Camping with kids packing list & tips for stress-free family camping!

It doesn’t have to take you three days to pack for a two day camping trip. Gather up all those random scraps of paper and camping lists and grab these camping with kids checklists instead!

I’ll tell you a secret:  your kids don’t care if you bring the foldable kitchen or if there’s a table cloth on your picnic table.  They don’t need clean clothes every day, complicated toys, or fancy meals.  Your little kids will have just as much fun playing with rocks and climbing tress as they will playing with bean bag toss games and organized campsite scavenger hunts.

Don’t get me wrong, though.  If you want to pack those extras and enjoy the planning, then by all means, go ahead and bring along all the extras!

I just want to make the point that quick and simple family camping is possible.  So, grab those camping with kids checklists and read on for tips to make your trips simple and stress free!

Our realization – Camping doesn’t have to be complicated!

Kids just wanna have fun!  It didn’t take long for my husband and I to realize that our kids enjoyed car camping 10 minutes from our house as much as they enjoyed camping 8 hours away from our house.  We also realized that they’d entertain themselves all day long with a bucket, a few sticks, and their bikes.. and Voila!  Lazy-mom camping was born!

Also, if your kids are like ours, they prefer to eat cereal, watermelon, hotdogs, and marshmallows every day and don’t care for fancy campfire meals.

I’ll admit that sometimes my perfectionist personality gets the better of me and I start over-organizing, but I’m quickly reminded how simple it can be when I start asking kids questions like:  what do you want to eat, to wear, to bring?

So, if you’re a family that’s into camping:

  1. Go ahead and print out the camping with kids packing list if you haven’t already done so. 
  2. Use the family camping checklist while you’re planning and packing to remind yourself that really, all you really need are just the camping essentials.
  3. Then, continue reading to get all the simple camping tips to make your trips as stress-free as possible!

If camping is a bit of a new adventure for you and your family, you’ll want to check out this family camping playbook!

Seriously, it’s all in these! (even these packing lists are included) Click here and hop over to the Etsy shop where you can pick it up! Oh, and use the coupon code HAPPYCAMPER for 20% off.

Some family camping tips:

1. What will you sleep in?

You’ll need somewhere to sleep.  Unless you’re lucky enough to find a cabin to rent, you’ll need a camper, RV, or a tent… unless you’re really adventurous and plan to sleep under the stars!

If we’re talking ‘just the essentials camping” … and not “glamping”, then make sure you get something just big enough to fit your family.  Remember, kids don’t care about luxury.

Yes, do make sure you’ll be comfortable, but don’t over stress about your child’s comfort.  Kids are surprisingly tough and as long as they’re safe, they’re fine on the floor of a camper, sharing a mattress, or squeezed into a tent.

Our camper doesn’t sleep 5 people, so one or two kids will sleep on the floor.  When they get older, they’ll want more some privacy and hopefully appreciate the great outdoors by sleeping in a tent  Generally, the fancier your trailer, the more time, energy, and money you’ll use in setting it up, keeping it clean and organized.

(And, if you’re spending time cleaning and organizing, you’re not enjoying simple lazy-mom camping!)

Don't make camping harder than it needs to be. Check out this simple camping packing list.
This is our dear 48 year old camper… just perfect for our family of 5!

Read More: Want to see how we all squeeze into and use our camper for camping?  Jump over here and go take a peek inside our trailer!

If tenting works for your family and climate, I suggest getting a tent that you can stand up in with a vestibule (the little covered area outside the tent door).  The vestibule area is good for storing clothes and shoes and helps keep the inside of the tent dry and clean..

Read More: Here’s a post with some tips on choosing a family tent.

Stress saver tip: You’ll often see ‘tent repair kit’ listed on camping packing lists.  A good idea is to just go ahead and tuck that into your tent bag and then you’ll always have it with your tent.

In all our years of tenting and hiking (my husband even lived out of a tent for 4 months), we’ve never used a tent repair kit.  The one time our tent pole did break, we didn’t even have the kit with us, but we managed the repair it with a stick and some duct tape from our emergency tin!

2. What should you pack for sleeping gear?

Again, make sure that you’ll be comfortable sleeping in whatever you choose to pack.  Sleeping bags are simplest.  But, many people find them uncomfortable and confining.

I prefer to sleep in regular bedding (sheets and a comforter).  The kids use a sleeping bag.  We bring extra blankets if needed and our own pillows from our beds.  Simple as that.  If tenting, get some air mattresses for comfort.

Read More: Click here for more tips and ideas to help you get a comfortable night’s sleep when camping

Stress saver tip: If you do plan to use air mattresses, consider how you’ll fill them with air at the campsite: an electric pump (will you have electricity) or a hand pump (how long will that take)?  My husband and kids are just fine sleeping on camping mattresses and your kids might be too.

