Camping is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and get back to basics with the family. However, it can quickly become a disaster if you don’t have a good family camping checklist.
If you’re like us, you might need a few pointers on what to bring on your trip. That’s where our camping checklist comes in. A good checklist is important for making sure that your camping trip is as safe and fun as it should be.
Essentials for family camping
We’ve come up with a detailed camping checklist to hopefully take some of the stress out of packing for your trip. This list is pretty detailed, but everything on this list is actually stuff we truly needed at some point.
Here’s a quick look at our family camping checklist, later we will go over each category and explain in more detail why you may need these items.
If you are camping by yourself, check out our checklist for solo campers.
Shelter and Sleeping needs
- Tent, poles, and rainfly
- Sleeping pads
- Sleeping bags
- Pants, sweats, shorts
- Sweatshirts, t-shirts
- Coat or jacket
- Hat, gloves
- Undies, socks
- Hiking shoes, hiking sandals
Toiletries and First Aid
- Camp Towel and Washcloth
- Bar soap
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Glasses, Contacts, Small Mirror
- Hairbrush, Hair Ties
- Deodorant, yes, please
- Sunblock, Aloe
- Bug Repellant
- Antihistamine, Ibuprofen, Cough Syrup
- Bandaids, Gauze
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Bear Spray
- Eye Drops
- Ear Plugs
- Sleeping Mask
- Water Jug for washing face, hands, and brushing teeth
- Hand Sanitizer
- CPR cheat sheet
- Camp Stove or Grill, Propane
- Camping kitchen
- Lighter, matches, fire starter
- Small table (if no picnic table available)
- Table Cloth and clamps to hold it down
- Camp Chairs
- Cookware, Kettle, Mess kit
- Plates, Bowls, Cups, Utensils, Knives
- Cutting Board
- Oven Mitt
- Water Jug for Drinking Only
- Paper Towels
- Small Tub, Dish Soap, Scrubby for Cleaning Dishes
- Sandwich Baggies
- Aluminum Foil
- S’mores Sticks
- Chip Clips
- Sharpie Pen
- Metal Water Bottles
- Garbage Bags
- Empty Plastic Juice Jug with the top cut off (my favorite kitchen item)
Gadgets, Tools, etc.
- Headlamps, Batteries
- Lantern, Propane, Lighter, Matches
- Camping Shovel
- Camping Saw
- Portable tent Heater
- Hammer and Bigger Nails
- Wood for Campfire
- Rope, Thin Cord
- Duct Tape
- Binoculars, Compass
- Walkie Talkies
- Old School Watch
- Card Games, Dice Games
- Coloring Books, Crayons, Pens, Plain Paper
- Soccer Ball, Volleyball
- Frisbee, Smashball
- Cornhole, Ladderball
- Backpacks for Day Trips
- Fishing Poles and Gear, Worms, Fishing License
- Glow Sticks and other fun Glowing Stuff
Family Camping Checklist Tips
I know some of the items on our list seem odd, but hear me out. There is a valid reason for them all, and I learned the hard way over many years of camping with a family.
Shelter and Sleeping Tips
Tent, Poles, and Rainfly
Having the right tent for your needs is one of the most essential factors in family camping. First of all, your tent needs to fit everyone. Second, I suggest doing a test run to check the dimensions before heading out to the woods.
The easier it is to set up your tent, the more it will be for the family to help. I recommend an instant tent, these tents only take a few minutes to set up.
Remember the tent poles and rainfly if they aren’t in the same bag as the tent.
We usually bring 2 tarps with us in case of excessive rain or to put one under the tent. Even if the bottom of the tent is super waterproof, the tarp keeps the bottom of your tent from getting muddy.
Your tent will likely come with stakes, but bring extra in case you need more.
Call me princess and the pea. I don’t care. I don’t want a rock poking me in the back all night; that is why I always bring a sleeping pad.
A quality all-weather sleeping bag is a must for camping. Sleeping bags come in a variety of sizes, materials, and comfort.
Mummy-style sleeping bags are better for cold weather and are lightweight but tend to be more expensive. On the other hand, rectangular sleeping bags are usually more inexpensive but are bulky and heavy.
Zip-together sleeping bags are nice and cozy for you and your significant other. When our kids were tiny, they would sometimes crawl into our bag for a bit. Talk about cozy.
Camping pillows are nice and small, which is great for obvious reasons. I’ll be honest though, I like my pillow from home, sure, it takes up extra space, but it’s worth it to me.
It is a good idea to bring along some old blankets or blankets designated for camping. If you bring a blanket to snuggle with around the campfire, it will most likely get a few burn holes in it. It will most definitely get filthy dirty too, our kids used to use blankets to help build a fort in the woods.
