The Essential Camping Checklist for Families (2022)

By Joshua Davis •  Updated: 02/24/22 •  25 min read

So, you need an essential camping checklist for families?

Let’s talk NEED v.s. WANT.

Camping, in its purest form, is “getting away from it all.” In other words, you’re reserving time and space for your family to leave behind the distractions that fill up your time and energy with superfluous, meaningless activities to focus on …

… family.

As such, it’s important to remember that the more you take with you, the more there is to be responsible for and maintain. And, the more there is to be responsible for and maintain the less time you (and the family) will have to spend engaging with each other.

So, when you’re composing your ultimate family camping checklist, consider carefully what you pack and ask yourself,

“Do I really need this?”

Still, going camping should be an enjoyable experience. It’s okay to blend the necessities with a few modern comforts and conveniences. Just keep family time front and center!

In the following post, we have taken over 20 years of family camping experience as well as the input from many others to derive a comprehensive list, from the essentials to the nice, but unnecessary comforts to guide you on your way to packing for your next family camping trip.

QUICK LINKS
  1. Planning Camping Essentials
  2. What Are the 4 Most Important Things to Bring When You Go Camping?
  3. What Should You Not Bring When Camping?
  4. What Should You Not Keep In a Tent?
  5. What Are Things You Should Not Do While Camping?
  6. What are the Best Family Camping Essentials? (Finally)
  7. The Essential Camping Checklist for Families
  8. Camp Kitchen
  9. Maintenance, Cleaning, and Pets
  10. Personal Carry Essentials
  11. Identification and Currency Essentials
  12. Toiletry Essentials
  13. Navigating Essentials while Camping
  14. Safety and Emergency Camping List
  15. Clothing Essentials while Camping
  16. Cold Weather Camping Essentials
  17. Hot Weather Camping Essentials
  18. Rainy Weather Camping Essentials
  19. Conveniences and Comforts when Camping
  20. Wrapping up Camping Checklist for Families

Planning Camping Essentials

At the top of a camping checklist for families should be some prerequisites: your camping budget, where you are planning on camping, the weather, and how many people will be camping with you.

If you are camping with kids, there may be additional things to consider such as safety and entertainment.

Also, consider what type of camping you will be doing.

This guide is specifically for those tent camping in an improved campground, such as in a state or national park, where their car will be parked nearby (a.k.a. car camping).

As you begin planning for your next camping trip, begin with the following considerations and preparations:

1. Camping Budget

How much is the:

2. Camping Reservations

Be sure to reserve your campsite via the park website or over the phone. Additionally, it’s best to have a printout of your reservation info too.

3. Campground Amenities and Provisions

Check out the park website and scope the scene: Is there a water spigot, electrical outlet, nearby wash houses, dumpsters, etc.?

4. Weather and Climate Preparations

Prepare for rain, wind, excessive heat, or cold. Know before you go.

Or suffer. You and the whole family.

Certainly, everyone will be grumpy if you don’t … at you!

5. Topography Preparations

Park maps (both state and national) can be acquired online.

Study them and be aware of what the hiking trails are going to throw at you. It makes the difference between shorts and pants, trail shoes and hiking boots, ability and more ability!

6. Number of Campers on the Trip

The number of campers weighs heavily on food preparations and gear. Make sure everyone has what they need.

7. Packing or Storage Containers

Stay organized!

Clear plastic containers make some of the best camping gear storage bins. And make it easy to separate categories of items and see what’s inside without playing the all-too-frustrating Guessing Game.

Oh, and make sure they all fit in that little car of yours.

What Are the 4 Most Important Things to Bring When You Go Camping?

If you’re looking for the bare-basic bones that no camping trip could happen without, here they are. This is “roughing it” at its roughest (just short of survival training, that is).

1. Sleeping Bag

If you want a basic sleeping bag that fits the bill for most weather conditions, try the Coleman All-Weather Multi-Layer Sleeping Bag.

It’ll keep you warm down to 0 degrees (with some numbing of the toes) and the layers can be removed for warmer weather.