Most camping mattresses will also insulate against the cold ground.  Regular air mattresses do not. In cooler temperatures you may want to put an insulating layer either under or over the air mattress to keep warmer.  If you’re in a hot climate, this won’t be a concern.

READ MORE: Learn more about camp mattress here.

Just to review: What are the ‘setting up camp’ essentials?

  • your camping tent, trailer, camper, etc
  • sleeping bags, bedding, blankets, pillows
  • air mattresses or pads
  • air pump
  • special sleep snugglies and blankies
  • tarp and ropes for shelter if needed
  • camp chairs
  • mosquito tent if it’s really buggy
a printed camping checklist being used to pack for a camping trip
Putting the camping with kids checklist to use

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3. What should you pack for camping cooking and eating

For a lot of families, this is where camping can get overwhelming.

Do you really need special sandwich makers, and fancy hotdog roasting sticks, and coffee makers and cute little spice organizers?  Maybe if you’re spending weeks at a time at the campsite, then yes.

But, this is lazy mom camping… remember, you’re trying to make your whole family camping trip simple and easy…

You should start by creating a meal plan and choose easy foods that the kids will enjoy eating.  Once you have a plan with ideas in place, then decide which camping kitchen essentials you’ll need.

Do you need a small camp stove?  Can you just use the campfire or the stove in your camper – if you have one? 

Stress saver tip: If you do plan to cook over the camp fire, I suggest you confirm there isn’t a fire ban in place and that the campground does, in fact, allow campfires.

As for all the other tools, try to stick to the bare minimum.  Remember that you can wash dishes and re-use them instead of packing more.

If you plan to do a few camping trips each summer consider filling a ‘kitchen camping tub’ with all the kitchen stuff.  Then forget about it until you go camping.  If you are able to round up enough supplies to keep as camping extras, this will save quite a bit of time when it comes to packing for a camping trip because you can just grab the tub and know you already have all the essentials gathered.  These expandable roasting sticks will even fit into your camping tubs – super handy!

Telescoping Roasting Sticks!

MalloMe Smores Sticks for Fire Pit Long - Marshmallow Roasting Sticks Smores Kit - Smore Skewers Hot Dog Fork Campfire Cooking Equipment, Camping Essentials S'mores Gear Outdoor Accessories 32' 5 Pack
  • Super handy
  • Compact for storage
  • Easy on small hands
  • There is a wide variety of telescoping roasters available, but these are top-rated sellers

Before we acquired our 48 year old camper (yep, quite vintage), I used plastic stacking drawer units to store my camping kitchen and essentials.  I found it was easier to locate items at the campsite than if everything were tossed into one large bin.

a van trunk open to show family camping gear all packed and organized in bags and tubs
The key to simple family car camping packing is being well organized. The drawer unit makes it quick to find smaller items.

As well as the kitchen basics, you’ll need food.  Don’t forget to figure out how you’ll pack your food and keep it cool.  You might want to use one large tub for all non-cooler food items, then pack cold foods into a cooler or fridge.

Also, think about how you’ll keep the cooler cold.  Try freezing water, juice boxes, and pre-made meals as a way to help keep other items cold longer instead of just relying on ice.

The camp kitchen supply list:

  • good quality cutting knife, forks, spoons, butter knives
  • cooking utensils: large serving spoon, bbq tongues, spatuala
  • can opener, cork screw/bottle opener, scissors
  • salt, pepper, sugar, tea, coffee, hot chocolate
  • tin foil, plastic wrap
  • plates, bowls, mugs
  • your campfire cooking kit or 1-2 cooking pots, 1 frypan
  • water bottles, coffee thermos
  • kettle or coffee maker
  • dish tub, scrubbie, soap, dish towel, wash rag
  • cooking stove and fuel
  • paper towels

Read More: Looking for more tips, suggestions, and hacks for stocking, organizing, and managing your entire camping cooking kitchen? Check out this guide!

two blue metal camping bowls sitting on a picnic table

4. What about all that other camping stuff?

Throw all the other random family camping essential items into your camping tubs too.  You know, the bug spray, flashlights, matches, and first aid kit.  The less items you need to gather for each camping adventure, the easier packing for camping is and the less stressful too.

If you use a simple camping checklist, you may want to mark the ‘already packed’ items on your list so you know when it comes to your next trip what you have… believe me, having to empty all the camping tubs to find out if you kept the toothbrushes  in or took them out is a huge pain in the butt!

Another suggestion is to put a note right on top of your tub of anything that got taken out so you remember to replace it when you camp again.

