campfire. Likewise, plan on making some hot dog buns ahead of time in case your kids will be roasting franks for dinner.

While the list below does not cover the food itself (that will vary depending on your dietary and taste preferences), here are several typical food prep tools that you’re going to want to have on hand for each meal.

  • Matches or lighter;
  • Firewood;
  • Pots and pans;
  • Corkscrew;
  • Can opener;
  • Plates and bowls;
  • Utensils;
  • Cooking utensils;
  • Roasting sticks ;
  • Containers;
  • Cooler;
  • Ice;
  • Water bottles;
  • Cups and mugs.

Hygiene and Cleanup

One of the most important things about ethical camping is properly cleaning up after yourself. This both shows respect for nature and leaves your campsite cleaned and ready for the next camper.

In addition, you want to ensure that you have the proper hygiene items to wash hands, bathe, and clean your cooking utensils. This part of the list covers basic hygiene and cleaning items that are easily overlooked.

  • Environmentally-friendly soap;
  • Sponge;
  • Towels;
  • Paper towels;
  • Toilet paper;
  • Trash bags;
  • Toothbrushes;
  • Toothpaste;
  • Tampons/pads.

Safety

When you go camping you’ll likely be near uncivilized woods, open sources of water, and a variety of wildlife that can be dangerous to approach. Use the following list (and your own knowledge) to prepare your family to stay safe.

  • Flashlights;
  • Maps;
  • Compasses;
  • Whistles;
  • First-aid kit.

Fun

While simple camping may be an all-encompassing experience for an adult, a child can get bored during some of the downtimes. That’s why it’s wise to bring a slew of camp-friendly activities to keep everyone happy. Use the following part of the list as inspiration for some camping fun.

  • Bikes;
  • Board games;
  • Deck of cards;
  • Coloring books;
  • Crayons;
  • Binoculars.

Babies and Toddlers

Kids and teenagers can generally tag along with most adult camping activities. However, if you’re bringing a baby or a toddler, they’ll likely need their own version of several typical camping items, the most important of which are outlined below.

  • Portable crib;
  • Portable high chair;
  • Diapers;
  • Baby wipes;
  • Formula/baby food;
  • Baby sunscreen.

Other Essential Gear

Finally, there’s always a mishmash of random camping miscellany that shouldn’t be forgotten.

  • Chairs;
  • Lighting;
  • Fuel or batteries;
  • Insect repellant;
  • Sunscreen;
  • Prescriptions;
  • Pet supplies;
  • Beach towels/blankets;
  • Pocket knife;
  • Solar-powered charger;
  • Bluetooth speakers.

Choosing and Booking a Campsite

When you go to select your camp and campsite, it’s important to keep the family element in mind. Start by researching the camping options available. Look for a forest or park that suits your family’s needs.

For instance, on the one hand, if you have teenagers, look for a forest with a good mountain to hike. On the other hand, if you have younger children, make sure to avoid areas that may have steep cliffs or too much waterfront.

When you go to choose your campsite, remember to look for the following:

  • A large, flat site that can accommodate all of your tents and your entire family.
  • A site that is farther away from other sites, as families tend to be loud.
  • A site that is near running water and a restroom if possible.

Once you’ve found an ideal site, book it and then write down the campsite letter/number in an easy to find place.

Safety Precautions for Camping

Finally, always remember to thoroughly review camping safety protocols. This is always important, but it’s absolutely essential when you’re bringing minors out into the wilderness. Make sure to address safety basics such as:

  • Using the STOP method if you get lost in the woods.
  • Staying away from wildlife.
  • Sticking to a buddy system when you leave the campsite.
  • Informing a third party about your plans and when you will be gone so that if something goes wrong, someone will be able to notify a search-and-rescue team quickly.

If your family goes into the experience well-informed about the risks, it will make the entire trip safer and, for you as the parent or guardian, provide some additional peace of mind as well.

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