Just know that rain is wet. And sleeping bags will get wet inside and out without a tent over them.

But you knew this already, right?

2. Backpack

You have to have a way to transport food and water.

We’re camping, not surviving.

So, unless you plan on doing some serious bush scavenging, pack a good hydration pack full of plenty of H2O and food for the days you’re out.

3. Food

Everything dried and non-perishable is on the camping food list. Yum.

If you’re not going to take a camp stove to boil water, your pallet is in for some adjustment with these ready-to-eat survival meals.

4. Water

A 2 to-3-liter hydration pack is best to keep water convenient and fresh.

If there is not a safe water source nearby, you’ll need a backpacking water filter to refill.

What Should You Not Bring When Camping?

Do you NEED it? Seriously consider that question and apply the word NEED at its most denotative level. If you don’t need it to live, you don’t need it … period.

If you don’t need it, don’t put it on your priority list.

But we’re camping, not surviving. Once you have your camping essentials packed, find room for a few modern conveniences.

If you must intoxicate the air with that noxious cologne, go ahead! The rest of us will gather downwind from the composting toilet for some fresh air!

Remember: when composing a family camping packing list, LESS IS MORE!

What Should You Not Keep In a Tent?

Regardless of whether you are camping in bear country or a raccoon’s neighborhood, never keep these items in your tent:

What Are Things You Should Not Do While Camping?

What are the Best Family Camping Essentials? (Finally)

Now that you know what to do and what not to do when it comes to camping, let’s get to the camping gear you’ll need.

The Essential Camping Checklist for Families

By having a camping checklist, you’ll make sure you don’t forget anything important and that everyone has what they need.

Therefore, the following is a list of some essential items for a camping trip with your family along with our notes and experience.

1. Tent

When camping with kids, your family camping packing list should include a tent (or tents) that is large enough to house everyone in your party as well as frequently used camping gear (clothing, toiletries (nothing scented), and personal gear).

While a basic traditional tent will do, you can learn about the conveniences of instant tents in our post on Best Instant Tents.

2. Rainfly or Camping Tarp

While most tents come with a rainfly included, it’s important to check the packaging before setting out on your next family camping trip.

If your tent’s not equipped with one, you can pick up an inexpensive camping tarp to substitute.

However, a rainfly is not just good for keeping out unwanted moisture; they also hold in heat in cold weather and provide privacy while changing clothes inside the tent.

3. Mallet or Hammer

Driving in those tent stakes with a bare hand can be a literal pain without a good mallet or hammer.

In a pinch, you can use a large rock . . . just watch your fingers!

4. Tent Footprint or Tarp

Usually, only high-end, ultralight backpacking tents come equipped with a footprint for the tent.

Footprints and camping tarps add an extra layer of material between the tent and the ground providing added protection against abrasion and potential rips and tears from rocks or sticks (which can become seriously problematic in an unexpected downpour, not to mention shorten the life of your tent.)

5. Sleeping Bag

Many hard-core campers will ditch the tent; but, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that will forego the sleeping bag. It is the quintessential camping gear!

However, not all bags are created equal and typically, what you pay for is what you get!

Additionally, sleeping bags are rated by the temperature at which they are designed to keep you warm. If your sleeping bag says its lower limit is 40 degrees, don’t go camping when the nights are 25 degrees … you’ll be awake all night rubbing your toes back to life.

Here is a good recommendation for a fair-weather sleeping bag.

6. Camping Pillow

Okay, I’ll admit: this is not essential; but, have you ever slept on the ground without head support?

It’s a recipe for some serious grumps the next day.

Sure, you could roll up your jacket or fleece; but, we prefer a good compressible memory foam camping pillow.

7. Camping Mat/Mattress or Sleeping Pads

Speaking of preventing the morning grumps, while small children can sleep on the bare earth and wake up feeling like superheroes, we larger humans prefer to fight off the effects of gravity pulling our bones into the ground.

Most inexperienced campers default to leviathan-sized air mattresses to sleep on.

So, keep your packing light with a simple inflatable air mat or foam pad.

8. Camping Chairs

Another grump-defeating essential.

