Throw out all those extensive camping checklists! 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. And, to help make it quick and easy, I’ve created some printable camping checklists for your next family camping trip!
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?
Get your simple printable camping checklists!
What’s on our camping packing checklists:
Making a home away from 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… unless you’re really adventurous and plan to sleep under the stars!
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 (will you have electricity) or hand pump? My husband and kids are just fine sleeping on Therm-a-Rests (thin, air-filled pads) and your kids might be too.
Making camp comfortable:
- 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
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, I’m referring to those short little weekend camping trips (and remember, we’re trying to make the packing easy and quick).
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? (If you do plan to cook over the campfire, 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 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.
Also, think about how you’ll keep the cooler cold. Try freezing water, juice boxes, and pre-prepared meals as a way to help keep other items cold longer instead of just relying on ice.
The kitchen basics:
- good quality cutting knife, forks, spoons, butter knives
- 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
- 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
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.
The extra essentials:
- plastic bags for garbage and recycling
- toilet paper in a zip lock baggie
- bug spray, bear spray
- matches, fire starter materials, axe or hatchet
- cash in small denominations
- first aid kit
- roasting sticks
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.
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.
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.
The personal care and extra stuff:
- toothbrushes, soap, hairbrush, elastics
- sunglasses, sunscreen
- bath towel, facecloths
- hats, coats, rain boots
- wallet, phone
- baby care items (diapers, wipes, soothers, sippy cups, potties, etc)
- pet care items (leash, food and water dishes, etc)
Prepare with printable camping checklists 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 list everything in each tub on a label 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: Use these simple printable camping checklists 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.
What should you do now?
- If camping is your thing, you may want to grab these campsite scavenger hunts for your next family trip
- Take a look at some expert outdoor family’s top tips for hiking with kids
- Read about our favorite hiking snacks to bring along on your next outdoor adventure
- Join the Club to get access to all sorts of outdoor family printables and receive news, tips, and goodies delivered right to your inbox
- Get some practical camping with toddler tips here