The Best Camping Gear for Families in 2023

By Joshua Davis •  Updated: 02/15/23 •  22 min read

When I set out to write a guide on the best camping gear for families, I thought about what I would tell myself 20+ years ago.

The majority of what I know I learned from my father on our family camping trips when I was a kid. And that knowledge is timeless!

Davis Family Basecamp, Joshua Tree National Park

However, explosive advancements in technology since the 80s have launched the camping gear industry into hyperdrive.

Now, there are just so many options when it comes to camping gear! It can be overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time. It’s hard to know what is essential, what is not necessary … and what’s not a rip-off!

Camp Master Tip: These days, many camping gear manufacturers provide a Lifetime Warranty on their products. I’ve made a point to include these in this post. If something less is offered, do a little digging into consumer reviews and make sure it’s worth your money!

In this post, I have focused on recommending primary gear (tents, sleeping bags, camp stoves). Secondary items (storage bins, roasting sticks, camping toothbrushes) I’ve left to our previous post Essential Camping Checklist for Families.

And so, if you’ll allow me to flex 40+ years of Davis camping expertise, here is my list of camping gear essentials for families.

OFHQ’s Family Camping Trip Starter Kit

It’s a shopping list. It’s a camping essentials packing list. It’s an adventure journal. It’s a camping activity arsenal.

It’s everything I wish I had when I first started taking my family camping.

Heather and I curated this little guide so planning your next camping adventure as smooth as Half Dome’s bald head. Download it to your phone, print it, reuse it … be happy.

The Line Up: The Best Camping Gear for Families

The purpose of this post is to spotlight the best family camping gear that is ESSENTIAL and PRIMARY. In other words these things are critical for a comfortable, successful family car camping trip without going overboard.

A simple camp is a happy camp. Lincoln National Forest.

The following gear provide a balance between quality and cost for those who camp 3-4 times a year during the spring, summer, and fall.

The Best Family Tent

Family tents can come in more varieties and shapes than we care to cover in this post. However, experience has taught us that the simpler the design, the less to go wrong, the better the experience.

That said, we highly recommend dome-style tents for their simplicity of design, deployment, and ability to withstand windy, wet weather.

Camp Master Tip: Why don’t we recommend the more spacious cabin and tunnel tents?

While these have their perks (mainly floor space and headroom), they do not handle windy or rainy weather as well. Traditional dome tents (standard or instant) are aerodynamic and shed heavy rainfall well without leaking. Cabin and tunnel-style tents, however, catch wind like a sail and tend to leak in a rainstorm.

Moon Lence Family Dome Tent

Moon Lence is fairly new to the camping and outdoor industry and has an almost exclusive presence on Amazon. Still, their tents have had astounding success thanks to their low price, good-quality build, and generous Lifetime Warranty.

Best Cost-to-Quality Family Tent
MOON LENCE Pop Up Tent Family Camping Tent
$139.99 $129.99
  • 6 ft. L x 6 ft. W x 5.8 ft. H (6-Person model)
  • 11.2 lbs.
  • Application: 3-season (not intended for sub-freezing temperatures)
  • 63D 190T 1000mm polyurethane fabric with B3 Mesh Vents and Windows
  • Resilient Fiber Glass Poles
  • Mesh gear pockets and e-port
  • Rain fly, guy ropes, pegs, and carry bag included
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Fully-assembled, quick pop-up deployment
  • Low price with a generous warranty
  • About 4 lbs. lighter than others its size
  • Well ventilated
  • Spacious enough for a queen-size camping mattress
  • You'll want to size up: if you have 4 people, get the 6-person model
  • Does not include a floor tarp or tent footprint ... and it needs one.
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We consider the Moon Lence 6-person model to be our top family camping tent for those on a budget. It’s light, roomy enough for 4-6 people, and comes with (almost) everything you need to get started camping.

We highly recommend purchasing a ground tarp to prolong the life of the tent floor. Also, after the first season of use, reinforce the seams with seam tape and the tent body and rainfly with waterproofing treatment. This is a best practice with any tent.

CORE Family Extended Dome Tent

Whether you have a Brady-Bunch-sized crowd or you’re a family of sasquatches (like mine), sometimes more room means the difference between happy campers and things getting … grumpy.