Yes, most campsites indeed provide picnic tables to pop a squat and you troubadours out there think you’re tough enough to end a long day of hiking by resting your caboose on a lumpy rock; but seriously, having a comfortable camp chair to rest and relax in at the end of the day makes a relaxing time even better!

Get everyone a good camping chair. You’ll (and they’ll) love yourself for it.

9. Backpack or Hydration Pack

Woah. LOTS of choices here and way too many technical aspects to discuss in this post.

We do have a post on Best Kids Hydration Packs that will help you begin your search.

10. Flashlights or Headlamps

If you don’t like stubbed toes in the woods in the dark, get one. Um … a flashlight, not a stubbed toe.

We’ve rounded up some of the best camping flashlights around that will get you enjoying the great outdoors even more.

11. Lantern (with batteries or fuel)

Flashlights and headlamps are great for individuals; however, it’s nice to have a large well-lit area in the campsite for when the family comes together.

Choices abound … However, here are a few of our favorites to get you started:

Camp Kitchen

There are definitely some essentials when it comes to preparing meals for your entire family. Having a camp kitchen with everything at the ready will keep your campsite clean and organized.

1. Ice Chest with Ice or Ice Packs

The need for an ice chest is contingent on your meal planning. If you plan on cooking with fresh ingredients (i.e. eggs, meats, cheeses, raw veggies, etc.) you’ll need one (or more) large enough to store everything that has to be refrigerated.

Helpful Tip: To simplify your packing list and cooking and clean-up responsibilities while camping, consider packing dehydrated meal options, cured meats, and soup mixes.

It is possible to meal plan without the need of lugging along an ice chest.

2. Campstove with Fuel

Nothing beats the aroma of fresh coffee and bacon filling the morning air of a campsite. If this alone is not enough to consider a camp stove essential, then consider these other reasons:

First, a camp stove allows you to cook your own food, which is a much healthier alternative to processed foods or expensive restaurant meals while camping.

You can also save money by cooking your own food rather than buying pricey prepackaged meals or leaving the campgrounds to go to a restaurant in town.

Second, a camp stove allows you to heat water for coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. This is especially nice in the morning when you need a warm drink to start your day off right.

Third, a camp stove can be used to heat up food that has been pre-packaged or frozen.

Oh, and don’t forget the stove fuel!

3. Lighter and/or Waterproof Matches

A good lighter is the most dependable option here; however, waterproof matches are good in a pinch. It doesn’t hurt to have a backup!

4. Firewood

As a rule, it is best to purchase your firewood from the park or campground headquarters.

Bringing your own firewood from home transports invasive species of insects and tree-killing diseases that would have otherwise remained contained.

Check with the park’s website or headquarters about open fires and firewood policy before heading out.

5. Firestarter

For you seasoned pyromaniacs out there, this may not be a necessity. However, if you are inexperienced in gathering tinder and kindling to start a fire from scratch, save yourself from some frustration by grabbing a box of good firestarters.

Then, you can try your hand at some bush fire craft and know that you have a dependable backup while you’re learning! The ability to bushcraft a fire from scratch is not only something to take pride in, but earns you some serious bragging rights!

6. Spice Container(s)

True, not critically essential; but, no one likes plain eggs.

Except for that guy. But who invited him?

Just include the basics: salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder and you can turn any bland dish into camping cuisine.

7. Camp Cookware

Once upon a time, I camped with a friend who cooked our eggs and bacon directly on a flat rock next to the open campfire. I was impressed until I had to scrape my rock-flavored egg off and chew ash-coated bacon. Yech.

A dependable set of camping cookware ensures that your food tastes … well, like food that provides a lid to cover your food from pesky insects or that gross something that just fell out of the tree.

8. Bottle and Can Opener

Canned food is one of the most convenient foods to take when camping: no refrigeration needed, often ready to eat after a bit of warming up, and inexpensive.

And nothing beats an ice-cold long neck or cream soda after a long day of hiking. Wouldn’t it be a tragedy if you forgot the bottle and can opener?