The important camping extras:

  • plastic bags for garbage and recycling
  • toilet paper and hand sanitizer in a zip lock baggie
  • bug spray, bear spray
  • matches, fire starter materials, axe or hatchet
  • cash in small denominations and coins
  • first aid kit
  • roasting sticks
  • life jackets (if you’ll be by water)
  • A few good ropes (good for hanging wet clothes, tying up a shelter, and all sorts of other uses)

Other camping extras you may want to consider:

  • a beach blanket or picnic blanket
  • outdoor games
  • board games for rainy days
  • outdoor toys
  • a means of transporting younger kids (stroller, backpack, wagon, etc.)

Remember, if you’re trying for a simple camping trip, decide if the time to pack these items, the space they’ll use, and whether their use at the campground is worth their being brought along.

Don’t forget the toddler and baby gear!

If you are camping with babies and toddlers you’ll need a whole lot of extra stuff… their sippy cup, maybe a travel potty, extra clothing, somewhere appropriate for them to sleep and play… in fact, there are so many important considerations when camping with a toddler, that I have a whole guide you should just go and read! Click here for the Ultimate Camping with Toddlers Guide.

5. Can kids pack their own clothing?


Camping is dirty.  Your clothes can be reused and get dirty too.

It is expected that our children wear clothing more than once when camping.  They are each allowed to bring one bag or bin for their stuff.  Their clothes and all the extras they want to bring (stuffies, books, toys, etc) all have to fit in that same bag.

Before the trip each child will be given their own camping packing checklist.  I read it over it with them, send them to pack, and then have them show me their choices before everything gets stuffed into their bags.  This process saves me time and gives them some responsibility in camping preparations.

As the kids get older, I have stopped re-checking their packing (I might sneak a peak if I’m really concerned).  However, letting them arrive at the campsite without a few items was a great learning experience and they tend to take better care when packing the next time.

image of printable camping packing lists

Grab the kid’s camping checklists here… they’re included in the simple packing checklist sheet!

As for what type of clothing you should all bring, well, that depends on the weather forecast and your destination.  Remember swim clothes, hats, sleep clothes, and extras if the nights are cool.  Also, keep in mind that littles will get their clothes too dirty to reuse more so than older kids.

6. What personal and toiletry items should you bring for simple camping?

This category can get a little tricky because you’ll probably not have extras of many of these things and you’ll need to grab them for each trip… meaning, you can’t just leave them in the camping tubs for easy grab-and-go type packing.

Specifically, these items might be medications, the book you’re reading, baby stuff like diapers and soothers, sunscreen and extra toiletries, sunglasses, bear spray, pet care items, your ID and money.

And all that other important personal stuff:

  • toothbrushes, soap, hairbrush, elastics
  • sunglasses, sunscreen
  • bath towel, facecloths
  • hats, coats, rain boots
  • books
  • wallet, phone
  • medications
  • baby care items (diapers, wipes, soothers, sippy cups, potties, etc)
  • pet care items (leash, food and water dishes, etc)

The best Camping Tip: Use a camping packing list!

Print this simple camping with kids checklist or make your own.

There’s no way around it, preparing and packing for a family camping trip will take some time.

If camping is something you and your family plan to do frequently, I strongly suggest acquiring separate camping gear and keeping it all stowed and ready to go.  To really be organized, go one step further and keep a camping supply list of everything in each tub fastened to the lid of that tub with a separate list of all the items you need for grab-and-go.

However, if camping is a once-and-a-while thing, then make it as easy as possible for yourself: plan, be organized, and remember that kids just want to play outside, get dirty, eat treats, and stay up late…. That’s what camping is all about.  Make it a lazy-mom trip by keeping it simple and easy!

the back of a truck organized with tubs and camping gear
One fully packed and well-organized family camping trip! (Read more tips here)

a child roasting a marshmallow over a campfire, text reads kids and camping- how we pack for family camping
a vintage camper, text reads what to pack when going camping, printable checklists

26 thoughts on “Camping with kids packing list & tips for stress-free family camping!”

  1. This post is great! I’m a mom of three (7yo, 3yo & 6 mo) and we are going camping with the whole gang for the first time next week! My husband and I have both done plenty of camping before, but we really (really!) wanted to simplify for this 3-day family endeavor. The plastic drawers tip is pure gold! I cant wait to implement it. 😀
    Thanks so much for so much helpful information, and a great mindset for making camping what it ought to be – fun and simple; not fancy and complicated and stressful.

  2. Hi Jenn, just wanted to share how much I appreciate this article! I have been tent camping with my family in Northern Ontario my whole life. Last time I went, we had a 2 year old and that was a little bit stressful. Well, then we went and had twins. We are going for the first time since the twins were born (they’re 2 now), and I’m feeling completely overwhelmed! Especially since all the articles online have special camping meals and fancy outdoor crafts. Feeling the pressure to make everything ‘perfect’.