Our list of clothes is pretty self-explanatory except for a few that I will explain. Mainly, you want to make sure to have enough warm clothes for everyone. I always pack lots of extra socks in case they get wet and muddy.
Here are more specific reasons for some of our checklist items.
You may be wondering about the Slides, not flip-flops. When you and your kiddos get up in the middle of the night to go potty, the last thing you want to do is try to put shoes on.
Most likely, you will be wearing socks that don’t work well with flip-flops. On the other hand, Slides allow you to quickly slip your foot in and head straight to the bathroom.
Camping can be sunny and warm during the day but cold at night. I suggest bringing a hat with a brim to prevent little faces from sunburn. A warm hat will feel nice when the temperature dips in the evening and early mornings.
Don’t bring your most expensive coat with you camping. It will get so dirty and may even be damaged by sparks from the campfire. Depending on the weather forecast, you may also want to bring a rain jacket.
I am a fan of the ever-classy plastic poncho. They basically fit in a ziplock bag and get the job done. They are also super cheap, so no worries if they get beat up.
Even if the weather isn’t super warm, your kiddos probably will want to play in the creek or in a mud puddle. A swimsuit can be easily rinsed and will dry out much quicker than a complete set of clothing used to play in the water.
Just remember to bring plenty of clothes for smaller kids that tend to find all the mud puddles and will absolutely play in the water you have set aside for washing dishes. We could be in the middle of the desert, and my kids will find water to play in.
Bring extra undies because gross things happen while camping with kids. The outhouse might be far away or occupied, and you also won’t have all the wipes you have at home. We have a bidet at home, but not while camping. I think you get the picture.
Storage bins for clothes
The easiest way to keep order to all the clothes while camping with a family is with clear storage bins. You want the containers to be clear to easily see what is inside. It is also helpful if the bins are stackable.
It is fun for your little ones to create a sign for their own bin. Even though you probably know who’s clothes it is, it’s super fun for the kids to be creative and make their very own personalized label for their bin.
If you have the space, it is helpful to take an empty bin for the dirty clothes. I usually put this bin outside the tent, so it doesn’t take up tent space. Then, stack up the bins in a corner when heading to bed and need all the space available inside.
The bins help pack before the trip too. When our kids were little, we told them they could take whatever they wanted (in addition to clothes) as long as it fits in their bin. This little bit of independence was very exciting for them.
Toiletries and First Aid
Again, most of these items are self-explanatory, but I will elaborate on a few.
Camp Towels and Washcloths
I recommend investing in a camping towel. They are so much more practical for camping. They are very quick-drying, soft, pack down small, and often have a hook to hang from.
You don’t want a big bulky bath towel that will never dry out and take up extra space when camping.
It may seem odd, but I recommend a bar of soap for washing hands and faces. Pump soap always requires more water to rinse off, and you are limited by how much water you have while camping.
Anyone in the family with long hair should braid it back for camping. I had shorter hair for most of my twenties and thirties and then grew it out longer. Our first camping trip for the year with my longer hair was one I will never forget.
I thought it would be nice to just have it in a low pony all weekend; I was so wrong. It was so ratty that my husband had to cut some of the knots out by when we got home. My hair looked like a squirrel had made a home in it.
Lotion, Chapstick, and Eye drops
All that fresh air combined with the dust and dirt of camping can create dehydrated skin, chapped lips, and dry eyes. Especially little ones, they seem to get really crusty lips.
Ok, so the cough syrup is really important. When our daughter was about 6, and we were camping, she coughed all the first night. And I mean all night long. So the very next morning, my sleepy husband drove all the way into the nearest town to get some cough syrup.
Keep a can of bear spray right next to you when you go to bed at night.
Earplugs and Sleeping mask
I don’t know about you, but I want to try to sleep in while I’m camping. When you are in a tent with your entire family, you hear everyone and everything. The birds start chirping at the crack of dawn, and the sun rises early to wake us all up.
My husband teases me that I won’t see or hear a bear coming with my eye mask and earplugs. I’ll take my chances, thank you.
The kitchen items are the easiest to overlook; we take all we have in our home kitchens for granted. Some of the items I have listed are an obvious need, others I learned over years of trial and error.
Tablecloth and clamps
A plastic tablecloth that can be wiped down is a way to keep your eating service a bit cleaner. Most likely, the picnic table at the camping site is covered with bird and critter poo. Ew.
The clamps are great for keeping the tablecloth from blowing up, up, and away.