9. Cooking Utensils

Remember Rock-Egg Guy? He would also stir his soup with a stick.

Neanderthal.

A good set of cooking utensils eliminates much of the hassle of food prep when camping and is worth bringing along.

A portable outdoor cooking utensil set with a case is perfect for keeping kitchen utensils organized and convenient. Get ya one!

10. Cutting Board

Please don’t be one of those campers that cut their food directly on the site’s picnic table. One: Unsanitary for you! Two: Unsanitary for the campers that have the site after you!

Don’t worry, we have a solution for you!

For example, the portable outdoor cooking utensil set with a case we mentioned above includes a good-sized cutting board for camping.

11. Camping or Bush Knife

It is impossible to overstate the importance of including a good knife in a camping checklist for families!

From bush crafting, gear repair, first aid administration to food preparation, a durable sharp blade is the quintessential camper’s companion!

Check out our post on the Best Camping Knives if you’re in the market for a solid dependable camping knife!

12. Eating Utensils, Plates, and Bowls

Even Rock-Egg Guy ate his food out of a bowl with a spoon. An example we should all live by.

Double-check to ensure that the camping dining set you purchase has enough tableware and utensils for every camper in the group.

Maintenance, Cleaning, and Pets

One of the great things about camping is that it is a very low-maintenance activity, but there are a few things to remember and keep in mind that will make the trip easier and more enjoyable for everyone.

1. Paper Towels and/or Moist Hand-Wipes

Paper towels and moist hand-wipes can be used to clean your hands and face, and to clean up any food or dirt from cookware, dishes, or gear.

And those moist wipes are great for … you know … when you gotta go number 2.

2. Biodegradable Dish Soap

National and State Parks not only provide us with beautiful places to escape to, but they also protect delicate ecosystems and biomes.

Therefore, selecting a biodegradable dish soap ensures that the “harmless” act of washing your dishes doesn’t further harm the environment when the soap leeches down into the soil.

3. Collapsible Bucket(s)

Everyone’s least favorite part of camping is cleaning up after a meal. It is amazing how much a simple camping bucket can transform a time-consuming, arduous task into something much more tolerable.

Whether transporting dishes to and from the camp water spigot or using it as a kitchen sink or for storing and organizing cleaned cookware and tableware after clean up, it’s a must-have!

4. Trash bags

It’s true, the majority of established campgrounds have a dumpster within walking distance; but, precious few have a trashcan at every campsite.

Hanging a trash bag in a tree within reach is not only convenient, but it also prevents loose trash from blowing away ensuring that your campsite, the campgrounds, and the surrounding park doesn’t suffer from accumulated litter.

5. Pet Gear

While the pet gear you bring depends upon your specific type of pet and if the park or campground allows pets, here are some basic suggestions for the average family mascot.

Want to know what types of dogs make the best hiking pals? We’ve done all the research for you on the top breeds of hiking dogs here.

Personal Carry Essentials

When camping with family, and especially with young children, it’s important to ensure that each member is equipped for protection from exposure and potential separation from the group.

We recommend that each person carry the following items on their person anytime they leave the campsite for walks, hikes, rides, or just exploring the campgrounds.

1. Hat and Sunglasses

A good full-brimmed hat and pair of adequate sunglasses are not just for comfort. Above all, they protect you from overexposure to UV radiation and heat, helping your body fight the effects of sunburn, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke.

2. Water Bottle or Hydration Backpack

When being active outdoors, the average adult requires a minimum of 2 cups of water per hour and children a minimum of 1-2 cups. Never underestimate the body’s need for hydration.

Young children are especially vulnerable to heat exhaustion and dehydration as they are less likely to drink as much as they should without reminders.

Most importantly, always take more than enough water with you, even for hikes less than an hour.

Check out our post on Best Kid’s Hydration Packs if you need a buyer’s guide.

3. Safety Whistle on a Lanyard

When exploring the great outdoors, everyone in your group needs to have a safety whistle. If anyone gets lost or separated from the group, the sound of the whistle can travel vast distances and guide the group to them or them to the group.