CORE 9 Person Extended Dome Tent
  • 16 ft L x 9 ft. W x 6 ft. H
  • 18.2 lbs
  • Application: 3-season (not intended for sub-freezing temperatures)
  • 68D Polyester with 115gsm polyethylene floor
  • Fiberglass poles
  • Mesh gear pockets and e-port
  • Rain fly, guy ropes, pegs, and carry bag included
  • 1 Year Warranty
  • Seams come pre-taped and the fabric is pre-treated for water repellency
  • Capacious interior
  • Super-lightweight given the size
  • Lots of gear storage pockets and loft space
  • Ground tarp (footprint) is sold separately
  • Only a 1-Year Warranty; but, has excellent consumer feedback
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CORE’s 9-person extended dome tent (also available in 4, 6, and 11-person models) is our top recommendation for larger-sized families.

It’s a bit heavier than the 6-person Moon Lence, but it comes with pre-taped seams and pre-treated fabric that is water-repellent without needing additional treatment. It also offers plenty of room inside and out, lots of gear pockets and loft space, and a 1-Year Warranty.

We do suggest supplementing the tent with a ground tarp to protect it from wear and tear, but other than that this is an ideal tent for large families on the go.

Oh, and although CORE pedals this as a backpacking tent, we don’t recommend it … unless you’ll be renting a camel to transport your gear.

The Best Instant Family Camping Tents

Instant Tents are all the rave right now and for good reason. They come fully assembled and set up in a matter of minutes, offering quick shelter wherever you go. Some thoughts:

The Good About Instant Tents:

The Bad About Instant Tents:

However, if “instant” is what you are looking for, check out our very popular post 16 Best Instant Tents. Here, we’ve curated a round-up of top pick instant (and pop-ups) that have acquired a respectable following.

The Best Sleeping Bags

Your sleeping bag (and pad) is often the deciding factor between rejuvenating outdoor adventures and those that send you home feeling worse than you did when you left.

That said, if you’re going to spend a bit more, do it here. A solid night’s sleep = happy campers.

KELTY Trailhead Mummy Kit

Where was this when I was in the market for a new bag and pad!? A 30°F bag and an R4 self-inflating pad for way under $200? … from KELTY?with a Lifetime Guarantee? Just wow!

Best BANG for Your Buck
Kelty Trailhead Sleeping Bag and Pad Kit

Bag Features and Specs:

  • 30°F lower limit (Probably 40°F comfort limit)
  • 5.56 lbs. (total bag and pad)
  • Fits heights up to 6'
  • CloudLoft Synthetic Fill (34.6 oz. fill weight)
  • Mummy style (shoulder girth 62", hip girth 52.8", feet girth 39.4")
  • Stuff sack size: 11" x 19"
  • Lifetime Guarantee

Pad Features and Spes:

  • 75" x 22" x 1"
  • Self-inflating
  • Fits into provided duffel with a sleeping bag
  • Fantastic combo value!
  • Guaranteed for life by an infamously reputable outdoor gear supplier
  • Perfect starter kit for 3-season camping, even in colder temperatures (down to 30°F)
  • Mummy style allows the bag to toss and turn with you
  • A bit heavy; but, we're not backpacking here
  • Not for humans over 6 feet tall (Just boo ...)
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When it comes to sleeping bags, we are a KELTY family with a dash of Marmot. If you want an affordable bag and pad combo for the whole family that will last for years, then this package from KELTY is it.

It offers fantastic value, sufficient thermal protection (down to 30°F), and comes with an unbeatable Lifetime Guarantee. This also makes a great children’s sleeping bag that they can grow into. That’s a definite win in our book!

Or, it would be if I wasn’t 6’5″. C’mon KELTY, show some tall love!

If the mummy style is not for you, KELTY offers a similar sleep system in the Campground Kit. This rectangular-style bag provides more wiggle room than a mummy; however, it’s only suitable for temps down to 40°F.

Camp Master Tip: Don’t spend money on a mini-sleeping bag for small children only for them to grow out of it. Buy an adult-sized bag and tie off the end with a belt or a piece of paracord just past where their feet rest. Instant kiddy bag! And you saved some chedda’!

