Throw out all those extensive camping packing lists! It doesn’t have to take you three days to pack for a two day camping trip. I’ll tell you a secret: your kids don’t care if you bring the foldable kitchen or if there’s a table cloth to eat off of. They don’t need clean clothes every day, complicated toys, or fancy meals. And kids have just as much fun playing with dirt and climbing tress as they do playing with bean bag toss games and organized campsite scavenger hunts.
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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 easy family camping is possible.
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 8 hours away from our house. Also, we quickly realized that kids prefer to eat cereal, watermelon, hotdogs, and marshmallows every day and don’t care for fancy campfire meals. And then the best realization was that they’d entertain themselves all day long with a bucket, a few sticks, and their bikes. Voila! Lazy-mom camping was born!
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, what do you pack for quick and easy family camping?
Here it is: your simple camping packing list!
Your camping home
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.
Make sure you get something just big enough to fit your family. Remember, kids don’t care about luxury. Our camper doesn’t sleep 5 people, so one or two kids will sleep on the floor. When they get older, they’ll sleep outside 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.
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 clean.
I see tent repair kit listed on many camping packing lists, I’m going to suggest you just 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 3 months), we’ve never used a tent repair kit. The one time our tent did break, we didn’t have the kit and managed the repair with some duct tape from our emergency tin.
I prefer to sleep in regular bedding. The kids use sleeping bags. We bring extra blankets if needed and pillows from our beds. Simple as that. If tenting, get some air mattresses for comfort. And, if using air mattresses, consider how you’ll fill them with air at the campsite: an electric pump or manual pump? My husband and kids are just fine sleeping on Therm-a-Rests (thin, air-filled pads) and your kids might be too.
Cooking and Eating
I would suggest you meal plan and choose easy foods that the kids enjoy eating. Then decide how you would cook that food and go from there. Do you need a small camp stove? Can you just use the campfire or the stove in your camper – if you have one?
As for all the other tools, I suggest sticking 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 fit into your camping tubs – super handy!
Before we acquired our 45 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.
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. We tend to use one large tub for all non-cooler foods, then pack cold foods into a cooler or fridge.
All those other camping essentials
Throw all the other random camping essentials 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 trip, the easier packing for camping is and the less stressful too.
If you use a camping packing list, 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 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.
It is expected that our children wear clothing more than once when camping. They are each allowed to bring one bag for their stuff. Their clothes and all extras they want to bring (stuffies, books, toys, etc) all have to fit in that same bag. On cue cards I have written what I expect each child to pack. 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.
Lastly, you’ll need to bring all those things that you probably don’t have extras of or can’t keep packed away in the garage camping tubs. These might be things like medications, your current reading, baby stuff like diapers and soothers, sunscreen and extra toiletries, sunglasses, bear spray, and pet care items.
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. However, if camping is a once-and-a-while thing, then make it as easy as possible for yourself: Use this basic and simple camping packing list 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.
P.S. If the idea of getting you and your kids into nature more often is an exciting one, then join our outdoor family club. You’ll get tips and ideas sent right to your inbox.
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