Teach young children how and when to use the whistle. A game of hide-and-seek around the campsite is a great way to teach the concept; however, afterward, emphasize to them that the whistle is for emergencies only going forward.

4. Personal Identification

Personal identification helps other campers and hikers reunite a separated family member with the family.

While those over 16 can carry their driver’s license, younger kids need something effortless to carry, such as personalized military-style dog tags.

Be sure the I.D. includes:

Identification and Currency Essentials

The following essentials apply to the adults or guardians of the camping group.

Toiletry Essentials

Did you know that in the 1800s, it was not uncommon for public bathhouses out west to provide community toothbrushes that hung from the ceiling on strings?

Yep. Flat nasty.

While many established State and National Parks provide clean public showers and bathrooms, you’ll need to bring your own toothbrush along (and other hygienic essentials) as the community toothbrush fad has long since phased out (Thank God!)

1. Toilet paper

Yes, the park service and camp hosts strive to keep the restrooms well-stocked; but sometimes, they get busy.

Take a roll with you.

2. Toothbrush with Toothpaste

Camp-breath can wreak havoc on family relationships and the romance between husband and wife.

Save your marriage. Brush your teeth.

3. Soap or Bodywash

Hair. Pits. Other Bits. Wash ’em or sleep outside the tent.

Seriously, just because we’re camping doesn’t mean you don’t bathe. Your camping list MUST include soap.

4. Deodorant

If I need to explain this, the problem runs deeper than we can remedy here.

5. Feminine Hygiene Products

Ladies, you know what to do.

6. Prescription Medications

On a serious note, this one is easily forgotten when traveling or packing for a camping trip. Make sure those meds are packed with First Aid!

7. Camping Bath Towel

Do yourself a favor: leave the plush luxury towels at home. After a camping trip, they won’t be fit to wash the car.

Use these towels instead.

Above all, camping towels are made of microfiber, are super-absorbent, and dry quickly. Get some now and thank me later.

When it comes to making your way around the area you’ve decided to set up camp, it’s a must to have at least a paper map and compass… especially when most areas don’t get great cell phone reception.

Park Map and Compass

All state and national parks provide topographical maps of the parklands and trails. Ensure that everyone in the group capable of reading a map and using a compass has one when leaving the campsite or hitting the trails.

For those that can’t, when they are of age, take the time to teach them. Not only are these skills a rite of passage, but they can also be a lifesaver in an emergency.

Safety and Emergency Camping List

When camping, it’s important to be prepared for the bumps, scrapes, sun exposure, bug bites, and possible gear failure that often happen when camping with kids.

It’s also important to be aware of your surroundings and know how to respond to emergencies.

1. First Aid Kit

We recommend a large First Aid Kit to keep in the car and smaller personal First Aid Kits to keep in everyone’s pack.

2. Bug Repellant and/or Bug Shield

Mosquitos can suck all the fun out of a camping trip. So can any other pesky insect for that matter.

Select a safe, organic, deet-free insect repellant, apply generously, and laugh defiantly at those vicious fun-suckers!

For the campsite, some centrally located citronella candles or torch canisters are another great defense against the evil insect hordes.

3. Sunscreen

Sunburns are equally fun-sucking.

When leaving the shady solace of your campsite for any kind of excursion, be sure the whole family gets a good smattering of sunblock … even if it’s overcast.

Be sure to pack a small bottle or can in your pack to reapply each hour or so.

4. Lip Balm

Even if you’re not a frequent lip balm user, having a tube in the First Aid Kit is always a good idea.

Better to have it and not need it …

5. Tent Repair Tape

So, you spotted a little tear in the side of the tent when setting up camp. Who cares?

And then the unexpected rainstorm and the clouds of insects rush in.

You get the picture.

Oh, and duct tape works fine in a pinch.

6. Five-Gallon Water Tank (filled)

Even parks and campgrounds have their occasional utility problems. Having your own supply of potable water in the rare event that the public water source is turned off can save a camping trip.

Or, take two: one for emergencies and one to set on the site’s picnic table for easy access to drinking water and hydration pack refills!