KELTY Catena Sleeping Bag

Kelty Catena 30
  • 30°F lower limit (Probably 40°F comfort limit)
  • 3.97 lbs.
  • Fits heights up to 6'
  • CloudLoft Synthetic Fill (42.33 oz. fill weight)
  • Stuff sack size 10" x 18"
  • Lifetime Guarantee
  • The loose-fit rectangular shape allows the sleeper to roll inside the bag without it moving
  • Two bags can be zipped together to make a double
  • Low maintenance. Easy to clean and pack
  • Darn reasonable price point
  • A bit bulky and heavy; but, we're car camping, so ...
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If you just need a comfortable bag that’s affordable without sacrificing quality, then the KELTY Catena is a great choice. The CloudLoft fill keeps you toasty down to 30°F (40° F for you cold sleepers) and provides room to spare.

The rectangular-style bag will give you plenty of wiggle room; however, it’s only suitable for sleepers up to 6 feet tall.

The KELTY Catena is made for car camping, so the weight and bulk won’t be a big issue.

It’s also low maintenance and easy to clean and pack. Plus, you can zip two together to make a double bag. Gettin’ cozy in the woods!

The Best Sleeping Pads

Sleeping pads not only cushion you from the hard ground, but they also provide insulation to keep you warm throughout the night.

In order to classify a pads ability to provide insulation, they are attributed an “R-Value.” To put it succinctly,

For the average camper, we recommend R 4-5.4 or higher to ensure that you are comfortable in most camping scenarios.

Kelty Mistral Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad

It’s not easy to find a well-insulated sleeping pad for under $100; but, you can with the Kelty Mistral Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad. Not only does this sleeping pad come with a budget-friendly price tag, but it also provides an R-Value of 4.7 and is remarkably light at only 2 lbs 12 ozs!

Kelty Mistral Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad
  • 73.2" L x 22" W X 1.5" T
  • Weighs 2 lbs. 12 oz.
  • R-Value 4.7
  • Open-cell foam construction
  • Self- Inflate/Deflate valve
  • Stuff sack included
  • 1-Year Warranty
  • Quick and easy to set up and pack away
  • Surprisingly low price for such a well-insulated pad
  • Great for lighter-weight campers
  • Stows compact in provided carry sack
  • Self-inflating pads must be stored fully inflated if not used for long periods
  • May be too thin for heavier (200 + lbs.) campers to be comfortable
  • Only a 1-Year Warranty; but, that's standard for camping mats
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Set up is easy as it self-inflates with the simple turn of a valve and packs away just as conveniently in its provided carry sack. It is down-right cozy for campers up to 200 lbs, but heavier folks may find the 1.5″ thickness a bit thin.

Storing SI Pads Between Camping Trips: these must be stored fully unrolled and with the valve open (say, under a bed or on its side behind a couch or the back of a closet). The open-cell foam will lose its ability to self-inflate if kept in the stuff sack for long periods.

Therm-a-Rest Luxury Map Sleeping Pad

Few camping mat companies are as highly respected among campers and backpackers as Therm-a-Rest. Their LuxuryMap Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad is the crème de la crème of sleeping pads and comes with a fairly hefty price tag to match its quality.

The Best of the Best Sleeping Mats
Therm-a-Rest LuxuryMap Sleeping Pad
  • 77"L x 25"W x 3"T (Large Size)
  • Weighs 4 lbs. 3 oz. (Large Size)
  • R-Value 6.0
  • Open-cell foam construction
  • 2 one-way valves (for inflation and deflation)
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Self-inflating, open cell foam core makes set up easy and quick
  • Firmness can be adjusted with a few puffs of breath
  • Superior insulation from the cold ground
  • The 3-inch-thick loft provides top-shelf comfort even on lumpy ground
  • Stretch-knit surface feels great against bare skin
  • Stuff sack included
  • Pricey, but for good reason. How much is your sleep worth?
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The 3″ thickness, open cell foam core, and stretch knit surface provide campers with a luxurious bed – even on cold nights and on the lumpiest ground. Plus, the 6-inch R-Value ensures your sleep won’t be interrupted by the cold ground underneath.

Set up is quick and easy with its two one-way valves for inflation and deflation, and it packs away conveniently in its included stuff sack.

Finally, Therm-a-Rest’s Lifetime Warranty is one of the best in the business and a testament to their confidence in this product.

Again, be sure to store your self-inflating sleeping pad unrolled with the valves open during long periods between camping trips.

The Best Camp Chairs

No car camping gear list is complete without a good camp chair. To that end, we have devoted an entire post to it.

Check out our round-up and reviews of The Best Camping Chairs to Relax In and prepare to kick back and chillax after a day of exploring the outdoors!