    You’ve reminded me what I loved about camping when I was little – playing outside, making “forts” in the forest, collecting rocks on the beach, being dirty (lol), and eating lots of hotdogs and roasted marshmallows. I’m going to use your lists and keep it simple. Thanks again and happy camping 🙂

    1. Hi Amy, thanks for sharing! Yep, nothing wrong with a weekend of marshmallows and hotdogs;) I’m happy to hear you’ve found a bit of inspiration here. Happy Camping!

  3. Hi Jenn,
    I just read your article.
    You shared a great article. I love camping. I love the checklist because the checklist helps in camping to make it enjoyable. How long have you been camping?
    Keep it up.

  4. That looks like the trailer we used in the 70’s in Colorado. Loved it. Have great memories of family with 5 kids traveling the western USA national parks.

  5. This is a great list, not just for camping but traveling in general! We are leaving to go on around the world trip after this quarantine situation. So lists like this are great to make sure we don’t miss buying anything we need.

  6. Thanks for going over some tips for a packing list for camping. It’s good to know that you should try to get a tent that you can stand up in. It sounds important to test every tent to make sure it has enough space for you.

    1. Hi Taylor, Yes, tent size can be a personal preference. When we’re backpacking and carrying our tent, we bring a small tent that we can just sit up in. But, when we have the luxury of car camping, we’ll bring our larger tent. However, do be aware that larger tents will get pushed around in the wind much more than smaller tents.

  7. Hi Jenn! This article and your list is just what I needed. We used to camp all the time but, it has been 7 yrs and 2 kids later since we really camped. We just bought an RV and are getting ready for an upcoming trip. While my list used to look just like yours, I think I have been overwhelming myself trying to remember everything and maybe planning too much, afraid that I am missing something! I also love the idea of the kids packing for themselves with a little mom oversight. Simple is always best. This helped so much!

    1. Hi Holly, I’m so happy this printable camping packing list can help you all! I’ll admit, that even with the lists we tend to forget a few things and we’ll throw a few extra special things in too. But, yes, it seems simpler is much easier for me. And, for sure, unless it’s a safety risk (like super cold weather) I usually leave my kids to their own packing. This last trip my daughter brought 3 dresses and only one t shirt. She managed just fine even though I felt she had chosen inappropriate clothing. Happy Camping!

  8. Hi, I would love to see inside your camper! We are a family of 6 in a 1970 Travel Mate. The camper itself is 13 feet long. We make it work with hammocks for 2 kids. I thought I was the only crazy one ;). We are just about to embark on a 65 day trip but I got sidetracked with Pinterest and your blog. 🙂

    1. Hi Chrissy, Hammocks, that’s a great idea! I think I’d like to see inside your camper too;) And, thank you for the suggestion. Maybe I will put together a post with some photos and a little tour of our set-up. On another note, 65 days, that sounds soooo exciting… what an adventure for you all! Thanks for stopping by and happy travels:)

  9. I’m a glad that I read the post as well as printing the lists, another mom in my daughter’s AHG troop suggested totes for camping and I put together a footlocker for our kitchen. I’m contemplating a second footlocker or tote for the rest of our things. It would make both gathering and storing everything we need easier, as well as easier to get from the car to the campsite.

    1. Hi Doreen,
      Sounds like your mom friend passed along some great advice. I’ve even seen families put smaller compartments into their tubs to further organize within the larger container. I do hope the list helps you pack and get organized. Happy camping!

    1. Thanks for checking out the printable camping checklists and happy camping! …if you do manage to dust off the gear;)

  10. My husband and I keep talking about taking our kids camping. You make it sound so fun and easy! Definitely going to keep this handy for when we finally go instead of just talking about it.

    1. Well, I wish you and your family luck and I hope the printable camping checklists do come in handy! Happy Camping:)

  11. I didn’t even think you could put the word lazy next to camping but ….. after reading your article, I think I could really make things easier! Thanks for the advice. this was a great list.

    1. I’m so happy to hear both the article and the lists were helpful! And may your next camping trip be a lazy, but fantastic, one:)

  12. Hi Jenn! Your site looks great!

    I had to check it out because I blog about hiking and backpacking and I’m always on the look out for other outdoorsy bloggers to follow 🙂

    This post is a great reminder that taking the family camping doesn’t have to be overwhelming. That’s what I love about hiking and camping – it’s one of the simplest hobbies/activities out there but for people just starting to get into camping it can seem complicated with all the gear, gadget and clothing options out there!

    Keep it up, you’re doing awesome here!

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