Mess kit, Cookware, Dishes and Utensils
Mess kits are so great because they are compact, lightweight, and take up hardly any space. They can be a bit small though, so if you have a big family or plan on cooking like it’s Thanksgiving, you may need to add a few more pots and pans to your mess kit.
Another reason I like actual mess kits is that they are designed for cooking over a flame, and they clean up nicely. They also come with color-coded cups and foldable sporks, which is super fun for the kids.
Cutting board and Knives
A cutting board will be used for, you guessed it, cutting. But mostly, I like having a thin, lightweight cutting board to act as my kitchen counter to make sandwiches, prepare food, etc.
Don’t forget to take along a sharp knife that can serve many purposes in the kitchen. For example, if you plan on having large pieces of meat for dinner, like grilled chicken or steak, everyone will need a good knife.
One time when camping, we forgot individual knives, so we all passed around the one kitchen knife for dinner. For once, we actually ate our food in a civilized amount of time.
An oven mitt will get used for more than just holding a hot panhandle. It is helpful as a hot pad and can be used to reach your fire poker that may have gotten too close to the fire pit.
Camp chairs are not specifically a kitchen item, but you sit in them when eating, so they kind of are. Either way, you need some comfy camp chairs that recline and are lightweight and portable.
I love our camp chairs that have a little collapsible table with a cup holder. The table is big enough to hold my book and some snacks too. It is nice to have these features in a camp chair because you don’t have a coffee table or end table while camping.
Chip clips and a Sharpie pen
It’s easy to remember bags of chips and cookies and other fabulous camping junk food. Unfortunately, it is just as easy to forget clips to close the bag, so remember chips clips, clothespins, or something to close a bag.
A sharpie pen or any permanent marker is super handy to label sandwich bags or write on aluminum foil if you are cooking personal foil pouches of food for dinner.
Metal water bottles
A metal water bottle for each family member is so nice to have camping. Unfortunately, you don’t have access to a microwave to reheat hot beverages, and you don’t have loads of extra ice to keep cold drinks cool.
A metal water bottle will keep my hot morning coffee nice and warm for hours and my evening beverage of choice (Mommy’s juice) nice and cold by the campfire.
Oh yeah, the kids will like their cocoa warm and toasty and their water cold too.
I like to bring a few garbage bags for several things other than just garbage. For example, dirty clothes and blankets, and filthy shoes can get put in garbage bags at the end of your camping trip.
We usually hammer a big nail into a tree, close to our kitchen area, to hang a garbage bag from. Be sure to take it down and put it in your car at night, or honestly, anytime you will be away from the campsite for very long. You don’t want to attract critters and bears.
Empty plastic juice jug
Ok, this is my favorite thing to take camping, and maybe you will start this tradition too. I cut the upper portion off of a large empty juice jug, which became my vase for a camping bouquet.
One of the first things the kids and I would do after getting most of the campsite set up would be to go on a wildflower hunt. We’d search for flowers, weeds, pretty much anything that would look nice when bunched together and set it up on the picnic table.
It would be a nice touch of home and quickly became our favorite camping tradition. Plus, it was a great way to go exploring and see the surroundings. Over the years, many people walking past would comment on how lovely our bouquets were.
Gadgets, Tools, etc.
Everyone in the family should have their very own headlamp. It is super fun for the kids when the sun sets and keeps them safe from tripping over things. Headlamps are also a great way to keep track of the kids in the evening.
Headlamps allow you to be hands-free, which is very helpful when making a campfire, dinner, s’mores, etc. Always take your headlamp with you to the outhouse. Can you imagine trying to hold a flashlight and take care of business? It is not a good look.
A shovel designed with camping in mind is more important than you’d think. First of all, camp shovels are compact, fold-down, and do more than just shovel stuff.
Many camping shovels come with a serrated side of the blade for small tasks requiring a sharp edge. You will also need a shovel to dig a trench around your fire pit for safety and put dirt and water on the fire.
Be sure to mix up the coals with the dirt and water until your fire is totally out. This is a messy job but perfect for a camping shovel.
On the note of being messy, if you don’t have access to an outhouse, you will need to bury your poo. Enough said.
A small compact camping saw can be handy on a family camping trip. You will use it to cut smaller pieces of fallen wood for your firepit. Some camping saws can even cut much larger pieces of wood; it just depends on your needs.
A camping saw will be just the tool if your kids want to build some type of fort in the woods. But, of course, the adults will most likely be doing the sawing.
Portable Tent Heater
We have a portable tent heater now, but we didn’t always have one. Talk about a game-changer. We went from complaining kids at night (and adults) to happy little campers.