7. Duct Tape

Is there anything it can’t fix?

8. 550 Paracord

Paracord’s innumerable applications are as varied and numerous as a good knife. Any camping checklist for families would be remiss without it.

Here are a few uses:

9. Extra Batteries

Take an inventory of the type of batteries the flashlights and electronics on your list require. Pack a few extras for each.

10. Cell Phone or Satellite Communicator with Chargers

Cell phones are considered an emergency device, especially when hiking the trails.

Keep them charged and ready if emergency assistance is ever needed when away from the campsite.

A Satellite Communicator works in tandem with your phone when camping/hiking in a location with poor or no cell service.

11. Solar Powerbank

It’s inconceivable not to take a bunch of pictures on camping trips with your family; however, this can drain a phone battery very quickly.

A compact solar power bank is a great solution. This can be lashed to the back of your pack when on a hike to store solar power or set out in the sun at the campsite until ready to be used.

Clothing Essentials while Camping

Cold Weather Camping Essentials

When camping in cold weather, it’s important to have the proper essentials. By being prepared, you can enjoy your camping trip despite the cold weather.

1. Cold Weather Clothing and Layers

To prevent having to change clothes as the day warms up, take clothing that can be worn in layers and then can be stripped off the cold morning gives way to a warmer afternoon.

Put the layers back on as the cool of the evening sets in.

Repeat.

2. Sleeping Bag Liners

If the forecast calls for weather that falls below your bag’s lower limit, a fleece sleeping bag liner can significantly increase its ability to keep you warm.

3. Portable Camping Heater

An indoor-safe portable propane camping heater can be just the thing to take the chill out of the tent in the mornings and before going to bed …

… or even to enjoy at your feet while sitting around the campsite with the fam.

NEVER leave a propane heater running while you sleep in a tent! This can lead to carbon monoxide build-up which can be lethal!

4. Hand Warmers or Heated Gloves

Nothing worse than trying to complete tasks around the campsite with frigid fingers.

Stuff a pair of hand warmers in your gloves or embrace the age of technology with rechargeable heated gloves.

5. Extra Blanket(s) or Heated Blanket

Extra Blankets on top or under your sleeping bag will insulate you from the cold.

But make it a rechargeable heated blanket and you’ll be roastier and toastier than last night’s mallows!

Hot Weather Camping Essentials

When the weather heats up, there are a few essentials you’ll want to bring camping with you to make sure your trip is enjoyable for the entire family.

1. Warm Weather Clothing

While shorts and t-shirts are the best warm-weather clothing, sometimes you’ll want UV protection on your arms and legs. And for younger ones, pants protect their knees and legs better from bumps and scrapes.

2. Swimsuit

Besides the obvious of swimming in pools, lakes, oceans, or rivers, swimsuits are the best clothing option when it’s unbearably hot and everyone needs to cool off. The material dries fast and is breathable.

3. Portable Camping Fan

Sometimes the difference between the sweltering inside of your tent on a warm, still night and being comfortable is just a matter of getting the air moving.

That little loop of fabric hanging from the center of your tent’s ceiling. That’s for hanging stuff … like a lantern … or a fan … or a 2-in-1 lantern fan!

4. Shade Canopy

On a hot summer day, your tent, although shaded inside can turn into a nylon pizza oven. And campground trees are not always in the ideal location for casting shade where you need it.

Taking along a portable shade canopy will provide the family with some solace from the sun.

Rainy Weather Camping Essentials

Conveniences and Comforts when Camping

Camping conveniences and comforts vary greatly with each individual; but, there are some commonalities.

We’ve listed a few here to consider. Just remember: less is more!

Wrapping up Camping Checklist for Families

Camping is a great way to get outside and enjoy nature, but it requires thoughtful planning. It’s important to come prepared so you can make the most of your time away from home. 

That’s why we’ve put together this ultimate family camping packing list. With these items, you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way on your next family car camping trip. From tents and sleeping bags to cooking supplies and first-aid kits, we’ve got you covered.

So what are you waiting for? Get packing!

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!