One of the questions I get from friends who like to daydream about an outdoor getaway is: How do I ever know what to pack for a camping trip that considers rain, children, hot weather, pets, cold weather, campgrounds, mountains, woods, pools, etc.
The answer is two-fold:
1) Don’t pack for everything that could happen. I try to pack the basics, fill in with versatile items, and do a fair bit of optimistic planning.
2) The unexpected travel surprises are part of what I LOVE about vacations, especially camping. I realize, however, that not everyone loves flat tires in the rain.
What to Pack for Camping
- Car Camping Kitchen Kit. We do this even if you are camping in a rustic cabin, kitchenettes are rare. After you’ve packed your own camping kitchen kit, you’ll be ready to flip fire-kissed burgers or enjoy a fresh salad from your self-contained kitchen.
- Sleeping bag for each person in the car. Even when “linens are provided,” you may want the sleeping bags. Those might be available at an extra cost or, worse, be nothing you want your family to sleep on.
- Cooler(s). If possible, pick up the cold stuff in the town just outside of your destination to maximize freshness. If not, you’re likely going to want a ‘wet’ (on ice) and a dry food storage arrangement.
- The right footwear. Everyone should have a hiking boot or shoe AND sandal/Croc/shower shoe that can be used for lounging in camp, wearing to the beach, or in the shower. It’s even better if the hiking boot/shoe is waterproof, so that in the event of weather, you’ll be OK for a while.
- Raingear. Even if you are road tripping to the desert, have raingear along. It’s just a good practice because if you’re like our family if WILL rain if you don’t have it!
- Lantern and/or individual headlamps. Even if you can set up camp during the day, you will need to find your way around at night.
- Tarp(s). These will keep you and your things dry (or drier) and you can also use it to spread on the tent pad underneath your tent to put a layer between you and the sometimes cold, wet ground. (Make sure the tarp edges are not poking out from under the tent or you will have created a water superhighway right under your abode.) A tarp also is essential in areas with no trees – you erect a tarp and voila! Shade! The uses of a tarp far outweigh the slight space and heft they amass in your gear.
- Camping toiletries kit. Include sunblock, medications, and toilet paper (not every location has TP – try to be eco-kind and buy the speedy biodegradable kind).
- Paracord and clothes pins. Any rope will do, but paracord—the stuff that they use for jumping out of perfectly good planes—is extra tough for the size, which makes for a great clothesline.
- Folding chairs. Not all sites have picnic tables – you will want a place to sit at night!
What to Pack for a Camping Trip with Kids
- Potty chair Bring this even if there are facilities on site. An outhouse can be traumatizing–even for those of us who are seasoned potty-users.
- Glow sticks. In the absence of the night light, these are comforting for kids.
- Entertainment We usually have our bikes and try to camp where we can swim. You’ll want to make sure kids young and old are entertained.
- Wi-Fi. We try to avoid having a connection when we’re camping, but if you have teens you will need to decide if you want them on their devices all weekend or if they’ll pitch a fit if it’s a dead zone.
- Cooking stove. This is a safety thing. It’s sometimes easier and safer to forgo the campfire if you have small tots – a camp stove is packable and will not leave you with a pit of hot coals to worry about.
- Sleeping device for tiny tots. If you aren’t a co-sleeping parent, you’ll want to figure out a sleeping device for small kids. The Pea Pod is a piece of gear that I’ve heard is mighty fine for camping with kids.
Tips for Camping
- Baby gear takes up a LOT of space. Know the terrain you’ll be in. Urban? No problem – pack an umbrella stroller or a
wagon, either will work. Rugged trails? You might want to ditch even the off road wheels and go for a kid backpack carrier.
- Check into rentals. If you’re staying near or in a metro area, a lot of places rent strollers, carriers, and even car seats.
- You will likely pack more stuff than you would use in three months. If you’re like me, you’ll pack three months of clothing and kick yourself as you sit there for the third day in the same t-shirt and shorts.
- If you are tent camping, set up all your gear beforehand in a test run. Nothing like getting to the desert to find you have a tent and no poles.
- If you are cabin camping, call and see what they provide, whether there is A/C, and what amenities they already have so you do not pack unnecessary items. Campgrounds and state parks tend to be sparse, but chain-developed destinations like KOA can be quite elaborate.
This should be fun. Make it your own, take note of what worked and what didn’t and your check list for packing will evolve from there. Don’t over think it and stress yourself out but it’s true that a little planning goes a long way. When your kids are entertained and you remembered the little paper umbrella for your mimosa, you’ll be glad you had a plan in mind long before the car even left the driveway.