Rope, thin cord
There is always something that needs to be tied up or tied down while camping. For example, you will need rope to help with a second shelter if it is raining. You would also need to bring a tarp for this second shelter; the rope can attach to trees for a nice awning.
The thin cord is excellent for a drying line for clothes and towels that get wet. The kids will probably find a fun use for it too.
Hammer and bigger nails
We hammer a big nail to a tree for our garbage bag and use nails and cord for a homemade clothesline. Plus, a hammer is handy for putting in tent stakes if the ground is rocky or hard.
Inexpensive plastic clamps help hold the picnic tablecloth down, so it doesn’t blow away. They are also a great way to hang up items around your campsite.
The kids will find them helpful with fort building too.
Walkie-talkies are great for safety while exploring the great outdoors. And they are fun for the kids to play hide and seek and other forest games.
Everything on this list is stuff that is easy to bring camping and will entertain the whole family. I love to see the kids get back to simple things like coloring and drawing. They may not take the time to do this at home, but it is a relaxing activity to enjoy while camping.
Glow sticks and any other glowing things are super fun for the kids when the sun goes down. It also is a great way to keep track of them without them realizing it.
You can even find glow-in-the-dark frisbees, balls, and other games.
Other Helpful Tips and Final Thoughts
It will take a few camping trips of your own to discover what your specific needs and wants are. Some people want to camp with the bare essentials; others want some comforts of home.
You will also come up with many more of your own tips and tricks, but I want to share some of our favorite tips with you. Be sure to take your checklist with you camping and update, add, or change things on your list as soon as you think of it.
I love my clear storage bins for camping organization. It makes it really easy to find things, keeps them contained, and maybe even a little cleaner.
We have bins for our clothes as I had earlier chatted about. It is so much easier to find items in a clear bin rather than a duffle bag. Each family member gets their own bin, so they know exactly where their stuff is.
We have a kitchen bin that has all our kitchen items in it. I made a list of the contents in the bin and taped it to the lid to know precisely what is there.
I even list the items that need to be added last minute, like dish soap and hand sanitizer, because these things will dry out if always kept in the kitchen bin.
We also have a tools bin with the saw, shovel, propane, tarp, hammer, nails, rope, etc. So if it rains, we know all our stuff in bins will be just fine.
We have a fun bin of all the balls, toys, and silly stuff. The bin helps keep it all from rolling away, and the kids know right where to find it.
And of course, we put all our food in bins too. They keep the food dry and the critters out and can easily be put in the truck at night, so the raccoons and bears aren’t tempted.
I know this may sound like many bins, and yes, they do take up space. But camping with grocery bags and duffle bags is not fun at all. It is hard to find things in bags. You cannot stack bags, bags will get wet, and bags will not keep animals out.
When you have bins with specific purposes, everything has its place and is so much easier for family members to find. This gives mom and dad a break from constantly trying to explain to the kids where things are.
Be ready for when the sun begins to set, and make sure you have your headlamp on. When you are camping in the wilderness, you don’t realize how quickly it gets dark, and I mean really dark.
Get your lantern going, and definitely get the campfire going before it is dark. It is much harder to start a fire in the dark. Also, get your warmer clothes on before your body has a chance to get cold.
When ready for bed, it is crucial to properly put out your campfire. We recommend using water and dirt to extinguish the fire. First, you have to mix the coals with the water and dirt, stir it around and add more water until you don’t see any hot coals.
You cannot just pour it on top and walk away. Instead, you have to stir up the hot coals and douse them with water until they are all cold, even when stirred up.
Be sure to put the lids on all the bins. Any bins that contain food need to be put in your car or truck. If you have a dog, make sure to dump out the water and put the dog dish and food in your vehicle.
I like to keep a few things super close to me at night, so I can easily find them if I wake up. These items are extra earplugs, cell phone, car keys, glasses, and my headlamp. I also like to have gloves and a warm hat within easy reach if I get super cold.
Just outside the door of the tent, we have a few pairs of slides. This way, we can quickly and easily slip on some footwear to walk to the outhouse. Don’t forget your headlamp either.
My husband is in charge of the tent heater, ensuring it is properly vented, and we have backup propane right there. He also is in charge of the bear spray. I would probably spray myself in the face from panicking.
Quality time with family
Most importantly, enjoy this time with your family, get dirty, it will all clean up. Our checklist and tips are meant to make your camping trip more enjoyable and not stress over things that can be avoided.
We genuinely hope this family camping checklist will be of some help with your next adventure. So pack up your family and go get out in nature. You won’t regret it.
Take care, hug a tree and remember to camp s’more, worry less.