Planning for a camping trip is so much fun, but not nearly as much fun as GOING on a camping trip. You need to know these camping essentials in order to have a great time. I’ve never met a camper that doesn’t absolutely love camping. Of course, there are some trials and troubles at times, but overall, it’s a blast! Putting several of these ideas into place will help your trip go a little more smoothly.
Be Sure to Read: How to Make Camping Fun
Camping Essentials for Your Trip
You can avoid a lot of camping trouble by putting a good plan in place ahead of time. Even if you’re an old pro, there’s a lot to learn. I’ve been camping for over 30 years and I’m still learning more tips and tricks.
1. Plan, Plan, Plan – Ask Yourself Lots Of Questions:
- Where are we going?
- When are we going?
- What gear do you need?
- What should we eat?
- What will the weather be?
The more questions you come up with and can answer, the more clear things will be for you.
This post contains affiliate links. This supports my family and allows me to keep providing you with great resources. You can trust that I only promote products I love or would use myself. Read my full disclosure for more details.
Where To Go
2. Research Ahead of Time
Many campgrounds book reservations months ahead, and some will even fill up a year in advance (Think Yellowstone). If you don’t have a spot picked out far in advance, you may not end up with your #1 choice for location.
3. Make Reservations
As soon as you have dates chosen and a location picked, get that reservation. You’ll be very happy to have your spot reserved so you won’t be dealing with last-minute searching.
Download the Camping Essentials Checklist Below
What To Bring Camping
Packing Your Gear
Related Reading: 12 Frugal Camping Ideas for Families
4. Pack Your Gear Into Labeled Rubbermaid Totes
These totes are nice and rugged. They can double as a side-table, dishpan, and even a bath for the kids. It’s always a great idea when our gear can play double-duty. We just leave our totes packed up (not the food) all the time so we can just grab them and go. We have these labeled Totes:
- Kitchen Gear
- Campsite Gear
- Dry Food
5. Only Bring What You Need
It’s a lot of work to get ready for a camping trip. It’s also hard to cram all the needed gear into the back of a car or minivan. Reduce the load by really thinking through what you’ll use and leave behind all the extras. Over time I have reduced my 5 big Rubbermaid Totes down to the 3 mentioned above and we are much happier. Just take the essentials.
Camping Essentials When Taking Kids
6. Pack Extra For Kids
Related Reading: Things You Must Take When Camping with Kids
Camping is messy business. Especially for kids. They’ll be spending all day long outside and odds are, they will get their clothes filthy. There will be no getting 2 days out of one outfit. And, if there’s rain, dew or water involved, you may even need 2 outfits per day.
Kids get cold and eaten alive by mosquitos, too. I always take extra fleece pajamas because they have long sleeves and long legs. They are perfect for sitting around the fire at night. When we’re ready to tuck in for the night, we switch into their sleeping pajamas. You can get several days out of sleeping pajamas if you do this. And, don’t forget … it’s cold in the mornings and takes awhile for the campsite to warm up. They’ll need something warm to wear for a while before putting on their shorts and tank tops.
7. Set Up The Kids’ Boundaries
Kids don’t see campsite boundaries as clearly as adults do. This can lead to them wandering a little too far. When we had toddlers, we had some plastic tape like this and we would set up a perimeter that the kids learned not to cross. It had to be one of the smartest camping hacks I’ve ever invented. I just wish I had a pic to share from those days. You can get the idea, though.
8. Use Whistles
Give everyone a whistle and teach a specific tune for recall. When your kids start to get a little older, they can spread a little farther from the site, but it’s a problem making sure that they check in often enough. Usually, they can’t hear my voice, so we have whistles. I chirp 3 times and they know to chirp 3 times back. If I make 2 long whistles they need to come back right away. This has saved a lot of time hunting through the woods for them.
9. Let The Kids Be Bored
Your kids will learn to appreciate their time much more if you don’t overschedule it. It does mean there will be a lot of sitting around, but you’ll be amazed what they find to do. My kids have loved making fairy houses, finding bugs, going on a scavenger hunt, playing frisbee, chatting, and building puzzles – all device free.
Camping Supplies for Comfort
10. Prepare to be cold
This may be obvious to some, but really be sure you think ahead about how everyone is going to stay warm. There’s nothing more miserable than a cold group of kids or a cold mom. Check the weather ahead of time to be prepared. Even if you’re going somewhere hot, it can get very cold at night.
11. Prepare For The Bugs
There will be bugs. We camped once in Northern Wisconsin and had no idea that they were having a huge mosquito overpopulation issue. The first evening one of my daughters had 90 mosquito bites. This was AFTER using bug spray. Had we known ahead of time about these circumstances, we would have made other plans. As it was, we zipped ourselves into our tents the following night very early and got a motel the following day.
Fortunately, it’s not usually this bad, but remember that kids are especially tasty to the mosquitos. Remember your bug spray and have some long sleeves and long-legged pants.
12. Plan Your Meals Well
You don’t want to run out of food halfway through your trip and you don’t want a bunch of leftovers sitting in your cooler, either. Plan out exactly what you’ll eat when and don’t take any extra.
Related Reading: Easy Road Trip Meal Ideas for Families
I love taking my Instant Pot camping with us. It can make really simple meals all in one pot (yay for easy clean-up).
13. Make Some Food At Home
If you make some food ahead, while still at home, you’ll free up a lot of time and reduce your frustration. It’s kinda tricky working without all our typical kitchen tools and space – especially a sink. Make up these things and bring them along.
- Grandpa’s Potato Salad – This recipe is amazing and simple
- Foil-Wrapped Breakfast Burritos
- Foil-Wrapped Ham and Cheese Sandwiches
- Brown Sugar and Bacon Baked Beans – quick, easy, and frugal
- Desserts – Cookies, Brownies, Muffins
14. Freeze Jugs for Ice and Water
Keeping food cold can be tricky when you’re camping. Block ice stays much cooler than ice cubes, so that’s always the smartest thing to use if you can. I like to buy gallon jugs of water and freeze them to use as ice. As they melt in your cooler, you can drink the water. You could also fill up some 2-Liter bottles and do the same thing.
15. Take 2 Coolers
If you buy one giant cooler like this one, it becomes very difficult to move. We have solved this by buying 2 wheeled coolers like this. We use one for drinks and the other for perishables. This also makes everything much easier to find inside the cooler when it’s bogged down with melting ice. This is one of my favorite camping essentials ever!
16. Download this Free Camping Essentials Checklist and Camping Menu Planner Printables
This camping checklist is based on staying in a campground that has water available, showers and toilets nearby and no electricity. That’s what is most common for tent camping.
The list isn’t designed to be perfect.
17. Personalize The Camping List For Your Family
You’d be best to make a big mess of this checklist – mark it up, cross things off that you don’t need, add things that you do.
Related Reading: Ultimate Guide – Family Road Trips
Remember, Ask Lots Of Questions
The time of year, location, and weather will play a big part in what you need. Do you need more cool weather clothes? Is there rain or desert heat in the forecast? Is it Summer, Spring, Fall or Winter?
What kind of activities will you be taking place in? Are you going to be playing at the beach or a lake? Do you plan to go hiking? You’ll need to take all these things into consideration when you customize the list.
What amenities are available? Does your campground have these things?
- Running Water
- Groceries Nearby
As you can see, there is a lot to consider on your family camping trip. Odds are, you will have a fantastic time if you put some effort into the planning. I’m guessing that since you’re reading this article you’ve already been putting some time into planning your camping trip. Perfect!
Have you got some tips to add to this list of camping essentials? Let us know in the comments, below.