The Best Camping Lighting

As the sun sets, it’s time to turn on your camping lights. We’ve got reviews and round-ups of the Best Camping Flashlights for any situation. From red LED-equipped headlamps for night hikes to lanterns that light up a campsite, we’ve got you covered!

Black Diamond Cosmo 350 Headlamp

A dependable light source at hand is a critical piece of outdoor gear, and the Black Diamond Cosmo 350 headlamp is one of our favorite solutions. This bright, compact, and lightweight headlamp pumps out 350 lumens for up to 3 hours at its highest setting – enough time for all your night activities.

Best One-for-All Headlamp
Black Diamond Cosmo 350 Headlamp
  • 350 Lumen (Max) white LED with integrated red LED
  • High (350 L), medium (175 L), and low (6 L) settings with strobe function
  • Average run-time: 3 hrs. (High) and 200 hrs. (Low)
  • IPX8 water resistant to 1.1 meters for 30 minutes
  • Powered by 3 x AAA
  • Integrated battery meter and lockout feature
  • 2.8 oz.
  • 3-Year Warranty
  • Alkaline batteries can be swapped out with rechargeable lithium-ion battery (sold separately)
  • The compact and lightweight design is comfortable to wear, even for small children
  • Able to handle rain or being submerged
  • The lockout feature prevents accidental activation when packed
  • Integrated red LED is great for preserving night vision
  • Not rechargeable; but, depending on your camping scenario, that may be preferable!
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The integrated red LED preserves night vision, which is great when you’re trying to sleep without disturbing blinding fellow stargazers or waking your tentmate. And, if you want to go fully green, the Cosmo 350 can be swapped out with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery (sold separately).

Plus, its IPX8 rating means it’s water resistant up to one meter and has an integrated battery meter and a lockout feature. So no matter the situation, you can count on the Cosmo 350 to light your way!

The Best Camping Flashlights and Lanterns

Affordable and effective light sources for your pocket like the Keenstone Rechargeable LED Clip Lights and illuminating the campsite like the Goal Zero Lighthouse are great for ensuring you have a light source at the campsite and for those nighttime strolls around the campgrounds.

Most Useful Camping Lantern
Goal Zero Lighthouse 600 Lantern & USB Power Hub
  • Dimensions 6.5 x 5 x 4.5 inches
  • Weight 1 lb. 1.6 oz.
  • Provides 600 lumens of multidirectional/adjustable light
  • Average Run Time High: 2.5; Low: 180 hours
  • Utilize 360° of light or save on power and runtime by adjusting the dial to illuminate only half the lantern
  • Can recharge via USB, solar or hand crank; solar panel not included
  • Rechargeable lithium battery can power phones and small USB devices
  • Lantern features collapsible legs and a built-in handle for convenient storage and transport
  • Multiple recharging methods
  • Provides power to small personal electronics
  • Provides plenty of light to fill a dark campsite
  • Must have electricity available to recharge. Will not take alkaline batteries
  • Recharging devices and using it as a light source simultaneously will drain it quickly
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However, if you’re looking for the best of the best, we’ve got that covered, too!

We have dedicated an entire post to our favorite camping flashlights and lanterns to light the way. Check out the brightest and best in The Best Camping Flashlights.

The Best Camp Kitchen Gear

It’s a fact: food always tastes better when camping … if you have the right gear.

Having a well-equipped camp kitchen goes a LONG way! Not only does it make preparing meals for the family away from your home kitchen easier; but, being able to cook a wide variety of enjoyable meals takes the family camping experience to a whole new level.

Let’s take a look at the makings of an efficient, enjoyable camp kitchen.

Coleman Cascade Classic Camp Stove

Coleman’s Classic Gas Stoves have been a mainstay in campgrounds across the country for decades. My father’s Coleman 2-Burner Classic is still my car-camping go-to after 30 years!

Best Classic Camping Stove
Coleman Cascade Classic Camp Stove
  • 21" x 13" x 3.6"
  • 11 lbs. 14.4 oz.
  • Portable, compact design makes this stove easy to move and carry
  • 2 adjustable burners with improved knob rotation offer precise temperature and simmer control
  • Rotary ignition means quick, matchless lighting
  • 20,000 total BTUs of cooking power (10,000 per burner)
  • 2 wind guards help shield the burners and flame
  • Removable chrome-plated grate and aluminized steel cooktop for quick cleanup
  • 3-Year Warranty
  • The simple, dependable design has been a camping mainstay for decades
  • Removable, easy-to-clean components
  • The compact "briefcase" design is great for storing and transporting
  • Side guards keep the flame hot and steady on windy days
  • Fits a 12" and a 10" pan simultaneously
  • Requires practice to cook without scorching food; but, this is the case with virtually all camp stoves
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Its dependable, simple design is easy to use and clean. Plus, the wind guards help keep the flame hot and steady on blustery days. And while it requires practice to cook without scorching food, this is true of virtually all camp stoves.

All in all, Coleman’s Cascade Classic is an excellent, low-maintenance stove for those preferring a traditional camp cooking experience. Don’t forget the fuel!

GSI Outdoor Bugaboo Base Camper Cookset

For some, taking their everyday skillets and sauce pans on a camping trip serves just fine. However, things do tend to get a bit beat up on a camping trip and, especially if you have designer cookware, it may be preferable to have dedicated camping cookware.

Enter the GSI Outdoor Bugaboo Base Camper Cookset! This non-stick nesting set is built like what you’ve got in the kitchen at home (or better) and it’s a great way to prepare a wide variety of outdoor meals.

It includes everything needed to create tasty outdoor meals, and its sturdy design ensures your cookware will last through many camping trips.

Best Large Camping Cookware Set
GSI Outdoors Bugaboo Base Camper Cookset
  • Includes a 3L pot with lid, a 5L pot with lid, a 9 in. frypan, a cutting board, a folding pot gripper, and a stuff sack
  • Durable finish that protects the aluminum core from abrasion and oxidation
  • Teflon® Classic nonstick cooking surface on the pots and frypan
  • BPA-free nylon lids are lightweight and feature integrated strainers; flip-up tabs on tops of lids make for easy lid removal
  • Included cutting board is rugged enough to handle slicing and dicing by serious campground chefs
  • 5-liter pot features silicone-coated bail handles for a secure grasp while cooking up large meals
  • Folding pot gripper locks to and removes easily from exterior bracket on the 3-liter pot and the frypan
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Nests together for compact storage
  • Cutting board nests between pots to reduce clatter during transport
  • Gripper design prevents scratching of interior surface
  • Non-stick Teflon coating makes cooking and cleanup so easy
  • Large size makes cooking for a large group easier
  • Cooking utensils sold separately
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And you won’t have to explain to company why your Martha Stewart stock pot has tree sap on it.

For more recommendations for camping cookware and mess kits, check out or post Best Backpacking and Camping Mess Kits!

GSI Outdoors 4-Person Family Table Set

There is a rising trend among family campers to use styrofoam or plastic plates, bowls, and cups to save the hassle of washing dishes when camping.

Please don’t. The convenience is not worth the countless tons of waste that are being pumped into the landfills (if they make it to the dumpster) every year from campers alone. That styrofoam cup will still be on this planet when your great, great-grandkids are grandparents (500 years)!

Multiply that by the millions of people doing it and you’re talking about 3 million tons a year just in the U.S.!

Best Family Camping Table Set
GSI Outdoors Infinity 4 Person Deluxe Nesting Table Set
  • Four 9-inch plates, four 6-inch bowls (with lids), four 17-ounce mugs (with Sip-it Lids), and four 12-ounce drinking glasses
  • Bowls feature a sealable lid for leftovers and include a mesh sack for easy carrying and storage
  • Unique mugs include insulated EVA sleeves and Sip-It Lids to keep beverages hot and prevent spills
  • Configurable, color-coded, 4-person system is modular and packs efficiently
  • Made of 100% recyclable polypropylene, this BPA-Free dining set does not only have a small ecological footprint, but will also not hold any odors or impart any tastes on tomorrow's dinner
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Entire set nests and stacks for compact storage
  • BPA-free material does not absorb food tastes or smells
  • Cleans easily
  • Bowl lids keep leftovers fresh longer - less waste!
  • Color-coded set means you can determine which child used their drinking cup to dig in the dirt
  • Spoons, forks, and knives not included
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GSI Outdoors 4-Person Family Table Set is the perfect way to help reduce the amount of waste from your camping trips.

Everything you need for four people nests and stacks together, eliminating the need for single-use plastic dishes. The included bowls feature sealable lids, so food stays fresh longer and you won’t have any leftovers to waste.

The mugs have insulated EVA sleeves and Sip-It Lids, so you can take your morning joe on the go without spilling it all over yourself. And since it’s color-coded, anyone who uses their plate to dig in the dirt will be easily identified!

This set is BPA-free and non-absorbent, so you don’t have to worry about food odors and tastes clinging to it. Plus, when it’s time to pack up and move on from the campsite, this entire set packs into a small space – saving you room in your vehicle.

The Best Beginners Hiking Backpack

If you’re camping, it’s a safe bet you’re going to be hiking at some point. If not, you’ll at least be leaving the campsite to explore nearby areas and engage in other activities.

Either way, you’ll want a hiking backpack for each person old enough to carry one to help lug around enough water, snacks, First Aid Kits, and other needed items.

While I am a die-hard Osprey fan, if you’re new to the world of camping and hiking, you’re probably not ready to commit a few hundred dollars on a super-technical pack.

So, for starters, I recommend an all-purpose, one-size-fits-all hydration daypack.

Teton Sports Oasis 18-Liter Hydration Daypack

A privately-held American company, Teton Sports has become popular since 2005, making respectable camping and hiking gear for an affordable price.

Best Beginners Hiking Pack
TETON Sports Oasis 18L Hydration Pack
  • Lightweight and comfortable at 2 lbs. empty
  • 18 liters of space for snacks, gear, and clothing
  • Compressions straps keeps cargo balanced when hiking
  • Included 2-Liter hydration reservoir with kink-free sip tube and push-lock cushioned bite valve and large 2-inch opening for ice and easy cleaning
  • Adjustable shoulder and chest straps with waist belt for men, women, and youth that adjusts to fit all frames comfortably
  • 600D Polyurethane ripstop is water resistant with integrated raincover in case you're caught in a downpour
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Equipped like a daypack twice the price from top-shelf manufacturers
  • Just the right size for day outings
  • The built-in reservoir means you can carry and access more water on the trail without a separate water bottle
  • Low price point means every family member can have one
  • Backed by a Lifetime Guarantee from a solid company
  • The reservoir may be difficult for little kids to fill and seal without help
  • The reservoir can affect the taste of the water. Recommend replacing with an Osprey reservoir eventually
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That’s why I recommend their 18-Liter Oasis Hydration Daypack for your next outdoor adventure. Although I’ve been spoiled with the top-notch quality and craftsmanship of my Osprey Talon daypack, I can’t help but admire Teton’s offering.

The Oasis Daypack will save you money and time, while still providing a comfortable and reliable way to organize your on-the-go necessities. They offer a wide variety of different sizes and styles, plus, it’s backed by their lifetime guarantee! So you know it can take a beating without giving out.

If you’re looking for more hydration backpack options for younger kids and tweens, check out our popular post on Best Kids Hydration Packs.

Before the Trip: Preparation and Planning Guide

For many, the most intimidating part of a family camping trip is the preparation and planning. But don’t worry, I have some tips that can make this entire process a breeze … and it very well could become your favorite part!

Seriously, nothing makes you a hero in the eyes of your family like masterfully choreographing a memorable camping adventure!

Step 1: Determine When and Where You Want to Go (4-6 Months in Advance)

The season and destination of your next outdoor adventure will have a huge impact on the rest of the preparation process.

Plus, unless you’re camping in lesser-known, privately-owned campgrounds, the most popular state and national parks can fill up months in advance; so, you’ll need to nail down those online reservations early!

Research the following about where you choose to go and make note of them for reference later:

Step 2: Reserve or Settle on Your Campsite (4-6 Months in Advance)

If you want your choice of the best sites in popular state and national parks, you’ll want to snag a reservation at least 4 months ahead of time – 6 months ahead is best for über-popular parks like Yosemite and Grand Canyon.

Camping on National Park Service Lands

Campgrounds in National Parks are, as a rule, more developed and provide more amenities and conveniences like general stores and bathhouses making them highly attractive to car campers and trailer campers.

And they fill up fast, so; you better open up a new tab and take care of that real quick!

For reservations in one of America’s 63 national parks, visit

Camping in National Forests (U.S. Forest Service, Dept. of Agriculture)

The beauty of camping in a national forest is that IT’S FREE! Referred to as dispersed camping, campers are welcome to stake out a site anywhere provided they follow the 7 Leave No Trace principles and it’s not next to a “Camping Prohibited” sign.

You can’t beat a national forest for its solitude, capacious elbow room, and free camping! (Lincoln National Forest)

Many national forests also provide designated primitive sites (maybe a composting toilet, maybe a water pump, maybe a fire ring … maybe); however, these are acquired only on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Camping in a national forest provides a fantastic wilderness experience; however, the remote and primitive conditions require campers to be self-sufficient and well-prepared. Do your research before you go by visiting the USDA Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture.

Camping in State Parks

State parks often have the benefit of being less crowded than national parks; however, due to their size, provide fewer trails and acreage to explore.

But there are over 6,600 of them across the country; so, take your pick.

Some are more primitive than others and, although smaller than national parks in general, are sometimes big enough to provide backcountry camping opportunities.

In my estimation, some of the best state parks are in Colorado and California; however, there are gems hidden throughout the four corners of the US that make perfect destinations for your next camping trip.

Each state has its own website to manage reservations in its parks; so, do a quick Google search to dig up the info you need.

Other Camping Opportunities

Depending on your location, camping trips can be planned on private or public land not stewarded by the federal or state governments. Usually, some online digging will reveal privately owned campgrounds just outside national parks that make less-crowded alternatives to staying inside the park.

Pace Bend County Park. A little-known secret tucked away in South Central Texas.

Another option is to search online for local private ranch lands or county parks that open themselves to the public for camping, sometimes for a fee, sometimes for free!

For a more resort-like camping experience, Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Parks boasts 79 locations nationwide for those looking for less wilderness in a more structured environment … I’ll let you form your own opinion about this one.

Step 3: Take a Gear and Supply Inventory (1-2 months in Advance)

Before it comes time to pack, you need to make a list of what you have and what you don’t as well as what needs repair and replacement.

Download OutdoorFamilyHQ’s Family Camping Starter Kit and make use of the Essential-Plus Family Camping Checklist to make sure you have what you need.

Aside from the big stuff like tents and sleeping bags, ensure your First Aid Kit is freshly stocked and you have plenty of batteries for the gadgets that require them.

If you see that you’re short on something, you’ll want to order this ahead of time so you have time to test it out before the trip. Nothing kills a family camping adventure like discovering your brand-new tent is missing poles 2 hours before sundown.

Step 4: Food and Meal Prep (Days in Advance)

This is arguably the most challenging part of planning family camping trips – especially when you are raising two ravenous boys whose eating habits are reminiscent of something straight off the Nature Channel.

We’re camping, right? Not hosting survival training camps or even backpacking where ounces become pounds.

Enjoying the benefits of pre-prepped meals in Rocky Mountain National Park.

That said, take more food than you think you will need. If you think they eat a lot at home, just wait until they’re combusting calories at an accelerated rate playing in the great outdoors from dawn ’til dusk.

I’ve yet to muster the motivation to type up all of my camping recipes; however, until such a time, check out these make-ahead ideas from another campin’ dad at Beyond the Tent.

Step 5: Packing

Say it with me: Less is more.

Every item you take adds to your burden of responsibility of keeping things organized and not lost. It can also add to the stress when you should be relaxing, yourself.

camping must-haves
Consider the unique needs of your next trip when packing. Take what you need. Leave the rest.

This is where the research you did in Step 1 pays off:

Step 6: Pre-Departure

While many worthwhile campgrounds are within reach of data service, many are remote and cut off from “the grid.”

Use the GPS so far as it will take you; however, have a current atlas with your route marked on hand so when the tech gives out, you can impress the fam with your mad old-school navigation prowess.

Finally, be sure your vehicle is in good running order (all regular maintenance taken care of) and, especially if you are driving more than a few hours into a remote area, make sure you are equipped with all the necessary Road Trip Essentials.

Pack It Up and Get Rollin’!

Taking my wife and boys camping has been the most fulfilling experience of my life. The beautiful places we’ve been, wonders we’ve seen, and crazy memories we have made together is something that I wish for every family.

If you’re new to this whole family camping gig or just on the threshold of taking the leap – just do it! Learn as you go, embrace the challenges that come up, and explore the world outside of the screens.

Life’s better out there. Trust me.

Now, get out there!

Joshua Davis

Being outdoors is freedom! Being outdoors with my wife and two boys is LIVING! Whether in my backyard or getting lost in a National Park, there’s nothing I’d rather do than explore, discover, and experience the paradise that surrounds us. Give me my family, a backpack, and a trail and my life is full!